On This Day at Wheaton

On This Day at Wheaton

Just last week, the results of the Student Government Association fall election came in, and the winners were announced through email, a far cry from the way Wheaton showcased its class officers nearly 100 years ago.

September 27, 1930.

On this day in 1930, the Wheaton News published their September 27th issue recounting a spectacle at the tennis courts earlier that week, where a raised boxing ring had been erected and several juniors play-fought opponents from different classes for their respective Student Government titles.   

This was long before Wheaton became a co-educational institution in 1988, so the contestants were all women. The first-round winner was Elizabeth Wells (her boxing name: Betty “Welcome” Wells), rising to Junior class presidency by besting the reigning champion, Sophomore class president “Lucky Lou” Gleason. The girls wore bathrobes as their fighting attire and Betty, until the moment of her victory, wore a mask to draw out the suspense. 

The match had five rounds, each time a different girl rising to fame along with her showy nickname. The roster included Carol “Foxy” Foster (soon-to-be Vice President), hockey goalie Barbara “Pee Wee” Wilbur, upcoming treasurer Margaret “Honey” Holmes, and athlete Elizabeth “Wild Cat” Willard. The match itself had been a complete surprise, the confused student body having been lured to the tennis courts at 9:30 that night by ringing bells and odd red flares of light. The tennis courts were brand new at the time, and this dramatic boxing display was their christening.

Barbara Gammon, Senior Class President

Needless to say, the Student Government’s secrecy paid off, and the event was such a hit that afterward, the excited crowd swarmed to the hockey fields to parade the new Junior class officers around on their shoulders. 

Though little other news from this day in 1930 can be thrilling enough to top this elaborately planned boxing match, an enthusiastic column was dedicated to welcoming the incoming freshman class — as well as profiling them in detail. The class of 1934 consisted of 160 girls, from geographic regions much more limited than this year’s class of 2027. Majority hailed from the New England states, as well as New York, Maryland, and Virginia. One girl came from Wisconsin, one from Indiana, and two called Hawaii home — the farthest of the bunch. The column also made a point of calling out freshman Anna Marshall, who had only just turned sixteen in June. 

Shockingly, the most exhaustive report was on the different heights and weights of the first-years! The reporter called out, with names, the tallest and shortest girls, including their weights to stress their petite stature. This report on body type was what — to me — dated the newspaper the most aggressively. In my search of the available Wire issues in the archives, no succeeding issues in the 40s or 50s dedicated any space to the incoming freshmen in this way (other than to comment on their showcased talents at the annual freshman skits). 

Those lacking in updates on the social scene need only turn to the Cream O’ Wheaton column, which reported various overheard amusements: a junior mistaking a faculty member for a freshman in the pressing room, or a freshman who asked another freshman if she happened to be the president of the senior class. What today we might spread through social media or group chats, in 1930 was carried through word-of-mouth to the Cream O’Wheaton presses, and what caught my eye in this column was this particular announcement: 

“The Emily Post influence is abroad again, it seems. A Freshman refused to dance with a Senior because they had not been introduced. Oh, OH!” 

This mention of such an Emily Post influence made me curious — and led me on a dive into the popular culture of New England society around the time this Wire issue was published.

Emily Post was a popular American etiquette advice writer in the 1900s. Based in New York, her guidance could often be found broadcasted over the radio or through a regular column in the Bell Syndicate — though on this day in 1930, many girls at Wheaton most likely had her book, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home tucked away somewhere on their dorm room bookshelves. The book, first published in 1922, advised on manners and other social rules, and has been updated many times since. Most recently is the 19th edition of her book, which was published in 2022 by her great-grandchildren, and could be considered a complete “renovation” of Post’s original guide. The 19th edition features technological etiquette, such as how to address an email and how to conduct yourself in video meetings, as well as how to ask for and use pronouns. 

Post’s original guide clearly informed the social landscape of Wheaton dances, as this anecdote shows, though for how long a period, I can’t be sure — if the slightly stupefied tone used by the reporter is any indication, many were probably already considering Post’s guidelines for manners to be too antiquated for the Wheaton social scene, even at the time. 

I hope this afforded you a rare glimpse into the past — both the obsolete traditions and timeless student concerns — of Wheaton. One thing is doubtless: from this day, September 27th in 1930, to this day in 2023, Wheaton College has evolved remarkably (and so has the Wheaton Wire).