Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Throwback Thursday: Maypole Edition

May 2nd, 2019

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of people gathered for the May Day Fete, 1908

KU’s first May (or May Day) Fete, May 23, 1908. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/10 1908: Student Activities: May Day (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

This photo appears to have been taken from Old Green (now Lippincott) Hall, looking south/southeast. Part of Old Fraser Hall – located approximately where modern Fraser Hall now stands – is visible on the right; Old Blake Hall is in the middle of the background.

Two days before the Fete, the University Daily Kansan student newspaper reported that the participants were ready for the event “after weeks of drill and elaborate preparations.”

In describing the Fete after its conclusion, the Kansan asserted that the maypole dances were “the prettiest part of the performance.” Specifically, “four poles representing the sororities of the school [Pi Beta Phi, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and Chi Omega] and one for the University were wound with ribbon by a crowd of girls. The dancing around the poles and the effect of the many colored ribbons made a decidedly pleasing sight.”

Article about the May Fete in the University Daily Kansan, 1908

An article about the May Fete in the University Daily Kansan,
May 23, 1908. Image via Newspapers.com. Click image to enlarge.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Throwback Thursday: Hooray for Spring Edition

March 22nd, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

Photograph of the May Day Fete, 1921

A participant in the May Day Fete, 1921.
Photo by the KU News Bureau. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/10 1921 Prints: Student Activities: May Day (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

First held in 1908, the KU May (or May Day) Fête was a spring festival that included maypoles, music, dances, and games. It replaced the more violent KU tradition of the May Day Scrap. The last mention of the May Fête occurred in the Kansan student newspaper on May 23, 1923.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

KU Traditions Past: May-pole Scrap and May Fête

May 15th, 2012

As Robert Taft explains in his history of KU, Across the Years on Mount Oread, the first May-pole scrap occurred on May 1, 1891. The preceding night, the junior class had erected a pole forty feet high in front of old Fraser (then known as University Hall), and on the pole was a banner marked with the figures, ’92.  The pole was found on the ground the next morning with a sophomore wielding an axe beside it.  The juniors, aided by a group of freshman, tried to regain the pole and banner, but the seniors came to the rescue of the sophomores and together they burned the banner.  The battle raged into the evening and the “May-pole scrap” was born.  This battle between freshman and sophomores continued for nearly fifteen years as an annual event and eventually developed into a series of duels that were not confined to May-day alone.  The May-pole scrap was discontinued by 1905 because of the violent nature of this KU tradition.

May-pole Scrap, 1904
1904 May-pole Scrap between the freshman and sophomore classes to determine whose colors would be hoisted on the May pole. May Day Photographs, Call Number: 71/10/1904

In its place a new tradition was established, the May Fête.  Read the rest of this entry »