The Crimson Garter

While 110 years isn’t that long ago in relative terms, in many ways FDR’s Harvard existed in an entirely different world than the one most of us knew. As an amusing example, here’s a clipping I found preserved in one of the student scrapbooks now in the Harvard University Archives:

crimson garter

Courtesy Harvard University Archives

Cambridge Damsel Causes Riot at Harvard by Removing Circlet and Hurling it From Gallery Into Dining Hall

Throws Crimson Garter in the Arena, Outdoing Sir Francis’ Storied Lady


A crimson garter, thrown from the gallery of Memorial Hall by a pretty Cambridge damsel last night at the dinner hour, caused a perfect uproar amongst the thousand or more undergraduates and came very near putting the dining hall out of business.

Only recently the gallery was reopened to visitors, after several months of “closed during meal hours” The members of the hall were put on their good behavior, and visitors in the gallery of late have been treated with the greatest respect by the Harvard boys. Last nights escapade in the gallery was more than the average undergraduate could stand, however.

About 6 o’clock, the busiest part of the dining hour, a young woman, stunningly dressed, and unattended, appeared in the gallery. She marched boldly to the railing on which she place her foot, and, removing her crimson garter from its accustomed resting place, threw it into the midst of a crowded table below here.

All eyes had been watching her, but such an unprecedented proceeding for the moment stunned even the Harvard boys. It was only for a moment however, and then it looked for awhile as though there was going to be a wrecked dining hall to tell of the visitation.

There was cheering and yelling and clattering of dishes, and finally several hundred of the students made a rush for the door through which it was necessary to pass in order to gain the street from the gallery. They were too late however, and all that the first one to reach the outer door was able to see was the young woman dashing into a carriage, which was in waiting outside of Memorial Hall, and which clattered down Quincy Street so rapidly as to afford no encouragement of pursuit.

University officials were not so easily amused by the incident. The following notice (also preserved in the scrapbook) was sent to each and every member of the Harvard Dining Association:

Last night’s disorder resulted in damaging  numerous tables, chairs and place settings in the hall, not to mention three valuable oil paintings. Several members, and waiters, were painfully hit in the tumult. So large a number forgot their obligations to fellow members and guests that the Executive Committee will be obliged to close the gallery, if further disorder on account of visitors occurs. Furthermore, the Committee wishes to remind all members that ungentlemanly conduct in the Hall is cause for immediate expulsion.

H.L. Blackwell

J. Reynolds, for the Committee.