We feel as confused as the gentleman in the bow tie looks about what’s going on in this photo, shot circa 1950. But judging by the elaborate coat of arms hanging behind him, this is part of a celebration known as Dormsylvania, which occurred annually on campus from 1936 until the 1970s. Its main events were a formal dance and a campaign leading to the election of a Dorm Duke, but over the years, it also included other elements, such as a bicycle race, an egg-throwing contest, a beer bash, a midnight movie, a bed race, and, as shown here, a talent show.
The event was conceived in response to the abdication of Britain’s King Edward VIII, who gave up the throne in 1936 to marry the American woman he loved, Wallis Simpson. The residents of the UW’s Men’s Halls Association, impressed by Edward’s romantic gesture (and not, presumably, by his rumored fascist sympathies) decided to offer him a new realm to rule over: the Duchy of Dormsylvania. But Edward and Wallis never responded. Perhaps unaware of the students’ offer, they instead accepted the lesser title of Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Dormsylvania lived on, however, with the Dorm Duke elections growing increasingly satiric. The event reached its peak fame on June 1, 1953, when it was featured in Life magazine. It didn’t get the cover, though. That was given to the Duke of Windsor’s niece Elizabeth, when she accepted the crown he’d given up (the one in England, not the one in Madison).
Published in the Summer 2009 issue