Romance and Dance: The Dance Cards of Virginia I. Miller and W. Homer Switzer

A dance card, from the 1934 Senior Ball. Record Series 41/20/247.

As students at the University of Illinois in the mid to late 1930’s, Virginia I. Miller and W. Homer Switzer would often attend dances held by various groups on campus together. The Student Life and Culture Archives recently received a memento of their dances in the form of 35 of their dance cards. Dance cards, or dance programs, were small booklets which allowed women to record their dance partners for the evening. They often came with a tasseled cord attached to the booklet in order to allow the women to wear the programs around their wrist or to attach them to their gowns [1]. While the cards are lovely on their own – often intricately decorated, and recording interesting past social events – the Miller dance cards are made especially lovely by the addition inside many of the cards of a handwritten love note from Miller to Switzer.

A photo of Virginia Irene Miller, from the 1936 Illio. Record Series 41/8/805.

A photo of Virginia Irene Miller, from the 1936 Illio. Record Series 41/8/805.

Virginia Miller of Hillsboro, IL is listed as earning a degree in Spanish in the 1936 Illio yearbook [2], and worked in the University Library [3] during her time at the University of Illinois. She was a member of the Bethany Circle sorority[2]. W. Homer Switzer, of Mt. Carroll, IL, earned a B.S. in Agriculture in 1938 [4], and was a member of the military fraternities Alpha Tau Sigma [5] and Phalanx [2], as well as the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at the University [3]. Several of the cards are from dances held by Bethany Circle, Alpha Tau Sigma, Phalanx, and ROTC.

A photo of W. Homer Switzer, from the 1936 Illio. Record Series 41/8/805.

A photo of W. Homer Switzer, from the 1936 Illio. Record Series 41/8/805.

The couple’s dance cards from their time together record a blossoming romance between two University of Illinois students in the Depression era. Miller and Switzer’s daughter, Kathrine Switzer, recalls that her mother was an excellent dancer who taught Switzer how to dance after they met [3]. Miller and Switzer attended dances together at the University during the swing era, and their dance program from University of Illinois Reserve Officers Training Corps Military Ball of 1935 even includes an autograph from a popular big band leader of the period, Kay Kyser, who provided the music for the evening [6]. The 35 cards in the collection were saved as treasured souvenirs over the years, and were tied together by their tasseled strings to create several garlands which could be draped to display the cards.

A note from Virginia to Homer, written inside the dance card from the Officer’s Ball, held on January 19, 1935. Record Series 41/20/247.

The cards span dances held from 1929-1936, from both before and after the two students met. The notes which Miller wrote to Switzer inside them grow progressively more poignant as their romance deepened. In the dance program from the Officers’ Ball, held in the Park Dance Hall on January 19, 1935, Miller writes:

“Sweetheart Darling,

I’ll look back in years to come on this dance tonight and we will share our memories together. I live for you each hour and love you devotedly – as I will always and always. –

Devotedly

Your sweetheart”

At the conclusion of another note, included in the program for the Registration Dance held on February 4, 1936, Miller writes of dancing with Switzer,

“…I feel like I’m being carried away in your arms forever – and someday I will!”

The two students did in fact later marry in 1940 [3]. Their dance cards were donated to the Student Life and Culture Archives in December of 2014 by their daughter, Kathrine Switzer, and can be accessed at record series number 41/20/247. They provide a glimpse into the lives of two students falling in love while attending the University of Illinois. As Valentine’s Day 2015 approaches, do any other former students fondly remember their own romances while at the University of Illinois?

[1] Syracuse University Archives (2010). What’s A Dance Card? Retrieved from: http://archives.syr.edu/exhibits/dances_card.html
[2] Illio, (1936), p. 94, 336, 456. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10111/UIUCOCA:Serial/illio
[3] Kathrine Switzer, personal communication, 2014.
[4] W. Homer Switzer, Student Ledger Card, Record Series 25/3/17, Box 384, University of Illinois Archives.
[5] Illio, (1936), p. 335. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10111/UIUCOCA:Serial/illio
[6] Cogswell, Michael (February 2000). Kyser, Kay. American National Biography Online. Retrieved from: http://www.anb.org/articles/18/18-03047.html;

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