Fifteen Minutes: A Tumultuous History

For now the Pudding is in limbo. And while the theatricals and a cappella groups have had their future cemented

For now the Pudding is in limbo. And while the theatricals and a cappella groups have had their future cemented by the recent deal between the University and the Pudding grad board, the end of the social club could be near. Of course, people have spoken the same words about the club since 1795--and every time the future looked bleak, the Pudding pulled through.

There problems began right from the start. Only one year into the club's existence, members were already speaking of it disparagingly, and in particular the product of the official pudding maker, Mrs. Frost. According to the constitution, every Saturday, two "providers" were to carry a pot of Hasty Pudding to the meeting. Members were able to solve this pressing issue quickly by substituting Mrs. Rebecca Kidder's pudding, which was much more popular. According to the "Thirteenth catalogue and A History of the Hasty Pudding," a late 19th century account of the club's past, Kidder (or Mother, Madame or Sister Kidder) created a dish "so satisfactory that once, during the mock trial period of the club, she was gallantly indicted for witch craft on the strength of her puddings."

By 1800 however, the weekly pudding ritual was deemed not enough of a reason to continue. So members transformed the club into a debating society. Questions like, "Whether all persons properly qualified are under any obligation to marry" and "Whether the company of the fair sex shall be advantageous to the scholar" dominated discussion. But soon, that too lost a following. The next incarnation of the club was a mock trial group. The case of Aeneas v. Dido for breach of promise was a popular one, as the Pudding reveled in such tomfoolery. They also proudly indicted "Ichabod Roarer, an itinerant Methodist preacher, for frightening women and young girls into fits." During this time, the club expanded so much that the College gave the organization a room in Holworthy Hall to serve as a library. Even with this success, change was still in the air, and the club evolved from mock trial to pure drama in 1844 with the presentation of "Bombastes Furioso" by Lemuel Hayward in Hollis. According to the catalogue, by 1849, the metamorphosis was complete and the society moved into a space in the north entry of Stoughton Hall. The 1850s and 1860s featured seven or eight shows a season.

The club may have settled on an identity by then, but other aspects of club life needed tweaking--membership. For the majority of the 19th century, prospective members were forced to ingest large quantities of pudding. But the process of "running" for the Pudding became a notoriously awful one in 1873. John W. Farlow, who wrote about his 1873 initiation, remembered his running week vividly 60 years later. Every "neophyte" was required to stay in a mentor's room for the week, speak only to him and run everywhere. "The weather was cold, wet and slippery, and as there were no boardwalks in the Yard, I often got into water over the tops of my shoes, slipped and fell, sometimes pushed over by my classmates, who hooted at me without my being able to reply or do anything to help myself," he wrote. Every night he had to work on a variety of tasks outlined in a letter he received at the beginning of the run. His assignments were:

I. What function of literature is the most important at the present time, critical or creative? 10 pages

II. To what extent are indirect claims admissible? 10 pages

III. Poem 50 lines. My Freshman Year

IV. Essay 50 pages. The comparative benefits of a classical or mathematical education to the average man

V. Essay 30 pages. Study of logic as a cultivation of the mind

VI. Essay 50 pages. The relation of chemistry to medicine.

VII. Poem 150 lines. Gentleness.

VIII. Double Acrostic. Xenophon and Xantippe

IX. Song 6 stanzas. Air Fair Harvard.

The final night, Farlow and the other neophytes were told to hide their manuscripts, but members of the Pudding looked for them and destroyed them so they had to redo all of the work. But Friday night of the week, members received the sign of the Pudding, "the strip of black cloth with their names cut out of white paper fastened to the cloth." The Harvard Book, an 1874 publication detailing much of the school's history, reported that "youths uttering in 'accents of an unknown tongue' the mystic words 'Seges votis respondet' and 'Concordia discors,' and to all questions giving no answer except a repetition of these phrases. The first nine in 1881 decided not to go through the initiation process. William Roscoe Thayer, Class of 1881, wrote that they objected so much to the practice, they almost refused to run, but conceded so that others could join. "For many of them, to make the Pudding was their biggest social satisfaction," he wrote. When his class ran the process they did away with most of the atrocities. By 1889, members did away with the initiation entirely.

The duty now falls to the current officers to do as their forefathers once did and find a solution to the recent change.