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Michigan History: The Birth of the Panty Raid

Here’s a little bit of an early #ThrowbackThursday in honor of the University of Michigan’s play-in win last night for the NCAA March Madness tourney and their likely selection for the Frozen Four NCAA hockey championship.  Also note that the photo featured is from Wystan. Click view his Flickr photos – he’s an Ann Arbor historian with TONS of great ones!

The article Panty Raid, 1952 by James Tobin from the University of Michigan’s Michigan Today says (in part):

It had been another dismal Michigan winter. The gray and the cold had stretched well into March. But finally, as the earth approached the vernal equinox on Thursday, March 20, 1952—the eve of the first day of spring—the temperature in Ann Arbor crept up to 57 glorious degrees. Jackets came off. Windows opened.

At about 6:30 p.m., Art Benford, a junior, finished dinner in the dining hall of West Quad. He went to his room in Allen Rumsey House and picked up his trumpet. Benford said later he had only meant to relax by playing a little music. But his impromptu rendition of Glenn Miller’s “Serenade in Blue” set off a chain of events that gave America a distinguishing fad of the 1950s—the panty raid.

…Remember, it would be more than 15 years before men were allowed to visit women’s dorms at Michigan without restriction. Incursions like this were very much against the rules.

Back outside, someone shouted words that would become a rallying cry for the next decade—”To the Hill!”—meaning, to the much larger and then-all-women’s dorms on Observatory and Ann. The crowd surged east on North University—first to Stockwell, then Mosher-Jordan. At each, they made incursions, ran up stairs and down corridors, then left. Women poured wastebasket-loads of water from the windows.

By the time the men got to Alice Lloyd Hall, women residents had locked the front doors. This apparently fueled the fire. The rowdies got in through side doors, raced upstairs and into women’s rooms, and seized what the Ann Arbor News called “miscellaneous female unmentionables.” The Detroit News, less squeamish, said the men took “items of lingerie as souvenirs.”

After a rush through Couzens, the men streamed back down North University, where they invaded the all-women’s preserve of the League. Others made it to the Michigan Theater, where they stormed the stage—interrupting, as chance would have it, a screening of “Behave Yourself”—and sang a verse or two of “The Victors.”

By now it was 9 p.m., and for a moment the storm seemed to have spent itself. But then the milling crowd of men spotted a counterattack heading their way: a horde of women flooding into Central Campus from the Hill.

The women aimed straight at the symbol of male privilege—the front door of the Union, which by tradition was never to be entered by an unaccompanied female. They surged through the Union, then into all-male West Quad, where “several quadders, caught unawares with their shorts on, were forced to scamper for safety,” according to the Daily.

At South Quad, “pandemonium broke loose,” the Daily reported. “While some men beckoned to the women, others formed a barrier at the front doors, but the screaming coeds broke through. In a moment, the lounge was cluttered. Hysterical staffmen called for order.”

Here at last authority was reasserted in the stern form of Deborah Bacon, dean of women, the enforcer of in loco parentis. Her appearance took the steam out of the women, who left and walked home before curfew.

Hundreds of men, still game and unrestricted by “hours,” spread out for new assaults. Some went back to the Hill, where, at Alice Lloyd, a resident had mounted a flashing red light in her window; some to Martha Cook, where President Harlan Hatcher, venturing out of his house across the street, told the boys to go home, without much effect; some back to Betsy Barbour, where they were repelled by residents wielding a fire hose at a window.

Chuck Elliott, a Daily editor, detected a dark edge to the revelry, “the earlier, funny stages slowly changing as the night went on into unpleasant demonstrations of near-viciousness.”

At about 1 a.m., it started to rain, and it was over.

But only for that night. The “mass riot,” as the Daily called it, drew a good deal of news coverage, even making the national newsmagazines. Within weeks, copycat episodes sprang up on other campuses, and a national “panty raid” craze ensued. The spontaneous swiping of women’s underwear that night at Alice Lloyd became a standard, planned practice that went on for ten years—the ritual seeking of trophies by men raiding women’s dormitories and sororities. Although the term “panty raid” apparently had been used earlier, it was the Michigan fracas that inspired the national fad.

Read on via the Wayback machine for more on the birth of this Fifties fad, and also the issues that led to a campus wide outbreak that involved thousands of people.