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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Rich traditions come and go in weekend's history

Green Key is not the biggest of the big weekends, but for over 100 years it has given students an opportunity to take time off their academic work and relax in warm weather after a long New Hampshire winter.

The weekend's long and diverse history began in the spring of 1899, when members of the class of 1900 held the first Spring House-Parties weekend.

This precursor to Green Key Weekend celebrated the arrival of spring after a particularly long winter. It included sporting events, parties and a prom.

Greek houses were the center of the celebrations. Green Key also gave Dartmouth's all-male student body an opportunity to invite women to campus " a major appeal of the weekend before the years of coeducation.

Busloads of women were "imported" from nearby women's colleges, such as Smith and Mount Holyoke, to keep men company during Homecoming, Winter Carnival and Green Key.

These young women generally stayed in their dates' fraternity houses, while the brothers themselves found accommodations elsewhere. The name of each brother's date was printed each year in The Dartmouth.

Freshmen, not allowed to participate in the activities, spent the weekend dateless in the main dining hall.

Administrators cancelled the weekend in 1924, citing the rowdy behavior of students and their dates.

But the Green Key Society brought the structure of the event to its current form in 1929, when it replaced a variety show it had on the weekend with the Green Key Prom.

In 1931, Lulu McWoosh, a student at a nearby college, started one Green Key morning with a bike ride before church services. Although it is not unusual to spot someone enjoying the pleasant quietness of a weekend morning with a ride, the fact that McWoosh was also naked cancelled Green Key Weekend for the next three years.

However, the event continued until the late 1960s with only a brief interruption during World War II.

The end of the Green Key Ball came in 1967 when segregationist and former Alabama Governor George Wallace spoke at the College on the Friday before Green Key. In protest of Wallace's actions impeding civil rights in his home state, students jeered the governor's speech and then rioted, surrounding his car for five hours and keeping him from leaving campus.

The riot prompted the College to cancel the Green Key Ball once and for all. However, the weekend survived, albeit never again with any formal event as a focus.

Perhaps as a result, quirky and sometimes controversial Green Key customs besides formal parties and dances have a tendency to come and go over the years.

"Hums" was perhaps one of the longest-lasting Green Key traditions, dating from the original Spring House Parties weekend in 1899. Groups competed in a serious singing competition judged by music professors and other College officials. The competition morphed into a Greek house competition over the years.

In the '70s the nature of the event changed, and it became less serious -- participants learned in the process that humor is a matter of opinion.

In 1974, in the infancy of the College's coeducation, the winning song reflected the tense atmosphere women faced when integrating into the all-male society.

Theta Delta Chi's winning song that year, "Our Cohogs," sung to the tune of "This Old Man," featured the demoralizing lyrics, "Our cohogs, they play one, 'cause of them we have no fun" and the eighth verse, "Our cohogs, they play eight, because of them we masturbate."

The Hums have since been discontinued.

Students have also entertained themselves at athletic competitions during Green Key weekends past and present.

For 30 years after the first Green Key Ball in 1929, students competed against each other in an annual bicycle marathon, which a contemporary issue of The Dartmouth referred to affectionately as "Dartmouth's answer to the Tour de France."

"Miss Bike," the winner of a beauty pageant conducted among dates of Tuck students, crowned the winner of the annual competition.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the "outdoor sleep" became a popular Green Key custom.

Dartmouth students and their dates would bring blankets, pillows and mattresses to the Dartmouth golf course and spend the night beneath the stars.

However, the tradition abruptly died out in 1965 when a local parent complained to the College about his young sons' exposure to these couples' behavior.

In response to the complaint, at dawn that morning Dartmouth sent golf course groundskeepers armed with sprinklers and bullhorns to chase away anyone asleep on the lawn. The students left the golf course, and eventually abandoned the tradition.

Another now-defunct Green Key tradition was "Wetdown." Popular in the early 1900s, this ritual involved clobbering newly elected student government officers with debris, beverages and food as they ran across the Green.

The tradition became increasingly violent as students began to flog the officers with belts as they ran, finally resulting in Wetdown's replacement in the mid-1960s with the chariot race.

The race involved fraternities building rickety chariots that often would not survive until the end of the race " more so because students continued to pelt them with objects as they made their way around the Green as a nod to Wetdown.

Administrators replaced the chariot race with the Greek games in 1984, but the games died out before the end of the decade.

In another violent tradition, 1963 found Chi Phi fraternity " now Chi Hereot " pitted against Pi Lambda Phi fraternity in a piano smashing contest.

Band concerts and Greek events have always been a highlight of Green Key.

Many well-known bands from outside Hanover have also come to entertain during Green Key weekends, in both distant and recent years.

In 1938, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw played swing tunes at Dartmouth, including a song titled "Green Key Jump" written especially for the occasion.

In more recent years, Alpha Delta fraternity has also hosted several well-known groups at its famed lawn parties, including Anthrax in 1982 and Blues Traveler in 1988.