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The history of Panty Raids (1950’s)

Panty Raid
Panty raid  at the University of Southern California

The panty raids of the 1950’s were one of the first major crazes to surface after the end of World War II. Functioning as humorous activities, groups of males raided all-female college residences (dormitories) to secure panties or other intimate apparel as “trophies”, proof that the guys had momentarily crossed a societal barrier and occupied the forbidden territory of a co-ed’s dorm room. The panty raid craze ran from the 1950’s through the 1960’s.

The first panty raid

Panty raid Woman's Building of Augustana College February 24, 1949

The first documented panty raid took place on February 25, 1949 at the 100-year-old Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Perhaps inspired by the military training the young students had received in World War II, one hundred twenty male students raided the girls dormitories after cutting the electricity and phone lines. The men raided Carlson Hall through heating tunnels located beneath the school. Once they were able to enter, the unlocked the doors for the remaining raiders to enter. Likely the women had advanced warning and some even sprayed large amounts of perfume on the attackers “so they could be identified later.”

The goal of the raid was not to collect panties but rather was to produce commotion. During the raid, beds were overturned and co-eds were pushed into showers (the only physical injury resulted from a man who was hit on the head with a chair). Although the goal was not to steal panties, some dormitory residents reported that their underwear had been taken. The police were quickly called but nobody was arrested or charged.

News of the raid travelled fast and made nationwide headlines with articles appearing in the Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine, and the New York Times. The Moline Daily Dispatch may have coined the phrase when they described the event as a “panty raid”.

More panty raids

Panty raid at University of Michigan Stockwell Hall 1955

The second incident occurred on March 21, 1952, at the University of Michigan. This raid is often noted as the “first panty raid” and went down in history as the single event that started the nationwide panty raid craze that was soon to follow. In an article titled Panty Raid, 1952, James Tobin from the University of Michigan’s Michigan Today described the event.

Panty raid University of Texas 1962

“It had been another dismal Michigan winter. The gray and the cold had stretched well into March. But finally, as the earth approached the vernal equinox on Thursday, March 20, 1952—the eve of the first day of spring—the temperature in Ann Arbor crept up to 57 glorious degrees. Jackets came off. Windows opened.

At about 6:30 p.m., Art Benford, a junior, finished dinner in the dining hall of West Quad. He went to his room in Allen Rumsey House and picked up his trumpet. Benford said later he had only meant to relax by playing a little music. But his impromptu rendition of Glenn Miller’s “Serenade in Blue” set off a chain of events that gave America a distinguishing fad of the 1950s—the panty raid.

…Remember, it would be more than 15 years before men were allowed to visit women’s dorms at Michigan without restriction. Incursions like this were very much against the rules.

Back outside, someone shouted words that would become a rallying cry for the next decade—”To the Hill!”—meaning, to the much larger and then-all-women’s dorms on Observatory and Ann. The crowd surged east on North University—first to Stockwell, then Mosher-Jordan. At each, they made incursions, ran up stairs and down corridors, then left. Women poured wastebasket-loads of water from the windows.

By the time the men got to Alice Lloyd Hall, women residents had locked the front doors. This apparently fueled the fire. The rowdies got in through side doors, raced upstairs and into women’s rooms, and seized what the Ann Arbor News called “miscellaneous female unmentionables.” The Detroit News, less squeamish, said the men took “items of lingerie as souvenirs.”

After a rush through Couzens, the men streamed back down North University, where they invaded the all-women’s preserve of the League. Others made it to the Michigan Theater, where they stormed the stage—interrupting, as chance would have it, a screening of “Behave Yourself”—and sang a verse or two of “The Victors.”

By now it was 9 p.m., and for a moment the storm seemed to have spent itself. But then the milling crowd of men spotted a counterattack heading their way: a horde of women flooding into Central Campus from the Hill.

The women aimed straight at the symbol of male privilege—the front door of the Union, which by tradition was never to be entered by an unaccompanied female. They surged through the Union, then into all-male West Quad, where “several quadders, caught unawares with their shorts on, were forced to scamper for safety,” according to the Daily.

At South Quad, “pandemonium broke loose,” the Daily reported. “While some men beckoned to the women, others formed a barrier at the front doors, but the screaming coeds broke through. In a moment, the lounge was cluttered. Hysterical staffmen called for order.”

Here at last authority was reasserted in the stern form of Deborah Bacon, dean of women, the enforcer of in loco parentis. Her appearance took the steam out of the women, who left and walked home before curfew.

Hundreds of men, still game and unrestricted by “hours,” spread out for new assaults. Some went back to the Hill, where, at Alice Lloyd, a resident had mounted a flashing red light in her window; some to Martha Cook, where President Harlan Hatcher, venturing out of his house across the street, told the boys to go home, without much effect; some back to Betsy Barbour, where they were repelled by residents wielding a fire hose at a window.

Chuck Elliott, a Daily editor, detected a dark edge to the revelry, “the earlier, funny stages slowly changing as the night went on into unpleasant demonstrations of near-viciousness.”

At about 1 a.m., it started to rain, and it was over.

But only for that night. The “mass riot,” as the Daily called it, drew a good deal of news coverage, even making the national newsmagazines. Within weeks, copycat episodes sprang up on other campuses, and a national “panty raid” craze ensued. The spontaneous swiping of women’s underwear that night at Alice Lloyd became a standard, planned practice that went on for ten years—the ritual seeking of trophies by men raiding women’s dormitories and sororities. Although the term “panty raid” apparently had been used earlier, it was the Michigan fracas that inspired the national fad.”

The unplanned University of Michigan raid started after shouting matches between competing men’s dorm rooms evolved into an outdoor shouting match with men from several dorms playfully taunting each other. Police were called to quiet down the dormitory residents but the students refused to disperse and instead, began making their way towards the women’s dormitories located nearby. Seeing the progression of men moving towards their dorms, the women quickly locked their doors as the men approached but the raiders found other ways to enter the dorms. The Detroit News reported on the raid and noted that the men stole “items of lingerie as souvenirs”.

The Panty Raid Craze Spreads

Panty raid University of Texas Littlefield Residence Hall 1961

Other raids followed all across the country. On April 8, 1952, two thousand men raided the women’s dormitories at Penn State while the women cheered and threw underwear from the windows to the crowd below. By the end of the 1952 Spring term, the panty raid epidemic had spread to 52 campuses across the country.

In the Spring of 1953, the Princeton University men raided the dorms at Westminster Choir College. In May 1956, three thousand men raided the women’s dorms at the University of California, Berkeley and caused $10,000 in damages.

In most panty raids the men were welcomed by the women residents but in a few instances the raids turned somewhat violent. At the University of Washington raiders broke windows in the dorm rooms. At the University of Washington, one thousand male students broke widows and stormed the dorms chanting, “We want panties!”. At Christian College and Stephens College, female dorm residents fought the raiders off and did not allow them entry. At the University of Nebraska in early 1955, several students were suspended.

In a “turn about is fair play” instance at the University of Michigan, five hundred women raided the men’s dorm room stealing their boxer shorts.

Why Panty Raids?

SMU panty raid 1956

There are many theories behind the reason for the panty raid epidemic. Panty raids served as ad hoc protests against curfews and entry restrictions that barred male visitors from women’s dormitories. These policies were particularly influential given that colleges had started admitting women in large numbers for the first time after World War II.

In addition, college rules were much less permissive than today’s college rules and students were naturally opposed to many of the rules. The sexual revolution was still years away and social conventions made it difficult for unmarried guys and girls attending college to act on impulse. And there was a restlessness amongst the college youth that in less than a decade, would explode as the counterculture movement of the 1960’s

By the 1970’s, the raids had ended. Mixed dorms that housed men and women, and less inhibited attitudes to sex on campus made them pointless.

Image Credits

In-Article Image Credits

Panty raid at the University of Southern California via The UT History Corner with usage type - Public Domain
Panty raid University of Texas 1962 via The UT History Corner with usage type - Public Domain
SMU panty raid 1956 via The UT History Corner with usage type - Public Domain
Panty raid University of Texas Littlefield Residence Hall 1961 via The UT History Corner with usage type - Public Domain
Panty raid at University of Michigan Stockwell Hall 1955 via Absolute Michigan with usage type - Public Domain
Panty raid Woman's Building of Augustana College February 24, 1949 via Augustana College with usage type - Public Domain

Featured Image Credit

Panty Raid via


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