Chapters in the Lives of the Chambermaids

Hello, once again this is Hannah Foltz, class of 2013 and current PhD student in rhetoric at the University of Texas at Austin and this is my last post for this summer.

Since 1929, the “top” position at Davidson has belonged to two women: the Chambermaids. This honorific belongs to the stony and silent figures perched above Chambers, the cloaked statues who flank the Davidson seal on the building’s capstone. For 90 years, the perpetually young ladies have surveilled campus, serving as muses, mascots, namesakes, and even as a destination. Here are some of our favorite stories about the Davidson Chambermaids:

B/W image of two statues on the top of Chambersg
Alma and Mater “Chambermaids”

1. They have names. 

While we don’t know who christened them, a 1937 article reveals that the Chambermaids are named Alma and Mater (“Davidson Data,” Scripts n’ Pranks, Mar 1937, p. 14) . From the viewers’ perspective, Alma is to the right and Mater to the left (“Candid Campus,” Scripts n’ Pranks, Dec 1937, p. 13). 

A student dances under the eyes of the Chambermaids at Davidson’s first International/Intercultural Festival in 1986. 

2. They have different but complementary strengths. 

True to their institution, the Chambermaids represent the best of the liberal arts. Alma is more literary; she carries a book and a quill. Mater is the scientific sister; she pairs her book with a magnifying glass. (An alternate theory could be that Mater is simply farsighted.) 

3. One maid may only have four fingers. 

Davidson Data,” published in 1937, claims that one of the ladies only has four fingers—but doesn’t specify which maid is missing a digit (Scripts n’ Pranks, Mar 1937, p. 14). Enlarged photographs suggest it may be Mater, but reports have not been confirmed by this author. 

4. They’ve been known to tipple.  

In 1942, when still-dry Davidson was in the middle of one of many (many, many) arguments about drinking regulations, the campus awoke to a tin sign suspended between the two statues. It read, “Hornung’s Beer and Ale.” Enoch Donaldson, a longtime janitor at the school, had to climb to the roof and cut down the sign.

The incident prompted Al Winn, student body president and valedictorian, to compose a series of verse parodies chronicling the sign’s hanging. 

5. They’re two of Davidson’s most inspiring muses. 

The maids have inspired many creative endeavors, both visual and verbal. They are no stranger to the male gaze; many young men have admired—and exaggerated—their sensual appeal. In 1947, Sam Robinson ‘49, went so far as to imagine entertaining the ladies in his Watts dorm room. Safe to say, Alma and Mater may not put much stock in the notion of the “Davidson gentleman.” 

Robinson, Sam. “The Maidens,” Scripts n’ Pranks, Spring 1947, p. 7. 


Elliot, Jim. Scripts n’ Pranks, Summer 1947, Cover. 


Hamilton, Bill. “Okay, so what if they never look up here?” Scripts n’ Pranks, Summer 1948, p. 9. 

Alma and Mater updated for 1952. 

6. They have cousins in Columbia. 

As much as Davidsonians revere Chambers, our signature building—and its female guardians—may not be as unique as we’d like to imagine. Henry C. Hibbs, Chambers’ architect, designed many academic buildings, including the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Library (now McKissick Museum), whose dome and capstone bear an uncanny resemblance to Chambers and its maids. Davidson can take solace in the fact that Chambers was completed some ten years before the McKissick. 

Color photo of statues on top of McKissick Museum

Source: The Living New Deal 

7. They were mascots for female College employees. 

Although in the 1950s, the College was not yet coeducational, more and more women joined the ranks of its administrative staff. They formed a social group, which a professor nicknamed the Chambermaids after the statues atop the building where most of the women worked. The women embraced the name, and it’s how the group was officially known until 1982, when they changed their name to Office Support Staff. Although the group did its fair share of socializing, it also lobbied successfully for many improvements for female employees, including tuition benefits for their children, campus representation, flexible summer work hours, and personal leave. The group was active until 2009. 

The caption on this 1955 photo reads: “The original Chambermaids.” 

8. They got company from time to time. 

It can get lonely at the top. Fortunately for Alma and Mater, getting on the Chambers roof was something of a tradition for Davidson students of a certain era. Those who accomplished the task were often immortalized in the college yearbook—along with the Chambermaids. 

Quips and Cranks. In clockwise order: 1939, 1967, 1952 

Campus History by Moonlight: the First International Student Glow-in-the-Dark Tour

A few weeks ago, Davidson College’s new International Student Advisor, Bea Cornett, got in touch with the Archives & Special Collections – her recent new employee orientation campus history tour had sparked an idea: what about spicing up new international student pre-orientation week with a night-time glow-in-the-dark history tour?

We had a quick turnaround – roughly two weeks from the conception of the idea until it was carried out. Jan Blodgett (College Archivist & Records Management Coordinator) and I got to work, brainstorming stories from the archives that could be spooky, creepy, or weird enough for a glow-in-the-dark tour. We compiled a list of fifteen tales, pulled archival material related to each, and scanned the material to make a study guide.

Some of stories we selected:  Davidson’s first virtual student, Bill Edwards; the Ghost of Old Chambers; finding skulls and skeletons in the columns of Old Chambers and early x-rays on campus; several tales of freshmen hazing of days gone by; the Freshmen Riot of 1903; the December 21, 1854 student rebellion; and the history of some of the oldest buildings on campus – Eumenean and Philanthropic Halls, the Carolina Inn, and Oak and Elm Rows.

Last Friday afternoon I met with the International Orientation Leaders, the group of students who would help acclimate our new freshmen to campus. Bea assigned each student a stop along the tour, and I told short versions of each story we’d selected. We all discussed the archival material and how each Orientation Leader would make their story their own. That following Sunday evening, fellow library staff Cara Evanson, Sarah Crissinger, and I led small groups of new international students around campus, stopping at each glow-stick-lit Orientation Leader to hear tales of Davidson’s past.

Orientation Leader Santiago Navia (Class of 2017) tells a group of new internationals students the tale of Bill Edwards in front of E.H. Little Library.

Orientation Leader Santiago Navia (Class of 2017) tells a group of new internationals students the tale of Bill Edwards in front of E.H. Little Library.

Hannah Heartfield (Class of 2016) tells the new internationals students about the long history of tree planting on campus.

Hannah Heartfield (Class of 2016) tells the new internationals students about the long history of tree planting on campus, while Maria Jose Arias (Class of 2017) helps guide the group around campus.

Joscar Matos (Class of 2016) regales the new students with tales of skulls found in the columns of Old Chambers and the stealing of a corpse finger for one of the earliest x-rays.

Joscar Matos (Class of 2016) regales the new students with tales of skulls found in the columns of Old Chambers and the stealing of a corpse finger for one of the earliest x-rays.

The Ghost of Old Chambers comes alive when our Orientation Leader got the classic spooky story treatment of a flashlight under the chin - or in this case, an iPhone flashlight.

The Ghost of Old Chambers comes alive when our Jason Oteng-Nyame (Class of 2017) got the classic spooky story treatment of a flashlight under the chin – or in this case, an iPhone flashlight (held by Maria Jose Arias, Class of 2017).

The first Glow-in-the-Dark Tour was a success – new freshmen were spooked and entertained, and tour-givers and tour-takers were united in wanting to hear even more tales from the Davidson College Archives & Special Collections. We can’t wait for next year’s iteration of the international student Glow-in-the-Dark tour!

Say It Isn’t So

This week Around the D is featuring news stories that may have reader’s wishing that it wasn’t so.

Spring 1949 was not a happy for Davidson seniors.

1949 story on an extended semester for seniors, with the heading, "Loss of Examination Records Distrupts Seniors Schedule"

1949 story on an extended semester for seniors.

 

According to the story, a loss of all first semester grade records resulted in the decision to have the class of 1949 retake their exams from that semester.  The college did offer to cover fees for the GRE for any students opting to take those as well.

A few years later, controversy struck campus in two events: one involving journalism and the other athletics.

Davidsonian editor in trouble in 1953, with heading, "Editor Myers In $50,000 Publications Libel Suit"

Davidsonian editor in trouble in 1953.

The good news is that the libel suit didn’t involve any Davidson publications, just Mike Myers, good friend of Bill Edwards. While there were no follow up stories, it appears that the suit was dismissed.  The same proved true for the athletes, with the Davidsonian exaggerating their involvement in the “top money fix of all time.”

 

Article in Davidsonian with heading, "Basketball Scandal Hits Campus; Two Wildcat Players Are Involved Canceled Check Links Fix To N.Y. Gambling Syndicate"

Even before Bob McKillop, the basketball team had ties to New York.

In 1955, athletics were trouble-free but the Student Government faced unprecedented power shifts.

Davidsonian headline, "Feeney administration outsted in campus revolution"

1955 SGA upset

The article reports on confrontations beginning in Georgia dorm and moving into Chapel resulting in a minor injury to organist Herb Russell.

Less controversial but in the end less successful was a proposed memorial to Davidson’s presidential alumnus, Woodrow Wilson.

Student editorial cartoonist Don Mahy's rendition of the memorial.

Student editorial cartoonist Don Mahy’s rendition of the memorial.

As noted in a previous Around the D, Davidson has hosted some big name concerts. Over the decades campus shows include performers Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Dave Matthews Band, Maroon 5, and Ludacris.  Here’s one from  1958 we missed.

Article about the 1958-59 Artist Series with the heading, "Presley To Kick Off '58-59 Artist Series"

You might say the 1958-59 Artist Series took a new twist with this daring selection.

In the same issue announcing the concert, campus planners received attention for proposing a new style of dormitory.  Intended to be named for Woodrow Wilson, perhaps because of the failure of the proposed 1955 memorial, the dorm would have given the Charlotte skyline a challenge.

1958 proposal for a high-rise for Davidson in the Davidsonian with heading, "10-Story Dorm Scheduled"

1958 proposal for a high-rise for Davidson.

We can now say “It isn’t quite so.”  If you haven’t guessed it already, all these stories have one important feature in common– being published on April 1.

Happy April Fools Day

 

 

This Day at Davidson – February 8

1837-2012 ◊◊ Celebrating Davidson’s 175th anniversary

Old Chambers cupola

Site of the 1873 prank, the cupola was a popular draw for students in any decade.

1873 –  A student prank went too far resulted in a student suspension.  According to the Faculty minutes:

 On the night of February 7th, a company of students broke open the door of the central cupola, gained access to the bell over the top of the main building, cut the rope off the bell, blocked up the passage to the belfry and otherwise injured the property of the College

On February 8th one student  was suspended “because of his participation in the violations of College laws and because of his disingenuousness in meeting the charges against him.”  He was also required to pay for damages and to stand an approved examination on the studies passed over by his class, ad interim, before he could rejoin it.

 

Davidsonian article on Billy Sunday with the heading, "Billy Sunday Will Speak Before Student Audience"1924 -Muscular Christianity comes to Davidson –  Nationally famous evangelist Billy Sunday speaks at Davidson College. An article in the Davidsonian reports that “Only 350 townspeople will be seated at the meeting, and cards for admission will be distributed at Henderson’s Jewelry Store on Friday morning.”

 

Davidson businesses on main street

Hugo Sapp of the College Cut-Rate stepped from behind the counter to play host for the Variety show.

1950 – Town and college join for a fund raiser as Chambers Auditorium was the scene of a Variety Show, sponsored by the Mecklenburg Chapter of the March of Dimes in 1950.  The show was hosted by Hugo Sapp, proprietor of Cut-Rate Drugs on Main Street.  Student talent included Fletcher Bright playing Sewanne Boogie and Jinks Jervey doing a recitation and alumni Bill Scruggs and Mac Upchurch, aka the Merry Madcaps of Musical Murder.

Skeletons in the Columns

In honor of our upcoming 3rd Annual Ghosts in the Library storytelling session (coming up on Thursday, October 27th),  here is a little early Halloween story–or make that stories.

Chambers building with students exploring the portico and roof

Chambers building with students exploring the portico and roof

When it comes to ghoulish stories on campus, the most popular are ones about skeletons being pulled out the columns of the original Chambers building.  These stories are tied to the presence of the North Carolina Medical College.   The college operated in Davidson from 1893 to 1907 and students at the college did study with cadavers.

Stories began to be told about stolen bodies being hidden in the columns.  One such story, “The Skeleton in the Column” ended up in the April 1912 Davidson Monthly. Written by Andrew White, the short story tells of a freshman being terrified by senior’s tale of former students hiding a body in the columns and his assertion that “every fall about this time Bill Ashton’s ghost comes out a walks around, hunting for the fellows who put his body there.”  The freshman dreams of the ghost and is drawn to the columns, falling to his death.

Davidsonian article, October 21, 1914 titled, "Dumas Discovers Human Skull"

Davidsonian article, October 21, 1914

Two years later, the Davidsonian printed an article recounting the story of  a student who reported finding a skull in the columns. The story reports that Walter Dumas, class of 1915, “with a rope fastened securely around his body and with an electric searchlight  in his hand, was safely let down by several of his comrades, a thorough search for the much-talked-of skeleton was made, and  a skull, the only part of a skeleton that was visible, was brought up to the top.”  The article notes that no other bones were found.

Walter Alexander Dumas

Walter Alexander Dumas

In 1949, Dumas elaborated on his story in a letter to Prof. Howard Arbuckle which was published in the December 4, 1949 Charlotte Observer.  In his later account, Dumas was only accompanied by Ernest Campbell, class of 1914 made the search in secret.  On that day, they found the skull. A few days later they looked in another column and found additional bones.

Milton McKinnon

Milton McKinnon

That article prompted Milton McKinnon, class of 1895 to write the paper and tell of his adventures in the columns.McKinnon and classmate James Massey searched the columns in 1893 and found the “top portion of a skull, expertly sawed off.”  McKinnon reported that “We showed a large number of the students our findings; finally, out of respect for the human bones, we placed them back in the loft, hidden under the eaves. The unanimous opinion was that the skull was that of  a white man.”

David Hudson

David Hudson

If the columns had not been busy enough,  yet more students, this time around 1917 were reported to have found bones   An undated article in the archives has an account of David and George Hudson, who, without any ropes and with their lantern going out on them, still managed to bring up a skeleton in pieces.  This story was retold in a February 1976 Davidson Update article written by James R. Morton, class of 1917.

Columns from original Chambers Building coming down

Columns from original Chambers Building coming down

Any further adventures in the columns ended when the Chambers building burned down in 1921.  The columns remained standing for several years, serving in a sense as a partial skeleton of the building.  No bones were found when the columns were finally taken down.

 

 

Crazy Clubs

In 1997, two students – Will and Melissa–created a new organization and called it the Crazy Club/Uncommitted Committee.  The club planned random fun events – cake fights, twister games, etc.  The only record of the club is one email– and probably some good memories.

Anti-Calico clubOne hundred years earlier, the editors of the relatively new yearbook created a few crazy clubs of their own for the 1895 and 1897 yearbooks.  The Anti-Calico Club rules required members to ignore social rules such as tipping of hats, especially to ladies, or wearing a white shirt in public more than once a week.

A yearbook page for, "The Psychic Club" with its membersThe Psychic Club supposedly held seances every Sunday night at 12am borrowing a bit of Shakespeare for their incantation, “Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”

Yearbook page for, "The Mother Goose Club", "Object: To study scientific methods of infantile amusement"The stated purpose of the  Mother Goose Club was to “student the scientific methods of infantile amusement.” Officers were given titles of  Scolder, Floor walker, Washerwoman, and Carriage roller.

yearbook page for, "The Electrical Club" giving the professors and their lectures relating to the clubThe Electrical Club claimed to have enjoyed a lecture series that included talks on “How Electric Light Plants Grow in China”, “Electricity as a Beautifier”, and “Steel Magnets”.

What were the crazy clubs of your generation?

For the Record

October is National Archives Month with the theme of “Celebrating the American Record.” North Carolina recognizes October 19-25 as Archives Week “Celebrating the North Carolina Record”, complete with a proclamation from the governor.  In honor of the month and week, this week’s blog is asking for some information that has been off the college record for some decades. I need someone to fess up to a prank.

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April Fools! 1930s Davidson Giggles

For April Fool’s Day, we have a selection of 1930s Davidson student cartoons for you to enjoy!

These cartoons came from the 1930s issues of two student publications: The Yowl and Scripts’n’Pranks. Learn about them at our Davidson College Encyclopedia.

-Tammy Ivins, Archives Fellow

Freshman Riot of 1903

The week of February 14th generally brings to mind hearts and flowers but for Davidson College, it brings the anniversary of a week of campus turmoil.  It started innocently enough.

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