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Murphy, Thomas H. (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Vol. 73, Number 1 (Oct. 1971)

Shepherd, Samuel C., Jr.
The Wisconsin jazz age student,   pp. [4]-11


Page 10


  claimed that only a "negligible minority" engaged in
  improper dancing.
    Dancing remained popular, but student affinity for the
  so-called "objectionable" dances waned quickly. Dean
  Nardin sensed the trend when she made her 1920
  biennial report to the Board of Regents: "Doomsday is
  not here . . . slowly better fashions in dancing are appear-
  ing." The 1922 Commerce Magazine survey revealed that
  most students attended some dances. Yet, a significant
  minority, one-third of all students unaffiliated with fraterni-
  ties and sororities, did not. By 1923 Dean Goodnight
  could report that "bad dancing" had decreased greatly
  and that dancing was generally more conventional than it
  had been at any time in the last decade. During a decade
  when college life was closely scrutinized, the very absence
  of complaints about student dancing indicates that
  Wisconsin styles were fairly conventional.
  *Flappers
  Coeds have also been ascribed leadership in fashion
  changes during the decade. William Leuchtenburg
  declared that the typical skirt rose from a height of six
  inches above the ground in 1919 to knee length in 1927.
  Also, "the well-accoutered flapper wore a tight felt hat,
  two strings of beads, bangles on her wrists, flesh-colored
  stockings rolled below the knees, and unbuckled galoshes."
  Other historians added that many dresses were sleeveless
  and of thin, lightweight material. Although Held's
  caricatures, magazines, and the college novels disseminated
  the style change, historians listened even more carefully
  to the cries of enraged moralists. Often-proposed state
  legislation has been cited to prove the prevalence of such
fashions. Denouncements by alarmed ministers and educa-
tors captured public attention. Although dress styles did
change, there is as little consensus about exactly what
constituted a "flapper" dress style as there was about what
constituted a flapper life style. The Held drawings and
the sketches from popular women's magazines evidently
reflected the most fashionable young women's outfits.
   The knee-length skirt, which historian P. W. Slosson
claimed to be generally popular before 1920, did not
arrive at the University according to that schedule. In 1920
Dean Nardin noted that no campaign for longer skirts
was necessary since very few UW women "violated the
laws of good taste by going to such extremes." A 1921
Cardinal editorial did write about "an outbreak against
the present day indecency of feminine dress." No other ob-
jections were raised, and the following autumn the
campus paper declared that long skirts were in vogue.
Shorter dresses eventually became popular. The October,
1927, Octopus noted that the "short-skirted ladies" felt the
  need to have the dress line at least at the knee when
  they were seated. Such impressions do not relate how
  many coeds were "short-skirted ladies." Campus photo-
  graph files furnish one barometer. A study of pictures
  comprising the campus historical and prom albums, leads
  to the generalization that in 1913 dresses were shoe length;
  by 1916 the hemline rose to the ankle, and by 1920 it
  had risen to the calf. Thereafter, the length fluctuated, but
  by 1928 it had reached knee length. (Such pictures testify
  that Wisconsin coeds, like other women, discarded corsets
  for more comfortable garments.) The pattern of fashions
  at Wisconsin certainly deviates from the flapper tradition.
  Knee length skirts and synthetic hosiery were popular
  at the end, not the beginning, of the decade.
  ~Filthy Weeds
  H     istorians have been kinder in their portrayals of
  coeds than was Dr. Charles Smith when he told the
  Lutheran Educational Conference in 1924 that "the world
  has never known such an army of hard-drinking, cigarette
  puffing, licentious Amazons as walk our campuses today."
  Still those historians have focused on smoking as an
  example of the new "emancipation of women," and such
  interpretations certainly have included coeds. College
  novels, national magazines, and Held's drawings testified
  that the college flapper usually had a cigarette holder in
  her mouth.
  At the turn of the decade Dean Nardin had maintained
  that almost none of the coeds smoked cigarettes, but
  unquestionably, coed smoking increased in the '20s. (Male
  smoking was apparently accepted before 1920. According
  to the "carefully compiled figures" given to the 1916
  Cardinal by local dealers, 1,040,000 cigarettes were sold
  in the University district the previous year.) Only one of
  every ten women admitted smoking in 1922. Viewing
  even that amount of smoking as a temporary fad, the dean
told a New York reporter that smoking was no longer
regarded "as smart at Wisconsin. It rather has come to
be regarded as vulgar." However, such thoughts were
wishful. When the 1927 Cardinal polled the owners of
women's rooming houses, proprietors declared that between
50 and 85 percent of the coeds smoked. The State Journal
reported that between 55 and 60 percent of Wisconsin
sorority women also smoked. Even Nardin admitted that
more coeds were smoking cigarettes. At the end of the
decade Dean Goodnight not only noted the sharp increase
in coed smoking, but defended the ladies as well. At the
beginning of the period, coed smoking was virtually
nonexistent. Although the number of feminine smokers
increased radically, there is no way of ascertaining how
prevalent the custom became by 1930. At least for the
10
Wisconsin Alumnus
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