March 07, 2014
Student Traditions - Martha Washington Party
The January 19, 1905 minutes of the College for Women Students’ Association contains the following, “Miss Thomas spoke of a College Party to advance college spirit. Moved, seconded, carried that this party take place on 21st of Feb. Moved, seconded, and carried that a committee of eight be appointed to prepare for the party, 2 from each class.”
Thus began a nearly 35-year tradition at Flora Stone Mather College. Always held in February, on or near George Washington’s birthday, the costume ball was open only to the College’s students and faculty. Prizes were given for creative costuming. Sometimes skits were performed. The centerpiece, referenced in handbook and yearbook descriptions of the party, was the junior class performance of the minuet.
One aspect of this remarkably consistent student event that changed over time was the name. Starting as the College Party, within a few years it became the Washington Birthday Party or the George Washington Birthday Party. In 1914 the February masquerade became the Martha Washington Party, which name continued until 1939, the last reference we have found to the party. The name change preceded the appearance of the students’ Equal Suffrage League by a few years. There is no reason for the name change recorded in the Students’ Association records. But I can’t help but wonder if naming this College tradition for Martha Washington was an indicator of feminist aspirations.