Category Archives: University Traditions

UMW Reunion Weekend 2018

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Last weekend, UMW saw another successful Reunion Weekend take place. This year, we celebrated alums from years ending in 3 or 8, although all are always welcome! And as Special Collections & University Archives is a department of all alums, this is an especially fun weekend!

Each year during this exciting event, Special Collections sets up in the middle of the action to conduct our History Harvest. During this time, members of our staff and volunteers are available to take physical donations for the archives, digitize materials to add to our digital collections, and provide answers to any questions related to our collections or Mary Washington history. We also had a pop-up exhibit of a few artifacts from our permanent collection, including beanies and vintage copies of The Bullet (now Blue & Gray Press).

Closeup image of a button that reads "UMW Archives" inside a red heart.

We also had free giveaway items! Above is one of the buttons made by library staff to celebrate the day.

Our visiting alums were really in the spirit! Staff enjoyed speaking with the various visitors to our table about their unique memories from their time at Mary Washington. Many alums gleefully thumbed through pages of past issues of The Battlefield yearbook, searching for old friends and professors, and telling great stories along the way.

Two alumni smile and pose together. Both wear alumni nametags, lanyards, and various reunion weekend pins.

Karen Mary Wands Parker, ’73, and Katya Calvo, ’73, visit the History Harvest table.

Alumni also gifted some wonderful gems to our collections this year. One alumna donated her diploma, excitedly pointing out that she was handing it to me exactly 50 years to the day after it was awarded: June 2, 1968. Another alum donated a fork that somehow found its way out of Seacobeck a few decades ago.

A fork with "MWC" stamped on the handle.

A fork with “MWC” stamped on the handle.

We also received a new beanie for our collection, complete with the student’s original name tag and a copy of “Mouse Week Rules” from September 1969. These are rules for how and when freshmen must wear their beanies, and the punishments for infractions. A freshman found without a beanie might be subject to “sing and dance to entertain sophomores and upperclassmen.”

Red and white MWC beanie with an attached handwritten nametag reading "Mary Lee Stevens, Marshall Hall". The beanie partially covers a piece of paper titled "Mouse Week Rules."

An alum’s donated beanie and the accompanying “Mouse Week Rules.”

Other gifts included a lovely framed print of some of the college’s buildings, a collection of campus handbooks and other publications from the late 60s, and a signed copy of a Dean Edward Alvey book.

In addition, this year, Special Collections & Archives stars Carolyn Parsons and Angie White co-taught a session for the Alumni College. About 35 attendees were present in the Digital Auditorium to hear about the fascinating history of our rare books, archives, and digital collections, and to learn some very useful preservation tips for both physical and digital materials.

If you’re an alum who’s wondering about how to make a donation, or if you’d like to know more about the topics covered in the Alumni College class, please let us know! Our staff is always happy to help.

June 8, 2018

May Day Memories

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For almost 55 years, the month of May was synonymous with May Day at Mary Washington. One of the biggest events of the year, the May Day celebration was planned months in advance with each of the classes providing a list of nominees and voting for candidates with the most “poise, bearing, beauty, and queenly presence.”

May Day Program, 1917 and list of student nominees

Held first on May 16, 1914, the event initially was intended to celebrate both the victors of the athletic Field Day events and the elected May Queen and her court. Future years would see the sports portion of May Day dropped and only the May Queen activities remain. The event’s location would also change from its original home in front of Monroe Hall to the newly built amphitheatre in 1923.

Crowning of May Queen Betty Billingsley, 1929

Crowning of May Queen Betty Billingsley, 1929

May Queen Jamie Redwood, 1941

May Queen Jamie Redwood, 1941

The procession always began with heralding trumpeters, followed by the Queen and her attendants, and then the classes in order with their colors. Senior students had the honor of participating in the Maypole dance.

Seniors participating in the Maypole dance.

Senior class attendants participate in the Maypole dance.

Tickets were highly prized, especially once the entertainment expanded in the 1940s to include elaborate orchestrated ballet productions involving much of the student body.

Myron Russell portraying Joan of Arc in the first May Day ballet program, 1941

Myron Russell portraying  Joan of Arc in the first May Day ballet program, 1941

From 1914-1968, campus culture had changed, and by 1968 the Vietnam War was underway. May Day seemed unimportant and outdated to many of the students. In the March 25, 1968 Bullet, abandonment of “May Day, Emerald Ball and the Christmas Formal” was suggested to be “replaced by a fall and spring weekend of greater student interest and participation.”

The following year the Senate unanimously approved a new Spring Festival with an art exhibit, band concert and open air dance to take the place of May Day and with that the long-lived tradition was over.

A brief resurrection of May Day occurred in 2001, as students strived to modernize the event – changing the selection criteria to an essay on school spirit, giving proceeds to breast cancer research and selecting both a king and queen. But long-term interest couldn’t be sustained and by 2003 the tradition that was once the “high point of the semester” was history again.

This summer, Special Collections will have on display a photographic history of May Day, so come by and check out the Library’s second floor exhibit cases or search online for photographs at Special Collections and University Archives: Digital Collections.

Sources Consulted:

Alvey, Edward, Jr. History of Mary Washington College: 1908-1972. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1974.
Crawley, William B., Jr. University of Mary Washington, A Centennial History: 1908-2008. Fredericksburg: University of Mary Washington, 2008.

May 26, 2018

Ghost Goodies and Attacking Aliens!

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Over the years, Mary Washington has gained a reputation for hosting great Halloween celebrations – from the popular Halloweens event described in the eighties as “the biggest party and the biggest weekend of the year” to our current Pumpkin Palooza, a Halloween-themed service day sponsored by COAR to provide safe trick or treating for kids.

Halloweens, 1990

Halloweens, 1990, Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives.

Mary Washington Students Participating in COAR's Halloween Festivities, 1998

Mary Washington Students Participating in COAR’s Halloween Festivities, 1998

As an archivist, I am always curious to know, not only what is happening now on campus, but what was happening “way back in the day” on campus. So I searched “Halloween” in our UMW publications database, Eagle Explorer, and the earliest mention of campus Halloween festivities appeared in the 1914 Battlefield yearbook. The dining hall which was then in Willard Hall was transformed with decorations of black cats and pumpkins. Waitresses dressed as witches and carrying brooms served the faculty and students Halloween dinner! What a treat!

Battlefield, 1914

Battlefield, 1914

That same year, local churches banded together and invited students to a Halloween reception where there were “delicious and appetizing ghost goodies – sandwiches, coffee, cakes, ice cream and fruits” and a fortune teller to tell their fate. All in all, it sounds like 1914 was a banner initial Halloween year.

In the years following, dances and dinners proceeded to be the general Halloween fare on campus until Halloween 1938. That Halloween many students had a frightful scare, as they believed Orson Welles’ electrifying War of the Worlds broadcast was real and that aliens were possibly taking over Fredericksburg and the world. A Bullet reporter recounted:

Out in the halls we find the phone booths crammed with people calling mother and daddy, who are probably by now pieces of charcoal. In the parlors, dates cling to each other in the last few minutes. Presently someone bursts forth with the welcome news that it was only a play being broadcast on the radio.
Personally we hope that there is no scare like this again. We much prefer to be scared by the witches and goblins that fly through the night.

As would I! Who would think searching in the archives could be so scary?!
Happy Halloween!

October 30, 2017

Devil-Goat Rally – Be There!

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It’s the Thursday before the last day of classes in the spring, and at Mary Washington that means only one thing – it’s Devil-Goat Day! The day when graduates from odd years go head-to-head in contests against their classmates from even years.  On Ball Circle today, there will be free food, entertainment, and friendly sports competitions.  It’s a single day event now, but back in the early years at Mary Washington Devil-Goat events spanned across the entire year. There were snowball fights in winter and the hiding of Devil and Goat flags in October.

Devil-Goat Rally Tonight!, Bullet, October 21, 1938

Devil-Goat Rally Tonight!, The Bullet, October 21, 1938

Interested in learning more about Mary Washington’s infamous tradition? Check out UMW photographs and publications, like the student handbooks and newspapers. University Archives has print copies in the library as well as digitized copies at Archives@UMW.

Egg Toss at Devil-Goat Day, 1983, Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives

Egg Toss at Devil-Goat Day, 1983, Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives

You can learn all kinds of fun facts. The March 20, 1944 Bullet article even provides details of the “real live goat” brought on campus by the Goats, and the Devil students who dressed in red flannel and carried traditional pitchforks! The Goats did triumph that year, but the Devils won the all important pie-eating contest, producing “from their midst the two girls with the biggest mouths.”

Not a photo of the real goat brought to campus in 1944, but a later attempt by a student dressed in a goat costume. Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives

Unfortunately not a photo of the real goat brought to campus in 1944, but a later attempt by a student dressed in a goat costume. Centennial Image Collection, Special Collections and University Archives

University Archives also houses Devil-Goat Day memorabilia – T-shirts, felt green Goat insignias, and a Devil pin from 1981. These are currently on display this week in the Simpson Library lobby cases. So stop by the Library and check out your University traditions!

April 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

High on Marye’s Hilltop

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Earlier this year, we were delighted when the Alumni Affairs office contacted Special Collections and University Archives to see if we would be able to digitize an old record that had been mailed to them.  They weren’t quite sure what was on the record, but it had the name of Irene Taylor and a date in 1947 written on one side of it.

Image of audio transcription disc

Image of audio transcription disc

After doing a little digging in the University Archives, we determined that Irene Taylor was a well-known alumna from the class of 1947.  A music major, Taylor, along with her friend Jean Crotty, entered an annual song competition between Mary Washington’s dormitories during their senior year.  Taylor and Crotty’s song, “High on Marye’s Hilltop,” was so well-liked that it sparked a movement by students who wanted to make the song the official alma mater of the college.  Ronald Faulkner, the school’s band director, drafted a sheet music copy of the song that was sent to all alumnae chapters.  The chapters overwhelmingly approved of the song, and “High on Marye’s Hilltop” became the official alma mater in 1952.

Irene Taylor

Irene Taylor

Once we knew the background of this mysterious record, we had to figure out how to digitize it.  After further research, we determined that the record was not an LP, but a transcription disc.  This type of media was commonly used during the mid-20th century for recording music, before being replaced by magnetic tape, cassette tape, and eventually optical disc technology. Transcription discs must be digitized with elliptical cartridges, which are made by only a few remaining companies.  After the correct cartridge was procured, the real work could begin.

This disc was in relatively good shape, so after a thorough cleaning, it was ready to be digitized.  After the initial digitization process, additional static was removed to make the song more pleasant to listen to.  The resulting digital file is a wonderful time machine back to the spring of 1947, when Irene Taylor sat down at the piano and recorded the music to “High on Marye’s Hilltop,” the song that would become the soundtrack to student life at Mary Washington.  Please visit Archives@UMW to take a listen!

October 14, 2015