While the name is a bit misleading, the Gold Diggers’ Prom is yet another long-gone campus tradition. Beginning in the late 1930s, a dance was held once a year where the ladies and gents essentially reversed roles: The young woman would ask a young man to accompany her to the event, and she would pay for everything, from tickets to corsages.
The night of the dance, she would pick him up– with whatever means of conveyance was feasible – at his dorm, fraternity, or wherever he lived. At the dance, the Queen would crown a King, who would preside over the dance in place of the Queen.
For many years, the contest to be Gold Diggers’ Prom king in the spring was almost as intense as the one held in the fall for Homecoming Queen. According to a 1938 issue of The Lantern, “competition is mounting to a fever pitch as more and more candidates enter the race for King of the Gold Diggers’ Prom. The male of the species is walking around campus these days with a supercilious grin, gloating that ‘at long last’ he is coming into his own.”
Meanwhile, there was always good-natured teasing and shenanigans attached to the dance: Girls would bring their boyfriends corsages of carrots and beets instead of flowers. A carriage may await the boyfriend instead of an automobile. Boyfriends would make their dates wait, in memory of all the times they spent waiting on the young ladies.
The term ‘gold digger’ originally meant men who went out to California to join the gold rush in the 1840s. Its current meaning was coined in 1915, but did not gain popularity until the 1930s (the time of the dance) when many young women had to support themselves because of the Great Depression; thus, theoretically, they would go looking for rich husbands.
As with many social mores, women’s expectations for marriage and financial security began to change after World War II, and the dance eventually was finally dropped in the 1960s.