Green Key Weekend and Society linked only by rich heritage

by David Horowitz | 5/16/97 5:00am

Nearly every culture has a festival celebrating the spring harvest, and the thaw which follows Hanover's long winter has historically left Dartmouth students with a searing spring fever.

This year, the College celebrates its 76th Green Key Weekend, but a spring celebration has existed for nearly a century.

Traditions for a May party weekend -- including fraternity parties and formal balls -- have come and gone, and what survives is the modern Green Key Weekend.

The early years

The documented history begins in1899, when the Class of 1900 organized the first Junior Promenade, a formal dance.

That same year, the Class of 1900 organized a four-day Houseparties Weekend -- named for the back-to-back fraternity parties. Of course, Dartmouth men invited women up to Hanover for the prom and the four days of parties.

The Promenade and the accompanying Houseparties Weekend were annual May events for the next 25 years.

Fraternity houses provided visiting women with beds and meals. Adult chaperones monitored the fraternities and ensured that students behaved elegantly.

But prudence did not always win the day.

Records show that successive years of participant misconduct provoked an administrative axe in 1924.

That year, an out-of-town female guest added the last straw when she rode a bicycle around the Green just before morning worship on Sunday

The offense? She peddled in the nude.

The Green Key Society was formed in 1921 when two sophomore socities merged. The society was intended as a hospitality service for visiting intercollegiate athletes, and its secondary function was to coordinate campus social events.

In order to fill the social gap left by the discontinued Houseparties Weekend, the Society enlarged their spring variety show, which had been an annual event since the society's inception in 1921.

Eight successful years of the variety show evidently proved the Green Key Society could be a responsible promoter for a reinstated Promenade.

The prom, first held in 1929, was renamed the Green Key Ball and, like the Junior Promenade, formal attire was required.

Minutes from a 1930 Green Key Society meeting declare that "the financial success and popular reception by the student body of the Green Key Prom have assured its repetition for future years."

The Green Key Handbook in 1939 sums up the dance and its purpose in simple terms.

"Coming in the last month of the junior year of the Green Key men, the Prom provides a fitting climax to a year of College service and adds to an ever increasing number of happy memories," the handbook said.

In affirmation of tradition, College freshmen were excluded from all events on the weekend of the Ball, and were not even admitted to fraternity parties.

Instead, the freshmen consoled one another and bonded during a weekend spent as a class in Thayer Dining Hall.

Over the years, the Green Key Society grew in size and prestige, no doubt partly due to the success of the Green Key Ball.

During the 1950s, the Green Key Society began holding a pre-Ball banquet, which included a changeover ceremony between the old and the newly-elected members of the Society.

This banquet is still held today to officially recognize the transfer in the society's membership from one class to the next.

The nature of the Ball also changed along with the social conventions and attitudes.

The once-mandatory formal wear was declared optional in 1946 and, by the 1960s, was completely outdated.

Immoral hijinx

Inevitably, that old strain of misconduct which had caused the cancelation of House Parties Weekend in 1924 crept back into the weekend.

As early as 1931 -- only the third year of the Green Key Ball -- Lulu McWhoosh, a student at nearby Slippery Mountain Teacher's College, made her unusual name famous when she became the second woman to bicycle around the Green careless and clothesless.

The College canceled the Ball for three years.

In 1948, on the weekend before Green Key, 166 female students from Colby Jr. College (now Colby-Sawyer) voluntarily admitted to drinking alcohol on their campus and the school confined them to campus for one week.

Three-hundred and one Dartmouth men signed a petition asking Colby to lift the restrictions so the women could attend the Green Key Ball and the weekend festivities. The chairman of the Green Key Ball committee even added a statement to the petition "requesting special consideration due to low ticket sales."

A number of strange anecdotes have involved activities on the College golf course.

In 1954, the Hanover Police found 69 students and their dates pitching and putting at 4 a.m. at the Hanover Country Club. They proceeded to close the golf course because of "misuse of the town's normally afforded pleasure privileges."

The police had been in the area because then-Police Chief Andrew Ferguson had found another student in the middle of the eighth hole less than an hour earlier.

The student had been roasting hot dogs on the green, and had come prepared with rolls, mustard, cupcakes, coffee and Canadian Club whiskey. He also had Alka-Seltzer, marijuana and heroin.

The 69 students' night on the links apparently inspired outdoor tendencies in the College men, and, by the 1960s, couples regularly brought blankets, pillows and sleeping bags out to the golf course.

In 1965, a local Hanover parent who lived near the golf course wrote a letter to the editor of The Dartmouth complaining that the "outdoor sleep" was corrupting his two teenage boys.

The College responded to these complaints about the "less Puritan" aspects of Dartmouth by sending groundskeepers armed with sprinklers and bullhorns to clear the fairways of students and their dates.

Students fled and the tradition died out soon afterwards.

Student rioting in 1967 caused the discontinuation of the Green Key Ball. Ex-governor of Alabama George Wallace, known nationally for his efforts to block desegregation in his home state, was mocked and derided during a speech in Webster Hall.

After the speech, students surrounded Wallace's car for several hours, refusing to let him leave and damaging his vehicle.

Following the incident, the Green Key Ball was cancelled and never revived.

More recently, police conducted a sting operation on the College's fraternities in 1987. Eight fraternities were caught for serving alcohol to an underage female, who was accompanied by an undercover police officer posing as her boyfriend.

The Green Key Society and the weekend are still active today, but the two are no longer linked.

Pam Banholzer '81 told The Dartmouth in 1980 that "the function of the Green Key Society in Green Key Weekend has totally fizzled out."

The weekend now involves a number of events, concerts and parties -- mostly outdoors in celebration of the spring weather.

Cool music

Beginning with the orchestra at the Junior Promenade, Green Key weekend has tradionally been one where students are treated to the popular rythms of the times.

In 1919, the College billed the Earl Fuller Jazz Band, which they promised would "make your feet tickle the floor in a mean way."

Big Band made its first entry in Hanover in 1933 when the Green Key Society booked Mell Hallewtt and his Melodies for the Ball.

In 1938, Dartmouth students and their dates danced to the swing tunes of Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw.

Shaw even created a special song for the weekend, which he called the "Green Key Jump."

Rock n' roll got a rather late start at the College, but came on in force in the 1960s.

Three bands headlined the weekend in performances at the newly-constructed Hopkins Center in 1962, and, the next year, the Sherelles were one of four bands to perform on the Green.

These shows, however, could not compare to the three-hour show given by the Grateful Dead in Thomson Arena during Green Key Weekend in 1978.

The sold-out show brought down the house, and attracted a number of "Deadheads" who descended on Hanover to enjoy the show.

Other notable rock bands to electrify the College on Green Key Weekend were Anthrax in 1982 and Blues Traveller in 1988 and Phish in 1989.

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