The Origins of Prom

By: Peyton Lawson

Prom is a right of passage for juniors and seniors in high school. Young girls dream of a princess-like gown and their dream guy sweeping them away to the night of their lives. Other than a person’s wedding day, prom night is the fanciest night of a young teens lives. Personally, I’m a big fan of prom. Despite the fact that it empties my wallet, there’s something about putting on a long gown, going to a fancy dinner, and then dancing the night away in a hotel conference room filled with 400 of my closest friends that really excites me. However, the prom is kind of random and weird, right? It’s a bunch of teenagers sweatily dancing on each other in a crowded room. But, where did this tradition come from?

The word prom comes from the word promenade, meaning walking path or walk through. The first version of a prom, as noted in the 1979 issue of the Harvard Crimson,  is believed to have been an annual Ivy League tradition of “‘presentation week.”  In 1894, there was also a journal entry written by a student from the then all-male Amherst College which gave his account of being invited to and attending a prom at nearby women’s school, Smith College. The prom tradition made its way to high schools by the turn of the century. At that time, the senior class, dressed in their “Sunday best,” gathered in the gym for tea and light refreshments, socializing and dancing under cheesy decor and the watchful eyes of chaperones. Not much has changed. By the end of the roaring twenties, prom was as American as baseball.

The most impressive prom was held in 1975– in the White House of all places. Yes, you understood that right. The daughter of President Gerald Ford hosted her senior prom in our nation’s most recognizable building. She is the only First Kid to ever host such a prestigious prom. Since then, prom dresses have slightly changed in style and dance moves have evolved, but the general purpose and agenda remain the same. So, prom on! Spray your hairspray, twirl in your dress, buy flowers that will inevitably die, and take all the cheesy group pictures your heart desires.



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