The Stanford University "Jolly-Up" Tradition

2nd Apr 2024

We were intrigued recently reading a Stanford Student Handbook from 1936-1937. These handbooks were given to students each year by the Associated Students group and contain all types of useful information for students including information about fraternities, eating clubs, student government, athletic and the campus. The handbooks also have a section on dating.

Illustration from the 1936-1937 handbook

Among the items in the dating section, ""Never phone a girl and ask 'what are you doing tonight?' If you want a date ask for it. You can ask for a date for a girl you haven't met but you run the risk of being turned down if you can't "place" you. Jolly-ups are good place to get acquainted. Blind dates are an acceptable way to get acquainted but you run the risk of being bored to death."

A Jolly-Up? 

The handbook describes it thusly, "Jolly-ups are short informal dances held on school nights. Dates are very seldom taken but are made there. Quad clothes are worn. Stag lines form and men cut in. When a man cuts in, he taps the dancing man on the shoulder and when he starts dancing he immediately introduces himself to the girl." it is very rude, and never done, not to give away when you are cut in on, but on the other hand let the man have a couple of steps with the girl before you cut and don't cut in on the man who cut you if you can help it." If you are stuck with one partner so long that it becomes embarrassing, it is quite proper for either one to ask to be excused."

To see how the Jolly-Up has evolved over the years, The Stockton Independent newspaper from April 11, 1912 explains its early incarnation: "How can 500 young men and 500 young women attend a dance in which all the young men pay equal attention to girls of all sorts, sizes, age and descriptions? That is the question that has been settled by the committee in charge of next Friday night's Jolly-Up, which the student body will attend. Here are the rules that have been drawn up:

1. No student will be permitted to "queen" a co-ed to the dance or to see her home.

2. Young men must not pay exclusive attention to the campus "queens."

3. Everyone must dance with the person of opposite sex, nearest at hand, whenever the orchestra leader says so.

4. Every student must hand his partner off to the first young man who taps him on the shoulder.

5. Stiff white colors are under the ban. Soft-necked shirts must be worn.

6. To obtain complete democracy, supper must be eaten sitting on the floor.

According to Stanford Magazine the tradition continued until at least 1949, and more likely than not into the 1950s.