Library

The History of May Day Celebrations on the Ursinus Campus 1919-1960

A Highlight of the Spring Semester

Miss Agnes R. McCann, director of physical training for young women at Ursinus, introduced dancing in her physical education classes.  Each year, on May Day, her students presented the dances they had learned before their mothers.   What started as May Day afternoon dances in 1917 became May Day Fetes in 1919 when the first May Queen, Marion Jones, was chosen.  “In 1919 the first May Pageant was presented on East campus in the early evening.  The first May Queen, Miss Marion Jones, sat on a floral throne surrounded by her two attendants while the coeds disguised as shepherdesses, butterflies, and gypsies presented dances which told of the beauties of a May morning.  The climax of the pageant was the May Pole Waltz, which has since become a tradition at Ursinus on May Days… “  (unknown author describing the first May Day Pageant.)

The May Day Pageants that followed were announced as contests and had several rules.  Manuscripts were to be submitted in an open competition and women students from any class were eligible.  Pageants had to be suitable for May Day presentation and include 125 women members of which 20 to 25 were to be major characters.  Presentations had to be enacted in pantomime with a minimum of action for the queen.  Each presentation was to be divided into episodes and have as few changes of scenery as possible.  Manuscripts had to contain costume descriptions, fabric samples, costs to be incurred, and an indication of the campus site chosen for the production.  Some Pageant titles included: “Mexican Springtime: A Pageant for May Day” (1941); “Land of Oz” (1944); “May is for U” (1949); and “Toyland Coronation: The Magic Hour” (1955).    Essay winners would receive a small monetary prize.  May Day was an event that every girl at Ursinus could take part.   Men were allowed to participate in 1961 when the Pageant’s name was changed to Spring Festival.  The Spring Festival was celebrated until May 1969.

To learn more about the History of May Day Pageants at Ursinus College, contact Carolyn Weigel in the College Archives.