In the May 30, 1909, Daily Oklahoman this advertisement appeared: “Oklahoma Legislature “Nine Foot” Sheets–Full 81×108 inches–made of best wearing quality, linen finish sheeting–seamless, torn, hemmed, each …..75c”
Seems odd that the state Legislature would be promoting bed sheet sales, but in 1908 the state lawmakers passed a law ordering hotels to provide 9-foot sheets for their beds. While it was alleged that William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray, then speaker of the house, had the law enacted because he “was forced to sleep under a five-foot, 2-inch sheet one frosty night.” The provision was part of the hotel inspection law.
The July 16, 1908, Daily Oklahoman contained this excerpt from the Alva Record explaining the reasons for the law.
“The growing danger of tuberculosis, or as it is now called “the white plague” is alarming, not only this country but the entire world, and associations are being formed in many cities to enforce every means to prevent the spread of the disease. A healthy person who occupies the bed in a hotel where a consumptive has slept the night before may catch the disease. A nine foot upper sheet is long enough to spread two or two and a half feet over the top covers at the head of the bed, and as every respectable hotel washes the sheets daily, following their use, it tends to do away with the danger of catching any contagious disease. The medical world and all thoughtful people agree that the nine-foot bed law is one of the wisest laws for the protection of the traveling public, that was ever enacted”
The Alva article goes on to say, ” The grand council of Commercial Drummers of Missouri have just closed their annual convention at St. Joseph, and they have decided to make a vigorous fight not only for the nine-foot bed sheet, but for better sanitation at hotels along other lines. Score one more for Oklahoma. Other states will follow.”
Kansas and Missouri did, and bills were offered in New York, Nebraska, Illinois and Texas.
While the 9-foot bed sheet law often shows up in lists for strangest laws still on the books, it was actually dropped from the state statute books in 1910.
The next time you’re in a hotel and you see how the top sheet is long enough to cover the blankets on the bed, think of how our state legislators were thinking of our safety and health in 1908.