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My WSU Story - Mary Skidmore Johnson ‘40

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by Mary K. Skidmore Johnson, student 1936-1940

The picture of the Washington State University stadium, (in Washington State Magazine, Spring Issue, 2009) triggered my thoughts of my four years at Pullman.

Since my dad had been a Northern Pacific Engineman, my first of many trips from my home in Spokane to Pullman’s nice depot were by train, in 1936.

The University President was then Mr. Ernest Holland, and current issue was that the Dean of Women was having to leave after a student strike had made her unpopularity known. Her strictness had impressed me when even very severely cold weather was no excuse for women to wear pants, or even socks. Imagine!

Depression days kept life simple. I lived with a group who shared a nice older house with an upper screened sleeping area. The group was named ERANI, and having a house mother and specific hours, had fully qualified with the Dean as an independent sorority. We made our own meal plans, did the cooking and cleaning, and planned social events. We also got some help from a neighbor boy who attended to the basement furnace for us. Work opportunities were limited for women; we knew we could serve food and so we got jobs waiting tables. I had a job ironing for the ROTC instructor’s wife for 50 cents an hour.

I learned to ice skate when the water froze inside the woman’s gym, a huge empty brick building.

Dining the first weekend of the school year, the first football game of the season took place. Washington State Governor Martin attended, diplomatically switching sides in the bleachers at halftime. Can I be remembering correctly that fog made seeing the game difficult?

My boyfriend at school, Jerry Johnson from Spangle, Washington, graduated in 1937 in physics under Prof. Paul A. Anderson, and went off to graduate school in Berkeley. From there he wrote to tell me, surprised and delighted, that the nickelodeons there sometimes had classical music! He had discovered a favorite, too, the March from Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges. I went to look for it in the collections of the WSU Music Department and I found a recording to listen to in “Agony Hall”, by which the rehearsal hail was affectionately known. Unfortunately, Jerry’s studies were interrupted by service in the Navy, at Dahlgren, Virginia, for the next five years. At war’s end, we together, now married and with a baby daughter (born 1945), drove back across the country to Berkeley where Jerry completed his physics PhD. We then returned to WSU to teach.

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