Freshmen at NC State get a nice introduction to campus these days. The university welcomes them and their families, offers help in moving them in and goes out of its way to make them feel at home.
But it wasn’t always that way for freshmen. In fact, during the 1920s, upperclassmen went out of their way to exclude freshmen. There was a system in place whereby freshmen had to wear caps that, in a scarlet-letter-like tradition, featured a large “F” to underscore their first-year status.
And if a freshman was caught not wearing his hat (yes, they were all men then), some sort of hazing or punishment would ensue.
The caps were vastly unpopular with freshmen, with the issue reaching a breaking point in 1929 when, according to Alice Elizabeth Reagan’s North Carolina State University: A Narrative History, the student Court of Customs ordered a freshman football player to wear a dress for violating the cap policy.
“The decision precipitated a serious protest against the freshmen headgear,” writes Reagan. “A large portion of the freshman class attempted to burn the offending caps.”
So student government leaders held a referendum on the matter. And on this day in 1929, around half of the student body voted to keep the caps (by a mere 15 votes).
But the debate didn’t stop there. The tradition was discontinued the following spring when Dean of Students Edward Cloyd announced his support to eliminate the freshman caps during his end-of-the-year address to students. The State College Board of Trustees voted to abolish the dress code that June. Freshmen caps were no longer an NC State tradition.