The panty raids of the 1950’s were one of the first major crazes to surface after the end of World War II. Functioning as humorous activities, groups of males raided all-female college residences (dormitories) to secure panties or other intimate apparel as “trophies”, proof that the guys had momentarily crossed a societal barrier and occupied the forbidden territory of a co-ed’s dorm room. The panty raid craze ran from the 1950’s through the 1960’s.

History of Panty Raids

Panty Raid at Oklahoma UniversityThe first documented panty raid took place on February 25, 1949 at the 100-year-old Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Perhaps inspired by the military training the young students had received in World War II, one hundred twenty male students raided the girls dormitories after cutting the electricity and phone lines. The men raided Carlson Hall through heating tunnels located beneath the school. Once they were able to enter, the unlocked the doors for the remaining raiders to enter. Likely the women had advanced warning and some even sprayed large amounts of perfume on the attackers “so they could be identified later.”

Showing off the spoils of a panty raidThe goal of the raid was not to collect panties but rather was to produce commotion. During the raid, beds were overturned and co-eds were pushed into showers (the only physical injury resulted from a man who was hit on the head with a chair). Although the goal was not to steal panties, some dormitory residents reported that their underwear had been taken. The police were quickly called but nobody was arrested or charged.

News of the raid travelled fast and made nationwide headlines with articles appearing in the Chicago Tribune, Time Magazine, and the New York Times. The Moline Daily Dispatch may have coined the phrase when they described the event as a “panty raid”.

The second incident occurred on March 21, 1952 at the University of Michigan. This raid is often noted as the “first panty raid” and went down in history as the single event that started the nationwide panty raid craze that was soon to follow.

The unplanned University of Michigan raid started after shouting matches between competing men’s dorm rooms evolved into an outdoor shouting match with men from several dorms playfully taunting each other. Police were called to quiet down the dormitory residents but the students refused to disperse and instead, began making their way towards the women’s dormitories located nearby. Seeing the progression of men moving towards their dorms, the women quickly locked their doors as the men approached but the raiders found other ways to enter the dorms. The Detroit News reported on the raid and noted that the men stole “items of lingerie as souvenirs”.

The Panty Raid Craze Spreads

Students after a panty raidOther raids followed all across the country. On April 8, 1952, two thousand men raided the women’s dormitories at Penn State while the women cheered and threw underwear from the windows to the crowd below. By the end of the 1952 Spring term, the panty raid epidemic had spread to 52 campuses across the country.

Showing off the prizes from a panty raidIn the Spring of 1953, the Princeton University men raided the dorms at Westminster Choir College. In May 1956, three thousand men raided the women’s dorms at the University of California, Berkeley and caused $10,000 in damages.

In most panty raids the men were welcomed by the women residents but in a few instances the raids turned somewhat violent. At the University of Washington raiders broke windows in the dorm rooms. At the University of Washington, one thousand male students broke widows and stormed the dorms chanting, “We want panties!”. At Christian College and Stephens College, female dorm residents fought the raiders off and did not allow them entry. At the University of Nebraska in early 1955, several students were suspended.

In a “turn about is fair play” instance at the University of Michigan, five hundred women raided the men’s dorm room stealing their boxer shorts.

Why Panty Raids?

A women's dorm room after a panty raidThere are many theories behind the reason for the panty raid epidemic. Panty raids served as ad hoc protests against curfews and entry restrictions that barred male visitors from women’s dormitories. These policies were particularly influential given that colleges had started admitting women in large numbers for the first time after World War II.

In addition, college rules were much less permissive than today’s college rules and students were naturally opposed to many of the rules. The sexual revolution was still years away and social conventions made it difficult for unmarried guys and girls attending college to act on impulse. And there was a restlessness amongst the college youth that in less than a decade, would explode as the counterculture movement of the 1960’s

By the 1970’s, the raids had ended. Mixed dorms that housed men and women, and less inhibited attitudes to sex on campus made them pointless.