Dear Audrey, and Emma and Sophie,
It was the best of times and the worst of times when you consider today's technology. It was 1951 and my first year of college. There I was unpacking my clothes, as my mother watched. She had lovingly made some of them. I was going to miss her. The first evening in the dorm we were to report to the lounge ready for bed. We gathered in our new robes and pajamas. The group tried to guess what town we were from and what school we had attended by our appearance. I had come from a city school and the group guessed that I was a preppy. It was fun but definitely not politically correct.
The counselors gave us the rules of having to be in the dorms each night by 8 p.m., but on weekends we could have two or three 11 p.m. nights. The doors to the dorms would be locked. If we arrived late we would have to ring the bell and be greeted by the housemother. Next we were given two placards to wear. We wrote our name, hometown, and dorm on them. We were told to learn the alma mater and to wear ear a blue beanie with an orange button on top. The school's colors were orange and blue. While wearing these signs, front and back, we were instructed to smile and greet everyone with a hello to continue the tradition of the "Bucknell Hello Spirit."
We accepted the rules without question and began memorizing, "Dear Bucknell oft of thee we are thinking..." to be able to sing on command. We smiled and said, "hello" to everyone. Tradition! We began wearing our beanies and signs. We were not allowed to walk over the Lit path to get to classes and had to take the long way around. This went on for a number of weeks for all freshmen. During these weeks we bonded as a class by our 8 p.m. curfew and met many upperclassmen by our signs and hello spirit. The rules worked well.
As collegiate coeds in 1951 we were happily outnumbered with four males to one female. This, my dear granddaughters, you would have enjoyed. The 8 p.m. curfew imposed spending a great time with your freshman hall mates. All girls lived down the hill in former Girl Seminary buildings and were referred to as the "Sem-Gems." We ate in Larison Dining Hall. The only men in sight in Larison were student dishwashers behind closed doors. These men had to enter by the back kitchen door, never by the dormitory entrances.
The early curfews had their benefits. It was a chance for the girls to be comfortable, to relax, to share stories and to be free with absolutely no boys in sight. Being inaccessible, we did not realize we were being protected and became more desirable. We sat about in our slips. talked, played cards, some smoked cigarettes, looked up boys in the yearbook, shampooed and set our hair and maybe even studied. During this time, strangers became friends.
The boys also bonded at this time through playing poker, workouts, smoking cigarettes, looking up girls in the yearbook and going out for a beer. They relaxed with no girl in sight. A lot of time was spent talking, or what they called "Shooting the Bull." Perhaps some went to the library to study. There were no computer games to disappear into, no cell phones to connect with old buddies. The boys had to rely on one another and became friends.
Our lifeline to our family and home was diminished. I missed home and tried to write at least once a week. We really were on our own to problem solve and figure out college life. Handwritten letters were sent and received by snail mail. The letters became further and further apart. Few photos were sent and phone calls from home were rare. After a film was printed and picked up, we selected negatives to be printed, then returned them to the camera store. We waited to pick up the copies and prepared a letter to send the pictures to complete the project. But wait a minute; it was time for Thanksgiving break, so you personally deliver the pictures. Ha! So Emma and Audrey, imagine there was no such thing as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Selfies, Email, iTunes, and Seri as you know it. These expressions were not even words — not even words!
The freshman dorm phones began to ring. The signs that we were wearing produced dates. There was only one phone in a cubby hole with no door for the entire second floor of 40 girls.
I have enclosed a picture of my roommate using the only phone on the floor of Hunt Hall. The phones rang often. If it rang when you were passing by, you would answer and loudly yell down the hall for the girl being called. There was no other technology available. One phone and snail mail were our only methods of communicating. Fraternity houses had one phone, usually in a closet near the front door. No one had a personal phone of any kind. This fact must be hard for busy granddaughters like you in the social media whirl of today to possibly imagine. Most communication was on a face-to-face basis in what we called, "conversations."
The boys filled the limited hours when the freshman girls were available. There were dates to Chet's for coffee and dates to Pardo's to drink cokes and dance to the jukebox tunes, like "Blue Moon" and "Rock Around the Clock." There were walks to and from the library and attending sporting events at Davis Gym. Fraternity open houses, and dances were on a date basis only. There were dates to attend Wednesday Chapel together. Sunday dinner after church at the Fraternity house was a big deal for a Sem-Gem. The Men dressed in coats and ties and the women in dresses and heels. It was a rule for most fraternities to be dressed properly every night for dinner with some exceptions — a rule easily enforced. Some might say it was the best of times for formality. The 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. curfews came early and we were back in the dorm or fraternity house.
One night the girls in the dorm heard the sound of marching feet and singing. A fraternity entered the Seminary to sing a serenade to an upperclass Sem-Gem sitting in a window with a candle. A group of men singing sounded so romantic in the night air. It was like something in a movie. There would be many more serenades to celebrate a pinning. By wearing a fraternity sweetheart pin a girl was being engaged to be engaged. I remember your grandfather and his fraternity beautifully serenaded me one night. No video of the fraternity singing or selfie was taken to share with you now. These are historic notes not recorded.
So, dear granddaughters, this was the social dynamics of college for a young freshman girl at Bucknell in the 1950s without technology. When we left home for college it was much more of a separation from home support than it is today. There was little or no immediate contact with your parents and old friends for weeks or months at a time. Parents relied upon snail mail and never called unless it was a family emergency. You began to lose contact with your high-school pals. Today, with cell phones and FaceTime you are closely tied to home and friends almost on a daily basis. In 1951 you were on your own.
Ah, yes the way we were... it was the best of times and the worst of times for technology as we know it today but definitely the best of time to become strong and independent and to solidly bond with your new Bucknell family.
Here's to Emma and Audrey and your college experience in the future as you become strong and independent. Time out from today's technology might be an idea to consider. Here's to Sophie and her college experience with todays ways of communicating. It's quite a contrast to the 1950's, for better or worse.
Loving you always,