May Day Festivals in America, 1830 to the Present


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About the Book

Starting in the early 1830s, American girls and women began to hold Old English May Day festivals, complete with maypole dances, the crowning of a May Queen, and romantic plays and pageants. These festivals accelerated in popularity after 1900 at colleges and universities across the country. An important part of the traditional college experience for many women, the celebrations played a surprisingly influential role in the Progressive reform movement.
This is a thorough history that examines the creation and development of the traditional American May Day festival. It also provides an overview of May Day celebrations at 80 specific college and universities, eight of which continue to celebrate the festival annually.

About the Author(s)

Allison Thompson is a writer, historian, and folk dance leader and musician. (She was the student dance leader for the Elizabethan May Day festival held at Earlham College in 1977.) She lives in Pittsburgh.

Bibliographic Details

Allison Thompson
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 280
Bibliographic Info: 52 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2013 [2009]
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7722-7
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1302-4
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      v

Introduction: “I’m to Be Queen of the May, Mother!”      1

Part I: May Day


1. Celebrating May Day in England before 1800      15

2. The Making of May Day in Merrie England      23

3. John Ruskin and the Whitelands College May Queen Festival      32

4. Merrie May Day in the New World      38


5. Physical Education for Girls and Young Women      49

6. “As the Child Plays, So Will the Adult Perform”: Progressive Reformers and the Playground Movement      58

7. The Educational, Hygienic, Civic, and Moral Benefits of Folk Dance      67

8. The Pageant and Festival Movement      75

9. The Urban Child’s May Day      85


10. The Making of the College Girl of 1900      91

11. Origins of the College May Day Pageant      98

12. The Play’s the Thing—College May Day Pageant Themes      107

13. Corydon in Arcadia—Men and May Day      120

14. Maypole Dances and Drills      129

15. Crowning the College May Queen      139

16. The May Queen Unthroned      148


17. May Day as Labor Day, Loyalty Day, Law Day, Child Health Day, and Lei Day      156

18. Celebrating an Old English May Day Today      164

Conclusion: “The Merriest Day of All the Glad New Year!”      177

Part II: The College Festivals

Agnes Scott College      185

Albright College      187

Auburn University      187

Bates College      187

Berea College      188

Bluffton University      189

Brenau University      189

Brown University      190

Bryn Mawr College      190

Bucknell University      191

Carleton College      191

Case Western Reserve University      193

Chatham University      194

Colby College      195

College of Wooster      196

Columbia College      197

Converse College      198

DePauw University      199

Duke University      200

Earlham College      201

Elmira College      202

Goucher College      202

Grinnell College      203

Grove City College      204

Hollins College      206

Hood College      207

Indiana University      208

Iowa State University      209

James Madison University      210

Judson College      210

Kansas State University      211

Kent State University      212

Lebanon Valley College      213

Mary Baldwin College      213

Meredith College      214

Miami University      215

Mills College      215

Mount Holyoke College      217

Muskingum College      218

Newcomb College, Tulane University      219

New Mexico State University      220

Oberlin College      221

Oklahoma State University      222

Oregon State University      222

Pennsylvania State University      222

Randolph College      223

Rockford College      223

Rollins College      225

Russell Sage College (The Sage Colleges)      226

Salem College      226

Scripps College      227

Simmons College      227

Skidmore College      228

Smith College      229

Sweet Briar College      229

Trinity University      230

University of California at Berkeley      231

University of Charleston, West Virginia      231

University of Colorado      231

University of Denver      233

University of Idaho      234

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign      234

University of Kansas      235

University of Maryland      235

University of Minnesota      236

University of Missouri      237

University of New Hampshire      237

University of Puget Sound      238

University of Richmond (Westhampton College)      238

University of South Carolina      239

University of Tennessee      239

Ursinus College      239

Valdosta State University      240

Wartburg College      241

Wellesley College      241

Wells College      242

Westminster College      243

Wilson College      244

Winthrop University      246

Chapter Notes      249

Selected Bibliography      261

Index      265

Book Reviews & Awards

“a model of organization and scholarship, with each well-researched chapter building on the previous to paint a clear and logical portrait of May Day celebrations…fascinating insights…well-researched and well-written, packed with information and illustrations…you must read this book”—Society of Folk Dance Historians.