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Education

How College Girls Lived During the Gilded Age

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Ladies Home Journal (June 1913) - illustrated by Harrison Fisher

One of the startling social changes of Gilded Age America was the increasing number of young women who attended colleges and universities. Though the most elite were the “Seven Sisters” established in the Northeast–Smith, Vassar, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, and Radcliffe–dozens women’s colleges sprang up across the United States by the turn-of-the-century with the aim of providing middle-class young women with the necessary education for earning a living. These colleges were aware of the skepticism of higher education for women, as well as the burden of graduating young women who would prove the skepticism wrong, and operated much differently than traditional men’s colleges and even co-ed universities.


The difference between life at girls’ and at men’s colleges is just the difference between girls and young men. It is not the difference in curriculum, or lecture-room, or gymnasium, or team and track athletics. It is a difference in tone, and this tone is the effect of two causes:–

First. The seriousness with which the college girl regards her course.

Second. The thoroughly feminine consideration with which she regards her fellows.

Regarding the former, nine-tenths of the girls at college are there for the purpose of fitting themselves to earn a livelihood. They are aiming to become professors, tutors, lawyers, doctors, litterateurs. They are not, generally, the daughters of wealthy parents. These go to a finishing school, and study the limitations, rather than the possibilities, of society. The female college students are mostly drawn from those medium walks of life wherein ambition is given impetus by necessity. The college girl does not give up four or five years of her life for the purpose of being called “college-bred,” as many of her brothers do; nor to gain admittance to an exclusive university club, or those circles to which a college education is the open sesame; nor “to humor the governor,” at a large cost per annum for indulging his whim. The college girl takes up her course because she loves it, and because it is the means to a much-desired end.

It is this consideration for the feelings of others that gives to the girls’ colleges their distinctly feminine tone.

From the raw, self-conscious days of the sub-freshman to the passing out of the senior, the girl collegian finds cordial greetings and ready sympathy every where.

The “honor system” of self-government is in force at Vassar and several other colleges. According to this system, rules and regulations are abolished, and each girl pledges herself to retire at ten, with three exceptions each month if necessary; to attend chapel every day, and to take at least one hours’ exercise.

In all the large colleges, there are committees appointed to take charge of the new arrivals, each girl meeting her protegée at the railway station, at t e n d in g to the details of her luggage, and not leaving her until she has seen her safely settled in the new quarters. The seniors usually have first choice of rooms, preferring to be located along the senior corridor, into which no lower classman dares venture, unless accompanied by a senior. Rooms are divided into suites of four sizes: fire walls, consisting of four bedrooms and parlor; parlors, consisting of three bedrooms and parlor; doubles, with two bedrooms and parlor, and singles, consisting of one room.

 Anna Powers and Umeko Tsuda in a Bryn Mawr College dorm room
“Anna Powers and Umeko Tsuda in a Bryn Mawr College dorm room”. Bryn Mawr College. circa 1890. College Women. Web. Accessed March 19, 2017. https://www.collegewomen.org/node/13576

When three or four girls who are congenial occupy a suite, their college association can be made most pleasant. Fitting up her quarters will be regarded by the freshman as the most serious work of the term’s beginning. She will catch glimpses of senior rooms, disclosing revelations on art from the college viewpoint— which has nothing to do with art by any other standard. Her own rooms—the bedroom containing bed, bureau, table and chair, the parlor a “parlor suite”—will look woefully barren; but she soon realizes how little is required to gain the popular effect—a few outré posters, inexpensive etchings and prints in dainty frames, flags of men’s colleges, class colors, field pennants, tennis rackets, riding-whips, foils, orders of dance, college cushions, a tabaret, an India seat, a tea-table, couch, spirit lamp and chafing-dish. All these things may be purchased at a shop in the college town whose proprietor can tell the wants of the freshmen better than they can themselves: or there will be advertisements on the bulletin-board, for sale or exchange.

Often the members of the graduating class leave their room furnishings with “self-help” girls, to be disposed of on commission to incoming freshmen, who are very glad to get bargains. Meanwhile the freshman has chosen her hours for lectures and recitation—usually not more than four out of the eight hours, with two hours more for study. The hardest work of the college course comes in freshman year. Still there is time for relaxations and the forming of friendships. In September, or the early part of October, the sophomores formally welcome the freshman to college social life. The form of this entertainment varies at the different colleges.

At Bryn Mawr the year is opened by a series of informal teas in honor of the freshmen, which give good opportunities for new acquaintances to the girl socially inclined. Next after these comes the “Presentation of Lanterns.” This fête has become a tradition at Bryn Mawr, and is a very pretty one. Each freshman is presented with a lantern to light her on her way through college, and some of the presentation speeches are very clever and full of local wit. Six weeks later the freshmen reciprocate, entertaining the sophomores with return speeches and toasts, and singing their class song, which until this time ‘has been closely guarded. It is on this occasion that the freshmen are mentally and socially engaged by the older fellows, who are looking out for worthy acquisitions to their societies.

Wellesley’s “Floral Sunday” is an eloquent goodwill offering to the freshmen. The first Sunday after her arrival, each freshman finds at her breakfast plate a bunch of fragrant blossoms, tied with ribbons of the sophomore class color, with an accompanying card bearing the inscription, “Love one another, ” or “God is love, ’’ or whatever like theme has been chosen for the chapel address. On this morning the chapel is fragrant with flowers, the decorations being the result of sophomore effort and good will.

Smith’s “Freshman Frolic” is a very pretentious affair. The dance is held in the “gym,” which has been transformed by boughs and blossoms, palms and vines, national flags and college emblems. Each soph constitutes herself a cavalier for the freshman to whom she is assigned. She sends her flowers, calls for her, fills her order of dance, introduces her partners, fetches ices and frappés between dances and takes her to supper. The whole method of procedure is apt to impress the freshman ludicrously at first, except that the soph fulfils her duties with so much dignified seriousness. Nor does the new order of things stop with the close of the dance. Every soph sees her partner home, begs for a flower and changes orders for souvenirs, and if the freshman has taken advantage of the opportunity and made the desired hit, there are dates for future meetings and jollifications, and a good-night over the balusters, as lingering and cordial as any the freshie has left behind her. And if the gallant soph who lives in another hall runs away from her shadow on the way back to her own dormitory, it’s nobody’s business but her own. Her duties in knight-errantry are at an end.

At Vassar the girls go a step farther, those who fill men’s parts at the dances affecting bloomers, sack-coats disclosing a wide expanse of shirt-front, white lawn ties and buttonhole bouquets.

A chorus at the Barnard College Greek Games in 1908
Beals, A. Tennyson (photographer). “Greek Games Chorus, 1908”. Barnard College. 1908. College Women. Web. Accessed March 19, 2017. https://www.collegewomen.org/node/13620

By the time the freshman festivities are over, the upper classmen have judged the new stock, and desirable acquisitions are sought for the societies. These are legion, and they are the most fascinating phase of college life. First, but least exclusive, are the athletic societies; then the debating, literary, Shakespeare, dramatic, musical, historic, Greek letter;and, last but not least, the eating clubs.

These last are the most exclusive societies at the girls’ colleges. They are purely social, and no one is admitted unless thoroughly desirable and unanimously elected. If a new girl is popular, several of these societies will try to get her. Hence there is considerable electioneering at the beginning of the term ; dining-rooms, recitation-rooms and class corridors become stamping-grounds for fair lobbyists, and the more persevering become regular little ward heelers.

At the close of the first term, every one is located, and social life is at full blast. On Sunday evenings the dining-rooms are deserted, and the eating clubs hold sway. Alternately in the rooms of their members, the Nibblers, the Grubbers, the Epicureans, the Swallows, the Gobblers, the Friars, the Munchers, do wonderful things with spirit-lamps and chafing-dishes, accomplishing results delicious, savory, and more or less digestible. These Sunday evenings are dear to all college girls. At Wellesley, Monday is set apart as a holiday; but there is no record to show any connection with the eating clubs.

The curriculum in girls’ colleges is not complete; but the ‘‘higher education” is still in its infancy. Meanwhile the natural womanly instinct asserts itself, and the chafing-dish holds sway over all small entertainments. No book-shelf is complete without a cookbook, and the natural rivalry between hostesses encourages experiment. The cozy dormitory quarters give an added flavor to fudge, rarebits, newburgs and afternoon teas, the last being the most popular.

There is little work during the late afternoon hours. Between four and five-thirty the dormitories hum with gossip, and the tea-kettles make a lively tune. It is the general hour for relaxation, for the college girl arises early. The usual hour for the first bell is six-thirty, with breakfast from seven to eight.

At Mt. Holyoke the girls care for their own rooms, and in several of the dormitories at Smith’s and Wellesley the girls devote an hour each day to this sort of work in part payment for their board. At eight-thirty recitations begin, and the mornings are invariably busy. The day is divided into eight ‘‘hours,” and engagements made for first, second, third hour, et cetera, the time never being mentioned. Luncheon is usually from twelve to onethirty, after which the tension relaxes. During the afternoons the upper classmen find plenty of time for recreation.

All the girls’ colleges have splendid gymnasiums, but they are not popular. Open-air athletics are greatly preferred, and there is no time in the year when some outdoor sport is not available. During the winter there are skating, tobogganing and long tramps, with basket-ball practice necessarily confined to the gymnasium. As soon as the frost is off the ground, however, the basket-ball teams revel in field practice, the rowing-machines are forsaken and the shells launched with a glad hurrah, and running records are broken and made on good turf track. College girls are very enthusiastic athletes. Basket-ball is the universal favorite sport, and there is a general struggle to get on the teams.

Mount Holyoke Class of 1899 Basketball Team
“Mount Holyoke Class of 1899 Basketball Team”. Mount Holyoke College. 1899. College Women. Web. Accessed March 19, 2017. https://www.collegewomen.org/node/13450

There are many other sports, and all have their devotees—tennis, golf, lacrosse, swimming, riding, cycling, vaulting, highjumping and running events. Tramping, too, is a favorite pastime, and in many of the colleges “Mountain Day” is set apart for this purpose. At Mt. Holyoke the girls are great equestrians, and the objective points of their “little jaunts” and “constitutionals” are located eight and ten miles from the college-grounds.

As the Vassar and Smith girls look back to Chapter House dances and “Phil Proms,” so the Mt. Holyoke graduate cherishes tender memories of the Bluffs, the Larches, Titans’ Pier, the Pass of Thermopylae, Paradise, and Bittersweet Lane. “Field Day” at the colleges is the culmination of the year’s athletic work. It is always a gala day, and class spirit runs high. Vassar’s “Field Day,” occurring in May, is the most exciting event of the year. She has always maintained high records in track events, and the record-breakers of “Field Day” are exalted and fêted by their colleagues.

At Bryn Mawr the annual tennis tournament takes first place. It occurs early in the autumn, and lasts a week. The whole college is decked in festive attire. Pennants, class colors and flags float from the windows, the lawns are gay with teaparties; and class calls and the new cries of the freshmen are drowned in the general:

Hooray! Hooray for the gray!
Hooray! Hoorah for Bryn Mawr!

which is the favorite college cry, having been dedicated to President Taylor, who belonged to the Society of Friends.

Besides these annual athletic celebrations, there are regular fête-days observed by every college. At Vassar there are “Founders’ Day” and “‘Philolethian Day,” terminating with formal dances in the evening, and there is the annual trip to Lake Mohonk, a treat provided by “Uncle Fred” Thompson, one of the trustees.

“Float Day” is a fête peculiarly Wellesley’s own. The festivities begin at sunset, with the coming out of the floats decorated and fashioned in quaint design, sometimes suggestive of class jokes, sometimes bearing upon the eccentricities of the faculty, sometimes carrying out a theme in history or drama. Smaller craft follow the floats, until, as twilight deepens, Lake Waban is covered with a gay flotilla, hundreds of colored lights on the boats adding beauty to the scene. On shore, scores of lanterns hung in the trees transform the place to a veritable fairyland. The grounds are filled with guests, refreshments are served, fireworks make things brilliant, and then, in the first lull, the Wellesley college songs break out over the moonlit stillness, and “Wellesley, Our Alma Mater,” floats over the hills, eight hundred voices strong. The “Freshman Banquet” is the event of the year at Wellesley College, the “Junior Promenade” at Smith’s, and “Mountain” is sacred to Mt. Holyoke, when the whole college takes a holiday, the seniors monopolizing one of the mountain inns, where grinds and prophecies are read, old books burnt, toasts drunk over the bonfire in deep flagons of lemonade, and a pair of fiddlers engaged for a dance that lasts until midnight.

After the beginning of the second term, the seniors come into prominence. Preparations for commencement and class day exercises are put under way; farewell entertainments are given by the under classmen; the year’s dramatics, which have been a very popular part of the entertainment— and sometimes dangerously fascinating—are drawn to a close, and the seniors prepare to leave their alma mater. Almost invariably they are sorry to go, for the association of four or five years must result in ties and bonds not easy to break.

The senior supper, which is the last event of college life before the public exercises, is intended for a huge jollification; but it puts lumps in girls’ throats not so easily swallowed as the goodies specified on the menu. Here speeches are made which, despite the bright quips and witty allusions to incidents of college life, strike chords of deep feeling. In some of the colleges it is the rule for engaged girls to “own up” and receive the congratulations of their classmates; in others souvenirs are exchanged which will always remain treasured tokens; and at Bryn Mawr it is the custom of the lower classmen, who refuse to allow the occasion to be steeped in tears, to gather underneath the windows and sing class songs and shout class calls, until the seniors soften and pass out goodies through the windows.

Then come class day and commencement exercises, with their attendant excitement and pleasure—the receiving of degrees, with a justifiable flush of pride and satisfaction; the parting with chums and familiar landmarks, with the inevitable gulp and struggle for self-control; and then Stern reality.

–“A College Girls’ Life” by Lavinia Hart, Cosmopolitan (1901)

Women’s Colleges & Universities: Bryn Mawr

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Ladies Home Journal (June 1913) - illustrated by Harrison Fisher

The word Bryn Mawr means high hill, and the college was named after the town five miles west in the suburbs of Philadelphia, on the main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Its site is four hundred and twenty feet above sea-level, in the midst of a beautiful rolling country, made easily accessible in every direction by good roads. The college grounds cover fifty-two acres, and include lawns, tennis-courts, a large athletic-field, and a skating-pond.

If first seen on a quietly brooding spring day, when the ground is blue with violets, and the blue and white “fair weather” signal flags are flying from Dalton Hall, the beauty of Bryn Mawr is a thing never to be forgotten. Far off in the distance, over the undulating hills, is a stately white marble residence with red tiled roof; in the middle distance is an attractive group of professors’ houses; somewhat nearer stands out “Low Buildings,” where the members of the faculty have cozy apartments and live a very serene, happy life; directly before one are Merion, Radnor, Denbigh, and Pembroke, the last-named an imposing structure of gray stone, with a central arch through which one views a very pleasant vista of shady green. The newest residence hall is Rockefeller, just completed this spring. It adjoins Pembroke Hall West, and its central tower, known as the Owl Gate, forms, for foot-passengers, the permanent entrance to the college.

Bryn Mawr College was founded by Dr. Joseph W. Taylor, of Burlington, New Jersey, a man who, though a bachelor, had all his life taken a great interest in the education of women. He died January 18, 1880, leaving the greater portion of his estate for the establishment and maintenance of this institution of advanced learning. It was his earnest desire that the college should be pervaded by the principles of Christianity held by Friends, which he believed to be the same in substance as those taught by the early Christians, and an endeavour has accordingly been made to promote this end. In the social life of the college to-day interesting little traces of its Friend origin are discerned; there is never any dancing at Bryn Mawr, for instance. And its chapel has about it nothing that would distinguish the room from an ordinary lecture-hall.

Before actual work was begun at Bryn Mawr, the organization of Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley was carefully studied. To the Johns Hopkins University, however, is due the academic system which was finally adopted, a scheme of major and minor electives in fixed combination, to which Bryn Mawr gave the name of the group system. In the spring of 1885 the first programme was issued, and that same autumn the college regularly opened for instruction. From the start Bryn Mawr has maintained distinctly high rank. No college women in the country are more thoroughly trained and have a more scholarly type of mind than those who take degrees here. Having said which, one may perhaps pass at once to the institution’s social side, even though, in so doing, one does run the risk of not giving a large enough degree of prominence to the thing which, above all others, makes Bryn Mawr what it is, i. e., its really austere academic life.

The only kind of hazing ever indulged in at Bryn Mawr comes early in the year, when the sophomores try to spirit away the new caps and gowns which the proud freshmen have just purchased. The game is for the freshmen to find their precious robes. When, therefore, they are able to come in to chapel dressed in their newly-attained habiliments, they are warmly congratulated by the president “upon having successfully matriculated.” The girls never renew their caps and gowns, a senior being justly proud of a well-worn cap and a rusty gown. Even at Commencement the same old gowns are worn over fresh white duck skirts and white shirt-waists.

A question very commonly addressed to the Bryn Mawr girl by a stranger at the college is, “Why do you have a lantern on your college pin?” Acquaintance with the customs and life of the place makes one concede, however, that the lantern is a singularly appropriate emblem to be so used. For almost the first association an entering student has is with lanterns. And the lantern is likewise linked with her final impressions of her Alma Mater.

One of the oldest and most characteristic customs is the Presentation of the Lanterns. The ex-freshmen then greet the incoming girls with a song, and present each one with a “lantern to light her steps through the unknown ways of college life,” and especially through the mazes of the group system. Sometimes much sage advice is given with the light, and once the unfortunate freshmen won their lanterns only after passing an impromptu oral examination. The form of the affair differs with the character and resources of the class giving it; but as preparations for it are begun in the freshmen year, the offering is usually both clever and original.

The farewell lantern celebration is at the alumnae supper given on Commencement evening. Here a speech of welcome is made to the new alumnae, and at the close of the festivities the lights are turned low, and the lanterns, standing at each place, are lighted from one large lantern that has been burning throughout the evening at the head of the table. Holding the lighted lanterns, the alumnae sing the old college song. Then they slowly go out, leaving their bright lights still burning on the deserted board.

Short as has been the life of Bryn Mawr, there is already connected with it a wealth of interest and tradition. Each class has a seal, a dolphin, a beaver, or some other animal, which every member wears in ring form, and in the use of the lanterns not a little originality and ingenuity have been displayed. The first lantern, pointed out to the visitor of to-day with impressive reverence by the undergraduate, was a plain little candlestick. From then up to the present time, every sort of lantern has been used. All the residence halls — except the newest one — bear the names of Welsh counties, a thing which of itself gives charm and atmosphere to Bryn Mawr. The views from these halls are in every case fine and inspiring.

The students’ rooms in the halls are many of them arranged in double suites, two bedrooms and a common study. In Pembroke the suites are particularly attractive, as are also the parlour and the reception-room. The dining-room at Pembroke is over the imposing central arch, and, finished as it is with dark wood and equipped with handsome high-backed chairs and dainty table fittings, it forcefully impresses one as quite all that such a room in a girls’ college should be. At the end of the room are two fireplaces, one on each side. Over these are carved respectively the legends Ung ie Seruiray and Veritatem Dilexi. The table at Bryn Mawr is uniformly good, dinner being, of course, the meal of the day. This is a social occasion, and all the girls dress for it as carefully as if they were in their own homes. The college gown, which is the regular academic garb, is never worn then.

This year, for the first time, the tuition fee is $200 for undergraduate students. Other expenses bring the price of a year at Bryn Mawr up to not less than $500 for undergraduates and $400 for graduate students. Here, however, as in many other of the leading educational institutions for women, there are ways of helping girls to help themselves. Some of these ways are exceedingly interesting. A lunch room in the gymnasium is conducted by students; there are electrical lieutenants in every building, whose duty it is to regulate the matter of lights; a college book-shop has students for clerks, and a captain of the fire-brigade directs drills for each residence hall.

Chapel, held every day at a quarter before nine, is voluntary, but the students go in large numbers. On Sundays the girls attend such churches in the neighbourhood as they may elect, and every other Wednesday evening there is a sermon at college by some distinguished clergyman, the alternate Wednesdays being given over to a Christian Union service, conducted by the students themselves.

Gymnasium attendance is required at Bryn Mawr, as are also four periods of exercise each week. One hour only of this is class drill, however, the rest of the time being divided between golf, riding, swimming, hockey, or basket-ball, all of which count as exercise.

Undergraduate work at Bryn Mawr is all over by four in the afternoon, so that there is a very fair margin of leisure for the girls to enjoy. This they do in fine weather by means of teas on the lawn, the wardens of the various halls being “at home” on different days to the student body. Singing on the steps of Taylor Hall (which belong to the seniors) is another favourite diversion, a thing not only delightful in itself, but useful, too, as practice for the garden-party occasion, which crowns the senior year, and for the farewell to the halls and the faculty which comes after the seniors’ last lecture.

Into the last week of the college year are crowded many gaieties. The first of these is the senior class supper, a distinctly impressive occasion when everything that has marked the career of the outgoing class is brought up and enjoyed, old jokes repeated, old stories retold, and every endeavour made to mitigate the sadness which must otherwise attend a farewell. At the end, the class, standing, sings its own song and gives its cheer. When the feast is all over, some of the fragments that remain are sent to the honorary members of the class, — those of the faculty who first came to Bryn Mawr the year that class entered college.

At high noon, on the day before Commencement, a breakfast is given to the seniors by the other students. This is held in the gymnasium, decorated with daisies and boughs set off by the yellow and white of the class banners. The toasts are followed by chorus singing of college songs. Then, before college breaks up, the seniors hand over to the lower classes their duties and responsibilities, and make a tour of the buildings, which they serenade in turn. And on Commencement morning, as a last loving attention, the freshmen make for their departing big sisters countless daisy chains, which are used to decorate the chapel and the hallways.

For the Garden Party of Commencement Week, the most ornate festivity of the college year, the girls all have beautiful new gowns. Their friends from outside are invited out in large numbers, the buildings are illuminated, the trees hung with Japanese lanterns, and Bryn Mawr is for the nonce transformed into the gayest of fairy-lands. The evening always ends by singing on Taylor House steps, and the song which forms the last number on the programme is that called ” Our Gracious Inspiration,” written by Caroline Foulke, of the class of ’96.

The College Girl of America (1905) by Mary Caroline Crawford

Student Life in Oxford University

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A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader curious about daily life at university for an upwardly mobile young man and I figured the least I could do was to share a description with you!


The Full Costume of an Eightsman

When a freshman is once established in college, his life falls into a pleasantly varied routine. The day is ushered in by the scout, who bustles into the bedroom, throws aside the curtain, pours out the bath, and shouts, “Half past seven, sir,” in a tone that makes it impossible to forget that chapel — or if one chooses, roll-call — comes at eight. Unless one keeps his six chapels or “rollers” a week, he is promptly “hauled” before the dean, who perhaps “gates” him. To be gated is to be forbidden to pass the college gate after dark, and fined a shilling for each night of confinement.

Breakfast comes soon after chapel, or roll-call. If a man has “kept a dirty roller,” that is, has reported in pyjamas, ulster, and boots, and has turned in again, the scout puts the breakfast before the fire on a trestle built of shovel, poker, and tongs, where it remains edible until noon. If a man has a breakfast party on, the scout makes sure that he is stirring in season, and, hurrying through the other rooms on the staircase, is presently on hand for as long as he may be wanted. The usual Oxford breakfast is a single course, which not infrequently consists of some one of the excellent English pork products, with an egg or kidneys. There may be two courses, in which case the first is of the no less excellent fresh fish. There are no vegetables. The breakfast is ended with toast and jam or marmalade. When one has fellows in to breakfast, and the Oxford custom of rooming alone instead pf chumming makes such hospitality frequent, — his usual meal is increased by a course, say, of chicken. In any case it leads to a morning cigarette, for tobacco aids digestion, and helps fill the hour or so after meals which an Englishman gives to relaxation.

At ten o’clock the breakfast may be interrupted for a moment by the exit of some one bent on attending a lecture, though one apologizes for such an act as if it were scarcely good form. An appointment with one’s tutor is a more legitimate excuse for leaving; but even this is always an occasion for an apology, in behalf of the tutor of course, for one is certainly not himself responsible. If a quorum is left, they manage to sit comfortably by the fire, smoking and chatting in spite of lectures and tutors, until by mutual consent they scatter to glance at the ” Times ” and the ” Sportsman” in the common-room, or even to get in a bit of reading.

Luncheon often consists of bread and cheese and jam from the buttery, with perhaps a half pint of bitter beer; but it may, like the breakfast, come from the college kitchen. In any case it is very light, for almost immediately after it everybody scatters to field and track and river for the exercise that the English climate makes necessary and the sport that the English temperament demands.

By four o’clock every one is back in college tubbed and dressed for tea, which a man serves himself in his rooms to as many fellows as he has been able to gather in on field or river. If he is eager to hear of the games he has not been able to witness, he goes to the junior common-room or to his club, where he is sure to find a dozen or so of kindred spirits representing every sport of importance. In this way he hears the minutest details of the games of the day from the players themselves; and before nightfall — such is the influence of tea — those bits of gossip which in America are known chiefly among members of a team have ramified the college. Thus the function of the “bleachers ” on an American field is performed with a vengeance by the easy-chairs before a common-room fire; and a man had better be kicked off the team by an American captain than have his shortcomings served up with common-room tea.

The two hours between tea and dinner may be, and usually are, spent in reading.

At seven o’clock the college bell rings, and in two minutes the fellows have thrown on their gowns and are seated at table, where the scouts are in readiness to serve them. As a rule a man may sit wherever he chooses; this is one of the admirable arrangements for breaking up such cliques as inevitably form in a college. But in point of fact a man usually ends by sitting in some certain quarter of the hall, where from day to day he finds much the same set of fellows. Thus all the advantages of friendly intercourse are attained without any real exclusiveness.

Across the end of the hall is a platform for high table, at which the dons assemble as soon as the undergraduates are well seated. On Sunday night they come out in full force, and from the time the first one enters until the last is seated, the undergraduates rattle and bang the tables, until it seems as if the glass must splinter. When, as often happens, a distinguished graduate comes up, — the Speaker of the Commons to Balliol, or the Prime Minister to Christ Church, — the enthusiasm has usually to be stopped by a gesture from the master or the dean.

After hall the dons go to the senior common-room for the sweet and port. At Trinity they have one room for the sweet and another for port. The students, meanwhile, in certain of the colleges, may go for dessert to the college store; that is to say, to a room beneath the hall, where the fancy groceries of the college stock are displayed for sale. There are oranges from Florida and Tangiers, dainty maiden blush apples from New England, figs and dates from the Levant, prunes and prunelles from Italy, candied apricots from France, and the superb English hothouse grapes, more luscious than Silenus ever crushed against his palate. There are sweets, cigarettes, and cigars. All are spread upon the tables like a Venetian painting of abundance; but at either end of the room stand two Oxford scouts, with account-books in their hands.

In the evening, when the season permits, the fellows sit out of doors after dinner, smoking and playing bowls. As long as the English twilight lingers, the men will sit and talk and sing to the mandolin; and I have heard of fellows sitting and talking all night, not turning in until the porter appeared to take their names at roll-call. On the eve of Mayday it is quite the custom to sit out, for at dawn one may go to see the pretty ceremony of heralding the May on Magdalen Tower. If a man intends to spend the evening out of college, he has to make a dash before nine o’clock; for love or for money the porter may not let an inmate out after nine.

An American at Oxford (1902)