In 1943, UNC-Greensboro was the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina. And on this day in 1943, first-year students were preparing for their freshman formal. Our May Artifact of the Month is a dance card from that event.
In the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, dance cards provided a structure and etiquette for attendees of formal dances. The dance card — which was really a small booklet — had a number of blank lines corresponding to the dance songs at the event. When a man invited a woman to dance to a particular song, she’d write his name down on the corresponding line.
These days, if a critical mass of people still attended formal dances, someone would design a smart phone app to handle this task. But in the 1940s, paper and pen managed just fine.
And although the dance card is no longer a mainstay of social gatherings, we’ve kept the idea of the dance card alive as a metaphor for describing our social capacity — hence the phrase “my dance card is full.”
This particular dance card was donated by NCC Gallery volunteer and donor Bob Schreiner, who came across it for sale on the Web. We don’t know anything about its original owner, but the dance card itself conveys enough information to give us an intriguing picture of the life of that Woman’s College student.
The card gives the location, Rosenthal Gymnasium, which was built on the campus in the 1920s and can be seen in this photograph from the County Collection in the NCC Photographic Archives:
We also know that the official guests included Frank Porter Graham, who was then UNC President, and Woman’s College Chancellor Walter Clinton Jackson.
Graham is described in the 1943 Woman’s College yearbook, Pine Needles, like this:
Dr. Graham is recognized as one of the South’s truly great men, but this is not what endears him to us. He is a particular favorite of ours because of his easy manner, his very effective speeches, and his delightful conversation. Our only complaint is that we see too little of him.
The 1943 Pine Needles also illuminates some aspects of life at this women’s college during World War II. The foreword to the yearbook reads:
“The 1943 Pine Needles is trying to portray for you the true spirit of a great woman’s college; to give you the picture of young women who — in the midst of a world at war — are seeking to equip themselves to play a useful role in a post-war world in need of a responsible youth; and to aid you, the students, to recall the laughter and hard work, the study and recreation, and — above all — the pure joy of living which was so much a part of your college life.
You may not remember… the times you were homesick… your struggle in Statistics… the payments you made in the Treasurer’s Office… the term papers you ground out in the Library… how long the lunch lines were…
But just try to forget: … those solitary walks by the lake… those ever-welcome boxes from home… initiation day for freshman and how queer girls look minus make-up… coming from chapel in the rain… the snowballs you threw… registration day and the struggle to avoid “eight o’clocks”… that blankety-blank alarm clock… dashing into Junior Shop for cokes and crackers between classes… “after-school” hockey games and the appetites you worked up… a W.C. formal with its dance cards and crowded floor… dance group and how you wished you were in it… those dorm parties which always surprised you… riding at Mary Lee… the jam around the Milk Bar on Saturday nights… the sophomore Christmas pageants which were always lovely… waiting for the mail to be put up… rolling your hair at night in hopes that it won’t rain the next day… learning to aim at your target… !
Because dance cards were typically carried by women, they usually list men’s names. But judging by the names on this card, the card holder’s dance partners were all women. Thanks to the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, we can even see photos of those dance partners in the 1946 Pine Needles.
And while the yearbook foreword mentions the “W.C. formal with its dance cards and crowded floor,” it doesn’t give any indication of whether the floor was crowded solely with women. The names on this dance card are our only clue.
If the freshman formal was an all-women event, we’re left to wonder whether that was by design, or whether the war effort overseas had affected the population of local young college men.
If any readers have personal experience or more information, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Thanks to Bob Schreiner for this fantastic donation!