Life in 1917: ‘My dance card is full’

Photo of Charlene Wackman with images from Camp Randall 100
Photo of Charlene Wackman with images from Camp Randall 100

A series exploring life in Madison and beyond during Camp Randall Stadium’s first year

“May our college life wear this evening as its fairest jewel in its crown.”

— Inscription from a full dance card covered in squirrel fur in the scrapbook of Wisconsin student Charlene Wackman

BY MARK MEDERSON | Contributor

Scrapbook of Charlene Marie Wackman from UW Archives
Scrapbook of Charlene Marie Wackman from UW Archives

One of the pleasures of developing stories from 1917 is spending time in the University archives on the fourth floor of Steenbock Memorial Library.

David Null, the Director of the University Archives and Records Management, is extremely knowledgeable about the treasures that exist in this space.

Like the scrapbooks kept by students who attended the University of Wisconsin.  A number of those scrapbooks were later donated to the archives by family members.

One of those scrapbooks belonged to Charlene Marie Wackman.

Photo of Charlene Wackman from her scrapbook in the UW Archives
Photo of Charlene Wackman from her scrapbook in the UW Archives


Charlene hailed from Oregon, Wisconsin, and entered UW as a freshman in 1914. In black ink, Charlene titled page two of her scrapbook, “REGISTRATION DAY.”

She pasted several small booklets she received on that day onto the page. These included one with a printed cover with the very official sounding title “REGULATIONS FOR THE GUIDANCE OF UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS.” Within the booklet was its purpose:

These regulations and instructions are published for the guidance of undergraduate students. They should be regarded not as arbitrary rules, but as normal laws essential to the healthy life of the University. Every student is bound both by reason and loyalty to observe them.

On page 16 — “REGULATIONS GOVERNING SOCIAL LIFE” — Section 8 of rule 26 says:

All parties and receptions shall be held either on Friday evening, Saturday evening, or the evening before a legal holiday (not on the evening of a half-holiday, nor on the evening of a legal holiday, unless the legal holiday falls on Friday or Saturday), and shall close at or before midnight. But each organization may once during the year hold a one-o’clock or “formal” party, on first securing the written permission of the Chairman of the Committee on Student Life and Interests. Such permission will not be given for a party to be held on a Saturday night.

Did you get that? And by all means, have fun!

Poem from Scrapbook of Charlene Marie Wackman from UW Archives
Poem from Charlene Wackman’s scrapbook from UW Archives

Charlene crafted a small poem, which she penned at the bottom of this page of her scrapbook.

This day had its trials and pleasures too. But say! The amount of junk in my possession when all was thru would nearly fill a trunk.

It appears Charlene had been assigned to live in Chadbourne Hall. She pasted the small booklet of “house customs” in her book as well. If Charlene attended a party that freshman year, she was to leave her name with the house mistress. And if Charlene stayed out past 12:30, she was to report this to the mistress the next day.

Like most first-year students, Charlene appeared a bit overwhelmed by the amount of money she had to shell out in that first semester. She covered an entire page of her scrapbook with receipts, everything from dorm rent to her gym locker card. At the bottom of the page she wrote, “There’s where my money goes.”

She also devoted a full page to the “Formal dinner at the Psi Upsilon Lodge,” which she attended with a Mr. L. Brittingham. Charlene notes that she wore a gown that was apricot and gold over white taffeta. Her flowers were violets and coral rose buds.

One item that stands out as appearing frequently in Charlene’s scrapbook are dance cards from different informal dances, formals and proms. These are small booklets with the names of dance partners that she paired with for specific dance steps (fox trot, tango, etc.) throughout a given event.

For example, at the Kappa Alpha Sigma Phi “informal,” the dance card lists 16 possible chances to dance with Charlene. Perhaps she was tardy for this dance because Charlene’s first three dances in the card were marked with double x’s (two one steps and a waltz), but she partnered for eight of the next 11 dances. She was with someone with the last name, Settle, for the waltz. She also waltzed with a Fuller and a Jacobson. In fact, Jacobson was the only man who managed to get on Charlene’s dance card twice that evening.

Photo of Squirrel-fur covered dance card from scrapbook of Charlene Wackman's scrapbook in the UW Archives
Squirrel-fur covered dance card from scrapbook of Charlene Wackman’s scrapbook in the UW Archives


Later in the scrapbook was a page with four dance cards pasted side by side. But one of the most unusual items in the book is this dance card from 1917. It’s from that year’s junior prom. This card is unique for several reasons. One, while most dances listed 12 to 16 chances to take a spin on the dance floor, this prom listed 24 different dance opportunities. Notice too the cover of this card. It appears to be an actual squirrel pelt complete with tail.

The inscription on the first page of the squirrel card reads:

May our college life wear this evening as its fairest jewel in its crown.

It appears that Charlene attended this prom with Mr. Harry Hansberry and filled nine of the spots on her dance card with the names of other men who attended that evening.

Twenty-one years after Camp Randall opened, one of Charlene’s best friends would pen a popular novel. UW-Madison graduate Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings released, “The Yearling,” in 1938. It was that year’s top-selling novel. Rawlings, a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, graduated with a degree in English from UW-Madison in 1918. She wrote for several newspapers before moving to Florida and writing “The Yearling.”

Looking through Charlene’s scrapbook one can find a dance card from the football homecoming dance and a program for a UW versus Minnesota basketball game pasted to the pages. What is absent, however, is the program from the opening game in Camp Randall Stadium. It’s unknown whether she was in those freshly poured concrete stands when the Badgers battled Beloit in that first ever football game on Oct. 6, 1917.

What is known is that a scrapbook compiled on the UW campus more than 100 years ago is rife with information about life in the early part of the last century. It’s a treasure trove of small mementos of Charlene Wackman’s life throughout her days as a student on campus in Madison. And for those who didn’t already know, Charlene’s scrapbook also reveals exactly what it means when someone says their “dance card is full.”