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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cornelia Spencer Love, January 26, 1975. Interview G-0032. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Ritualized dancing and courting at off-campus balls

Cornelia Spencer Love recalls visiting Chapel Hill, North Carolina, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1909 for dances with university boys. She describes the rituals of the various dances and comments on the Baptist no-dancing policy that ruled at the university in those days.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cornelia Spencer Love, January 26, 1975. Interview G-0032. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Well, I came three or four times, I really couldn't tell you how many. I came twice to Gastonia with my family to visit my Grandpa and Grandma Love and in 1909, I had a wonderful trip to Chapel Hill. My father graduated from the University in '84 and came to his twenty-fifth reunion. Dr. Battle and his wife were still living in the old Battle home, they were good friends of my family. We were not only invited to stay at their house, but Dr. Battle's grandson, Kemp Davis Battle, was in the class of 1909 with Frank Graham and other since very prominent graduates. And he invited me to attend . . . do you want to hear all of this?
I have heard mostly about your grandmother and I know a good deal about Kemp Battle. Is there anything that you want to . . . .
I think that this is historically interesting, because in those days, the commencement balls were very important, they were great social events and here was I, a little Yankee girl, just seventeen, knowing how to dance and loving it and so forth, but not knowing anybody at all, came to Chapel Hill. Kemp Davis, that was what he was called, made up my card. There were five dances in two days. An afternoon, an evening and the next day, a late morning, an afternoon and then a ballroom that lasted until the sun came in the window. He had asked other girls, he took me to one of the five dances. He probably had his special girl, although he wasn't engaged at the time, he didn't marry for some time, and he asked his best friends to take me to the other dances. They made out the cards, they gave me a bunch of ballroom cards with the dances numbered, one, two, three. They started off with a "lead" dance, then a "break" and a "general". For the lead, your partner found you, he knew where to come. So, for the lead, you went out with your partner and had sort of a grand march and then broke up for other dancing. For the break, people could break in on you, it was the only dance that they could, which made it very nice for the boy with his girl, who didn't want to be broken in on all the time. Which is what happened later on and really in a sense broke up the dances. I just watched it happen, but that's another story. Then for the general, you just danced with your partner, but you didn't break. And I just had the time of my life, I enjoyed it thoroughly. The dances were held in the Commons, on the edge of the . . . well, about where Phillips Hall is now. They were just off the campus, because you couldn't have dancing, well, you couldn't have a ballroom right on the campus in those days.
Oh, was it not allowed?
Listen, my dear, you don't know anything! (laughter) In those days, the Methodists and the Baptists were strong in the land. They totally disapproved of dancing. Girls weren't supposed to do it, and they were always pointing out the wicked University. Particularly in the legislature, when the University was wanting money, and you had to fight against that sort of thing.