Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

May Day

May Day was a Westhampton College tradition celebrated on the first Saturday of May in which a senior Westhampton student would be crowned May Day Queen and the runners-up would part of the May Day court. It involved plays, dancing around a pole, a lantern procession, and a ball. The May Day Court was chosen primarily on the basis of looks, as well as composure and "poise." The tradition of May Day promoted strict adherence to gender roles and a Eurocentric standard of beauty.

May Day was celebrated in ancient Rome and Greece as well as in later pagan cultures in Europe. The women would dance around a Maypole to ensure fertility in crops, as well as  the women’s own fertility. The May Day celebrations at the university also included such dancing and celebration.

This article describes the May Day Court, specifically listing every member's physical appearance. It describes the Queen as "a blonde English major," and other members as "the tall brunette," or the "back-haired president of the class."

This article is subtitled "Blondes Take Honors in May Day Voting at Westhampton." It also says, "The one brunette is Alice Torbeck..." The article appears to highlight that the women's hair color is their most important attribute.

These are several images of the 1965 May Day celebration. In the top left image, a woman can be seen dancing around a maypole. Dancing around the maypole was based on the ancient belief that it would bring fertility to the crops as well as the women. This May Day ritual at the University, whether concious or uncouncious, is symbolic of the sexist attitudes that placed centrality on reproduction in the womens' lives.

This May Day Court spread from 1960 features an illustration of the Confederate spider. It holds a bouquet of flowers and a cane. "Confederate Spidey" was the university's "unofficial" mascot from around 1948 to the early 1970s. This shows how this sexist tradition also intersected with the racist climate of campus. Further, there was never a May Day Queen of color. 

May Day