Traditions
at Randolph-Macon Woman's College

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Our Helpful Handbook

by Meredith Minter, class of 1984

Freshman orientation! To us, it means a week before classes begin, a time of heat and strangeness and confusion. But for the past generations of R-M students, at least till the thirties, most orientation was carried out by the R-M Student Handbook.

A strange mixture of sententiousness, understanding, and irreverent advice, the handbooks sought to cushion the shock of adjustment.  Early editions--it was first published in 1910—bore a quote from Rudyard Kipling: "I wish myself could talk to myself as I left 'im a year ago. I could tell 'im a lot that would save 'im a lot of the things 'e ought to know." With this in mind, the editors addressed themselves to matters of general concern.

"If you have not seen your roommate before," one book suggested, "give her a ten-days' trial. And that doesn't mean for you to be a trial to her for ten days!"

"Be careful, too," the 1914 edition advised, "in the colors of the things you bring. Try to be moderate in your tastes. Do not inflict your roommate, your friends, and yourself with glaring reds and purples. Such hues work harm, not only to one's aesthetic sensibilities, but also to one's good disposition. Even so small a thing as a pincushion may cause a rupture, if it exhibits a red background, embroidered in purple pansies."

Many books attacked the custom of decorating a room with posters. As the 1915 handbook observed, "Do not cover your walls with posters and pennants. They are not artistic, and a room with a few good pictures is far more pleasing than one whose walls look like a small child's scrapbook." "We have bequeathed our pennants," another stated haughtily, "to those in high school."

And then there was dress. After recommending a dark silk for dinner, the 1914 book went on to say: "A one-piece dress of some woolen material is a very comfortable garment to possess in the wintertime. The readiness with which it allows itself to be put on constitutes its chief charm. You will fully understand the power of its attraction only when you get to college and are experiencing for the first time the feat of getting to breakfast after the first bell has rung." Juniors and seniors will surely sympathize.

Moving farther afield, there was the subject of the library. "There really is no peculiar odor in the library caused by the dead silence," one book hinted. "Speaking of the silence around the library," another requested, "award it the respect due all dead things. Honor it, and speak not."

And of course, there was Lynchburg itself. "Lynchburg," a 1937 copy remarked, "is full of cheap—sorry, we mean reasonably-priced—stores." More conventional data was also given: two streetcars ran every twelve minutes, and one took Peakland to the College.

Some advice was unintentionally ominous. "It's easy to develop College spirit here at R-M—you can't escape it." "There are fire bells located on all the corridors. You are . . . not supposed to ring them;" and "Don't be afraid to speak to the old girls on the train. You need all the friends you can make."

Probably, however, the most helpful advice that was given was a short paragraph fitted neatly between a reminder to observe busy signs and a condemnation of gossip: "The old girls aren't half so dignified as they look. Ask them anything you like."

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"The Past Master"
by
Meredith Minter
Class of 1984
 
The Sundial
Vol. 66, no. 16
February 12, 1982

This article was taken from "The Past Master," a column written by Meredith Minter Dixon, class of 1984, for the Randolph-Macon Woman's College student newspaper, The Sundial. It is published here with her permission.

Please contact Ms. Dixon if you have comments or questions about her article.

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And More . . .
large button   The Past Master, additional articles about our history
large button   Facts and Fancies about our college's early classes
large button   Images taken from student drawings in our earliest yearbooks

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Frances E. Webb
Reference Librarian
Lipscomb Library
Randolph College
2500 Rivermont Avenue
Lynchburg, Virginia 24503

http://faculty.randolphcollege.edu/fwebb/traditions/handbook.html

small button   page last revised March 28, 2008   small button

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site graphics adapted by Frances E. Webb
from a drawing by Evelyn Dornin for the 1901 edition of the Helianthus

With thanks to
Kusum Singh, class of 2004
and
Andrea Yassemedis, class of 1999

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