Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Winter Carnival, A History

From fraternities to flair to flirting in the ice sculpture, many elements of Dartmouth's storied Winter Carnival have withstood the test of time. In the 100 years since the first Carnival, the celebration has undergone many significant changes, yet many traditions persist to this day.

The Dartmouth Outing Club held the inaugural Winter Carnival in 1911. The celebration developed from the Winter Meet, a day devoted to winter sporting events. Following the success of the 1910 Winter Meet, Fred Harris, class of 1911 who also founded the DOC in 1909 and several other DOC leaders pushed for the College to devote two full days to Carnival. This allowed the celebration to include more events, such as a ball in Webster Hall that lasted until 3 a.m. and a theatrical production, also held in Webster Hall.

The festivities drew women to campus for the expanded celebrations, a feature that was popular among members of the all-male student body.

"[Winter Carnival] will not succeed without girls," an article printed in The Dartmouth in 1912 said. "It is up to every man with a purse or a heart or a bit of enthusiasm when it heaves into sight, to make haste to procure that most necessary item."

For the first Winter Carnival, 50 women arrived on campus to experience the traditional winter sporting events of the Winter Meet and the newly planned festivities with the men of Dartmouth.

In 1912, College officials lengthened the celebration to four days, but in 1917, they canceled all of the non-athletic events due to concerns about food and fuel shortages during World War I. The College did not reinstate Carnival in its full capacity until 1920.

In 1921, the DOC added the Outdoor Evening, held on Occom Pond to the list of events. The event featured a parade and live band.

Following the 1922 Carnival, two faculty members and a Dartmouth alumnus joined current College students to form an advisory committee for the Carnival. The committee put out several detailed how-to lists for various aspects of the Carnival, which codified the ritual preparations that went into the event. This committee and its recommendations constituted the bulk of the support for Winter Carnival through World War II.

The first Winter Carnival theme, Jutenheim Iskarneval, was a nod to the Scandinavian carnival celebrations that had given the College much of its inspiration for the Dartmouth event. That year, 1925, also saw the building of the first snow sculpture, a medieval castle in the Scandinavian tradition.

Carnival Ball reached its peak in the late 1920s. The Ball always had a theme and students and their female guests who came to Hanover on trains arranged specifically for Carnival were expected to dress in costumes and clothing consistent with the theme. The tradition of the Ball ended in 1932 as a result of the economic constraints of the Great Depression. Carnival organizers have revived the ball tradition for this year's celebrations.

As the Carnival continued to expand, managing and organizing all of the events became increasingly challenging for students and administrators. Following World War II, fewer students volunteered to help plan and execute the events, and the majority of the planning efforts were delegated to the members of the DOC. These students felt an enormous pressure given the manpower shortage. Throughout the 1950s, Winter Carnival remained one of the biggest annual student events, despite the weighty challenges of labor and organization for the DOC. In 1959, however, the College's transition to the quarter system further exacerbated the challenge of increasing student involvement. Carnival now fell in the middle of Winter term, around the height of midterm testing pressure.

On April 5, 1961, the DOC made the monumental decision to separate itself entirely from the social aspects of Carnival.

"The Outing Club should not direct Outdoor Evening, the center of campus statues, queen judging, the Carnival theme or the poster in future Winter Carnivals," the DOC wrote in a 1961 statement. The DOC leadership cited that these elements of Carnival brought the club further away from its stated mission and put members under high pressure to plan events.

In response to these challenges, College officials restructured the management of Carnival in 1961. The College formed a distinct Winter Carnival Council, and the DOC focused its attention on the competitive athletic events. Outdoor Evening was subsequently dropped from the program.