Yesterday’s Boston Globe published this history of the Dartmouth College Winter Carnival, re-printed below with as minimal abridgement as possible:
Once known nationally as “the Mardi Gras of the north,’’ and famously used to lure women to Dartmouth before the school went coed, Winter Carnival inspired a Hollywood film, and proved too much for no less a party pro than F. Scott Fitzgerald. He attended in 1939, ostensibly to collect material for the movie’s screenplay, but was so done in by heavy drinking he left early.
The carnival was invented in 1911 as a series of athletic competitions to help dispel the doldrums of the long New Hampshire winter. But the weekend soon took on a vital social function — attracting young women to the all-male Dartmouth in the dead of winter. In time, the picturesque campus, dotted with snow sculptures and sweater-clad couples, was adopted far beyond New England as a kitschy symbol of winter fun, and the college, 120 miles from Boston, became a destination for would-be carnival queens.
But in the beginning, when the future was uncertain, Dartmouth men were called to duty.
Winter Carnival “will not succeed without girls,’’ warned the college newspaper, The Dartmouth, in 1912, according to a history the paper published last week. “It is up to every man with a purse or a heart or a bit of enthusiasm . . . to make haste to procure that most necessary item.’’
To mark this year’s centennial, organizers brought back lost traditions, including the Carnival Ball, a formal dance that was held from 1913 to 1932; a snow sculpture contest; and snowshoe races on the Green.
They did not revive the “Queen of the Snows’’ pageant, the wildly popular competition that began in 1923 and ended in 1972, the year the school went coed. The pageant attracted hundreds of contestants, and even the interest of Hollywood starlets, some of whom tried to get an edge on the crown, said Jere Daniell, a Dartmouth history professor and 1955 graduate.
The real significance of the carnival, said Daniell, is the role it played in the transformation of Dartmouth from a failing regional college at the end of the 19th century to an elite institution with a national profile.
“It helped create an idea of community within the student body and the faculty — this sense of being from Dartmouth — and it put Dartmouth on the national map,’’ said Daniell, 78. “Like a lot of things that are flashy at one point, it’s less so now, but it is a celebration of winter, and an acknowledgment of the process that turned Dartmouth into an amazing place.’’
In the early years, students’ carnival “dates’’ were often women they had never met, who shipped north for the weekend from New York or Boston on Dartmouth-bound trains. By the 1930s, the town was swamped. “Hanover is set back on its collective heels as girls, girls, girls pour in,’’ blared the college newspaper in February 1939, according to a 2003 story in The New York Times.
It was 1939 when Fitzgerald visited carnival, sent by a movie producer who wanted a script. Budd Schulberg, a Dartmouth-educated writer who accompanied him on the trip, recalled in a 2003 interview with the Times how they started drinking champagne on the plane from California and never sobered up. Schulberg, who died in 2009, fictionalized the story of that weekend in his novel “The Disenchanted.’’