The Bentley Historical Library will be closed November 23, 24, & 25 in observance of Thanksgiving

Magazine

Hair-Razing Memories

A new scrapbook at the Bentley “locks” down a campus tradition

By Melissa Hernández-Durán

“Much Hair is Shorn; Sixty University of Michigan Men Said to Have Lost Their Locks,” reads one of the many headlines on alumnus Hoyt G. Post’s scrapbook pages. “Bald Heads a Pride at Ann Arbor” and “Hair Cutting War Continues” read others.

Post’s scrapbook documents campus hazing in 1903, when first-year students were captured by sophomores, who sheared chunks of hair from the first-years’ heads. Post’s scrapbook, which came to the Bentley this past spring, is one of hundreds of student scrapbooks in the Bentley’s collections, but it’s unique in its documentation of this peculiar act of hazing with actual…well, hair.

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Scraps of hair are preserved in envelopes with the date the locks were obtained, as well as information about the victim including state, school, class year, and, in some cases, his name.

In just one night in 1903, Post and other sophomores sheared the heads of 19 young men.

Hair-cutting had become part of class rivalry traditions at the University of Michigan during the turn of the century. Each spring, the first-year class would hold its annual Freshman Banquet. This event became a chance for the sophomore class to initiate first-year students. Sophomore students made it their goal to kidnap first-year class officers, particularly the toastmaster, and clip their hair to prevent their attendance at the grand event. First-year students then would try to avenge their classmates by targeting sophomores for the same treatment. Women did not usually participate.

The 1903 hair-cutting spree at the University of Michigan resulted in about 100 sheared heads, of both first- and second-year students, according to the news clippings. This tradition came to an end, at least officially, around 1906 after these incursions took place in the library and the University’s administration put a stop to it.

A Freshman’s Plaint

I passed her on the street
my lady fair;
She smiled, and quick
my heart leaped from despair,
(But joy, alas, was erelong turned to grief)
I saw she smiled, because I’d lost my hair

– Poem pasted in Post’s scrapbook, attribution reads “E.M.H.”

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