Sticking to the Dance Card: Student Socials and Dancing to the Music of Louis Armstrong and Hoagy Carmichael at IU

In the early to mid-twentieth century, students didn’t make friends on social media or find a date through an app.  They went to student sponsored socials and dances, with chaperones and live bands.  The women were asked to dance by a different male student for almost every song, and they needed cards to avoid scheduling one dance with two different boys. They knew how to have fun and even got to hear some great music! Who wouldn’t want to hear Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong?

Junior Prom with Count Basie Orchestra, Alumni Hall, 1946

The Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Card Collection and the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection hold numerous examples of inventive miniature booklets once used by female students to schedule their dance partners when at a social event.  The two collections together contain over 50 different dance cards from dances and parties held at IU for students between 1900 and 1955.  The ‘cards’ are often about the size of a person’s hand or smaller, with several pages provided for listing names.  Some are in different shapes, such as a clover for a St. Patrick’s Day dance, or a football for the Foot-Ball Dance, held on the eve of the Syracuse-Indiana game in 1925.  Others are attractive metal or leather booklets with a ribbon or string for a young lady to loop around her wrist while dancing.  Parties and dances were sponsored by sororities, fraternities, and other student clubs and groups such as the Boosters Club, and there were always annual dances like the Annual Senior Siwash or the Junior Prom.  There were so many dances, sock hops, and events to attend, a student could not only have a full dance card each night, but also a full schedule for the week!

The “Jonquil Jump” held on April 14, 1928 was a dance sponsored by the AWS. Hoagie Carmichael performed.

Inside the inventive and colorful covers of a dance card was a lady’s promised dances, but also a list of chaperones, the name of the student organization sponsoring the dance, and who performed the live music. Many of the performers were local or college bands that played at IU often, but some were upcoming or established stars of the jazz and big band era! It turns out Hoagie Carmichael and Carmichael’s Collegians performed at a few of the student dances between 1924 and 1925 as his career was beginning.  The students who planned The 1939 Junior Prom even somehow found a way to book Louis Armstrong!

Carmichael's Collegians. This image scanned from page 117 of the 1924 Arbutus yearbook. (Clockwise starting at bottom with Carmichael at piano) Howard Hoagland "Hoagy" Carmichael, Unknown, Howard Warren "Wad" Allen, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.
Carmichael’s Collegians. This image scanned from page 117 of the 1924 Arbutus yearbook.
(Clockwise starting at bottom with Carmichael at piano) Howard Hoagland “Hoagy” Carmichael, Unknown, Howard Warren “Wad” Allen, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown.

Hoagy Carmichael was a Bloomington native who, after graduating from IU with a bachelor’s degree and law degree in 1925 and 1926, went on to become one of the most significant composers and musicians of his time.  Famous for writing well known hits like “Georgia on My Mind” and “Stardust” among others, Carmichael is an icon of the jazz and big-band eras.  He worked with Johnny Mercer on a number of projects including collaborating with him on “Skylark” in 1942, and his songs were performed by many famous singers including Louis Armstrong.

This dance card from May 5, 1939 has a metal casing and shows Louis Armstrong performed at the dance sponsored by The 1939 Junior Class of IU.
The dance card for the Indiana University Junior Prom 1939, held on May 5, 1939, has a metal casing and a page at the end shows Louis Armstrong performed at the dance sponsored by The 1939 Junior Class of IU.

The young men and women who were lucky enough to attend a student dance where Hoagy Carmichael or Louis Armstrong were performing during the 1920s and 1930s not only had the chance to fill their dance cards, but also to see some of the era’s most famous musicians!

To learn more about the Myra Montgomery Arthur Dance Cards Collection or the Indiana University Archives Dance Card Collection, or see them for yourself, contact the IU Archives.

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