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You Come in as a Squirrel and Leave as an Owl

By Trinity Peacock-Broyles '03

Before she graduated in May, Trinity Peacock-Broyles took a personal interest in Smith history and spent a few afternoons in the College Archives sifting through century-old student handbooks and newspapers. What follows is her idea of the life of a Smith student some 100 years ago.

I miss President Seelye's cow. Even though I never met her, I feel a special connection to the cud-chewing pacifist that I've seen in pictures circa 1875–1910. I'd like to return (maybe for a week) to the idyllic days when President Seelye's cow grazed in what was then considered a "neglected area" of campus and is now the Science Quad.

Think of how relaxing it would be to walk to class and see a cow peacefully grazing alongside your path. I think that every president should have a cow, as a memento of Smith's noble traditions and a reminder to live simply (while of course acting locally and globally). Maybe the senior class could make a generous gift of a dairy cow to President Christ and forthcoming senior classes could pay for veterinary bills, boarding in the winter and perhaps some hay.

Photo courtesy Smith College Archives

Speaking of hay at Smith, I am equally fascinated by a picture in "Celebrating a Century: The Botanic Garden of Smith College" that shows three women in long dresses crossing the future Burton Lawn while farmhands pile hay onto a wagon. I would love to be one of those women, for a little while at least. This area was known as the "Back Campus" around 1894 when this photo was taken. Along with the idyllic scene of an open field and a glimpse of a small greenhouse, I examine the structure occupying the "knoll." Instead of seeing Wright Hall, early students (perhaps bearing the names of Teedy, Teddy, Tansy, or Babs, Bunny or Bounce) would have seen the Smith observatory, "devoted to the study of the heavens," as described by the Hampshire Country Journal. Built in 1886, this lovely work of architecture included a dome twenty-one feet in diameter made of iron and fitted with a telescope that "even the slenderest hand among the fair pupils" of Smith could easily turn. I'm sure that most Smith students today would have no trouble swinging it around.

As I'm not so much of a science person, instead of spending my week down memory lane studying the heavens, I might prefer to play some basketball. My time travel could take me no further than 1893, when the first women's basketball game in the country was played at Smith. Looking through old local newspapers and photographs, I see that I would need to adjust to having nine players on a team and to competition between classes, not colleges. The bulky and unrevealing uniforms might be ugly and uncomfortable, but it would not matter because no male admirers could attend games. "A woman out of her normal attire was not fit to be seen by a male," according to Senda Berenson, instructor of physical culture at Smith, who introduced the game to women.

To play the game I would have to show "good carriage and neatness of appearance," and I could never "snatch" the ball away from another young lady because that would be an infringement of the rules. I would be called "Miss Peacock-Broyles," though it's a mouthful, and I would have to get used to yelling at my teammates, "Hey, Miss Hale, catch!" or "Heads up, Miss Baker!"

I'll have to follow many more rules to avoid getting kicked out. As the Smith saying goes, you "come in as a squirrel, and leave as an owl." I wouldn't have wanted to be a "squirrel" in 1918 when the college rules required students to obey "quiet hours" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 to 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. And when the lights were extinguished at 10 p.m., students had to be in their rooms. I would watch out for the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education, which issued "flunk notices" generously, and make sure I didn't "fuss" (entertain men) or become a "grind" (study too much).

The social restrictions extended to off-campus behavior as well. I'd make sure to remember that "Rumor is the Patron Saint of Northampton" and to read the Bulletin for facts. I'd watch out for the "Politeness Policemen," an organization whose regulations forbid more than two girls to walk abreast on Northampton sidewalks, and included an injunction against eating while walking on Main Street. I'd keep in mind the popular verse: "The gum-chewing girl and the cud-chewing cow -- The difference? Oh yes, I see it now! It's the thoughtful look on the face of the cow!" And before leaving my room, I'd remember yet another rule: "Don't go below Beckman's [candy store] without a hat. Your reputation will go further below if you do."

Despite the rules, there were many ways for Smithies to enjoy themselves. For fun, I could take the trolley to Old Hadley or a carriage ride for 25 cents. I could go to the "libe" and read a book or, if I were feeling especially adventurous, I could become a "grass cop," one of those "stalwart girls" who is privileged to blow loudly on their whistles as a sign for some thoughtless student to get off the grass. I could go bowling in the Alumnae Gym's alley, participate in archery or play golf. If these were to aggravate my "feminine disposition," I could always turn to canoeing, perhaps borrowing one from a student who'd brought her own to school and kept it at the boathouse.

I could attend the Junior Frolic dance, decorate Sophia Smith's grave along with the freshmen of Dewey House on Memorial Day or join one of the many senior sings on the steps of the Student's Building. I might win the hoop-rolling contest and be destined to become the first bride, and I could show off my other "stunts" along with my fellow students.

I'd be a tired dog at the end of my week of time travel. But come to think of it there's one thing I miss even more than President Seelye's cow -- the Smith College fees in 1923: $200 for tuition, with $250 for board and $100 for a room.

 
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