Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Co-ed Prom

Co-ed Prom, University of Pittsburgh
Co-ed Prom

Location: University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

Founded: 1915

Closed: 1938

When the first trickle of women entered the University of Pittsburgh at the turn of the century, they were relatively well received. But as their numbers grew--especially with the opening of the School of Education--male hostility increased. By the time of the first World War, women students were petitioning for a Dean of Women to help look after their interests. The first hire was Thyrsa Wealhtheow Amos, who served from 1919 to 1941. Amos strongly encouraged activities "for women only" as she believed these activities would help women students develop leadership skills and confidence.

Co-ed Prom, University of Pittsburgh
One of the results was the Co-ed Prom, which was the Women's Athletic Association's big social event of the year. (Though strictly speaking, Co-ed Prom actually started three years before Amos's tenure.) Note that in this context, co-ed does not mean that it involved both sexes. It means involving just "co-eds" as in just women. Senior women, we're told, "in their brothers' Hickey Freemans, escorted their beribboned little sisters, the freshmen." Amazingly, given increasing Freudian anxiety about homosexuality during the 1920s and 30s, these dances lasted till 1938. They were then promptly replaced with the "Bal Mystique," a dance for both men and women. Not till many decades later would all those baby butches have a chance to don a tuxedo again....

Postscript: Here's a short article on what was apparently the last prom:  Pittsburgh Press (March 27, 1938)

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