Gator Nation News

Ten Lost UF Traditions

Doing the Chomp, painting the 34th Street wall, enjoying a Hare Krishna lunch on the Plaza of the Americas: These are just a few of the traditions enjoyed by generations of Gators.

While some UF rituals have endured half a century or more, others have gone the way of duck tails and saddle shoes. Some were phased out due to changing regulations (compulsory military training) or evolving gender roles (how many married women today would iron a pile of shirts to be crowned Mrs. UF?). Other traditions, like the formal Fall and Spring Frolics, were replaced by more casual events that held greater appeal for students in the post-war era.

Whatever the reasons for their disappearance, here are 10 lost traditions that deserve a thoughtful look back.


Two first-year students try on rat caps at a UF campus booth in the late 1950s

Rat Caps

Originally green and later orange and blue, these wool caps — known as “rat caps” or “rat hats” — were the mark of all Florida freshmen.

Generations of first-year students, called “rats,” were required to purchase the beanies at orientation and wear them every day except Sunday. The caps enabled older students to easily identify freshmen so they could initiate them into the university’s ways, says former University Historian Carl Van Ness (MA ’85).

This circa 1929 wool rat cap is the oldest in the UF Archives collection. Photo courtesy UF Libraries Twitter feed.

Upon seeing an upperclassman, rats had to touch the brim of their cap and say hello. First-years also had to carry their weight in wood to the Homecoming bonfire and were forbidden from crossing the “quadrangle” (Plaza of the Americas) on their way to class; if they broke these roles, they faced disciplinary action from the student-run Freshmen Guidance Committee.

As UF enrollment swelled after World War II, it become increasingly difficult to enforce the wearing of rat caps on campus, and by the late-1960s, the tradition had largely died out.

The University of Florida Archives at the George A. Smathers Libraries contains vintage rat caps donated over the years. In 2018, the archives received a beanie likely worn by freshman Charles Edward Boll in 1929, making it the oldest rat cap in the collection. Donors Kathy Carney and her son, Ryan Carney, found the cap and other well-preserved UF memorabilia hidden in a thrift-store drum in West Virginia.

See a video of the Carneys’ UF memorabilia donation here.

A mob of UF freshmen at a pajama parade in the 1940s

Pajama Parades

Pajama parades began as part school-spirit events and part freshman hazing rituals. During football season in the early 1900s, cheerleaders would rouse the freshmen from their beds for an impromptu nighttime parade through the streets around campus.

The Great Underwear Dash April 2010 (Photo courtesy UWire)

Over time, the pajama parades grew more formalized and evolved into official freshman orientation events. The Friday-night parades heralded the first game of football season and marked the end of “Freshman Week.” Following a pep rally at the stadium, hundreds of pajama-clad freshmen followed the Gator Band down University Avenue to Courthouse Square.

Pajama parades continued when UF went coed — albeit with a few caveats to safeguard feminine “modesty.” A September 1953 Alligator item about that year’s upcoming pajama parade reported: “Dr. Marna V. Brady, Dean of Women, announced that all girls will be required to wear sports outfits or dungarees with pajama tops.”

Although pajama parades have ended, the spirit was revived in 2005 with The Great Underwear Dash, an end-of-semester charity run in which participants donated discarded clothes to local charities.

Push Ball match between freshmen and sophomores, March 16, 1929.

Freshman-Sophomore Competitions

The eternal struggle between fledgling freshmen and smug sophomores gave rise to many unique UF traditions. The earliest was the Frosh-Soph Fight, essentially a wrestling match between the two classes.

In the 1910s and 1920s, the fight evolved into Flag Rush; UF sophomores had to defend a small flag nailed 13 feet up a greased pine tree near Thomas Hall. If the freshmen successfully overpowered the sophomores and captured the flag, they were permitted to remove their rat caps before the semester was over. Due to their greater numbers on campus, the freshmen typically won.

In the late 1920s, Flag Rush was replaced by Tug-of-War and Push Ball. In the latter, the two classes pushed a giant inflated ball toward the goal lines of the football scrimmage field. World War II brought an end to the annual competitions.

A freshman snacks on an Honor Apple by UF’s Plaza of the Americas, 1940s

Honor Apples

Hungry UF students in the 1940s, ’50s and ‘60s tamed their growling stomachs with Honor Apples. The fresh fruit were stashed in unwatched stands on the Plaza of the Americas and initially cost five cents apiece, rising to ten cents in the ‘60s.

Honor Apples were part of the university’s honor system, a code of conduct introduced in Professor James Farr’s English class in 1905 and adopted campus-wide in 1916. Students were trusted not to cheat, lie or steal, and to report those who did. Infractions were brought before an honor court composed of students representing each college, who doled out penalties as necessary.

The apples have long since disappeared from the plaza, but UF’s honor system remains in place to today.

A mounted artillery unit on parade at UF, circa 1935

Compulsory Military Training

From its earliest days as a land-grant institution, as ordered by the federal Morrill Act of 1862, UF was required to train students in military tactics. Every student at the all-male college took at least two years of military sciences, and many aspects of university life had a military flavor: students woke to reveille each morning, drilled three times a week and had to purchase a cadet uniform.

Requirements for land-grant colleges changed in 1916 when the National Defense Act created the Reserve Officers Training Corps. ROTC units were established at universities across the country, including UF. Participation in ROTC remained compulsory at UF until the Florida Board of Regents voted in 1968 to end the mandate.

A happy couple dances at UF’s Frolics, 1940s


Soon after the Gainesville campus opened its doors in 1906, UF established dance societies (“Bacchus,” “Cavaliers,” etc.) to entertain the male students and provide opportunities to socialize with “the ladies from Tally” (students from the Florida State College for Women). The dance societies evolved into the Fall Frolics and Spring Frolics, seasonal balls chaperoned by faculty members.

Jazz singer June Christie entertains a packed Florida Gym, 1959 Fall Frolics

In the 1930s, and ’40s, the Frolics were regarded as “Florida’s greatest social weekend,” as one newspaper put it. The three-day program typically included fraternity events, dances and concerts featuring major acts such as the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and Harry James and his Merry Makers. Starting in 1956, the weekend was capped by the crowning of Miss University of Florida.

Eventually, the Frolics became sit-down concerts featuring stars such as the Beach Boys, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, and the Carpenters. The Frolics died out in the 1970s as UF’s live music scene relocated to the bandshell and stadium.

Swimcapades athletes perform “Scheherazade” in Florida Pool, 1957 Homecoming


A highlight of mid-century UF Homecomings was the Swimcapades, an entertainment spectacle involving divers and synchronized swimmers. The idea first took root in the 1940s when swim clubs from Florida State College performed at UF Homecomings, and the tradition became UF’s own when it went co-ed in 1948.

Swimcapades practice, 1956

Members of Swimcapades were drawn from the UF women’s and men’s swim clubs, the Swim Fins and Aqua Gators, respectively. Productions were mounted at Florida Pool and featured “water ballet, dancing and clown and fancy diving,” according to the 1957 yearbook.

By then, the spectacle had reached its heyday, with 100+ swimmers, elaborate poolside sets and audiences numbering in the thousands. Swimcapades was so popular that the 1958 show had to be performed three times during Homecoming: once on Friday evening and twice on Saturday morning.

Whether due to changing public tastes or lack of interest among swimmers, Swimcapades’ popularity declined in the 1960s. According to historian Van Ness, the last Swim Fin Homecoming performance took place in 1965, with only 28 cast members.

Bryan Hall housed the College of Law from 1914 to 1969

Law-School Shuffle

The shuffle was a practice unique to the UF College of Law in the decades prior to the 1970s. Students would scrape their leather-soled shoes against the hardwood floors of Bryan Hall to mock or silence an annoying speaker. Anyone from a blustering blowhard to a clueless slacker could be teased, but the tradition took on a crueler edge once UF began admitting women and minorities.

Left to right: Longtime friends Fred Levin and George Starke Jr. attend the 2018 UF Law event commemorating 60 years of desegregation at the university. (Photo courtesy Levin Papantonio Rafferty website)

Underrepresented students who entered the law school in the 1950s and ‘60s were often “shuffled” to show they were unwanted, a painful memory for many Gators. Among those who endured shuffling in the 1950s were UF’s first Black student, George Starke Jr. (1958-59), who stayed for just one year.

Random women were frequently shuffled when they entered the law library, notes Grace “Betty” Taylor (JD ’62), who directed the library from 1962 to 2003.

Harassment in the law library reached its peak in 1967 when a woman student who was shuffled refused to leave. Male students began pounding their fists on tables and overturned a bookcase, causing $40,000 in damage, according to one account.

Shuffling died out in 1968 when the College of Law moved to Holland Hall, whose floors were deliberately carpeted to deter shuffling.

Sara Carr, seated, was crowned the first Mrs. UF in 1955.

Mrs. UF Contest

After World War II, thousands of married veterans attended UF on the GI Bill and brought their spouses to campus, a trend that helped turn UF coed. Among the many women’s beauty contests that sprung up in the post-war era was the Mrs. UF contest, open only to the wives of UF students.

Mrs. UF contestants demonstrate their ironing skills in 1961.

Sponsored by the National Association of University Dames, the Mrs. UF contest celebrated “the ideal student wife,” as its leaders stressed in 1968. Winners were selected on the basis of “poise, personality, appearance, intelligence, beauty, homemaking skills and appropriate dress.” In addition to parading before the judges in swimsuits and cocktail dresses, contestants competed in cooking, sewing and ironing rounds. Winners received gifts from Gainesville merchants and a photo spread in the yearbook.

In October 1955, the first Mrs. UF title was awarded to Sara Carr, a graduate of Duke University and wife of James Carr (MED ’57, DED ’63), then a master’s student at the College of Education. Susan’s entry in the cooking round was barbecue chicken, the Alligator reported.

By 1970, when 20% of UF’s student population was married, traces of the Mrs. UF contest had disappeared from university publications. A photo essay in the 1970 yearbook emphasized that most wives in Flavet Villages housing held jobs.

“Working wives and children in nurseries are the rule,” a caption reads. “A feminine ‘Ph.T.’ for ‘Pushing Hubby Through’ goes to hundreds of young wives who work to provide their husbands with an education.”

Orange Peel staff, 1958

The Orange Peel

The “Orange Peel” arose as literary journal and evolved into one of the premier collegiate humor magazines in the nation.

Left: A Fall 1958 “Orange Peel” cover depicts an inebriated student. The racy magazine offended UF administrators, who took control to produce a censored version, dubbed the “New Orange Peel.” Outraged students responded by releasing a magazine similar to the original, the “Old Orange Peel,” whose September 1963 cover satirizing Pres. Stephen O’Connell is shown at right.

The “Orange Peel” began its life in the 1930s as the “Florida Review,” a quarterly magazine of student writing judged by renowned authors such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. In 1941, the name was changed to the “Orange Peel,” and the publication settled into its format as a humor quarterly.

The “Orange Peel” was renowned for its edgy campus satire and, by 1960, was ranked the No. 1 college humor magazine in the nation. Its covers often featured cartoons by Don Addis, the future editorial cartoonist for the St. Petersburg Times. Like “Playboy,” the “Orange Peel” featured cartoons, essays, jokes and recaptioned photographs, as well as short stories and “Orange Peel Feature Girls,” who were UF coeds who posed (clothed) for the magazine’s center spread.

Disturbed at the racy content, UF took control of the magazine in 1962 and began publishing a cleaned-up version under the name the “New Orange Peel”; students responded by releasing their own version as the “Old Orange Peel.” Both “Peels” ceased publication in the mid-1960s.