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Campus Stories


Fridays with Fred: Beloit in the Jazz Age, pt. II

April 4, 2013
By Fred Burwell '86

We return this week for a second stroll through Bob Henert's superb 1920s-era photograph albums, recently donated to the Beloit College Archives by his son, Marty Henert '71.

November 1926 found Bob Henert'27 on the spot at the groundbreaking ceremony for the two freshmen men's dormitories, "The Haven" (Haven) and North (Wood). President Irving Maurer and Trustee Theodore Faville, speaking before an attentive Homecoming crowd, had to shout above the noise of workmen pounding nails into forms for the foundations. Less than a year later, 164 men moved into the handsome brick residence halls, pleased to find their rooms equipped with, among other furnishings, Windsor-style armchairs and matching bedspreads and curtains. A single room cost $76.50 per semester; a double, $63.

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Henert delighted in capturing the entire construction process, from initial sod turning to the final touches in September 1927. Here he showcases the art of bricklaying.

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A rare view of the tennis court behind North College (Campbell Hall), with Emerson Street below and "The Haven" rising in the background, nearing completion in June 1927. Houses lined the street next to Haven and North, known as Schiller Place. Twenty years later the college would build the Field House there, and the Sports Center 40 years after that.

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Students in the 1920s participated in a variety of intramural and class contests, not only traditional sports, but bowling and feats of strength and even roller skating. Many contests pitted fraternities against each other. A jolly conga line of Beta Theta Pi men celebrate their championship outside of the Carnegie Library (now WAC).

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Does the driver's stunned expression tell us, alas, that his flivver's run out of gas? The Beloit College Administrative Regulations booklet of 1927 states: "Freshmen will not be allowed to operate motor-driven vehicles while in Beloit College. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors, who wish to operate cars while in Beloit must file requests from their parents and secure a permission from the Dean." Unlike today, few students had cars in the 1920s. Surely those that managed a Model-T, however battered and scuffed up, were the cat's meow, the cat's pajamas, and even the bee's knees.   

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Women at Beloit first shot hoops in 1896, only a year after the college became coeducational and only five years after James Naismith invented basketball. The sport proved extremely popular and the women formed rival teams, competing in intramural contests for decades until Title IX brought intercollegiate play to the college in the 1970s. Henert probably snapped the earliest "action" photo of Beloit College women playing basketball.  

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Beginning in the 1880s, Beloit College became well known for its elaborate productions of Greek plays, directed by one of its most revered and beloved professors, Theodore Lyman Wright. The Christian Science Monitor declared about Beloit, that "no other American town or city has witnessed so many Greek plays." The 1925 Beloit Players production of Alcestis, a drama by Euripides, was Wright's last. "Teddy," as his students called him, died under mysterious circumstances in 1926.

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At the time, Pi Beta Phi was a relatively new sorority at Beloit College, having formed in 1919. These are "chorus girls" from their Silhouette Party, according to Henert's annotation. Beloit's Pi Beta Phi chapter closed in 1971, a period when campus Greek organizations struggled to survive during changing times.

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"Class scraps" between freshmen and sophomore men dated back to the 19th century. When the famous "cane rush" became too violent, the college encouraged other, milder contests. In the 1920s students tried the "bag rush," which was a tamer version of the cane rush, minus the canes. The wild melee took place at Hancock Field, where, in half a dozen years, the college would scythe down a few rows of corn and build Strong Stadium.

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"Beloit College threw aside its textbooks and grabbed a hoe today"—during the teens and '20s, newspapers across the country picked up a news blurb about Beloit College's annual "Logan Day" each April, named after Trustee Frank G. Logan. At a time when the Physical Plant staff numbered only a few workers, students and faculty pitched in for an annual spring cleaning of campus grounds. The Round Table called it "Beloit's Arbor Day when the student body dons blue jeans and calicos, takes the rake and shovel in hand and clears away the unsightly effects of winter."

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Eaton Chapel served as a college community focal point during the 1920s. Students attended a general assembly three times a week and a vesper service on Sunday afternoon. Beloit College enforced stringent attendance requirements. The 1927 Administrative Regulations informs us that an unexcused absence from Vespers led to four demerits, and from Chapel, three demerits.  Students also accrued one demerit per tardiness. The college allowed each student 30 demerits a semester. Any student surpassing 30 demerits achieved Demerit Probation, which, if broken, meant possible suspension. Henert's photo depicts the mass exodus after a weekday chapel service.

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Henert was an extremely busy young man, devoted to many extracurricular activities, not to mention roaming the campus with camera in hand. When did he ever have time to study? Apparently he found a solution, although baffling to some of his friends. While one Bob discussed sociology in Professor Lloyd Ballard's office, another Bob haunted one of Professor "Dickie" Richardson's spellbinding history lectures. Eventually, the two Bob Henerts hunkered down together and compared notes, below:

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To read previous installments of Fridays with Fred, click here.