Albright: Past and Present, 1937-1973 by Prof. C. A. Harding
This article has been written by Professor of English, Clyde A. Harding. We would like to thank him for graciously sharing his memories and reminisces of Albright College, past, with us.
When I came to Albright in the fall of 1937 (I am the only survivor on the active faculty from the days before the end of World War II), the campus, except for the stadium, was bounded by Union St. on the south, 13th St on the west, Bern St. on the north, and Palm St. on the east. There was nothing north and northeast of Bern up to Hampden Blvd. but woods and fields, partly cut by sidewalks, curbs and gutters put in the late twenties as the beginning of residential development that collapsed as the depression began. Parts of the fields had become depression gardens, many of which were continued during World War II, as "Victory Gardens," one of which I had. There were no usable streets in the whole area, only paths through the bushes and trees that had grown up between the curbs since 1929 and sidewalks about lost in weeds and bushes.
The pedestrian entrance to the college was at the Corner of 13th and Union Sts., where the War Memorial Tablet is now located. The Union St. automobile entrance is unchanged, but the rear entrance was the road coming in from 13th St. south of the tennis courts. There was no automobile entrance from Bern St., just a path. There was, of course, no parking lot and no tennis courts. Very few dorm students had cars, and most commuting students (a large majority of students were commuters) used the trolley, which came down from Hampden Blvd. on 15th St. and then down every 15 or 20 minutes except very late at night and very early morning.
To visualize the campus of 1937, subtract the following: the Chapel, the Library-Administration building, the Campus Center, dining hall and theatre (and of course, the gym and all the dorms north of Bern), the campus parking lot, and the tennis courts. Also, subtract these parts of buildings; the back end of the Alumni Memorial Hall, (which was originally a simple rectangle), the easternmost part of Selwyn Hall (the dispensary) and the north wing of the Science Hall. In addition, add a small building : the caretaker's cottage,which stood about where the bookstore now is. (The caretaker for many years was Jim Spatz, an old friend of mine. We were fellow air-raid wardens during WWII, he for the campus. I for the six houses north of the campus built 1941-2. There is a tree planted in his memory--where?)
The campus buildings served more, or different, purposes than now. The dining room was in the northeast section of Selwyn Hall, a beautiful room with long windows rounded at the top and attractively draped, hardwood floor, and a large brick fireplace at the west end of the room. Some evening programs (now called convocations) were held there rather than in the White Chapel. The latter, which was then simply "the Chapel" was used for religious services and most cultural events, both during "Chapel Hours" (11:00 A.M. Tuesday and Thursday) and at night. The top floor was a men's dormitory, ot a convenient arrangement, to be sure, but the best that could be done at the time. Since all the resident girls lived in Selwyn Hall and about half the resident boys in the chapel, at least getting in the chapel took little time.
All dramatic productions and the like were given in White Chapel. the stage was at the east end. Since there were no dressing rooms and virtually no room in the winds, changes had to be made by going out the back fire escape and up to the second floor dorm or by going down and scooting over to Selwyn Hall. A very rainy night somewhat dampened the production. Yet, under such handicaps, the Domino Club put on an excellent production of Shakepeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Also in Selwyn Hall at the southwest corner was a meeting room for groups and organizations. There were faculty met for its monthly meetings. Also off the dining room, where a good many of the faculty ate lunch, wa a small faculty dining room. The meals were very good and inexpensive.
Alumni Memorial Hall housed the college library. The ground floor was the reading room with desks, card catalog, and much of the reference material. The second floor held stacks and a charming room for seminars and small meetings--committees and the like. The rear wing was added later to house Home Ec. and provide two more classrooms for general use. Before the building was a library. it was the gym; and before that, they say,it been a stable.
Ann annual chamber music evening was held in White Chapel. The trio was made up of the first cellist from the Philadelphia orchestra, a first-rate local pianist and the head of Albright's Music Department, Hans Nix, the violinist. Mr. Nix was a good violinist, and a very vigorous one. Nobody who was there will ever forget the night he finished a cadenza with such zest that teh bow left his hand and, like an arrow, shout out into the audience.
Teel Hall, at the southeast corner of the campus at Union and Palm Sts. was not a part of Albright College--it was the School of Theology, the seminary, housing the complete school, dorm, library, classrooms, faculty and administration offices, and chapel. When the school left and merged elsewhere, Albright got a much needed space for classes and resident students. For a time the faculty met in the large eastern room on the ground floor, which had been the library of the School of Theology.
The building of-all-work was the Administration Building, now Masters Hall. First, the basement: the southwest section housed a large faculty office for most of the teaching in the building, perhaps six or eight. Across the hall in the northwest section wa the college bookstore. In the center were the boiler room and the toilet rooms.The eastern end housed the food preparation facilities of the Home Ec. department. Next the ground floor : to the left of the main entrance were the major administration offices and switchboard. First, on the south side of the center hall was the switchboard and faculty mail room; next, the president's secretary; then the office of the president, on the other side of the hall, starting from the center, were the outer offices of the dean and registrar, then the dean's office, and then another office, for a time, I think, that of the Alumni Secretary. To the right of the entrance on the north side of the hall was the office of the Treasurer. Across the hall was a large classroom; and at the east end were other classrooms.
The second floor housed classrooms, including the Home Ec. sewing room. The top floor was a men's residence floor. Often the students living there needed only to "go downstairs to class." It was only another floor to the dean's office, and another floor to see his teacher. Then he could pick up a message at the switchboard, or cash a check without leaving the building.
The only real disadvantage of such a "community" building I was ever aware of was the effect of the Home Ec. kitchen in the basement. When the smell of cooking began to filter up to the classrooms during the eleven o'clock hour, especially the aroma of baking bread, the impulse to "go to lunch' became almost too strong to resist, for student and teacher, and the drooling instinct began to produce visible evidence. On such occasions, I was hungrier by the twelve o'clock bell than I have ever been since. I am sure the dining hall on such days.
The campus was mostly campus, not buildings, and as a consequence, more college activities took place outside. Because there was no building seating more than something over 200--the capacity of White Chapel--commencement was held outdoors in good weather. (In bad weather, the Northeast Jr. High School.) The procession robed in and started from the Alumni Memorial Library, passed under the elms, (some ow gone) south of Selwyn,and took seats in front of the main entrance of Selwyn. In the center was a round concrete flower bed. Behind the students and faculty was a semi-circle of bleachers (brought from the athletic field) for the relatives and friends. A platform was erected against the front of the building for the dignitaries.On a bright, warm July day the setting was idyllic, the soft rustling of leaves and the song of birds mixing with the commencement program.
At one commencement, a section of the bleachers collapsed, but fortunately only a few guests were injured, no one seriously. Commencement was then on Monday. The baccalaureate services were held on Sunday. The Saturday of the weekend was Class Day for the seniors.It was the necessity for workers to stay on the job as much as possible during WWII that put commencement on Sunday, since the relatives and friends of the graduates did not to miss work on Monday--and, like many other colleges, Albright went back to the three day commencement weekend, which had been traditional.
Another outdoor activity in the spring was the Greek Play. The "stage" for it was the steps of an area immediately in front of the Science Building. The spectators sat in the field. The student actors, robed Greek-style, played something--in English translation--from Aeschylus, Sophocles, or Euripdes. How old--and new--The scene was : open air theatre, "natural," under the warm spring sun and the blue sky, the fusion of the two worlds of art and nature. All the scene lacked was an altar and a robed priest.
Spring also brought May Day, with its ancient rituals--dancing on the green and around the Maypole, and the crowning of the May Queen. A senior girl was selected by vote to be the May Queen: she was usually the most beautiful senior girl. She had a court and a group of dancers. The "green" was the area now largely occupied by the plaza in front of the Library-Administration Building. Bleachers for spectators were set up where the building now sits. The procession came out of the Memorial Library, first the dancers, then the court, and at the end the Queen in her robes (but without her crown), her train held up by a small child. They walked, to recorded music, to the green, the Queen took her seat facing the green and the spectators, and the program began. At the conclusion of the dancing, the Queen was crowned. Costumes were made by the Home Ec. Department.
When the weather was bad, and early may can be very grey and cold, the dancers were perhaps the coldest-looking group of young women I have seen. I remember watching one May Day, shivering under my top coat, as the girls turned to blue goose flesh.
Another outdoor activity, less formal, centered on Selwyn Lake....yes, Lake. Before the water coming down from the old spring house (now the little rustic chapel) was hemmed into the little walled pond, it used to be a plain earth pond about 60 ft. in diameter that covered the area where the grass now is on the west side of the walled pond--and beyond. One knew when spring had arrived by the sound of screaming and laughter as a student (male) was the first to be thrown in--another annual rite of springtime. Also, there used to a tug-of-war across the lake, the losers, of course, being dragged into the lake by the winners.
Another activity that began outdoors was the Senior Breakfast. It was started in the late 1930's when on Saturday morning of Commencement Weekend the seniors, faculty, and administration officers went to Egleman's Park for a breakfast cooked out of doors by the college kitchen staff, and afterwards enjoyed sports and games for the rest of the morning. Since we were perhaps 100 persons, our size was right for a big picnic, games, and a family feeling. Later on the breakfast was moved indoors at a restaurant, inn, or hotel and came under the sponsorship of he three deans of the College. The academic dean, Dean Walton, had a remarkably sharp and witty prose style, which he used in his speech to the breakfast assembly to bait and harass the dean of men, Dean Levan Smith--a one-man "roast' of one dean by another. Dean Smith replied in kind as well as he could. I know that for many seniors it was the highlight of their senior year. Nobody missed the Senior Breakfast except as a result of injury or illness--or three flat tires, in spite of the fact that most seniors had been out the night before and often had not got to bed at all.
For quite a few years, beginning after the breakfast moved indoors, there was another highlight, if I do say so myself. The Class Prophecy was given by me in rhymed doggerell, each person, alphabetically, getting his prophecy in at least a separate couplet, often much more, the rhymes, made as Ogden Nashishly absurd as I could make them. As the size of he college grew, the task became harder and longer until it had to be divided (between Prof. Barth and me) and finally given up. The primary requirement of course, had been that the Prophet had to know the student as an individual. When the senior class got beyond that point, any "prophecy" would have been mechanical. But as long as the Prophet could know each senior individually and something personal and unique about him or her, the Prophecy was a joy to do and as Pointedly funny as it could be made. At least, I thought some of my rhymes funny.
One other abandoned activity I still miss--the Faculty Play or Talent Night. To help raise money for good causes, the faculty put on a play or talent night, the students paying to watch the faculty. I remember three plays especially: Save My Child a ghost-story melodrama (to the forgotten), and The Faculty Flame, in all of which I had a role--in the ghost play two roles, by accident. The day before the performance, the ghost came down with laryngitis. There was no time for anyone else to learn the part, so since I was never on stage with the ghost, it was decided I would play the role by reading it from the book. The ghost was played by the actor moving as ethereally as possible, under a sheet in the dim blue light,; thus I could carry the book under the sheet--ggod. But I couldn't see to read in dim light. Solution: I could carry a small flashlight. And it worked. But even more, under the sheet in the dim blue light, the soft light from the flashlight caused the ghost to look like an eerie floating glow, a masterly effect and the hit of the show.
The smash hit, however, was The Faculty Flame, a comic musical play, the music taken from Gilbert and Sullivan. The book was by the head of the English department of Lafayette College; his words to the songs were superb. The dancing, singing chorus was composed mostly of faculty wives, the greatest piece of miscasting--and the funniest--ever seen at Albright. Playing the Dean, I sang one of the best songs, "I've got a little list...They never will be missed," the tune and idea taken from The Mikado. In it I "eliminated" every type of student the college could easily do without--and, fortunately, I could read the words to the song from the "list" in my hand, a long list reaching almost to the floor.
The Talent Nights introduced the students to the various non-academic abilities and disabilities of the faculty and their wives and husbands. There was everything from dramatic monologues and dialogues, largely comic, to musical numbers, some of them very good vocal and instrumental. Perhaps the funniest bit I ever saw at Albright was the Balcony Scene from Romeo and Juliet played in a hilariously disastrous Pennsylvania Dutch accent by the treasurer, Charlie Gordan, and Gene Shirk, now mayor of Reading--with Juliet sitting on a stepladder, her balcony. Paying to laugh at the faculty had its rewards.