Dancing on a Saturday night in the 1930s, a few short years after the creation of Duke University, a typical student could not be happier. He had a tough time drinking, because of Prohibition, so a great deal of student entertainment centered around activities that are tame by today's standards. School-sponsored dances, debate team and Bible class were particularly popular for students around the founding of the University.

Once James B. Duke established the Duke Endowment in 1924, it wasn't long before student life was profoundly affected. Before West Campus construction was completed in 1930, the University was located entirely on East Campus. Because of the lack of dorm space, very few women were allowed to enroll at the young University at that time. The few women who did attend were subject to extensive rules and regulations.

"The women had strict rules for hours coming in," said Bob Durden, professor emeritus of history and author of The Launching of Duke University, 1924-1949. An 11 p.m. curfew, which extended into the 1960s, made late-night socializing difficult. Durden added that a strong system of self-government in the women's college meant that many of the rules were student-enforced.

It would be over three decades before the Woman's College began to loosen the tight grip of its regulations. Bill Griffith, Vice President Emeritus and Trinity '50, speculated that men and women were not allowed to socialize in their own rooms until the '60s. "That didn't happen in the '50s," he said. "They had parties and socialized in the commons rooms. At that time, they had cabin parties. A cabin party was when a group of men would rent a cabin, and they'd basically have a party there with chaperones."

The University did not make students' fun a high priority. For the first few years of the University, an on-campus ballroom dancing ban drove many social functions off-campus. One popular venue for many banquets and tea dances was the brand-new 16-story Washington Duke hotel in downtown Durham.

Eventually, administrators relented, however, and dancing increasingly came into favor with the University. "By the late 1930s," said University Archivist Bill King in his book, If Gargoyles Could Talk, "dances averaged three a week from unpretentious YMCA or YMCA open houses, to... well-decorated formal co-ed balls."

Griffith said that large dances remained popular in the 1950s and '60s. "A lot of organizations would bring big dances here," he said, "and they'd be in Cameron Indoor Stadium or Card Gym. All the major [bands] came here. There was a group called Shoe and Slipper, whose responsibility was to bring big bands to campus."

The love of dancing resulted in a need for campus bands. "Duke had several bands on a national level," said King, citing Les Brown and Johnny Long in particular.

Students were not the only ones who enjoyed dances. Faculty often attended the same events as students, and not only dances. "Socially... college students enjoyed the same entertainment that faculty did," said Durden. "Ballroom dancing was very popular among students and faculty. There was not the gap between students and faculty that there is today."

Faculty would commonly invite students to their homes for bridge parties, tea, and, in the 1950s, drinking. "Interestingly enough, there wasn't a regulation about alcohol at that time," said Griffith. "[The faculty] would have sherry and wine.... The 21-year-old drinking age came into effect in the '70s."

Durden was fairly confident that drinking took place before that time, as well. "I'm sure that behind closed doors there was drinking going on," he said. "There certainly was no kind of open drinking."

In stark contrast to today's campus, alcohol was not a major social impetus in the '20s and '30s. When students were not dancing and not in class they contented themselves by purchasing milkshakes at the popular "dope shop," a soda fountain in the West Duke building. Upon the completion of West Campus, the fountain moved to the basement of the Cambridge Inn, and helped form one of the University's most popular hang-outs.

Students were not all easygoing, however. In fact, Durden described one very active organization as a cult. "The Red Friars for the men and the White Duchies for the women were student honorary societies," he said. Although they were secret societies in the sense that their initiation rituals were strictly behind closed doors, everyone knew who was involved, said Durden. He added that it was widely acknowledged that the members were the most respected student leaders on campus. One of those members was presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole, Trinity '58, who led the woman's student government association.

Another popular weekend activity was the Sunday night sing, said Griffith. The sings would take place in Baldwin Auditorium on East Campus and would be packed every week. "They had entertainment from students who would do skits... and in between they would play popular songs and everyone would sing together," he said.

Since James B. Duke's enormous gift, which created the University, a great deal has changed. Drinking has replaced dancing as the preeminent social activity, students and faculty interaction is largely limited to the classroom and the University has relaxed its grip on curfews and rules. Nonetheless, some things about the school have remained the same.

"I've often thought what those deans back then would think about the problems today about alcohol and automobiles, and all," said King. "Each college generation has its own set of opportunities and challenges, and I doubt if it's much different then and today."