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July 20, 2012

City Attorney Contact: (510) 238-3148
On line at www.oaklandcityattorney.org

Oakland City Council repeals 1930 ban against “immoral” marathons         

OAKLAND, CA – The City Council voted Tuesday, July 17 to repeal a 1930 law banning dance marathons and other “endurance contests,” which at the time of the law’s adoption were considered to be somewhat sordid affairs and detrimental to public health and morals.

The anti-marathon ordinance, introduced by Oakland Mayor John L. Davie and passed in November 1930, made it a misdemeanor to promote or engage in the Roaring 20s craze of dance marathons, roller skating marathons and other such contests. A conviction was punishable by up to six months in jail. The law has remained on the books in Oakland, but has not been enforced in modern history.

City Attorney Barbara Parker and City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan proposed repealing the law as part of an ongoing effort to modernize and clean up outdated sections of the Oakland Municipal Code.

“This is just a housecleaning issue,” Parker said. “We do not need to keep so-called morality laws from several generations ago on the books. Our Municipal Code should address real problems. This is not one of the most pressing issues, but it didn't take a lot of time to clean up this outdated section of the Code.”

During the 1920s and 1930s, Oakland was one of a number of cities to ban endurance contests. A state law was even imposed, although it was later repealed. The ordinances were adopted during an era of cultural and economic change that produced many other “morality” laws – including anti-immigrant and pro-segregation legislation.

At the time Oakland’s ordinance was adopted, dance marathons and other contests were somewhat disrespectable events that at times received lurid coverage in the newspapers. Promoters were reportedly notorious for skipping town without paying their bills.

An Oakland Tribune story from January 1926 describes an attempt to set a world record for continuous Charleston dancing by one Doris Conover. “Conover wore a bathing suit, shoes, and stockings informing others that the bathing costume gave her freedom of movement that was ‘absolutely essential in dancing America’s newest steps,’” the Tribune reported.

Conover was reported to have danced the Charleston for 47 straight minutes – a feat that might not sound all that difficult to participants in the marathon event of today’s Oakland Running Festival.