Freshman Frolics

Before there were Wimmin’s dances in the 1970s in the Valley, there were turn-of-the-century “Freshman Frolics” at Smith College, as elucidated here by Smith alumni Stacy Braverman, who was a student when she wrote this piece for the original chapbook. The Freshman Frolics ended in 1939 and it appears to me to be one of the changes incurred when the College reacted defensively to the invention and popularization of the concept of the homosexual as a perverse identity.


Crushes at Smith by Stacy Braverman

In the early days of Smith College, there was a strong tradition of “crushes” between first-year students and upperclasswomen. A 1900 article entitled “Unwritten Laws at Smith” details the rules:  First-years were expected to have older crushes, and run errands for, bring flowers to, and compliment them at every opportunity.  Rumors spread with great velocity about who had a crush on whom.

From approximately 1890 to 1915, the Freshman Frolic, which had been held since 1879, became centered on the crush relationship.  Older students would invite first-years to the dance, and serve as their escorts for the evening. They serenaded their guests, presented them to the student body, and danced with them. After the dance, students ate dessert in their escorts’ bedrooms and then rushed home for their 10pm curfews. By the 1920s, parents began attending the Frolic and the crush aspect disappeared. The Frolic itself ended in 1932.

While having a crush was an important part of a Smith student’s first year, it was not expected to become a truly romantic relationship in the modern sense. Nonetheless, the crush was disdained by many outside of Smith. A 1904 article in the Smith College Monthly depicted a typical student’s first trip home from Smith. When she told her aunt about her crush, her aunt described Smith College life as “unnatural.”

courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA.



__ Braverman, Stacy. 2004. One of a series of pieces on Smith College’s LGBTQ history written for this project when it was to be a chapbook published for Northampton’s birthday. Stacy was the archivist for the SC LGBTQ group and with another student is responsible for preserving and making available a collection of material from that group.

__Graphic in Crush folder at College Archives (in the Magic File).  Pamphlet called “The Babies’ Own Journal” page 4, “The Lady from the Lodge.”  Humorous magazine produced by the Class of 1908, describing crush customs. Courtesy Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, Northampton MA.






Hot Summer Hiatus


I give thanks for the rain that has gently fallen on the Valley this morning while I attempt to dance my heart open.

I will be taking a blog break for the rest of July and all of August to step outside the timeline unfolding in FW2W.  Thank you other bloggers who have allowed me to repost your work here in the past weeks.The deep feelings touched off by the relentless recent murders  bring  remembrance and reflection on Northampton’s history that I will need time to fully experience and attempt to put  into  coherent form as some more urgent work gets done.

One image that has risen in my memory’s eye is that of the first census of Northampton, ordered by the King of England, a handwritten list that numbers, but does not name, the slaves who were owned here. From the very beginning of the town. And I recall a line out of the town’s first history describing popular amusements, which included dances to the fiddle playing of a slave loaned out for the occasion.

And even as I’m dancing out my grief this week I find my hands reaching out to other dancers I know are there, in Orlando particularly. Understanding anew how precious the dance is, as expressive relief and as an invocation of love.  Recalling that tiny, grimey pink stuccoed bar in N’hamp where lesbians in the mid-70s claimed a backroom to do that  dance, and were met with violence.  And seeing too, how the refusal to quit becoming visible led to more violence on the streets of Northampton, but also birthed a radical coalition of progressive people willing to march down Main Street in support of lesbians and gays. A coalition that recognized the commonality of our oppression and our collective power.

217C N. Main-1

I’m Gay and This Is Why You Should Care

hey! intersectionality? a word we need to learn and live


I don’t write often on here about my sexual orientation because this blog focuses on my journeys through African American food history.  I came out when I was 16 years old in my school newspaper, and I was scared but I was ready to stand up for being who I was.  

Wow…I’ve been out for 23 years….

Over the years I waxed and waned in how open I was about my orientation because frankly there were people around whom it wasn’t particularly safe to be honest about who I was.  But this is a moment where the word irrevocable is in order. I will never do that dance again to accommodate the weak sensibilities based on prejudice.  Prejudice it has been said, is nothing more than an emotional commitment to ignorance.  If you know anything about my work, I can’t countenance that.  For the most part I have spent…

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Thoughts from Judith on Orlando and the importance of the dance

Looking Back

Events in Orlando have left me stunned and hurting. One of my favorite things about being a lesbian has always been going out to dance. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to dance, and I had dancing in my soul.

When I lived at the woman’s retreat in the Adirondacks, every Saturday night I would be the first one out to our barn to fire up the heater and lay a fire in the stove … and crank up the music on the jukebox. I learned to do the bump there, listening to Carole King’s Smackwater Jack. Before my knees went south.

There were my favorites – LaBelle’s Lady Marmalade, Carly Simon & James Taylor’s rendition of Mockingbird, TSOP, Imagination, Boogie Shoes, Ladies Night, Bennie & the Jetts, Ring You’re Sixteen and Oh, My My. For slow dancing, we had two of my favorites, Barbra Streisand’s singing of “Memories” and Gladys…

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