“Panty raids" were an American college prank that became extremely popular in the 1950's and 1960's, and quickly became a spring-time tradition across college campuses nation-wide. They were the first college craze after World War II, following the 1930's crazes of goldfish swallowing and phone booth stuffing.

During a panty raid, large groups of male college students invaded, or attempted to invade the living quarters of female college students in order to steal their panties as trophies... proof that the guys had momentarily crossed a societal barrier and occupied the forbidden territory of a co-ed’s dorm room. Though many times unwelcomed, raids were often carried out with the encouragement, and even assistance of the female co-eds themselves.

The term “panty raid” was first coined in February 1949.

After the raid, it was determined that the guys had some help from “the other side.” A housemother for one of the guys’ dorms advised her boys to double-lock the apartment of the Woman’s Building’s housemother. Also, one of the residents of the Woman’s Building (who later married one of the plot’s organizers) made sure to leave the dorm’s cafeteria door unlocked for the raiders.

The second documented incident of a panty raid took place on March 21, 1952 at the University of Michigan. The raid started as a battle of competing noises among various men’s dorms that devolved into an outdoor showdown among hundreds of male students. After staring down police, the crowd turned its restlessness outward and moved through several women’s dorms where men were normally not allowed to freely enter. At Alice Lloyd Hall, the female co-eds locked the main doors in response, but the crowd of male students entered through side doors, stormed rooms, and took “items of lingerie as souvenirs,” according to a story in The Detroit News. Unlike the incident at Augustana College, this event was unwelcomed by the female students.  In retaliation that night, a group of female students entered the front door of the Student Union without escorts, flouting the longstanding rules of tradition.  Eventually, it started to rain and the commotion came to an end. Eventually, panty raids would become a spring ritual at the University of Michigan throughout the 1950's and early 1960's, as well as becoming associated with their fall football pep rallies.

The March 21, 1952 University of Michigan panty raid sparked college campus panty raids all across the nation. By the end of the 1952 spring term, the panty raid epidemic had spread to 52 campuses across the United States. Panty raids would quickly become a springtime tradition that would continue on for the next decade or so.

  • During the spring of 1952, male students at the Vanderbilt College in Nashville, Tennessee conducted a successful panty raid.
  • Penn State's first panty raid involved 2,000 male students marching onto the women's dorms on April 8, 1952, and was actually cheered on by the female students who opened doors and windows and tossed out lingerie to the male students.
  • At the University of Texas, only days after Dean of Women Dorothy Gebauer declared, “I’m sure our boys are too much of gentlemen to indulge in such antics,” the campus experienced its first bout of “Panty Raid Fever.” On the evening of Thursday, May 22, 1952, in the middle of spring finals, “a milling, mooing crowd of male animals shifted leaderless from various girls dorms and sorority houses” until 3 a.m. the next morning. The group of several hundred male students were deterred by a coalition of Austin and University police, UT football players hastily recruited as bouncers, the sprinkler system in front of the Scottish Rite Dormitory, and a stern talk from Arno Nowotny, the venerated Dean of Student Life. Though the raiders went home empty-handed, future efforts would prove more successful.
  • In the spring of 1953, male students conducted a panty raid at Princeton University on Westminster Choir College.
  • With women’s campuses in close proximity, the men of North Carolina State at the Merideth College campus were quick to join the panty raid fad. When Watauga Hall was renovated as a women’s dorm for the 1953-54 academic year, the guys decided to stage a raid in their own backyard. At about 10:45 p.m., a crowd estimated at 1,000 male students marched to the dorm and began chanting requests of lingerie. The march began between Lee and Bragaw dormitories and the crowd gathered strength on the diagonal route to Watauga. About 1,000 boys were scattered on three sides of the dorm while the girls, sardined six to a window, watched from darkened rooms. There were no screens removed, no panties thrown and no storming of the bastions. Lack of response from the coeds and the arrivals of administrative officials caused the sensation-seekers to march on St. Mary’s Junior College. The group began a semi-orderly hike up Hillsboro Street. They were about 2,000 strong when they arrived. The only damage of the evening was done there when several boys climbed fire escapes and ripped some screens from the frames. Reports from participants indicated that demands for panties netted only two pair. One statistician reported the presence of 13 police cars, four motorcycles, one paddy wagon, and about 30 policemen.
  • One panty raid that took place at the University of Nebraska in early 1955 ended with the suspension of seven students.
  • A little after midnight on Thursday, May 3, 1956, a group of 40 to 50 male student members of UT’s Kappa Sigma fraternity stormed the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house on University Avenue. “They came from everywhere” said housemother Lucy Worthley. The students had brought paint ladders to gain access to the roof, and then entered through a window near the head of the stairs. Once inside, the front door was unlocked for others so as “to enter the house in one quick move.” Police were summoned. Two fraternity members were arrested, but later released, as they had appointments to meet with the Dean of Students the following morning. But the raid was a successful one. According to the Austin Statesman, “The known loss consisted of 13 pairs of nylon panties, four silk slips, three bras and eight pairs of socks.” Kappa Sigma, though, was required to make reparations with the girls.
  • Another panty raid that took place at the University of California at Berkley in May of 1956 involved 3000 male students and caused $10,000 worth of damage.

The men below chanted and sang, and some would-be Romeos attempted to scale the second floor railings. By now, the entire University Police force, along with 12 additional officers of the Austin Police, had arrived to break-up the proceedings. The crowd, though, was far too large, and the best the authorities could do was to keep everyone moving. The police charged. The longhorns stampeded. North to the Scottish Rite Dorm, where the girls were instructed to lower their window shades, and sprinklers were turned on to flood the lawn. West to the sorority houses and some limited success, and then back to the campus. At Andrews residence hall, some of the girls went up to the sun deck to “greet their worshippers.” Before long, even the statue of Diana the Huntress, in the center of the women’s quad, was sporting the latest in female lingerie. “The riot ebbed and flowed from dorm to dorm for two scream-filled hours,” reported The Daily Texan. It wasn’t until well after midnight that the last cry of “We want panties!” was heard. 

At a number of colleges, panty raids functioned as a humorous, protest against curfews and entry restrictions that barred male visitors from women's dormitories. Due to this, many of the panty raids that were conducted had humerus outcomes:

  • At a University of Washington panty raid, 1000 male students broke windows and stormed dorms with chants of “We want panties!” coming from male sorority students.
  • At the University of South Carolina, a late night panty raid was accompanied by a lone bugler sounding “Charge!”
  • Columbia University raiders set off firecrackers to cause confusion.
  • Panty raiders at Duke employed dynamite caps to cause confusion.
  • To slow police response at a University of Miami panty raid, raiders let the air out of the tires of a dozen squad cars.
  • As a proactive measure against panty raiders, the director of women’s housing at Indiana University set out a “barrelful of female undergarments in the hope that the males would help themselves and go home quietly.”
  • At Iowa State, students declared a “pantry raid” and scoured sorority houses in search of cookies and other eatables.
  • The University of Arkansas football coach, Otis Douglas, tried to “good humor” students out of staging a panty raid: “If you guys had to worry about beating Texas next year like I do, you wouldn’t be out here.”
  • Police at the University of Minnesota resorted to tear gas to break up a rowdy mob of panty raiders, but misjudged the wind direction and accidentally gassed themselves instead.
  • When more than 2,000 University of Missouri panty raiders marched and sang on their way to sorority row, the third target of a panty raid that evening, the police chief of the town of Columbia realized his 22-man force needed assistance. Near midnight, Missouri Governor Forrest Smith was wakened, told of the situation, and authorized the use of the National Guard, though by the time the Guard mustered, the students had spent their energy and returned home.
  • When 600 men at Columbia University besieged the residence hall of the all-female Barnard College next door, hundreds of female student coeds “waved undies from their windows and tossed water-filled bags as Columbia males fought with police.” Barnard’s dean, Millicent McIntosh, believed the women deserved an equal amount of the blame: “The Columbia boys could not be dispersed by the police because of the continued encouragement given them by the girls.”
  • At Texas Tech, 250 masked male students launched a panty raid to protest the formation of an emergency faculty committee dedicated to “hold down panty raids.” As United Press International reported, “The male students had little trouble in gaining access to the women’s dorms. The girls opened the doors for them and invited them in.” 

The first documented incident of a panty raid occurred on February 25, 1949 at the 100-year old Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. Perhaps inspired by the military training the young students had received in World War II, approximately 125 men entered the Woman's Building ; the first party entered Carlson Hall through heating tunnels beneath the school. Once inside, they unlocked the door for the remaining raiders to enter, locked the housemother in her apartment, and cut the light and phone lines. It is believed that the female students had advanced warning of the panty raid, and that some ladies even sprayed large amounts of perfume on the raiders “so they could be identified later.” Although a few women reported missing undergarments, the goal was to cause commotion, not to steal panties. The police arrived, and although no pranksters were charged, the news traveled, making headlines in the Chicago Tribune, Stars and Stripes, Time magazine, and the New York Times. Though initially referred to as a “riot,” the event was a later described by the Moline Daily Dispatch as a “panty raid.”

A female students Augustana College dorm room following the 1949 panty raid.

By the late 1960's, changing attitudes about sex, rule changes on college campuses, and the availability of other outlets for social protests led to the end of the panty raid as a mass, organized activity.

Though referenced repeatedly in American pop culture since it’s decline in popularity (as in the 1984 movie, Revenge of the Nerds), the panty raid as a living, organized, mass prank has joined the likes of goldfish swallowing and phone-booth stuffing as something found only in history books. As a result, most people today have either forgotten, or never known, that the panty raid fad of the 1950's and 1960's was more than just mere campus fun... it was serious, front-page news.

  • At a 1956 panty raid which took place at the Southern Methodist University, sorority sisters of Zeta Tau Alpha dumped water-filled pots (pictured right) to slow would-be raiders.
  • At Christian College and Stephens College, female dorm residents fought the raiders off and did not allow them entry.
  • In 1961, three students were expelled from the University of Mississippi at Oxford, Mississippi, for panty raids.

  • A November 2, 1961 panty raid at the University of Texas in Austin (pictured left) saw 2,500 to 3,000 male students gathered outside of Kinsolving Residence Hall chanting “We want panties!” The female students of Kinsolving smiled, giggled, and waved from their windows, but only one pair of panties was tossed from a third story window. The crowd changed tactics. Instead of the direct approach, the men began to serenade the ladies with The Eyes of Texas. This didn’t work either, and not wanting to waste the evening, the group moved across the street to try their luck at Blanton. Blanton residents were more cooperative. A single pair of undergarments appeared, quickly followed by “an airdrop of flimsies which rallied the troops.” 

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