Letting Off Steam with the Mollies

Plough Monday – Purpose

Music; Ambience: Acapella chorus, Plough Monday song

From before the time of the Renaissance until the late 1800’s, the thirteenth day after Christmas was known as Plough Monday in many parts of England, when field laborers could have some fun at the expense of their wealthier neighbors. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Sue Dupre leads Handsome Molly, a group which reenacts the Plough Monday celebrations each year at Princeton University.

Dupre: Plough Monday was observed by farm workers, by villagers, and in a sense you could say it was observed by the upper class people who’s houses were being visited. I don’t know that they welcomed the visits, but it was a tradition.

In the East Anglia region of England, it was customary on Plough Monday for some of the field hands to dress in women’s clothing. These workers, calling themselves Mollies, would decorate a farmers plow and drag it along from house to house, singing and dancing and demanding money and drink. If the owner didn’t produce, the revelers would plow up the yard in retribution.

Dupre: They were doing property damage. They were drinking heavily as the day went on. They’d get into fights. Um, sometimes they’d meet rival groups of Molly dancers. So it was pretty disreputable.

Historians think Plough Monday was tolerated for so many years because it offered a kind of social safety valve for agricultural communities.

Dupre: We think the purpose of it was to give farm workers a chance to blow off steam. You know, just to do outrageous riotous things, to collect money from the more well to do. And just to thumb their noses at the, the social conventions of the time.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I’m Jim Metzner.

Letting Off Steam with the Mollies

It was Plow-or-Treat in 18th century England.
Air Date:01/09/2018
Scientist:
Transcript:

Plough Monday - Purpose

Music; Ambience: Acapella chorus, Plough Monday song

From before the time of the Renaissance until the late 1800's, the thirteenth day after Christmas was known as Plough Monday in many parts of England, when field laborers could have some fun at the expense of their wealthier neighbors. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Sue Dupre leads Handsome Molly, a group which reenacts the Plough Monday celebrations each year at Princeton University.

Dupre: Plough Monday was observed by farm workers, by villagers, and in a sense you could say it was observed by the upper class people who's houses were being visited. I don't know that they welcomed the visits, but it was a tradition.

In the East Anglia region of England, it was customary on Plough Monday for some of the field hands to dress in women's clothing. These workers, calling themselves Mollies, would decorate a farmers plow and drag it along from house to house, singing and dancing and demanding money and drink. If the owner didn't produce, the revelers would plow up the yard in retribution.

Dupre: They were doing property damage. They were drinking heavily as the day went on. They'd get into fights. Um, sometimes they'd meet rival groups of Molly dancers. So it was pretty disreputable.

Historians think Plough Monday was tolerated for so many years because it offered a kind of social safety valve for agricultural communities.

Dupre: We think the purpose of it was to give farm workers a chance to blow off steam. You know, just to do outrageous riotous things, to collect money from the more well to do. And just to thumb their noses at the, the social conventions of the time.

Pulse of the Planet is presented with support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. I'm Jim Metzner.