Hell Week

In past years, juniors (college freshmen) were expected to undergo initiation into Cottey -- even in the '20s when most of the juniors had gone to Cottey for high school. For a day, weekend, or full week in September or October, the seniors took over campus, forcing juniors to follow special dress and behavior codes. Called everything from Senior Day to Hell Week, initiations such as these have been performed at least as far back as the 1920s.1 During the initiation period, juniors usually had to wear some kind of uniform, participate in embarrassing games, perform menial labor, and otherwise entertain the seniors. The tradition usually ended with a great egalitarian celebration. Such junior inductions fell out of favor after the ousting of the duck tradition in 1965.

Below are recounts of the initiations of 1925, 1926, 1929, 1937, 1945, and 1965.

Junior initiation, 1942
Juniors wear their "numbers" on signs around their neck for Initiation Week, 1942.10
Junior uniform for Hell Week, 1946
The required uniform for juniors in the '40s was a dark skirt, white blouse, and brown or saddle shoes.7
Hell Week initiation, 1946
Juniors bow before a senior during Hell Week, 1946.7


1925's initiation was a particularly violent affair. After breakfast on October 19th, 1925, the Seniors left for town supposedly “after portfolio paper,” but Juniors saw them return with “rope, string, green rags, gum, red and yellow baby ribbon and many other things that didn’t in the least resemble portfolio paper.”13 At chapel the juniors' worst fears were realized when a senior dressed in cap and gown stepped onto the stage and revealed that today was Junior-Senior Day:

She used many long and terrible sounding words which were meant to (and succeeded in their purpose) put fear into the hearts of the now cowering people who were disgraced because they dared be Juniors. The gist of the orders were—
  1. —Absolutely no laughing or smiling among the worms called Juniors.
  2. —A Junior must stop, step back five steps, and, bowing low, must say, “I am the scum of the earth,” whenever she met a Senior.
  3. —Must stand in the presence of a Senior.
  4. —Must eat from a knife.
  5. —Must wear her dress wrong side out and backwards, hair in pigtails, cold cream face, mismated [sic] hose and shoes and get dressed in not more than 5 minutes.
  6. —Must keep off the grass, because a Senior might fail to distinguish a Junior.
  7. —Must obey a Senior in every respect.13

Each junior was then told to crawl on her hands and knees across the stage repeating "I am the scum of the earth," while seniors beat her with sticks. Other indecencies followed: "Their faces were horribly branded, they were given chewing gum of unknown origin but soon-to-be-found-out qualities; their legs were tied together, a green rag put on an ankle, a red and yellow ribbon around each neck, and many more things done to them that made the victims look and act ridiculous."13

After a lunch spent standing up and struggling to eat with only a knife, the juniors were paraded around campus while their superiors hit them with sticks and sang "The scum, the scum, the scum of the earth, by gum." Then the underlings were forced to climb to the third story of Main Hall on all fours with mouths full of water to be deposited in a bathtub. Afterward, the juniors were divided among the seniors to do their bidding, which meant cleaning rooms, washing clothes, and polishing shoes. The unruly junior who dared to laugh or refused to follow orders earned a compulsory visit to the mysterious "Skeptic Seven."To end the day, each junior had to take her senior to the movie theater or to some other entertainment.

Initiation cartoon, 1938
Detail from a cartoon in the 1938 Sphinx.4 Click to see full cartoon.
Hell Week, 1946
Juniors do headstands at the behest of the seniors, 1946.7
Hell Week, 1946
When a junior sees a senior she must raise her hands above her head, 1946.7


The coming of initiation was always a surprise to juniors. As in the previous year, Junior-Senior Day of 1926 was announced to juniors during chapel:

The regular devotional service was held. Everything was the same as usual until—with a heavy bang things began to happen. The senior president, Evelyn Lyon called the seniors to the stage in a voice that sounded like Caesar's must have when he was about to pronounce a death sentence on a conquered people, informed the juniors who had marched like unsuspecting lambs to the slaughter, that Senior Day, that day of days, had arrived.2

This initiation followed many of the same rituals as 1925's, including the recitation of "many long and terrible sounding words." With all 32 seniors onstage, one in cap and gown read the following speech from a scroll:2

Hear ye, all ye ignominiores, trependuous, diapidated juniors. The fatal hour is come and now the sagacious, spendiforous, gladiolus, renowned, mighty, rulorigitus seniors are to take your petty, camphytropus, involucellate lives into their judicious ceribumus, zygamarophic hands, to do with ye, scum of the earth, whatsoever they designate, collaborate and vertibrate on performing. Your interfoliuceous, papilionacious, teratological conduct has met with verticillastrate, hippocastanium caprifolacia. Ye incanapilosis, plantanganifonia dastychaniums, feel upon your heads the palofitological anastamosing curse. Oh, ye hippopotamus, ye misplaced polywoggles, ye curs, ye extract of the onion, ye condensed tincture of halitosis, fall on your knees and thank hiperfulus cerebrums that you are to be slain by such an importalmus grandiforous mightyotomes tribe as the lolypopinus seniors. And now, ye symforicapus orbiculatus of hamaamellidacease, bow they sillyatic, imbecile, ratistic, puppyatic minds and bodies to the seniors.12

The juniors, "trembling as with ague, were then called upon one by one and separately to prostrate themselves at the feet of their superiors repeating, 'I am the scum of the earth.'"2 Seniors then fed the juniors "strange dishes" and ordered the underclassmen to perform for them.

For the rest of the day, each junior was leased out to a senior to do menial tasks like washing and ironing seniors' clothes, cleaning senior rooms, and crawling up and down stairs until their knees blistered, all while "frantically chewing phenamint."2,12 Others were "exploited as side show entertainments on the streets of Nevada," forced to walk on their hands or flatten their noses against the pavement.2,12 In the evening they returned to Main Hall for dinner, where the juniors again performed.2 Afterward they were led to Neale Hall to participate in such games as rolling peanuts with their noses. Only the retiring bell at 10:00 p.m. could finally releas the juniors from their torment.


1929 saw Junior-Senior Day take over a full week for the first time, but the rituals were toned down compared to earlier in the decade.3 The juniors were informed of this terrible event at Saturday's assembly, when the seniors marched in and "gave forth blood-curdling yells to which the juniors in great bravado responded."

During each dinner that week, groups of juniors entertained the upperclasswomen with skits and music. One such performance depicted the blossoming of a rose, the junior class flower, with petals representing School Spirit, Religion, Loyalty, Happiness, Ideals, and Social Life, which unfolded to reveal "golden stamens bearing Cottey pennants."3 The big finish came the following Saturday, when "in spurious garb, and with grotesquely painted faces, the meek and lowly juniors waxed floor[s], scrubbed steps and porches with tooth brushes, cleaned windows and the seniors’ rooms and clothes, or did any menial task a senior saw fit to require."3

But this year the juniors' efforts were well rewarded. There was a formal dinner that afternoon in the specially decorated dining hall. The good-humored juniors even performed again -- this time without orders. Afterward, everyone attended a party in the gym and capped the night with the second show at the Star Theatre.


Alas, we discovered that one is not formally taken into Cottey until she has been initiated. It is all a lot of fun though, scrubbing sidewalks with toothbrushes, wearing our hair in pigtails, bowing to the senior Duck (note the Capitals) and doing stunts at two A. M. After this week we will feel free to enter into many extra curricular activities: Student Council, House Council, Glee Club, the two school papers, the annual, Dramatics Club, and so forth.4
Main Hall dining room, c. 1920
Seniors revealed Hell Week in 1945 by walking out of the dining room during dinner.
Juniors drop to the floor during Hell Week, 1946
Upon hearing "Prison break!" juniors fall face down onto the floor, 1946.7
Juniors act like monkeys during Initiation Week, 1948
I hope this happened during Initiation Week... 1948.11


In the middle of the evening meal in the basement of Main Hall in 1945, the entire senior class quietly walked out of the dining hall.5 The junior class sat befuddled until Mrs. Bohner, the dining room hostess, informed them that Hell Week had begun.

The seniors had posted their orders on the Main Hall bulletin board for first-years to peruse. The dress code was stringent, as junior Jeanne Soice described in the Cottey Bulletin:

The juniors were required to wear dark skirts, white blouses, brown or saddle oxfords (highly polished), dark red fingernail polish on both finger and toenails, signs around their necks bearing their numbers, and circular black and white striped hats with their hair shoved up in them—also no make-up.5

Juniors were also instructed in proper interactions with seniors:

When a junior saw a senior she immediately raised both hands above her head and remained that way until the "As You Were" was given by the senior. If the "Sound Off" order was given, the junior addressed the senior as Warden X, Y Prison. (The X represents the senior’s name, and the Y the suite in which the senior lives.)5

Juniors were subjected to all manner of ridiculous activities. When a senior shouted "Prison break!" first-years had to fall face down onto the floor. If the "Run for shelter" command was given, they were to run and take cover. They were roused at 6:15 Friday morning to "exercise" in the gym (although a small number were chosen to make seniors' beds instead). On Saturday the juniors were forced to polish shoes, clean rooms, wash clothes, write letters, and run errands for seniors. Afterward they were taken in groups to appear before the "Parole Board" in P.E.O.'s rec room, where they were "grilled under the light" and dismissed. Throughout these two days, Soice comments, "Much respect was given to the Senior Duck. It seems the suites were filled with Ducks and the juniors were required to kneel and allah to the Ducks."5

First-years also overcame a litany of obstacles during meals. On Friday they had to eat in silence during breakfast, eat only with a butter knife at lunch, and devour peas and potatoes while blindfolded at dinner. On Saturday morning the underclassmen noshed with their backs to the table. A lunch of vegetable soup, crackers, and peanut butter was eaten without utensils and with their wrists tied to the junior next to them. Juniors were also responsible for providing mealtime entertainment of "stunts, poems, songs, and anything else..."5

The last hoorah began quietly enough at 7:00 on Saturday evening, when the juniors were sent to bed. Seniors patrolled the dorms to ensure no one disobeyed. At 8:30 the stillness was broken as second-years roused the juniors and ordered them to report to P.E.O. Hall in five minutes. Once there,

The class was divided into groups and led blindfolded up and down the steps, lawn, and through buildings. The route was clever and confusing. Different things happened along the way, such as screaming, clashing of cymbals, flour paste make-up application, and shouting of commands. All finally ended up in the gym which was darkened and had a dais at the far end. The senior Duck was sitting upon this dais. The juniors made lines leading to the dais and seniors made lines within these lines closer to the Duck. The juniors duck-waddled to the dais and backed up duck-waddling to their places. If the junior approaching the dais was a subject of any particular amusement, she was called upon the witness stand for questioning.5

Following this grand inquisition, the juniors sang a song they had written especially for the seniors. "Nothing can compare to the love we share in the halls of Cottey C," they crooned.5 The seniors responded with a rendition of "Let's All Be Good Pals Together," after which everyone hugged and a celebration began. Seniors and juniors alike enjoyed refreshments, more singing, and games of "Prison Break" just for fun.

Freshmen are capped with the traditional beanie at BIL Hill, 1965.9
Freshmen are led on a parade through town, 1965
The first-years are led on a parade through town in rather odd garb, 1965.9
Freshmen of an unknown suite model their beanies, 1965
Freshmen of an unknown suite model their beanies, 1965.9


The first-ever "freshmen," who entered Cottey in 1965, were perhaps the last class to go through an administration-sanctioned initiation. There was no real dress code by then, but the junior beanies remained.8 On a Saturday afternoon, seniors led the freshmen to BIL Lodge, where the latter were capped. Afterward, the first-years were paraded through downtown Nevada. Both classes serenaded the President's House on the way back to campus, and parties were held in all three dorm rec rooms that evening. Sunday was dubbed "Snub Day," when all freshmen were ignored by the seniors. The induction ended that evening with a serenade from the senior class.


Cottey News, 1926
1926 junior initiation, plus the Mag and Em initiations.2 Click to view the full article or read the transcription in the archives.
Junior-Senior Week at Cottey, 1929
1929 Junior-Senior Week.3 Click to view the full article or read the transcription in the archives.

1945 Hell Week recapped in a letter home, plus "A Senior Looks at Hell Week."5 Click to read full article.

1965 freshmen initiation.8 Click to read full article.

Works Cited:

  1. "Tradition Remains Alive." The Nevada Daily Mail [Nevada, MO] 30 Sep. 1981: 8A-9A. Google news. Web.
  2. "Cottey News." The Nevada Daily Mail [Nevada, MO] 13 Oct. 1926: 5. Google news. Web.
  3. "Junior-Senior Week at Cottey." The Nevada Daily Mail [Nevada, MO] 7 Oct. 1929: 5. Google news. Web.
  4. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1938. Print.
  5. Soice, Jeanne. The Cottey College Bulletin. Dec. 1945: 12. Print.
  6. Six, Wanda. "A Senior Looks at Hell Week." The Cottey College Bulletin. Dec. 1945: 12. Print.
  7. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1947. Print.
  8. "Initiation Activities At Cottey." The Nevada Daily Mail [Nevada, MO] 27 Sep. 1965: 1. Google news. Web.
  9. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1966. Print.
  10. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1943. Print.
  11. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1949. Print.
  12. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1927. Print.
  13. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1926. Print.

Last updated on 15 Apr. 2012.

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