Fighting for Dandelions: A Past WU Tradition

Today, the University Archives would like to share with you a seemingly forgotten but most amusing WU spring tradition: Dandelion Day.

Pulling up these yellow weeds can be an arduous task, especially if you want to eradicate them from an entire university campus. In the early decades of the 20th century, WU found a solution—the annual Dandelion Day Competition. The competition became the means of selecting each year’s first-year Queen, who would preside over a dance the following evening. First-year men competed to get their choice for Queen elected by digging up dandelions. Each dandelion counted as one vote, and the woman with the highest dandelion-vote tally would be declared the winner.

Click here to read a full account of one particularly eventful Dandelion Day contest as described by Student Life, May 2, 1919.

Officially, the competition was a popularity contest. In actuality, it was an all-out battle that inevitably resulted in numerous injuries and severe damage to the Quadrangle turf. Men showed up in teams to fight for their nominee, and at the sound of a pistol descended en masse onto the grass to dig. They had approximately 30 minutes to collect “votes” and bring them to the judges. Those were the only rules.  Strategies included tackling the competition and stealing their dandelions by force, or forming a human wall to keep them from getting the flowers to the judges.

The tradition ceased sometime in the early 1920s, probably to the great relief of the administration (one recent participant had suffered a scorched ear when the starter pistol was accidentally shot in his direction, and another had been almost entirely disrobed in the brawl). The Student Senate revived Dandelion Day in 1945, holding a competition and dance just as before. This time, no injuries were reported.


1948 & 1949 Dandelion Dance tickets


About the author

Miranda Rectenwald is Curator of Local History, Washington University Special Collections. More info.