Stories from the Bus: Women’s Carnival Experiences

by Eileen Brady | 2/8/19 2:50am


“Bring some long red woolen underwear!”

While the tip seems inappropriate today, this was the advice given to women visiting Dartmouth for the 1951 Winter Carnival. In 1951, as in every year, hundreds of women took buses and trains up to Hanover to visit for the winter festivities.

Many female visitors attended women’s colleges, junior colleges or other schools in the Northeast, taking specially scheduled trains from Boston or New York to Hanover for the weekend or riding buses from their campuses. Many of these women received invitations from Dartmouth men to visit for the weekend, while others came up hoping to meet someone new.

Numbers of visiting women reached nearly 2,000 during the heyday of Winter Carnival in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s, according to emeritus history professor Jere Daniell. In 1928, for example, local headlines boasted 600 female visitors for the weekend, while papers in 1956 posted numbers as high as 1,800.

Most often, visiting women were housed in fraternities with their dates or companions for the weekend. On certain occasions, however, women were put up in other locations, recalled former vice president of alumni relations Martha Beattie ’76, a member of Dartmouth’s first graduating class of women who witnessed the last few years of “bussing up women” for the weekend.

“In the days before coeducation, some women were put up in the nurses’ quarters,” Beattie said, “but I think most of those women either had friends or friends of brothers, or they just figured that they would find someplace to sleep when they got up there.”

A 1956 issue of the Valley News features a picture of squash courts in Alumni Gym filled with cots to house dates and other Carnival guests. Visitors that year “taxed Hanover’s housing facilities to the limit,” during Winter Carnival weekend, the issue said.

Don Cutter ’73 said that while he scarcely remembers the female visitors during his time at Dartmouth as he was in a steady relationship at the time, he does remember the housing burden placed on the town of Hanover when he was younger.

“My only recollection is having to move out of my bedroom so my [local] parents could rent my room to Carnival dates in the mid to late fifties,” Cutter said.

In the earlier years of Winter Carnival, dates were primarily invited to fraternity dances and parties, planned especially with the visiting women in mind. Later, however, the women became more involved in other Winter Carnival activities like skiing, skating and ice sculpture building.

A 1958 issue of Ebony Magazine featured Carolyn Morant, a 17-year old student at Bryn Mawr College who visited Hanover for the 1957 Winter Carnival on invitation from a Dartmouth student.

Pictures show Carolyn sledding, petting huskies, watching ski races and chatting with other female visitors. Also prominently featured is Carolyn’s visit to Kappa Kappa Kappa fraternity, where she is pictured happily mingling with fraternity brothers — an inter-gender exchange infrequent at the then-all-male College.

Winter Carnival dates could also take part in the Queen of Snows competition, a pageant that named the most beautiful visitor and her “court.” Besides simply reporting numbers of female visitors, local and campus publications often covered the competition, especially the “qualifications” of the winner — her hair color, eye color, height and weight.

Even apart from the Queen of Snows competition and fraternity dances, many of the weekend’s headlining events centered around women during the festival’s peak. In 1956, for example, Dartmouth welcomed a champion skater from then-Czechoslovakia, boasting her presence as a highlight of the Carnival.

“Lovely Miraslova Nachodska is the star attraction of the annual Dartmouth Winter Carnival Outdoor Evening show this Friday,” the Valley News reported in its pre-event coverage, “an engagement made possible only because Miraslova is a very attractive young lady and uses lipstick.”

Local businesses also focused on the rare presence of women at the College, hoping to capitalize on their visits.

“Is your girl unusually smooth?” a 1929 newspaper ad for “The Sandwich Shop” asked Dartmouth men, adding, “If she isn’t, don’t bring her down here, for you are sure to hurt her feelings by completely forgetting her when you pipe the vision that takes your order.”

The eventual de-emphasis on women came from two factors, according to Daniell: the growing national recognition of Winter Carnival and the push toward gender equality.

“In the ’60s, after World War II, it was starting to have a much more national name, and women from Hollywood started wanting to come, so it became less of a Dartmouth thing,” Daniell recalled, adding that the equal rights movement was blossoming and starting to demand better treatment of women.

Even into the ’70s, however, the special buses and trains filled with women made the trip up to Hanover each February. Beattie recalled the “tradition” as one of the darker, stranger spots in her Dartmouth experience.

“It was one thing that the women students shared with the administration was somewhat unsettling,” Beattie said. “It just didn’t feel right because they weren’t coed buses coming up to our college; these were all women coming up to our college, and that just felt wrong.”

She added that this general sentiment made many female students dislike “big weekends,” which she noted were supposed to be some of the most special traditions at Dartmouth.

After 1973, the practice had mainly ended. This weekend, while the Dartmouth Coach will bring visitors to the Hopkins Center for the Arts and trains will pull into White River Junction from Boston and New York, guests can enjoy the festivities free from pageants and date parties.