Friday, July 29, 2022

Revenge in the Chamber of Horrors

Sheet of rules for freshmen in Wheeler HallAlthough we now think of hazing as a secretive practice, confined mostly to Greek life, there was a time when hazing was done in the open, and every freshman was subject to it. One Dartmouth student in the class of 1911, Frank Whitcomb, wrote several letters to his sister about his experiences with hazing, which we now have at Rauner.

Whitcomb explained to his sister that Delta Alpha was “the name under which almost all the real hazing in college is done,” with each dormitory claiming its own chapter, and that this type of hazing was allowed at Dartmouth. He felt that he’d had an easy time with the hazing, describing one group of sophomores as “very nice” because they “did not make us do anything that would soil our clothes.” But the price for disobeying the upperclassmen was steep: each violation of the rules meant extra time in the Chamber of Horrors. Whitcomb didn’t say whether he knew what the Horrors in the Chamber were, but he didn’t seem too worried about it.
First page of letter from Whitcomb
Whitcomb made it through his own freshman hazing, and by his senior year, he’d had plenty of opportunity to do the hazing himself. But some threats to this tradition had appeared. First, the Chamber of Horrors that year was “a pretty poor imitation of what it used to be” thanks to the faculty and Palaeopitus, who Whitcomb felt had “butted in altogether too much.” And on top of that, some freshmen were fighting back. Outnumbering the sophomores, the freshmen of Thornton Hall managed to escape their fate in the Chamber of Horrors and forced the sophomores to go through it instead. After the ensuing fight was shut down, the sophomores threatened revenge, which Whitcomb eagerly told his sister “promises to be some fun later.”

From the tone of his letters, it seems like Whitcomb was amused by the hazing and saw it as just another part of his experience at Dartmouth, but clearly, not everyone felt that way. Today, first-years live in separate housing, and Delta Alpha is a thing of the past.

To read Whitcomb’s letters, ask for MS-1438. To see more about Delta Alpha hazing, ask for the Delta Alpha vertical file.

No comments :

Post a Comment