A panty raid was an American 1950s college prank in which large groups of male students attempted to invade the living quarters of female students and steal their panties (undergarments) as the trophies of a successful raid. The term dates to February 1949.
Panty raids were the first college craze after World War II, following the 1930s crazes of goldfish swallowing or seeing how many students could fit in a phone booth. The mock battles that ensued between male and female students echoed the riotous battles between freshmen and upperclassmen, which were an annual ritual at many colleges in the 20th century.
The first documented incident occurred on February 25, 1949, at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. Around 125 men entered the Woman's Building; the first party entered through heating tunnels beneath the building. Once inside, they unlocked the door for the remaining raiders to enter, locked the house mother in her apartment, and cut the light and phone lines. Although a few women reported missing undergarments, the goal was to cause commotion. The police arrived, and although no pranksters were charged, the news traveled, making headlines in the Chicago Tribune, Stars and Stripes, Time magazine, and the New York Times.
The next incident was on March 21, 1952, when University of Michigan students raided a dormitory, which sparked panty raids across the nation. Penn State's first raid involved 2,000 males marching on the women's dorms on April 8, 1952, cheered on by the women, who opened doors and windows and tossed out lingerie. By the end of 1952 spring term the "epidemic" had spread to 52 campuses.
At a number of colleges, panty raids functioned as a humorous, ad hoc protest against curfews and entry restrictions that barred male visitors from women's dormitories. This was particularly the case at colleges that had recently started admitting women in large numbers for the first time after World War II, where the role of female students on campus had not yet been worked out. At some colleges the large, leaderless crowds that gathered around panty raids were co-opted by student politicians into protest and activism against dorm curfews and parietals. These stirrings of student protest against restrictive campus rules fed the sudden emergence in the late 1950s of liberal activist parties in student government, such as SLATE at Berkeley.
Generally, the women welcomed the raiders and in some cases raided men's colleges such as Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. At the University of Washington, though, raiders broke windows, and female students at Columbia College and Stephens College fought raiders from the University of Missouri.
Raiding continued, such as the raid by Princeton University men on Westminster Choir College in spring 1953. The University of Nebraska was credited with the first panty raid of 1955, when hundreds raided the women's dorms, resulting in injuries and seven suspensions. The University of California, Berkeley had a 3,000-man panty raid in May 1956, which resulted in $10,000 damage (about $92,000 in 2018). At the University of Michigan panty raids were associated with fall football pep rallies in addition to being a spring ritual in the 1950s and early 1960s.
In his 2005 autobiography, Dinner with Mobutu: A Chronicle of My Life and Times, Jasper "Jake" Smith, III (born 1935), a son of State Representative Jasper K. Smith of Vivian in Caddo Parish, describes a humorous attempt in 1957 by Ralph L. Ropp, the president of Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, to halt a panty raid on his campus:
It had been arranged on a late spring night that some of the women in the female dormitory would leave a door unlocked so that the "raiders" could get inside. ... As we approached the dormitory, the college president, Ralph Ropp, the Dean of Men, and a large group of policemen confronted us. Someone had tipped them off. The crowd started dispersing, re-forming in smaller groups, hesitant about giving up the adventure. President Ropp was apoplectic, running from group to group threatening to expel students and send their names to the draft board—a threat that made all-draft age males more than a little nervous. Old Ralph got a little too close to one of the male dormitories, and someone dumped a bucket of water from the third floor on his head. So the night was not a total loss. ...[self-published source]
By the 1970s, mixed dorms and less inhibited attitudes to sexual intercourse on campus led to fading of panty raids. However, in the 1984 film Revenge of the Nerds, the Tri-Lambs stage a panty raid on the Pi Delta Pis sorority.
- "Epidemic". Time. June 2, 1952. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
The newest and noisiest college craze—the pantie raid—reached the epidemic stage. Night after night from coast to coast last week college boys leaped and howled like Comanches under the windows of squealing coeds; by week's end, despite arrests, expulsions, editorial blasts, and the best efforts of police riot squads—a few of whom even used tear gas—panty raiders had made night raids at 52 different colleges and universities.
- "Americana". Time magazine. March 7, 1949. Retrieved 2009-01-22.
Apparently stimulated by the approach of spring, 250 male students of Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill., raided a women's dormitory, tipped over beds and pushed screeching coeds into cold showers. The women seemed delighted. 'It was more fun than anything else,' said Senior Lois Taylor. 'In fact, we had an inkling they were coming.'
- "Students Don Masks; Raid Co-Eds' Dorm". Chicago Tribune. February 26, 1949. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
- Swanson, Kai. "Help! Police! -- Isn't This Wonderful". Augustana College. Archived from the original on 2014-08-10.
- Winling, LaDale. Student Housing, City Politics, and the University of Michigan, 2007.
- Bezilla, Michael (1986). Penn State: an illustrated history. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0271003928.
- Tobin, James (15 July 2008). "Panty Raid, 1952". Michigan Today. Archived from the original on 28 December 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- "The beginning of the new left: UC Berkeley 1950s/1960s: Chronology". SLATE Archives. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Batterson, Paulina A. (2001). Columbia College: 150 Years of Courage, Commitment, and Change. Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press. ISBN 0-8262-1324-3.
- "The Rites of Spring". Time. May 11, 1953. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
"We want girls!" some of the boys yowled, "we want sex!" "We want panties!" screamed the rest. Not quite in the spirit of things, the girls threw shower curtains and pillows from the windows.
- "Report Card". Time. April 25, 1955. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
At the University of Nebraska, hundreds of spring-feverish men students poured out of their rooms one day last week, rushed into a coed dormitory and sorority houses. There they snatched up as many flimsy garments as they could, paraded about the campus in this year's first manifestation of that modern collegiate custom, the panty raid. Net result: seven students suspended.
- Sann, Paul, Fads, Follies, and Delusions of the American People. Crown Publishers, 1967. p. 294.
- "This Week in Daily History". Michigan Daily. November 6, 2002. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- "On campus". Michigan Daily. October 13, 2005. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved August 3, 2007.
- Jake Smith, Dinner with Mobutu: A Chronicle of My Life and Times. Xlibris Corporation. 2005. p. 58. ISBN 978-1413499438. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
- "Life on the Campus". Time. November 9, 1962. Retrieved 2007-09-25.
But last week life at Ole Miss began turning really rough again. The university's white students had cause to think they could get away with violence. After all, eight students arrested during the bloody September riots were merely placed on campus probation (last year three students were expelled from Ole Miss for participating in a panty raid). University officials were mild and mellifluous in their rare admonitions against more student violence.