A History of the Dartmouth Man
By Jack Boger, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 11, 2012
The recent Rolling Stone article “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy” profiles the now infamous Dartmouth student Andrew Lohse ’12 and his allegations of hazing and its subsequent cover-up here in Hanover. But beyond the sensationalism inherent in the piece, an interesting tidbit about masculinity at Dartmouth lingers. At one point, Lohse elaborates on his vision of what it means to be a “Dartmouth man,” referencing his late grandfather Austin Lohse ’47. He “idolized” his grandfather, a lacrosse and football player who to him was “the embodiment of the high-achieving, hard-drinking, fraternal ethos of the Dartmouth Man,” or as Lohse more succinctly puts it, a “true bro.” He goes on to say that a Dartmouth man is a very “specific kind of creature,” the paragon of “white-male privilege: ‘good-looking, preppy, charismatic, excellent at cocktail parties, masculine, intelligent, wealthy (or soon to become so), a little bit rough around the edges.’”
The idea of an archetypal and ideal Dartmouth man has been around for centuries and clearly continues to ignite discussion today. As long as there has been a Dartmouth College, there have been Dartmouth men. These men are marked and made by their time in Hanover with their development shaped by the history and culture of the College. When Eleazar Wheelock drafted the College’s charter in 1769, he founded it “for the education and instruction of youth of the Indian tribes in this land ... and also of English youth and any others.” This original definition of the Dartmouth man quickly became meaningless, however, as Dartmouth focused solely on educating English youth rather than the youth of Native American tribes.
Early alumni shaped a lot of the characteristics we now consider inherent to the definition of Dartmouth men. For example, Daniel Webster embodied the key trait of fanatical love for and loyalty to for the College when he spoke his now famous words before the Supreme Court in 1819: “It is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it.” This love of Dartmouth manifests itself in positive ways, like our strong sense of community, but also in negative ways, such as a deep-seated traditionalism that can and has prevented the College from instituting progressive policies and development. Writing at the dawn of the 20th century, English professor H.H. Horne noted the “far-famed” loyalty of Dartmouth men and compared them favorably to Spartans, while disparaging the academic and implicitly effete Athens of Harvard University.
Samuel Powers, a member of the Class of 1874, gave a speech at the annual banquet of the Dartmouth Alumni Association of Boston in 1922 to provide “character sketches of Dartmouth men.” One of his key characteristics of Dartmouth men is “a deficiency in credulity” — that is, a certain hardness and a lack of innocence. Powers lauded a variety of alumni including Frank Haskell, a gallant Civil War officer, Philander Chase, “the great American Bishop” of the Episcopal Church who founded Kenyon College, and railroad magnate Benjamin Kimball, “a very remarkable man” who “possessed in a remarkable degree the best traits which go to make up the typical Dartmouth character.”
It is also interesting to read Powers’ complaint in this same speech that Dartmouth alumni have disproportionately gone into the fields of education, medicine and theology rather than “the field of law, or invention, or banking, or manufacture.” If only he could see us now.
In his 1939 sociology thesis, William Goodman ’39 wrote that during the late 1920s, “Dartmouth men rode around in open cars, smuggled liquor across the state line ... [and] were mostly smooth gents, being the direct antithesis of the ‘he men’ of the early [1920s].” Sex, liquor and football dominated the priorities of many Dartmouth men at the time, according to his thesis.
The 1921 announcement that Dartmouth would be the first school in the country to institute selective admissions slowly changed the character of the Dartmouth man by allowing minority groups, particularly Jewish men, to take advantage of an Ivy League education for the first time. This increased focus on academics, however, ran squarely into the anti-intellectual sentiment that prevailed on campus. Goodman writes that students earned “gentlemen’s grades, and he who worked was a fool.”
Decades later, a 1991 honors thesis by Allen Arthur Drexel ’91, “Degrees of Silence,” examined what he called the “hypermasculine ideology associated with Dartmouth College” from 1935 to 1991. A “hysterical emphasis on such factors as athletic prowess, heterosexual achievement and the capacity for hard drinking” underpinned the 20th century Dartmouth creed. “Proof of manliness,” and therefore social acceptability, derived from demonstrated success in these aforementioned categories. One’s reputation as “a man of Dartmouth” could be “earned, or certainly enhanced, through the employment of language and physical behavior that was emphatically sexist or homophobic.”
However, this version of the Dartmouth man, while rooted in truth and still existing in vestigial form today, doesn’t given enough agency to the women who interacted with the good old boys. Drexel holds up “the custom of road-tripping to nearby women’s colleges for ‘weekend sex’” as evidence of the “systematic objectification of and violence toward women” — but those same women did not tacitly accept such treatment. The editors of the Smith and Mount Holyoke College newspapers compiled a 1966 guide to men’s colleges for such visits called, “Where the Boys Are.” The Dartmouth portion opens by describing the Dartmouth man as “a masochist: he will regularly drive for three hours just for a chance to be shot down by a Smithie. ... Marooned in the womanless wilds of New Hampshire, the Dartmouth man soon comes to appreciate the poignancy of his college motto: a voice crying out in the wilderness.”
Nonetheless, a degree of violence permeated the culture of Dartmouth men in the 20th century. In 1949, Raymond Cirrotta ’47 was brutally murdered by four drunk football players. Viewed by many as “overly-intellectual,” he was found sleeping in a varsity letter sweater he had not earned, causing his assailants to bash his head in on his desk. Although his murderers were expelled from Dartmouth, they were not criminally charged.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the Dartmouth man was often characterized as an “animal.” A 1962 Sports Illustrated article wrote, “There are animals in the Big Ten and at Dartmouth, but not at Harvard.” In 1968, Pace magazine described “the traditional Dartmouth ‘animal,’ the boozing, womanizing, loud-mouthed knucklehead of yore, the old ‘Big Greener.’”
The great changes sweeping the country during the 1960s challenged prevailing social norms about masculinity, and Hanover was not immune to the changing times. That same Pace article asked, “What are they doing to the Ivy League man?” The author wrote that “the typical Dartmouth man today is not so often the hulking, stubble-cheeked outdoorsman he may have been 20 years ago. But he is almost always vital and active.” He described “the Dartmouth look” as “square-shouldered, strong-jawed, clean-cut,” chronicling the slow retreat of the “animal.”
Similarly, a 1962 article in The Dartmouth, “The Changing Dartmouth Man,” charted “the slow emergence of a new sort of undergraduate” who was more intelligent, academic and socially conscious. The dominant discourse on campus, however, remained that of the aforementioned “old Big Greener.” In the same article, one student blamed the then-new Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts for being “at least partly responsible for the presence of so many ‘artsy types.’”
In 1964 Undergraduate Council President David Weber ’65 gave an address titled “Dartmouth’s Whole Man Reconsidered” in which he expressed his frustration with the College’s “monolithic model of manhood.”
“Dartmouth is dedicated to the educating of men in such a way that they shall be ‘made whole in the largest measure,’” he said. “But men made whole in the largest measure are not men — as we have been — who are intolerant of any deviation from our demanded norms of behavior.”
In 1972, following a bitter debate, the College went coed, and women, by their very presence, challenged the “Dartmouth Animal mythology,” Drexel wrote. Despite the hostile resistance from men during the early years of coeducation, Dartmouth women persevered and forced the “drastic modification of old, deeply-embedded sexist assumptions” that have helped shape Dartmouth as we know it today.
The whole Dartmouth community, prior to coeducation, viewed itself as one big fraternity of sorts. Since 1972, we have modified that view to become one big family, standing as sister stands by brother, daring a deed for the Old Mother.
As Drexel noted in his thesis, Dartmouth women have “crack[ed] the College’s rigid code of masculinity, smoothing out its rough edges to encourage a more well-rounded product- a Dartmouth man made whole in the largest measure indeed.