Diving In

As my research continues, I am continuously pulled in by the Battlefield yearbook. Every page brings new questions and offers few answers. The 1950s seem like a time that everyone knows well. I’ve seen the movies, heard the music, and studied the advertisements, but I still feel like the world of these young women is still out of grasp.

The prose flowing from the Battlefield is wistful and dreamy, painting a picture of the idyllic lifestyle for any young woman: dreamboats, late-night card games, lounging by the pool, entertaining guests, and Coke—lots of Coke. From what I have found, classes and other pieces of academic life are greatly discounted. If classes are mentioned, they seem to be necessary burdens of an otherwise social year.

I first thought that classes were just so ordinary that the yearbook staffs did not find it essential to include more information on them. This could very well be true given interviews by another group member that can be found here. Equally likely is that the classroom experience was not only ordinary, but an inconsequential part of college life. When I compared the yearbooks from the 1950s to Battlefields during the 2000s, I noticed a distinct difference in what was featured. There was a noticeable presence of education in the more recent Battlefields. Classrooms do not overpower social activities, but they do fill more pages in one yearbook than I have found altogether in the 1950s yearbooks.

This lead me to wonder the exact reason why young women during the 1950s attended colleges, because today, education of young women (and of all young people) is very important to our society and is viewed as necessary to have a fulfilling career. While educating young women in the 1950s may have been important as well, most women probably did not see themselves having a career outside of the home (besides teaching). Therefore, extracurricular activities, dates, May Day events, and theatre performances took precedence to classroom experiences. College was more of a coming-of-age event rather than a pursuit of knowledge or career.

To recreate the classroom, I have discovered some bits of information that build a greater picture. First, a fair majority of classes must have been lectures, usually from a male professor at the front of the classroom. Students have their notebooks open, writing down notes that will only be viewed while cramming the night before the big exam. Roll call, class bells, term papers, and pop quizzes were all part of the routine. The most prevalent portrayal of professors was the teacher staying after class in order to help a student with questions or further discussion.

Finally, I do have some questions that I my group members’ research can provide answers for:

Is there a reason why female professors have older men also sitting in on the lecture? Or were the photos I found simply coincidences?

Were there rules for classroom engagement (proper etiquette)?


University of Mary Washington Archives.Battlefield, 1953. Vol. 30, pg. 18. http://www.archive.org/details/battlefield195300univ (accessed February 9, 2012).

Comments are closed.

2 Responses

  1. Pingback: Research Log 4 | UMW, 1950-1959!

  2. This is a thoughtful post, and thank you. I would be careful not to conflate the Mary Washington experience with all women in college in the early- to mid-20th century. My mother and aunts went to colleges in New Jersey the 1930s and it was ALL about academics. The real story there is that my mother had to then go to secretarial school to get an actual job. Not that this anecdote is sufficient evidence to refute what you’ve observed, but I think that geographic area, demographics, and local culture may have played into the experience of Mary Washington at the time.