72-Hour House Parties

The early years of the Review quickly settle into a reliable routine, recapping the familiar markers of campus life during that era. Phi Beta Kappa inductions, what Cap and Bells is working on, Gargoyle selections, faculty lectures and freshman teas, student elections and editorships. And always a delightful bit about House Parties.

The first thing that caught my eye was “limited to 72 hours.” LIMITED. These kids did not mess around.

Travel back to 1909…

You may think this whole 72-hour houseparty limit is a joke. But, think again. (June 1909)
“Doing their best to keep awake for the 72-hour limit” (February 1910)
Wait, why is “Exams” in quotes? (February 1912)
Too heavy a schedule, indeed. (February 1916)

Freshman Are Little Fellows

I did a double take the first time these stats caught my eye. Here’s how four classes from the 1910s measured up.

They used to publish what now in the Alumni Review? (December 1911)
Freshmen Are Little Fellows (December 1912)
Well after last year’s class, of course they look good. (December 1913)
“Surpasses it in development” – going to steal that euphemism for aging (February 1915)

Up in a Balloon, Boys!

As I mentioned at the outset, I started this project by reviewing Alumni Reviews from the late 1950s. One thing that struck me was the novelty of new sports and outdoor pursuits popping up time and again – from skydiving, rappelling, and spelunking to the arrival of wheel skis and a possible predecessor to the game of Ultimate Frisbee (we’ll get to that later).

So when I went back to the beginning, you can imagine my delight when just one year into my exploration, 1910 brought me tales of the early days of aeronautics at Williams!

The whole read is quite a ride in and of itself. So what happened next?

We’re always throwing out the old, “Did you know the first intercollegiate baseball game ever played was between Williams and Amherst?” (no need to name the victor)

For the sake of variety, why not offer up that Williams was also a participant in the first intercollegiate balloon race on June 3, 1911?

Henry P. Shearman, Class of 1911 (I really need to figure out how I’m going to consistently abbreviate and note class years now that we have the ’11s of the past and the ’11s of today) and the pilot of that first intercollegiate balloon race, went on to continue his ballooning career at least for a little while – his first class notes submission post-graduation in the October 1911 issue of the Review celebrates his solo balloon flight.

The Greek Chorus Takes the Stage

And so it begins…

The functions of the Review, as they appear at the outset, are mainly these: to present in brief form a resume of the more important features of the daily life at Williams; to discuss the conditions and tendencies of that life from an alumni standpoint; and to maintain an efficient department of alumni news. Other functions may be added to these in course of time, such as the printing of correspondence of graduates, or the securing of articles on special topics by competent authorities, but the aim will always be to publish a paper by and for the alumni of Williams College.

Our attitude will be, in all probability, much like that of a chorus in a Greek play — taking notice of the actions going forward on the stage, commenting upon them now and then, but never (to use an expressive slang phrase) “butting in.”

First and last, we are devoted to Williams College, well pleased as to its present, and optimistic toward its future.

On the 50th anniversary of this publication, the son of this publication’s original editor will take stock of how well it has delivered on its mission to date, revisiting the Greek chorus metaphor in a lovely, very Williams way. But we’ll get to that later.

The Editor wishes to return thanks for the words of commendation and kindly criticism which have come to him since the issuing of the first number of the Williams Alumni Review. To those who have sent us items of alumni news we are especially grateful. To make this department of the paper a success we must depend largely upon the help received from Williams alumni everywhere, and to this fact we beg once more to call the attention of our readers. We do not expect, however, to subordinate unduly the statement and discussion of the College news; our object is to make the Review a means of keeping Williams graduates in touch with the College and with each other.

What starts as a handful of pages of news in the early issues will steadily grow, eventually meriting a split into an entire publication of its own, Williams People.

The steadily increasing circulation of the Review, not only by reason of the growing enrolment of the Alumni Athletic Association (whose members receive the magazine in return for their annual dues), but because of new subscriptions from the general body of the alumni, is a source of sincere gratification to those concerned in the conduct of the undertaking. If this broader field means the beginning of a closer touch of Williams men with each other and with the College, to a mutual and lasting benefit, the career of the Review has thus far been not in vain.

As the first year closes out, the editor expresses his appreciation of this taking hold. As do I.

Time Traveling through Williams Alumni History

Lately I’ve taken up time traveling. 

As part of my work leading the archival/storytelling effort for Williams’ upcoming Society of Alumni Bicentennial, I’ve been traveling back through Williams history.

I started for some reason with 1957. I think I may have been trying to pick a year where the debates around fraternities may have been heating up, to look for correspondence from alumni on the topic.

But what I found as I immersed myself in the Alumni Reviews from that year was so much more. Stories of Ephs helping refugees. Wild characters from the past remembered. Stories about the “new athletic craze” of skydiving. Small world stories of Ephs connecting with other Ephs. A funny song dedicated to the Alumni Fund. And over and over again, the theme of change. Exploring what it means to both love an institution and challenge it to be better. 

So I decided this wasn’t going to be a hunt-and-peck endeavor. I would go back to the beginning and look through every Alumni Review, starting with Volume 1, Number 1 in February 1909.

And it’s there right from the start, all of those same themes. Humor. Love. Criticism. Philanthropy. Optimism. Alumni making an impact on the world and on each other in ways both big and small. But most of all, change.

As the inaugural editorial closes:

First and last, we are devoted to Williams College, well pleased as to its present, and optimistic toward its future.

The Williams Alumni Review, February 1909

I’m still not quite sure how I will recap and share this experience here. I could go year by year, but that seems to miss an essential story around topics that echo through the years. I could group by theme, but that will also be challenging given that new content will continuously be revealing itself and adding to those themes. For now, it will be more freeform.

With a decade of Alumni Reviews under my belt, I’m seeing connections to this project everywhere I go. Whether I’m discussing women’s philanthropy and thinking about the women who helped establish Williams’ first endowment, or if I’m listening to an author (Williams alum, obvs) talk about how she brought the history of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to life in a creative way, parallels are everywhere. Names repeated over the years start to come to life in new ways. In 1913, Phinney Baxter is elected Senior Class President. And we know what happens later – in the 1957 issues I started with he’s President of Williams! 

It’s like I get a chance to live in an alternate timeline.

To close out this first post of what I expect will be an epic series, here are some of the gems from 1957 that captivated me.