Old Gettysburg Back to Thee: New Exhibit in Special Collections

By Savannah Rose ’17

The current Special Collections exhibit in Musselman Library is called “Old Gettysburg Back to Thee: Student Social Memory Through the 1960s,” and it features artifacts and information about past student social organizations. Curated by Gettysburg College seniors Melanie Fernandes, Jenna Fleming, and Avery Foxs the exhibit features six cases filled with artifacts from Gettysburg College that look at how social outlets have changed and remained the same since the 1960s. The exhibit opened on February 15 and will close on June 30, 2016 with an exhibit talk on April 6 at 4:00 p.m. The exhibit invites students to browse items in the collection that connect to their contemporary experiences at Gettysburg College and help them to reflect on the history of the College.

The first case of the exhibit features information regarding the first student social organizations on campus. Early in the history of Gettysburg College, students spent most of their time in the classroom, doing homework, attending mandatory chapel, and following strict curfews. In this period, emphasis was placed heavily on academic life rather than social life. As a result, the first social organizations on campus were academic societies that often invited speakers and held numerous social events each year. These organizations included the Phrenakosmian and Philomathean literary societies; honor societies for disciplines such as history, biology, chemistry, classics, and philosophy; Pen & Sword, and the Linnaen Association. The case holds artifacts from these social groups, including the gavel and gong used by the history honor society Phi Alpha Theta, which are still used by members of the honor society today.

The second case features the introduction of Greek Life on campus, including the fraternities Phi Kappa Psi, Phi Gamma Delta, Sigma Chi, and Alpha Tau Omega. This case makes note of the numerous philanthropy events put on by these organizations that soon turned into social events. This case is particularly interesting because many of these fraternities still remain on campus, and this exhibit allows students of those fraternities to see the foundations of their chapters on the Gettysburg College campus. A notable component of this case are the numerous dance cards that were used at dances held by the Greek organizations. Given to each girl attending the dance, the cards were worn on their wrists, giving them the ability to note each dance partner they had during the night. The dance cards are a nice addition into the Greek Life case of the exhibit, showing how these cards were used in social events and emphasizing the importance of such events.

These dance cards were used by women to record who they danced with throughout the night. Photo courtesy of author.
These dance cards were used by women to record who they danced with throughout the night. Photo courtesy of author.

The third case features information about the re-introduction of women onto campus in the 1930s after the reversal of a decisions to turn the college into an all-male school in the 1920s. This case looks at the change in social events with the removal and readmission of women on campus as well as the introduction of sororities. It is interesting to note that Gettysburg College was once an all male institution, even denying women degrees when they were allowed to attend the college. Once women were introduced back onto campus, the social scene of the college changed. Sororities added a new Greek experience for women, and were closely linked with fraternities to ensure a connected Greek Life system. Immediately following their reintroduction, women banded together to create groups and their own organizations. These organizations–sororities and others–ensured that women played an active role on campus. This exhibit case emphasizes the achievements of female students and highlights the first two women to graduate with degrees from what was then Pennsylvania College.

The fourth case features information about the use of music and theatrical arts for further social events. The case looks at groups such as the choir, band, Mandolin Club, glee club, and orchestra as social outlets for those who participated as well as those who attended shows and concerts. Additionally, the case examines the theater arts on campus, looking at the Owl and Nightingale club as a further extension of social life.

The fifth case looks at sports as a means of social life, particularly football during the 1960s. On many occasions the majority of the student body traveled with the team to their away games to show support for the players; it was also a means of social interaction. This case also looks at dancing on campus as a social activity and examines why it was banned and eventually reinstated. These two cases are particularly interesting as many of these clubs remain on campus and are still large aspects of the social life at Gettysburg College. As more preforming arts clubs and sports teams have been added to campus, social outlets for students have increased, giving the college a large social scene.

The fifth case looks at the use of sports as a social outlet for students, noting football as a prominent sport on campus. Photo courtesy of author.
The fifth case looks at the use of sports as a social outlet for students, noting football as a prominent sport on campus. Photo courtesy of author.

The final case looks at the “freshmen experience” at Gettysburg College and the numerous instances of hazing that would have occurred during one’s first year on campus. Special rules were placed on freshmen along with required hats, called “dinks,” that were to be worn at all times. The case includes several of these dinks, along with a copy of the “Freshmen Rules,” freshman buttons, and other means of hazing. This case notes how these practices were a factor in the social life at Gettysburg College and also illustrates their removal from campus in the following years. This case contains information unknown to most students and details some of the harsh realities of being a freshman on Gettysburg’s campus during this time. Freshmen were expected to dress as determined by the upperclassmen, to be respectful to those with high grades, and to provide matches whenever someone needed a smoke. They were also told to congregate once a year, the date at the discretion of the upperclassmen, to remove the dandelions from the campus grounds. These rules, and many others, may seem ridiculous to us now, but freshman were controlled by upperclassmen who determined how they should live out their first year on campus.

These dinks are examples of those displayed in the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Gettysburg College.
These dinks are examples of those displayed in the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Gettysburg College.

The exhibit successfully follows Gettysburg College’s social life through the 1960s, using artifacts to help narrate the history. The cases flow smoothly and build off each other as they remember student social organizations and campus life during the 1960s.  The exhibit successfully presents text and details regarding Gettysburg College’s social life, using artifacts to back up the facts and narratives being presented. Almost every student on today’s campus participates in a social group or club, and this exhibit shows how many of these organizations were originated. In addition to showing the roots of several social organizations, the exhibit helps to show how contemporary clubs were able to form on campus as previous organizations paved their way by changing the social scene.

The exhibit will remain in Special Collections through the end of the spring semester, giving all students an opportunity to come and relate to the social life of Gettysburg College’s past.

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