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The Round Table

The History of Prom

Nicole Matura, Staff Writer

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With prom season right around the corner, girls begin hunting dress stores left and right to find the perfect dress while boys start stressing over promposal ideas. Prom is something most young girls spend years dreaming about (right after their wedding day, of course). But when did this stress-induced and drama-causing dance become such a major milestone in our lives? Is it simply because it’s a symbol of our naïve teenage years, or is it because it’s one of the only things teenagers have to look forward to — besides graduation — as their high school years come to a close? Prom has become a major social milestone and the center of many popular movies, including Pretty in Pink (1986), She’s All That (1999), American Pie (1999) and Mean Girls (2004).

Looking back to where this idea of prom first originated from, we’ll find that it evolved from the simple co-ed banquets that were held to celebrate 19th Century American Universities’ graduating classes. Eventually, this idea of a co-ed banquet turned into a formal dance held in high school gymnasiums.

A well-known diary entry of a student from an all-boys school, Amherst College, talked about being invited by a young woman to her prom at an all-girls school, Smith College: “The very early ones were like those held at colleges: the senior class, dressed in their ‘Sunday best,’ gathered in the gym for tea and light refreshments, socializing and dancing under crepe paper streamers and the watchful eyes of chaperones.”

Soon after this, the trend of prom began spreading like wildfire across the country. As early as the 1930s, high school girls and boys danced under the crepe paper streamers to actual live bands and ate fancy dinners. In the 1950s proms became twice as elaborate when the postwar economy allowed teens to hold their proms in hotels and country clubs (more similar to our proms today).

But Susan Ford, daughter of President Gerald Ford, topped all proms in history by holding hers at the White House in 1975. It was covered by People Magazine and the Washington Post.