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Step Exercises
The transfer of Senior privilege

 
Step Exercises on Skinner Steps in 1939. Courtesy MHC Archives
 
The Senior class president dresses her Junior counterpart in cap and gown as part of the transfer of Senior privilege. courtesy MHC Archives
 
 
 

Step Singing History One of the oldest and longest running traditions of Mount Holyoke College is Step Singing, or Step Exercises. This tradition dates back to 1897, and was originally held on the steps of Williston Hall. At that time the steps were called the "Senior Steps" and only Seniors could sit on them. Around steps was the site of many college activities, including the campus sings. Helen Mower '03 relates:

  Through out the spring just after dinner it is the custom to gather for a campus sing, when all the college songs are sung one after another and always ending with that song dear to every Holyoke girl's heart, the Good Night Song, Gray Shadows are creeping far out in the West. On this occasion the Seniors always occupy the Senior steps, which are the steps to one of the recitation halls, and woe to the Freshman who unwittingly pauses to rest for a moment on those same steps. If she is seen by a Sophomore she is ejected without ceremony but if she is seen by a Junior the ancient custom is explained to her and the offence is never repeated.

Because of their significance, the steps were a perfect place for the seniors to pass their power on to the Junior class. Both classes, clad in white dresses and the seniors in cap and gown, would process to the steps singing songs to each other. Then the senior class president would remove her cap and gown and dress her junior counterpart in it. This represented the passing of the "seniority" to the juniors, and was a treasured ritual between the two classes.

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This page was created by Jennifer Loomer '04 and Katherine Underwood '05 in History 283, Fall Semester 2003
jmloomer@mtholyoke.edu and kaunderw@mtholyoke.edu