3rd Research Log: Interviews

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.


Comments are closed.