1956 Yearbook Highlights

Yearbook Highlights for The Seminole, 1956

Emily Blais, Lorrin Lootens, Veronica Cruz


Two students, a man and a woman, face each other at the end of a long hallway

Looking back at the 1956 Seminole is like peeking into an alternate universe, full of familiarities warped by decades of change. This documented history of UF is vital for the acknowledgment, investigation, and even appreciation of previous years; its contents can help current UF students improve the institution by looking back on their history and building upon the past. This yearbook has a stylish appearance that complements many 1950s ideals, appearing to be the quintessential snapshot of young adult life. Young men and women all dress for success as they begin the most significant years of their lives thus far. These students’ put-together appearance was not just a front; UF students were successful and applied themselves towards technological and scientific pursuits to make sure the inside matched the outside. Yet looking beyond the perfect outside and the successful student-run programs, we see a large cultural divide between the past and present which creates burnt edges in the seemingly ideal polaroid. While some consider the 1950s as The Golden Years, it is important to confront the era’s exclusivities: including racism and misogyny. The 1956 Seminole is no exception with its overt depictions of insensitive racial stereotypes, feminine expectations, and noticeable lack of diversity within its 395 pages. UF demographics in 1956 were more homogenous than today’s more inclusive campus community that represents a wide range of gender identities, sexual orientations, races and ethnicities, disabilities, and more. UF has changed considerably since the 1950s with wider social acceptance and more cultural outreach programs. Above all, it is essential to realize that although this yearbook contains some problematic elements, it is our responsibility to continue to grow and adapt to the ever-changing social and cultural climate. Go Gators!

Fashion (Emily Blais)

A group of students seated on the grass listen to a woman speak.

In 1956, looking presentable and keeping up with your appearance were paramount social responsibilities, and UF students were no exception. As you peruse this edition of The Seminole, you could potentially find yourself thinking that instead of a yearbook, you’re flipping through the pages of a young adult lifestyle magazine. The go-to choice for casual daywear for men resembles today’s business casual. Strewn through the pages there are photos of well-groomed and styled gentlemen in Polo shirts, Florsheim style shoes, crew socks, and slacks—usually khaki with a belt, but darker tan or navy blue was common as well. As for the women, their usual daywear style has become antiquated as fashion standards have now become more permissive. Throughout this yearbook, we never see women in pants unless they are practicing a sport. Instead, the daily standard was sun dresses or a collared shirt tucked into a below-knee skirt, usually midi or maxi style but never above the knee. For dresses, the most popular neck cuts were V-necks, halter strap, or boat neck. These fashions highlighted the string of pearls and pair of Cuban-heeled sandals or pumps that most women wore on campus. Sportswear at UF during this school year also has an interesting gender flip from today’s standard. While baseball primarily stayed true to the sport’s classic style, male basketball players wore belted short-shorts and tank top jerseys, paired with high top sneakers and quarter anklet socks. By contrast, women playing sports such as volleyball are pictured wearing loose-fit tees and Bermuda-length shorts. Even the cheerleaders remained well covered in three-quarter length sweatshirts, knee-length accordion skirts, and traditional golf shoes.

Technology (Emily Blais)

Gator Growl technicians set up equipment for the show
Gator Growl technicians set up for the show

UF possessed a wide range of cutting-edge technology for students’ benefit. In their day-to-day business activities and programs you can see students using manual filing systems, rotary phones, and typewriters; they also had radio and television broadcasting technology. Their physical media production consisted of teams of writers and editors that would use lino-proof printing to create newspapers and other physical media—much more manual work for these teams compared to today! In their radio broadcasting and TV production programs, however, students were supplied with ribbon or tube condenser mics. There is a photo of a student (Bob Smith) producing a WRUF-FM radio broadcast using a high-fidelity microphone that looks very similar to the popular Model 6-203 from American Microphone. In the background, you can see recording equipment which appears to be either the matching American tape recorder or a Presto SR-27 model. Apart from UF’s broadcasting technology, there were also major scientific developments. In 1956 the UF College of Medicine, College of Nursing, as well as the Health Science Center library were founded. Dorothy Smith, the founding Dean of the College of Nursing, created the interdisciplinary curriculum and a parallel nursing chart—adaptations still in use today. Both new UF Colleges were founded on the original mission to produce highly qualified physicians with scientific backgrounds in a variety of studies, including pharmacology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology.

Sports(Lori Lootens)

A woman playing volleyball hits the ball over the net
The Delta Gammas win a volleyball game, with Becky Greer looking on

The 1956 Seminole hosts many images of students participating in organized sports, even outside of the designated Sports section. Thirty-nine pages long, this section, is primarily dominated by the Florida Gators football team; other sports receive only one or two pages of coverage. There is only one page in the sports section that includes photos of women: the intramurals page featuring a photo of two women playing shuffleboard, and another showing sisters of the Delta Gamma sorority engaged in a volleyball game. Like the yearbook as a whole, there are no images of Black or African American students. These gender and racial disparities reflected national ones. U.S. college sports for women were largely intramural until the late twentieth century, and the University of Florida did not admit its first Black student in until 1958. Now, in 2021, UF has more women’s intercollegiate sports than it does men’s; there are eleven women’s sports (with women’s track and field, lacrosse, and swimming having the largest student-athlete participants) and seven men’s sports. As of Spring 2021, Black and African-American students make up over a quarter of the university’s student-athletes. The shift in university sports demographics is evident: over the last sixty-odd years, the highly regarded sports programs of the University of Florida have undergone an evolution in terms of who is permitted.

Diversity(Lori Lootens)

        As you turn the pages of the 1956 Seminole, you may begin to notice an absence: there are no African American or Black people pictured. The University of Florida did not admit its first African American student until 1958, when George Starke entered the College of Law. It is important to observe not only what is missing in this yearbook, but also what is present. While this edition of The Seminole is void of any Black students, it contains blackface images and other racist sentiments. The American origins of such blackface performance are in the minstrel shows that emerged in the 1830s, wherein white actors would paint their faces black and perform mocking portrayals of slaves and free Black people for entertainment. This dehumanizing practice perpetuated destructive stereotypes about Black Americans to justify racist beliefs and actions.

Two male fraternity brothers perform in blackface

Blackface performance was still common in the 1950s. This image depicts two white UF students performing on stage in blackface. The caption contemptuously reads, “Integration!” Diversity in nearly every sense of the word is absent in this edition of The Seminole (even white women, first admitted to UF a decade earlier, constituted only twenty-two percent of all students enrolled in 1956 compared to fifty-four percent in 2021). Yet images like this one show that minority students would not have been included or even safe at the university if they were permitted to enroll. Although the racial disparity at UF in 1956 is consistent with the context of the American South at the time, it is compelling to assess how campus diversity has evolved over the last sixty-five years—if only to aid the community in developing more inclusive and equitable practices.

Gender Roles (Veronica Cruz)

A woman stands in front of a stove, adding something to a pot

 Females attending UF were encouraged to uphold common beauty standards, with The Seminole showcasing those deemed the year’s most attractive in the coveted Beauty section. These depictions perpetuate the belief that women are merely objects of physical gratification and affection, unworthy of pursuits in education or other fields alongside their male counterparts. The Beauty section dedicates a short paragraph to each student paired with a full color “beauty shot.” This is the only part of the 1956 Seminole that features women at the forefront while further objectifying and trivializing them in the process—especially with the phrase “Ph.D. in M-R-S” from the section on Mrs. U. of Florida.

Conversely, the yearbook portrayed men as symbols of power, status, and strength. The UF administration was predominantly male-driven, as we see in this page with Dean of Women Marna V. Brady surrounded by photos of men. The Sports section primarily consists of male athletes, emphasizing football players with little acknowledgment of the intramural sports that women participated in. This ratio reflects the strict gender norms of the 1950s, which held that women should focus on becoming beautiful and obedient homemakers while men should assume positions of authority. UF no longer has an annual awarding of campus beauties, but does have the Miss University of Florida Scholarship Pageant. Along with a better representation of gender non-conforming and LGBTQ+ demographics, UF is comprised of a majority-female student body with professional advancement opportunities available for all students.

Performance (Veronica Cruz)

The 17 women of the Women's Glee Club pose for a group shot, accompanied by two men--one the conductor and their accompanist
The women of the Women’s Glee Club, with their conductor and accompanist

Like other aspects of this edition of The Seminole, there is a prevalent male dominance in the Creative Arts section. UF’s chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, the national fraternity for band members, was all male. Notably, men’s and women’s glee clubs were separate, with male figures in charge of both groups. Both glee clubs acted as international ambassadors to foreign countries through their concerts, solidifying the arts’ ability to unify various genders, races, and cultures. They traveled abroad for performances, with the men’s club performing in Havana, Cuba, and the women’s in Nassau, Bahamas. The Creative Arts section features other co-ed activities for students, including Florida Players, Lyceum Council, Choir, Gator band, and radio and TV productions.

Conforming to commonly held perceptions of allure and admiration is another kind of performance in this yearbook. In the Beauty section, we see that some of UF’s most beautiful women share similar characteristics: a tan body, short, well-kept hair, and petite body types. As for the men, those involved in athletics were muscular, depicted as being dedicated to their passion. Dedication manifested itself in many different ways on campus, whether it be with UF sports or other creative or leadership positions that promoted UF’s male-driven hierarchy of the period.