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10 Surprising Facts From The History Of High School Proms That You Never Knew

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

It’s that time of year again: prom season! While teens scurry around planning their perfect “promposal” and making arrangements for the evening with their friends, we decided to take a look back at the history of proms and how the whole thing got started in the first place.

They’re so common at this point that it never struck me to wonder about what inspired the festive dances way back in the day until now, but I definitely would have never assumed the tradition didn’t even start at a high school.

Plus, it’s so fun to look back at these retro photos and think about when we attended our own shindigs!

Take a look below to learn more about how the annual dance became such a beloved event starting all the way back in the 1800s to today.

Be sure to SHARE all the fascinating facts about the history of proms with your friends!

1. The Tradition Started At Colleges

1. The Tradition Started At Colleges

The first recorded prom in history took place with the male students at Amherst College inviting the female students from Smith College to dine and dance back in 1894.

2. Proms Migrated To High Schools By The 1930s

2. Proms Migrated To High Schools By The 1930s

The dance started leaking over to high school students throughout the early 1900s but wasn’t a nationwide event until the ’30s.

In 1936, the first official guidebook for organizing the dance was published with the lengthy (and redundant) title, The Junior-Senior Prom: Complete Practical Suggestions for Staging the Junior-Senior Prom.

3. Corsages Were Originally Meant For Girls' Waists

3. Corsages Were Originally Meant For Girls' Waists

While today we see the bundle of flowers usually placed on a young lady’s wrist or pinned to the top of her dress, the earliest examples had them on her hip.

The term “corsage” actually means “bodice,” dating back to the 19th century with French origins, so it makes sense that’s where they decided to place them back in the day.

4. The Dance Left Gymnasiums After WWII

4. The Dance Left Gymnasiums After WWII

Thanks to the post-war economy boost in America, proms transitioned from the traditional high school gym to more luxurious banquet halls, country clubs, and other swanky venues instead.

5. JFK Crashed A California Prom

5. JFK Crashed A California Prom

In 1963, President Kennedy scheduled a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in the largest room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. There was just one problem — the students of John Burroughs High School had already booked the same room two years prior.

JFK ended up allowing the kids to take the larger room and settled for a slightly smaller one for his dinner. He even stopped by to say hello to the teens along with comedian Jack Benny, who had also been at the fundraiser.

6. The Dance Dipped In Popularity In The '60s

6. The Dance Dipped In Popularity In The '60s

This was likely due to more pressing cultural issues of the time, like the Vietnam War and the anti-establishment movement young people began following throughout the mid-1960s and into the ’70s.

I have a feeling the novel and film Carrie by Stephen King also didn’t do much to make the tradition seem more appealing when they debuted in 1974 and 1976, respectively.

7. The White House Hosted A Prom In The '70s

7. The White House Hosted A Prom In The '70s

The daughter of President Gerald Ford was lucky enough to have her entire class welcomed to their dance back in 1975 for what had to be one of the coolest venues a student has ever entered. So far, she’s the only First Kid to have had that honor.

Mr. and Mrs. Ford unfortunately did not sign up to be chaperones and skipped the event.

8. There Was A Huge Resurgence In The '80s

8. There Was A Huge Resurgence In The '80s

The dance has continued to rise in popularity steadily ever since, with the ’80s and ’90s capitalizing on proms with films like Pretty in Pink and Footloose reigniting teens’ excitement for the tradition.

9. It's Not Just An American Tradition Anymore

9. It's Not Just An American Tradition Anymore

Both Canada and the United Kingdom have been embracing the annual shindig in their own countries, and there are plenty of others across the globe who have adapted their own versions of the formal dance in their neck of the woods too.

For example, Norwegian teens gather for a dance near New Year’s known as the Nyttårsball.

10. Parents Shell Out Tons Of Cash For Their Teens

10. Parents Shell Out Tons Of Cash For Their Teens

Accounting for the tickets, dress cost, tux rental, limos, and other common prom expenses, parents have paid an average of around $900 for their youngsters to attend the annual dance. In 2013, the average peaked at $1,139 for some very lucky teens.

Of course, there are cheaper ways to get around the cost, which more frugal families have embraced over the years.

Did you know all of these surprising facts about the history of proms? Be sure to SHARE the nostalgic info with your friends!