What should have been an ordinary pep rally before the Michigan State game in 1955 featuring the Michigan marching band, pom-pom girls and cries of “beat State!” morphed into a frenzy of male students storming the all-female Hill dorms, scaling walls and claiming cotton-and-lace trophies.
While the first of the panty raids at the University was in 1952, the largest wasn’t held until three years later. Dean of Men Walter B. Rea blamed it on poor pep rally organization. While the marching band was bussed from the Union to Perry Field, the remaining students were unsure of what to do.
The natural inclination to riot gave way to an act of petty vandalism masked by school spirit. Students rearranged the lettering on the State Theater Marquee to read “Michigan beat state” and “Go Blue.” Yet despite the excitement of their rebellious behavior, students began to lose interest.
Their boredom ended quickly, however, when cries of “on to the Hill!” provided them with an activity for the evening.
More than 1,000 raiders charged into Mosher Hall and stole panties, slips, girdles and brassieres from female students’ dresser drawers. Mosher staff alerted nearby dorms and the entrances to the other residences were secured.
But mere locks were not enough to stop the determined male students in their quest for their female counterparts’ underthings. These men tore screens from the first floor windows of Stockwell Hall and scaled Alice Lloyd to get into the rooms of female students.
When asked about the University’s efforts to stop the raid, Dean Rea asked, “What can we do?”
Dean of Women Deborah Bacon had an idea, though. She drove her car through the fray of students to disperse the crowd. But activities continued past midnight – well after a failed Bacon went home.
The female students did not share in Bacon’s outrage. While some students casually chatted with men congregating outside their windows, others willingly threw their undergarments down to anxious males.
Panty raids lost their appeal by the end of the decade. Perhaps it was because students chose to riot over more serious matters, or perhaps the sexual revolution of the 1960s made stealing women’s undergarments seem less interesting than being invited into them.