Welcome back, Redbirds! As we start the spring 2015 term, I want to take a moment to congratulate the Illinois State football team. You all had a truly historic run, one that will live on in school history. We are proud of you and all of your accomplishments. Plus, we here at Archives are pretty darn excited we got to personally witness and help record your history firsthand. Congrats!
But, after an eventful and historic weekend, it’s back to the grindstone. Ever wonder what students on this campus were doing 100 years ago, in 1915? Were they struggling to get up for the first day of class, trying to find their snow shoes and a warm cup of coffee? Actually, in many ways, they were!
Students were certainly getting back to class in early January 1915 but not to start a new term. For the first few decades in the 20th century, Illinois State Normal University students were on a system similar to quarter terms. The fall 1914 term ran from Monday, September 14, to Friday, December 4. Only three days later on Monday, December 7, the winter term started. Students were in class until Saturday, December 19, when they got a two-week break and returned Monday, January 4, 1915. The winter 1915 term ended Friday, March 12, and students got nine days before they returned for the spring 1915 term. If you were a senior looking to graduate in spring 1915, your commencement wouldn’t take place until Thursday, June 10.
By this time 100 years ago, students had been in class for at least a week. And they too had a cold start to the year. The 1914–1915 yearbook recalls how everyone was “still freezin’,” that it was “awful cold,” and by January 14, “Do you suppose it will ever get warm?” Seniors were also working against a deadline as they had to submit drafts and ideas for their senior themes, similar to a thesis of today. Miss Ange Milner, the university’s first librarian, would publish in The Vidette every winter term a reminder to seniors of the various books, almanacs, and bulletins available for review in the library.
There was also a bit of controversy brewing in January 1915. On January 20, The Vidette published an article titled “A Needed Reform in I.S.N.U.” The issue was over the number of major subject term themes that were required of students each term. The Vidette pointed out that the required number had grown over the years and that one student “is carrying four major subjects and has two other themes besides her senior thesis to write this term.” The debate continued in the years that followed, including articles that questioned both writing and grading standards at the University. Ultimately, in 1931, President Harry Brown would overhaul the university’s academic system and create departments.
Sporting events and club activities were also in full swing. Basketball played Millikin on January 14 in “one of the hardest fought contests that we have seen in a long while (sound familiar?), the various literary societies on campus held meetings that week to prepare for the next inter-society contest, and a special program was given by Mr. Barber titled “The Relation of Science to Modern Warfare,” significant because of our looming involvement in World War I. And on this day exactly 100 years ago, the Nature Study Club gave two presentations: “Wild Mammals of Illinois” and “Winter Bird.”
They may have had a week on us but the students and faculty of ISNU were just as busy—and just as cold—as we are today. Be sure to pile on the layers and remember there were lots of Redbirds before you who know exactly what it feels like to be hitting the alarm today.