BSC Folklore

The MaypoleDanceMaypole Dance

Description:

Women in white dresses dance around the maypole by Munger Hall. Each holds a ribbon attached to the top of the pole. As they go ‘round, the ribbon decorates the pole in spring colors.

Source:

Alumni photo archive: 1937 or ‘38


Brief Commentary:

The Maypole Dance was a common rite of spring at colleges from the late nineteenth century through the 1950s. Historian David Glassberg argues that the celebration was created (or resurrected) by turn-of-the-century progressives who bemoaned America's lack of wholesome traditions. They believed that Puritanism had severed this country's ties to the culture of Elizabethan England—a belief supported by a reading of Hawthorne's short story, “The May-Pole of Merrymount.”

It is widely believed that the May Day festivities disappeared in the 1960s with the advent of the women's rights movement, but some scholars also argue that campus traditions in general became less relevant at that time as students began to focus their attentions on the larger world beyond the college gate. Nevertheless, many colleges (particularly all-women schools) continue the tradition today. BSC is not among them.

Questions:

  • How long was this a tradition at BSC?
  • Was the dance part of a larger celebration, a May Day Festival?
  • How did that celebration differ from spring festivals at other colleges?
  • How widespread was student participation?
  • What accounts for its disappearance?

YOUR THOUGHTS?
Email your comments, corrections, or additions to tcowan@bsc.edu.

Bibliography

  • Beattie, Rich.  “Maypole Festivals: Dancing to Celebrate Spring.”  New York Times April 21, 2006.

  • Glassberg, David.  “Restoring a ‘Forgotten Childhood': American Play and the Progressive Era's Elizabethan Past.”  American Quarterly 32:4 (Autumn 1980): 351-68.

  • Griffin, Edward M.  “Dancing Around the Maypole, Ripping Up the Flag: The Merry Mount Caper and Issues in American History and Art.”  Renascence 57:3 (Spring 2005): 177-202.

  • Klein, Richard M.  “Maypoles and Earth Mothers.”  Natural History 85:5 (May 1976): 4+.

  • “May Day Celebration.”  Centennial Celebration home page.  James Madison University.  <http://www.jmu.edu/centennialcelebration/mayday.shtml>.

  • “MCH May Pageant April 28.”  News and Events home page.  Mount Holyoke College.  http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/news/may_pageant.shtml.

  • Miller, John N.  “'The Maypole of Merry Mount': Hawthorne's Festive Irony.”  Studies In Short Fiction 26:2 (Spring 1989): 111-   .

  • “Spring Is in the Air at Albright—Memories of Glorious May Days.”  Albright Sesquicentennial Stories home page.  Albright College.  <http://www.albright.edu/150/mayday.html>.

  • “Traditions.”  Student Activities home page.  Bryn Mawr College.  <http://www.brynmawr.edu/activities/traditions.shtml>.

  • “Trinity Celebrates Founders' Day.”  Media Relations home page.  Trinity University.  <http://www.trinitydc.edu/news_events/2002/founders/maypole.html>.