Little did they know what they had set in motion for future generations. Idealism ruled these students when George Washington still held the presidency in 1795. In this milieu of dreams for a new nation 21 Harvard University juniors gathered at 1 Nymphas Hatch to pledge secrecy, to cultivate the social affections, cherish a spirit of friendship and patriotism; and above all. Members were assigned in alphabetical order, bring a pot of hasty pudding to share at every meeting. You might say that the pudding was the “glop heard ‘round the world.”1
Hasty pudding, of course, was the early American name for what we might now call “cornmeal mush,” a cornmeal concoction on the order of “polenta”. Harvard students, ever grumbling over the miserable campus fare considered that cast iron pot of hasty pudding a long lost treat. That pot of popular glop eventually stuck with the name of the club itself, for the Hasty Pudding Club continues by that name to this day.2
The story of Hasty Pudding has been more than about its survival and food. The club’s appeal grew each year, developing new traditions. The Hasty Pudding website today says the following about those early years:
“The turn of the century saw the introduction of a new tradition into club meetings. In response to increased rowdiness and anarchy, a mock criminal court was improvised to try club members for “insolence” and “contempt of the club.” These trials were a great success, and the club constitution was amended to incorporate these dramatizations into every club meeting. No figure was safe from condemnation by this amateur court system — Cortez was convicted for “massacres and cruelties,” the British Parliament stood guilty for its beheading of Charles I, and the college administration was indicted for “compelling the whole body of students to pursue the dry, repulsive . . . study of mathematics.” Through the years, these productions became more elaborate, with the addition of costumes and eventually scripts.”3
These mock trials would hardly be the end of the antics of these students. They expanded their mockery in a tradition that continues this day, theatric productions featuring male students in drag. To this day Hasty Pudding figures not only in the annals of Harvard University, but the history of drag itself, and consequently the history of transgender people.
Beginning with that initial production of the Bombastes Furioso on Friday the 13th in December 1844, Hasty Pudding ended its production with a chorus line that would remain an annual fixture with the sole exception of the years of World War II.4
Endemic to that chorus line, a practice carried over from an earlier era marked with the Molly Houses of the 18th century British Empire, manifest in a rhyme Americans have owned since their revolution:
Yankee Doodle went to town
A riding on a pony.
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it “macaroni”.
Father and I went down to camp,
Along with Captain Gooding,
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.
Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle dandy,
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.
It seems like a silly rhyme to modern ears. We think of macaroni on our dinner plates suffused with golden cheese sauce. But at the time, macaronis weren’t eaten. They manifested a different sauciness by men wearing them. Macaronis were outlandish head dresses worn by homosexuals in private clubs and Molly Houses, looking at times like the 1773 illustration by Phillip Dawe (public domain). They marked the foppery of the time.5
Yankee Doodle, whose supposed macaroni consisted of a modest feather, no doubt had been intended as an affront against the masculinity of those people who would declare independence from Britain. But instead, Yankees owned the song in defiance and pride. We still do.
But the outrageous macaroni reappeared in the Hasty Pudding chorus lines also as depicted in this photo. Clearly the homosexual associations with drag must not have been lost upon the producers. It all contributed to the satire associated with drag, owning social stereotypes and throwing them into the faces of the audience in a dramatic scherzo and in the spirit of Yankee Doodle.6
Hasty Pudding made a huge splash at Harvard with the Bombastes Furioso and other student drag shows in future years. So popular was the production that other universities began similar clubs of their own:
“Other schools followed suit. Gentlemanly ladies strutted the boards at Princeton’s Triangle Club. In 1889 the Mask and Wig Club was founded at the University of Pennsylvania. These clubs were praised for being one of the few clubs which brought together students from all areas of the institution. The program from the Mask & Wig’s centennial sees the club’s founding as the students’ efforts ‘to do something about class and fraternity rivalries as well as the demoralizing inter-department feuding.’”7
What has also been alleged was that the antics continued beyond the play itself:
“’Another member of the Club lived in the rooms across the entry, and there we had the pudding after the play; the actors kept on their dresses, and poor Distaffina was nearly bothered to death by her admirers.’ Some ‘actresses” always preferred to stay en femme for after-the-show parties.”8
Something else was long rumored concerning these drag performers of the various university theatrical clubs, something which has been the case throughout the history of drag: that performers would test their prowess at illusion by remaining in drag to see how well they passed as females in public places. Indeed, another phenomenon began to emerge in the United States shortly after the Hasty Pudding Theatricals burst onto the early American scene.
In 1845, the year after the first theatrical, the State of New York passed the first known anti-cross-dressing law in the United States. The verbiage appeared to be more an attempt to prevent disguise during the Anti-Rent Riots of that time more than a reaction to any theater club:
“[Settlers] while disguised as “Indians,” murdered law enforcement officers attempting to serve writs upon the farmers . . . . [A]s part of their costumes, [they] wore women’s calico dresses to further conceal their identities . . . . Indeed, males dressed in female attire for purposes other than discussed above were not even considered by the Legislature adopting the section.”9
But other municipalities soon followed. Trans historian Susan Stryker introduced a remarkable compilation of data in 2009 at the Transgender Leadership Conference, and still presents this in her book Transgender History. This compilation of data originated with William Eskridge Gaylor and published by (who else?) Cambridge Harvard University Press in 1997. It showed a continuing spread of anti-cross-dressing laws across the United States from the 1840’s onward:
1848: Columbus OH
1851: Chicago IL
1856: Wilmington DE, Springfield IL
1858: Newark NJ, Charleston NC
1860: Kansas City MO
1861: Houston TX
1862: Toledo OH
1863: Memphis TN, San Francisco CA
1864: St. Louis MO
1877: Minneapolis MN
1879: Oakland CA
1880: Dallas TX
1881: Nashville TN
1882: San Jose CA
1883: Tucson AZ. Columbia MO
1884: Peoria IL
1885: Butte MT
1886: Denver CO
1889: Lincoln NE and second ordinance for Kansas City MO
1890: Omaha NE
1892: Cheyenne WY
1897: Cicero IL
1899: Cedar Falls IA
Sometime in the 1890’s: Santa Barbara CA10
Susan Stryker perceptively noted during her presentation concerning how this evidences the transgender role in the United States that “people don’t make laws against what people aren’t doing.”11 But the spread of these laws southward and westward appear to be telltale in their timeliness, as if radiating from Cambridge, the home of Harvard University. While Hasty Pudding could not be regarded as a singular cause, it’s clear that cross dressers did exist at the time and gay society tended to follow along with it with Hasty Pudding as a wild and crazy theatrical standard set for others.
Hasty Pudding remains the third oldest theater club in the world, and today honors those who have specially impacted the entertainment industry as Woman of the Year (since 1951) and Man of the Year (since 1967).12 Important people in American and world history shared from the club pot including John Quincy Adams, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John F. Kennedy and his brother Edward, even both Roosevelts who became presidents.13
But more importantly, the “no holds barred burlesque” of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals have influenced drag performance throughout the United States. Crack open virtually any publication about drag and you can find some mention made of Hasty Pudding. You might honestly say that Hasty Pudding set the standard for drag performance in the United States, and consequently, the world.
For many years, and to some extent remains today, the focus of professional drag performance has been New York City when it grew up in places like the Bowery, Greenwich Village, and Paresis Hall. These were the “low life” places of the time, places where fairies, pansies, girlie-boys, queens, queers, and the like congregated.14 Paresis Hall specifically gave us 19th century figures like Roland Reeves, Manon Lescaut, and Prince Pansy who in 1895 invited the intersex person Jenny June to the Cercle Hermaphroditos to “unite for defense against the world’s bitter persecution of bisexuals.”15 This was also the milieu for early 20th century drag performers like Julian Eltinge and Minette.16
But drag would experience its resurgence after World War II when Pat Patillo opened The Howdy, featuring drag performers in 1945. The 181 Club opened a few years later, and others would follow in future years.17 This began a new era in American drag and stage performance and others would follow worldwide. Chorus lines reappeared, each with some of the traits one might expect from Hasty Pudding.
This was an underground culture that would continue to develop for decades, producing the transgender heroes we would know in Greenwich Village later on… most particularly the Stonewall Inn in which Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnsson were foremost in the 1969 rebellion that gave us the Gay Rights Movement.18
Despite the theatrical standard Hasty Pudding set and despite the current of drag with its self-mockery, participating Harvard students basically only interested themselves in high brow fun that could poke itself at virtually anything for a laugh. Unwittingly, they stumbled upon that very trait that has always given drag its comic appeal. They also unwittingly set a current others would adopt and utilize according to their respective acts, and eventually, a call to get real with civil rights, all starting in a pot of pudding, the glop heard ’round the world.
Pass the pudding, please.
Images: Featured includes the Gates of Harvard and Cooking from a pot, both from Flickr. Macaroni by Illustrator Phillip Dawe in 1773, public domain; Hasty Pudding Chorus line, early photo by unknown photographer, public domain, age uncertain.
- (n.a.) Hasty Pudding Club Overview (n.d.) Web: Hasty Pudding: http://hastypudding.org/hasty-pudding-club-overview. Retrieved September 26, 2016.
- (n.a.) Facts You Should Know About the Hasty Pudding Theatricals (n.d.) Web: Cambridge USA: http://hastypudding.org/hasty-pudding-club-overview. Retrieved September 26, 2016.
- (n.a.) Hasty Pudding Theatricals History (n.d.) Web: Hasty Pudding: http://hastypudding.org/hasty-pudding-theatricals-history. Retrieved September 26, 2016.
- Waters, Michael. The Macaroni in Yankee Doodle Is Not What You Think (August 24, 2016) Web: Atlas Obscura: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-macaroni-in-yankee-doodle-is-not-what-you-think. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
- Bob, Collegiate! Collegiate! Yes, We Are Collegiate! (n.d.) Periodical: Ladylike #36. CDS Publications, King of Prussia PA p. 36
- Ibid, p. 34.
- People v. Archibald, 296 N.Y.S.2d 864 (N.Y. App. Term 1968), quoted by Levi, Jennifer and Redman, Daniel. The Cross –Dressing Case for Bathroom Equality (2010) Seattle University Law Review Vol 34:133 p. 152. Web: http://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1962&context=sulr. Retrieved October 5, 2016.
- Stryker, Susan. Transgender History (2009) Book: Seal Press, publisher. ISBN: 0786741368, 97807867141366, p. 32.
- Stryker, Susan. Susan Stryker at Transgender Leadership Summit (May 13, 2009) Web: Trans Community Videos, YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DOLwjhmNQDQ. Retrieved October 3, 2016.
- (n.a.) Hasty Pudding Theatricals History
- (n.a.) List of Hasty Pudding Club Members (n.d.) Web: Ranker: http://www.ranker.com/list/famous-hasty-pudding-club-members/user-x . Retrieved September 26, 2016.
- Fleisher, Julian. The Drag Queens of New York (1996) Berkley Publishing Group, Riverhead Books, New York City NY. ISBN: 1-57322-552-5, pp 26, 27.
- (n.a.) Earl Lind: The Cercle Hermaphroditos (n.d.) Web: org: http: //www.outhistory.org/wiki/Earl_Lind:_The_Cercle_Hermaphroditos,_c._1895. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
- Op cit., pp. 27, 28.
- Ibid, p. 29.
- Ibid, p. 35.