AAUW in the 1970s: Capitol Puppeteers Mr. Toothbrush Saves the Day! by Ruth Burgess and Ruth Ann Hines

During the 1970s, the Sacramento Branch had a great partnership with the Sacramento District Dental Society Auxiliary, which provided dental hygiene education to grade school children in the Sacramento City and San Juan district schools—and brought a source of income for our own scholarship funds because the Auxiliary paid us for each presentation.

The script was prepared and recorded by the Auxiliary. It was based upon the familiar story of “Hansel and Gretel,” with a twist on the idea of the children eating too many sweets, which attracted them to the witch’s house in the forest. It was a marionette show with a pre-recorded tape of the voices of the various characters: Hansel, Gretel, the wicked witch, and the hero “Mr. Toothbrush.”

Volunteer AAUW members loaded the backs of their station wagons with a large plywood platform, the puppet stage, a full-sized tape recorder, and the puppets. They usually did two performances at each school after learning how to manipulate the string puppets and bring them to life. Sometimes they even brought their own preschoolers along when they couldn’t get babysitters, and they joined the audience. They put the shows on in the multi-purpose rooms to excited audiences who got the message about the importance of good dental hygiene practices. They “booed” the witch and cheered the toothbrush when he rescued the children. Volunteers had to have strong backs and legs to lug around the equipment and stand on boxes to be tall enough to reach over the top of the puppet stage—but they have fond memories of this community service.