Waltzing with Eisenhower: A Collection of West Point Dance Cards, 1915

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
April 18 2013 12:15 PM

Waltzing with Eisenhower: A Collection of West Point Dance Cards, 1915

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Sisters Ruth and Ethel Hill, who socialized with West Point cadets between 1911 and 1917, compiled this souvenir set of U.S. Military Academy dance cards and invitations. Their collection was recently auctioned off in New York.

Dance cards, which first became popular in Vienna in the 19th century, were a staple of social occasions in the United States through the 1930s. The booklets, many of which were produced in small formats with attached cords so that a woman could wear them on her wrist, were a way to formalize social contact between dancers. Men would ask women for a dance at the beginning of the night, and women would pencil them in. (This is where the expression “My dance card is full” comes from.) With pretty lithographed covers and attached metallic tokens, these cards were also keepsakes of the occasion.

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The Hills noted the class year of their partners next to their names. All of their partners appeared to have been slated to graduate in 1915. That year’s class generated an unusual number of generals, with 59 of 164 cadets eventually going on to earn the honor. (The class is sometimes called “The Class the Stars Fell On.”)

The most decorated members of the class were five-star generals Dwight David Eisenhower and Omar Nelson Bradley. Eisenhower's name (incorrectly spelled “Eisenhauer” in two instances) appears often on the Hill sisters’ cards over the years.

Despite his active dancing schedule, Eisenhower didn’t meet his future wife until he left West Point. Ike met Mamie while stationed in Texas in October 1915, months after his graduation.

West Point Dance Cards

Collection of West Point dance cards from "The Class the Stars Fell On", West Point, NY, 1911-17. Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.