Peter Zinman, Collector, Exhibition Curator

Initiating freshmen into "college life" was, for upperclassmen, a long-standing ritual at many of this nation's institutions of higher education, including Penn. Some of these traditions eventually came to be considered forms of hazing and were banned. While they lasted, however, they gave rise to a fascinating documentary genre, the Freshman Broadside.

These flyers and posters, typically authored by sophomores, proclaimed the rules by which incoming freshmen must abide. The earliest known examples date from shortly after the Civil War, and with the outbreak of the Second World War the genre all but disappeared. Broadsides might be as small as 7 inches or as large as 40 inches. Many were illustrated (often with cartoonish violence); some were written in verse; and all of them remain enthralling. Often composed satirically, in the style of late 18th-century broadsides ( Oyez! Oyez! ; STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! ), broadsides typically listed rules that might include the wearing of freshman "beanies," forbidding the presence of cuffs on trousers, or smoking in public (but also requiring freshmen always to carry matches with which to light up an upperclassman's pipe), prohibiting walking on the grass, and similar restrictions. The tradition of posting such rules proliferated at the turn of the last century, when colleges began to clamp down on more violent forms of hazing. The rules then became a "benign" form of hazing, although punishments for breaking them might still be carried out by a dunking in a local river or a swift paddling by a gang of sophomores.

During the latter third of the nineteenth century and the first four decades of the twentieth century, virtually every major American college and university maintained some traditional contest or contests between classes. Many began as informal clashes and only later developed into official campus events, among them Illinois' Cane Rush, Iowa's Push Ball Contest, Michigan's Black Friday, and Penn's Bowl Fight.

Along with this good-natured rivalry, however, also came darker forms of freshman hazing. Acts of violence visited upon first-year students might range from a winter dunk in the local river to tarring and feathering (see "MISERABLE MISGUIDED MUTTS") - or worse. By the turn of the last century, public outcry over deaths of students due to hazing rituals put an end to the tacit acceptance by schools of the physical hazing of freshmen by upperclassmen.

Slide 1 Freshman Rules broadsides were a relatively rare phenomenon in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In the new conditions produced by the hazing prohibitions, however, they served to fill a void. The earliest known examples, from northeastern colleges in the 1860's and 1870's, tended to be small broadside fliers announcing the lifting of a rule. They seem not to have been very common. Two are on display in "NOTICE TO FRESHMEN!": one from Princeton (November 1870) and another from Amherst (March 1876) both announce the removal of a prohibition against the carrying of canes by freshmen, a removal presented as a reward for their good behavior.

By the turn of the century, however, sophomores at numerous colleges across the nation had established a tradition of posting broadsides in the fall to announce the rules, challenge the freshmen to a contest, or both. These were generally written in a prose style and typeface adopted from and intended to parody public broadside announcements dating from the late eighteenth century ( Oyez! Oyez! , YE FRESHMAN ATTENTION! ).

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Typically at many northeastern colleges, a self-appointed committee of sophomores or a fraternity would author the broadside and have a batch printed at a local print shop. Then, in a midnight operation early in the fall semester, the sophomores would post their broadsides all over campus. The frosh would soon learn that, unless they successfully tore down all the broadsides by a given hour, the rules would go into effect, not to be lifted until Thanksgiving, the first football victory, or the end of the fall semester. An army of sophomores would heavily guard several of the posters and that there would be injuries was a foregone conclusion. At Penn, the tradition was known as the Poster Fight. The first three sections contain five superb examples from Peter Zinman's collection, plus several choice items from Penn's Archive that illustrate this and other Penn Freshman Sophomore rivalry traditions.

Slide 1 Posters and rules, though wonderfully varied, nonetheless shared many common themes. Many portrayed freshmen as babies or children (see "YE BABES in SWADDLING CLOTHES"). Violence and death were another common theme (see "BEWARE the FATE THAT AWAITS YOU"). Illustrations, often crude but occasionally refined, were often inserted. And, at virtually every school, poster writers (ab)used alliteration and shamelessly ransacked "old English" and Roget's Thesaurus: "Skidoo! Ye Sappy, Suckling Simpletons, and Salaam to the Surpassing Supremacy of the Swarthy Sophomores"; "Decide to dare the dark and deadly ducking delegation"; "Fly not after false feminine forms."

Slide 1 Most of the rules posters developed a fairly standard core of rules. Some of the most interesting examples, however, are unique to a school or even appear only on a single broadside: "Have no tintype portrait made of yourself until Easter (Dartmouth 1913)"; "Refrain from all Spanish music (University of New Hampshire 1913)." Every now and then a class would abandon the traditional rules and come up with some really creative ones. A wonderful example (on display in "WOULD-BE SOCIETY QUEENS") is a 1926 poster from Westminster College, Pennsylvania promulgating three rules each for "Boys" and "Girls". The separate rules for "Girls" are not unique. Indeed, coeducational and women's colleges regularly promulgated rules for women. "WOULD-BE SOCIETY QUEENS" contains many examples of this subgenre.

Slide 1 At many schools, posters challenged the freshmen to meet for the annual class contest. Michigan and Michigan Agricultural College, showcased here in "BUTCHERY! SLAUGHTER! of the INNNOCENTS" and "YOUR GOODFORNOTHIN' CARCASES", are prime examples. Indeed, some schools did not bother to list rules; their posters consisted solely of a humiliating or violent challenge.

At most schools it was not long before freshmen got wise and responded in kind. The quality of their response was not always a match for the experienced sophomores, but some examples are wonderful in their brevity. On display here (see "BUTCHERY! SLAUGHTER! of the INNNOCENTS") are some excellent examples from the University of Michigan. Sophomores both set down the rules and challenged the freshmen to do battle on "Black Friday"; the frosh responded with bravado. "NOTICE-SCABBY-SOPHOMORES" has additional examples of freshman creations. Invariably, these contests would result in numerous injuries, many serious. These eventually led to their extinction in all forms other than pure athletic competitions occasionally seen even today. On the occasions when freshmen won the contest, they would have the last word in the battle of the broadsides.

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Peter Zinman started collecting freshman broadsides while a sophomore at Dartmouth College nearly two decades ago. Since then, he has amassed what is without doubt the world's largest collection of the genre, more than three hundred examples of the posters and postcard reproductions. This exhibit presents dozens of the most interesting and unusual in his collection as well as a number of Penn-related items from the University of Pennsylvania Archives and Records Center. Several date from the second half of the nineteenth century. Interested viewers are invited to send comments or questions to
Peter Zinman at