Archive for February, 2012

4th Research Log: Interviews

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

"Alvey Hall" Photographer Paulette S. Watson, Photo courtesy of Publications, University of Mary Washington

The decade of the 1930’s had many influential professors here at the University of Mary Washington who helped transform the college into the school that it is today.  One of these professors was Dr. Alvey who has a dormitory on campus dedicated in his name.  Ruby Lee Norris was here when he first arrived on campus and talks about her experiences with him in an interview.  Dr. Alvey came to Mary Washington from the University of Virginia to take the position as Dean of the college.  He was also a teacher at the time however Mrs. Norris said “His classes were not great by the way, I hate to put a shadow over this saint, his class, it was a course in education, and it was just not dynamite.”  Ruby Lee described him as more of an introvert but that he was very competent as a Dean.  He became more influential as time went along and students began to endear him for his efforts.  Mrs. Norris and Dr. Alvey became great friends throughout the years.

Another interesting aspect of the curriculum that Ruby Lee Norris discussed was swimming as a core subject.  Back then, swimming was a required course and was part of the college curriculum.  She noted “..everybody had to take swimming, it was part of the state law, we used to have the department of education in the high schools and college had strict rules about what you had to do and some girls almost flunked because they couldn’t pass that swimming.”  Mary Washington is actually where Ruby Lee learned how to swim despite being from the Rappahannock River/Chesapeake Bay area.  The students had swim lessons at the pool that was located in the basement of Lee Hall.

Members of the Terrapin Club from 1942 poses for their photograph next to the Lee Hall pool. Originally Uploaded by UMW Centennial.

These two topics that she discussed in her interview were the closest she came to describing the classroom environment at UMW in the 1930’s.  Her interview was very helpful in painting a picture of what life was like around campus and in town but she doesn’t really go into what classes were like at the time.  I think that the memories from outside the classroom were more prevalent for Ruby and are the moments that stuck with her for over seventy years.

The interview with Ruby Lee can be found here:



Group Meeting 2/9/12

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Our group meeting last thursday was very productive as we determined the name, appearance, and information that our site would have.  We discussed having four main pages that contains the information that we’ve gathered from our individual research.  Their will be an additional section on the name change from State Teacher’s College to Mary Washington College which occurred in 1938.  We will have an academic section that will include information about various departments, professors, alumni, and the curriculum.  Because social life was such an important aspect of the women’s lives their will be a social page with information collected from the Bullet and Student Handbooks that will discuss the clubs and events at the time.  We will then have a sources page with the sources that we used in our research.  Here is the site’s domain name for our project:

3rd Research Log: Interviews

Monday, February 13th, 2012

In an interview about Mary Washington, Ruby Lee Norris describes what the “Image of Mary Washington Girl” was when she was attending the college between 1932 and 1936.  She recalls having to wear long-flowing dresses that were nearly around her ankles and distinctly remembers that they had to be eleven inches from the fold.  Girls had to wear this along with high heels every time they went into town in fact Mrs. Norris commented that “I practically had heels on the entire time I was here.”  The girls also wore this attire along with a hat and gloves when they went to church.

UMW Alumni Project, "Ruby Lee Norris Yearbook Photograph." Alumni, Item #58 (accessed February 13 2012, 11:30 am)

Ruby Lee Norris noted that Dr. Combs and Mrs. Bushnell worked hand in hand to make sure that the girls grew up to become proper Virginia ladies.  At dinner, Mrs. Bushnell would tap her glass to get the girls attention so that they could say a blessing before the meal.  She would then tap her glass again and begin teaching the girls etiquette lessons on how to eat properly and behave at dinner.  Ruby Lee Norris discussed how Mrs. Bushnell taught the students how to eat soup correctly with the spoon going in a complete circle away from themselves.

She also distinctly remembers a time when Dr. Combs lectured the students on how to be proper Virginia ladies.  One weekend two girls were caught in a zone in town where they weren’t allowed to be and dressed in improper attire.  The following monday classes were cancelled for a convocation held by Dr. Combs where he discussed the image that a Mary Washington girl had when she went into town.  At the end of his lecture he told them “it behooves every woman to be as beautiful as she can be everyday.”

These interviews with Ruby Lee Norris are very helpful in visualizing what the atmosphere on campus and in town were like for the students of Mary Washington in the 1930’s.  It appears that most of their education was geared towards preparing the girls to be good wives and mothers rather than turning them into young professionals.  The idea of the girls being “proper Virginia ladies” seemed to be the most important aspect of their education at the time.  While Mrs. Norris was here, Mary Washington was still called State Teacher’s College and the teaching profession was still very much considered something of female expertise because of women’s more nurturing and motherly nature.  So it appears that the education that the students received during the 1930’s was centered around child rearing and women being solely responsible for raising children in the rising middle class America.


Reading Discussion

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

I thought the article “Girl Reporter Derring-Do” in Modern American Women was very interesting and gave me insight into the world of a young, female reporter named Nellie Bly.  She began her career as a writer at the age of 20 when she wrote a “spirited response to an anti-femnist article in a Pittsburgh newspaper” which captured the attention of the editor who then offered her an article in the paper.  Her most prolific work, however, was her trip around the world in which she put herself in various situations and documented what she witnessed.

I found it interesting that despite this female reporter being an open feminist during the 1880’s, she was able to gain a lot of popularity from her hard work and insight.  She defied everyone’s preconceived notions of what a female journalist might be like and she was able to gain the respect and admiration of the public who seemed more interested in her writings rather than the fact that she was a woman.  Nellie was very passionate about her work so much so that she once pretended that she was demented so that she could enter into an insane asylum and chronicle the research that she during her stay.  This passion for her work is what made her so successful.

2nd Research Log

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Roxanne M. Ibinson, "Ruby Lee Norris flips through her yearbook." Alumni, Item #1 (accessed February 06 2012, 12:30 pm)

Ruby Lee Norris’ interviews the UMW Alumni Project are a very useful resource in determining what the classroom environment at Mary Washington was like during the 1930’s.  I found it interesting when I learned that she earned a third of her tuition every year through a working scholarship.  At the time, the school year was divided into three semesters and annual tuition was three hundred dollars.  Her working scholarship paid her one hundred dollars a year towards her tuition and she was able to pay for an entire semester on her own.  She mentions that she would not have been able to go to school without the help of this working scholarship and many of her peers were in a similar position.  She said specifically that “none of us had lots of money” and in her Junior year, Ruby Lee found out that her family was suffering economically so she prepared herself to leave school and begin working to help her family.  However, her family encouraged to finish her education which she had worked so hard for.

The Depression played a huge role in the environment at Mary Washington in the 1930’s because it affected the entire campus and not just a certain group of people.  The girls put so much effort into their education because so much was invested in it.  They realized that by getting an education they could create a better life for themselves and going to college was the best opportunity to bring the girls and their families out of the depression.  Also, because these girls shared such common and profound experiences with one another, the students at Mary Washington were very close with each other.  The students faced so much adversity during this time that they only way they could succeed was by being supported by their fellow peers.  Ruby Lee’s description of Mary Washington during the depression era allows us to visualize a campus that was united in the pride for their hard work as well as their shared experiences and similar backgrounds.