The Smoking Fence – West Lafayette, Indiana - Atlas Obscura
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West Lafayette, Indiana

The Smoking Fence

Purdue students would lean over this iron fence to skirt campus rules against smoking and courting. 

When Indiana’s Purdue University was established in 1869, smoking cigarettes and courting women on campus were both prohibited by school policy. Unsurprisingly, students quickly discovered loopholes to get around such rules. Or, in the case of the iron fence that stretched around the entire length of the campus, to get “over” them. 

The long fence that bordered the school was used to keep cattle from nearby pastures from roaming onto campus, but it was also used by students to bypass a few rules. By simply leaning over what was eventually nicknamed the “Smoking Fence,” students could get away with a smoke break because they were technically off campus.

This activity also drew some attention, particularly from women looking to catch the eye of these rule-bending members of the university’s all-male student body. (Purdue admitted only male students up until 1875.) After classes were dismissed and students took their smoke break, women from the area ventured over to meet the men, and the courting process would commence.

It’s impossible to know how many relationships were started, how many proposals were made, or how many smoke breaks were taken across the Smoking Fence. What is known is that portions of the original iron fence still exist along the West State Street portion of the campus, most notably in front of the Purdue Memorial Union Hall.