In 1988 “The World’s Greatest College Weekend” Got Even Better

Little 500, May 12, 1951. IU Archives image no. P0057566

The Little 500 began in 1951 and students throughout campus were involved from the beginning. Women, however, were excluded from full participation for nearly 40 years. While they could participate in the Mini 500 trike race, women wanted an equal spotlight during “The World’s Greatest College Weekend.” In early 1980s, then-Dean of Women’s Affairs, Phyllis Klotman, proposed a separate women’s race after hearing talk of female students being unhappy because they felt like they were not a true part of Little 500. After Dean Klotman’s proposal, the planning took six years, but with a lot of persistence, the first race finally happened in 1988.

“We want women to know that if they have the motivation to do it, the opportunity and support is here for them.”

The rules for team building were the same as the men’s race: Only one Greek team per house, and the residence halls can have multiple teams, but they must be from different floors. The women’s race was half the length of the men’s: 100 laps (25 miles) as compared to the men’s 200 laps. And just to keep things fair, men were introduced to the Mini 500, which had been intended strictly for women.

For that first year, 37 teams were interested, but rules stated 33 teams were the maximum number allowed to race. It all worked out, as on race day, 30 women’s teams ended up competing. More than 11,000 spectators turned out to see the first-ever women’s race, a much larger turnout than projected. The top five finishing teams that year were:

  1. Willkie Sprint
  2. Kappa Alpha Theta
  3. Delta Delta Delta
  4. Alpha Epsilon Phi
  5. Notorious

The winning women’s team in 1988, Willkie Sprint, finished with a time of 1 hour, 10 minutes, 52 seconds, which averages out to a speed of 21.57 mph.

The Women’s council president for the 1988 Women’s 500, Sandi Miller, had some encouraging words for the women involved in the race, “We want women to know that if they have the motivation to do it, the opportunity and support is here for them.”

 

Women’s Little 500 is still as popular as ever and while there has been an annual race since 1988, Willkie Sprint’s time remains the fourth highest recorded. Today at 4:30 history will record the 30th Women’s Little 500.

Contact the IU Archives to learn more about the history of the Little 500, and view photographs of past women’s races here in the Archives Photograph Collection. We have also partnered with our colleagues in the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive to begin digitization of Little 500 films in our holdings! Visit Media Collections Online to see what is currently available and stay tuned for more!

No Men Allowed: A Look Inside the Mysterious Panthygatric Dances of the Early 1900s

Panthygatric Dance, 1896 Arbutus
1896 Arbutus

The word Panthygatric looks and sounds unappealing. However, the women it involved would tell you otherwise. In the late 1890s through the early 1920s, sorority women from the then-four houses on the Bloomington campus would come together to plan an exciting banquet. The idea actually stemmed from the fraternities, who were forming an extremely elaborate and expensive party. They called it the “Pan-Hellenic” dance. Originally, women were invited, but the more elaborate the planning got, the more they wanted it to be without females.

Rule 1: Never mess with a woman and her party plans.

Costumed attendees of the Panthygatric dance, unknown year.
Costumed attendees of the Panthygatric dance, unknown year.

To spite the fraternities, the women decided to throw an even better party. They chose not to invite the men, and in a fun twist of fate, the fraternities Panhellenic dance was cancelled, whereas the women’s dance became an annual tradition.

What happened at these mysterious Panthygatrics? Sorority sisters would wear their house colors but they each had unique costumes. These included everything from a sailor, to a boy, to a ballerina, to a football player. They wore masks to keep their identity concealed and were very secretive as to how they would arrive at the venue to avoid their identity being given away. There was dancing, toasts, and lots of food. Women were able to talk and meet new people without any of the typical social pressures. Ironically enough, the mysteriousness of the dance and its activities is what gave it all of its publicity and attention.

In 1906, three men were caught looking into the window, trying to get a glimpse of this unique event. While they were caught before getting a decent look and escorted out, one of them decided to turn that quick peek into a scandal. Writing a letter to the The Daily Student (the present day Indiana Daily Student), he wrote (under the initials G.A.R.) of the Panthygatric scene he saw, saying how unladylike and wrong it was for young, respectable women to dress and act in such a disturbing manner. This letter sparked a response from Mary Breed, the Dean of Women, who had been in attendance that night. She argued there had not been any shenanigans; her accounts insist everything was innocent and fun. The editor of the The Daily Student, Robert Thompson, was told to write a retraction since the article from G.A.R. made the women who attended look bad to the public. Robert refused, saying the note was a joke and should have been taken as such. He also noted that he was not there to clear the article before it was published, so he should not be punished for it.

IDS headline: Dean Breed Defends Last Panthygatric. April 19, 1906
Daily Student, 19 April 1906

The Trustees declared him in the wrong and suspended both him and William Mattox (another member of The Daily Student) until they resigned from the student newspaper. When they finally left the newspaper staff, they were reinstated to Indiana University at students. Before you start feeling bad for William and Robert, A Bedford Weekly newspaper article states that this was not the first incident with the boys putting “alternative facts” in The Daily Student. They had been warned to stop numerous times.

Advertisement seen in the IDS shortly before the Panthygatric event (The Daily Student, March 1, 1907)

The Panthygatric continued for years to come, with different incidents involving men arising over the years — from the guys sneaking in to steal desserts or dressing as women in an attempt to slip in unnoticed. Bouncers were placed at the doors, but if anyone got around them, they were met with women holding buckets of cold water. Even local businesses got into the spirit, selling products geared toward the dance!

During World War I, the Panthygatric was cancelled and resumed for only a few years following. In its heyday however, hundreds of female students and faculty attended and enjoyed the event.