Green Key’s long history defined by changing traditions
By Madison Pauly, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 18, 2012
This year’s celebration marks the 113th year since the first Green Key Weekend, though the event’s name and traditions have changed over time. The tradition of spring revelry dates back to 1899, when a number of fraternities planned parties to celebrate the end of another long New England winter and to attract women to the all-male campus.
Originally known as Spring Houseparties Weekend, Green Key did not gain its current moniker until the inception of the Green Key Society in 1921. Formed by two secret societies with the goal of ensuring that the student body behaved by College standards, the new society quickly took over the planning and management of the weekend’s events.
Early traditions included a variety show and “Junior Promenade” in addition to the nightly dances on Webster Avenue.
Dartmouth men quickly adopted the formal prom as their primary social event of the season, and finding a date for the dance became a task of paramount importance. The name of each fraternity member’s date was printed in The Dartmouth and could appear in national papers like The New York Times, the Boston Herald and the New York Herald Tribune.
“If a pretty girl is like a melody, then this year’s Green Key weekend was a mighty tuneful affair,” according to a 1965 article in The Dartmouth.
In some cases, getting women to the College and back proved to be the most difficult undertaking.
After Colby Junior College women were sentenced in 1948 to a week of campus confinement after being caught drinking on their own campus, 310 Dartmouth men signed a petition requesting the judge to lift the restrictions due to “low ticket sales.” Their efforts were unsuccessful.
Jacques Harlow ’50 recalled an incident when his roommate’s date missed her bus back to Skidmore College. Harlow had to fly her back to the school in a small propeller plane, but he got lost on the way back and had to land alongside the Connecticut River.
“We landed, rolled about 100 meters and the engine stopped,” he said. “We’d run out of gas.”
The “Prom Girls,” hailing from New England women’s schools like Colby Junior College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and Skidmore College rented rooms in town or slept with chaperones in fraternities, while their dates were relegated to the houses’ front lawns.
The tradition of outdoor sleeping would re-emerge in the 1950s, when students brought mattresses and blankets to the golf course for a night of romance with their dates.
Although the tradition found support with younger Hanover residents, it created scandal with parents in the town.
“Imagine the titillation our boys undergo when they see two couples wandering back in the early morning,” an anonymous parent wrote to The Dartmouth in 1965. “This and innumerable other blatant scenes have enabled our boys to get an early grasp of the value of college life and a true realization of what it means to be a ‘Dartmouth Man.’”
The Hanover Country Club had long been a locus for “less Puritan” revelry. In 1954, the police found a student snacking on the eighth hole. Upon arrest, he was found to be in possession of marijuana, heroin and whisky, in addition to cupcakes and frankfurters. Additional searches of the property turned up 69 students with their dates among the hills and sand traps.
A parent complaint in 1965 prompted the College to send groundskeepers armed with sprinklers and bullhorns to prevent further “misuse of the town’s normally afforded pleasure privileges.”
The 1960s also saw a shift in the social focus of the weekend. In 1967, riots over a campus lecture by segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace led to the cancellation of the Green Key Ball. The dance had been canceled before — in 1924 after a noise complaint, and in 1931 after Lulu McWoosh alledgedly bicycled around the Green naked on a Sunday morning the previous year — but the Ball did not return until 2009, when the Green Key Society reinstituted the tradition.
Green Key Weekend has also been marked by a revolving door of violent traditions and competitions. In the “Wetdown Ceremony,” students doused new student government representatives with food and water. Other students then forced them to “run the gauntlet.”
“Belt buckles are banned from the gauntlet, and the running is expected to produce more exhilaration than injury,” according to 1965 article in The Dartmouth.
The Greek Games, a series of inter-fraternity athletic contests, replaced the competition in the 1960s but were soon canceled due to their escalating aggression. Next, chariot races featuring four human “horses” and makeshift chariots of a chair and two wheels became the main event. A fist fight in 1976, however, between members of two fraternities over sabotage accusations put an end to the practice.
Over the years, musical performances have taken on a more central role in the weekend’s festivities. One of the longest-running musical traditions was known as the “Hums,” an inter-fraternity singing contest judged by administrators and long dominated by Alpha Theta coeducational fraternity. Controversial song lyrics in 1974 referring to the school’s new coeds with derogatory language caused the competition’s cancellation.
In 1978, a Grateful Dead show drew “Deadheads” from across New England. A 1992 Rolling Stone feature on Alpha Delta fraternity mentioned the big names its Lawn Party has brought to campus, including Anthrax in 1982 and Blues Traveler in 1988.