Dormsylvania

​Dukes of the Dorms

Badgers take silly seriously. Where else would you celebrate spring with a week of crazy campaigns — from mock kidnappings and bed races to ventriloquism — and say it’s in honor of British royalty?

A "fearless hero" escpas down a rope from a dorm's second floor room.

Photo by Howard Sochurek, LIFE Magazine.

Students have long welcomed the arrival of spring — and semester’s end — with campus wide celebrations. Festivals such as the May Fête on Bascom Hill date back to the early 1900s.

In 1936, Britain’s King Edward VIII shocked the world when he abdicated his throne to marry true love and divorced American commoner Wallis Simpson. Members of the University of Wisconsin Men’s Halls Association (MHA) were reportedly so moved that they created a new realm across the pond over which the couple could rule: Dormsylvania.

Accordingly, they invited the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to visit, but the royals’ perpetual absence forced the students to elect a replacement ruler.

For 10 days, the candidates — Lakeshore dorm residents, always men — vied for votes by competing in beer-chugging or log-rolling contests, or staging dramatic kidnappings and mock weddings.

In 1951, contender and eventual duke Alex Tamayo (attended 1951 to 1952) strung a hammock high in the trees near the dorms and napped at that precarious height daily. In 1953, Paul Moeller BS1955 convinced the president of a girls’ dorm to shave his beard in public as a campaign stunt. That same year, Dormsylvania caught the attention of Life magazine, which published a five-page photo spread capturing the week’s wild adventures.

A student falling off a log from birling.

Photo by Howard Sochurek, LIFE Magazine.

Dormsylvania culminated in a ball where students would crown the winner and his “duchess.” A traveling trophy was awarded to the dorm house that earned the most points for tug-of-war, egg-throwing, (non-) talent shows and the notorious bed races.

In the 1950s, women’s residence halls were incorporated into the Dormsylvania dominion, and women were allowed to compete.

The spring fling even inspired other colleges to host their own events, such as UW–Manitowoc’s “Little Dormsylvania” in the 1960s.

Enthusiasm for Dormsylvania eventually waned and the tradition died out in the 1970s. In the ’80s, the Lakeshore Hall Association resurrected the end-of-year party with SpringFest, and today, students celebrate spring at the Wisconsin Student Alumni Board’s All-Campus Party.