Found in the ‘Eating Places’ column in the May 1927 issue of the highly regarded American left-wing literary magazine, The New Masses, is this advert for a club called ‘The Morons’. According to the SOED (1965) the term moron comes from the Greek for foolish and was coined in 1913, presumably by a psychologist, to describe a person whose ‘intellectual development’ had been arrested.
In medical textbooks the term, along with ‘cretin’ and ‘idiot’, was still applied to a category of the mentally deficient up to the 1960s, after which time such nomenclature became otiose. It is difficult to say when exactly the word moron was freed from its scientific meaning to become the slang term so familiar to us today. It may have already been assigned slang status by 1927, when hostess Winnifred Harper Cooley, placed her advert. It is possible that the dining club borrowed the word from a derogatory reference to suffragists as ‘morons’.
The Net has nothing to tell us regarding the foundation of The Morons, but from the advert we can perhaps guess that the fortnightly meetings of this ‘ most brilliant dining club ‘ took place using a rota system in the homes of members, or even permanently at Cooley’s own New York City home. It is unlikely that any restaurant would have tolerated the raised voices and table-banging that might accompany the airing of ‘radical subjects’.
Described in one site as a ‘suffragist, author, journalist, editor, world traveller, lecturer, drama critic, radio personality and toastmistress, Winnifred Harper Cooley (1874 – 1967) was a pioneering feminist and author of the futuristic A Dream of the Twenty-First Century (1902), The New Womanhood(1904), and The Younger Suffragists (1913). She lived to witness the widespread acceptance of feminism that such writers as Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan ushered in. [R.M.Healey