Mary Washington College in the 1930's

The Student Experience

Social Life


There were many clubs on campus as well as a few academic “fraternities” (the term sorority hadn’t surfaced yet). In 1932 there were: Glee Club, Orchestra, Commercial Club, and Dramatic Club you could also participate in the Bullet and the Battlefield. By the end of the decade the school had added quite a few more: Cotillion Club, English Club, German Club, International Relations Club, Riding Club, and the Town Girls Club which was a branch of a YWCA and they focused on uniting day students and residential students. The YWCA had a very large impact on campus and was the sole sponsor of the student handbooks in the thirties. Most of the handbooks had a third or more of the pages devoted to the YWCA and the different sections and clubs of the organization.

“Cotillion Club Opening Page.” University of Mary Washington Special Collections Library. (accessed February 15, 2012).

Rules and Social Expectations

Some ones that were particularly intriguing were that students could not leave campus or their rooms (after lights out) and could not even spend the night in another girl’s dorm room without permission and they could not cut class to get away for the weekend. If a student wanted to leave campus she must get it approved by the Dean of Women. Students were only allowed to go off campus for religious services and if they went in groups (upperclassmen in threes and lowerclassmen in fours). Automobiles were especially restricted; students could only ride in them if it was with a member of their immediate family.

Another thing that that was odd was how some rules contradicted each other. One rule stated that students could not stand walk or sit with men but the handbook later states that students could stroll with dates on campus on Sunday afternoon. I’m not sure if campus was considered “public” or if there was some other exception that made sense for the time. Another contradiction was that all of the classes (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) were granted certain privileges (for example seniors could miss breakfast whenever they wanted) but those privileges could be revoked if a student was to use them too frequently. The purpose of the privileges is to use them whenever you see fit it seems strange that they were so restrictive.

May Day

“May Queen and Court 1931.” University of Mary Washington Digital Archives. (accessed March 16, 2012).

May Day was one of the biggest social events of the school year for the women of Mary Washington College. A celebration of spring, preparations for this day were made well in advance, with May Court tryouts occurring in February. A list of nominees was prepared by each class. Candidates then promenaded and was voted upon by their fellow classmates to be representatives in the May Court. During the actual event, the students would wear evening dresses while promenading to music while the audience observed their poise and beauty. There would then be a processional led by the May Queen and the Maypole dancers, followed by the classes in order. It was a day of singing and dancing together, and one of the largest social events the women of Mary Washington College looked forward to.

“May Court, 1939.” University of Mary Washington Digital Archives. (accessed March 16, 2012).

The Bullet

The Bullet, a student run and written newspaper, offers us a look into the past minds of the students themselves. Here we can see what information the students deemed important enough that they would want it published and sent out for the whole University to see and read. Most of the information during the 1930’s centers around the social aspect of the school. Here students could read about what dances were being held and where. They could find out current events or news within each individual club. Or they could even find out who was dating who and if the lovely couple was getting engaged or not. There are several key articles that were published on a regular basis and these articles are highlighted below.

  • Personals’: From the very beginning of our era the ‘Personals’ column ran continuously in The Bullet. Here a list of student’s personal social engagements were published. If a student went home for the weekend it would be published; if a student went to stay with friends in another city it would be published; if a student went out on a date it would be published. Later these articles took the title ‘Society’. Here is just an idea of what was contained in these from the Bullet published Wednesday, May 12, 1937, “Phil Herah and Lucile Holloway headed off to Bowling Green while little sister Skippy Herah journeyed to Harrisonburg S.T.C. to visit a friend there.”.
  • ‘We Asked Why’: Every printing of We Asked Why’ features a different and separate major and highlights the motivation of several students. What it aimed to know was why each individual student chose their particular major and what they planned to do in their professional lives. In The Bullet, dated October 23, 1935, ‘We Asked Why’ features eight students. One student, Miss Mildred Ware, was asked  why she chose Home Economics as her major. Her answer is simple, “…her family, in one of their optimistic moments, thought it appropriate training for married life”.
  • ‘News of  the World’: News from around Fredericksburg, the US and the world were briefly highlighted. These columns featured in the beginning of the 1930’s were just briefly highlighted. Later in the decade the column expanded to more detailed news and even became a separate section of the paper titled Collegiate Digest’ that featured mainly pictures from colleges around the nation.
  •  ‘Club Activities’: Featured upcoming events and activities of the following clubs and organizations: Glee Club, Orchestra, Commercial Club, and Dramatic Club Cotillion Club, English Club, German Club, International Relations Club, Riding Club, French Club, Book Club, Choral Club, Town Girls Club, Student Government, Young Woman’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A), Science Club, and the fraternities, Pi Omega Phi, Alpha Phi Sigma, Alpha Tau Phi (professional society in elementary education).
  • ‘Fashion Notes’: Featured the newest trends in fashion, clothing, hair, and accessory fads.
  • ‘Keyhole Komments’: Featured the latest gossip from around campus. Here is an example featured in the Wednesday October 23, 1935 printing of The Bullet: “Our last year’s Junior Class has become quite dignified of late -probably looking into the future and qualifying themselves for the profs. of next year. Profs? Dignified? Why Miss Barnett, herself, admitted that she and her roommate used to get under the bed to eat their goodies up so nobody could horn in at that particular moment. Make a mental picture of that!!”

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