May Day – the celebration of a new season for crops, new beginnings, and the crowning of spring royalty. In 1904, The State Normal and Industrial School, now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, held their first ever May Day celebration, which consisted of performances of Shakespearean plays, musical processions, and dancing around flower covered poles to merry music. These celebrations were important not only for the girls and women who gained confidence in their reenactments, but also for the surrounding community to see the range of talents possessed by the students of the state-sponsored college.
As time passed, State Normal grew in number and size, and the school’s administration decided to exclude some of the larger celebratory practices and focus their attention on exemplary girls within their college. The crowning of the May Day Queen became an important event starting in 1929, when the May Day festival became less centered on various plays and processionals and began to highlight the women who attended the prominent all-women’s college.
The archives possesses the first photograph depicting the May Day Queen and her ladies in waiting. She wears a crown of flowers, giving her an angelic and innocent styling that mirrored a bride preparing for her wedding with her bridesmaids. For the next four years, the Queen of the festival was named but did not wear a tiara. In 1934, a traditional flower crown was given. However, in both 1935 and 1936, a small embellished hat was given to the most important woman in the celebrations.
Finally, in 1940, the official May Day Queen Tiara was presented to a young woman who was meant to represent the best aspects of her sisters in her school – Virginia Ambrose. Though a few ladies chose to wear a flower crown in the next years, the tiara reappeared in 1947 and continued to be worn until the May Day celebrations cease to exist in 1955. The May Day tiara is now part of the University Archives Artifact Collection.
*This blog was written by Salem Academy student Alexaya McKelvey as part of her January Term Internship with the University Libraries at UNCG.