1950s Character

April 10th, 2012

In researching the 1960s, I got really interested in Mary Washington’s study-abroad program. Having studied abroad, I’m sort of in awe of students who had that experience in a time before instant communication, who traveled to another country on ships and could only communicate with home through letters.

By the 1950s, Mary Washington had a number of students who came from other countries, and, in 1951, a student from Germany. Since I’m a German major, as well as American Studies, I’m really interested in how she ended up studying in the US. She would certainly have been living in Germany during World War 2, and in West Germany.

Since I could find little information about her besides the fact that she was a student at Mary Washington in the early 1950s, I have chosen to make up a creditable background.


If we assume it’s 1952, that means that I was born in 1930 in Western Germany. I am from a town in northern Bavaria, where I studied at a Gymnasium until about four years ago, when I was ready to go to University. I live with my mother and father, and I have two older brothers who live on their own.

Since I was born in the 30s, I lived most of my life in Nazi Germany. Like most Germans, my family was probably complicit in Nazi activities, but now that the war is over we don’t talk much about the ideologies our country held during the war years. In the decades to come, I will be largely silent on the experience, and so I don’t talk much about it now, either. This doesn’t affect my life on campus a whole lot, but it can be a little uncomfortable knowing that my home country and my host country were recently at war. I have brothers who fought in World War 2, and I know my classmates do, as well. I wonder if that bothers them.

I decided to come to study in the United States because I want to work to promote peace. I know that there is an organization called AFS which is sending American and German students to study in each other’s countries, but I am too old to participate in that, so I came here to University instead. I am studying History and education, because with these degrees I can live and work either in Germany or in the United States.  I live in Madison Hall, and I feel lucky that there is another International student, a girl from South America, who lives on my hall.

1950s School Supplies

April 10th, 2012


As it turns out, Googling “school supplies in the 1950s” turns up a whole lot of nothing. Instead, I searched for the history of some of the individual items we might need in class, starting with pens. I found that most of the sites are fairly informal ones, and so my information comes from sites like Wikipedia or about.com; if this is a problem I will be happy to go to the library and try to do more concrete research, but so far here’s what I’ve got.


The Pen[1]:

Inventors.about.com includes a brief history of the ballpoint pen, with a timeline. I have read about the history of the ballpoint elsewhere, and knew it had been invented by the 1950s, but I was trying to figure out how popular it was. As it turns out, not very. The link I’ve included here details the ballpoint’s invention, with American patents in 1945, but explains that the early models had a number of problems and so, after an initial fad in the late 40s, were not terribly popular. In the 1950s, fountain pens were the way to go.


This leaves us with a couple of choices when we’re picking writing implements for our class recreation. Ballpoints were certainly being manufactured, so if we’re portraying the early 50s, we might be on the tail end of a ballpoint-pen craze. I own a fountain pen, but I doubt anyone else does (although if somebody has a calligraphy pen, that might be fun and unique to use.) Our other option is to simply use pencils. Those had been around for well over a century by this point, so you really can’t go wrong. Incidentally, while number 1 and number 3 pencils exist, number 2s are the only lead considered good enough quality to write with, so those will definitely be accurate to the 50s.



Google Answers has one anonymous user linking back to several more reliable sites (University websites, for example) aobut the history of lined paper. Knowing that the paper-making process is fairly standard, I was most curious about when and where the ruled lines came from. Turns out, the lines on paper date back to the Middle Ages. They were originally done by hand, but by the 1700s there was a patent on file for a “ruling machine”. By the 1950s, the lines were being made by machine in dark blue ink.

What this means for our class is that we’re pretty much going to have to stick with ordinary lined paper. I don’t see us finding anything to fit these specifics. I also doubt we’ll find too many 1950s style notebooks, although if people want to use notebooks they could probably use ones with plain covers, or cover up any intricate designs and still be in the ballpark.



The group was thinking that, in order to add to the atmosphere, we would give everybody a book or two which was published in the 1940s or 50s. We’ll check them out from the library, and we can just kind of have them with us to add to the ambiance.

What I would like to know from the class is this: How does everyone want to get the books? Would it be simpler if our group checked out a bunch of them, to be handed back to us and returned after class? Would the class like us to make up a list of books they can go borrow themselves? Finding the books won’t be hard, I think, but I’m not sure what direction to take in getting the books to students.



The modern backpack doesn’t look much like what students were using in the 1950s. In fact, in flipping through some pictures published by the Baltimore Sun, I’m seeing mostly students carrying their books by hand. To be fair, these pictures are mostly of younger students, some only in 1st grade, but I’m looking at the pictures of High-Schoolers. My logic is that if these kids aren’t carrying bags, college students probably are going by the same social norms. Think of today- we carry backpacks just like High School students do, because we carried backpacks when we were in High School and got used to it.

So, while there are some purses, students are carrying their books by hand, no large backpacks.

[1] http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa101697.htm

[2] http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/2170.html

[3] http://www.baltimoresun.com/features/parenting/backtoschool/bal-backtoschool-pg,0,4562808.photogallery


Post #4: Curriculum Committee

February 20th, 2012

Having examined the course catalogs pretty thoroughly, I moved on this week to look through the files of the Curriculum Committee. When I first got a look at the box, it appeared an overwhelming task; it’s a huge box and packed with files. It would take a whole semester’s worth of work to comb through each paper and come up with some kind of coherent statement about the work the Committee accomplished. In lieu of that, I decided that I would look through some of the papers and see whether the committee had been working on a particular issue that it would be englightening for me to follow.

Luckily, I found such an issue right away. It was, in fact, the first issue discussed on the first page I looked at, but it was so tempting and, I felt, so revealing that I did not look farther, although later papers covered other issues.

This hot topic was the continued existance of the Department of Home Economics. The papers are kind of an exciting read, actually. Although the official minutes are written in a calm and dispassionate style, by the Committee’s secretary, it is clear that this is an issue which was being taken very seriously and about which nearly all the committee members, as well as the Department of Home Economics, had very strong feelings.

Over several weeks worth of debate and meetings, the committee discussed whether the Department of Home Economics was meeting the needs of a Liberal Arts college, and although it’s not stated outright, their discussion of faculty votes and presidental approval reveals that there were some members of the committee who wished to get rid of the program entirely. This seems to have been prompted by a report by the certifying board, which blatently recommended doing away with the program and keeping the courses as electives only.

Naturally, the students would not have been privy to the discussions going on in these meetings behind the scenes, but I would be very surprised if they were not aware, at least vaguely, that there was some upheaval going on in this program. The women who majored in Home Economics, particularly, were likely aware of some of the debate.

The implications of this for the classroom are several; in the first place, the idea that your major might be done away with would make any student nervous, particularly if they were unsure what that outcome would mean for their graduation.

In a broader sense, however, the debate over Home Economics is a debate over the roles of women in 1960s society. One of the ways Home Economics might not have been serving the needs of the school is that it was seen (as a department report says) as unimportant, because many outside the field did not understand what the Home Economics department saw as the many advantages and opportunities offered by a Home Economics degree.

The opponants of a continuing program in Home Economics were not entirely wrong in their assumptions, however; the Home Economics magazine included for faculty perusal has a very “separate spheres” feel to it, emphasizing women’s place in the home and family above all else.

So, the debate here is not really about the classes being taught or the skills that young women were learning. Instead, the faculty was actually arguing over the role that it imagined it’s students playing in the decades to come. Unfortunately, what was a huge controversy and the origin of a lot of paperwork in 1963 is barely mentioned in the papers for 1964. There is one mention of a faculty vote, but since Home Economics continues on through the end of the decade, the faculty must have voted to keep it. Since we no longer have such a department, however, we know that the battle continued for some years after.


Post #3: Course Catalogs

February 10th, 2012

My goal for this week’s work in Special Collections was to start copying down some of the information we will be putting on our website, and in the process to analyze the information about courses in order to infer something about the classroom experience. In deciding what majors to include on our website, we tried to include a variety of options so that users could choose a major that might genuinely have interested them, were they a student at Mary Washington in the 1960s, and we settled on English, Chemistry, Education and Home Economics.

One of the things I was most interested in discovering was what percentage of professors were female. My theory was that a women’s college would have as many women teaching as possible, or that there would be many female professors. What I found, in the end, was that this varied by department along pretty much the lines you would imagine. The Chemistry department has only one female professor, and she is only listed as teaching one class.

I also expected Education to fall under the category of “women’s subjects” and was surprised to find that this does not appear to be the case. Actually, I expected Education to be an entire major; we chose to highlight that department in light of the fact that Mary Washington was a Normal School. Instead, Education is not it’s own major, although it was possible to get teaching certification as well as to student teach. Even within the few classes offered specifically as Education classes, only one of the professors is a woman and, again, she only teaches one class. The other female professor to teach an Education class is actually a member of the Home Economics department, and teaches “Principles of Teaching Home Economics.”

There are significantly more women involved in the English Department, but only because it was a larger department. There are still more thant three times as many men as women. Only in the Home Economics department are all the professors female.

Group Meeting Results

February 10th, 2012

Yesterday’s group meeting was really productive, and I left with the impression that we were all on the same page. I hope that’s the case, and I guess we’ll see when we read each other’s blog posts.

What I understood our plan to be is a “choose-your-own-adventure” style interactive website. The first page will be the honor code, which each user must approve. (I don’t mean they would have to create an account, just that they have to click through the Honor Code page to get to the rest of the site).

From there, the user goes through a series of pages which simulate the process of becoming a Mary Washington student. Users read excerpts from the Student Handbook and course catalog, learning information about classes and student life which influences their experience. They then “choose” a major (four of the listed majors will be hyperlinks, the rest simply a list) and after having chosen a major, they can “choose” courses offered that year.

We will include a sidebar so that the website need not be viewed in any strict order; should someone wish to examine all four different majors before moving on to the next step, they can do so through the sidebar, rather than clicking back and forth.

No matter which major the user chooses, they will then go through to pages including housing selection and Bullet articles. We will also include a page with school reviews from “current” students (alumnae interviews).

Reading Response

February 8th, 2012

1. I was really surprised to read, on page 264 of “Unequal Sisters” the observation that “…men and women are equal in Europe and America… In France and America, there are women in high offices. In England and America, there are women in astronomy, clerical work, communications… medicine, law… no different than men.” I know that objectively this is not true, and I wonder to what extend the writer (Pan Xuezhen) thought this. Obviously on some level she believed it, but did she really think that there were no gender differences, or was she overstating to make a point? If she truly believed that men and women were absolute equals in Europe and America, I would be fascinated to know where she got this idea.


2. Another idea I was fascinated by was Molly Dewson’s description of dressing in drag. On more than one occasion, she says that she wore men’s clothing and that, at least once, she was actually assumed to be a boy. It makes me very curious what she looked like, and how she felt about the incident. Her feelings in her letter home seem to be mixed- it is “amuzing” (sic) but she also feels “rather queer”. The other girls at Wellesley don’t seem to mind it, but I can only imagine the reactions of non-students if they had realized that she was actually a woman.

Post #2: Course Catalogs

February 3rd, 2012

My goal this week is to learn some basic information about student life, with a focus on the ways it pertains to and affects the experiences students had in the classroom.

One of the most interesting sections of the catalog was the section on absences and “class cuts”. As any student will tell you, it’s possible to spend a lot of time calculating whether you can afford to miss a class for reasons legitimate or otherwise. Mary Washington in the 1960s simplified this process (or tired to simplify it) by employing a school-wide attendance policy. Excused absences were “calculated on the basis of four absences for each class meeting per week.” To be honest, I have no idea what this means for students. Surely they can’t be missing four class meetings per week and expect to retain any kind of academic standing. The Bulletin does not clarify further, but does advise students to talk to the registrar to determine their number of allowable absences. In addition, all absences must be verified by the College Physician (for residential students) or the student’s parents.

Class cuts, what we would call unexcused absences, are a little more clearly explained. In fact, they pretty much amount to exactly the system Professor Mackintosh uses in his classes. Each student in the 1960s was allowed a number of cuts per semester equal to the number of times that class meets per week. So, because Dr. McClurken’s Women’s History class meets twice a week, each student would be allowed two cuts for the semester. Furthermore, the Bulletin states that it does not matter why a student chooses to use her “cuts”, merely reminding her that she must check out of her dorm if she is leaving campus. From the same experience in Dr. Mackintosh’s class, where each student is given two absences, no questions asked, I can imagine the ways students might have calculated the advantages and disadvantages of missing any given class session.

The handbook also mentions rules for students wishing to marry. They had to apply to the Dean for permission, which I assume means permission to remain enrolled as a student, since I don’t see how the school could actually prevent them from marrying. They also had to apply for permission to remain in the residence halls if they were married, or arrange for housing elsewhere, presumably with the husband. This makes me wonder whether there were many students applying to marry while in school. I know there are married students today, but not many and primarily returning students. Was this a bigger issue for Mary Washington in the 1960s?

Another item which piqued my interest was a mention of “senior costumes”. I can’t begin to imagine what these might be, or when they might be worn, and I hope Sam will be able to ask about them when she conducts her interviews. Now, I’m really curious.

Also, it was apparently possible to take aviation lessons at MWC in the 60s, although the college is clear about their lack of liability. I’d be fascinated to hear how that worked out, as well.

I looked through all ten volumes trying to determine the ethnic makeup of the Mary Washington student body and, unsurprisingly, I found that it was almost entirely white. In the 1965 Bulletin, however, the pictures included a couple of students who are Asian or Latina and one picture of a woman wearing a sari and pointing to a map of India, apparently as a presentation for a class. It is not entirely clear to me whether she is a student, professor or visiting community member. The master list of students’ names and hometowns includes students from Germany, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Thailand, Egypt, Cuba, Italy Laos and the Canal Zone. Other Bulletins corroborate that there were a handful of international students each year, although it is unclear on whether they are American citizens living abroad, for whatever reason, or foreign students. I would guess that they are foreign students, although there is no information in the Bulletin about study-abroad programs. The first picture to include a Black student is in the 1968-1969 Bulletin. (Fredericksburg City schools desegregated in 1963- source here.) Although the picture is not captioned, she appears to be a member of a team or club; all the girls in the picture are dressed in identical white shirts and dresses with shoulder straps, and they are wearing sneakers. Not what we would consider sport clothing, but I also have yet to see a picture of any woman in pants.

Post #1: The Collection

January 27th, 2012

I had signed up to study both course catalogs and the Aubade for the 1960s, but I have just learned that the Aubade did not begin to be

There are ten course catalogs and smaller course booklets detailing the classes available during Summer Sessions. The books all seem to be in very good quality. One or two of them have a loose page, but only here and there, which is comforting, because I would be a little afraid to handle them if they were too fragile.

These detail much the same information that we still include in today’s equivalent; information about majors, credits, and course requirements. They also include basic information about the various offices and the faculty and staff.

Each book is about ten inches tall, perhaps five inches wide, and 220 pages long. The covers of the books from the ’59-’60 school year through the ’68-’69 school year are dark blue with white lettering. Beginning in 1969, the books are cream colored and feature a photograph of a Mary Washington student in increasingly 70’s-esque clothing.

In the first nine years worth of books, the catalogs contain information about the school first, followed by a list of course offerings organized by department, and then a few pages of black-and-white photographs of school activities.

The final volume is much the same, but includes more pictures, often as thumbnails accompanying the information, rather than as an appendix at the end.

Naturally, the summer session catalogs are much shorter. They contain only very basic information about the school itself, probably on the assumption that students have already attended at least one year of classes, and fewer course offerings. Like the full-length catalog for the following academic year, the summer session catalog for 1968-1969 includes more pictures and reflects the new design.

Hello world!

January 22nd, 2012

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An Introduction

January 21st, 2012

Last time I wrote an introductory post for one of my class blogs, it was for “When Americans Came Marching Home”, my Freshman seminar. I went back to that post out of curiosity, to see what had changed, and was amused to read this little time capsule from freshman year.

It stands to reason that I’m not 19 anymore (22 now) and I’m certainly not still procrastinating on that German assignment. (These days, I’m procrastinating on my German thesis instead.)

I’m still a fluent German and Latvian speaker, and I’m working on adding Irish Gaelic to that list as well. And naturally I’m still a Civil War nut.

In my copious free time, I like to write novels, knit and decorate interesting cakes. Once, for Carrie Schlupp’s birthday, we outlined Georgia and the Carolinas and traced Sherman’s march to the sea in lit candles. But my two favorite cakes are the ones I’ve included pictures of below.


"H.M.S. Surprise"

This is a cake model of the ship “H.M.S. Surprise” from the movie “Master and Commander”. My cousin Anna (she’s in the picture) and I are both fans, and so we have gummy bears acting out scenes from the movie. Note the mastheaded midshipman, the gummy bears weighing anchor, and Mr. Hollom jumping off the side holding a jelly-bean cannonball. (Yes, we know that’s sick.)


The Gettysburg Address

This is the cake we made for Sean Redmiles, who not only is a fan of Lincoln, but also looks like him. The Edward Everett gummy bear is my pride and joy, with his long scroll, and I’m fond of Lincoln’s little stovepipe hat as well. And since there apparently has to be a macabre aspect to all my cakes, the freshly dug graves made of oreos and oval cookies.