The club derived its name from the “German,” a kind of social dance figure which became popular in the South after the American Civil War. Colleges and social communities across the U.S. formed groups which sponsored these cotillions two to four times a year.
These events were known to have rather fancy refreshments and libations, especially champagne (“University” 44). While the venues were centered around the dance floor, the Germans would also feature parlor games, toasts and lighthearted speeches. Often during these cotillions, debutantes would attend in search of eligible bachelors to court, as women were only just beginning to enter courses at UNC.
These events grew in popularity at UNC around the turn of the 20th century. After each German, the student newspaper would reprint the names of each attendees alongside a brief review of the soiree. the In an announcement written for the Daily Tar Heel in January 1901, Germans would be hosted twice in the spring semester, one around Valentine’s Day and one around Easter. This is indicative of their growing influence on campus, since an Easter German “ha[d] not been done hitherto” (“The February”).
The social dances of the time represent the decadent side of the Chapel Hill food story at the dawn of American prosperity. These events of the upper-class would serve as a form of “network” in an social sense. The Germans at UNC were hosted and geared to foster geniality among the young elite of North Carolina, connecting future industry barons, distinguished public servants and eligible debutantes under a festive party atmosphere. With a membership fee in place, students of lower standing without a heralded surname were shut out of the fun. This feeds into the “Empire” term of our section title, reinforcing power dynamics and social structures under the guise of an elegant mixer.
“The February German.” The Daily Tar Heel (Chapel Hill, NC), January 16, 1901. Accessed October 08, 2018. Newspapers.com
“University German Club,” The Hellenian . Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 1900. Accessed October 07, 2018. DigitalNC: North Carolina Yearbooks.