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Archives Traditions: Stunt, Palio, and Play Day

College Archives

Stunt, Palio, and Play Day

Brief History

According the Mary Lynch Johnson, Stunt Night, as it was first called, is said to have begun on March 16, 1915 [28] and was sponsored by the Athletic Association. [29] In 1935, Palio was added to Stunt by Miss Marian Warner. [30] Palio, an afternoon of parades and fun before Stunt Night, was an adaptation of the Italian celebration of the same name. The last Palio celebration was in 1951, eighteen years after the first observance. [31] Stunt Night, however, continues to this day with one major adjustment: in 1934, Stunt Night was expanded into Stunt Day, beginning with a tree planting. [32]


Since its beginning in 1913, Stunt has undergone many minor changes. It began as a fall activity and has switched back and forth between fall and spring semesters. Currently, it is a spring semester activity. While it started with each class presenting a skit, it was changed to mostly athletic or field day activities in the late 1980's. [33] When Stunt was first judged in 1923, winners received a silver loving cup as a prize. In the 1930's Palio and Stunt were held on the same day, separated by horse and bicycle races in the afternoon. [34] Each class had a theme and skit for Stunt Night, which was kept secret until the big night. In 1922 and 1923, the sophomores stole the freshmen's ideas and incorporated them into their own skit. The freshmen retaliated the next year by fully preparing and organizing three skits, giving them a choice for the evening's activities. [35] Dr. Ione Knight, class of 1943, was impressed by the originality and effort that went into the skits, but she also remembers the time and spending limits set on the stunts. Ms. Carolyn Robinson (class of 1950) was also struck by her class's stunt their sophomore year. She believes they won the loving cup with their more serious skit because it was so different from the usual humorous skits.

Big Changes to Stunt

Dr. Jean Jackson, class of 1975, came back to Meredith in 1983 to serve in faculty and administrative positions. She has observed many changes in Stunt over the years, and believes that the current celebration is closer to the tradition of Play Day. This now-extinct celebration was an afternoon of games and fun, but did not include a skit. The big change in Stunt activities occurred in the late 1980's. During her time as a student, Dr. Jackson says that Stunt was on the decline until only a core group of women from each class participated. She fondly remembers winning Stunt her senior year when she played a character named "Lotta Chatter." The activity most closely resembling the original Stunt activities is the Lip Sync competition, which is similar to the original songs that were written and performed when Stunt was relatively new.

Each year, the Student Handbook gives rules for Stunt and Palio. In 1947, a new rule was enacted that the class with the most participants in Palio won reserved seats for Stunt night. The class that won the parade part of Palio had their class numbers placed on the Palio banner. The two events were separated in 1950, when Palio became an evening event. [36] Stunt then was moved to the spring, according to the 1951-1952 Student Handbook. The following year was the last time Palio was mentioned in the Handbook. Stunt moved between semesters several more times in the following decades. In 1957-1958, the Handbook records that it was moved back to the fall, and in 1971-1972 it returned to the spring semester. The reward for winning Stunt, the loving cup, also underwent some adjustments. The 1954-1955 Handbook states that if a class won the cup two years in a row, it could keep the trophy. This rule was changed to three years in 1962-1963, and no one has been allowed to keep the cup since 1968-1969.

Stunt Events

The main event of Stunt was the skits, each with its own theme. In 1929 the junior theme was that in 1999 everyone ran on springs and had to be wound up with a key. The characters in the skit kept winding down and going limp and then had to be rewound by another character, who spent most of the skit winding people up. [37] The skits usually included songs and occasionally orchestral accompaniment. The November 7, 1933 issue of The Twig describes another interesting skit, where the sophomores used a real cow in their stunt, but the seniors won that year with a male guest in theirs. [38]

In 1988-1989, Stunt switched from skits to games. Recent events have included Flour Power, Halo Chase, Tug of War, Lip Sync, Egg Toss, Sponge Toss, Balloon Toss, Bat Spin, and a three-legged race. This is typical of how Stunt is celebrated today. While it has been through many changes, the relaxing spirit of Stunt remains the same, offering students the opportunity to relax, release stress, and have fun during the spring semester.

Palio Events

According to Dr. Ione Knight (class of 1943), when she was a student at Meredith Palio and Stunt were on the same day. After classes on Saturday ended at noon, the students would start their Palio parade down the front drive. There were horse races with papier-mache horse heads on broomsticks "ridden" by students, and faculty impersonations with papier-mache heads made to look like different members of the administration. The event was run by Helen Price, Professor of Latin and Greek, and by Meredith Athletic Association (now called Meredith Entertainment Association). According to Ms. Caroline Robinson, each class would pick a theme for the parade and dress appropriately. She also enjoyed the songs that the students wrote and sang in the parade. According to Dr. Dorothy Preston, class of 1954, many students did not like Palio. During the parade, many young men from N.C. State University came to watch the events. The young women of Meredith did not like being seen by the men while they were riding broomsticks and parading in horses' heads of papier-mache. The Meredith students continued the tradition out of their respect and affection for Dr. Price in spite of such awkward situations.

Play Day

According to Dr. Knight, Play Day was a day when faculty and students took half the day off from classes to gather in the courtyard and play games. She believes President Campbell introduced it in 1940-1941. The students would compete against the faculty in games such as softball and checkers. They would also jump rope and end the afternoon with a picnic for all. A Duke of Play Day was selected from among the faculty and a Duchess from the students. Ms. Robinson remembers playing tennis, croquet, badminton, volleyball, and running three-legged races. Dr. Jackson remembers when activities were more extreme. One year, a wrecked car was towed onto the courtyard and students could pay for the opportunity to paint a person's name on the car and whack it with a stick. Not only was this a fund-raiser for on-campus groups, but also a great way to relieve stress. Although Play Day is no longer celebrated, its memory lives on in some of the activities in present celebrations of Stunt.

Works Cited

"Annual Stunt Day Events Directed By Aileen Snow, Oct. 21." The Twig. 14 October 1939. Vol. XIV, No. 2. p. 1

"Class of '34 Wins Stunt Night Cup for Third Year." The Twig. 7 November 1933. Vol. XIII, No. 4. p. 1

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

"Juniors Win First Place In Annual Stunt Night." The Twig. 31 October 1929. Vol. IX, No. 5. p.1

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

LaRue, Joanne. "Palio Scheduled as Night Event in November: Student Body Votes Changes." The Twig. 20 October 1950. Vol. XXV, No. 2. p. 5

"Palio and Stunt Night History." The Twig. 29 October 1948. Vol. XXIII, No. 2. p. 5

Preston, Dorothy K. Personal interview. 01 February 2003

Robinson, Carolyn. Personal interview. 26 April 2002

"Stunt Day to Be Held Here on Next Saturday; Program Begins at 2:00." The Twig. 18 October 1941. Vol. XVI, No. 2. p. 1

[28] Johnson, p. 131

[29] "Palio and Stunt Night History"

[30] "Palio and Stunt Night History"

[31] Johnson, p. 202

[32] "Stunt Day to Be Held Here..."

[33] Jackson

[34] "Annual Stunt Day..."

[35] "Stunt Day to Be Held Here..."

[36] LaRue

[37] "Juniors Win First..."

[38] "Class of  '34 Wins Stunt Night..."