Women imported to campus prior to College's coeducation

by Diana Ming | 5/17/12 10:00pm

Before the College become coeducational in 1972, the highlight of Green Key weekend was, for many students, inviting women up to Hanover for the annual fraternity parties, Green Key Ball and the "Sweetheart" competition.

"Hanover is God's gift to women this weekend, as hundreds of the proverbially fair sex invade the New Hampshire plain from the world at large," proclaimed a 1938 editorial in The Dartmouth. "By train, car, hook or crook the belles will barge into this normally peaceful hamlet."

Although it was a one-night event when it first began in 1921, Green Key grew to a weekend-long celebration and was dubbed "the social highlight of the spring" by the Yonkers New York Record. Dartmouth men invited dates from nearby women's colleges, including Smith College, Wellesley College, Vassar College and Mt. Holyoke College.

Over 700 female guests were expected in Hanover "for a round of weekend festivities," The New York Times reported in 1935. Many of the 26 fraternities established at the time would host a series of private dances that led up to the Green Key Prom, the featured event of the weekend.

By 1953, over 1,200 girls from across the country flooded campus, prompting 31 extra policemen and 19 extra college watchmen to patrol the streets, fraternities and residence halls, the Valley News reported.

In order to accommodate the growing number of women descending on campus, fraternity brothers vacated their rooms and parents were enlisted as chaperones to enforce College restrictions on women's visiting hours in male residence halls.

In a 1968 letter to parents who were chaperoning the dance, Dean of the College Thaddeus Seymour thanked them for their help and attached a list of precautions that the College took to ensure safety. "Two responsible men" had to serve as a "fire watch" for each fraternity for a certain number of hours during the night, and the College hired "roving fire watches" of campus police officers to ensure that the fire watch was awake. The College also hired two women to inspect the upper floors of each fraternity on the Saturday afternoon of Green Key to ensure safety and cleanliness.

These young women's arrival on campus was highly anticipated by the student body, particularly upperclassmen who were permitted to invite dates. In fact, on the Green Key Prom program of 1939, train departure times were listed to ensure that male students dropped their dates off on time, and retailers downtown advertised clothing and services especially for female visitors.

Pictures of men picking up their "imports," as visiting women were referred to in a 1960 article in The Dartmouth, show College students and their dates smiling and kissing. Some images from 1937 depict couples strolling around campus or lying on blankets outside.

One of the highlights of the weekend in the 1960s was the annual "Sweetheart" contest, which included a panel of judges to select the most attractive visiting female, according to a letter from a "Sweetheart" contest sponsor to a prospective panel judge. The panel consisted of seven judges from the faculty, administration and student organizations, and each judge nominated three female candidates.

"As the yellow-green leaves begin to appear in greater profusion on the Hanover spring scene, so the number of young Bermuda-wearing collegiate misses steadily increases until they are picked off by the [WDCR Radio] Green Key Sweetheart' searchers," The Dartmouth reported in 1960.

Out of 21 candidates, the judges would select a "Sweetheart," described as "an attractive young rosebud," who was crowned at the Green Key Ball along with four "attendants."

Female guests were as drawn to the weekend as Dartmouth students themselves.

"Let us start off by saying that there is nothing like a weekend in Hanover to boost a girl's morale," the Boston Herald announced from the perspective of a visiting female in 1942. "The boys turn over their fraternity houses, dates have fun. A Dartmouth man's attitude isn't always the best, but we put up with it."

The history of women during Green Key celebrations has been more memorable in some years than others.

In 1931, a female visitor's behavior led to the cancellation of Green Key weekend. Invitee Lulu McWhoosh was said to have ridden around campus on a bicycle naked, and community members attending nearby church services complained to the College.

In 1935, a local newspaper reported that former College President Ernest Hopkins threatened to suspend the Green Key Prom if students repeated the "impropriety" of that year's Winter Carnival.

Regardless of the events of any particular Green Key, the weekend's greatest purpose was to bring women to the College, even if this tradition baffled many.

As a columnist noted in the Boston Herald, "The mission of Green Key was the entertaining of visiting sports team. We brought the idea back to Hanover but somehow, through the years, it has changed to the fussing of femmes, including now, my own daughter. Maybe that's more fun for people."