Beauties in Boarding Houses: The Daily Life of a 1907 EMU Student

September 19, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

A cartoon in the 1915 Aurora depicted boardinghouse "hash" as comprised of buttons, safety pins, and paper clips.

A cartoon in the 1915 Aurora depicted boardinghouse "hash" as an appetizing blend of buttons, safety pins, and paper clips.

EMU students in 1907 didn’t have campus dorms, personal transportation, or on-campus meal plans. A humor article in the 1907 “Aurora” yearbook illustrates how different—and in some ways, how timelessly similar—were students’ lives.

“A Day at the Normal” [EMU was then known as Normal College] is a chronological account that kicks off in early morning.

6 A.M.: Loud ringing of alarm clocks.
6:05 A.M.: Yawns and groans.
6:10 A.M.: General getting up.
6:30 A.M.: Mad scrambling to get to the boarding-house.
6:35 A.M.: Waiting for breakfast.
6:40 A.M.: Waiter appears with a dish of sawdust in one hand and some chopped hay in the other.

By and large students rented rooms in family homes throughout the city for living quarters. The school coordinated the placement of students with homeowners willing to house a student or students of either gender—co-ed houses were not allowed (a rule that in later years was relaxed). School officials kept an eye on the homes in order to make any necessary changes to their “approved homes” list.

A few such private homes also provided meals, but most students subscribed to a meal plan at a separate boarding house, whose name derives from the “board,” or table. The term “boardinghouse reach” originates from this era, evoking a tableful of hungry diners but only one salt shaker. At this time, a week’s worth of three daily meals at a boarding house cost students around $2, about $50 today.

After leaving their rooming houses and eating breakfast at their boarding houses, students headed to school.

7:00 A.M. Seniors slowly amble towards the Library.
7:50: General evacuation of the Library. Many collisions in the hall. Great crowd of boys at the social corner causes traffic to cease for a time.
7:59: Empty corridors. Re-echoing footsteps in the distance.
8:05: Janitors sit down on the steps for an hour’s visit.
8:07: [Psychology] Prof. Laird: “I shall keep all these people who are late, after school.”
8:10: [French and German] Prof. Ford: “How many of you people have had your breakfast this morning?” (Half of the class look silly).

The Normal was a teacher training school with an on-site grade school where senior Normal students practiced teaching classes, under the eye of the dreaded supervising “Critic Teacher.”

8:50: Seniors rush to the Training School, pleasant (?) anticipation in every feature.
9:05: Critic teacher comes in, notebook in hand.
9:06: Courage flies out of the window.
9:30: Student teacher drops lifeless to the floor.
9:32: She is pushed out of the door to make way for another victim.

After morning classes came the mad scramble to return to the boarding house for lunch, with student couples tending to lag a bit behind. If lunch was eaten expeditiously, there might be time to enjoy another stroll back to school with one’s sweetheart.

11:50: Normal doors are burst open by vast crowds of students. They rush for the boarding houses at break-neck speed.
12: Grub.
12:30 P.M.: Groups of well-filled (?) students issue forth and go down the street in the following order: Miss Ronan and Mr. Engle; Miss Warren and Mr. Miller; Mr. Caswell and a bunch of seven or more; Hugo and Clara; Withenbury and Louise; Roy and Brice; C. P. and Anne; “Doc” and his pockets.

In the afternoon came class observation time for student teachers, and other classes that included music lessons and student teaching feedback critique sessions.

12:55 P.M.: The ‘one o’clock’ gong sounds. Groups of light-hearted [grade school] children skip toward the Training School, while here and there a solitary senior wends his weary way thither to “observe.”
1:30 P.M.: Unearthly screeches from the Conservatory denote the fact that someone is taking a lesson.
3 P.M.: Critic Meeting. Every one hustles to get there and learn how to receive the worst “slams” with a smiling countenance.

In the afternoon, sports practices began, occasionally interrupted by the diversion of a wondrous contraption then rare in the city.

4 P.M.: The Tennis Courts are full of people bobbing around picking up white balls. The baseball boys trot around after [Coach] Schulte.
4:15 P.M.: An automobile goes down Cross Street. All occupation ceases.
4:20 P.M.: Occupations are again resumed.
5:15 P.M.: “The studious people in the Library are requested to ‘bring books to the desk and get reserved books.”

The school day was over. Students could return to their boarding house for dinner.

5:30 P.M.: “Hash time” has arrived. The odors issuing forth from the doors and windows proclaim the ingredients.

Those ingredients were lambasted in a satirical “Menu from a Leading Boarding House” article, published in the 1918 Aurora’s jokes section.

Corn Flakes, Toasted
Diluted Fluid of Bovine
Encrusted Doughpiles, Browned
Meat, in absentia
Essence of H2O, Filtered
Mock Coffee, with condemned milk

DINNER [Lunch]
Soup in bowls
Bread, individual slices
Vegetables sometimes
Roast Beef a la tuffo
Essence H2O refiltered
Mock Coffee heated
Pie Filet de Vacuum
Napkins, Folded

SUPPER [Dinner]
Beef, resurrected
Potatoes, with eyes
Hot Canines, deanimated
Aqua pura, in glasses
Mock Coffee again
Dried apricots, bonded vintage 1763
Cookies, a la hardtack from Plymouth
Napkins, Refolded

After dinner, the students’ evenings were free for study, or less scholastic pursuits.

6 P.M.: Pear [a joke on “pair,” or couple] time again.
6:30 P.M.: The beauties of the Huron are viewed by twilight.

Visiting another rooming house was allowed, but supervised. All too soon the rooming houses’ curfew of 10 P.M. would arrive, and visitors had to leave their charming companions. Tomorrow was another school day.

10 P.M.: Many doors are opened and young men come out.
11 P.M.: The streets are quiet. The High School clock and the moon keep a silent watch over the slumbering town.

Laura Bien is the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives,” available on Amazon. Have an idea for a column? Contact her at [email protected]


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