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The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Bonnie Henry Column: Opinion By Bonnie Henry : UA Women’s Handbook Offers Look at Bygone Era

July 27, 2008

By Bonnie Henry, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Jul. 27–For an instant time machine, nothing beats an old handbook bristling with rules and regulations — particularly those aimed at young women.

I give you: “What Every Coed Should Know,” the University of Arizona women’s handbook, circa 1941.

Though delivered in a deliberately chatty manner (“Before you know it, that cute fellow in the first row will be grinning all over his face when he passes you.”) the pamphlet makes no bones about infractions.

For example, coeds could face suspension if they left the city without permission from the Dean of Women. Thankfully, Sabino Canyon, “A” Mountain and the airport were not considered out of town.

Coeds also faced the dreaded curfew: 11:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, midnight Fridays, 1 a.m. Saturday nights.

And when they said curfew, they meant it, with lights flashing five minutes before and doors locked right on time.

I still remember being out on a double date in the 1960s and our car pulling up to a dorm to let someone out. It was 5 minutes to 1 and girls were scrambling up the steps right and left.

Being a town girl, I faced no such urgency — other than a mother, of course, waiting at home.

Also: “Young women students do not go to men’s halls, fraternity houses, apartments or rooms unless the housemother or a chaperon approved by the Dean of Women is present.”

“Necking” is also addressed, as in don’t do it in public, or even worse, become a “grass lounger” when spring arrives.

While the ’41 handbook gives no direct do’s or don’ts on dress, it does advise girls to wear blouses and skirts, suits or “simple tailored frocks” to class. Dresses of silk, along with hat and gloves, are recommended for afternoon teas.

Dress codes were still in place when I matriculated at the UA back in the ’60s: no jeans or shorts weekdays until 4:30 p.m.

Things had changed a tad when I re-entered the classroom a decade later.

Many of the young women looked like they had gone directly from bed to lecture hall, wearing either rumpled sweats or T-shirts, shorts and flip-flops.

Back in the ’40s, playing the piano, radio or other musical instruments was not allowed during study hour or after 11 p.m. Friday and Saturdays.

Despite the prissiness of the times, the handbook does illustrate some good points about university life. All 400 incoming freshman women had their own sponsor, a senior coed, to look to for advice.

Members of Spurs, the sophomore women’s honorary, were also on hand to meet all trains and buses disgorging freshman coeds the week before classes.

All rooms in the four UA women’s dorms contained a wash basin, study tables with lamps, chest of drawers and a day bed.

Unless you had a doctor’s excuse, you were expected to sleep on screened, open-air porches.

Still, the price was right: $10 to $32 a month. Compare that to today’s yearly dorm costs of around $4,500 to $5,500, double occupancy. Also, monthly meal tickets were $15.

Girls who had trouble meeting those ’41 expenses were encouraged to get jobs on campus as stenographers or library attendants.

Oddly, where the handbook differs most with today’s mores is its stance on smoking:

“To many of us it’s second nature,” goes the approving line, while cautioning coeds not to smoke in the library, or “on the hoof.”

Wouldn’t be ladylike, after all.

–Bonnie Henry’s column also appears Thursdays in Accent. Reach her at 434-4074 or at bhenry@azstarnet.com, or write to 3295 W. Ina Road, Suite 125, Tucson, AZ 85741. –Bonnie Henry’s two history books are being sold as a set for $50 through Labor Day. Contact Renee Weatherless at 807-7760 or rweath@azstarnet.com to place an order.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

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