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Spring Is in the Air at Albright – Memories of Glorious May Days
May Day at Albright
May Day 1936. May Queen
Rachel Snyder is fourth from left.

Music, medieval pageantry, flowers, female students wearing beautiful dresses, some dancing, some winding colorful ribbons around a Maypole–for 40 years the May Day tradition at Albright gave students a chance to celebrate spring, and spring fever.

“The theme of the ceremony will be flowers…with members of the court in light orchid and green gowns and carrying white flowers,” The Albrightian reported on May 1, 1945.

May Day was held during Parents Weekend, which also featured dances, plays, open houses and other special events. Students voted in a campus-wide election to choose the May Queen, the maid of honor and the court from among the senior female students, based on appearance, popularity and participation in activities, alumni said.

The tradition began at Schuylkill Seminary in 1922, and was also celebrated at Albright College in Myerstown during the 1920s. May Day continued at Albright College in Reading, after it was formed in 1929 by the merger of the two colleges.

May Day celebrations of spring and Maypole dances date back to 238 B.C. in Rome, according to sources at Bluffton University, Bluffton, Ohio, a college which still celebrates May Day. Once common, the May Day tradition is now rare.

At Albright, there was also a custom of choosing a “May King,” a dubious honor given to a male senior known as a class clown. This king was paraded through town and then tossed into Sylvan Lake.

World War II affected many aspects of life at Albright, including May Day. The U.S. Army had stationed 200 soldiers on Albright’s campus.

On April 30, 1943, The Albrightian reported: “Soldiers of the Army Air Corps Detachment at Albright have been invited to attend the May Ball and may secure partners from the co-ed ranks through a date bureau which is being set up and operated for the dance.”

Madeline (Haag) Gable ’45 said she was surprised and honored when she was elected May Queen in 1945.

She had married Richard Gable ’47 the summer before her senior year, before he left to serve as an Army Air Force pilot in England.

May Queen Amy Leitner, right, and maid of honor Mildred Newkirk celebrate May Day 1937.

“Luckily he survived,” said Gable, of Gouglersville, Pa. “When he got back, he returned to Albright to

The 1945 maid of honor, Erma (Leinbach) Swope ’45, recalled making her long dress, which had a full skirt and cap sleeves.

“My dress was orchid, a pale purple,” said Swope, of Mount Penn, Pa. “I remember we marched around the Maypole and we held these ribbons, and we had to make them go over and under to make a design. We had to practice a lot to get it right.”

Carole (Althouse) Abert ’54, the 1954 maid of honor, recalled that the queen wore white, while other members of the court could wear any color they liked–she chose salmon.

“I remember my mother went with me on the train to Philadelphia to find that dress,” said Abert, of Lancaster, Pa.

In 1962, the last year of the tradition, Geraldine (Moyer) Schmidt ’62 served as mistress of ceremonies.

“My job was to put the program together,” said Schmidt, of Perkasie, Pa. “The girls wore short white cocktail dresses.”

In 1962, it was obvious that students had outgrown May Day, she said.

“The attendance and the interest had really decreased,” Schmidt said. “Our focus was on finding jobs and getting married. Most of the girls were more interested in planning weddings than May Day. That summer after I graduated, I went to 13 weddings, including mine.”

- Francine M. Scoboria