College smokers

Beginning somewhere around 1908 and ending about 1923, College Smokers became a favorite tradition on campus.  Each year, a smoker prepared and performed by members of each class took place.  In addition, smaller Smokers would be held each year by such groups as the junior and senior classes, and possibly other college organizations.  Students greatly anticipated the yearly programs, and after the performances, they would receive review and sometimes criticism for weeks afterwards.

Held in Jesup Hall, the Smoker program usually offered an assortment of performed entertainments, a menu of food and dessert, and trays of cigarettes.  If a student was lucky, he could sometimes get his hands on one of the cigars, usually reserved for the faculty.  The various entertainments normally included a play, songs, and short sketches considered at the time to be humorous and fun.  The entertainment normally made use of vulgar and offensive humor.

Some Smoker Committees consciously tried to clean up their scripts in an attempt to provide less vulgar humor.  In 1922, the Smoker Committee succeeded in producing a wildly entertaining yet clean program, entitled ‘Vanity Fair’.  One writer for the Williams Record stated that “Vanity Fair proved rather conclusively that a Smoker does not have to be vulgar to be successful.  The whole-hearted praise which has been accorded Vanity Fair shows that original and unique features, good music, well sung, and a chorus which is really clever, are better liked than mere suggestiveness.”

(revised S. Kennick Brown)