Thanksgiving is absolutely one of my top holidays. The principal objective of the day is to eat all of the foods, and I am only too happy to participate. This is the one delightful day where there’s no judgment if you go back for a third helping of mashed potatoes; overindulgence is encouraged! So let’s all have another slice of pie and dig into some archival memories of mealtimes at Mary Washington.
As I was researching something to highlight for this holiday’s celebration of all things culinary, I started discovering a few things about the history of dining here. We all know the UC, and many of us have fond memories of Seacobeck, but how many of us know that the dining hall used to be on the first floor of Willard?
Back in the early days — the Fredericksburg Teacher’s College days — there were stringent dining hall regulations that the young women were expected to follow (there were stringent regulations for most things, as you might expect for a women’s college in Virginia in the early 20th century, but we’ll save that for another time). Dean Edward Alvey’s book, History of Mary Washington College, 1908-1972, gives an impression of what dinnertime looked like around 1928:
“Students were seated at tables of eight. Each table included some members of each of the four classes, with a junior or senior presiding. All meals were served family style, with student waitresses carrying the heavy trays to and from the kitchen. Students were expected to dress neatly for meals. Anything like slacks or hair curlers would be unheard of” (143).
No pants at dinner, ladies.
Alvey also mentions the student waitresses. From the earliest years of the school, waitressing was one of several positions students could work to earn financial assistance. Seacobeck opened as the new dining hall in May of 1931, and as the student body grew, more students sought employment here.
Before the college moved to buffet-style service, waitresses provided table service during mealtimes. They were affectionately known as “slop girls”, and the work was not easy. Alvey describes the position as it would have been sometime in the early 1950s:
“The most numerous and the most remunerative were the positions of waitresses in the dining hall and college tea room. […] Hours for waitresses in the dining hall were long, and their duties were demanding. Waitresses ate before or after the rest of the student body. Heavy trays of food and dishes had to be carried for the table service, which was provided before the later change to a cafeteria form of operation. Waitresses worked seven days a week, with one weekend a month free when a substitute took over for them. They earned approximately sixty-five cents an hour” (335).
However, by 1971, Seacobeck had been transformed into a largely self-service operation, and the slop girls were on to new things.
And as I’m sure we all know (and appreciate), the “all-you-care-to-eat” buffet model carried over to the excellent new dining facilities at the University Center after Seacobeck ended its 84 year run in 2015.
Make more memories (and eat more stuffing), Mary Washington friends! Happy Thanksgiving!