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May Day (1929 - 1971)

Digitized Collection

Tillman Building Front ca 1920s

by Louise Pettus

     For many years at Winthrop College the last big celebration before graduation was May Day.
     The planning for the big day was in the hands of the senior class.  The May Queen and Maid of Honor were always elected by seniors.  To fill out the 18 member court, four attendants were elected by each class.  The qualifications were beauty, popularity and good academic standing.
     There is some debate over just when the exercises started.  The years 1919, 1925, 1930 and 1935 have appeared in print as the beginning years. The earliest yearbook (The Tatler) picture of a Queen is 1929.  The earliest newspaper reference we could find was 1929 when Mary Marvin of White Hall, S. C. was chosen.
     Mary Marvin, a tall, regal blond, wore an interesting outfit.  The white moire satin gown with long tight sleeves and a plain round neckline looked like a wedding gown--above the waist.  The skirt was uneven, slightly above the knees in the front (it was the Age of the Flappers) and down to her heels in the back.  She also wore a Juliet cap of pearls and a very long satin train.  Members of the court wore similar gowns except none were as short as the Queen’s and several were ankle-length.
     There was a pageant and both the Winthrop orchestra and chorus performed.  The theme was “Spring in Many Lands,” with folk dances in addition to 60 Winthrop modern dance students performing a May Pole dance.
     Over the years (the last May Day exercise was in 1971), the basic program was about the same--pretty girls, music, gaiety, and appreciative crowds.  The 1929 event attracted 3,000 people.  In 1963 there were 5,000 spectators. 
     The first May Day was held on the athletic field.  In the mid-1930s an amphitheater was constructed.  A blue-walled lily pond with goldfish and floating blossoms in front of the earthen stage added to the color of the day.
     The amphitheater was not built just for May Day purposes.  A number of outdoor performances occurred there.  Greek tragedies, and Latin plays which were a part of the large Latin festival were performed and there were visiting dance bands, class day exercises, concerts, and other entertainments but none drew a larger audience than the May Day festivities.
     From 1946-1952, with the financial backing of the Rock Hill Elks Lodge, the Winthrop court traveled to Veterans Hospital in Columbia to entertain hospitalized veterans.  In 1949 the entire Winthrop orchestra accompanied the May Court to Columbia.
     Winthrop Training School students had their own May Court on the front lawn of the school (Withers-WTS Building) but many of the WTS students, aside from the youngsters who got to be the flower bearers and crown bearers, also performed in the Winthrop May Day ceremonies . 
     Most of the May Queens were campus leaders and many proved to be as bright and talented as they were beautiful, so it was not considered unusual in 1949 when the seniors elected their class president as May Queen.  The fact that the class president was also the director of the pageant had not hampered several previous Queens.  But, not long before May Day, it was revealed that Lillian Dukes had recently married and was actually Lillian Dukes Salley.  When the news became public, Mrs. Salley resigned as May Queen.  There was no rule against a Queen being married (probably no one had considered the possibility) but public opinion was against it.  The Maid of Honor was elevated to Queen and Mrs. Salley, as senior class president, directed the exercises.

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