“The Goat Episode”: How a Halloween Prank Led to a Total Shutdown of Centre College

Submitted by Peter Shirley

The first project that both Nicolaus and I are working on this summer is preserving over a thousand newspaper clippings from the archives. These clippings relate to the college, current students, and alumni and were carefully cut from local and national newspapers and magazines by generations of college librarians. Some of the clippings date from as long ago as the 1860s, so many of them are in very poor condition and falling apart.

To preserve them, Nicolaus and I are scanning each one along with any information (such as the date and the paper) that we can find in the archives to go along with it. Once all of the clippings are safely preserved, we plan to catalog and organize the collection and then create a finding aid to allow researchers to locate clippings by topic, person, or a variety of keywords.

One of the most interesting clippings I’ve found so far is from the Louisville Courier-Journal and relates to a 1947 student strike. Striking in support of nine students suspended for entering the women’s dormitory to release a goat, the students boycotted the school until their concerns were addressed. With the “near-unanimous” refusal of the male student body to attend classes, the suspended students were soon temporarily reinstated.

Below is a scan of the original article, a student-made handbill to drum up support for the strike, and the full text of the article. The handbill urges support for the ten students suspended. I’m unsure if mentioning ten students instead of nine was a mistake or if one more student was initially suspended. A dapper collection of trench coats, leather jackets, and one truly awe-inspiring hat is on display in the article’s accompanying photograph.

 

Goat Walkout (3)

 

Goat Walkout Handbill (3)

 

Full text of the article:

Walkout Over Goat Prank At Centre College Is Settled

Student Council to Hear Charges Against 9 Men

By Joe Reister

Danville, Ky., Nov, 4th—A walkout at Centre College of all men students ended late this morning after President Walter A. Groves temporarily reinstated nine students accused of putting a goat in the women’s dormitory on Halloween.

All classes at the school were dismissed early today when virtually every one of the 480 men students at Centre refused to enter classrooms in protest against the nine suspensions, which were ordered last night for one week.

Prof. Earl C. Davis, dean of men, who ordered the suspensions, said he and Dr. Groves talked with the strikers and after an impromptu meeting of the Student Council, the walkout ended.

“It was agreed that the Student Council should conduct a hearing on the charges against the nine students, whose names we will not make public, and then make their recommendations known to the faculty committee, after which suitable disciplinary measures, if any, will be imposed,” Davis said.

Describing the placing of disciplinary measures in the hands of the Student Council as a “step forward,” Davis explained that heretofore a faculty committee had the sole power to punish students charged with infractions of campus rules.

Donald MacDonald, Richmond Hill, Long Island, president of the Student Council, said his group would report its findings to the faculty committee. The hearing will be held later this week, he said.

Placing a goat in the women’s dormitory is an old traditional Halloween prank at Centre. And the officials there have had as many laughs in the past over the stunt as have the students. It has always been the custom, however, for the male students to take off for parts unknown after getting the goat inside.

This year, however, some of the boys (some estimates run as high as 25) accompanied the goat inside the dormitory at 2 a.m., according to Davis.

The prank almost went off without a hitch—almost, that is. Davis was waiting outside the dormitory that night and Miss Mary Sweeney, dean of women, was waiting inside—just in case the boys stepped out of bounds.

Firecrackers Set Off

A group of 20 students distracted Davis’ attention from the real culprits by shooting firecrackers in front of the dormitory while the lads with the goat scaled the fire escape to the third floor.

Everything went along smoothly until some of the students got that idea to accompany the goat inside the dormitory. [End]

 

This article piqued my curiosity, and I did some research to see if I could find anything else. Aside from the same Courier-Journal article, other news reports seemed pretty scarce. However, I did find an extensive mention of the “goat strike” in the 1947-1948 Centre College yearbook and the celebration of the total acquittal of the students by the administration on the recommendation of the Student Council. This walkout seems to have been pretty unique in Centre history, as I could only find reference to one other student strike which occurred in in 1933 (there was a Day of Concern on May 8, 1970, but this was with full administrative support.)

Highlights of the yearbook article include the surprisingly sophisticated and technical interpretation of the college rules by the student-run Men’s Council (including objection to what they considered something of a trial in absentia of the students by the administration) and the wonderfully tart sentence “the Council in no way wishes their decision to be construed as a sanction…of further such affairs as the goat episode.”

Yearbook 1947-1948final



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