1959 Yearbook Highlights

Yearbook Highlights for The Seminole, 1959

Hunter Goldman, Brett Mager, and Thomas Rosilio


Harry Mahon, at podium, Director of Student Orientation and Dr. Adams give directions to a stadium full of freshmen students at New Student Orientation
Harry Mahon, at podium, Student Director of New Student Orientation and Dr. Adams give directions to a stadium full of freshmen students at New Student Orientation

The 1959 Seminole is a prime example of what life was like at the University of Florida during the 1950s. Aesthetically, the yearbook’s use of blank white space draws the reader’s attention to the individual photos, giving each image space to breathe and a better appreciation for the whole mosaic of campus life. For the most part, the book is in black-and-white, but pages 8a8l are composed of color photographs showing off the splendor of the newly constructed Teaching Hospital and Clinics building. Student elections went by without much fanfare, attracting a series of campaigns over removing poop from campus and the emergence of the Liberty Party. 1959’s orientation photos look more like a mass church gathering than an overview of life at UF, with many of the captions referencing how boys and girls were often split up during this early period. Not everything is different, however; students still put on musical performances and skits to entertain the incoming freshman class. Beauty contests, pageants, and balls were a prominent part of life throughout the year, reflecting the period’s obsession with beauty standards (also seen in the “casual” wear we would now consider formal). Even the yearbook had its own beauty contest; Miss Seminole and Miss University of Florida were both named. Homecoming week this year was a major hit, as students, athletes, and cheerleaders combined their campus pride to create massive floats, decorations, and parades. The Florida Debate teams made many trips to regional and national championships, while the Florida Alligator and the Orange Peel (the forerunner to current on-campus parody publication, the Crocodile) both had a successful year. Overall, the 1959 Seminole acts as the perfect time capsule for a culture that is both distant, yet familiar.

Performance (Thomas Rosilio)

The Gator Marching Band forms two giant UFs during a half-time show at a football game

 UF in 1959 was apparently all a-flutter with a variety of vibrant performative art organizations! Many of these clubs still exist today in some form or another, such as the Florida Players, while others, like the Glee Clubs are survived by the various a cappella groups on campus. The Florida Players photos show bits and pieces of scenes during plays, showing off individual actors in action and students’ wide-ranging interests in playwrights like Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw. While these scenes are intimate, focusing on small groups, the marching band and orchestra photos emphasize the grandiose, staggering nature of each organization. Rows upon rows of band members are shown spread out over fields and risers. One can almost hear the 1959 Fighting Gator Band’s roar echo up from the football field as they snap into a formation that spells out two “UFs.” More important members, such as band officers and orchestral conductors, appear by themselves in smaller photos off to the side, highlighting that they are leading the proverbial troops to victory. Lesser known today is the Lyceum Council, an organization dedicated to programming artistic events including concerts and drama. Included are some photos of a jazz concert, which, strangely enough features no African American players. Diversity wasn’t a complete failure, however: the Council also invited Cuban pianist Jorge Bolet to perform, and we see the Council president talking to him in somewhat of an awe. Overall, this yearbook section does a great job of showing how performing arts are collaborative in nature by portraying each organization as a communal effort.

Student Life (Thomas Rosilio)

A white sign reading Why Vote. The sign is for a Student Government candidate who asks why vote for an experienced student when you can vote for this candidate, who has no experience
A white sign reading Why Vote. The sign is for a Student Government candidate who asks why vote for an experienced student when you can vote for this candidate, who has no experience

Reading the Student Life section of 1959’s yearbook is not quite like stepping into a strange version of the world as one might think, but these Gators’ fascinations can be, well, fascinating. For instance, there’s the twopage spread about “Controversies” during the spring semester. Liquor laws preventing minors from obtaining alcohol were enforced that year, nearly leading to what the police called riots, but even stranger was the hubbub about Bermuda shorts. Women were finally allowed to wear them on campus, but the trend became so popular, that one was more likely to see boys wearing them. It is funny to imagine this even being slightly controversial today. While young people’s political apathy is a well-known stereotype we see today, we can clearly see in this yearbook that cynicism toward the system had already begun to seep in. Page 28 features an attention-grabbing poster that says in strong lettering “WHY VOTE,” while ten pages later we see a young woman who sits laughing behind a poster that challenges students not to vote in accordance with what their fraternity tells them. Student Life during the summer was taken far less seriously. Few of the passages and photos from the last part of this section even remotely mentioned academics, instead focusing on entertainment that the school brought in, trips to Lake Wauburg, and other summery activities. The largest change from then to now is the various balls and dances throughout the year; students had at least one for every season. Gone today, but seemingly integral to student life in the 1950s.

Campus Pride (Brett Mager)

Sigma Chi's Homecoming float, featuring several cartoon Albert the Alligators
Sigma Chi’s Homecoming float, featuring several cartoon Albert the Alligators

The University of Florida’s annual Homecoming week was a hit—and a key indicator of campus pride! Football was already at the top of school spirit, as cheerleaders and fans always gathered to cheer the team on. However, there was a bigger draw to Homecoming week that involved more than just athletes. It was an opportunity to get creative and open up school spirit to everyone!  Fraternity row and other groups spent large amounts of their time and money creating massive decorations that all of the students would come to admire.  These students would work to the last possible second preparing these decorations, making sure everything looked perfect for the rush of students and alumni attending the celebration. Students made cardboard cutouts, large signs, and even floats to impress the crowds. Talk about Gator pride! The fan favorite float was the classic Homecoming Sweetheart, where the queen Toni Heimbeck and her court were paraded around the school. These women were of course elaborately dressed in gowns and gloves, wooing the students around them. The most exciting event, besides the annual football game, was the Homecoming Dance!  It was there that bands played music, the homecoming court was honored, and students got to rejoice in the week’s festivities. Homecoming Week brought men and women together at the University of Florida, combining creativity, beauty, and school spirit into something for everyone. Though the Gators only tied 6-6 with Vanderbilt, the week gave students many ways to take pride in their school’s lifestyle and culture.

Physical Fitness (Brett Mager)

Don Allen leads a group of prospective Florida cheerleaders in a chant.
Don Allen leads a group of prospective Florida cheerleaders in a chant.

The Gator cheerleading squad was one of the most physically fit groups at the University of Florida in 1959.  At the start of the school year, students endured tryout after tryout to form the most compelling cheerleading squad the University had ever seen. Tryouts were led by Don Allen, and aspirants were split among groups to learn UF’s cheers, and then eventually chosen to be the new face of the Gators. This model of physical fitness was also gender inclusive. Led by Ed Rich, the squad had five women and three men. The 1959 Seminole recognized them as the Cheering Twelve, and they traveled from Florida’s stadium all the way to Louisiana. From football to basketball games, UF’s 1959 cheerleading squad represented school spirit within the student body, using their agility and pride to rally all Gators. As common as it was to see the football players in the Florida Field, the cheerleaders were even more present, making sure that each jump and trick was perfect. Their season stretched longer than any other sport, reminding the students of their squad’s dedication and hard work. What’s fascinating were their uniforms, as each member wore a collared shirt underneath an embroidered sweater—one can only imagine how hot it was to perform those tricks and cheers in the Florida heat!  Cheerleading’s popularity at UF is definitely reflected in this yearbook; it even has its own two sections without being overshadowed by the Gator football team! Combining physical fitness with campus pride, UF’s 1959 cheerleading squad promoted two important aspects of student life. Cheerleading still remains a large part of our university today, and the 1959 squad set the tone for many groups to come.

Gender Roles (Hunter Goldman)

Adelaide Few, Mrs. University of Florida, serves her husband, Crosby, a meal from a tray
Adelaide Few, Mrs. University of Florida, serves her husband, Crosby, a meal from a tray

UF first opened its doors to women in 1947. Before doing so, future President Reagan paid the campus a visit to judge pin-up photographs for the new Coedikette books. This set the precedent for UF’s largely segregated gender roles the 1950s. By 1959, the campus had made some substantial progress; for example, Mary Jane McPherson became the first female student body presidential candidate. Throughout the 1959 yearbook, men and women are pictured debating governmental elections, collaborating on solving campus issues, and producing the Alligator student newspaper. We also learn that campus women petitioned to wear Bermuda shorts on campus, while men petitioned the campus drinking age. The majority of women’s representation in the 1959 yearbook is through sorority sponsorships, as there were very few organizations in which women could participate. Female students could join intramural sports like basketball; however, men dominated sports and most of the campus’s organizations, including the student council (which was called Men’s council). We see differing gender roles in campus Greek Life. The yearbook describes fraternity rush as a time for getting into mischief—as many as one thousand boys infiltrated women’s housing to steal their panties! (The reason is unknown.) Fraternities were known for hazing pledges and hosting boisterous parties. On the other hand, sorority rush was considered a time for tea parties and elegance.  

Other than Greek Life photos, campus women often appear beaming with delight while being asked on dates to Frolics. Co-eds could also participate in beauty competitions, fashion shows, and run for Homecoming Queen and Military Ball Queen. The yearbook often describes men as valiant and legendary for their rambunctious escapades, whereas women are deemed attractive and pixie-like (sometimes such words are capitalized or in bold print). We see women cheering, decorating, and caring for the men on campus. Men are showcased in more professional settings such as engineering and science fairs.

 Today, Greek Life is still a huge part of campus life, as is Homecoming. Women’s sports account for more than 60% of the school’s sports teams! UF no longer has a dress code (other than in professional schools), and more than half of the student body is female. UF now celebrates Women’s History Month annually with a variety of activities and panels. We have all come a long way thanks to all the women in this 1959 yearbook!

Fashion (Hunter Goldman)

Rita Slaght, Miss Seminole, poses in a floor length tiered ballgown
Rita Slaght, Miss Seminole

The fashion displayed in the 1959 yearbook is heavily centered on female students. Men and women were expected to look professional at all times, as they represented one of the country’s leading schools. In this yearbook, men are seen strictly in dress clothes. Even in casual settings they still donned pressed pants and collared shirts! Seemingly every man on campus had a crew cut and absolutely no facial hair. The male population at UF heavily resembled a military troop. Interestingly enough, the men dressed in solid colors or stripes, and the women had more variety with their clothing. Women donned all sorts of materials and patterns. Some things never change! Women abided by a strict dress code of dresses or skirts. Later this year, the Women’s Student Association allowed Bermuda shorts into the dress code—which became a craze both men and women followed. Daily women’s attire was modest, often covering the shoulders, chest area, and knees. Even cheerleading uniforms consisted of ¾ sleeves and ankle-length skirts! The synchronized swimming team wore one-piece bathing suits that left much to the imagination. Men and women alike always appeared well-groomed, and their clothes were starched and ironed. Not a single stain or wrinkle can be seen throughout the yearbook! More revealing attire appeared at Frolics, fashion shows, sock hops, and pageants like Miss Seminole, Miss UF, and Homecoming. By revealing we mean backless or strapless dresses and satin white gloves. Appearance seemed to be of utmost importance always, as there are pictures of sorority girls completely submerged under water with full-face makeup. This is a sharp contrast from the campus we see today! We now see UF students roaming the campus in pajamas or various costumes, as there is no longer a dress code. Women are now appreciated more for their academic contributions rather than their beauty, and men who are not in ROTC are no longer expected to sport a military look.