May Day Fête at Plainfield Seminary, May 24, 1912.
The May Day Fête at the Plainfield Seminary was an annual event. In 1912, The Plainfield Daily Press and another local newspaper reported that 4500 guests gathered on the Seminary lawn to enjoy that year's merry-making. The celebration opened with a costumed entourage leading the way for the May Queen, Miss Ruth Timpson, who rode a white horse. These were followed by dancers and players of all kinds. The parade ended with a "motley throng of peasants, clowns, tumblers and a jabberwock." The Queen was crowned with a wreath of daisies, and then the main festivities began. The first dance, seen in the photo, was called, "The Winding of the May-Pole." Fifteen girls twirled around the flower-crowned May-pole in charming costumes of pink and blue. The May-pole was a tall pole erected in the middle of a clearing, decorated with flowers and long ribbons attached to the top. Each girl held the end of a ribbon, and wove the ribbons in a pattern around the pole as they danced round and round. The dance celebrated youth and the changing of the seasons. Several acts followed, including more dancers, clowns, and a presentation of Shakespeare's "Pyramus and Thisbe" from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Fete concluded with a cotillion figure (a patterned social dance, like a square dance) in which the whole school joined. Although the May Day tradition has pagan roots, this connection was minimized. Instead, celebrants enjoyed the flowers, music and dancing of a secular, community-oriented festival.
May Day activities like this were common in Plainfield, and America, since Victorian times. Over the years, a number of local clubs and organizations held similar celebrations in Plainfield parks, gardens, and estates. They were joyful celebrations with flowers, food, dancing, and "Bringing in the May." Flowers were woven into garlands and wreaths, posies for people to wear, and bouquets to fill May baskets, which were decorated heavily, and hung on doors around town.
Located on West 7th Street, near Park Avenue, the Plainfield Seminary building was constructed in 1855 and was known as “The Chestnuts.” At that time it housed the Opheleton Female Seminary, which was founded by E. Dean Dow. Around 1867, Miss E. E. Kenyon, a prominent society lady and founder of the Monday Afternoon Club, and her sister, Mrs. Maxson, took over Opheleton. The Seminary, also known as the “Plainfield College for Young Ladies,” “Plainfield Seminary for Young Ladies and Children,” and “Miss Kenyon’s Seminary” had day students and boarding students. Although the Seminary closed its doors on June 9, 1919, it had an active alumnae group which held meetings for many years. This photograph is part of the Plainfield Seminary Scrapbook Collection, which is comprised of three volumes dating from 1867 to 1923.
Part of the Historical Photograph Collection.