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The Birth of College Party Culture

2 minute read

Thanks to everything from pop culture to college propaganda, when students arrive on campuses today they expect–with varying levels of inclination and trepidation–to have a really good time, filled with sex, booze and partying.

But this wasn’t always the case. During the colonial era, most students were relatively humble middle-class men studying to be ministers like their professors, and most colleges were, as one historian described it, a “veritable straitjacket of petty rules.” Essentially every detail of their lives was controlled, and there were substantial penalties for deviance.

So what changed? First came the arrival of the wealthy sons of elite families, who were less interested in learning and more interested in ratifying their families’ hoarding of wealth and power through a diploma. Predictably, they had a lower tolerance for submission. Then, in the 1800s, came the fraternities, which prided themselves on elitism and incubated a lifestyle revolving around recklessness and irresponsibility. By 1930, women made up about 40% of the national collegiate population. And so that lifestyle evolved again, with an emphasis on competition for sexual favors.

The modern frat boy was born. And rather quickly, his way of doing college became the way of doing college–a full four decades before Animal House.

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