A Feast from the Archives

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Seacobeck Thanksgiving

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.

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Student eating hot dog. 1956.

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?

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Buck Studio. Willard Hall dining room. 1915.

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.

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Student Waitresses. 1952-55.

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Students sit around tables while waitresses take their orders.

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).

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Students dine in Seacobeck. 1964.

However, by 1971, Seacobeck had been transformed into a largely self-service operation, and the slop girls were on to new things.

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Students at Seacobeck Dining Hall.

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!

November 22, 2016

Passion and Political Know-How: Elections at UMW

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This post was written by Maddie Quick, our fall semester Exhibits Intern. Thanks Maddie!

Today is Election Day, and the opening of the exhibit, Passion and Political Know-How: Elections at UMW. As this semester’s Exhibits intern for Special Collections and University Archives, I have been researching and designing this exhibit, highlighting the important Presidential and Congressional elections that sparked political rallies and the participation of student clubs at UMW. Through the years many political figures have visited the University, and several professors have served as both educator and politician, imparting the importance of politics. My exhibit explores student participation in politics and demonstrates that UMW has a strong history as steward to a body of politically-savvy students and politically-passionate professors.

As I created the exhibit, I enjoyed comparing the past and the present effect of elections on UMW. It’s intriguing to see how the student body has changed over the last 100 years while student involvement during election years has always remained high.

Here are a few of my favorite images used in the exhibit from the University Archives.

Students attend a political rally in the Lee Hall Ballroom for the 1964 Barry Goldwater vs. Lyndon Johnson election.

Students attend a political rally in the Lee Hall Ballroom for the 1964 Barry Goldwater vs. Lyndon Johnson election.

Election posters image from the Young Republicans Scrapbook, 1968-1969. Special Collections & University Archives

Election posters on campus from the Young Republicans Scrapbook, 1968-69. Special Collections and University Archives

The exhibit will be on display through January 31, second floor, Simpson Library – stop by and visit!








November 8, 2016

Happy Halloween!

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As the newest staff member in Special Collections and University Archives, I’ve spent my first few days here doing some exploring and getting better acquainted with some of our terrific digital collections. With Halloween just days away, I started searching in that direction and I was not disappointed. I pulled together a few things I think you’ll like, and I’m pleased to share a festive insight to past Halloweens here at Mary Washington.

If you don’t have your costume yet, look no further than our fashionable alumni for some inspiration! A search for “Halloween” in our Centennial Image Collection turns up about a dozen excellent hits, but take a look at some of my favorites:


Students pose for their photograph in their Halloween costumes on the front porch of Willard Hall.
Halloween, 1938. Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.


Two people dressed up as Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy pose for a picture at the very popular
Halloweens party in Goolrick, 1982.
Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives


Smiling students in costume pose for a group photograph, dressed as a Pabst Blue Ribbon six-pack, 1983.
Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives

(Since I know I’ve piqued your interest with these classic ensembles, go ahead and dig deeper in the Centennial Image Collection. It’s visual documentation that Mary Washington has been awesome for more than 100 years.)

Perhaps you’re more the type who prefers to stay in on Halloween? The UMW
archives has something for that too. Grab that big bowl of candy and prepare to
reminisce. The Theatre Poster Collection displays posters created for plays and
musicals dating back as far as 1958 produced by UMW’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Maybe some of our spookier offerings will spur you towards watching that scary movie.


Dracula. 1984. Theatre Poster Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.


Sweeney Todd. 1998. Theatre Poster Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

And if you’re looking for something completely different, check out this article from the Nov. 5, 1973 issue of The Bullet about a former car salesman-turned-pumpkin and his journey back to humanity. You can zoom in on the article and page through the
entire issue.

October 28, 2016

Welcome Back Students!

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This week, UMW welcomed both new and returning students to Fredericksburg.  As classes begin and the University community settles in for another semester, we thought we would share some throwback photos of students returning to campus from previous years.  We wish everyone, especially the new freshmen, a wonderful year!


A student and his mother carry belongings into a residence hall during Move-In Day, 1990s


Students decorate their dormitory room with pictures and pennants, 1960s


A staff member shows two new students how to open their mailboxes, 1960s

These photos and many more of life at Mary Washington during the past can be found in the Centennial Image Collection in Archives@UMW!

August 31, 2016

Mary Washington’s Will

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Working in Special Collections and University Archives, we frequently encounter many fascinating objects.  This summer, we got to see a truly unique item that was quite personal for us — the last will and testament of Mary Ball Washington!

Mary Washington's Will

Mary Washington’s will, 1789 [image used courtesy of Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives]

Working in collaboration with the Washington Heritage Museums and the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives (which owns the document), our staff was able to digitize the will in the Digital Archiving Lab using our Cobra overhead scanner.

Mary Washington's will on the Cobra scanner

Mary Washington’s will on the Cobra scanner

The Cobra allows for high-resolution scanning of fragile bound books and documents, such as this will.  Now that staff at both the Washington Heritage Museums and the Fredericksburg Circuit Court Archives have access to high-quality digital images of the will, they can reproduce it in exhibits and printed materials without having to repeatedly handle the original document.

Digital Resources Librarian Suzanne Chase zooms in on Mary Washington's signature

Digital Resources Librarian Suzanne Chase zooms in on Mary Washington’s signature

Partnering with local cultural heritage institutions to digitize their treasures is one of the most rewarding aspects of our work in Special Collections, and we hope that by digitizing this piece of history, more people will come to know and appreciate Mary Washington the way we do at UMW!

August 15, 2016

Fourth of July, 1944

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How are you planning to celebrate July 4? In 1944 the Mary Washington student body spent their 4th participating in a patriotic War Bond Auction sponsored by the cavalry troop to raise funds for the country’s defense.

Cavalry troop

Cavalry troop

Russell Walther, the riding instructor, was the auctioneer for the event, and the cavalry students were the runners for the auction held in the amphitheatre.

Auctioneer, Russell Walther

Auctioneer, Russell Walther

Items for sale ranged from pillows and pennants to dinners in the homes of professors and movie dates. The highest bid of the event was for a $1,000 war bond purchased by Isabel LeCompte. The “purchase” secured her and her roommate dinner at Dean Edward Alvey’s house.

Dean of Women, Mrs. Nina Bushnell (left) and Dean Edward Alvey (right) view the highest bids with student winner, Isabel LeCompte.

Dean of Women, Mrs. Nina Bushnell (left) and Dean Edward Alvey (right) view the highest bids with student winner, Isabel LeCompte.

The auction netted $3,500.00 to support the war effort. Photographs and information about the auction are from the Victory scrapbook in University Archives.

Victory Scrapbook, 1942-45

Victory Scrapbook, 1942-45

Happy Fourth of July!


June 30, 2016

2016 Alumni Reunion Weekend

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This past weekend, hundreds of alumni ventured to Fredericksburg for the annual Reunion Weekend celebration. This year’s gathering was specifically for alumni who graduated from Mary Washington in years ending with 1 or 6. We hosted a History Harvest and Pop-Up Exhibit table in the University Center where visitors could browse through photos and artifacts from the University Archives and also donate physical and digital items to be added to the permanent collection.

Alumna trying on a beanie from the University Archives

Alumna trying on a beanie from the University Archives

During the event, we spoke with many alums who shared touching and funny stories about their past experiences as students at Mary Washington. Specifically, we had the pleasure of meeting many members of the Class of 1966, as it was their 50 year reunion.

Members of the Class of 1966 find their pictures in the Battlefield Yearbook

Class of 1966 alums locating their pictures in the Battlefield Yearbook

One generous member of this class brought in her treasured scrapbook created over four years as a student at Mary Washington, and donated it to the University Archives’ collection where it will be preserved for current and future students and researchers of University history.

Class of 1966 Scrapbook

Class of 1966 Scrapbook

Attending Reunion Weekend is a special experience for us, since we always learn something new about student life at Mary Washington from the alumni perspective. We look forward to talking with the graduates from years ending with 2 and 7 at next year’s event!

June 6, 2016

Civil War Digital Projects

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In Special Collections and University Archives, we often have the opportunity to work with students, faculty members, and other UMW departments on interesting projects.  Sometimes, we also get to collaborate with organizations outside the University.  One of our recent collaborative projects brought together individuals from all of these different groups, and resulted in two wonderful public-facing digital history and archives websites.  Over the course of the Spring 2016 semester, we worked with students in HIST428, Adventures in Digital History, taught by Dr. Jeffrey McClurken, and staff from the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park to facilitate the digitization of Civil War materials from the Park’s archival collections.

The students worked in two groups to digitize items from the Park’s collections and create digital projects featuring the items and related interpretive content.  The first group focused on a series of letters and documents written by Montgomery Slaughter, the wartime Mayor of Fredericksburg, and George Murray, a Union soldier who fought in the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville.

Montgomery Slaughter

Montgomery Slaughter

George Murray

George Murray

As the students wrote, “Slaughter’s letters provide a look into how the city fared during the War, while Murray’s provide insight into the daily life of a soldier.  Although Slaughter and Murray never met, they represent both the Confederate and Union sides of the conflict who’s experiences converged in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December of 1862.”  The digitized documents written by both individuals, as well as exhibits, a timeline, and a video, can be found at the finished Slaughter-Murray Papers website.

The second group of students worked with a collection of seven diaries kept by Private Stephen Gordon of the 15th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Unit.  The diaries include accounts of Gordon’s daily activities between 1861 and 1866, and provide a unique view of the life of a soldier during the Civil War.

Stephen Gordon

Stephen Gordon

The full collection of digitized and transcribed diaries can be found at the completed Gordon Diaries website, along with exhibits about Stephen Gordon’s life, the battle of Fredericksburg, and a timeline covering the main events of the Civil War in connection with the soldier’s life.

These projects turned out wonderfully, due to the hard work of the students enrolled in the Adventures in Digital History course.  To complete the websites, the students had to master many new tasks, including archival digitization, transcription, metadata creation, website construction, and more.  They also made use of new tools like Photoshop, Omeka, and timeline and mapping programs from Northwestern University’s Knight Lab.  The finished results show the high level of skill and dedication of our UMW students, and will contribute greatly to the scholarship of Fredericksburg during the Civil War.

May 10, 2016

Student Handbook Collection

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This post was written by Grace May, our Digital Archives student aide. Thanks Grace!

I started working in the Digital Archiving Lab in the Fall of 2015 and had an ongoing project of digitizing all of the Mary Washington student handbooks. The handbooks contain rules and regulations that govern the student body as well as conduct policies, campus traditions, and information for incoming freshmen. In 1935, the name of the handbook changed to The Bayonet, but returned to its earlier title, Student Handbook, in 1957.

Digitizing the handbooks was a long project that lasted about 5 months, and required great attention to detail. Throughout the scanning process I started to notice some peculiar traditions that were implemented at Mary Wash and thought about how current students like myself might view them. As a senior History major, these interesting historical tidbits intrigued me. For example, a tradition that lasted for about 20 years was called “Peanut Week,” which began in 1933. A description of the tradition from the 1943 handbook says:

A week before the Christmas Holidays peanut shells are distributed in the dining halls. Within the shell is to be found the name of some student or faculty member to whom one is secretly to “play peanut.” The object of the game is for everyone to see how nice she can be to her “peanut” without the latter finding out just who is the thoughtful person. The culmination of the fun comes in the night of the “Peanut Party” when everyone learns who her heretofore unknown benefactor is.

It would probably be impossible to bring back Peanut Week in 2016 with our growing student body and campus, but it is a nice thought and a good reminder to show kindness to fellow classmates and professors.

Another tradition at Mary Wash that I had heard of is Devil-Goat Day. However, who would have known that there were songs for the Devils and the Goats? Bringing these songs back to campus might be easier than implementing Peanut Week! The words to the songs, from the 1938 handbook, can be seen below:

On page 87 from the 1938 Student Handbook.

I hope that researchers who are interested in what is now the University of Mary Washington and its history will find these tidbits as intriguing as I have, and will check out the digitized collection of student handbooks!

Editor’s note: All 85 volumes of student handbooks within the University Archives, from 1929 to 2016, can now be searched, browsed, and downloaded from the Internet Archive collection.

April 11, 2016

New Accession

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This post was written by Katie Ingebretsen, our Special Collections and University Archives spring semester intern. Thanks Katie!

This semester part of my internship at Special Collections and University Archives included accessioning items into the collection. Accessioning means that I document each new item that is added to the collection, noting the date the item was received, who it was donated by or bought from, where the item is now located and giving it an accession number and description. The accession number is how collection items are tracked and is made up of two parts: one number that refers to the year the piece was accessioned and one number that refers to how many pieces have been accessioned this year (if the item is the 14th piece accessioned this year, the number will be 016-014).

Special Collections and University Archives has received four items this semester. My favorite piece that I accessioned this semester is a small black ceramic piggy bank, circa 1963, with the old school seal on it and the words “Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia” surrounding the seal. The seal is very interesting because it is not the current UMW seal, but the earlier seal featuring both the torch we have on the seal now and a spinning wheel in the background. This dates to the time Mary Washington was a women’s teaching college, and the spinning wheel represents the domestic arts the students learned such as home economics and millinery.

Piggy Bank, 1963

pig 2a

Piggy Bank with early Mary Washington seal, 1963

April 6, 2016