Saturday, September 5, 2009

College Days 1953-55

Labor Day always reminds everyone of the start of school.  Back in the day no one started school in August.  Everyone waited for Labor Day...the last day of summer vacation.  Elementary, high school, college-everyone started after Labor Day.

I had just turned 16 in June 1953,  and my high school principal, Dr. Lewis, made sure that I had enough scholarship money to go to Central State College, a historically Black College, in Wilberforce, Ohio.  No one in my family had even considered going to college so my dream was not encouraged.  But somehow, Dr. Lewis knew and she made sure that I had enough money.  After all, it cost just about $700.00 a year, including out-of-state fees, tuition, room, and board, and no one in my family had ever seen that much money.  One sister, Mary, sent me my allowance:  $5.00 a week from her salary of $40.00 a week.  I could never thank her enough.

Someone in the family took me to the train station and I boarded the train with over $750 in cash stuffed in my bra.  How excited I was.  It was only about 250 miles from Chicago, but I was traveling alone and did not even think about being scared.  I just saw possibilities and was open to each and every one.

Seniors met new students at the train station and we took a bus to campus.  My guide was a student named Charles Moody.  (Who knew that in two years we would marry?)  He took me to the bursar to pay my bill and everyone was horrified when I went into my bra to get my money.  My tuition was already paid so I had just over $300.00 left.  Moody suggested that I leave it in an account in the bursar's office but he needed to borrow $40.00 for his books.  I loaned him the money but made him take me to the Campus Grill and buy me a milk shake.

Moody and Chris on campus in 1953

Some rambling thoughts on college in the 1950s....
  • Central State was small, less than 1000 students and everyone knew each other.  Less than 10 students had cars so everyone walked.
  • If you took less than 16 hours of classes,  people assumed you weren't very smart.  Most people took 17 or 18 hours and finished in four years.  Many classes met every day.  You were busy from 8:00 AM until 4:00 PM.
  • This is before computers and calculators so we did calculations on paper or in our heads.  We would borrow a typewriter for our papers.
  • We could visit our professors in their homes and they would feed us while we discussed class assignments.
  • The sunken gardens, in the middle of campus, was a favorite spot for fraternity and sorority members to meet and sing.
  • Sometimes fraternities, carrying burning torches, would serenade the women in the female dorms after midnight.  We would be asleep and all of a sudden we could hear a frat chant and the stomping of feet.  We would hurry downstairs in our pjs to listen and swoon.
  • Our athletic teams were very competitive.  We played other Black Colleges and since I was a cheerleader I got to travel with the team.  Homecoming was big.  The graduates would return in stylish clothes and we had a big parade and dance.  The game was incidental.

Homecoming 1954

  • Central State also had a farm and we had fresh food.  Our food, which was delicious, was actually cooked on location, not shipped in by a catering company.
  • However, a big event was when a box of food from home would arrive.  Cakes, fried chicken, spam, vienna sausages, cookies--all arrived by mail.   Can you believe we ate cooked food that had been in a box for several days?  You became very popular when you got a box.
  • We also had a couple of small grills in the area but seldom did anyone have any extra money.
  • Females had to be in the dorm by 7:30 PM but males did not have a curfew.  Of course, there were ways to sneak out and ways to sneak back in.
  • If we wanted to leave campus on the weekend, or to ride in a car,  we had to have a signed note from a parent.  Sometimes we would go home on a weekend with another girl who lived in Ohio.
  • Our rooms were inspected every week and they had to be clean.  The school did our laundry.  No one had a refrigerator or stove, but they were available in the dorm.
  • Each dorm had one black and white television in the lounge area and girls were not allowed to sit too close to a boy.
  • Late movies were brought to campus on a regular basis which we watched in Galloway Hall.  This was one time we could stay out past 7:30.
  • Clubs also met after 7:30 so I joined lots of clubs.  Oh, we could also sign out and go to the library.
  • We would meet in each other's room to play cards, gossip, eat and drink.
  • I joined Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.  We didn't have sorority houses but we always found a place to meet for our business.

My Sorority Picture 1954
(Notice the white gloves and hat)

  • Campus parties, formal and informal, were frequent.  We also had many famous Black entertainers and speakers come visit the campus.
  • If we had 15 cents we could take the bus to Xenia to shop or go to the movies.  If we didn't have the money we would hitchhike or walk.
  • Our president, Dr. Charles Wesley, was the most handsome man on campus and he actually walked the campus and talked to us.
  • We didn't like going home on vacations, we preferred the campus with our friends.

Moody's Graduation - June 1954


  1. That was so interesting, Christella. You are a very good writer. You must have been on top of the world going to college back then. I'll bet your family was proud of you when you got your degree. And, how exciting that the first person you met ended up being your husband. Very romantic!

  2. I agree that was very interesting. As a recent college grad, I realize how much things have changed! I am also a member of Delta Sigma Theta and would love to hear more things about the organization back then and your experiences!