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Archives Traditions: Cornhuskin'

College Archives

Cornhuskin'

Note: For more on Cornhuskin', see the research project by Dr. Dan Fountain's Public History class.

Cornhuskin' is now one of the most elaborate and familiar of Meredith's traditions, yet one of the most mysterious. When it is mentioned or new students ask about it, they hear the infamous line, "You'll just have to experience it." While few freshmen know much about it, even fewer people know the history behind this competition of the classes.

History of Cornhuskin'

The first Cornhuskin' was held on October 30, 1945. It was started by Ms. Doris Peterson, Associate Professor in the Physical Education Department, and was sponsored by the Meredith Recreation Association (MRA). [9] Because the first Cornhuskin' was held the day before Halloween, [10] in its early years it had Halloween themes and was considered a Halloween/fall celebration as well as a way to honor the freshmen. For the first decade or so, it was called the Corn Huskin' Bee. Ms. Peterson chose the name because in the Midwest, where she was from, such events are called husking bees, not shucking bees. [11] The evening's events started at dinner, where the students arrived dressed as hillbilly couples. A prize was awarded for the best costumes. After dinner, the students moved outside for more activities in front of the dining hall. [12] One of the first activities was folk dances, on which Ms. Peterson was an authority. [13] Chicken and hog calling, three-legged races, and a parade were other events in the first celebration. According to Ms. Carolyn Robinson, the present College historian and member of the class of 1950, the president of the college usually won the hog calling and corn husking competitions in the early years. In 1946, the celebration was repeated and the music and dance departments collaborated on a performance of the folksong "Swing the Shining Sickle," which became a traditional song. [14] In 1949, the now traditional "Tall Tale" contest was added. [15]

Ms. Peterson's Corn Huskin' Bee became a favorite, and in 1951, the after-dinner activities moved to Jones auditorium. [16] During the fifties, several different contests replaced the chicken and hog calling competitions. In 1957, participants tried a pie-eating contest and a cow-milking contest (the students had to create their own cow). [17] The next year these ideas were dropped in favor of a hula-hooping contest, [18] and in 1959, a doughnut-eating contest was added where the doughnuts were suspended by string and had to be caught and eaten using only the participant's mouth. [19] It was not until 1960 that the now familiar apple-bobbing contest began. [20] In 1964, judges began awarding points for class participation. [21] The winning class received a giant pumpkin and the fun of gloating over the other classes. In 1961 the word "Bee" was dropped and the remaining words were combined to form "Cornhuskin." [22]

Changes to Cornhuskin'

Other traditional Cornhuskin' events have included water-fights and pranks in the dorms. In 1976 such activities were banned due to over-zealous students, and a reprimand was read during the evening's events. Dr. Jean Jackson, class of 1975 and class president her freshman year, recalls being kidnapped during her first Cornhuskin'. Several sophomores grabbed her and slammed her up against a vending machine in one of the dorms. Other destructive activities included pouring salt into stereo systems and taking the harmless water fights to a dangerous level. Students stood on the upper level breezeways between Vann and Stringfield dorms with buckets of hot water to pour on other students when they passed beneath. The water fights also included a game of "capture the dinner bell" with water guns and the old, large dinner bell that used to sit next to the Belk dining hall. In the 70's and 80's, efforts were made to clean up Cornhuskin', and new guidelines were set in place to prevent property and physical damage. [23] Since that time, only carefully monitored hall raids have been allowed.

Activities

Not all the Cornhuskin' traditions were violent. Less controversial were the themes around which the classes and faculty chose to center their activities. 1957 was the first year that a theme was used by the sophomore class, an idea so popular that following year every class had one. [24] The Bathtub Ring, a student singing group, entertained while the judges deliberated. For many years a staff member concluded the celebration with a rendition of "How Great Thou Art." Traditionally, selected faculty members have participated in all events, although they eventually stopped performing skits. It was not until the 50th anniversary of Cornhuskin' that it was moved from Thursday night to Friday night. The students were concerned that the switch would discourage participation, but the administration pointed out that it would allow alumnae to return for the anniversary celebration. It has been on Friday night ever since.

Although many details about Cornhuskin' have changed, the spirit of the tradition remains strong. Cornhuskin' events and class themes reflect the changing culture inside and outside the Meredith campus. For decades this Meredith tradition has offered a creative outlet for students to express themselves, and strengthen the bonds between the members of each class.

 

Works Cited

"A. A. Schedules All-Student Husking Bee." The Twig. 26 October 1945. Vol. XX, No. 3. p.1

"AA Sponsors Corn Huskin'." The Twig. 28 October 1960. Vol. XXXV, No. 4. p. 1

"A. A. Sponsors Corn Huskin' Bee on Halloween." The Twig. 26 October 1951. Vol. XXVI, No. 2. p. 1

"Athletic Association Provides Revelry in Corn Huskin' Bee." The Twig. 26 October 1946. Vol. XXI, No. 3. p. 1

"Classes Ready for Corn Huskin' Bee." The Twig. 25 October 1957. Vol. XXXII, No. 2. p. 1

Dale, Kim. Senior Stars sweep awards" The Twig. 3 November 1976. Vol. LI, No. 8. p. 2

Finan, Polly. Class of '66 As Juniorcrats Win Election in Annual Corn Huskin'." The Twig. 5 November 1964. Vol. XXXIX, No. 4. p. 3

"Five Teams To Compete at Annual Corn Huskin'." The Twig. 31 October 1958. Vol. XXXIII, No. 2. p. 1

H. J. M. Is Huskin' Worth It?" The Twig. 27 October 1961. Vol. XXXVII, No. 3. p. 2

Jackson, Jean, Ph.D. Personal interview. 25 April 2002

Johnson, Mary Lynch. A History of Meredith College, second edition. Raleigh, North Carolina: Edwards & Broughton Company, 1972

Kirby, Linda. Class of 1960 Wins Corn Huskin' For Fourth Time." The Twig. 6 November 1959. Vol. XXXIV, No. 3. p. 4

Knight, Ione, Ph.D. Personal interview. 16 April 2002

Meredith College Archives, Vertical files. Cornhuskin'"

Pittard, Penny. Corn Huskin': Born in '45, Celebrates Birthday." The Twig. 26 October 1962. Vol. XXXVII, No. 4. p. 3

Robinson, Carolyn. Personal interview. 26 April 2002

[9] Johnson, p. 273

[10] "A. A. Schedules All-Student..."

[11] Johnson, p. 273

[12] "A. A. Schedules All-Student..."

[13] Johnson, p. 249

[14] "Athletic Association Provides..."

[15] Pittard

[16] "A. A. Sponsors Corn Huskin' Bee..."

[17] "Classes Ready for Corn..."

[18] "Five Teams to Compete..."

[19] Kirby

[20] "AA Sponsors Corn Huskin'"

[21] Finan

[22] H. J. M.

[23] Dale

[24] Archives Vertical file, "Cornhuskin'"