From May Day to University Day: Exploring Connections Between Chatham Traditions

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As part of this year’s University Day celebration, JKM Library and the Chatham University Archives are pleased to present an exhibit titled From May Day to University Day: Exploring Connections between Chatham Traditions.

This exhibition focuses on the history of Chatham’s May Day pageants and other end-of-the-semester festivities, such as Toe Dabbling Day, Buckets and Blossoms, and University Day. Photographs, programs, and ephemera documenting Chatham’s many springtime celebrations, some dating all the way back to the early twentieth century, will be exhibited at the JKM Library and in the lobby of the Women’s Institute. We even have a special presentation of some recently preserved film footage of the 1935 May Day pageant on the main floor of JKM Library!

These materials document both the May Day pageants held on the Chatham campus many times throughout the years as well as other fun campus traditions. Even though May Day is no longer celebrated at Chatham to the extent it was in the past, the tradition continues to this day when the maypole dance occurs on University Day. It’s fun to be part of this long line of maypole dancers, isn’t it?

Students, faculty, and other Chatham community members are welcome to explore “From May Day to University Day,” located at the JKM Library lobby and the Women’s Institute lounge. If you would like to learn more about Chatham’s history, click here for additional information about the Chatham Archives and Special Collections.

Check out some of our favorite May Day photographs from the collections of the Chatham University Archives and the video of the 1935 May Day celebration below!

May Day 1904

One of the earliest photos of the May Day pageant, taken in May, 1904. Here, costumed students perform the Maypole dance on Chatham’s lawn. These dances were viewed as a feminine form of exercise and a way to unify women through the shared experiences of womanhood and higher education.

May Day 1905

A hand-colored glass lantern slide depicts the 1905 Maypole dance. Audience members appear on the balcony of the original Berry Hall.

May Day 1907

Cornelia Bullock, the 1907 May Queen, poses with attendants.

May Day 1909

Student performers dance around the maypole during the 1909 May Day celebration. Onlookers watch from the balcony extending from Berry Hall.

May Day 1912

Those attending the 1912 May Day pageant watch as the students perform P.C.W.’s rendition of Vârful Cu Dor by Carmen Sylva.

May Day 1915

Spectators look down on students as they perform Paskkennodan: The City of Smoke Vapor written by P.C.W.’s speech instructor, Vanda E. Kurst. The celebration occurred on May 15, 1915 at the conclusion of President John Carey Acheson’s inauguration.

May Day 1916

The 1916 May Day pageant occurred near Lindsay House and the Andrew Mellon greenhouse. Students performed Vanda E. Kurst’s rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Over 5,000 people attended the celebration!

Victory Through Conflict, 1920

Rather than putting on a May Day pageant in 1920, the P.C.W. community staged an elaborate production titled Victory through Conflict. Above, students Marion Gifford, Mary Jane Paul, and Frances Frederick pose together as Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.

May Day 1923

Estelle Maxwell, who attended P.C.W. between 1922 and 1923, appears as an Egyptian princess alongside her attendants during the 1923 May Day pageant.

May Day 1929

Students dress as ghosts and perform a haunting dance during the 1929 May Day celebration titled Persephone: A Greek Festival.

May Day 1935

A distant photo of the 1935 May Day celebration captures Queen Elizabeth and the May Queen sitting side-by-side on their dais. Be sure to view archival film footage from the celebration below and in the lobby of the JKM Library!

May Day 1947

Several maypole dances conclude the May Day pageant of 1947.

 

What a production! We like to think about the history of the maypole dance every year when we see it performed as part of University Day.  It’s a pretty fun connection to our past, don’t you think?

Be sure to stop by the JKM Library, the lounge of the Women’s Institute, and this blog for more information about the May Day celebrations and how they’ve played into Chatham’s springtime celebrations, like Buckets and Blossoms.

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