From the Archives: It's a Raid!
by Erik Nordberg, University Archivist
So how does one write a story on a panty raid held back in 1952? Even pitching the story to some of my colleagues was a bit tricky. Worse yet, how to determine whether the correct spelling is panty or pantie? And then there is the matter of decorum.
Let’s start with the facts. Around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday, May 25, 1952, a group of Michigan Tech students were incarcerated at the Hancock city jail for perpetrating a panty raid.
Robert Batsche (ME ’57) was there. “I’d been out to a fraternity party and returned to Douglass Houghton Hall late in the evening,” he recalls. “There were a bunch of guys gathering outside the building, and they were talking about going over to Hancock to Ryan Hall, the student nurses’ dormitory at the St. Joseph Hospital.”
College campuses across the United States were caught up in the new fad. Although it didn’t generally involve direct interaction between male and female students, the concept was well established by the time Tech engineers cottoned on to the escapade. In short, a group of male students would march on a coed dormitory, stand below the windows, and demand that various articles of feminine apparel be thrown down before they would depart.
Batsche remembers making it across the bridge into Hancock. “We got about three blocks from the hospital when we ran into a police roadblock. They told us to turn around and go back, that this was as far as we were going to get.”
At that point, police estimated that nearly seventy Tech students were surrounding the St. Joe nurses’ building and making quite a ruckus. Later reports indicated that some students got into the furnace room of the dormitory, though none reached the upper floors—or any of the nursing students.
Although not a participant himself, Bob Carnahan (MetEng ’53) recalls that one of his Delta Sig fraternity brothers was at the hospital that night. “He talked of the girls cheering them on and tossing panties out their windows to the crowd below.”
Batsche never got to see any of the excitement at St. Joe’s. “After reaching the police line, we turned the car around and headed home, figuring our adventure had come to an end. Another couple of blocks back toward the bridge, however, we ran into another police roadblock. This time, we were arrested and escorted to the Hancock city jail.”
Fourteen students were arrested early that morning. They were housed in a cell with just eight bunks, one of which was already occupied by drunken man. The only other fixture in the cell was a toilet that overflowed every time it was flushed.
The next morning, the students were transferred to the Houghton County Jail, and Judge Frank McKindles formally accepted charges of “creating noise and disturbance.” Three of the students entered a guilty plea and agreed to pay a $5 fine and court costs. But the others either couldn’t—or wouldn’t—pay the fine and continued their incarceration.
Local news media picked up on the story. “Tech Bloomer Brigade Ends in Hoosegow” was the headline in Monday’s Daily Mining Gazette. An unnamed reporter claimed the students were “bitten by the bloomer bug that has been buzzing around various sites of higher learning throughout the country.” The story went on to question whether the midnight raid on the nurses’ home was in search of “free medical advice or free publicity for their alma mater.”
The Michigan Tech Lode sent one of its reporters for a first-hand account of life behind bars. Its story ran under the headline “Local Jails Inspected by 14 Tech Engineers,” and indicated this wasn’t the first time that Tech students had made a nuisance of themselves at the St. Joseph Hospital. Several students had apparently tried on Friday evening to enter the building, but were turned away by the house mother.
An unnamed Mother Superior at St. Joe’s was unamused by the events. “The students showed very poor taste in choosing the hospital property for their assault, and even if no damage was done to the buildings, the mob was very noisy and disturbed the sleep of the sick.”
In a statement to the press, college administration attempted to distance itself from the event: “The college students involved in this situation were acting as individuals, and in no sense represented the college or a major part of the student body. The matter is one to be settled by civil authorities and the college will in no way attempt to influence whatever civil action may be warranted and taken. Hereafter the college will take proper disciplinary measures with the students involved.”
Local authorities gave the students a good taste of jail life—or at least a limited taste. News reporters were allowed to bring in cigarettes, but no food. “The prisoners were served two meals,” noted the Lode reporter, “consisting of coffee and a sandwich for supper and coffee and slice of toast for breakfast.”
The students were finally released late on Sunday after posting a $50 bond and agreeing to appear in court at a special session scheduled for 9:30 am on Saturday, June 7. This scheduling was symbolic, as the campus was busy with other activities. On Friday, June 6, the college dedicated its new Memorial Union Building, and Spring Commencement was Saturday.
A lawyer from Chicago was brought in to represent the students and offered his services on a pro bono basis, but the story soon faded from the headlines. Several informants indicate that the authorities felt they had made their point. Although the court heard opening arguments, the judge ultimately threw all the cases out.
Bob Carnahan recalls that the event created quite a stir. “You might say that the victims—or heroes—were minor celebrities on campus for a while.”
For Bob Batsche, it was his only serious brush with the law. “I’ve had a few speeding tickets, but that was the only time I’ve ever spent in jail.”
And what about decorum? Well, decorum dictates that I not print the names of the other students who shared a cell with Batsche in 1952.
But we’ll run the photos, and perhaps you’ll recognize a friend. Or maybe even yourself.