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Life in the Class of 1910

By Sydney T. Collins.

 

     September 1906 saw the largest Freshman class in the College's history enter Beloit. Through the untiring efforts of Henry Dickinson Smith, a young alumnus but recently engaged as Field Secretary, 133 Freshmen appeared on the campus. I was one of these.

     We arrived to find the town plastered with Sophomore procs in which we were vilified, belittled and scorned in true Sophomore style and challenged to mortal combat set for the following Saturday afternoon in the City Park,

     A morning or two later we awoke to find that our class had replied in kind and the freshman proc adorning all the available walls, telephone poled and sidewalks about town. This mystified most of us not a little as we had not known of any concerted defensive action on the part of our class. In fact we did not know who our classmates were. We soon learned however, that our procs had been composed, printed and distributed by a half dozen members who were entering as Freshmen from the Academy. They formed the small nucleus among the Freshmen who knew each other and directed the only early concerted action in the name of the Class of 1910.

     Two of these classmates from the Academy, Brandt and Bunge, had been seized in their room the night before by the Sophomores. They had been driven ten miles out into the country, their shirts taken off, Sophomore procs pasted on their bare backs and thus adorned had been left to make the best of their way back to Beloit.

     On Friday noon of our first week in college the Sophomores had hoisted their class flag on top of the little cupola surmounting the roof of Middle College and a dozen members of their class had stationed themselves on the roof and on the top floor of the building to guard the emblem.

     Our class was scheduled to meet at the Library at 1 o'clock where Prof. Jimmy Blaisdell1 was to instruct us in how to use the Library.

     Some ten or twelve of us Freshmen never arrived for that class and went through four years of college in complete ignorance of how to use the Library!

     As we crossed the campus we saw the sophomore flag on Middle College and decided to do something about it. Led by Bert Johnson – "Big Johnny" – an Academy Freshman from Dakota, we made a dash up the stairs of Middle College, to be met on the top floor by the Sophomore legions. Big Johnny and several others got through and reached the cupola and in the ensuing melee Sawyer, the Sophomore president, was thrown from the cupola to the roof below and suffered a broken arm.

     The rest of us battled in the third floor hall and were finally overcome by superior numbers. Half a dozen of us were tied hand and foot with our own belts and suspenders and stuck under a couple of tables in a third floor recitation room.

     I remember one of our number, a short chunky kid from Iowa named Yenerick, who went through a complicated series of gymnastic maneuvers to get a persistent fly off his nose. He finally succeeded but not before he had given the rest of us much acute enjoyment.

     We finally burst our bonds and were free men once more.

     The cane rush was scheduled for two o'clock the next afternoon in the City Park. We Freshmen under the guidance of the Juniors met in a vacant lot on the north side of Chapin St. between Harrison and Park. We had on our oldest clothes. Our cheeks and chins were daubed with green paint for identification purposes,

     We had the six canes for possession of which the sophomores would join battle in the Park. They were stout hickory canes an inch in diameter with curved handles. The handles of each two canes were to be hooked together at the given signal and four of the biggest fellow in the Class were to plop flat on the ground, their bodies covering each pair of canes. On top of these twelve fellows, twelve others were to pile themselves as an additional protection for the canes. The rest of us were to form in a circle about this pile and keep off the charging Sophomores.

     The rush was to last fifteen minutes and in order to win the Sophomores must capture or break a majority of the six canes. If they failed the Freshmen were to be proclaimed winners.

     It sounded exciting and strenuous, but nothing more, and we marched to the City Park in high spirits. A few of the less robust may have had a gone feeling in the pit of their stomachs, but most of us were looking forward to the battle.

     One of the less muscular of the class, a fellow named Smith, marched by my side and confided to me that he would really rather be somewhere else at the moment. "But," he said, "I couldn't stay away. Think of the disgrace!" I have always held that to his credit.

     The whole College and much of the town was crowded around the battle ground as we marched up. Our Freshman girls with green sashes and hair ribbons were lined up on one side to give us their moral support. Opposite were the Sophomore girls and their lowering champions.

     Hal Townsend, Senior Glass president, and the president of the Juniors, who acted as judges, examined the canes and explained the rules to both sides.

     Then the starting gun was fired and the battle was on!

     Our bottom layer of cane protectors fell on the ground with the canes under them. The second layer plopped on top of them. The rest of us quickly formed our protective circle facing the foe – and then the enemy was upon us!

     The first shock of the attack piled up attackers and defenders in a series of struggling, wriggling heaps. Some few attackers got through to the central pile and attempted to pull the recumbent Freshmen from the canes. They were seized in turn by the defending Freshmen and pulled off, sometimes bringing a cane defender with them.

     All was a confused mass of struggling, sweating contestants tearing up the grass and kicking up a cloud of dust that got in our eyes and mouths and noses.

     Fifteen minutes sounds like a short time. To all of us it seemed like an eternity! After three minutes had elapsed there wasn't one of the hundred-odd contestants who wasn't completely "all in." Not one who wouldn't have paid real money to be able to crawl off somewhere and just lie in the shade and cease to exist! But alas, such happiness was not to be! We struggled on, pulling and tugging and heaving, some without shirts, some minus a pant-leg, some sick at their stomachs, – all deadly weary and hot and dirty!

     Here and there on the edge of the battle could be seen a Freshman and a Sophomore lying on the ground locked in each others arms and neither moving – an individual cessation of hostilities by mutual consent. But the majority battled on, somewhat more feebly than formerly perhaps, but still giving their best.

     Twice there were sharp cracks as a cane was finally captured and broken. Then the struggling would take on new fury for a time, but only for a short time for both sides were almost exhausted.

     Finally, after what I swear with Falstaff was "a long hour by the Shrewsbury clock", the gun was fired and the battle ended. The field was strewn with torn shirts, parts of sweaters, legs of trousers. It was also strewn with pale, dirty, perspiring underclassman, some deathly sick – all sincerely thankful that the cane rush was over!

     An examination of the canes showed that only two of the six had been broken. This gave the victory to our class. None of us seemed to care much at the moment, but later that night, when over our battle fatigue, at our first class party at Hazel McIntosh's on Emerson Street2, we celebrated fittingly. Sammy Ransom, a fine colored boy, member of our class from the Academy, made a notable speech at the party and paid tribute to Henry D. Smith who had gathered us all together and had been drowned in Lake Geneva just before college opened.

     Beloit in those days had two quite distinct types in the student body. There were the regular high school graduates who followed their high school graduations in June by entering Beloit the following September. They were just the average 18 or 19 year old boys and girls bent on a liberal arts education. Some of them were working their way through college, in whole or in part, but most were financed by their parents.

     The other type was the older student, man or woman who had started at Beloit with some earlier class, had been forced to drop out for financial reasons, and then belatedly had come back to complete his college career. Some had taught school for several years between high school and college and were entering as Freshmen at 24 or 25 years of age. There were a great many of these more mature students on the campus and our class had its full share. Quite a number intended eventually to enter the ministry and during their college days acquired a few dollars and some good experience by preaching on a Sunday at the small country churches in the vicinity.

     With all due respect to Beloit man and womanhood, this class of students included some queer looking and queer acting specimens of every size and shape.

     The student body was mainly from Wisconsin, with Illinois furnishing the second largest numbers of students. As I remember it, Iowa came next and then Minnesota. We had many students from those two states and a considerable number also from the Dakotas. Most of the students came from the small towns and the farms. The contingent from Chicago itself was very small.3

     A large minority of our class were farm boys and girls. These boys all came to college wearing a distinctive type of headgear. It was as distinctive then as the green freshman skull caps of today and consisted of a broad-brimmed felt hat with telescoped crown of the most ghastly brindle shade imaginable! Out class must have boasted – if boast is the word, which I doubt! – fifteen of these atrocious skypieces.

     Most of these same farmer boy Freshmen by their Senior year, however, had undergone a complete transformation and were hardly recognizable as the same fellows with their long coats and peg-top trousers and their little round caps on the backs of their heads. The vast majority had also undergone interior changes of equal or even greater magnitude.

     There were plenty of earnest, hardworking students in Beloit in those days, but there were a considerable number, boys of course, who were seeking out the easiest kind of campus existence possible. Some of them exerted great effort to discover and enroll in reputed "snap" or "lunch" courses such as Teddy Wrightfs "Greek Art" and "Greek Lit", Prof. Calland's "Roman Antiquities" – better known as "Roman Iniquities" – Dean Collies "Archeology", Jonathan Risser's Biology and some other reputedly soft spots like Astronomy.

     Once in a while a snap hunter, following a classmate's recommendation, found that he had mistakenly embarked upon a really tough semester's work. Then loud were his lamentations and severe the reprimands and abuse he heaped upon his false friend! Great, however, was the enjoyment of his fellows on these occasions!

     It has always been a matter of great pride and often no little wonder to me to observe the successes of the Beloiters of my generation. The overwhelming majority have made conspicuous successes in life – and the fellows that seemingly skimmed through on snap courses have been as successful as the others!

     The Big Hill Day tradition was started in our Freshman year. Along about the middle of October classes were adjourned for a day and the whole college, students, faculty and faculty wives, went on a picnic up the river to Big Hill. Big Hill Day remains at one of my happiest Beloit memories. Too bad it had to be given up!

     Several new professors entered Beloit in the fall of 1906 with our class. Among them were Prof. Fairfield in French, Prof. Dubee in German, Prof. Culver in Physics, Dr. Howard Smith in Chemistry, Prof. Baker in English, Mr. Hotchkiss in Rhetoric.

     As was the custom, we elected a faculty member as an honorary member of our class. Our choice was Dr. Howard Smith. "E. G."4, hearing of the election, promptly accepted and thanked us for the honor. He came loyally to all our parties and to our class breakfasts at Alumni reunions. I don't think he ever knew he hadn't really been elected. At every class breakfast he stood up and invited us all to breakfast the next year at his house – and then promptly forgot all about it. We never got there.

     Those were the days when Beloit was still leading them all in Forensics. In our Sophomore year Heth, '085, won the Interstate Oratorical Contest and Sarett, '11, repeated in our Senior year. Beloit won practically all her intercollegiate debates also in our college days.

     Chapin Hall was a boy's dormitory all through our four years, with meager equipment in the bedrooms and terrible meals in the dining room. North College was a dormitory when we were Freshmen and then was turned into classrooms.

     I greatly enjoyed "Fairy's" French classes. Under his stern looking exterior he had a magnificent sense of humor and interlarded his French instruction with lots of interesting side-lights on life in France and comments on things in general.

     I remember when he presided at a mass meeting in the Gym, the occasion being Johnny Pfeffer's birthday. He Introduced Johnny with the paraphrase, "The hand that rocks the steeple, rules the campus!"

     Johhny replied with his usual "students body" introduction!

     I had German under Prof. Dubee first year and disliked him exceedingly. His family hadn't yet arrived in Beloit and he was most unhappy and consequently crabby in the extreme.

     Fairweather from the University of Illinois, the new coach, entered with our class. He was a giant of a man and undoubtedly could play football himself but he was most inarticulate and was no teacher.

     All the time I was in college we had very poor football teams but did outstandingly well in baseball. In the latter sport we beat Notre Dame, Purdue, Nebraska, Minnesota, Northwestern and Iowa and many small colleges of our own size. We did well also in track athletics and the last two years also had good basket ball teams.

     Tuition during my college days was $44.00 a semester. It had but recently been raised from $32.00. I spent $450.00 each year I was in Beloit. That included tuition, board and room at the Phi Psi House, laundry, books, railroad fares – everything.

     Classes began at 7:40 in the morning. Chapel was five days a week at 11:40 and vespers at 4:30 on Sunday. Many of fellows "beefed" about Chapel and cut as often as they dared, but once they were graduated remembered the Chapel service as one of the choicest experiences of their four years at Beloit.

     An accurate record was kept of the longest prayer. To the best of my knowledge, "Chevy" Chase6 held the championship with 3 minutes and 47 seconds actual elapsed time.

     At Commencement in our Freshman year the Senior Class, '07, presented the College their stone arch at the southeast corner of the campus. What an architectural atrocity that was and what a waste of good money! I'm glad it was pulled down.7

     The next year '08 bequeathed their stone bench by the Chapel – a slight improvement over the arch motif but not an inspired bequest.

     In 1909 the Seniors handed over the College, represented by Mr. Kilbourne, a sum of money toward the purchase of a new pipe organ for the Chapel. As "Killy" remarked in accepting the gift, if fifty succeeding classes would follow suit, the new organ would become a reality!

     On that same occasion Teddy Knudsen, the '09 class president, handed down the cap and gown to our 1910 class grouped around the Rostra. In his speech he kept referring to the cap and gown as "symblems" of Seniority. The new word bequeathed to us pleased us fully as much as the cap and gown.

     When our own Commencement came along we left a sum of money with which to purchase new caps and gowns for the Vesper Choir. At last class gifts had been put upon a sane and practical basis!

     Enjoyment of our Class Day exercises was not complete in my case. I was to deliver a speech as we planted our ivy against the wall of Science Hall. Half way through my mind became a complete blank. After gazing alternately into the crown of my cap and the grinning faces of the surrounding Alumni, who greatly enjoyed my discomfiture, I stumbled on to very weak close. I remember in particular the sardonic grin on the face of Mussey, '01, in the crowd. I could have slain him. It would have been justifiable homicide, I'm sure!

     Strange to relate, our ivy grew and grew through the years while other ivies pined away and died on every side. "E. G." explained it ail. Our ivy had not been smothered with oratory.

     Periodically at mass meetings before football games and in Round Table editorials the time honored subject of "Beloit Spirit" was given consideration. The speakers and the editorial writers all came to the same conclusion – the Beloit Spirit was not dead, it had just been dormant. Fearfully bucked up by that pronouncement, the student body would draw a great sigh of relief and decide to live on for another day!

     I remember on one occasion after listening to some student orator hold forth on the "Beloit spirit" for five long minutes, Dean Collie turned wearily away with the remarks: "They milked that old cow dry years ago!" which was much to the point.

     We were all secretly proud of tall, dignified President Eaton. He was a fine figure of a college president and made the proper impression when he went abroad. To us he seemed to move in a rarified atmosphere and at first we mistakenly came to the conclusion that he was oblivious to the little every-day happenings on the campus. We learned in time how mistaken that idea was.

     One fine Spring Sunday evening in our Sophomore year the Betas were entertaining their lady friends at a sing in the old Beta House at the end of College Street. The Phi Psis were getting ready for bed and pajama-clad groups were loafing around the House when someone suggested a call on the Sigs on Milwaukee Road.

     We all trouped out into the soft night air in pajamas and slippers and repaired to the Sig house. Tom Harris had brought along his cornet and we lined up in front of the Sigma Chi porch and saluted our neighbors.

     Sigma Chi heads popped out of every window and their pajamad owners invited us in. After a short visit a joint call on the Betas and their girls were suggested. The idea was enthusiastically received and a couple of dozen mixed Greeks jogged off by back streets on the rather long trip to the Beta House.

     Arriving their we found the Betas parading in the moonlight with their ladies. Tom gave them a few calls on the bugle, we added a few yells and a couple songs, and, the Betas seeming strangely inhospitable, we set off again at a long jog for our respective homes. The next day the campus was agog. The Betas felt outraged. Some of the girls had recognized their Phi Psi and Sig friends, and buttonholed them in the Library and after class to deliver curtain lectures on the unseemly conduct of the night before. I listened to such an unbraiding myself in embarrassed silence.

     President Eaton had had his ear to the ground. That is perhaps the wrong way to put it, for tom's trumpet and the Greek choruses had done something to the welkin for blocks around.

     At chapel that noon Prexy stood tall and stern behind the lectern. He spoke of how necessary it was for college students to remember to set a good example in the town, that their actions would be copied by the young children – and more in the same vein. At a bonfire on the campus a week before, he said, several college students had appeared attired in not the best of taste. (These had been some fellows from Chapin Hall who staged a pajama parade around the fire.)

     Influenced by this example, Prexy continued, a number of high school boys had created an unseemly disturbance the night before.

     Here and there in front of me I could see necks and ears getting red as fire as the shots went home!

     This was most deplorable, said Prexy, and it was to be sincerely hoped that such a thing would not happen again.

     We had been effectively, though very diplomatically, completely rebuked!

     Much attention was given to class athletic contests. Each class had its football, baseball and basket ball teams and the contests between them were spirited, to say the least.

     I remember one class baseball game, "what time we overcame the Nervil," that started at 3:30 after classes and was still going strong at 7 o'clock. In addition to base hits and errors these games were replete with ingenious vituperation and invective. I caught on our 1910 team. Our pitcher was the General Attorney for the Pennsylvania Railroad.8 Our third baseman was the head of the Chemistry Department of Beloit College.9

     In the outfield a Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin disported himself.10 It was truly an imposing aggregation. Small wonder then that we won all our games – though none of them by legal decisions!

     Our Senior year marked the passing of "Prep." No more the Academy boys would chant their famous war cry at football games, "Papa! Papa! Papa! Pa! 'Cademy! 'Cademy! Rah! Rah! Rah!"

     I majored in English and wrote my thesis on the Arthurian Legends, chiefly on Mallory's ''Mort d' Arthur". The only distinction the thesis had was that "Chevy" Chase said it was the longest ever turned in in his Department – over 10,000 words! A rather questionable merit, I would say.

     I had the requisite number of hours for a major in history also. I once wrote a paper in that department on "Transcendentalism in Medieval Life." The reason I remember it is because it came back with a notation in his well-known hand: "well conceived and executed." I felt considerably puffed up about it.

     As I look back, it seems that transcendentalism in our life on the campus was pretty much of a dead issue and existed only in lectures on Medieval history. In following generations I am confident it got even deader!

     Our original 13311 members had dwindled to 57 when Commencement Day in June 1910 ushered us out into an expectant world!

  1. Professor James A. Blaisdell, son of Professor J.J. Blaisdell and later President of Pomona College.
  2. Later occupied by the Pi Beta Phi sorority, 717 Emerson St.
  3. According to Catalogue, 4. The proportion of Illinois to Wisconsin students (inc. Beloit itself) was about as 4 to 7.
  4. The much loved Professor Erastus Gilbert Smith, scientist, city-mayor, member of the legislature, banker.
  5. Brother of Mrs. Irmgard H. (C. W.) Boardman, at this writing House Director of Centennial Hall – Mr. Boardman and herself both Beloit graduates.
  6. Professor Frank Chase, Professor of English; later of distinguished connection with the Boston Public Library.
  7. The Arch now finds an enhanced function as an outside doorway incorporated in the new western portion of the Eaton Chapel.
  8. Guernsey Orcutt.
  9. Professor Paul W. Boutwell, successor to Professor E. G. Smith.
  10. Justice John D. Wickhem, currently Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the College.
  11. The Catalogue lists 134 – possibly due to some entrance after the opening of the year.