Mar. 31, 2022
On March 9, 1916, the Board of Trustees of Fork Union Military Academy passed this resolution: "Be it resolved that we hereby require the President to forbid and prevent students giving dances under the auspices and on the grounds of Fork Union Military Academy." In spite of this edict, the Corps of Cadets did not […]...
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Dan Thompson
Director of Strategic Communications & Marketing

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On March 9, 1916, the Board of Trustees of Fork Union Military Academy passed this resolution:

"Be it resolved that we hereby require the President to forbid and prevent students giving dances under the auspices and on the grounds of Fork Union Military Academy."

In spite of this edict, the Corps of Cadets did not remain without dancing opportunities. The record shows that there continued to be student sponsored dances, all of which were held in the community and, very carefully, not on the grounds of the campus. A story in The Skirmisher of 1919 reports:

"Cadets broke into Fork Union Society early last fall when a big dance was given at the Marlborough Hotel by Miss Bernice E. Burgess. This was the beginning of our social functions, which were very successful during the remainder of the season. After this, dances were held every Saturday evening at the hotel and were accompanied by the school orchestra. Saturday evenings were always looked forward to by the cadets because it put joy into their hears to get to shake a foot at the end of each week after having worked so on their studies."

The Skirmisher, 1919, p. 134
The Marlborough Hotel in Fork Union as seen in this photo postcard produced by W. E. Burgess

The Marlborough Hotel spoken of as the venue of this dance appears to be none other than the Alumni House and Museum that is now part of the campus of Fork Union Military Academy, standing just by the main gate to the campus.

H. L. Rayburn, described as the Society Editor, noted in an article that a dance was held on Thanksgiving evening in 1919, a Christmas dance took place December 13, 1919, and a "hop" was held on February 22, 1920, as well as a dance at Easter. It is reported that young ladies came from all sections of the county.

Dances were reportedly held not only at the Marlborough Hotel, but also at the Masonic Hall that then stood in Fork Union (preceding the present one), in the ice cream parlor that stood across from Weaver's Store in Fork Union, and at Fluvanna Lake (which is believed to be the area now known as Ruritan Lake some miles northwest of Fork Union).

The Theta Nu Delta fraternity then active on Fork Union's campus also sponsored dances. It is reported that Capt. Reton Edgerton's Royal Keydets provided the music at some of these dances. A news article in the February 1930 issue of Fork Union's student newspaper, The Sabre, noted,

"The girls are coming in thick and fast, the campus sheiks are slicking themselves up, and the novices in the art of dancing are being tutored in new steps."

The Sabre, February 1930

For almost two decades it appears that cadets continued to gleefully flout the spirit of that directive issued by the Board of Trustees back in 1916—holding dances that, technically, were not actually on the grounds of the Academy.

That all came to a crashing halt in 1932 when Dr. John J. Wicker, the fifth president of the Academy, reported to the trustees that he had abolished all hazing (as part of a rat program), social fraternities, and dancing. He held the view that these three activities contributed little to the purpose of the Academy...especially dances.

For 36 long years, Fork Union Military Academy remained danceless throughout the presidencies of Dr. John J. Wicker and his successor and son, Dr. James C. Wicker.

A new president, Colonel Kenneth T. Whitescarver, took office in 1968 and breathed new life into the Academy's long dormant social life. He appointed Richard G. Huffman to develop a program to provide both formal and informal dancing for the Corps of Cadets. Huffman founded the Quadrille Club to help formulate a program of dancing at the Academy.

The Quadrille Club scheduled informal dances that first autumn and invited girls from girls' schools in the area. The military ball, a formal affair scheduled in the spring, was the climax of the social season.

Cadets and their dates enter the first Military Ball through the Arch of Sabres.

The first military ball was held in Thomas Gymnasium on April 12, 1969. The student newspaper, The Sabre, gave this account of that innaugural event:

"Tonight Fork Union Military Academy will be conductint the first Military Ball in the school's history. Both cadets and faculty are looking forward eagerly to this dance. The arrangements for the ball have been well underway since Christmas time. The Cadet Quadrille Club and the Faculty Advisory Dance Committee have worked together to make the plans for entertainment and decorations.

"The dance will be attended by cadets, faculty, parents, and friends of the Academy. Dress for the dance will be black tie or military full dress worn by parents who are in the armed forces. Cadets will wear white ducks, white shirts, and battle jackets; cadet officers will wear coatees and sashes. No headgear will be worn this evening.

"Music for the dance will be provided by the Dee Roberts Orchestra, which will play all types of music.

Wilson David "Dee" Roberts led the Dee Roberts Orchestra that provided music for the first Military Ball

"The decorations for the dance will vary from the many colors of the girls' formal gowns and corsages. The gymnasium will be decorated in the Academy colors, red and blue. The lights will be blue and red, with red and blue streamers forming a canopy. Weather permitting, dogwood and redbud will also be used in decorating the gymnasium. There will be potted blooms and branches interlaced in the windows.

"During the dance cadets and their dates will be free to come and go to the Sabre Shop where refreshments may be purchased. Punch will also be served at candlelit tables in the gym.

"Girls have been invited from St. Anne's and St. Catherine's Schools, and also invited again were girls from St. Margaret's and Fairfax Hall, who were wonderful dates at our last dance and are enthusiastic about returning to the academy. Girls coming unchaperoned will be staying in faculty homes.

"At the magical hour of 12:00 o'clock midnight, the dance will come to a close, and, along with the prom favors, we hope all who attended the Military Ball will take away with them memories of a wonderful evening.

The Sabre, April 12, 1969

This year's Military Ball will be held on Saturday, April 2, 2022, ending a two year break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Military Ball is continuing as an important tradition at Fork Union Military Academy for more than half a century. Music might more often be supplied by digital audio players instead of by a live band, and the festivities might end sooner than midnight. But the impressive Arch of Sabres remains, as does the dress code.

Cadets still happily cut footloose at Fork Union.

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