The Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters “George” was a lighthearted association with a useful, if incidental, cause. Most railway porters were black, and many passengers called them all George, following the racist custom of naming slaves after their masters. (George Pullman ran the company that made the cars, so the porters were regarded as his servants.)
Strangely, the prevention society was founded not by the black porters, but by white railway employees who were actually named George. Apparently they were either annoyed by the tradition or thought that such a society would be a good joke.
People did think it was funny, or at least inoffensive. At its peak, the society had 31,000 members, including King George V of the United Kingdom, Babe Ruth (whose given name was George), and French politician Georges Clemenceau.
I found some letters from 1937 to Time magazine in reference to an article they ran on the aforementioned Society. I wonder whatever happened to John from Detroit.
Letters, Jan. 11, 1937
Double Interest Sirs:
Your article, TIME, Dec. 7, under People interests me doubly.
Whether porters become “Porter” or merely cease being “George,” I remain
Wallingford, Conn. Georges v. Electromaster
Sirs: Your issue of Dec. 7 failed to mention that the S. P. C. P. G.* is a trifle more than a “joke,” that it does everything in its power to help “George,” that its last known public appearance was in the U. S. Patent Office in July 1930. Electromaster, Inc., manufacturing cleaning and scouring powder, intended to market the product under the trade-mark of “Let George Do It” and for that purpose filed a trade-mark application. Opposition #10833 was filed by the Society. The Notice of Opposition recites that the society is “unincorporated under the laws of all States and having an office and place of business at in West Monroe St., Chicago, Illinois, not to mention the B. & O., the D. L. & W., the Santa Fe and points west.” Four grounds for opposition are set forth; the second goes as follows: “The mark which we are opposing comprises the hateful admonition, ‘Let George Do It’.
Now it is doubtless true that the Georges have performed most of the useful work of the world since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, but the facile and facetious manner in which responsibility is delegated to us by Tom, Dick and Harry and others too lazy and too incompetent to assume it themselves is decidedly irksome to us Georges. . . . Besides, why should George do it?” . . .
Respondent denies that the trade-mark ‘Let George Do It’ is a hateful admonition; and further denies that the Georges have performed most of the work of the world, or any material part thereof, or that any of it has been of any value to humanity, and demands strict proof thereof. Further answering, Respondent is not concerned, or in any manner interested, excited, pleased or horrified regarding the responsibilities delegated to the Georges by Tom, Dick and Harry, or any others, or that such responsibilities are decidedly irksome to the said Georges, because they have a way of avoiding the seriousness thereof. Besides, why shouldn’t George do it? …
Newark, N. J.
Sirs: Your issue of TIME dated Dec. 7, p. 80, re The Society for the Prevention of Calling Sleeping Car Porters “George.” I wonder how many of your readers know of an organization whose purpose it is to discourage the use of a distinguished Christian name to designate an endroit which invites not even the slightest thought of anything distinguished; I have reference to “The Society for the Prevention of Calling Lavatories John.” The Society is of Detroit origin and confine, but it may be that mention of its existence in TIME will prompt the organization of companion chapters in other centers—perhaps even a national unit.
JOHN W. MACNEV
“Society for the Prevention of Calling Lavatories John” Detroit, Mich.