Student Life 100 Years Ago: No Loafing Place Up Here

| August 11, 2010

“Oh! She came up to College just for fun

But found before her work was done

T was no loafing place up here.

No loafing place up here — Teachers College”

— Faculty Song, 1906

The exuberance of Teachers College student life has always extended beyond the classroom. Each class organized itself around a slate of elected officers; recorded its group history; wrote songs capturing the collegiate experience; and competed with the other classes to demonstrate school spirit. Extracurricular activities offered opportunities to expand on academic, religious and social interests.

The Class Book for 1906 contains the rosters of the Graduate Club; the Kindergarten Club (who celebrated May Day with a maypole dance); the Home Economics Club; the Dramatic Club; the Mandolin Club; and the Southern Club. National fraternal organizations included Delta Sigma and Zeta Theta Pi, service sorority. Class members threw themselves into activities such as three Subscription Dances; a Students Exchange; the Students’ Reception; the Student Tea; and Screamland, a skit parodying Dreamland at Coney Island.And the drug store in the ground floor of Whittier Hall offered parched students soda fountain concoctions like the Horace Mannikin, the Co-Ed Frappe and the College Yell.

The Phillips Brooks Guild and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) were concerned with social action and the plight of the poor and women. The Phillips Brooks Guild sponsored lectures by prominent urban reformers like Jacob Riis, author of How The Other Half Lives: Studies Among The Tenements Of New York. The YWCA was concerned with the housing and health needs of young city women and helped fund a sizable delegation to the annual Student Conference at Silver Bay on Lake George, New York. Teachers College’s founder, Grace Dodge, was the first president of the board of the national Young Women’s Christian Association.

The annual Festival was the single most engaging extracurricular activity for almost a decade. Part stage play, part pageant and part sing-along, the Festival was held in early spring in conjunction with the Alumni Conferences. Students and faculty from every department contributed. Audience participation was encouraged. Each festival had a theme: The Spirit of America (1916); The Festival of Gifts (1918); The Spirit of the East (1920); and The Masque of Merry Beggers (1921). The 1916 Teachers College Record published a series of six articles called Producing the Festival that described the organization, staging, decoration, costumes, hats and color printing behind the undertaking. Proceeds were contributed to the support of a professorship in education at the Canton Christian College in China.

Nor were all student groups officially sanctioned. The German Commers of the Amen Club met at the homes of members. A commers was a student social group that usually met once a year at the end of the term or on the institution’s anniversary. The evening consisted of eating, speech making, singing and voluminous ritualistic beer drinking, known as “rubbing the salamander.”