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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Women at Green Key Through The Years

One writer investigates how women have celebrated Green Key at Dartmouth over the years, illuminating some of Dartmouth’s sexist and problematic traditions from the past.

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In anticipation of this year’s Green Key weekend, I searched through the Rauner Special Collections Library to investigate the origins of our beloved spring celebration. As I flipped through files of newspaper clippings and memorandum, I found that before women were allowed to study at Dartmouth, they were coming to Green Key. A new question thus arose: How did an event on an all-male campus become so centered on women? 

It turns out that attracting female guests to campus has been central to Dartmouth’s spring events since the first iteration of Green Key in 1929 — 43 years before the college would welcome female-identifying students into its classrooms. That year, the Green Key Society, a junior honorary society dedicated to performing service work at the College, hosted “The Green Key Prom.” 

The Prom started off as an annual one-night dance that served as a fundraising event open to campus. However, it quickly evolved into a multi-day affair. As the event grew in popularity, campus fraternities began hosting parties on the two nights preceding the dance to entertain their dates. Not only did the weekend-long event yield higher ticket sales, but it also gave Dartmouth men an excuse to keep the coed party going. 

According to the 1951 Green Key Society Handbook, the Prom filled a gap in the undergraduate social scene left after World War I and provided “a fitting climax to a year of college service and add[ed] much to an ever-increasing number of happy memories.” It appears that the emphasis on catering to female visitors was generally well-received, as one 1939 editorial in The Dartmouth proudly declared, “Hanover is God’s gift to women.” 

A 1936 headline from The Dartmouth states: “Green Key Festivities Draw Girls from Four Foreign Countries and 30 States.” Similar headlines graced several East Coast newspapers through the early 1930s to the 1960s. In 1935, the Boston Herald reported that Dartmouth hosted 800 “feminine” guests in its fraternities during that year’s Green Key. By 1953, that number had grown to 1,200. The history of Dartmouth’s past “importation” of women is preserved in publications ranging from The New York Times to the Valley News. 

But was Green Key all it was cracked up to be for the hundreds of women lured to Dartmouth’s campus by the promise of non-stop partying and unending male attention? 

According to one attendee in a 1942 issue of the Boston Herald, the answer was a resounding yes. In her article titled “Nothing Will Boost Morale of Girls Like Spending Week-End in Hanover, N.H.,” the author listed the many perks women can expect to enjoy as a Green Key “date.” She described shower rooms stocked up with makeup for every girl, and how much fun it was for her and the others to set up tables and cook for their dates. She recounted rushing between different frats, where beer was offered at every turn. 

“We women have just about everything we demand — and then too, we have other things,” she wrote. 

In addition to having their photos displayed, the women’s arrival to campus was also announced by a full page spread in The Dartmouth. The spread listed each woman, her hometown and which fraternity invited her. Local ads in The Dartmouth urged men to buy their dates jewelry, corsages and beer mugs as welcome gifts. 

A 1935 issue of the Yonkers Herald explains how many women secured an invite to Green Key. According to the article, along with various news clippings from women’s colleges at the time, “women guests [were] from leading Eastern colleges, with Smith, Wellesley, Vassar and Mount Holyoke predominantly.” It’s unclear whether invites were extended at large to these schools, or if specific girls who were already acquainted with Dartmouth men were selected. Numerous dates from across the nation and abroad are also included on The Dartmouth’s guest lists — likely women the Dartmouth men knew from their hometowns. 

Some of the Green Key traditions were more blatantly sexist. Women could compete to be crowned Web Dartmouth College Radio’s Green Key Sweetheart, and the final winner would receive a spotlight in the campus paper along with the runner up and other honorary titles such as “Princess.” The Sweetheart’s name would also be carved on a commemorative cup to be displayed in the WDCR office.  

In 1959, this award went to Julikia Balajty, described in The Dartmouth as an “attractive brunette dental student at Tufts University” and fiance of a current student at the time. She beat out 20 “Green Key Week End Lovelies” to win the Sweetheart title. According to The Dartmouth, “each girl spent about three minutes talking with judges” before they made their selection. Clearly, the competition was not based on skill or talent but a subjective rating on personality and mostly looks. The all-male judges panel consisted of Green Key Society members, the WDCR manager, the President of The Dartmouth, two professors and the Dean of the College. 

Green Key had its fair share of controversy aside from sexist pageantry, too. 

The Prom was canceled in 1924 due to rowdy conduct from Dartmouth men and their dates. According to a 2003 article in The Dartmouth, titled “Women in Hanover,” one woman took a nude bicycle ride through campus after consuming too much alcohol in that same year. The dance wasn’t reinstated until 1929. 

In 1931, a strikingly similar incident took place. According to the 2003 article in The Dartmouth, a student at a nearby women’s college rode her bike nude around the Green before church services, “sending many Dartmouth men to church to offer their thanks.” Green Key was consequently suspended for three years. 

It didn’t help that Winter Carnival, which also imported female guests, faced many of the same behavioral issues. In a 1935 article entitled “Dartmouth Boys Must ‘Tone Down’,” The Vermont Standard reported the College’s warning that “social functions must be kept within bounds or dispensed with altogether.” The warning came in response to excessive drinking at the proceeding Winter Carnival. 

The Green Key Prom organizers managed to salvage their relationship with the College until 1943, at which point the Prom was canceled due to World War II. After being revived in 1946, the College struggled to return Green Key to its former glory. Referring to the lackluster social scene, The Green Key Society President in 1947 commented: “We used to import girls” — lamenting a practice that didn’t materialize during that year’s spring celebration. 

But by 1948, the women were back, and the Green Key antics continued in full force. That year 166 female students from Colby-Sawyer confessed to college officials that they drank on College grounds the weekend preceding Green Key, and were thus barred from attending the event. In response, 301 Dartmouth men signed a petition, requesting “special consideration due to low ticket sales.” 

The petition didn’t work. 

But Dartmouth students weren’t deterred. Through the 1950s and 1960s, some created a new tradition of camping out on the golf course with their dates — drinking, smoking and using drugs such as heroin in full view of Hanover community members. According to the 2003 article in The Dartmouth, residents complained that their children were being exposed to the “less puritan aspects of Dartmouth men,” and the tradition was quickly put to a halt. 

The final blow came in 1967 after former Alabama governor George Wallace gave a speech on the Friday before Green Key began, according to the 2003 article from The Dartmouth. Students rioted in response to his speech and encircled his car for six hours, which prevented him from leaving. After this, the Green Key Prom was never held again. By 1972, Green Key was back — this time, as a music festival rather than a prom.  

Once the College became co-educational in 1972, it appears that the novelty of having women at Green Key had worn off for some men. According to an article from the 2013 Green Key special issue of The Dartmouth, Theta Delta Chi fraternity won the traditional “Hums” competition — a singing contest between different campus groups — for its performance of a sexist song called “Our Cohogs” in 1976. The winning song was selected by the former Dean of the College Carrol Brewster. “Cohogs” was a derogatory term that Dartmouth men used for female coeds at the time. The song attempted to mock coeds with lyrics like: “They have ruined our masculine heaven / Send the Bitch home / Our cohogs go to bed alone.” 

This Green Key, as we celebrate the arrival of spring, dance to live music and enjoy time with our friends, we may keep in mind Dartmouth’s sexist and problematic past and appreciate how far campus culture has come.