Steppin' Out—J-Hops and Dances at MSU
Michigan State University's first Junior Hop was held at the Governor's Guard Armory inLansing in February 1888. Although women had been admitted since 1870, the student body was mostly male, with a 25:1 ratio of men to women. Consequently, the men invited girls from Lansing or brought girlfriends from home.
Enrollment at the State Agricultural College fell in the 1890s. One response was to improve the social opportunities available to students. Social evenings with dancing were organized at the homes of faculty chaperones. It was thought, notes an 1895 faculty committee report, that "the presence of the ladies ... will be extremely helpful in elevating the moral tone of the students and increasing their regard for the amenities of polite society." In 1896, women were admitted to attend the new Women's Course.
After the completion of the Women's Building, referred to as the "hen coop" in 1900 (now Morrill Hall), social life for most students became more structured. This was true for women who were restricted to the "coop" after dark. However, socials, such as teas and dances, were organized almost weekly by the "literary" societies that had temporarily replaced the fraternity system.
Once each February, the junior class held a grand ball known as the J-Hop. Dress was very formal and the cost to attend the J-Hop was very expensive. Those unable to afford tickets could watch the dancing from an upper balcony. In many respects, the J-hop was the campus social event of the year.
The evening began with a large banquet followed by toasts (nonalcoholic, especially during Prohibition). Then followed the Grand March, a procession to the dance floor, with a pause for a photograph. Finzel's 12-piece orchestra that arrived by train from Detroit provided dance music including waltzes, two-steps, and specials. Meanwhile, anonymous sophomores would attempt to disrupt the festivities. In 1904, a pig was introduced to the dance floor, and in 1909 the street car rails were greased on the hill leading up to campus.
By the 1920s, the powerful Woman Student Council dictated the behavior of young women, permitting them to attend up to eight late parties each term based on their academic grades. Parties without faculty chaperones required special permission from the social director, and social participation was controlled through a point system monitored by the elite women of the Sphinx Society.
The restrictions burdening student social activities eased gradually. The Great Depression, the return of veterans as nontraditional students after World War II, and the rise of dissent beginning in the 1950s and culminating in the 1960s, all began to erode the old college customs and rituals. Also, the growth in numbers of students popularized parties and dances in residence halls.
As the students became more diverse, it became harder to entertain them. One of the last J-Hops in 1963 at the Auditorium featured two bands: the progressive jazz stylings of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and the traditional dance music of Hal Munro's Orchestra. Perhaps this was a political compromise since that year's J-Hop chairman was Jamie Blanchard, better known in later years as governor of the State of Michigan.