The panty raid fad hits UR, and the times they are a-changin’.
Illustration by Gary Hovland
Richmond police got their knickers in a twist the night of Feb. 7, when they were dispatched to the University of Richmond to break up what was nothing more than a college prank, albeit a large one. No, it was not a mass swallowing of goldfish that summoned the persons in blue, but a more up-to-date college fad: a panty raid. First reports had 500 UR men crossing the lake that separated them from the distaff side, Westhampton College, using barrels to block the bridge betwixt the two and clamoring for the gals to throw them their panties.
The account was published in South Boston’s Gazette-Virginian, and many other places, too, since it carried the imprimatur of the Associated Press. In retrospect, the response seems like a foreshadowing of Homeland Security, or at least a SWAT team. The police—nine patrol cars and three wagons’ worth—“roared out” to the university with riot gear at the ready, gas masks, billy clubs and helmets. They didn’t use them, though, managing to “disperse” the male students (ultimately estimated at only 300 strong) who had “massed” at Westhampton following “dormitory horseplay.” No one was arrested, but as the cops “herded” the students back to their side of campus, some were still yelling, “We want panties!”
College women, of course, did their share of raiding, too, in at least one instance taking an especially ballsy approach. Writing on Huffington Post, Donna Highfill recalls one of her “first attempts at promoting women’s rights” following a panty raid on her dorm in the first weeks of college in 1978. The Newport News native, now a consultant and humorist in Richmond, was a freshman at Mars Hill College in Asheville, North Carolina. She immediately organized a counterattack; instead of run-of-the-mill men’s underpants, their quarry was the iconic jockstrap.
She and her comrades donned leggings and body suits, pinned a pair of panties on their heads and, with the battle cry “Drop that jock!” stormed the men’s dorm at the top of a hill. “We got halfway up, and we heard this roar,” Highfill says. The guys had them surrounded, thanks to a stoolie in the dorm who tipped off her boyfriend. Though no SWAT team responded, Highfill did have to sit with the dean while her mother was called.
These demanding mentions of unmentionables date to 1949, but didn’t begin to hit their stride until 1952, when a University of Michigan raid “sparked panty raids across the nation,” wrote LaDale Winling in his master’s thesis in urban planning at Michigan in 2007. Winling, now an assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech, wrote that the raid illustrated the students’ “frustration with the university’s control of residential life,” namely sexually segregated dorms. (It seems equally plausible that it was just a bunch of goofballs teasing girls, and vice versa.)
The thrill of the undie chase has not entirely withered on the vine, but apparently it has undergone metamorphosis. The theft of garments in Victoria’s Secret stores has gone epidemic recently. In a Soho store heist, the loot was thongs, and though news reports did not characterize the purloined panties at other locations, if they came from Victoria’s Secret, it’s a good bet they were raid-worthy.
1915 | Demon Speed
Oh, this treadmill we are on! The Appomattox Times-Virginian decries the pace of modern life, asserting that “to be in any measure content, one feels it necessary to be rushing along breakneck.” Witness the crowds dashing to the train, unmindful of others as “speed mania” takes over and they “let slip from their hands all that is useful and happy in life.” The syndrome has made relaxation “almost painful,” the possibility of rest a “farce.” The writer cautions that “haste makes waste” and that the average person knows this but “doesn’t care to give it much thought.” In another 100 years, could life still be this hectic?
1940 | Numbuh, Plee-ez
An article in the Henrico County Herald about the telephone is a paean to the operator. The telephone, our “greatest and most used modern convenience,” now carries more than a billion calls a year, nearly all facilitated by an operator. Stumbling blocks to good service abound; the “mishaps, misunderstandings, misspelled names” are “simply exasperating.” But that exasperation, reads the article, emanates from just one end of the line: the caller’s. Somehow the operator “retains her calm” despite it all. “What a really marvelous person she is!” Tantamount to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, it would appear, are these “students of human nature” who somehow manage to remain unvexed when faced with such brutish behavior.
1990 | Bark Worse than Bike?
Debates before the Botetourt County board of supervisors over the need for a noise ordinance resume after a two-year respite. Dog barking is once again a target, with one woofer reported to commence its baying at 2 a.m. and continue till sunrise, the Fincastle Herald reports. But the finger points, too, at dirt bikes. They create “unbearable noise,” testifies H.W. Huber. Reasoning with the noisy neighbors has brought threats, and without a law, he has no recourse. “We’re dealing with people who are not normal,” he says. “You can’t sit inside the house and watch TV without turning it up.” A law doesn’t seem to be in the cards, but one supervisor does suggest that an ordinance from Bedford might be “Botetourtized.”