One hundred and thirty years ago, hazing at Bowdoin might have encompassed fraternal coal-throwing and accidental blindness.

The New York Times ran a story entitled "Old-Time Hazing at Bowdoin," on November 28, 1881. The article reads: "The Maine newspapers tell us that a Portland lawyer has brought suit claiming $10,000 from each of seven Sophomores in Bowdoin College for injuries to his Freshman son's eyes by a piece of coal thrown through his window in a hazing scrape. This brings to the mind of a corresponddent (sic) of the Journal the tradition of a notable incident of the same kind in the same college many years ago."

That "notable incident," according to The Times, involved a student (who, incidentally, would later become the president of Middlebury) being covered in molasses as he slept, and, upon waking, running frantically around the Bowdoin campus in his nightshirt before being caught and held under a water pump by a group of upperclassmen.

Various hazing traditions have been present at Bowdoin since long before Chamberlain defended Little Round Top.

Louis C. Hatch's 1927 "The History of Bowdoin College" mentions that, in Bowdoin's early days, hazing usually consisted of sophomores pulling pranks on freshmen. In the early 1830s, for example, "a number of Sophomores...squirted a quart or two of ink into the room [of a freshman], and later threw in the decaying carcass of a dog."

At that time, according to Charles C. Calhoun's "A Small College in Maine: Two Hundred Years of Bowdoin," sophomores routinely met at Winthrop Hall (which they nicknamed "Sodom and Gomorrah") to plan their hazing activities.

As Bowdoin developed a thriving Greek culture in the 1840s, hazing began to fall under the auspices of fraternity initiation.

One Bowdoin alumnus, who wished to remain anonymous, pledged Psi Upsilon in 1952. He estimated that during his time at Bowdoin approximately 95 percent of the student body was in a fraternity. The alumnus and his fellow pledges in Psi U had to have their own fraternity pledge paddles and wear beanies emblazoned with their fraternity insignia; they could not walk on the grass, and "if an upperclassman told you to do anything, you did it."

"We had to learn all of the traditions of the school. That was the primary function of hazing. You had to learn all the school songs (of which there were several), plus all the fraternity songs, and you had to learn the full names and the towns where the fraternity brothers came from. During mealtimes, they would call out your name and the upperclassmen would fire questions at you, [like] 'where am I from, sing this song,'" revealed the alumnus.

While he acknowledged that a wrong answer or a forgotten verse could warrant a "smack on the bottom" from an upperclassman, the alumnus maintained that the worst part of hazing "was just humiliation, with that stupid beanie on your head."

"Hell Week" was the last week of hazing, culminating in Homecoming and the pledges' official acceptance into the fraternity. During this week, Psi U pledges were expected to undertake an eclectic group of tasks, or "quests".

"Mine was [that] I had to go to a sorority at Tufts University and get a pair of women's underwear signed and kissed with lipstick by every member of the sorority. Other people chained themselves to the fences of the state house in Boston protesting something or other, there were all sorts of quests," said the alumnus.

Rob Jarratt '64 pledged Psi U, now Quinby House, in 1960. He said that 1950s fraternity hazing developed a reputation for being "extreme," that Bowdoin was anxious to combat.

"The term when we matriculated in 1960 was changed to 'orientation' and the idea was to lighten up. There was a pull back to get fraternities to be a little kinder and gentler," said Jarratt.

According to Jarratt, the success of that effort was questionable at best. Students in Jarrett's pledge class were required to keep a fire blazing in the Psi U house all day and night while upperclassmen did everything in their power to put the fire out. In addition to the beanies and paddles that the anonymous alumnus described, Jarratt said that he and his pledge brothers "had to wear a sign that we had to make ourselves that said what fraternity we were pledged to, and if the edges got bent, we had to make it all over again."

"Some of it was funny but there was a lot of psychological stuff; it was rough," said Jarrett. "It made my freshman year very, very difficult."

Some fraternity members from that era remember their hazing experiences with more humor than others. Bill Mason '63, a Beta Theta Pi, whose house was recently demolished in 2008 and who later became a director of admissions at Bowdoin, remembered that he and his pledge brothers had to "carry a box with shoe polish in it, and also a brush, and upperclassmen in your fraternity had you shine their shoes."

"Fortunately, it was an era of white bucks," Mason joked.

In Mason's experience, "the fraternities at least respected the fact that, as a freshman, you had an awful lot on your plate," he said. "My sense is that those senior members of the house respected the fact that [Bowdoin] was first and foremost an academic institution."

"I don't think there was any fraternity that was well-known for excessive hazing," Mason said.

David Treadwell '64, a member of Zeta Psi, now Ladd House, recalled, "We got branded when we were made brothers. You can see mine to this day...We were kind of proud of it to tell you the truth."

"I was happy and proud to be a member of the fraternity," said Treadwell. "I figured if other people had gotten through it I could get through."