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Fridays with Fred: Vegetarian Party makes a stand in campus mock election of ’48

A look at a mock election at Beloit College.

“Shouting ‘Higher Celeries for Everybody’ and ‘Join the Bunch,’ student backers of the Vegetarian Party, armed with fresh carrots, almost took over the pre-election campaign rally staged by Beloit College students at the Field House last night.” –Beloit Daily News, Nov. 2, 1948.

The first presidential race post-World War II gripped the campus with election fever. Although Beloit College students had held mock elections before, the hotly contested battle between President Harry S. Truman and New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey was particularly exciting.

Lights glowed through the windows of the Field House on Monday, Nov. 1. It was election eve. By 7 p.m. the bleachers rocked with a raucous crowd 500 strong, cheering friends representing a variety of political parties: Democratic, Republican, Progressive, Socialist, and, of course, Vegetarian. Feet stamped and confetti fluttered amidst a cacophonous roar of every variety of hoot, holler, catcall and Bronx cheer. Somewhere or other, lost in the pandemonium, the college band strained to provide appropriate campaign marches, while party members huddled together under colorful political banners and posters.

John Harth, president of the Associated Students, eventually managed to hush the crowd long enough to let party politicos orate, after which he moderated a question-and-answer period focused on party policies and platforms. At first it seemed possible that the Vegetarian Party might hold sway. They thrust their carrots aloft and shouted herbivorous slogans, and an over-eager student made the mistake of yelling, “No more meat on college menus!” Meanwhile, someone noticed Dewey buttons on several Vegetarian sweaters and someone else spotted Truman flyers poking out of a letterman’s jacket. The resultant boos and hisses caused the Vegetarians to drop their carrots and replace them with donkey and elephant banners.

A torchlight procession followed the rally, taking a winding route off campus, through downtown Beloit and back again.

“A highlight,” according to the Beloit Daily News, “was the appearance of candidate Dewey himself, who had put on a little weight and spoke a good deal like Paul Yaeger, WBNB announcer and college drama star. Six F.B.I. men, overcoats tight about them, accompanied the G.O.P. standard bearer who rode in the torchlight parade perched atop a new convertible.”

“Abe Lincoln” also materialized, leading awestruck students past Hanchett’s Hall, where Lincoln spoke in 1859. The Round Table reported the parade as “non-partisan, purely to urge Beloit Citizens to vote Nov. 2.”

Between noon and 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2, students and faculty flocked to the south portico of Eaton Chapel to cast their ballots in the mock election. “By this election, it is hoped not to predict the way the nation goes,” a Round Table reporter commented, “but rather to show the political tendencies of Beloit College.”

Those tendencies at first seemed to reflect the nation’s, as polls and pundits predicted a win by the Republican, Thomas E. Dewey. Beloit College voters chose Dewey with over 60 percent of the vote. Then, when it became clear that the national election was too close to call, students congregated in dorms and fraternity houses, glued to communal radios, pencils in hand, tallying up electoral votes. The following day, the now-iconic wire service photograph showed a jubilant Harry S. Truman holding up an early edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, the mistaken headline trumpeting, “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Fred Burwell ’86
September 13, 2012

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