The Pirate's Ball

Pirate's Ball

When Penn was established in the 1700s, women were not invited to apply. It wasn’t until 1880 that women were admitted to the University as degree candidates, and even that was on a limited basis. Over the next two decades, the University slowly began expanding its admittance of women, department by department.  By 1900, there were enough women on campus to organize a Women's Club, located at 3903 Locust Street, in the same building as the women's gymnasium.

In 1913, undergraduate women published their first yearbook. Called “The Record,” it was a 28-page publication. Each copy was assembled by hand, with copies of class photographs pasted onto the pages. That same year, a women’s dormitory was opened at the southwest corner of 34th and Sansom Streets. Its 12 rooms were available only to women enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, but its bathrooms and dining hall were open to all women at Penn.

By the 1920s, women had begun to create their own campus culture, with clubs and traditions of their own.  Because they were not allowed in the all-male Houston Club, they established their own clubhouse called The Bennett Club at 3322 Walnut Street. In 1921, a chapter of the Mortar Board, a national “honorary fraternity for women," was organized, and in 1924, the Women's Student Government Association began publishing a women's student newspaper, The Bennett News.

Like their male counterparts, women at Penn indulged in the tradition of hazing newcomers. The annual Pirates’ Ball became part of that custom, marking the end of the teasing of first-year students by their upperclass sisters. At the ball, sophomore, junior and senior women dressed in pirate costumes and performed songs and sketches for the first-year students.  Men were not invited.



Originally published on October 29, 2009