Prom Night: A Brief History

by Irene Martinko

Grab your corsage, hop into a limo, and get ready to begin your trip through the history of prom!

Let’s start with the word “prom.” Where does it come from? What does it mean?

Short for “promenade,” a kind of formal parading of guests at a party, the earliest mention of the word dates all the way back to 1894.

It was first written in a personal journal by an Amherst College student attending a prom at the nearby Smith College. Back then, prom wasn’t even for high schoolers. In fact, historians believe that college seniors had a dance, or “prom,” at the end of the year to celebrate their upcoming college graduation.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that proms migrated from the halls of higher education to the elegant sophistication of the high school gymnasium. At first, high school proms were simple dances at which students wore their Sunday best. But by the 1930s and 1940s, yearbooks began covering the prom, and soon, it became an important rite of passage for America’s young people.

And then we hit the 1950s. World War II was over, the economy was thriving, and suddenly, people could afford to hold their proms in fancier venues. From country clubs to hotels and glamorous dresses to sophisticated boutonnieres, the modern-day prom had emerged.

And with the prom came competition. Who was wearing the best dress? Who had the best date? And who was going to win Prom King and Queen?

Of course, no one could compete with President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, who was allowed to host her school’s prom at the White House.

No matter what you wore or where it was, The Marvelous Wonderettes will help you relive a marvelous prom night.

The Marvelous Wonderettes plays in FST’s Gompertz Theatre through June 22. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here or call 941-366-9000.