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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

From prohibition to pandemic, a day in the life of a Middlebury co-ed

<a href=""></a> <span class="photocreditinline">Courtesy of Evelyn Ryle '23</span>
Courtesy of Evelyn Ryle '23

In the 1920s

On a sunny Saturday morning in the spring of 1921, you wake up in your room in Battell Cottage. This women’s dorm is located on the Battell Campus, rather than across the road on the men’s “old campus.” Classes meet six days a week, so after a quick breakfast at Battell Dining Hall, you drag yourself to 8 a.m. Latin, which fulfills your classical requirement.

At 9:00 a.m., you are off to a course in home economics. Before registration, you considered classes devoted to specific subjects like food preparation or hat-making, but settled on the more general “Household Administration.” The class focuses on a “woman’s place in the home and the community; buying, arrangement, and storing of general household supplies; care of the house; domestic service; labor saving devices; division of income and accounting.”  

From 10–10:30 a.m., students have a break built into their schedule so they can attend chapel service. While Middlebury is nonsectarian, it emphasizes religious devotion of some kind. “A chapel service is held each week-day at 10 a.m. and a vesper service on Sunday at 5 p.m. All students are required to attend unless excused for urgent cause,” the college writes in its catalogue. One of your friends doesn’t much appreciate this mandatory attendance, although she protests in her scrapbook that “I do go to church sometimes.”

After chapel, you have your last class of the day: physical education. Men and women have separate offerings for P.E. Men can choose from Gymnastics or Athletic Coaching, while women select from a Playground Course or Methods of Teaching Physical Education. You’ve opted for the former, and you and your classmates spend the period learning folk dances from your instructor, Miss Young.

Courtesy of Dorothy Parsons '23

Once classes have finished for the day, you are eager to meet up with friends. In the afternoon, you decide to attend a baseball game against St. Michael’s College. While you watch, your friend reports that she called home. Her parents were relieved to hear that tuition would only come to $150, plus $300 for room and board. The Panthers’ victory leaves you both in high spirits.

A busy evening lies ahead. Tonight is the annual banquet for the Theta Chi Epsilon sorority at Betsy Buttles Tea House. Greek life plays a large role on campus, although strict rules from the college limit its activities, and social gatherings occur almost exclusively on Fridays and Saturdays. The rulebook states, “any group of students in the men’s college desiring to have a party of any sort to which women are required to secure permission from the Chairman of the Student Life Committee.” These co-ed events are, of course, chaperoned. Consumption of alcohol is grounds for expulsion from the college given that the country is in the midst of Prohibition. As one of your classmates puts it, “Rules are the bane of our young lives.”

Following the banquet, you are torn between all the different options that weekends provide. Some of your friends opt to go into town (in reality, “a village of about 2000”) to see a movie. There is also a New York Philharmonic Concert at Mead Chapel, and Richard Burton is giving a lecture. In the end, you decide to attend the college dance. The sponsoring group took such time to craft delicate paper invitations, and you are eager to fill in the spots on your dance card. The event concludes at 11:30pm, and you return to Battell Cottage with a smile on your face, happy to have spent another day at Middlebury College.

Over the next three years, you hope to meet Robert Frost at the Bread Loaf School of English and to attend the Middlebury Summer Language School to sharpen your French. While you are certain to complain about the cold, you will also be delighted to try your hand at skiing. By the time commencement rolls around in 1924, your scrapbook is full and you are ready for anything the Roaring Twenties have left to throw at you. 

Editor’s Note: This article is based off of beautiful scrapbooks created by female Middlebury students in the early 1920s. These women preserved their college experiences on pages filled with detailed notes about their day-to-day schedules, ticket stubs from events they attended and elaborate party invitations and dance cards. This resource was supplemented with research in the college’s archives, and with information from the 1920 Middlebury College Catalogue.

In the 2020s 

Beep. Beep. At 8:30 a.m., your phone alarm wakes you from a deep sleep. Reluctantly, you pull open the blinds to reveal a cloudy Friday morning in the spring of 2021. Outside the window of Hepburn Hall, you see students carrying backpacks already making their way across campus. 

After a quick breakfast in your room, at 9:10 you log onto your first class of the day: Intro to Computing. These days, most of your classes take place on Zoom. After two semesters of virtual courses, you’ve gotten used to interacting remotely with classmates and professors. Ensuring that your microphone is muted, you force yourself to stay engaged by taking notes. After class, you drop in to your Arabic professor’s Zoom office hours to ask a question about your upcoming presentation.

At 12:40, you have your only in-person class of the day: Feminist Foundations. Every time the class meets, you are amazed to learn more about how far the women’s rights movement has progressed in the last century. Although everyone is wearing a mask and desks are spaced six feet apart, it is still refreshing to spend time in a shared classroom environment after a long morning looking at a screen. 

That afternoon, you decide to exercise with MiddRuns. In addition to meeting students with a common interest, the club fulfills one of your P.E. credits. You decide to grab dinner afterward, and you are unsurprised to see that Proctor is serving its frequent Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy. 

After dinner, you hesitate choosing an evening event. The Middlebury College Activity Board is sponsoring a number of online events, including a concert by Hippo Campus. Plus, a few of your friends are gathering in Axinn to watch a movie. Room capacity restrictions limit the number of people who can be in a shared space, making weekend socializing more difficult than in previous years, but parties still occur. You settle for streaming the concert with a couple of friends in one of their dingles. 

Over the next three years, you look forward to campus reopening and the opportunities post-pandemic life will provide, from attending classes in person to watching live events. You plan on studying abroad your junior year and want to complete a summer internship related to your major. Due to your canceled high school graduation, you are already eager to hear your name announced and walk across the stage to receive your Middlebury diploma in 2024.

Acadia Klepeis

Acadia Klepeis ’24 (she/her) is an Arts & Culture Editor. 

She is an English major and a French and Francophone Studies minor. Last year, Cadi studied literature in Paris and in Oxford through Middlebury’s school abroad programs. She spent this past summer working as a communications intern for the Vermont Arts Council. Previously, she completed internships with Tuttle Publishing, Theatre in Paris, and Town Hall Theater. Cadi is also on the board for Middlebury College Musical Theatre.