Two articles from The Central Digest, Volume XVIII, 1932 -1933 document the beginning:
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The Central Digests of October 1, 8, and 15, 1949 detailed the selection process of the first homecoming queen to be crowned at halftime of the Central-Rossville game at Chamberlain Field on October 22, 1949. The Senior English classes nominated 8 contestants, then the student body selected 5 finalists, with the person getting the most votes crowned by the Alumni President (at that time Jerry Perry). Subsequent queens would be crowned by the previous year’s queen. Betty Bridges, Betty Drinnon, and Diane Haynes were eliminated by the student vote, leaving the top 5 – Evalynne Anderson, Hulene Huff, Geraldine Maxey, Shirley Sewell, Jeanne Watson – to appear on the field for the presentation, which was won by Shirley Sewell.
Note 1: Research by Charlie Sedman and Bob Johnson
Note 2: Year show is year crowned.
Research by Charlie Sedman:
May Day celebrations have been a part of America’s heritage since the first European settlers landed. There are many accounts of schools holding May Festivals; in the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh there is a large painting of a May Festival held in 1816 at a Raleigh Girl’s School. May Festivals in the Chattanooga area were popular well into the early 1900s, and several were held at the Memorial Auditorium after its opening in 1924.
Central’s first May Festival was instituted in 1925 as an annual finale of the new Girl’s Athletic Association program. Here is an excerpt from the 1925 Champion: “The Girl’s Athletic Association, under the sponsorship of Misses Anna Lee Marsh and Dorothy Bachtel, is the largest student organization in school. The first event of the 1924-25 calendar was the Christmas Festival presented by the Rhythm Class on December eighth. The second event was the intramural basketball tournament with eight color teams participating. Perhaps the greatest responsibility of the Association was the presentation of all its members in the May Fete, “The Farmer’s Garden Party,” which was presented under the direction of Miss Anna Lee Marsh, director of physical education. The May Queen was selected by the student body from the Association. Her identity was not revealed until the day of the fete. The Association was organized for the first time this year…”
The following year (1926) the Champion recorded: “..The May Day Festival was held on May the seventh and every girl taking gymnasium took a part. A gymnastic exhibition, consisting of military arching, calisthenics, and a track meet, was held in the early part of the afternoon. This was followed by the ‘The Dawn of the May,’ a beautiful pageant representing springtime in all its glory. Miss Elizabeth Whaling from the senior class was crowned queen of the May….”
Champions from 1927-67 were apparently issued too early to include events happening in May, including May Day celebrations, except that senior girls usually included participation in the May celebration on their senior resumes, and after 1932 some seniors indicated that they were a May Queen candidate. This is perhaps due to the May Queen candidates being narrowed to five before the student vote starting in 1932. The Central Digest thus is the only source for May Day news after 1926; unfortunately Digests before 1930 have disappeared from the Central High Library collection, so we have no information on May Day from 1927-1929. In 1930 the April 17 Digest reported tersely that Virginia Lowery had been selected May Queen. In 1931 the April 23 Digest reported that Mary Richards, a junior, was to be crowned on May 7 on the school lawn by Mary Alice Witt, who would play the role of Spring, and that Miss Richards would represent Central in the County Pageant to be held at the Memorial Auditorium.
In the fall of 1931 Sarah Hubbard was hired as the first full-time women’s athletics director. One of her innovations was to replace the Girl’s Athletic Association with a new hierarchy, called gym staff, to implement the various programs, including the May Day Celebration each year. And, to reward those staff, five seniors were selected by Ms. Hubbard as May Queen Candidates, and the Queen selected by a general student vote each April. Ms. Hubbard was well-schooled in publicity, as fairly detailed write-ups of May Day may be found in Digests after 1932, with the exception of 1935, when the last Digest for that year was apparently published on April 30.
When looking over these Digest articles, two curious variants in the celebration are revealed: (1) May Day was not always held in May; for whatever reason, a few celebrations were held in late April; (2) the venue varied according to the location and the weather; some were held in the front lawn, some during the 30s were held at Central Field (likely the athletic field used by Central at East Third Street before Frawley Field became available in 1938), the boy’s Gym was used in 1933, presumably because of weather, and in the mid-50s Patten Field on the McCallie campus hosted several May festivals when Frawley Field was unsuitable. From 1958 to 1969 the festival played out on the front lawn at 400 Dodds Avenue.
Finally in 1937 the Letterman’s Club got into the act by selecting 5 male escorts for the May Queen Candidates, one of whom would be elected May King by the student body. The May King title was never fully embraced, because the Digests in several instances did not report a May King. In 1968-69 printing technology allowed the Champions once again to report a May Queen, this time with photos of the event, but no May King was reported.
Herewith is my compilation of the Central High May Queens from 1925-1969, with escorts/Kings listed where reported:
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