MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is the time of year you see high school kids with flowy dresses, corsages, tuxedoes and boutonnieres. It is prom season. But why do high schools even have a prom and what is the history of this rite of passage? Good Question.

“Wasn’t it when Prometheus took fire from the heavens and tossed it into a disco ball, starting a crazy party?” joked Cameron, a Fridley High School Senior.

No, prom doesn’t come from Prometheus, instead prom is short for promenade.

Before prom became a big money and a big deal, people marched in to the senior class dance. But not in high school, historians believe prom started as a college event — largely to celebrate the end of senior year.

Historians discovered the word “prom” in a journal in 1894 of an Amherst College student who went to prom at nearby Smith College.

As American teenage culture grew stronger in the 1940’s, prom became the senior dance at high school. In the 1950s and 1960s, prom moved from the school gym to fancy ballrooms.

Prom has had some interesting tangles with the presidency: in 1963, President John F. Kennedy had to cancel a fundraiser at the Beverly Hilton, because the hotel double-booked a school prom. The Hilton tried to cancel the prom, but the president decided to cancel his event.

In 1975, President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, got to have her prom at the White House.

Prom has also become a scene for culture wars: with schools being sued over banning interracial couples, and same-sex couples.

However, what started as a casual party, transformed into a dance where high school kids wore their Sunday best, then into an event, and today it is now a spectacle.


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