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- STORY OF WELLESLEY - 6/33 -
I am in No. 72 now and I have a funny little octagon-shaped bedroom all to myself, and two room-mates, I. W. and J.S. Both of these are in the preparatory department. But I am in the semi-collegiate class, because l passed all my mathematics. But l didn't have quite enough of the right Latin to be a full freshman. We get up at 6.30, have breakfast at 7, then a class at 7.55, after that comes silent hour, chapel, and section Bible class. Then hours again till dinner-time at one, and after dinner till 4.55. We can go outdoors all we want to and to the library, but we can't go in each other's rooms, which is a blessing. There are some girls here who would like to talk every minute, morning, noon and night.
I went out to walk this afternoon with B. We were walking very slow and talking very fast, when all of a sudden we met Mr. Durant. He was coming along like a steam engine, his white hair flying out in the wind. When he saw us he stopped; of course we stopped too, for we saw he wanted to speak to us.
"That isn't the way to walk, girls," he said, very briskly. "You need to make the blood bound through your veins; that will stimulate the mind and help to make you good students. Come now, I'll walk with you as far as the lodge, and show you what I mean."
B. and l just straightened up and walked! Mr. Durant talked to us some about our lessons. He seemed pleased when we told him we liked geometry. When we got back to the college we told the girls about meeting Mr. Durant. l guess nobody will want to dawdle along after this; I'm sure I shan't.
Oct. 5. I broke an oar to-day. I'm not used to rowing anyway, and the oar was long; two of us sit on one seat, each pulling an oar. There is room for eight in the boat, beside the captain. We went out to-day in a boat called the Ellida and after going all around the lake we thought it would be fun to go under a little stone bridge. The captain told us to ship our oars; I didn't ship mine enough, and it struck the side of the bridge and snapped right off. I was dreadfully frightened; especially as the captain said right away, "You'll have to tell Mr. Durant." The captain's name is ______. She was a first year girl, and on that account thinks a great deal of herself.
I wish I'd come last year. It must have been lots of fun. Well, anyway, I thought I might as well have the matter of the oar over with, so as soon as we landed I took the two pieces of the oar and marched straight into the office. Mr. Durant sat there at the desk. He appeared to be very busy and he didn't look at me at first. When he did my heart beat so fast I could hardly speak. I guess he saw l was frightened, for he laughed a little and said, "Oh ho, you've had an accident, l see."
I told him how it happened, and he said, "Well, you've learned that stone bridges are stronger than oars; and that bit of information will cost you seventy cents."
I was so relieved that l laughed right out. "l thought it would cost as much as five dollars," I said. I like Mr. Durant.
October 15. Mr. Durant talked to us in chapel this morning on the subject of being honest about our domestic work. Of course some girls are used to working and can hurry, while others. . . don't even know how to tie their shoestrings or braid their hair properly when they first come. . . . My work is to dust the center on the first floor. It's easy, and if I didn't take lots of time to look at the pictures and palms and things while I am doing it I couldn't possibly make it last an hour. But I'm thorough, so my conscience didn't prick me a bit. But some of the girls got as red as beets and. . . cried afterward; she hadn't swept her corridor for two whole days. Mr. Durant certainly does get down to the roots of things, and if you haven't a pretty decent conscience about your lessons and everything, you feel as though you had a clear little window right in the middle of your forehead through which he can look in and see the disorder. Some of the girls say they are just paralyzed when he looks at them; but I'm not. I feel like doing things just as well as I can.
Sunday, November 19. We had a missionary from South Africa to preach in the chapel this morning. He seemed to think we were all getting ready to be missionaries, because he said among other things that he hoped to welcome us to the field as soon as possible after we graduated. His complexion was very yellow. It reminded one of ivory, elephants' tusks and that sort of thing. We heard afterward that he wasn't married, and that he hoped to find a suitable helpmate here. But although Mr. Durant introduced him to all the '79 girls I didn't think he liked the looks of any of them. At least he didn't propose to any of them on the spot. They're only sophomores, anyway, when one comes to think of it, but they certainly act as if the dignity of the whole institution rested on their shoulders. Most of them wear trails every day. I wish l had a trail.
To complete this picture of the college woman in 1876 we need the description of the college president, by a member of the class of '80: "Miss Howard with her young face, pink cheeks, blue eyes, and puffs of snow-white hair, wearing always a long trailing gown of black silk, cut low at the throat and finished with folds of snowy tulle." None of these writers gives the date at which the trail disappeared from the classroom.
The following letters are from Mary Elizabeth Stilwell, a member of that same class of '79 which wore the trails. She, like Florence Morse, left college on account of her health. The letters are printed by the courtesy of her daughter, Ruth Eleanor McKibben, a graduate of Denison College and a graduate student at Wellesley during 1914 and 1915. Elizabeth Stilwell was older and more mature than Florence Morse, and her letters give us the old Wellesley from quite a different angle.
Oct. 16, '75.
My Dear Mother:--
If you are at all discouraged or feel the need of something to cheer you up you had better lay this letter aside and read it some other time, for I expect it will be exceedingly doleful. But really, Mother, I am exceedingly in earnest in what I am going to write and have thought the whole matter over carefully before I have ventured a word on the subject. Wellesley is not a college. The buildings are beautiful, perfect almost; the rooms and their appointments delightful, most of the professors are all that could be desired, some of them are very fine indeed in their several departments, but all these delightful things are not the things that make a college. . . . And, Oh! the experiments! It is enough to try the patience of a Job. l came here to take a college course, and not to dabble in a little of every insignificant thing that comes up. More than half of my time is taken up in writing essays, practicing elocution, trotting to chapel, and reading poetry with the teacher of English literature, and it seems to make no difference to Miss Howard and Mr. Durant whether the Latin, Greek and Mathematics are well learned or not. The result is that l do not have time to half learn my lessons. My real college work is unsatisfactory, poorly done, and so of course amounts to about nothing. l am not the only one that feels it, but every member of the freshman class has the same feeling, and not only the students but even the professors. You can have no idea of how these very professors have worked to have things different and have expostulated and expostulated with Mr. Durant, but all to no avail. He is as hard as a flint and his mind is made up of the most beautiful theories, but he is perfectly blind to facts. He rules the college, from the amount of Latin we shall read to the kind of meat we shall have for dinner; he even went out into the kitchen the other day and told the cook not to waste so much butter in making the hash, for I heard him myself.
We must remember that the writer is a young girl, intolerant, as youth is always intolerant, and that she was writing only one month after the college had opened. It is not to be expected that she could understand the creative excitement under which the founder was laboring in those first years. We, who look back, can appreciate what it must have meant to a man of his imagination and intensity, to see his ideal coming true; naturally, he could not keep his hands off. And we must remember also that until his death Mr. Durant met the yearly deficit of the college. This gave him a peculiar claim to have his wishes carried out, whether in the classroom or in the kitchen.
Miss Stilwell continues:
I know there are a great many things to be taken into consideration. I know that the college is new and that all sorts of discouragements are to be expected, and that the best way is to bear them patiently and hope that all will come out right in the end. At the same time I am DETERMINED to have a certain sort of an education, and I must go where l can get it. . . . Oh! if I could only make you see it as we all feel it! It is such a bitter disappointment when I had looked forward for so long to going to college, to find the same narrowness and cramped feeling.--There is one other thing that Mrs. S. (the mother of one of the students) spoke of yesterday, which is very true I am sorry to say, and that is in regard to the religious influence. She said that she thought that Mr. Durant by driving the girls so, and continually harping on the subject, was losing all his influence and was doing just the opposite of what he intended. I know that with my room-mate and her set he is a constant source of ridicule and his exhortations and prayers are retailed in the most terrible way. I have set my foot down on it and I will not allow anything of the sort done in my room, but l know that it is done elsewhere, and that every spark of religious interest is killed by the process. I have firmly made up my mind that it shall not affect me and l have succeeded in controlling myself this far.
On December 31, we find her writing: "My Greek is the only pleasant thing to which I can look forward, and I am quite sure good instruction awaits me there."
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