When the Cat's Away... the Archival Mice Play

On a mission to the subterranean depths of Steenbock Library, student workers at UW-Madison Archives may sometimes veer from their duties… This proved to be the case one Monday morning when Jen & Jill, charged with reorganizing a series of student scrapbooks, happened upon a dance card among the stacks.

In the early twentieth century, women carried a small booklet such as this around their wrists, penciling in the names of men who proposed to dance with them later in the evening. (Here are other examples from Syracuse and Millikin Universities.) This card’s owner had attended the Military Ball of April 1921. Although she sat out several rounds of the Fox Trot, she joined one Mr. Zamanske twice for the One Step.

Military Ball Dance Card (1921)

Another nearby box housed several more dance cards belonging to Constance Waltz, an undergraduate student at UW-Madison from 1923-1927 and the wife of President and Professor of Biochemistry Conrad Elvehjem. Although the couple married in June 1926, “Connie” was clearly smitten long before; his name appears first on every single dance card pasted in Constance’s scrapbook (which spans the years 1923-1925). (The scrapbook also contains loving flourishes of “Mrs. Conrad Elvehjem.”)

Constance Waltz Scrapbook (c. 1923-1925)

As Constance Elvehjem mentions in her 1983 oral history interview, the couple loved to dance and belonged to two dance clubs while Conrad served as president (1958-1962). After Elvehjem’s untimely death in 1962, the students cancelled their prom and raised money to commission a portrait of him instead. 

When getting “carded” did not mean being turned away from Wando’s (Summer Prom, c. 1960)

Unfortunately neither foxtrots nor waltzes were in store for our young archivists, who returned to work - but with a kick in their steps!

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Jen Kirmer & Jill Slaight for UW-Madison Archives

For more information about UW-Madison campus history, contact uwarchiv@library.wisc.edu or visit archive.library.wisc.edu.