Williston Seminary’s first Principal, Luther Wright (served 1841-1849), was reputedly a great believer in the order of things. Early on, he had printed placards, posted in every student room, which quickly became known as the “23 commandments.” This set of regulations was considered so comprehensive, of such educational and moral impact, that they remained on the walls, contents unaltered, five Principals and four decades later. Professor Henry Alford, who had strong opinions about most things, had cause to comment in the 1880s.
In his History of Williston Seminary (1917) Principal Joseph Henry Sawyer (taught from 1866; Principal, 1896-1919) commented that “they are rules which all schools must have,” but even Sawyer, a master of tact, marveled at the level of what adolescent boys must have considered petty detail. One of Wright’s placards survives to this day:Here are the two sides, in more readable detail. (Click on images to enlarge.)One can imagine the students’ attitude toward the prohibition of gathering in groups on Saturday night, or might wonder whether most sixteen-year-olds could sit without tipping their chairs.It should be no surprise, then, that by 1846 Mr. Wright’s “young gentlemen” had produced a wickedly funny parody of the school catalogue. (This, incidentally, gives us a “no later than” date for the Regulations placard.) Not only did the parody capture and inflate the moralizing and rather effusive marketingese of its model, but the typography and layout were such that the fake could easily have been mistaken for the real thing.Wright’s 23 commandments had expanded to 25. Together, they suggest aspects of day-to-day Williston that he probably preferred had gone unrecorded.For further exploration of administrative attempts to regulate student lives, please see “Thou shalt not . . .” (Because, boys and girls, it’s good for you, and you’ll thank us later.)
Names have been changed to protect the reputations of the guilty.
Once upon a midnight dreary not too many years ago, a Ford Hall dorm master – specifically, the occupant of an apartment overlooking the Pond and Victory Bell – was contemplating bedtime. The dorm was quiet, the inmates apparently enjoying their guileless dreams, when all at once . . .
CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! The teacher – we’ll call him Mr. Ford – sprang from his bed and looked out the window, where he could see a shadowy figure ringing the Victory Bell. Mr. Ford threw open the window. “Now cut that out,” he shouted – or words to that effect.
CLANG! CLANG! The ringing continued. So Mr. Ford threw on his bathrobe, descended several flights of stairs, and emerged to confront the misguided Quasimodo. “Please stop,” called Mr. Ford – or words to that effect.
CLANG! Mr. Ford had had enough. “What the heck is wrong with you” (or words, etc.), he shouted, as he grabbed the bellringer’s arm and spun him around.
The arm came off. “Aaughh!” screamed Mr. Ford, as gales of laughter descended from the upper stories. The villains had constructed a straw effigy, tied its arm to the ringer, and operated the bell by means of a length of nylon fishline strung from a window.
And what was the very best Ford Hall Prank Ever? We’re going to save that for another day. Subscribe to From the Archives and you’ll never miss a post!
We lost James Hamilton, class of 1961, last year. He was many things — printer, conservationist, history buff, devoted Williston and Dartmouth alumnus — you can read more about him here. His Cohasset, Mass. neighbors and, especially, his Williston classmates will remember him as a perceptive and occasionally wicked cartoonist and caricaturist.
Most of Jim’s work graced the pages of The Log and The Willistonian from 1959 through 1961. For those who remember his favorite subjects or victims, the drawings are remarkably on target. They tend to feature several prominent faculty members, and a crewcutted, slightly beefy meathead named Willy, who bore an odd resemblance to Jim himself.
So discovery of new drawings by Jim Hamilton is cause for celebration. Several weeks ago Laurie Hamilton generously sent a stack of Willistonia to the Archives, and there, tucked into a copy of the yearbook, were several sketches. Thanks, Laurie!
The 1870s and ’80s saw the rise of several secret societies or fraternities at Williston Seminary. Initially there were four: Iota Zeta, L.L.D., Pi Beta Pi, and F.C. A fifth, Phi Rho Alpha, appeared somewhat later, although its existence was sometimes not acknowledged by the four “legitimate” societies. History knows relatively little about them; as secret organizations, they kept their petty confidences, and worse, to themselves. So we have no idea what the initials stood for, not even for the two societies that didn’t affect Greek names. We do know that their membership was selective; that at least some of their alumni remained loyal to the clubs, often at the expense of loyalty to the school, and that they posed as “service” organizations: in 1916, for example, their leaders formed the first Student Council.
None of the preceding can be said of a sixth fraternity, Sigma Eta Delta.
In fact, the Greek letters ΣΗΔ were a rendering of the society’s real name, the South Hall Devils. (Since classical Greek doesn’t accommodate the “H” sound, it was the preference of the membership to spell “Eta” with an apostrophe: Sigma ‘Eta Delta.) The group was formed in the winter of 1889, mostly to poke fun at the elite, thus much-resented, fraternities. Membership was open to any resident of South Hall, the dormitory with the least desirable and least expensive rooms — thus a dorm shunned by any self-respecting (and they were nothing if not that) frat boy.