Archive for February, 2012

Research Log #4: Dr. Combs

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

This week, I will focus my blog on the files for Dr. Combs, the president of the school during the 1930’s. Dr. Combs was an extremely influential figure to the history of our school. He created many of the things that we see today. I looked over the reports that he composed for the Virginia State Board of Education each quarter (at this time, the school year was separated into quarters not two semesters). These reports contain many important details about the school, like the budget and plans for the campus. Many of the items in the reports would not be extremely important for this project but they do contain important information about the amount of students and what the school expected of the students. Even though the budget information is not vital to understanding what was happening in the classroom, it is important to understand in the big picture because of the Depression that was occurring in these years. It must have been a topic in the classroom. The school also seemed to have received many budget cuts through out these years.

In 1930, the reports state that there are 458 students and Dr. Combs comments on the fact that the student-teacher ratio is low. Most of the teachers lived on campus because of the lack of funds for their salaries which would have been very low. In this specific report, Combs comments on some of the great changes he wished to see: changing the school from a teacher’s school to a liberal arts college. He writes about how many of the students don’t actually want to teach and that the board needs to start offering other courses outside of the “professional courses.”(1) He states “it is certainly not to the advantage of the students who do not expect to teach and have no interest in that field to require them to do practice teaching and thereby deprive them of the opportunity of pursuing work along the line of their major interest or profession.”(2) For the classroom understanding, we can see that the idea of what the students were expected to learn.

Each year, the enrollment number goes up as does Dr. Comb’s expectations of the students. The grading scale toughened a number of times through out this decade as stated in the reports. Included in these reports is a quick write-up of the student body’s health report. Through out the decade, the students seem to have been in great health, with a few cases of measles reported. It shows that the school was very much involved in both student and faculty life which must have affected them daily.

With these reports, there were also a number of files of proposed changes for the school that Dr. Combs produced. He believed that the teacher’s college was not enough for these students and that a liberal arts college was the best. He believed that the teaching college’s curriculum was already growing to become like that of a liberal arts school. He also writes that he believes that an upper level institution needs to be a four-year program and not just two years. Something that I found very interesting about this report by Dr Combs is that he believed that men and women should be in school together (which seems very progressive for the time). He stated three reasons for this: that men should also be teaching at all levels, that men would help raise the enrollment thus increasing the school’s funds, and lastly for social reason because men and women have to deal with each other in most every other situation. He also believes that these students who are planning to become teachers need to have a liberal arts education because the requirements for teachers need to be stricter in general. He was created a school were the students had to work hard because he wanted them to be successful in their work and life.

I have included in this blog scans from a proposed curriculum for a liberal arts college from 1935. There would be a number of general requirements that every student had to complete. They would then chose a major and also two minors from an approved list. These scans are examples of classes and schedules for the proposed English major.

Research Log # 3: Faculty Files

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

This past week I have focused my research on the files of a number of faculty members teaching at the school in the 1930s. These files are extremely interesting and contain so many things from these people’s careers. What I have found is that a good amount of the faculty during this decade are the namesakes of buildings on campus. Thus, I have focused my research on those particular people because they were so important to the school. Before I give some examples of who was teaching here at Mary Washington, I would like to make some general observations. Most professors here, including women, had their masters and even their Ph.D. There were not too many professor in each subject like we have today and from seeing course cards, professors would teach a good amount of classes. I went through the course catalogues to find names of professors and found some interesting departments including hygiene, home nursing, and home economics. There seemed to be only one or two professors in these departments. It is also important to note that in the summer sessions men were allowed to take classes with the women through out the decade.

I looked at the file for Dr. Roy Sheldon Cook, the chair of the science department, who taught for many years here. His files included hand written notes between him and President Combs. These letters spanned from being about someone replacing him for a week to pay raises and thank you notes for flower and fruit baskets. His contract was also included stating that he started teaching in 1925, the same year he received his doctorate from the University of Virginia. The contract states that he had to serve on committees on campus and he was given $15.00 for board per month. His salary was $3560 per year (which he taught in the winter and summer). There are many letters from the President letting Dr. Cook know that he had received pay raises, something that started in last years of the decade and into the 40s, perhaps an example of the economy growing out of the Great Depression. His employee form stated the normal information and then some interesting things that would seem unnecessary to know about employees today, which include his height and weight, who his family was, and his military service. I learned from this file in particular, and doctors notes also included, that Dr. Cook had lost one of his eyes and it plagued him for a good amount of his life. The letters between President Combs and Dr. Cook show that the two men had a great relationship and had enormous respect for each other.

I also looked at the file for Nina Bushnell, who served as the Dean of Women from 1921-1950. Her job was to oversee everything that was happening to the women at the school from weekend plans, room assignments, to what furniture went into each buildings. I also learned a good deal about Mrs. Bushnell’s personalities because there were many complaint letters to the President from many parents. It seems that she was a hard women but had much respect from the staff and achieved a great amount in her years working for the College. This was quite the entertaining file.

Next I will be looking at the enormous amount of information and files on President Combs. He was one of the most important executive figures to go through this school and shaped much of what we see today, included the name change to Mary Washington College. He served as President through out the entire decade.

Group Meeting

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Our group meeting on Thursday was very successful in determining what we would like our blog to look like and contain. We also discussed how our research was going so far which we learned from each other that it is hard to find the material because the information is so old. However, we did set up our blog and prepared an outline for what will ultimately end up on the site. Here is the link to the working site:

We will have four main pages that contain the information that we are gathering. There will be a section on the name change from State Teacher’s College to Mary Washington College which occurred in 1938. This is very important to the history of the school and shows the changing times that these girls were part. Another section will be an academic section which will contain information on departments, professors, alumni, and curriculum. Following that, there will be a social page because this part was so important for the girls and the school was very influential in their social life. This will have sections concerning the Bullet, Student Handbooks, Clubs, events (such as Devil Goat Day and May Day), as well as the topic of gossip. We will also include a sources page with brief explanations of the sources that we used from Special Collections. We are also planning on attaching the links to each of our own pages so that more information can be seen.

I think we have a great grasp on what we want to accomplish in the coming weeks and I am very excited to see the finished product!

Thoughts on Thursday’s Readings

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

I found the first article that we were supposed to read by Linda Gordon entitled “Black and White Visions of Welfare” extremely interesting. With the discussions in the class, I have been really interested in the roles that black women were playing in terms of political and social change. Gordon speaks about the fact that black women did not only have to fight for equality in gender but also in race. Even in the idea welfare, they were excluded by white women’s organizations. The most interesting point in this article for me was on pages 231-232: who were these women believing they were helping? In the case of white women, they “saw themselves as helping others” so there was a sense of separation between the women and those needing help. Even though they were helping the system and creating advancements for these people, there was still a separation through class and perhaps these white women felt elite even if they were from the middle class. Black women, however, “were more focused on their own kind.” Their own people needed help through welfare, so these organizations were hitting much closer to home. To conclude my thoughts about this article, I thought Gordon did a great job of separating the two groups and showing the problems with studying the history of welfare and women’s role in it. It is unfortunate that there was so much racial tension at this time because I believe amazing things could have been achieved if white and black women would have worked better together.

Research Log #2: The Syllabus

Monday, February 6th, 2012

This week I focused my research on the different syllabi found in the department files in Special Collections. Like I stated in my last blog post, there is not an abundant amount of information because these files are so old. However, there are some departments that do have a good amount of files still left in them. In this post what I would like to discuss is the difference that I have found between a syllabus from the 1930s and one from present day. This is important when considering how our class will reenact a class from the past. I think it is important to first consider the fact that at this time, it seems from the files, that Mary Washington was purely a school for teachers. It was not even called Mary Washington College or anything close to that at this time. Because of the lack of equality for women and the gender stereotypes and spheres we have been discussing in class, women did not have many choices in the work place. Teaching, however, was an avenue that these young women could take, thus the school was centered on producing new teachers.

To go even more specific, I will discuss the syllabus for the art department from the early 1930s. In this syllabus, we can see how it is focused on teaching. The agenda focuses on how the class will learn to teach others coloring and drawing techniques. The assignments are very laid out, detailed descriptions of what is expected of the students. There is not solely a prompt and then a critique (which is done today) but instead instructions for exactly what the students are supposed to draw, for example the mastery of drawing a flower.

Part of the class also focuses on art history, something that is near and dear to my heart because it is my major. It is interesting how these two are combined, perhaps showing us how the arts were not as important as other disciplines that the young women would have been learning as well. From the syllabus, I learned that the classes would have used the same textbooks that the University uses today, but obviously a recent addition. This section of the class seems to be much more of a liberal arts take on the subject than teaching focus approach. It will be interesting to next see what the professor were like.

Obviously, it is important to take into consideration with these art files that times have changed and art has progressed since the 1930s. Especially because the art world changed with social and political steps as well, it will be of interest to see how the same departments from other decades were after certain movements came about. The next step in my research will to focus more on the faculty files and their importance to the decade.