Hallowe’en Revels – UA 10.3.35 Irma Thompson Papers

26 10 2018

Irma Thompson, circa 1900. (People 2687)

A collection less than one cubic feet that highlights life on the campus of M.A.C. at the turn of the 20th century is the Irma Thompson Papers. Irma was born in 1880 in Van Buren County, Michigan. While still in high school, the Thompson family moved to Lansing so Irma would have the opportunity to attend college. She entered Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) at the age of sixteen, one of forty-two women to major in the new Home Economics program. Although an off-campus student, she was very active in campus extracurricular activities. She was class secretary, vice-president of the Art Club, and a member of the Themian Literary Society. She graduated in 1900. In 1905, she married Mark L. Ireland, ‘01, whose name appears occasionally on her dance programs.

In her collection are a program and scripts related to a play she was involved in during her senior year. The play, Hallowe’en Revels, was performed in the Armory on November 10, 1899 with an audience of 300 students and faculty members. It was the first production by the “College Dramatic Club.” The play was a mixture of burlesque and vaudeville styles. Today, most people think of a burlesque show as a strip tease, which is partly true, but burlesque also means “an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.” (Oxford Dictionaries) That definition properly describes Hallowe’en Revels and in the M.A.C. Record reminder a week before the play was to be performed, an editor wrote, “It will cost you but 10₵ to ‘see yourself as others see you.’”

The backdrop for this play was the M.A.C. campus, making fun of real people on campus, mostly faculty members and a group of men. Included was a prologue and six acts: the trial scene, the rhetorical class, the advanced German class, the cooking class, the midnight spread, and the Calethumpians.

For the trial scene, students acted out the roles of the professors, who were also portrayed as animal characters, such as Miss Kellar representing a dragon and M.A.C. President Snyder as a sheep. In the trial scene, the animals/professors are judged for their bad behaviors/breaking the rules, such as smoking, not attending church, attending too many dances, climbing up a tree, and wandering outside the college grounds by an escort not approved by the Dean. While these “bad behaviors” do not seem to be an issue today, early students had several rules imposed upon them, such as a set amount of dances they could attend, mandatory attend at chapel, and strict curfew times.


“The Calethumpians” from the 1900 Wolverine yearbook, page 170.

The last act of the play was “The Calethumpians.” This act is interesting because we can’t verify if this was a true society or not; it might have just been a group men calling themselves that. The Calethumpian Society is listed in the 1900 Wolverine yearbook and it doesn’t list actual names for the six male members, just their nicknames. From the yearbook, “The Calethumpians are a society of high spiritual and physical intentions, having for their object the betterment of the moral and athletic conditions at M.A.C.” and their motto was “never work between meals.” (page 170) For the play, all women played the roles of the males and in the program it stated, “The Calethumpians is a society with high moral purpose whole by-laws prohibit profanity, and work between meals, and whose yell requires athletic training.” In the act, the midnight revels of the Calethumpians in Wells Hall are revealed. Obviously, the women were poking fun at the men.

Along with the play, a poem written in the style of Dante by Harriette Robson and read by N. A. McCune, entitled, “The Abbotiad,” described the storming of Abbot Hall by the nightshirt paraders. The Nightshirt Parade happened at the end of the school year, with the men dressing up in their nightshirts parading around campus. Usually they would stop by faculty member’s homes asking them to serenade the group and/or hijinks would ensue between the classes. According to the M.A.C. Record, “the program ended with ‘A Scene in Hades,’ in which all the characters of the play appeared in costumes weird and grotesque.”


M.A.C. Juniors pose after the Nightshirt Parade in the Chemistry Lecture room, June 1899. (A004617)

Between the acts, the audience was entertained with lantern slides of original drawings, depicting life on campus, by Irma Thompson and S. J. Kennedy, ’01. A few illustrations by Thompson and several by Kennedy appeared in the 1900 Wolverine yearbook. It seems that the play was a success, but really long.

Thompson Illustration

Illustration by Irma Thompson, depicting the race between the Seniors and Juniors to publish the 1900 yearbook. Unfortunately for the Seniors, the Juniors were the winners. This illustration appeared in the 1900 Wolverine, page 105.

Sadly, the University Archives does not have any photographs from this play. Luckily, in Irma’s papers, we do have the play program and scripts from three of the acts. Even though this collection is only one box, it highlights the time of the first women who enrolled in the Home Economics Program. Irma’s scrapbook contains a few photographs, several illustrations she created of her time on campus, and clippings. She kept in touch with her class mates, keeping a record of their lives. She also wrote her own memoirs about her college experience near the end of her life.

Hallowe’en Revels is a unique play that was written by the students of M.A.C., reflecting their life at that time. Even though it wasn’t performed at Halloween, the play does an amazing job of highlighting the spirit of Halloween by allowing the person to become somebody/something else for a brief moment of time.

Have a safe and Happy Halloween!


“At the College,” from the M.A.C. Record, Vol. 5 No. 9, November 7, 1899.

The Calethumpians: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 29, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

The Faculty Meeting: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 30, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

The Faculty Trial: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 31, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

“Hallowe’en Revels,” from the M.A.C. Record, Vol. 5 No. 10, November 14, 1899.

Hallowe’en Revels: A Play, November 10, 1899, Box 761, Folder 32, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Midnight Spread Scene: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 33, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Wolverine Yearbook, 1900. Pg. 170. Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Written by Jennie Russell, Assistant Records Archivist

Pranks, Shenanigans, and Rule Breakers

27 03 2012


A word typically dreaded by students everywhere. In today’s times, a student has a set of guidelines to follow of course, but we all know that rules are broken. In the earlier days of MAC, the college expected students to follow its rules and to behave in responsible ways that contributed to the well-being of the college community. Although living away from the over cautious watchful eyes of their parents, the college administration still tried to maintain a strict order and control over the student’s activities. However alcohol, class and organization rivalries, repressive rules (in the eyes of the students), and institutional traditions contributed to quite a rebellious student body in the early days of MSU.

ImagePranks and traditions began ever since the college opened its doors in 1857. As time progressed, these rebellious activities increased and four in particular occurred as annual shenanigans. During the 1907 Night Shirt parade, students paraded around the campus either wearing night shirts or dressing in other unsightly ways and carrying torches. They visited the faculty houses and expected them to respond with a speech. On the way back to their dormitories they smashed lights, broke windows, and vandalized doors as other students who stayed in dumped water out of their windows on the paraders down below.

The annual scrap was always looked forward to by many students.  Despite the plea of the faculty to the upper classmen to not hold the event, the happenings occurred any way. The rush or scrap was a bought between the freshman and sophomore men that intended to show which class was superior. Often times, these scraps would end with a wrestling match to see which class would come out victorious.

The J-Hop dance was another event that provoked pranks. It was a tradition every year for the sophomore class to tamper with the electrical wires to short out the electricity, leaving the back-up gasoline lamps the only means of lighting. In 1906, this prank almost got out of hand as someone else had constructed an apparatus under the Armory to produce enough hydrogen sulfide gas, in chemistry professor Frank Kedzie’s opinion, to have killed everyone in the building if the machine had been activated. In addition to these pranks, there was one more annual shenanigan that occurred every year to members of the freshman class.

“Stacking” as it was called, was one of the number of indignities that the freshman men had to endure. AsImage part of their college initiation, their rooms were “stacked”. Gordon Stuart, a student of MAC at the time described the experience: “I send you a photograph of my room as it looked one night when I came back from class. Every freshman must have his room “stacked” by the sophomores, so my turn came in due course. They climbed over the transom and literally stacked everything in one corner of the room. Every garment had at least one hard knot in it, and some of them two or three. Over a thousand stamps I had collected, which were loose in a box, were scattered over the whole room. Six packs of playing cards were also thrown in the “stack”. My tooth-brush was put in the water-pitcher and coal oil was poured over it. Nothing but the map on the wall was left in its place. The stackers hung out a sign from the window, “Stack.” Of course, every student saw the sign and came up to see how the room looked. It was past twelve o’clock that night before I got my bed down so as to sleep on it.  The “stacking” is not done with any malicious intention; only for fun and pastime”.

It was not only boys however who acted rebelliously. In January of 1903, Gertrude Peters (class of 1906) received permission to spend a night with a friend in Lansing. Well naturally, rather than staying true to her word, she had an eventful night as she committed a host of violations. Peters never had the intention of staying with her friend. Rather she went and ate dinner with a man in a restaurant, attended a sleigh ride party, went to Williamston for a dance, and went to a party, returning back to campus between seven and eight in the morning. Her actions unfortunately lost her all social privileges. Other women would also commit violations as they would often leave through the back door of the Women’s Building, or “coop” as it was commonly known as by students, and attend parties off campus at night.

With April Fools day quickly approaching, this makes me wonder what kind of crazy pranks our MSU forefathers would have been pulling….hm…

Work Cited: Widder, Keith R. Michigan Agricultural College: The Evolution of a Land Grant Philosophy, 1855-1925. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State UP, 2005. Print.

Early Campus Pranks

1 04 2010

It is April Fools’ Day and I don’t know what pranks students have planned for this year, but students in the early years on this campus were constantly playing pranks upon each other and the faculty.  Many of the pranks evolved around hazing freshmen.  Typically, upperclassmen, especially sophomores, would grab freshmen from their beds, drench them with water and make them run about campus blindfolded.  Other times the freshmen had their hands tied behind their backs, were again blindfolded, and had soap shoved in their mouths.  One incident in 1906 involving a freshman

Example of a stacked dormitory room

was particularly bad.  The freshman was grabbed by several upperclassmen, had broken eggs rubbed into his scalp, then had his hair chopped off.  They tied a sack over his head and held him in the river until he was able to swim away.  It’s no wonder that hazing was banned on the Michigan Agricultural College campus in 1908.

A lot of pranks evolved around the dormitories.  Students would jam doors imprisoning their classmates in rooms.  Another frequent joke was to dump water out of the window onto the head of a passerby.  The ash pail was thrown down the stairs in another prank.  Probably the most common prank played in the dorms was to stack the furniture.  All the furniture and belongings in a room were piled up in a corner and the room was essentially trashed.  The dormitories had such a bad reputation that there was actually a recommendation at one point in time to close them down and have all students live off campus.

Faculty were not exempt from student pranks.  Students would conduct a Night

Samuel Johson

MAC Professor Samuel Johnson

Shirt Parade.  They would dress up in their pajamas and serenade the faculty members who lived in Faculty Row.  This was considered a benign prank and usually played on faculty who were friendly with the students.  However, students did play pranks on faculty they did not like.  In the 1880s, students were not happy with the way Professor Samuel Johnson conducted his practical agriculture classes.  To express their displeasure, students stacked the furniture in Johnson’s classroom, they locked the door and sealed the keyhole with plaster of Paris, and they tied a Shropshire lamb to his podium.  Johnson did eventually leave MAC, but it was infighting amongst the faculty that led to his leaving, not the pranks of the students.

What do you think of these early campus pranks?  Are you surprised the early students were so rowdy?