When students leave for college today, there is one word used to describe the upcoming college experience that is talked about more than any other- freedom. For many, the idea of leaving home for a world in which there are no parents watching and controlling every move they make, is one that trumps all the other excitements that come with enrolling in college. It was therefore very interesting to find that the Mary Washington College students of the 1940s had a very structured life within the college. There were strict curfews and study hours, mandatory meals, stringent guest policies (especially when it came to male visitors), and rigorous policies on what one could do off campus. It is safe to say that a current University of Mary Washington student would have found the “Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia” of the 1940s almost unrecognizable.
The ultimate goal of this research project is to be able to recreate a classroom experience of Mary Washington students during a particular decade. However, understanding what life was like at the college outside the classroom is essential to understanding the way students would have acted inside them. To do this, this past week I have researched all of the student handbooks (known as the “Bayonet”) from the 1940s, more specifically I focused on the “Rules and Regulations of the Student Government Association”[i] portion of the handbook. This outlined the policies and community standards that all Mary Washington College students were held to.
At the start of the decade the “Rules and Regulations” were divided into ten sections; “School Work,” “Class Organization,” “House Council”, “Dorm Life,” “Meals and the Dining Hall,” “Dates,” “Riding,” “Week-end and Holiday Visits,” “Trips to Town,” and “Miscellaneous.”[ii]In the “Dorm Life” section, there were several rules that would directly affect the classroom experience of students. Not only was there a curfew of 10:30pm, quiet hours that began at 10:45, and lights out at 11pm, there was also a study hall period that began at 7:15 (7:30 on Fridays) and ran until 10:15. During the study hall period,
students were required to be in their own room doing schoolwork. The fifteen minute period between the end of study hall and curfew were considered “recreational periods” in which the students could visit each other’s rooms, but they were expected to be back in their own rooms promptly at 10:30. These tightly regulated and required study periods would have, in some part, increased how prepared students were for class, which would certainly add to the overall classroom experience. [iii]
It was not only Dorm Life that was strictly regulated by the college. In 1940, all meals were compulsory for all students (with the exception of breakfast for Seniors everyday and all other students on Saturdays and Sundays) and most extra curricular activities, including trips to town, dates, and weekend trips, could only be done with “special permission from the Dean of Women.”[iv] Dates in particular were heavily regulated. All male callers were required to be on the “Calling List” before they could call on a student (out of town boys could only be added to the list after written permission was granted from the student’s parent) and upon arrival at MWC, they would have to pick up a “Calling Card” from the Dean of Women.[v]
As years passed in the decades, there were some subtle changes in these rules. Most significant changes came between the 1945/1946 and 1946/1947 school years. Since the first handbook of the decade all students had gained the right to skip breakfast any day of the week and ride bikes without parents permission. In 1946 however, students were allowed to begin hanging things on their walls, bring electronic devices other than a lamp into their room, and skip any meal at any time.[vi] The lights out time was also moved back from 11pm to midnight on Saturdays and “two or more Seniors with approved escorts” were allowed to go to the movies on weekends.[vii] While students did gain many liberties over the decade, some new rules were also put in place during that time period as well. Rules about smoking and electronic devices in the rooms were added to the handbook during the decade.
While it is true that many present day Mary Washington students would find life at the college in the 1940s unimaginable, it is important to note that some values have stayed consistent throughout the years since 1940. Even then, students were required to sign the honor pledge on all of their graded work and the honor code itself was still regarded as one of the most important aspects of life at the college. [viii]
[i] Juanita Carpenter ed., The Bayonet, 1939-1940 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).
[ii] Juanita Carpenter ed., The Bayonet, 1939-1940 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).
[iii]Juanita Carpenter ed., The Bayonet, 1939-1940 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).
[iv]Juanita Carpenter ed., The Bayonet, 1939-1940 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).
[v]Juanita Carpenter ed., The Bayonet, 1939-1940 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).
[vi] Lelia Marsh, Miriam Riggs, Ellen Campbell eds., The Bayonet, 1946-1947 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).
[vii]Lelia Marsh, Miriam Riggs, Ellen Campbell eds., The Bayonet, 1946-1947 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).
[viii]Juanita Carpenter ed., The Bayonet, 1939-1940 (R.A. Kishpaugh Print, Fredericksburg, VA).