by Meredith Minter, class of 1984
May the first—thoughts rush by of disaster, the Russian Revolution and History 001—not necessarily in that order. But once, when R-M's school year started and ended later, May 1 was the date of our two biggest holidays: Field Day and May Court.
Field Day was the older of the two, having begun in the early years of the century. It was a sort of intramural track meet in which all students were encouraged to participate. Those breaking records in the events, which included shot-puts, broad and high jumps and basketball throws, received R-M monograms; those winning first place got their class' numerals. The class with the highest overall score won an R-M banner, which was coveted, and, consequently, jealously guarded by the classes which won it. Indeed, it had nearly the status of an Odd or Even Trophy.
May Day began in the pre-dawn silence of May 4, 1909, when ten or eleven determined girls danced around a Maypole one morning before breakfast. It quickly expanded from this rather inauspicious beginning, gaining official recognition and a slightly later time slot. The early ceremonies were no more than an attractive but perfunctory dance, followed by the crowning of a queen from among the dancers. They were largely ignored, if one can judge by The Sundial, which habitually devoted its front page almost entirely to Field Day rosters and tucked its May Queen articles in at the back.
In 1922, when Smith was built on the site of the Maypole, May Day was transformed. Moved to the Dell, it acquired a theme, and became distinctly sedentary. Dances there were, but more formal ones: first in the nature of skits, and later, when the trustees relaxed, real dances with men. About that time, in 1929, The Sundial has a frontpage Field Day article with a difference. Field Day was great, it records plaintively, so why wasn't anyone there? Inadvertently, perhaps, it answers its own question, by describing an especially elaborate—and male-dominated—May Court. The next year, May Day is on the front page—and Field Day is never mentioned again.
In the next 30 years, May Day came to dominate the semester. May Queens were named as early as February, and their personalities, finances, and "beauty secrets" were perennial copy for Sundial reporters in need of a story. One queen, Alice Coor, was offered a Hollywood contract on the strength of her looks; she turned it down to stay at Randolph-Macon.
Gradually, May Day grew so important that a weekend was given over to it, not unlike SDD. "Coed campus for a weekend," the 1966 Sundial called it. Then, because there were so many May Weekend activities scheduled, the crowning of the queen came less and less important.
The May Weekend finally ended in the early seventies, after Randolph-Macon's calendar changed to its present form. After all, nobody wanted to host a date during exams. But, before it ended, it left the campus at least one bit of semi-imperishable verse.
Sung at a May Court parody, the Dismay Court, in 1943 lyric brings back memories of Humphrey Bogart and Rick's Cafe:
"You must remember this,"
Dismay Queen lamented,
"The Queen is still a 'Miss'
For this I'll always sigh.
The fundamental things of life
Have passed me by...."
Originally published in The Sundial on April 23, 1982 (Vol. 66, no. 24, p. 4)
This article is taken from "The Past Master," a column written by Meredith Minter Dixon, class of 1984, for the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College student newspaper, The Sundial. It is published here with her permission.
Mrs. Dixon has written an invaluable multi-volume set, Maconiana: A Social History of Randolph-Macon Woman's College. For additional information, please visit her author's page on Amazon.
Please contact Mrs. Dixon (dixonm at pobox dot com) if you have comments or questions about her articles.