1954 Yearbook Highlights

Yearbook Highlights for The Seminole, 1954

Carolina Bello, Jacqueline Hahn, Delaney Sullivan, Madelyn Walker

Students walk in front of the brick wall entrance gate to UF


From the first pages of the 1954 Seminole, this yearbook expresses the casual and exploratory nature of college through the caricature-like student drawings in the corners. This Seminole also acts as a testament to the racial and gendered discrimination ingrained in American culture during the 1950s, serving as a guide for a more inclusive and reparative future. The yearbook’s yellowed pages reflect the social and cultural upheavals the era produced, including the unique state of international politics. The push for patriotism as a uniting force is apparent in the text, which consistently frames college as a way to serve the country in much the same way the military does. Unsurprisingly, this yearbook reinforces the standard gender roles of the 1950s. Even though students are, for the most part, not married, they are still framed in the breadwinner-housewife dyad. We can see such traditional ideology in some of the yearbook’s descriptions of students in the “Features” section. While 1954 was over sixty years ago, these Gators’ social life hasn’t changed much from current students’. From University-planned dances to fraternity soirees, students at the University of Florida always had something to do. Whether it be through joining the Pep Club or participating in Gator Growl, students exemplified campus pride. The year was filled with pep rallies and parades that showed off school spirit and solidified traditions on campus we still see today.  The “Activities” section explores the presence of Fine Arts on campus. It depicts student-led theatrical productions, collaborative homecoming displays, and the early years of the Miss UF pageant. As a center for culture and academia, UF’s changing values in art and theatre are representative of larger societal implications and change. 

Aesthetics (Delaney Sullivan)

A student rests with a book in his hand sitting under a tree on UF's campus

In the foreword of the 1954 Seminole, a play on the phrase “better late than never” indicates the mood of the entire yearbook. This casual and relaxed motif is emblematic of how college is a time intended for personal exploration. The iconic natural features of the Spanish moss, the beating sun, Alligator-filled lakes, and abundant vegetation all give the yearbook a distinct Floridian feel. In many of the photographs, students are lounging around on the grass in the plaza, as you can see here, giving a rather relaxed and even sleepy look to the campus. In this picture in particular, a student is lounging against a tree, taking a break from reading with his head bent over his knees. It’s as if the sleepy student is slowed down by the Floridian heat. This campus aesthetic is also emblematic of the slower times of the domestic 1950s. The student artwork scattered across this Seminole enhances the overall mood. On the chapter break pages, little sketches are placed in the corners, imitating a boy and a girl UF student, performing caricature-like campus activities (32b). The artwork appears to be done in pen, as if they are doodles in the corners of a student’s yearbook. This informality, along with the overall humorous and personable writing from the editor, contradicts the formal standard of the students’ clothing and social interaction.

Diversity (Carolina Bello)

A group of Phi Delta Gamma fraternity brothers and their dates dressed in Fijian costume at a party
Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers and their dates at an annual Fiji Islands party

The 1954 Seminole’s pages are populated by stark, white male faces with identical smiles, looking out into the world that is apparently theirs for the taking. The University of Florida was yet to be integrated, and had recently become co-ed; the yearbook’s depictions of student culture reflect this lack of diversity and inclusion. Despite the university admitting women in 1947, gendered divisions and sexism litter the pages of the yearbook, as women are typically regaled to traditionally feminine majors and activities, such as education and pep squad. For example, the Beauty section features portraits and pin-ups of the most beautiful women on campus with their name as a footnote on the page, objectifying female students while downplaying their academic accomplishments. The yearbook also contains worrying portrayals of racial stereotypes, especially in the Greek Life section. Phi Gamma Delta featured a problematic “Fiji” theme, which generalized Pacific Islanders as savage “cannibals” and appropriated indigenous dress and dances (such as totems and the hula). Students performed in blackface for Lambda Chi Alpha’s float in the Homecoming Parade and in Alpha Chi Omega’s mammy-themed minstrel show. At Homecoming, a travel agency skit decorated a prop with leaves and vines to represent Africa. UF still has a long way to go in its inclusivity. The 1954 yearbook serves as a testament to the past, and as the foundation to move forward.

Patriotism (Madelyn Walker)

A missile stands upright surrounded by scaffolding
The Air Force gets an assist in its guided missile program

Patriotism is the devotion to and pride in one’s own country. Still dealing with the ramifications of both World Wars—and having to face the unique advent of challenges that the Cold War presented—1950s America had a startlingly apparent need to unite the populace to trust and believe in United States. In such a tumultuous time domestically and internationally, it is by no surprise that the idea of patriotism shows up consistently in the culture of the era. The 1954 Seminole highlights what the university and its students can offer the country at large. In the very first section, titled simply “The University of Florida,” the yearbook showcases a captioned image of UF engaged with the United States Air Force. The caption reads “Air Force gets an assist in its guided missile program.” The photograph is dramatically framed: the stark black and white, the imposing missile structure in the center, and the silhouette of a helmeted military man in the corner all give the image an ominous feeling. This patriotic image sets the tone for the rest of the yearbook, reinforcing the idea that education and the college experience are a vital mode through which young people can make a difference, can better the world, can “serve” their country. 

International Relations (Carolina Bello)

Singer Yma Sumac and her band at a performance.
Singer Yma Sumac and her band

The 1950s are characterized by frosty international relations: first-world nations inched towards nuclear Armageddon, while third-world nations struggled to break free from the shackles of colonialism in the wake of the Second World War. The University of Florida made an attempt to bring nations together through domestic diplomacy initiatives, such as the Social Board’s international suppers (which featured “dinner with foreign flavors” served by overseas ambassadors). Yet these efforts towards diversity and inclusion are compromised by a practice that writer and theorist bell hooks terms eating the other: capitalizing on the “consumable” aspects of one’s culture, such as food or clothing, rather than acknowledging the complex history behind those commodities. The yearbook also depicts singer Yma Sumac’s campus performance, arranged by the Lyceum Council. Here we see a kitsch fetishization of the other. Sumac began her career as a pastoral folk singer, but was made over into the advertised “controversial Peruvian princess”—putting a pop spin on traditional Peruvian folk songs. Caucasian audiences ate up Sumac’s theatrics, captivated by her exoticism and imagined regality, while Peruvian-Americans relished the scant representation afforded to them. To appeal to her American audience’s need for a consumable product, Sumac had to shed her humble origins and become an otherworldly princess of the Andes, trading tradition for an invented mysticism. The 1954 Seminole reflects the dichotomous wariness associated with diplomacy and foreign nations during the mid-century cult of domesticity, and the simultaneous commodification of the other through consumer culture. 

Gender Roles (Delaney Sullivan)

Portrait of Betty Ann Bradford
Betty Ann Bradford

As we would expect of memorabilia from the 1950s, the 1954 Seminole reflects traditional ideologies of gender and reinforces women’s subordinate position in society. Some women (but mostly men) are highlighted as heads of student organizations, but the women are described purely for their domestic traits. For example, the yearbook describes Walter Carry (top left picture), the business manager for The Alligator, as well as the other men on the business staff, as “kings,” noting that “it is here that the most important part of the paper functions, for after all without the revenue from the ads there wouldn’t be a paper.” The men’s jobs are framed as the breadwinners for the paper, as if the creative outlet – staffed more so by women than the business staff – is completely dependent upon the men’s jobs for support. In comparison the Hall of Fame section, designed to commend high performing students on their academic achievements and campus involvement, congratulates women for their physical appearances. The writeup for Betty Ann Bradford describes her as “this attractive blond lass” from Miami Beach, noting that “in her quiet, unassuming way, she managed to build up an amazing and commendable record of service and leadership.” Despite her clear achievements, her congrats are stipulated by her appearance and personality—as if her feats are incredible due to how “unassuming” she is. Even though all the women in the yearbook are of equal or higher education standards than the men (and obviously attending the same university), they are still framed primarily within the traditional gender role of uneducated housewife, and nothing more.

Images of a Sigma Alpha Epsilon party. Top photo shows group of students standing outside. Bottom photo shows students standing by Gainesville Police car

Social Life (Jacqueline Hahn) The University of Florida held many social events featured throughout the 1954 Seminole. Whether they were events put on by the school or through the University’s Greek Life, students were plenty busy in between class. One of UF’s largest social functions was the Fall Frolic, where students socialized and danced the popular dance moves at the time. Additionally, the University had a Florida Union Social Board in which five women and seven men served to plan events for the campus community. They held dances and planned several trips to different parts of Florida. Additionally, the yearbook specifies that students may spend Friday and Saturday nights at a local club with plenty of music and dancing. While American life in general has changed a great deal since 1954, students’ social life does not seem to differ much. Some of the largest social events that The Seminole covered involved fraternities and sororities. It seems that the yearbook viewed Greek Life in a different way in the 1950s than we see it today. For example, there is a page discussing a party that members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon held in which students were pepper sprayed and arrested by the police. Instead of condemning these actions, The Seminole joked about SAE not throwing anymore birthday parties anytime soon. If this event were to happen today, with the same ramifications, the fraternity in question would most likely be suspended or banned. 

Campus Pride (Jacqueline Hahn)

Image of Florida Field. A marching band spells out Tigers on the field while students in the stands hold up cards to form a pattern that reads Thanks Blue Key
1954 Homecoming Game

It is no surprise that in the 1950s, students at the University of Florida exemplified school spirit. The 1954 Seminole is full of Gators showing their love of UF by carrying on some of Florida’s most cherished traditions. The 1953-1954 year begins with the Gator Pep Club’s opening celebrations. These include: a pep rally, a pajama parade, and a street dance that leads to a midnight show. The Pep Club uses this opportunity to introduce new students to UF traditions and to remind returning students just how great it is to be a Florida Gator. The Homecoming section describes Gator Growl as “the biggest free student show in the world.” With thousands in attendance, this event inspires students to show off their pride for their school and to cheer on their football team before the big Homecoming Game. As the yearbook continues, so does campus pride. Once football season ends, students focus on other sports to have the opportunity to show off their school spirit. The Seminole also highlights campus pride through different clubs and organizations. Being a member of a fraternity, sorority, or co-ed club allowed students to represent their school and get to know some of their peers better.

Performance (Madelyn Walker)

Students in costume pose as part of a performance of Shakespeare's Henry IV
Shakespeare’s Henry IV performed at UF

The University of Florida was one of the first universities in the United States to develop an accredited theatre program, just 25 years before the 1954 Seminole was created. The 1950s represents a seismic shift in media and culture, opening conversations about the place and value of art and theatre in our society. The activities section of this yearbook spends multiple pages exploring the presence of theatre on and around campus, depicting students and faculty hosting productions of various plays and performances: from George Bernard Shaw’s “Man and Superman” to Shakespeare’s “Henry IV.” As present as the physical theatre is, it is not the sole form of performance art (and theatre as a concept) on campus. There is an element of performance both in the sports culture that helps to characterize the University to this day, and in the “Miss UF” pageant culture—both showcased in this 1954 yearbook. Homecoming floats employed elaborate set design and choreography, assembled by teams of creative individuals attempting to highlight the aspects of the University they wanted to celebrate. Yet these aspects and sentiments can shift and change as society progresses. One yearbook page preserved an image of a homecoming float staged by a fraternity all in blackface, marching down University Avenue as part of their winning performance of University pride. The Miss UF pageant, founded in 1950, still exists today and was showcased prominently in 1954. Miss UF gets her own dedicated page in the 1954 Seminole; it identifies her very briefly as a student and spotlights her with modeled, professionally shot photographs. Notably, the yearbook depicts no “Mr. UF” put on display as an object of physical beauty. As our culture and values have changed, so too have our ideas of theatre, art, and entertainment. The University of Florida has a complicated and rich history in this regard, a history preserved and encapsulated in this 1954 Seminole