Friday, September 30, 2016

'Tis the Chinning Season

Four guys in suit sitting around a table, playing string instrumentsPrior to coming to Dartmouth, the word "rush" meant being in hurry and nothing more to me. It didn't take more than two weeks in Hanover for me to learn that the word "rush" has a different meaning. The process of meeting Greek house members to receive a bid to join a house was not always called rush though. Back in fall of 1897 when Douglas VanderHoof, Class of 1901, was a freshman at Dartmouth, boys dressed up and visited fraternity houses for "chinning."

During his time at Dartmouth, VanderHoof regularly wrote to his parents in Chicago, and I recently re-processed his papers to provide descriptions of the contents of his letters. Reading his letters was an eye-opening experience (glad he had a very legible handwriting!) as I was able to grasp a sense of Dartmouth experience in the early 20th century. Some aspects have survived through the passage of time whereas some others have faded and remain as a thing of the past. So what survived and what didn't?

The battle to eradicate hazing goes back further than people might expect. In the 1890s all freshmen were subjected to hazing regardless of their affiliation with a specific group. One night on September 1897, VanderHoof wrote to his parents that a horde of sophomores entered his room, blind-folded him, took him to a wood and told him to count to five hundred. In the meantime, the sophomores fled, and he had to find his way back to his room on his own in dark. VanderHoof's later letters hint that his parents became very concerned. So he sent a letter a few days later that then-President of the College, William Jewett Tucker, had "put a strict ban on hazing and the 'sophs' are very careful not to overreach the limit." He tried to dispel his parents' concern, saying that the hazing is "more of a humiliating than hurtful nature" and he is taking "it with a grain of salt as a part of [his] college training." He tried to turn this around as a chance to boast his reputation as a cool newbie, adding that only the freshmen who were well-known and popular were hazed and that was why no one bothered to haze his roommate.

Three guys asleep leaning on each other with champagne bottles lined in front of them
A year later, VaderHoof became a part of the class that arguably had done "more hazing than any other class in the history of college," according to the President Tucker. In October 1898, President Tucker determined to forestall a ban on hazing, and he wrote to his parents that "every member of the class was called up before the dean at different times and questioned."

Grading system was different back then as well. VanderHoof explains in details about the grade system in one of the letters to his mother: "E," which stands for "excellent," was the highest mark that a student could earn, equivalent of nowadays A. The next high mark was "VG," which stood for "Very Good," then G for "Good," which all sound more similar to a grading system one might find in an elementary school nowadays.

Theta Deltah Chi Fraternity Banquet invitation pamphletConcerns about deciding which Greek organization to join (or whether to join one at all) seems to be the most timeless aspect of Dartmouth experience. VanderHoof, just like many Dartmouth students in 2010s, dreaded the Chinning process. He wrote in October 1897 that he fell "greatly troubled" as brothers from different houses approached him. "I feel just like a young girl, I imagine," he wrote, "who has had several offers of marriage and likes all her suitors but sees some slight preference for one and hates to throw off the others." The most interesting aspect of VanderHoof's fraternity experience was his struggle to persuade his parents of the harmlessness of affiliating with a fraternity, and in fact, of the benefits it entails. He began one of his letter in November saying that he was "sure [his mother doesn't] understand the value of belonging to a good frat." Out of the 185 freshman students, only 89 received offers to join fraternities, the point which VanderHoof used to stress how fortunate and special he was. His efforts to appeal the positive aspects of Greek affiliation continued throughout the year as some of his letters highlighted his fraternity brothers' achievements, including their placement into the first division in a freshman math class.

Just like today, VanderHoof had to explain how the class year system is used in everyday language at Dartmouth. In one of his letters, he explained that he would be referred to as a '01, rather than a freshman.

As much as the letters inform us on the good ol' Dartmouth days, they also provide insights into nation-wide issues that are more particular to the time period. VanderHoof mentioned the Spanish-American War in his letters, noting that newspapers in Chicago cover the war more extensively than those in New England. Contrary to his initial conjecture that the war wouldn't last long, he was surprised that by April 1898, many boys on campus were receiving summons from their regiments. He added that the President Tucker seemed to consider this war as a more serious, long-term struggle. By May 1898, VanderHoof wrote to his parents that some students even left Hanover to join the war efforts.

Rauner also has the scrapbook (also known as membook) that he kept throughout his time at Dartmouth, which provide visual materials that supplement his letters to his parents. There are so much more about VanderHoof that this blog post could not cover - he was a music enthusiast who played banjo and mandolin in various performance groups including the Glee club and he worked at a biology lab, just to name a few.

To see the letters, ask for MS-470.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Therapy Book

This book feels so great. It is a limited edition book of German folktales produced in Berlin in 1918 with a gold-stamped suede binding. Usually this kind of thing is a nightmare for Special Collections. Suede bindings generally don't hold up well, and after a hundred years, every time you touch one, leather dust comes off and you have to go wash your hands. We have to wrap them up so they don't pollute the books near them.

But this copy of Deutsche Märchen (Berlin: B. Cassirer, 1918) used really nice leather that has held up remarkably well. When we paged it for class last week we were stunned by the tactile sensation of the book--it just made us feel good.  So, if you are stressed out, come in and pet our therapy book by asking for Illus S632g.