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Growing Up on College Hill

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Marge Muir’s memories of her childhood during the 30s and 40s

August 2009 - from Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life[1]

Sorority members getting mail in the 1930s.
College Hill and the Greek neighborhood has been an important part of my life growing up in Pullman. Precious memories. During my pre-school years, we lived on Oak Street. Living on Monroe Street, a half block from Madison School (now Adams Mall) and the Kappa Alpha Theta house where my sister was a member, was convenient during the elementary school years. For a few Junior High years we lived on Linden Street next door to the Chi Omegas. When I attended college, the Theta house was my home. As an Alumna living in Pullman and serving over forty years on the Facility and Advisory Boards, observing what was happening to Greek life and their housing has been a continuing concern. The changes have been interesting to watch.

A part of our lives as children was just being around and watching the college students at work and play. As children we felt very safe in their neighborhood.

Most students did not have cars. A few farm boys and a few city men would have vehicles in various stages of repair. Parents often brought their children. Many arrived with their trunks on the trains from Seattle and Spokane. When students came or left it was often within hours of each other. You could feel the change in Pullman as the town emptied, especially within the Friday afternoons before breaks.

The Kappa Sigma house is an example of how the Greek houses have changed. I can still remember their house when it was the white Lafollette turn-of-the-century Victorian home. There was still a carriage house or barn out back. Our Thetas lived in the Lafollette house during their early years until they built their present house in 1923. The Kappa Sigs then moved into the house. The house was remodeled to have a modern 1930s look. Later it was torn down and then their present Kappa Sig house was built.

I have a personal feeling for many of the Greek houses. My father was architect during the late 1920s for a number of the present houses—Alpha Tau Omega, Alpha Gamma Delta, Alpha Delta Pi, Kappa Kappa Gamma, and the former Sigma Chi façade.

During the 30s and 40s, all the WSC students lived “on campus” either in Greek houses or in the dorms. Apartment and married student housing came after the War years. During their four years, most dorm students were as loyal to their dorm as the Greek members were to their chapters.

Usually all women, adults and college women, were treated with dignity and respect in those days. Not so true today. Good manners and etiquette were skills the college students expected to develop during their college years. The Thursday night and Sunday Dress Dinners were important. Usually there would be a pianist playing while the members gathered for dinner or chapter. On chapter meeting nights, members dressed appropriately.

Every Greek house planned to hold at least one Formal Dance each year. Preparing theme decorations were an important part of the anticipation for the event.

Often each living group would hold one or two formal teas or musicales for WSC faculty and staff, city dignitaries, and alums. Because of these experiences and Rush conversations, by their graduation time most Greek members had acquired the poise of conversation and general etiquette which was useful for their entire lives. It opened doors for them later in business.

All the Greek houses, both fraternities and sororities, took good care of their properties. There was no trash or beer bottles left around. At the end of the school year though, we children might check the outgoing trash containers for unused notebooks, pens, and such.

Sorority dinner in the 1920s. MASC
The socializing pattern of the Greeks and the dorm students handled beer drinking in a predictable way. Alcohol was not a visible part of college life for most students, especially the women. Dating was a coke at the Cougar Cottage or the Bookie. Women were in by 10:30 on week nights, but 1 o’clock on Friday and Saturday. The Wednesday night Exchanges were for dancing and chatting, not rowdy “partying”. All the chapter members participated, not just the freshman pledges. This was often where you met your future husband or wife.

Evening Library dates were very special. Have a coke at the Coug on the way home. A quick hug or kiss in the shade from the front house light. Back home by curfew.

In the 30s and 40s, the hormones were running as actively as they do today. Every woman hoped that she would meet the man of her dreams before graduating. The lyrics for one fun song went “Fussing in the parlor on our chapter’s davenport. Fussin’ in the parlor is our favorite indoor sport. When the lights are all turned low……” When the WSC directory came into service, it was named the Fusser’s Guide. Of course for faculty and town’s people it was a quick way to find someone. But, for the students it was their way to find out about one another and especially to find that girl or fellow they wanted to be “fussing” with.

This was a sweetly romantic era. The music was Big Band….sentimental music meant for dancing….and cuddling. The engagement announcements usually were held during dress dinner or an evening fireside. Much excited guessing as to who was engaged. Spring was a busy season among the seniors. Often a nosegay with the ring attached would be passed until it finally stopped at the girl making the announcement. As a first-grader little sister who had learned “The Frog He Would A-Courtin’ Go” in school, I sometimes had the privilege of singing the song, with lyrics appropriately written, to announce an engagement at the Theta house. Usually within hours of the grand announcement, the fellow’s fraternity would come and serenade and the sorority girls answer back in song. The songs were all lovely and romantic. Every sorority wanted a balcony for responding to serenades….and for sun bathing.

Alpha Delta Pi members in formalwear, 1930s. MASC
The 10:30 curfew for women was very helpful for all campus living groups. It provided a predictable time when every member would be in the house and available for a half hour of song practice, firesides, meetings, guest speakers, whatever.

The building of floats and the house decorations for Homecoming were exciting to stand around and watch develop. Then when they were all done there was the tour with your family to see all the decorations. For the college members, the activity was a great opportunity to be creative and work together....and socialize. Today these same energies seem to focus on philanthropy sport events.

Despite the Depression and WW II, life for a child on College Hill in Pullman was delightful and busy. We entertained ourselves and found joy in simple things—the evening sounds in the summer of sprinklers running, wood screen doors slamming, and a large group of children of all ages playing Kick the Can together in front of our house at the top of Monroe Street Hill. Especially exciting was the “all-ee, all-ee, all-ee in free” which meant that President Holland had arrived with his box of candy sticks—a long one for each of us.

The Pullman hills did not make bike riding very successful for the younger children, but roller skating was popular among the girls. The recently remodeled Kappa Sigma house had a long wrap-around concrete porch that gave a very smooth ride. Campus sidewalks and buildings were also popular.

Don’s Midway Grocery, Ozzie Anderson’s Store, and Mr. Stone’s Ice Cream Shop were important on-campus sources for snacks and supplies. Of course there was the Bookie, too. The Bookie carried all the books, art supplies, and some WSU clothing. They also had the booths and counter for cokes and such. It was Don’s Midway that was open after curfew and carried additional items that the fraternity boys might want. We children would slowly select from Don’s wonderful display of “penny candy”. Coke dating happened at the Bookie during the day or at the Cougar Cottage in the evening.

Pullman winters were colder and snowier in those days. There were great sledding hills. Monroe Street Hill gave a fast steep run. B Street had the long curve and gave a longer ride, but not as steep or fast. Van Doren Hill was the safest hill to ride. As with their bicycles, children had to be careful to not leave their sleds out on their porches at night. College students tended to “borrow” them. Most were returned in good condition. Dorm students usually used the trays from their WSC dining rooms for those snowy nights. Ice skating was arranged at the play field beside the WSC Field House by Shorty Siever.

Movies were popular with everybody in town. The evening walks to and from the movies were an important part of the dating process. Dress dinners for all the women students was on Thursday nights and Sunday noon. Many would go down to the movie matinee after the Sunday dress dinners. Sometimes we young girls would gather down on Maiden Lane in order to smell the women as they walked by. They used perfume and make-up and they smelled soooo good.

When it was warm in the spring, the Greek men would be out playing basketball or washing their cars. The girls would be sun-bathing and hoping to not be ignored. Some of the sororities even had sun decks.

Every spring there was a predictable, and looked forward to, happening—The Water Fight! We children loved to watch this exciting event. Even today, I still get that special feeling in the air during some warm night in April, a spring fever type of feeling. Sure enough a water fight would begin somewhere, often at Stimson Hall or one of the fraternities. The bucket brigade and hoses would then pass from fraternity to fraternity all evening. Great sport! Later it became panty raids. When we recently had the “Riot” on Colorado Street, I had commented that morning that it felt like a “water fight days”. The riot did not totally surprise me. It must be something in the barometric pressure.

As a pre-schooler I was eligible for the White Hall Home Ec kindergarten. They had great play equipment and toys. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the college girls pretty much had to let us do what we wanted which included pushing me on the swing as long as I wanted!

Electronic technology has changed the life for today’s WSU Greek students. TV takes up time and attention and requires no conversation. With the cell phone, many of the students have lost their gracious phone and hosting skills. Today he phones the girl and she meet him at the door. No need to even ring the bell. House phone rarely ring these days so few members feel responsible to answer the phone.

Smoking was a part of campus social life. Most houses had a room reserved for the smokers. Keggers are a recent phenomenon. Most students were on tight budgets and did not have the funds for extensive alcohol use. Those men who went to the local bars would usually go after the women were in for curfew. Going to Idaho required the availability of a car which most did not have.

Life was simpler at WSC back in the 30s and 40s. Greeks were active in all the campus organizations. They were recognized for the leadership skills they had developed. They were respected for their dd poise with manners and etiquette which were now second nature to them. The Greeks in those years were role models to look up to and to emulate.

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