“Prompeii:” The Rough History of Prom

Prom has gone through trials and tribulations to become modern prom today

William Schmidt, Staff Reporter

Let’s talk about Prom. 

Some go alone (by choice) and others go alone because they were forced to by their parents or even friends. Then there are the lucky few that have a special someone. Regardless of where you stand, some of you are probably curious as to where the idea of prom even started. 

Contrary to popular belief, the idea of prom was not conceived in middle school or even high schools. It actually started in the 1800s where universities would host them for their students to express their family’s standing in society and just how much of “Daddy’s” money that was spent on dresses, suits and other accessories. 

“Prom, short for ‘promenade,” was known as ‘coming out’ parties,” which “introduced young women to ‘polite society,’ an article by History titled “The Racist History of Prom” reads.

The article goes on to describe the early prom where only the richest of people would go to represent their wealthy parents and hope they would be chosen by worthy suitors. The history of early prom mirrors the nobility where suitors would line up to be chosen by the princess.

In the roaring twenties, the traditional high school prom was introduced, albeit segregating Black students due to the Jim Crow Laws and other unfair laws. However, once the 1950s hit, following Post World War 2, a new consumer market was introduced for teenagers in their high school years.

As mentioned earlier, an early formal would see the women choosing their men. However, a 1950s advice book reads that “Girls who [try] to usurp the right of boys to choose their own dates will ruin a good dating career,’” Ann Anderson in “High School Prom” said.

To clarify, segregation was still an issue until after the ruling of Brown vs. Board of Education, where some parts of the U.S. would still split schools’ proms up by race, having one African American prom and a White prom.

 It took a lot of action and trial and error from the students and school boards before the idea of modern prom was truly conceived.

Believe it or not, early prom was not all sunshine and rainbows. (Photo courtesy of Fred Hayes and Disney Enterprises Inc.)

So when April 1st rolls around, understand how these fancy balls turned into an event for high school students around the country.