1951 Yearbook Highlights

Yearbook Highlights for The Seminole, 1951 

Emily Alayeto and Sasha Vagos   


Decorative page from 1951 yearbook with the outline of a woman's head superimposed over a picture of a pond with lilypads

The 1950-1951 Seminole gives an interesting look into a particularly stressful school year, how it affected these students, and how they chose to portray and memorialize these events. Amidst the ongoing Cold War and second Red Scare, the most impactful event of this school year was the advent of the Korean War in the summer of 1950, which touched many aspects of university life. Anxiety about the war is evident in some of the pages, particularly for the male students who would soon be sent off to fight in Korea, to do “things the nice men at the recruiting station failed to mention”. However, in the face of these unexpected changes to the school year, the yearbook’s pages are full of joy, with students perhaps throwing themselves more enthusiastically at all the university had to offer to keep up their spirits and patriotic feelings about the war. The yearbook’s pages are beautifully decorated, taking on a nautical theme with influence from Florida’s natural landscape, with collages of black and white photographs accented by greens and reds. The students of this school year had bustling social lives, with events such as concerts, dances, football games, Greek life sponsored events, and performances from student groups such as the Fightin’ Gator Band and the Florida Players. The student body is almost completely white, and with many more male students than female. UF students also seemed to conform greatly to standards of traditional dress and gender roles. Many of the women and men are dressed in very similar hairstyles and conservative fashion, with little variety in style. Although women were in leadership positions and had organizations, men still made up a majority of the yearbook, which often referred to women in the context of their looks and femininity, and with several beauty contests held throughout the school year.  

June 1951 graduation. Graduates line up on the football field to take their seats in the bleachers
June 1951 Graduation

International Relations (Emily Alayeto) 

A group of men sit in Florida Gym to learn about the national emergency taking place in Korea

The most impactful international event occurring in this school year was the outbreak of the Korean War in the summer of 1950; references to the war’s effects on the student body appear throughout the yearbook. The opening paragraph refers to “twelve months of tumult and confusion,” and how the yearbook was produced in spite of the “shadow of budget shortages, military service, and general unrest” (4). In addition to budget shortages, student enrollment dropped and staff turnover increased as people enlisted. A convocation was even held during the school year to discuss the plan for male students who were leaving for the war. Despite the fact that their world was “darkened by the clouds of war,” the yearbook staff tries to present UF’s student body as ready to support their country, only portraying the war negatively insofar as it impacted student events at the university (208). Many of the pages dedicated to the individual fraternities include mostly positive references to their members leaving for Korea, simply stating how they’ll see each other there. But some do reference students’ anxiety, such as Gamma Theta’s page which refers to their members’ “war jitters” (206). However, the reference to the general unrest on campus on the first page indicates that the yearbook’s perspective may downplay some students’ opposition to the war. For instance, the page dedicated to the Board of Student Publications refers to “editor trouble,” discussing how “censure [was] administered to student publications when it [was] needed” (40).  

Social Life(Sasha Vagos)

In 1951, the University of Florida bustled with students who engaged in a fulfilling social life. The Seminole section “Activities” gives readers a glimpse into the incoming freshmen’s social scene during the 1950-1951 school year. The university welcomed students with a four-day orientation, which included tours and forums. From there, incoming students participated in a traditional “pajama parade.” It consisted of first-year students gathered on University Avenue and clothed in their best pajamas to ring in the first Gator football game of the season.

A group of UF students, both men and women, pose in their pajamas as part of the pajama parade

The Lyceum Council, which controlled entertainment and events at UF, invited opera star Risë Stevens to perform at the university. According to The Seminole, her weekend performance marked one of the “loveliest nights of the year” (67). Later in the school year, entertainer Lauritz Melchior wowed students with his incredible voice and even performed in residence halls. However, Homecoming Week still reigned as the best week on campus as 35,000 people flooded in to celebrate. In the 1950-1951 school year, the University of Florida played Auburn University. Gator Growl, which continues as a university tradition today, included fireworks, clowns, acrobats, and Greek Life skits. Students in Greek organizations also competed in friendly rivalry as they submitted house decorations during Homecoming Week.

Much like today, UF students in 1951 owed a lot of their social life to Gator sports events, clubs, and Greek Life. Fraternities and sororities often held events, and in 1951 the Inter-Fraternity Council hosted Fall Frolics, during which students arrived with dates and enjoyed entertainment. Festivities included two dances, two concerts, shows, and parties. Fraternity Sigma Chi also hosted their third annual Derby, which attracted students with obstacle races, pie eating contests and skits.

Performance (Emily Alayeto)

1951 Gator Band in concert on stage

Performance was an important part of the campus culture, going beyond the various plays and concerts highlighted in the yearbook. Music in some form was present at nearly every event mentioned. Of all the student performing groups, the most prominently featured are the Fightin’ Gator Band. It was present at all the year’s football games, and the yearbook even refers to “the Band’s popularity with the G-ville” (54)—noting a student campaign to send the Band to perform at the Kentucky away game. Especially given the context of the budget cuts during this stressful school year, such recognition emphasizes the student body’s fondness towards these performers. The Gator Band’s performances extended beyond the football games to almost every university event, such as Orientation, Homecoming, and twilight concerts on the Plaza of the Americas—with evidence of their presence in photos across the yearbook’s pages. Another popular group was the Florida Players, who performed Goodbye My Fancy, The Circle, Liliom, and Madwoman of Chaillot during the year. The Lyceum Council was another key organization that provided entertainment for the student body, with their program including opera singers, a violinist, a symphony orchestra, and even Dr. Franz Polgar, a “mentalist, hypnotist, mind reader, truly amazing man” (57). Besides these major groups and performers, mentions of other concerts and singing groups held across the year gives the impression of a truly lively and connected campus. Perhaps the anxiety caused by the beginning of the war sparked this greater need for connection with other students, with entertainment helping to distract from the uncertainty of life outside of campus.

Fashion (Sasha Vagos)

The UF campus bustled with fashionable students in 1951. The Seminole documents trends among students and the beauty standard in the decade’s early years. The section titled “Beauty” reveals the standards specifically expected of women and the importance of fashion. In the 1950s, the university upheld the tradition of selecting a “Miss University of Florida” for the school year. The 1951 winner Mary Godwin adorns full pages of the yearbook with lavish portraits. The yearbook boasts that Godwin’s beauty and sense of fashion is “a true credit to Florida and the University” (121). Several campus organizations also selected one female student to feature in the “Beauty” section.

The women wore similar hairstyles of mid-length hair coiffed in soft waves. Women often dressed in skirts or dresses that reached past the knee, regardless of the occasion. Even the cheerleading team wore over-the-knee skirts as we see in the “Activities” section (75). Swimwear also conformed to a more modest look. Photographs of female students in bathing suits show that two-piece bikinis were not fashionably acceptable; instead, they wore one-piece, full coverage swimsuits like Beverly Cole’s, which we see in the “Beauty” section (122).

Two male and two female UF students walk down stairs. Photo is captioned They've only been here a week and sex has reared its ugly head

Men also dressed more formal compared to today’s standards. Around campus, male students often wore formal pants and a tucked-in shirt with slacks. In organization photos, men wore button-down shirts with ties, blazers, and formal pants. Men also shared similar hairstyles and kept their hair short and cropped. A prime example of everyday fashion around campus appears in the “Activities” section, which captures a group of four students during the first week of class (65).