Many rising seniors in the Class of 2019 are doubtless looking forward to their return to the Hill this fall for a variety of reasons. Among them is the opportunity to take advantage of a unique privilege granted to senior members of the Corps of Cadets: the right to grow a mustache.
The U.S. Armed Forces have historically been friendly toward mustaches. In fact, the popularity of mustaches and other facial hair during the 19th century is often attributed to military fashions. Sideburns are even named after General Ambrose Burnside, who sported impressive mutton chops throughout his career as a Union general in the Civil War.
Apparently, the successors of Captain Alden Partridge had their own views. Whiskers of any kind were expressly prohibited in the cadet rules and regulations as early as 1869. Photographic evidence would indicate that some mustaches had been permitted before that date.
All of that changed in the winter of 1970. The previous year, in the summer of 1969, cadets had been allowed to wear neat mustaches conforming to Army regulations while training at the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation in Pennsylvania. The students wrote to President Hamlett urging him to extend the privilege permanently to the senior class, asserting that the mustache prohibition was dogmatic with no basis in Army regulation.
President Hamlett rejected the initial proposal. This was not the only student-administration disagreement around this time. Tensions over whether to fly the flag at half mast following the Kent State shootings in May 1970 prompted a dialog about students’ role in campus governance. The newly formed student government finally succeeded at securing a provisional senior mustache policy in late 1970. A report in the Guidon that December 1970 noted that a few students were taking advantage of their newfound freedom, but none seemed to be abusing the privilege.
In recent years, seniors have been encouraged to use the mustache privilege to participate in the cancer awareness campaign “No Shave November.” Sophomores and juniors have even been allowed to participate, sparking debate over whether the mustache privilege should extend beyond senior year.