Photos courtesy of Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
BY MICHALA SAWYER ’17
Inviting families into the Mount Holyoke bubble has only been a relatively recent tradition in the history of the College. The first Parents’ Day was in 1951. However, from 1958-1973, only students’ fathers were invited to visit their children and take part in an annual Father-Daughter dance. The weekend became open to all parents in 1974.
Original activities for parents included attending morning classes with their children, a special luncheon and sporting events, such as an archery exhibition and even a water ballet performance. The major feature of the Mount Holyoke Parents’ Weekend was the coronation of the May Queen and her court.
The May Day celebration was a college tradition which started in 1898. The May Day Queen, who was a senior voted in by the student body, and her court were crowned in a May Day Pageant. “The presentation of the May Queen, traditionally the most beautiful girl in the senior class, and her court will open an afternoon of sports activities...a short skit and country dances by the Dance Club will be climaxed by the crowning of the queen, whose identity has been kept secret until that moment,” said a Mount Holyoke press release to the Springfield Daily News on April 30, 1951, provided by the Mount Holyoke Archives from their Student Traditions collection.
The May Day Queen Pageant was a story of “pantomime and dance” presented on Pageant Green and was often choreographed by the dance department and viewers were provided with programs, which detailed the story. The tradition was suspended in 1943-1945 during World War II, but then continued until 1968. The last year of the Pageant was 1949, the coronation of May Day Queens became less elaborate and was absorbed into the Parents’ Weekend festivities.
The first Father’s Weekend was in 1958. It included various Father-Daughter sports tournaments, a Dramatic Club play of “Finnegans Wake” adapted from James Joyce, a water ballet performance and a Father-Daughter Dance, during which the May Queen would be crowned. It soon became a tradition for the students to choose nine May Queen candidates and for the fathers to choose the actual Queen. A 1964 press release from Mount Holyoke said, “Those fathers, who are connoisseurs of feminine charms will elect the Queen by ballot on Saturday.”
In March of 1967, the college sent out bright red invitations with the words “Sugar Daddy,” printed in large, curly black written on the front, announcing that year’s theme the Fathers’ Weekend in 1967. “Fathers, acting as escorts for their daughters, [would] try to recreate the spirit of the Roaring Twenties,” said a press release from Mount Holyoke to the Springfield Daily News. Activities that weekend included sporting events such as canoeing, a showing of a Charlie Chaplin movie and a theatrical performance of Jerome Kern’s musical “Roberta.” To fit with the 1920s theme, the annual Father-Daughter Dance on Saturday evening was turned into a “Speakeasy.”
In 1968, during Fathers’ Weekend, the school held a mock primary election for the highly contested 1968 presidential race. Among the results, 34.3 percent of the fathers selected Republican businessman Nelson Rockefeller while 45.6 percent of students selected Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy, a member of the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party. One student even voted for their father for president. According to a press release from Mount Holyoke, a professor of political science at the school said “the results indicate that the new daughters are more flexible than their fathers ... this is part of the new politics — participatory politics. This generation does not vote the same as their parents.”
In 1974, the college changed ‘Fathers’ Weekend’ to ‘Parents Weekend’ after a 1973 poll where students voted 5 to 1 in favor of the shift in focus from merely fathers to parents. Special events for that weekend included a parent-daughter field hockey game, a fashion show courtesy of the Campus Shop and a Lab Theater presentation of “The Changing Roles of Women.”
The college eventually moved Parents’ Weekend from the spring to the fall in 1989. It was renamed Family and Friends Weekend in 2005 and has maintained some traditions such as watching various sporting events and going canoeing. This tradition of inviting family to the campus has gone through many evolutions but, at heart, it has always been a way to let parents, friends and family know that Mount Holyoke students are happy and belong here.