University Archivist Anne Turkos |
University of Maryland
Q - How would you compare student life in 1859 when the Maryland Agricultural College first opened its doors vs. student life of today?
I think it is difficult for students of today to imagine what life was like for the first 34 young men who entered the Maryland Agricultural College when it opened its doors on October 5, 1859. The student body was all male, all white, all largely of the upper or upper middle class, certainly not the diverse mix of individuals that we enjoy on campus today. There were no international students either in that entering class, so the students were not exposed to differing cultures. Each student followed a very regimented schedule. They rose at the same time, ate at the same time, shared the same classes, worked in the college's agricultural fields together, and attended religious observances at specified times. Their behavior was carefully scrutinized and controlled. Initially there were no sports teams or performing arts groups in which students could become involved.
There were only two student groups early on, the Mercer Literary Society and the Calvert Fraternity, a debating club, not a Greek organization like today's fraternities. Present-day students have freedoms that were unimaginable in the nineteenth century - in academic pursuits, dress, extra-curricular activities, and daily routines. They routinely encounter individuals who are different from themselves and are exposed to a campus environment that combines ideas and cultures from around the world. Student life has changed tremendously over the last 150 years, and it is fascinating to study its evolution.
Q - Why did it take so long for women to finally be admitted and what impact have they had on student life?
Women did not officially matriculate at the University of Maryland until 1916, when Elizabeth Hook and Charlotte Vaux begin their studies in entomology and agriculture, respectively. The admission of women was the result of a confluence of at least two forces, the federal Smith-Lever Act, passed in 1914, which established the Cooperative Extension Service and encouraged the establishment of home economics training courses, and full takeover of the Maryland Agricultural College (MAC) by the state of Maryland . The MAC was re-named the Maryland State College of Agriculture and given a new charter by the General Assembly which stated that all departments of the college should be open to women.
Women changed life at the university almost immediately. Very quickly, they began organizing their own sports teams, student government, and other activities. They established the first sorority only four short years after their arrival. They have fought steadily for recognition and equality in the classroom and lab, in the arts, and on the playing field. Their numbers have risen to the point where they now comprise close to 50% of the student body, and they form a vital part of every academic discipline on campus. We have many female alumni of whose accomplishments we can be justly proud.
Q - It must have been hard to decide what to include, and what not to include in your Maryland Room exhibit - what are the highlights?
It was a great challenge to determine what to include in the exhibit. We started with materials that we felt would tie into the title of the show, so there are several special pieces reflecting the beginnings of student life at the Maryland Agricultural College - cadet uniforms, our first student register book, and early photographs of students - and a number of images and memorabilia objects capturing our athletic history of which "Testudo's Troops" can be justly proud. We included the taxidermied terrapin that was the model for the first statue of Testudo, since our mascot is such an important part of campus life, beanies that freshmen were required to wear, images of academic activities over time, and even some silverware from the dining hall from the 1940s. The entire back wall of the gallery focuses on the May Day tradition, which was a major springtime observance at the university from 1923 to 1961, and we have even included a beautiful may pole to highlight this event. I also think visitors will enjoy learning about the codes of behavior that used to exist on campus and how students have rebelled against such strictures at times throughout our history. It is hard to select just the highlights, since the show is such a rich reflection of all 150 years of student life at the university.
Q - If you were doing this exhibit for Maryland 's 300th Anniversary - what do you think you'd be highlighting then? Does student life change gradually or suddenly based on major events like war or fads?
I suspect our 300th anniversary exhibit on student life could focus on many of the same themes as our present show does - academics, commencement, codes of behavior, rebellion, student organizations and publishing, dorm and dining hall life, hanging out on campus, athletics, and the performing arts. Students will always be involved in classes of some sort, although classes may be taught in ways we cannot even imagine, and will receive degrees. There will always be a wide variety of student organizations and extra-curricular activities in which they can become involved and create a sense of community. And I think athletics will still be a major part of campus life. It's just that the nature of all of these activities will have changed dramatically. We may be focusing our 300 th anniversary exhibit more on the development of technology and the role it plays in student life. Hopefully we will have some new traditions to celebrate, and there will be new hang-outs and landmarks on campus to highlight. Certainly the method for displaying the materials we wish to exhibit will also have changed enormously. If we look at how dramatically student life has changed since our founding in 1856 and try and project that same level of change 150 years into the future, it is extremely challenging to anticipate what our tri-centennial show might include.
If we look at the continuum of student life over the last 150 years, I would say that it changes gradually but is certainly influenced by fads. The prevalence of cell phones and iPods on campus is a great example of this sort of combination of changes. These technologies did not appear on campus overnight, but I think it is likely that they will be replaced by some other sort of technology as time goes on. Raccoon coats, poodle skirts, and saddle shoes have all come and gone too, and rather quickly. But the move from a very regimented and restricted life-style to the almost unlimited freedom of movement and choice that today's students have has taken a very long time.
Q - As the University Archivist here at College Park , what is your favorite relic reflecting student life?
That is a very difficult question, since we have so many wonderful pieces of student life in the University Archives, but I would have to choose the real Testudo. I consider this taxidermied terrapin the crown jewel of the Archives, and I enjoy sharing it and the story of the origin of our mascot with all of our visitors to the Archives.
Q - If an alumnus/alumnae has something to donate reflecting their student years, what should they do?
If one of our graduates has materials relating to their studies at the University of Maryland , they should contact the University Archives. We are always looking for items to add to our collections, including, but not limited to, correspondence, publications, photographs, and memorabilia. We would be delighted to speak with alumni about what they have retained and are willing to donate. They can contact me by telephone (301-405-9060) or by email ( firstname.lastname@example.org ), or they can stop by the Archives in Hornbake Library.