Less than one hundred years ago, dances were regimented affairs with a set list of songs. But how were you supposed to remember who you'd promised the third waltz to? Luckily, hosts would print up tiny booklets known as dance cards, listing the order of the dances and providing a little line to write down your partner's name.
The first time I saw a dance card, I didn't know what it was. We were looking through the membook Howard "Rainy" Burchard Lines (Class of 1912) in preparation for our sophomore summer parents' weekend tour (we've blogged about Lines and his connection to the Titantic before). Flipping through the pages, I noticed that he pasted in a series of little books with pencils attached. Most of them carried fraternity insignia, so I assumed they were address books. But when I opened one, I realized it was actually a memento from a college dance. Lines didn't seem to like to dance the two-step, as it was always crossed out.
Most dance cards contain the title of the event, the date, the location, a list of patronesses (or chaperones, usually married women or professors' wives!), the names of the planning committee, and of course, the list of dances with space to write down names. Some dance cards were probably planned before the evening began, as they were written in pen!
My favorite dance card, from the 1914 Dartmouth Senior Ball, contains a little mirror, perfect for checking your teeth before the the last polka.While some dance cards are elaborately decorated with gilded crests and encased in leather, others consist of a single sheet of paper.
Our collection likely contains hundreds of dance cards, scattered through students' scrapbooks (known as "Mem[ory] Books"), the records of fraternities and other student organizations, and files concerning annual events, such as Winter Carnival, Junior Prom or Commencement. The cards in this post came from the "Dances, Balls and Cotillions" Vertical File and are mementos of: Commencement Ball (June 1902), the Dartmouth Hotel Ball (February 1884) and the Senior Ball (June 1914). Come to Rauner to see this file or the Mem Book for Howard Lines '12.