100 Years Ago

Welcome back to the start of another semester in These Unprecedented Times.  

Many of us are anxious, depressed, confused, angry, hurt, stressed, lonely, or all the above. We are all very tired. But amid so much pressing and constant uncertainty, sometimes hopeful conversations emerge. Folks talk about how to help, how to change, and how to move forward to something better. 

In the University Archives, we spend a lot of time looking back. Scholars, historians, and other researchers who use our collections tend to look at our place in a historical context. When I started thinking about this blog, I did the same; I looked back at our history. I wanted to take a look back at the way we moved forward once before.

An aerial view of campus as it appeared in 1928. Willard, Monroe, and Virginia Halls are visible, as are the construction sites for Lee and Chandler Halls. The letters "FSTC" appear in large letters on the lawn below Virginia Hall.
An aerial view of the early campus (Willard, Monroe, and Virginia Halls), with Lee Hall and Chandler Hall construction sites visible.

100 years ago, our country and the world found themselves emerging from the dual tragedies of a crippling World War and a different global pandemic. Our community likely had to grapple with a new normal then, and had to determine how they would adapt to the change. While we here in 2021 think about what our future might look like, we can also take a moment to turn back and consider what we looked like emerging into the twenties of last century. 

It’s remarkable to see the differences, and yet still notice how some things stay so familiar. 

A woman sits alone in a double-occupancy dorm room, backlit by the windows behind her.
A student sits alone in her dorm room in either Willard or Virginia Hall, 1920.

A student alone in her room in 1920 strikes a recognizable pose for those of us here on the other side of 2020. We’re continuing to distance to keep each other safe, which means a lot of alone time for many of us. Depending on your situation, however, time alone might be a luxury.

About thirty students engage in unspecified physical activities on an athletic field, circa 1925.
Players gonna play! Students hit the athletic field, 1925.

Whether distancing alone or safely with family or “pods,” many of our students today stay active as a means of managing stress and finding some fun. Group sports might be a little complicated these days, but Mary Washington students have always found joy in play, whether it’s wearing a mask to work out in the Fitness Center, attending a group fitness class over Zoom, or donning a full calf-length dress for a basketball game. 

Group photo of the 1925 basketball team, dressed in matching scarves and long dresses.
The 1925 Women’s Basketball Team.

Those of us on campus in Fredericksburg might see some shades of the familiar in the photo below. Campus might have fewer Model-T Fords driving by these days, but the steps of Monroe Hall coated in snow is a sight you could see right now. However, now that we’ve adapted so well to virtual learning and working environments, the traditional snow day might be a thing of the past!

A 1920s exterior view of the Monroe Hall portico covered in snow as four women gather on the steps.
No snow days for these students either! Students stand on a snowy Monroe Hall portico.

Campus today is blanketed with snow but few students. But if you happen to be here, and you should find yourself considering picking up a sled and hitting Trench Hill between remote learning sessions and Zoom meetings, remember that your mask doubles as a face-warmer!

If you’ve been on campus recently, in addition to the recent snowfall, you may have also noticed a few changes around Virginia Hall. Mary Washington’s second-oldest residence hall is undergoing renovation to modernize the facilities for our residential students while preserving the architectural legacy of the building.  

Students in the 1920s sit grouped around tables in the library.
Students gather around tables to study in the library when it was contained in Virginia Hall, 1923.

Virginia Hall has been an adaptable building since its first phase of construction in 1914. As shown in the image above, it once housed the library. We’re looking forward to seeing the newest iteration of Virginia Hall and all it can offer to a new generation of students when it reopens in the near future.

100 years from now, I wonder what we will see. What changes are we making in our community today that will make an impact for tomorrow?

All images courtesy of The Centennial Image Collection, University of Mary Washington Special Collections and University Archives.

February 3, 2021