Campus History

Good and Bad Advice from UW’s Past

Wiscetiquette shared tips for getting by on campus in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s.

Cover and inside page of a 1930s UW-Madison etiquette handbook

Some rules stand firm throughout generations; others don’t age quite as well. You’ll find both in Wiscetiquette. UW Archives

Wiscetiquette got its start after a May 1936 issue of the campus humor magazine the Octopus published a feature article under the same name. There’s no author attached to the original piece or in the series of handbooks that followed, but the Octopus lists Helen Savage ’36 as the chair of the Wiscetiquette section. She was savage, indeed, in her advice to incoming students. On blind dates, for example, the Wiscetiquette team writes: “Should your date turn out to be a first-class baby scarer, don’t show that you are afraid of it. Goons often have good connections and quite possibly know the right people.”

The board of the Women’s Self-Government Association (renamed the Associated Women Students in 1953) clearly enjoyed Savage’s work. The group partnered with the Wisconsin Union’s Women’s Affairs Committee and gained permission from the Octopus to reprint the advice in the form of a guidebook for freshmen and transfer students.

The first few issues maintained an Octopus sense of humor and gave readers an informal but informative look at classroom etiquette, dating protocol, and campus culture. Later issues became more respectable, albeit a bit boring. In 1959, Wiscetiqueditors traded the dating advice for messages from the deans and introductions to student organizations and honor societies.

The Associated Women Students dropped the Wiscetiquette title altogether in the 1960s and instead began sending out a student handbook called On Wisconsin — unrelated to the magazine you’re currently reading.

If you were to publish Wiscetiquette in 2022, dating, drinking, and dress codes on campus would look rather different. Thankfully, women can now ignore the advice to stay out of the Rathskeller or to take their red nail polish off so as not to look garish on Monday morning. Men no longer have to feel pressured to foot every bill or wear a button-up to class every day. The following truism has also since expired: “Like the breath goes with the onion, so the chaperone goes with the party.”

Today’s students should, however, continue to follow Wiscetiquette’s advice on some matters. “Why not practice a little individuality and meet the light of your life somewhere else between classes beside the steps of Bascom Hall? In the first place you haven’t any privacy, and then it seems a shame that only those with football experience should be able to get to class on time.”

We’re sure you never met up at Bascom Hall or cribbed in class, but did you commit another major campus faux pas? If so, we’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Published in the Summer 2022 issue


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