Blast From the Past: Pre-Internet Pomona

A time before internet!?  Trust me, it did exist.  However, my college experience has been so completely defined by the internet that it is hard for me to imagine how it used to be.  I contact and organize clubs though email, submit papers and get readings with Sakai, send group work back and forth with Google Docs, waste time on Facebook, and of course Pomona’s own methods of communication and registration are all online.  So how did it work, in the pre-internet Stone Age past?

In honor of the 125th anniversary of Pomona’s founding, I decided to investigate.  Luckily, I’ve got resources.  And by resources, I mean relatives.  I like to think it’s not the reason I got into Pomona, but my parents, my grandfather and his brother and his wife, and my dad’s cousin are all Sagehens of different eras, so I was able to glean a sense of what their college experiences were like.  You know, back in the day.

An interview of sorts (I added my own commentary) with my grandfather, William Irvine, class of 1957:

 How did you communicate?

Freshman getting measured – photo from 1957 Metate

“We didn’t have Facebook when I was at Pomona (1953-57), but there was one way in which some students did compile essential information about others. You will not believe this, but …. As part of Freshman-Sophomore “Rivalry”, sophomore men “measured in” arriving freshman women…Of course, this data was correlated with room and telephone number and greatly facilitated “communication”!”

 (I personally am very glad for myself and for feminist reasons that this practice has been discontinued today!)

Freshman/Sophomore rivalry in the form of…mud wrestling? (Photo from 1957 Metate)

He continues:

“Other aspects of Freshman-Sophomore Rivalry are also illustrated in the pictures: a tug-of-war through a mud puddle and a ‘sport’ on the football field in which most of each class tried to pull car tires over opposite goal lines, and another ‘football game’ in which class masses tried to push a gigantic rubber ball over the goal line. I think Ben Peters, who gets burned in effigy, was the Sophomore Class President.

And yes, there was (less messy) Freshman-Sophomore Rivalry for women, involving events like races encumbered by balancing broomsticks or sack races, and a tug-of-war on the lawn.”

Did you have co-ed bathrooms?

The Frary Revolt (photo from 1957 Metate)

“Co-ed bathrooms! We didn’t even have co-ed dorms! The men were on the north side of campus, and the women on the south. So there was a major scandal when one guy managed to spend the night in an (I think empty) womens’ dorm room, and then called down to the front desk to ask for breakfast! (Yes, there were reception desks in the women’s dorms, where women had to sign out and in at night — “late nights” were limited to a certain number per semester!). Frary was where the men ate, except that Friday night could be ‘mixed dining.’ This prompted the ‘Revolt,’ allegedly because that night the men were required to wear shoes to dinner! (Well, perhaps it wasn’t a serious revolt!)”

What other traditions did you have?

“The Freshman banner was a big deal. It had to be made in secret (from the sophomores), then ‘displayed’ at some public event, and then transported to an administrative building without being intercepted by the sophomores. Our banner (class of 1957) was Zalmoxis, a Thracian sky god mentioned by Herodotus and suggested by the very popular Classics professor, Harry Carroll, and somehow representing for us the future. The banner was ‘displayed’ at the Rose Bowl during the Pomona-CalTech football game — yes, CalTech had a football team then, and they played their home games in the Rose Bowl! — and it was successfully returned to campus.”

What was the student body like?  What about diversity?

“The student body was definitely not very diverse. Fraternities were all male, and Nu Alpha Phi accepted its first African-American member while I was a member. The Nappies were of course the leading fraternity, aided by their cabin on the way to Baldy where beer kegs were always present at parties (nothing about checking IDs!). I also recall a restaurant (in Chino, maybe) where you could take a date, get a good steak, and a bottle of wine, also with no question about IDs!”

Hmmm thanks Grandpa, good to know! Though now I’m 21 so…

 What were sports like when you were here?

“Women’s intercollegiate athletics was very limited, I think only tennis — this was long before Title IX! For the men, freshmen could not play a varsity sport, so there were a number of freshman teams. I played frosh baseball. [Funny the things you remember — I can still see the fastball from the Oxy lefthander that I knocked into the woods in our last home game, a ground rule double since the baseball field had no fences.] And then varsity for two years. The football rules had been recently changed to limit substitutions, so that the same guys played both offense and defense, and there were no special teams. The Pomona coach was a fanatic for conditioning, and as a result the football team did very well! The athletic teams were joint with Claremont Men’s College, the precursor to Claremont McKenna.”

I guess that was before a CMS/PP rivalry!  What about the other colleges?

“This was before Pitzer and Harvey Mudd, but I did take a Shakespeare class at Scripps to round out my liberal education — well, only partly to meet women! Romantic encounters often took place in The Wash — does it still exist??”

Yup! You can see The Wash here — though now I think it is mainly The Farm.  What about dorms?

“My class was the first to room in Walker, and I was later in Clark (twice). Smiley was the raunchiest dorm on campus, so much sought after by the men. At least once a year the top floor dwellers turned on their water and tried to flood the lower floors — I was on the top floor!”

You can see more pictures here:

More from the Pomona College 1957 Metate

Even more from the Pomona College 1957 Metate

So it seems a lot has changed! I hope to present another interview with info from some other relatives!