Hazing in Girls' Colleges

by Lillian C. Paschal

from Household Ledger, circa 1905



That ye make careful copy and preservation of this proclamation, posting it in a prominent part of your room and observing zealously the precepts herein set forth.

This document not to be removed under the penalty of the law.


This sophomore proclamation, or one similar to it, is the beginning - the Alpha of a college alphabet whose Omega is compromised in the succinct term, "hazing." That unique method of developing a proper humility in the obstreperous freshman has come in these later days to mean something less related to the Spanish Inquisition than of yore, having been frowned out of its former severity.

In girls' colleges, it has never been the "rough-house" process once so gleefully indulged in by their brother institutions; but even its harmless friskiness, as carried out in these abodes of Minerva, is well calculated to reduce to a becoming cranial dent in that inflated bump of vanity assumed by all "sophs" to adorn all "freshies."

Though hazing is not openly countenanced in any of the leading colleges for women, the official eye of the august body irreverently known as "the Fac." may be permitted to blink dignifiedly at certain traditions of punishment for the violation of certain rules by the freshmen.

These rules change every year, but are made in turn by the members of the sophomore class - so the poor, down-trodden worm of a freshman so merrily persecuted this year grins and bears her woes, knowing that next term her turn will come - the worm will turn - from ch[r]ysalis to butterfly, from tormented to tormentor.

So she has a whole year to think up new and original ways of "getting even" - and marvelous are the results thereof in the way of startling rules and the punishments for the breaking of the same. No thought of malice enters into these merry and mischievous laws. It is part of the game to get all the fun possible out of it without losing temper. "Laissez faire" is the motto.

But that is a long tether - one can play fair and still have plenty of latitude for tormenting her fellow-creatures.

At Vassar, the rules are made by all the upper classmen, but are merely tacitly understood. For instance, no freshman is supposed to be so stupid as to enter an elevator before a senior, wear pink and gray, go driving minus the usual chaperon, [sic] or go to New York or the theatre without permission. To be sure, some of these restrictions are supposed to hold the upper-class girls also, with the difference that the senior or junior may dare, while the "freshy" does not dare to transgress.

At Wellesley, the violation of the traditions is merely punished by unpopularity - except one, which is as unalterable as the laws of the Medes and Persians, the rule which accords only to seniors the wearing of the college seal pin. Not hazing, but mobbing, would probably be the fate swift and sure to descend upon the culprit who would be so brazen and sacrilegious as to smash this rule.

A copy of a Barnard College "soph. proc.," the result of some dozens of sophomoric heads being put together in the cause of "freshy etiquette," reads as follows:

This poster was done in red ink on a blank background, with a grewsome [sic] skull and cross-bones traced beneath them, and hung in the freshman study. Special stress was laid on the first statute of this stringent law. "Pigtails don't dignify these classic halls," was the dictum, and any frisky young thing who appeared in that youthful coiffeur became at once the center of a merry "ribbon rush."

But the cap-and-gown question causes more scuffles than any other. This arises from a difference of opinion between the faculty and the upper-class girls - the former granting the envied robes of wisdom to all alike, and the latter cherishing a rooted aversion to seeing the first-year students wearing those badges of dignity.

These are the crimes in the college category. Now for some of the expiation which the rebellious criminal is compelled to undergo. Most of the penalties inflicted are quite harmless, serving in the end a good purpose by strengthening class spirit and wearing away to a fine polish those little crudities of girl nature which are often apparent in "bread-and-butter misses."

First of all, the young transgressor comes under censorship by sly disregard of the laws, then later by flagrant and open disregard of them. She breaks first one then another of the sacred rules, till something must be done to arrest her downward career. Her way of transgression must be made hard. And it is.

She may have been the president or even valedictorian of her class in the "Prep. school," perhaps captain of the basket-ball team, stroke of the crew or tennis champion. She therefore comes to her Alma Mater "wearing her blushing honors thick upon her," and crowned with the doubtful laurel of flattery bestowed by admiring relatives and friends. Naturally, she is perking her dainty head into the view of all who wish to look and "wonder how one small head could carry all she knew."

* *

She soon comes under the eager, watchful eye of the judiciary board of censors, alias the sophomore class. They remark to each other under the tassels of their mortar-boards that they "just ache to tell that 'freshy' that her halo isn't on straight." she must be taught that a mere, no-account freshman is nothing but a bit of verdure, unseasoned, on trial only, an object of suspicion, a menace to peace and happiness - in short, a thing to be suppressed. So they proceed at once to suppress her.

She may be promenading sedately along a sequestered walk in the campus some fine morning, book in hand, wearing her usual air of conscious superiority, complicated with a frown born of Greek verbs, when from behind the ambush of a lilac bush the brigands will pounce upon her.

They abduct her in the most approved Helen Stone style, and, being able-bodied and athletic, they convey her by main force, kicking and struggling, before the solemn tribunal of judges.

This stern body of moralists sits in state upon the throned dais of a garden bench in the cloistered rear of the "gym." They are guarded on either hand by dignified halberdiers, standing soldier-like at attention, and holding rigidly upright their trusty spears, consisting of a garden rake and shovel or hoe.

* *

Into this awful presence the recalcitrant, blindfolded and gasping, is borne by the stalwart brigands. Sentries are posted on the outlook lest any prowling member of the "Fac." be lurking in the vicinity, to pounce upon the secret tribunal and cause a stay of proceedings, or even a hasty and unceremonious adjournment sine die over the garden wall.

"Prisoner at the bar, stand up!" The order from the judge's bench is not all superfluous, as the prisoner, in frantic endeavors to free herself, has resorted to the often employed feminine stratagem of sitting flat on the ground and refusing to budge. Some muscle-play on the part of her captors saves her from adding contempt of court to her other heinous offenses.

"Guilty or not guilty of the charges herein set forth?" comes in sepulchral tones from the dais. There is no answer, for the remarkably good reason that four pink, brigand-fingers are firmly closed over the culprit's lips.

* *

"It is a known tenet of the Ptolemaic law that silence gives consent," announces the second judge, in sonorous accents. "You are found guilty by your own confession, then, of the following charges."

Whereupon Judge Number Three adjusts an imaginary pince-nez upon a particularly pug-nose, and reads aloud - not too loud, remembering the prowling tendencies of the Fac. - from an invisible document, a long array of charges, beginning with "unseemly behavior in twice donning the robes of state," and ending with the appalling one of "eating caramels in the presence of a soph. without offering her one."

The ensuing hush is rudely cracked, not to say broken, by a gurgling snicker from one of the halberdiers. Her dimples are quickly frowned down, however, into their former English-butler impassivity.

"You are remanded for punishment to the fullest extent of the law," is the unanimous verdict of the tribunal, recited in unison and deep, dark voices.

* *

"Down on thy Chi-knees, craven, and plead for mercy!" is the next command. The plea is heard in haughty and unrelenting silence, and the prisoner is placed in the custody of the halberdiers, while the "court-marshals," as they are facetiously called, throw dice to decide upon the kind and number of penalties to be incurred by the unfortunate. Thus no charge of undue influence can be brought - the prisoner's fate is left entirely to Fate.

Then follow orgies of initiation which compel the laughter of even the grave and reverend judges. The criminal is condemned first to that ancient and time-mellowed ceremony known as "riding the goat" - only in this instance that much-abused, mythical animal is quite unique in the fauna of any known country, having the appearance of two very camel-esque white humps decorating the greensward. The "goat" is also given to "bucking," which would put a Montana cayuse to the blush - and which is quite incomprehensible to its puzzled rider till, the bandage being graciously removed from her eyes, she sees her steed resolve itself into its component parts - two flushed, tousled, giggling sophs. on all-fours with a sheet over them.

* *

Her next performance is the compulsory climbing of the oak tree by the garden wall. If she be nimble or Western-bred, this is an easy expiation of her sins, but if she hail from Boston - "Beantown on the Charles," they impertinently call it - her natural timidity is bolstered up by the effectual "backing" of her tormentors, assisted greatly therein by the big garden rake.

The third act is styled, to her great mystification, the "Degree of the Shining Light," till her instruments of action are placed in her reluctant hands. They are the "Materia lumina belonging to the graceful craft of shoe-blackery." in the grandiloquent words of the judges, and she is not permitted to rest an instant till all the boots, little and big, in the crowd have been "shined," inspected and approved.

After this, the events come thick and fast - she "stands pat," quoting again the naughty phrase of the sophs., while a merry game of leap-frog goes on over her. Should the swishing skirt of the last "frog" catch unaccountably somewhere on her person and tumble her over, the fun receives an added impetus.

* *

She is then considered ready for the "water cure," the same being administered through the unhappy medium of a long spoon and a funnel, as she lies prostrate upon the grass, securely held by the enemy. When the pan of water is empty and her persecutors' enjoyment at the full, she is released on condition that she carry to and from class the united piles of study-books belonging to those present, that day and for one week thereafter.

The judges, each in turn, propound the not-to-be-broken laws to her with many solemn injunctions never again to shatter those sacred statutes - and she departs, laden with heavy literature provided for the occasion, slightly cross, greatly dishevelled, and entirely cured of her "bumptiousness."

"which is a consummation devoutly to be wished - to quote from that famous Persian poet, O-mark-I-am It," again to employ the archaic phraseology of that learned personage, the sophomore judge.