Prom Traditions A Century Old at Local High Schools

It’s prom season once again in East Tennessee. This long-honored tradition of having the Junior class organize and decorate a formal event for the Seniors goes back over a century. Starting out as a collegiate event, high schools were quick to adopt “Junior-Senior Banquets” and Proms by the 1920s.

The decorations can almost be visualized in this 1929 report. “The Senior class of Watauga Academy was delightfully entertained by the Juniors in the dining hall of the girls’ dormitory Friday evening. The dining hall was beautifully decorated with pink, white and green combining the colors of the Senior and Junior classes.”

We have similar reports from over in Kingsport in 1924. “The Juniors entertained the Seniors of Kingsport High School at the Country Club Thursday night, May 1. The party began at 8 and lasted until 12. Games of different kinds were played dancing was enjoyed throughout the evening. At 11 o’clock ice cream and cake were served.”

We are reminded of “no-break” and “girl-break” dances in this mention from 1935. “The Junior and Senior classes of Science Hill High School entertained with a “prom” at the Johnson City Country Club Wednesday night. This is the first time for several years that a Junior-Senior prom has been given. A grand march was led by Miss Mary Catherine Dyer, Science Hill’s most beautiful girl, and Mr. E.B. Hale. The evening was featured by “no-break” dance and by “girl-break” dances.

Popular locations for proms included the Johnson City Country Club, the John Sevier Ballroom, and eventually the high school gymnasiums. The ordinary gymnasiums were transformed by the hard-working Juniors in themes such as “Davey Jones Locker” (1950), “April Showers” (1951), “Treasure Island” (1959), “A Night on the Town” (1963), “Roman Holiday” (1964), and “A Summer Place” (1967).

So while dress styles, music, and transportation to proms may have changed, many prom traditions from the past hold fast.