Beanies, May Days & Old Ways of the Freshman Haze

It's never easy for the first year student at any college. Freshman year is fright with the new: being away from home, sharing rooms and bathrooms with strangers, the mystery of cafeteria food, professors with high expectations, and the nervousness that comes with trying to make new friends among your peers. But there was a time at Guilford when the hapless "Frosh" had it pretty rough and was treated somewhat poorly by most of the upperclassmen. Hazing first year students, collectively called "Rats," was a common practice, generally promoted by a few generations of upperclassmen. It seems to have been at its worst in the early days of the 20th Century, and continued in some form or fashion until the late 1960s.

Freshman anticipation.
(Drawing from The Quaker, 1917.)
The hazing was at least partially the result of competitive inter-class debates and sports contests, and the early practice of having specific class colors, flowers and mottoes. It also stemmed from the sometimes haughty nature of upperclassmen who felt morally and intellectually "superior," if only by the fact of having more campus experience. As early as 1911 there were multiple references to this attitude, such as this yearbook entry:

"Yes, we tried to welcome the newcomers and must have made the fatal error or putting ourselves too nearly on their level, else they would have not have  turned on some of our members that terrible, exasperating, 
mortifying question of all questions, 
"Have you ever been here before?" 

Further evidence is seen in the "Last Will and Testament" of the Class of 1911:

"...Whereas we have in our old age come into possession of certain privileges, such as holding sway over our own tables at meals, chaperoning lower classmen to and from the station and other places, of going to the store when we so desire, of going anywhere we wish to on the campus..." 

"Stately Senior" drawing.
(The Quaker, 1927.)

Hazing on college campuses was problematic enough that the North Carolina Legislature stepped in, passing an Anti-Hazing law in 1913, much to the chagrin of the Guilford class of 1916. They registered their distaste of the law in their class history in The Quaker

"We wished, in this our second year, to do unto others as had been done to us, but were handicapped in the full attainment of these wishes by the passage of the Anti-Hazing Law by the North Carolina Legislature. Therefore, the responsibility of training up Freshmen in the way that they should go was, to a great extent, shifted to the shoulders of the good Old North State. However, we saw to it that Freshmen did not lose their powers of locomotion and some of them, during snowy weather, became very efficient at track work."

Pelting Freshmen with packed snow was a favorite method of humiliation. When the Legislature codified anti-hazing and Freshmen loudly complained to the faculty about their treatment, upperclassmen were indignant enough to compose a poem about the joys of hurling snowballs at the first-year students. The poem is rather long, but a portion of it reads:

Drawing of a Freshman being pelted.
(The Quaker, 1917.)
Sad were the times, and cursed 
were the days, 
For the impudent Freshmen 
just dared us to haze.
And the snow that we trampled 
under our feet. 
Proved an inspiration 
and our needs did just meet.

We made us snowballs 
so nice and so round
And the fresh young Rats 
we proceeded to pound.
But alas and alack! 'tis sad to relate
Some Rats proved rebellious 
concerning their fate.

Why did you kick when the snowballs fell
And give the impression you were treated like ----? Well
Couldn't you see, little babies in pants,
If you took it this year, 
that next your own chance...

(The Quaker, 1916-17, pg. 123.) 

Drawing of the "extinct" custom of 
Sophomores hazing Freshmen. 
(The Quaker, 1927.)

The Hazing continued despite the new law. Ten years after the "Snowball Incident," Seniors wrote in their Last Will and Testament about:

"special privileges which tradition and precedent have led each Senior Class to expect...chaperoning lower classmen...going to the store at will...holding sway over tables at meals...occupying the front seats in chapel...being a shining example to the lower classmen in such things 
as dignity in the dormitories and superiority on the campus..." 

Only a year later, the class of 1928 reminded the school: 

"We came as many of our predecessors had come -- green to the nth degree. The Sophomores, however, were fired with missionary zeal and decided that we should be continually reminded of the fact. As a result boys whose names were written among the new comers were seen skipping to and from classes with big white placards on their backs, and suitcases in their hands..."

Women did some hazing too.
(The Quaker, 1940.)
This type of thing went on for years. The class of 1934 asserted, "After the treatment that we had received from our superiors, the Sophomores, we were surprised at the great friendliness with which we were entertained at the annual Freshman-Sophomore picnic..." 

But once they were Sophomores a year later, "...we realized that those incoming students needed managing. They got it."

A banquet was held in 1939 which had the "Juniors entertain their betters and the wise fools put the Freshmen through the mill."

There are many early yearbook and campus newspaper references to certain "ceremonies at Hamilton Lakes" (a lakefront neighborhood about a mile from the school), where upperclassmen "liberated" Freshmen by tossing them into the water! It apparently wasn't restricted to men; women upperclassmen happily forced younger female peers
to march into the water wearing their Sunday best,
despite the Autumn chill.

"Traffic Cop."
(The Quaker, 1940.)

Hazing was fiercely practiced by letter men of the various sports teams at the College. The yearbook of 1940 stated, "Monogram members are twice victims: once of Alma Mater, once of brothers in arms. And the 'G-Men' try well the candidate's intestinal fortitude; Barnum's circus has nothing on campus initiation sights." This included such things as: "boot blacking," (forced shoe shine), "lawn fishing," (to make you look silly) and "traffic direction," (also to make you look silly), as well as the aforementioned paddling. New members had to go through an initiation period of one week before they became true members of the "G Club." Evidence of such initiations were noted in this yearbook entry from 1942: "And in the spring came the Men's Monogram Club to initiate its new recruits. Pink baby caps, frilly bibs, long red flannels and dunce caps were in evidence all over the campus..." Student bio's over the years describe more than a few Monogram members "who wielded a mean paddle on the freshman initiates..."

             A Freshman gets a little pre-class whoop-ass. 
                            (The Quaker, 1939.)

"Lawn Fishing."
(The Quaker, 1941.)


Thank you, Sir, may I have another...
(The Quaker, 1941.) 

              Assume the position, Frosh...
(The Quaker, 1938.)

The drafts of the war years thinned the ranks of paddle-wielding upperclassmen, but the hazing persisted. Freshmen wrote in 1943 that [they were]: 

"...standing up against domineering upperclassmen freely of their opinions on Guilford's shortcomings. Sophs eyed them in disgust and gave vent to their feelings in rat courts and bull sessions; upperclassmen were at their wit's end as to how to check the nervy greenhorns whose audacity was strengthened by the realization that the draft had seriously depleted junior and senior ranks. Yet in the end they yielded to the whip and were Guilfordized, willingly at heart, reluctantly to the eyes of tyrannical upperclassmen..."   

By the middle of the 20th Century, hazing took on other forms, such as the Boys' May Day. According to retired Guilford professor of history Alex Stoeson, Boys' May Day was "a tradition that began as a parody of the conventional female-centered celebration, and involved male students parading around the campus wearing towel “diapers,” cross-dressing skits that crudely mocked the girls’ themed dances, and satires that lampooned faculty and administration."

"Diaper Gallop."
(The Quaker, 1965)
From the late 1940s to the late 1960s, male Freshmen were herded together in the early morning hours of May Day, and made to run laps around the female dorms in homemade "diapers." (It's never said but strongly implied that they were usually fortified with alcohol - provided by the upperclassmen - to make them stumble, and maybe puke in front of co-eds watching from dorm porches and windowsills.) 

The annual May Day celebrations came to an end in 1969, and were replaced in 1972 by the annual spring weekend “Serendipity,” featuring games, music performances, and general mayhem. 

(*Look for a future post: "From May Day to Serendipity.")

"Freshman Beanie"
(The Quaker, 1967)

This co-ed wears the dreaded "Freshman Beanie," circa 1967, the last year freshmen were required (by upperclassmen) to wear the dorky, humiliating cap. Worn to distinguish freshman class members, beanies were a campus tradition in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Members of the Monogram Club, the campus letter men's organization usually opened up the year convincing freshmen that they were required to wear beanies. Alex Stoesen noted in his history of the College, there was “strong faculty resistance to hazing, even in its mildest forms...any type of formal class system at Guilford has been considered to be at odds with the 
Quaker traditions of the College.”

Although there was a humiliating aspect to the various initiations, random paddling and condescending attitudes of upperclassmen, the hazing was relatively harmless, with the worst being, at most, temporary embarrassment. It served more as a way to keep underclassmen "in their place." No real or lasting physical harm was done, and quite honestly, it was common to most other colleges and universities across the globe at that point in history.
Hazing underclassmen faded out of fashion with the changing times and mores of the turbulent late 1960s and beyond. Campus unity became more important than keeping younger students in line, with larger issues taking center stage: the Equal Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights struggle, and other collegiate protests against inequality.
Today, hazing would absolutely NOT be tolerated in any way, shape, or form at Guilford, where a student's individuality is paramount and encouraged by the campus culture. In the past, hazing may have been frowned upon but largely ignored by the administration. If such things happened today, even in the mildest forms, Guilford officials would shut it down immediately. And that's a good thing. But, despite it being a bit of a skeleton in the Guilford closet, it's a fun story to tell.