One hundred years ago, things at the University were a lot different, as I learned while reading the 1914-1915 issues of The Argus. The following letter is one that a sophomore might have written home to his family in early November of 1914.
I’m still tingling all over from what Irving Bacheller said at the first college smoker. Yes, you read that right, kid brother: The author of “Eben Holden” spoke here on Saturday night. It was bunk! The venue was the Eclectic Society, which is a grand, old building on High Street that reeks of piety and class. I managed to jot down some of what he said—much of it was centered on the war in Europe, as most everything is these days.
“You college men must prepare to be peacemakers,” Bacheller boomed. “Only the strong men can use peaceful words in trying occasions. Jesus Christ is your king and my king.”
It’s true, isn’t it? Jesus Christ is king of us all.
As I write this, it’s a quiet Sunday morning, and I’m sitting on the porch of my house in my underclothes. There’s a nice chill in the air. I’m enjoying a cigarette, too—the Wesleyan Store carries almost everything you could ever think to want. By the way, Jimmy, could you please tell Mother and Daddy that I could use a new pair of long johns? Thanks, kid brother.
Did I tell you that I’ve pledged Psi Upsilon? I’ve been wearing my button nonstop. I’m just looking for the right girl to pin. It’s not as easy as you’d think; the selection of girls in Middletown and at surrounding schools is pretty paltry. Last week, at the Sophomore Hop just before the Trinity game (we slaughtered them), there were some keen female guests, but I was too shy to talk to any of them. Can you believe they stopped admitting girls just before I got here? Just my luck. But no matter; I think I might be falling for my best friend, Orville. You wouldn’t understand such things, Jimmy. Don’t tell Mother and Daddy.
Anyway, enough about all that. You’re too young to be thinking about that stuff—last I checked you were just 14. Still my kid brother!
There are 443 Wesleyan students this year, and nearly all of them attended that Trinity game. What a swell time: before the game was the Fall Fashion out in Parade, with freshmen dressed up as people from 49 B.C. until 1960 (wow, can you imagine such a futuristic time?)! It was truly bunk. The nostalgia for the “famous eighties,” when Wesleyan beat even old Harvard, was palpable. A lot of old geezers who played during the 1880s were there looking menacing.
As The Argus (what a wonderful publication; I read it cover to cover when it comes out twice a week) put it, “A glimpse may be given of styles worn back in the good old days of Adam and Eve”! It’s true, Jimmy: some men were nude. “Fat men, lean men, long men, short men, pretty men, ugly men, wooly men, and all,” is how the Argus summarizes the show. Dilly!
But the most exciting part of the day was that the pictures were taken by a moving-picture camera. It warms my heart to know that my grandchildren will be able to share the moment with me.
I’ll be enrolled in a new course this week. Because of the conditions in Europe—I’m sure you’re all listening to the radio broadcasts at home—many men desire to know more about the continent. So Professor Dutcher is now teaching “Modern European History,” which should cover Europe from 100 years ago, 1814, just up until the present. I sure do hope things in Europe get resolved real quick, Jimmy, but don’t fret too much about it. The best Uncle Sam can do is to keep out of it.
A few pals and I are heading into Middletown this afternoon to get some pictures taken. We’ve been seeing the advertisements for this new shop everywhere: “Photo’s (sic) of Men: We Will Please You, Either Separately or in Groups.” Who could refuse an offer like that? I’m not as pretty as Douglas Fairbanks, of course, but in my new trousers I could just pass for Fatty Arbuckle. Just gassing you! The food here is bunk but not quite as good as Mother’s roasts.
I’ve been fretting over which clubs to join this year. The Glee Club Trials are soon, but I’m afraid I haven’t got the nicest singing voice. There are also Bible Study rallies, but I fear I’d look like a heathen, what with my scant knowledge of the scriptures. Maybe the Debate Society is the right gig for me; last week, the topic was “Resolved, that the U.S. government should own and control the telegraph and telephone lines.” Can you imagine such a thing, Jimmy? The government controlling the telegraph and telephone lines and eavesdropping on all of our conversations? The modern world is full of terrors.
Anyway, tell Mother and Daddy that I won’t be coming home to Chicago for Thanksgiving this year. The train trip would eat up half of the entire vacation! Instead, I’ll stay and dine at the College Lunch with all the other holiday orphans. The food isn’t half bad, though I’ll miss Mother’s cranberry sauce. But the Lunch has a telephone, so I’ll give you a ring on Turkey Day and tell you what I’m thankful for.
Finally, please tell Mother and Daddy not to worry if they’ve heard anything about the cowpox outbreak here on campus. About 150 students have come down with the itchy condition after getting vaccinated for smallpox, so I haven’t gone anywhere near a needle. I’ll take my chances. How serious can smallpox be, anyway?