Dancing in Canfield Hall
unfinished text, but full of fascinating documents on a story that
faculty minutes for the early years of the 20th century are
neither thorough nor complete. Many significant events in the
period are often passed over without any reference in the surviving
documents. Other events, however, which never made it into any
official public history of the college, are occasionally revealed with
surprising density. One such event unfolded in December, 1911
after some Coe students attended a dance in a public hall without
faculty supervision. What follows is a sample of the letters as
the college faculty notified parents of the college’s actions and of
how different parents responded to this information. The letters
from the parents provide a powerful testimony to the educational and
social background of these students–and the role that Coe might have
played in their aspirations. These letters have not been edited;
we have attempted to reproduce as accurately as possible the texts as
found in the College’s archives.
Jacob Wolfe, Red Oak, Iowa
December 16, 1911
am requested to inform you that the Faculty of Coe College finds that
your daughter has, by participating in a dance at Canfield
Hall Nov. 28th violated three specific rules of the College
pertaining to social functions, and that she has been advised that she
may before Wednesday afternoon, December 20th
show reason why she should not be suspended.
The dance in question was
(1) given by a College organization.
(2) “ in a public hall.
(3) “ without Faculty
(4) “ without regular
W. S. Newell (signed)
Sec’y. of Faculty.
Newell was in the Department of Philosophy and Psychology. The
copy of the letter in the College archives is a carbon copy of a form
letter created for this specific situation; spaces for writing in son
or daughter and the he or she pronouns occur at the underlined points
in text. Mr. Newell’s letter is followed by a handwritten
response in pencil from Mr. Wolfe with an attached envelope dated Dec
in Reply to this would Say I don’t think my Daughter would do wrong
intensionaly but if She knew She was violating the College Rules.
She did wrong. She must abide by the Rules or Come Home.
She never Seamed to Care for dancing I know this is the first time She
ever went to a Public Hall the young man She went with lives Hear he
ought to have known he was Violating the Rules She did not keep
it a Secret She told her Mother all about it, Truly Yours
is a second handwritten letter in pencil from another parent who had
received a similar letter from Prof. Newell:
Dec 16 11
sir I just received your letter informing me of my sons liable
suspension and am verry sorry to hear that he violated any of the c
[crossed out with /] College laws I don’t think he done it nowing it
was against the rules and truly hope he will make amends for so doing
please forgive him this once and hope he will never do so again yours
truly Mrs J B West
handwritten letter from a parent apologizing for his son’s behavior:
Des Moines Dec 19
am in receipt of your favor Dec 16th. Thanking you for
the advice contained therein. Am very sorry to learn that my son
has violated the rules mentioned. I have this date written him
requesting that he appear before the Faculty and acknowledge his guilt
and ask your forgiveness & promise to live with-in the rules of the
College—I trust he will obey my Command and have no reason to doubt but
that he will. I have also explained to him the reasons of such
rules in a College for the betterment of character as well as
developing the mind. I earnestly believe that Carter has prompted
by these older than he into this act of wrong doing and I truly
believe—what I have said to him in my letter of even date will prompt
him to keep within the College Laws if what he has already done can be
Trusting that the Faculty will be as light as possible in passing
sentence in this case.
I beg to remain
J. E. Cook
1232 – 38th St
note on T. M. Sinclair & Co. stationery. Dated Dec 19/11
are, however, letters from parents less apologetic for the behavior of
Members of Faculty.
In answer to your letter concerning dance given on night of Nov.
28. Will say this dance was given during vacation and thought all
rules and regulations were abolished during all vacations.
W. S. Newell
Secy. of Faculty.
My Dear Sir: Replying to yours of Dec. 16th, My Son
Maurice attended the dance in question with my permission, I am
acquainted with the Lady he took & know who was there, the Public
was not admitted at the hall, there is plenty of evidence in Cedar
Rapids that up to the present time Maurice has not needed a chaperone
to behave as a gentleman, I am to broad minded to agree with the
Faculty that Maurice has done anything so far that ought to entitle him
Yours Very Truly
Bert S. [?] Church.
letter was submitted using stationery of the parent’s place of
O. P. McDONALD,
LUMBER, COAL, GRAIN
YARDS AT BURT AND LONE
BURT, IOWA, 12/18 1911
Cedar Rapids Ia
Sir: Your favor of the 16” at hand and note what you say in
regard to my sons violating the rules of the College.
expect him to live up to the rules of your College. and would not
dictate to Faculty of Coe College. Will say that I supposed that
your School was out on Nov 27 and that the students had a perfect
wright to have a dance if they felt so desposed.
My advise would be for you to live up to the rules of the College.
There are other Schools that I can send him to.
O. P. McDonald
college received another letter apparently typed by a secretary on the
company’s letterhead stationery:
Cedar Rapids Transfer
Cor. A Ave. and Fourth
of Faculty, Coe College
Miss Esther Hammond has turned over to me her notice of suspension
received from you yesterday, and has asked that I should take this
matter up with you. To say the least, I consider your action
about as unreasonable as anything I have ever heard of, as Miss Hammond
attended this dance not only with my permission, but with my full
approval, and I can not see where it concerns you in any way.
I consider this letter as a direct insult to Miss Hammond, and unless
you or any one so authorized cares to apologize to her for your action,
you may consider her connection with the school colsed in every way,
and expect to make settlement with me for the tuition due her for the
rest of this term.
I am in my office in the Cedar Rapids Transfer building from eight to
give every day, and if there is anyting further you wish to take up
with me, call on me at my office.
A. S. Hammond [signed]
included in the file is a Petition from the Student Council of Coe
College, signed by Lucy St?, Secretary. Although Williston Hall
had developed in the 1890s a student organization for helping to
administer some functions of the boarding hall, it was only with the
arrival of President Marquis that students began to develop a
functional student government. This petition, submitted to
faculty for their consideration on December 12, 1911 is one of
the first efforts by the Student Council to change college policy on an
issue. The petition was to be delivered at the December 12
faculty meeting, four days before Prof. Newell sent the notices of
suspension to the parents of the implicated students.
the faculty of Coe College:
We, the Student Council of Coe College, after an investigation of the
policies and conditions in regard to dancing in most of the other
colleges of Iowa and several standard colleges in nearby states and
comparison with those now existing at Coe, do set forth the following
views in regard to dancing at Coe:
[all numbers in red ink] There is a large percentage of Coe
Students who dance with the sanction of their parents and their own
That the recognition of dancing in Coe College would not affect those
persons or organizations who do not care to dance.
That if college students cannot dance at College functions they will,
and do, go elsewhere to dance.
That it would be better to have dances by college organizations,
controled by the faculty and under proper chaperonage, than to leave as
an alternative the frequenting of public dances, or those conducted in
less wholesome atmosphere than the college atmosphere.
That it is out of keeping with the college spirit to have regulations
which look well to the outsider but which are not, and cannot, be
That Coe College organizations now attempt to, and do give dances, and
a spirit of lawlessness and trickery is fostered by the present
In view of the foregoing statements the present regulations at Coe
College are inefective and worse than useless, we the Student Council
of Coe College do present to the faculty the following recommendations:
That dancing be recognized as a legitimate form of entertainment and
amusement at Coe College.
That permission for a social function shall not be refused because it
That the chaperone at dances be some member of the faculty.
That the permission to give dances be limited to organizations such as
classes, literary societies, fraternities and sororities.
immediate resolution of this controversy is evident in the following
typed letter that was sent to the students who the faculty chose to
suspend because of they went dancing in Canfield Hall.
December 22, 1911
The Faculty at its meeting yesterday evening found the following in
regard to the event at Canfield Hall on November 29th, in
which you were concerned.
1. That it was essentially a College function, promoted by
members of a College organization; that it was given in the name of a
man from the outside for the purpose of evading the College regulation
requiring permission to hold it, which permission was neither secured
2. The fact that it was given in the Thanksgiving Holiday, a few
hours after recitations ceased, does not affect the responsibility of
the College for it. The students had not dispersed to their homes
and the College was still responsible for them and their conduct as
3. No proper effort was made to secure chaperonage. The
member of the Faculty who was approached on the matter made it clear
that in case she attended at all she would not act as chaperon.
She did not attend, and the function continued without Faculty
The Faculty recognizes that all of the students involved were not
equally at fault in the matter, and action was taken with this in
view. The older students who have enjoyed a wider College
experience are held more responsible and are given degrees of
suspension varying with their responsibility. Those who have been
in College a shorter time are subject to reprimand by the President.
In accordance with this action you are hereby notified that you are
suspended from attendance at the College from Jan. 3rd to 16th
Very respectfully yours,
Signed by ____________________________
SEC’Y. OF FACULTY.
to this letter is a second page with further information on the
suspensions. The names of students identified in sections 1, 2,
& 4 are written in by hand.
In view of the fact that the students who attended the dance in
Canfield Hall on Wednesday evening Nov. 29, 1911 are not all equally
culpable either in fact or intent the Faculty adopts the following:
1. That the case of the Academy students who attended be referred
to the Principal of the Academy with the recommendation that he deal
with these students firmly but not harshly. (Eunice Sherman and
2. That in view of the communications received from the Misses
McFuff, Ferguson, Williamson and Wolfe of the College classes the
President of the College be directed to reprimand or counsel these
girls as he may consider best. (adapted to each individual case)
3. That the Freshman members of the Beta Phi Omega Fraternity be
severely reprimanded by the President for their part in the dance on
Wednesday, Nov. 29, and at the same time counselled with regard to
their future relations to this organization and to the college.
Kegley, Chuck Whelply, Young
4. That the upper class members of Beta Phi Omega who took part
in this dance be suspended from attendance at the college from Jan.
3-16, 1912. Aston, Larkin, McKinley, Wist [?]
a postscript to these documents, it should be noted that before the end
of the decade, the situation had changed so quickly that male and
female students no longer had to sneak off to places like Canfield to
dancing. Social dancing was actually permitted at some at social
events on campus. The impetus for such a quick and dramatic
change in college policy was the arrival in the fall of 1917 of
hundreds of soldiers on campus for S.A.T.C. training. These men
needed social events on weekends, and Coe began sponsoring dances for
these men in the gym. Since these men needed women to dance with,
female students were allowed to attend the dances–which created the
anomalous situation that for several weeks, female students could
attend dances on campus but male students who were not in the military
could not. By the winter of 1918, all students were given
permission to attend on-campus dances–and life at Coe has never been
the same again.