On Ben's Farm

Call Me Mayor

The candidate, resplendent in bold-striped pants, big bow tie, top hat and tails, held a cane in one white-gloved hand and waved a cigar in the other as he made his pledge to the "cit-i-zens of Dur-ham." Should he be elected mayor, there would be "no classes during the week, compulsory movies, free cigarettes for athletes, mufflers for the University Glee Club, free beer and a full dinner pail for all." Four other candidates, similarly attired, made equally extravagant campaign promises. After a week of non-stop stumping, the UNH students cast their votes in the booth set up under the T-Hall arch. To the winner went the honor of presiding over the Homecoming football game and festivities.

Lawrence Jensen
- from University Archives

The mayoralty campaign was first introduced in 1926 under the sponsorship of Blue Key, a senior men's honorary society. Its primary purpose was to stimulate school spirit and interest in the Homecoming football game. This colorful interlude of farcical political high jinks quickly became one of the most popular traditions of the year.

All dormitories, fraternities and sororities were urged to sponsor a candidate. The candidates, equipped with an entourage of managers, lieutenants and occasionally a "wife," would adopt a campaign persona and slogan. Each succeeding campaign added variants in exaggerated promises, fantastic costumes and new versions of old jokes.

The 1934 candidates were the first to diverge from wearing the customary flamboyant politician's garb. Heinz G. Brown '35 assumed a Hitler caricature, while one of his opponents dressed as Popeye, with Wimpy and Olive Oyl by his side. After that, the costumes became more colorful and creative, with candidates running as Napoleon, Benjamin Thompson, Caesar the Teaser, the mortician Digger O'Dell, the knight Sir Loin and Neander-Tall.

In 1948, Frank Robie '50 ran as Threadbare McNair--his most outstanding features being his Ping-Pong-ball eyes and a "soothing oratory [that] wound a majority into a horde of frenzied supporters." He increased the role of the mayor by officiating at gatherings throughout the year. In 1949, he ran again as Mary Margaret McNair and thus became the only "female" to win a campaign.

The first actual woman to run for office was Florence Weast '30, who was recruited by Blue Key to add a new twist to the campaign. With permission from the dean of women, Weast and her campaign manager, Barbara Cilley '30, were treated like the male candidates to dinner at the fraternities, where they presented their platform. Despite two strong planks--a smoking room in the women's dorms and heated bleachers on the football field--Weast lost to "Soapy" Blaisdell.

The second woman to try for the post, Leona Dumont '42, was backed by the Boston Globe. Confident that a woman candidate would "set a new high in originality and cleanliness," the paper predicted she should "win hands down." However, even with her slogan "Ditch the Depression with Dumont," she lost to Alphonse "John Batiste" Lucier '41, who pledged to take his supporters to the eighth heaven.

Occasionally the frivolities and the mudslinging got out of hand. The 1932 campaign was dubbed "the worst of the whole series" by the editor of The New Hampshire. "The jokes were cheap and vulgar, and the candidates resorted to too much heckling and throwing of rotten fruit," he complained. On several occasions, Blue Key asked the candidates to refrain from the rowdyism of the previous year or it would no longer sponsor the event. In a further attempt to keep the campaign clean, all scripts for the 1954 campaign were read and censored by members of Blue Key before they were presented.

In 1956, Blue Key joined the Senior Skulls, another senior men's honorary society, to become the Senior Key. The members decided they would no longer sponsor the mayoralty campaign, but felt the tradition should be kept alive by another organization. The Interfraternity Council took it on, but lacked the commitment shown by Blue Key.

After the 1960 campaign, there was a four-year hiatus before the tradition was revived. David Eastman '65 remembers the 1964 campaign: "Things got amazingly and quickly outrageous. It was a carnival, and not tame at all." The lewd and suggestive speeches and posters were so offensive to some that the dean of students almost canceled the remainder of the campaign. It did go on, but the IFC was required to censor future campaign activities and impose fines on any houses that violated decency and good taste.

Under the new restrictions, the Greeks split into two factions, with a number of houses refusing to participate in the event. The final campaign, held in 1966, drew four candidates, two of whom were women. The campaign was clean enough for the administration, but dull for the students, and after 40 years, the long-running tradition came quietly to an end. ~

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