The customs and traditions surrounding dating for women at Iowa State have changed since the late-nineteenth century. Initially, men and women lived in separate residence halls where their behavior was strictly monitored by residence hall staff. Male and female students did mingle to and from class and during many formal and informal student gatherings, especially dances. These few instances, however, made it difficult for men and women to establish relationships. Still, many students became engaged or married while attending Iowa State.
By the twentieth century, specific rules and guidelines mandated appropriate date expenses. The Freshman Handbook in 1939 advised that formal dates should involve various costs: $1.50 to $2.50 on a ticket to a show or dance, $1.00 for cleaning a formal suit or dress, $1.00 to $3.00 on a corsage. Movies cost 26 cents for a matinee and 36 cents for evening showings. Bowling was 15 cents for a lane, and all-college dances typically cost 75 cents. As first quarter expenses were estimated at $200, a male student could only afford a few dates a quarter.
Formal dates generally took place between two people who had gotten to know each other for a period of time before the actual date. Blind dates, therefore, were viewed with skepticism. The Freshman Handbook contained warnings each year it was published. In bold print, one handbook warned, “About the blind date situation: Use as much judgment as you can command and remember the old adage about Things Not Being What They Seem.” Another handbook contained a somewhat bizarre message, “About the blind date situation: Take [it] if you want to, but with a grain of salt. Stay off the grass!”
Besides going on formal dates, women at Iowa State enjoyed a wide range of social activities. One student estimated that in the early 1940s there were 1001 different informal social functions. These activities included the Freshman Days annual “mixer.” A mixer was a non-dating event which all new students attended to collect signatures and phone numbers of their new classmates. Churches also hosted parties for Iowa State students, and many women enjoyed meeting with their male counterparts at exchanges, firesides, and campus variety shows.
Dances were the most popular form of entertainment between the two sexes. The largest dances were held at the Memorial Union and included the Science Dance, Interfraternity Pledge Dance, Ward Dance, and Horticulture-Forestry Semi-Formal Dance, Military Ball, and the Harvest Dance. Afternoon “tag” dances called “Cyclone Twisters” cost 10 cents a person and were held twice a week during the winter quarter. Iowa State men and women spent much of their spare time dancing.
Another tradition associated with dating was serenading. The Freshman Handbook in 1939 described serenades as a favorite tradition shared between women and men. “In spring, they say, a young man’s fancy turns to love and of his maiden fair—we at Iowa State possess our own little tradition adopted from the Spanish—it’s that old custom of serenading—when the moon is high and the stars are bright, beneath the coed’s window—the voices may not be those of Bing Crosby or Dick Powell, but the song is the same in the young man’s heart.” Seven years later, the Freshman Handbook contained this description: “Scarcely a weekend night passes during the fall or spring months but that some organization is out harmonizing beneath the windows of some other organization. Love songs float around in the dormitory court and sorority circle and appreciation is expressed by clapping or the returning of another song.” Clapping or singing back was the acceptable response to serenading. Simply calling back was deemed inappropriate and was prohibited at all times.
Going Out on a Formal Date, ca. 1950s
When and man and woman decided to become engaged, they held a special kind of party called a “Five and Ten Pound Party.” The Freshman Handbook of 1956 described the custom as “passing a five or ten-pound decorated box of candy to announce a couple’s engagement or wedding date. With the anonymous invitation to the party comes much speculation as to the identity of the sender.” Once the couple revealed their intentions, attendees enjoyed the candy and congratulated the happy couple.
A Five and Ten Pound Party at Sigma Kappa Sorority, 1953
Since the mid-twentieth century, dating and relationships have carried on some of the same traditions, but many more customs no longer resonate with contemporary dating culture. With the rise of women’s liberation in the 1960s and 1970s, women took a more proactive approach to dating. Dances and “mixers” became less popular, and women and men interacted in residence halls, classes, and at on- and off-campus events. Instead of advice about what dress a woman should wear on a date, organizations on campus began providing information about women’s sexuality. The YWCA shifted its focus to empowering women and offering programs on topics such as the common misconceptions about sex and date rape.