As students of the College, we have the great fortune to be part of the school’s prestigious and lengthy legacy. As we walk around the Cistern, so do the ghosts of students, faculty, co-eds and invading northerners. Recordings picked up by ghost hunters have been useless, and time travel is, at present, a technological impossibility. What we do have is a rich history of student news going back eighty years to when the legendary Abel Banov founded the Meteor newspaper.
Like CisternYard News, the Meteor was written and printed by and for the students. They were there when war was declared, when Student Government elected its first black president and when Joe Riley first ran for mayor. However, they also shed light on the day-to-day life of the average student. Opinions, weddings, feuds between fraternities and complaints about parking all made it into print. Reading the stories and emotions behind the stiff, unsmiling people in black and white photos reminds us that students are what students always have been: a bunch of boisterous, hormonal slackers.
A Rat’s Life for Me
Freshmen today are ridiculously coddled. We hold their hands through every step from application to first year experience, and we can’t even haze them. This was (hilariously) not so in the 1920s, when the upperclassmen reigned high at the “Kangaroo Court.” Freshmen, or “rats,” were each summoned before the court to endure his or her own form of personal humiliation. Headlines from the Meteor in fall 1936 read “Rodents Renew Pledges to be Better Animals” and “Kangaroo Persecutors Giving College Rodents Rough Time.”
Charges were often entirely bogus. The honorable court found rats guilty of “impersonating a hoodlum,” “attempting to think logically” and “trying to impersonate a lamb” (Lamb being the boy’s last name). The high judge of the court wanted to be sure every rat was tried, so the court was forced to stretch the law more than a little.
The real fun was in the sentencing. A retrospective written in 1955 says that rats caught sitting on the Cistern had to carry their books in a dishpan, or wear an alarm clock around their necks. For other infractions, they had to wear silly signs, prance around the Cistern, clean gutters or shine shoes.
The most elaborate punishment ever printed was for Alexander Washington Marshall, guilty of copying the names of too many great men from history. The poor rat was forced to wear a cocked hat and a sign reading “I am the Father of my Country,” while carrying a baby’s bottle and riding a broomstick named Bucephalus with a Gordian knot tied to it. Your first year doesn’t seem so rough now, does it?
The Meteor archive reveals an enduring history of students doing what students do best: screwing around. Going to college was a privilege back in the day, right? You’d think they would take it pretty seriously. They didn’t.
In October 1940, the front page was graced with a riveting account of a locker room towel fight between unruly lads George “Horse” Nash and Charlie Young. The veteran towel-tusslers struck and dodged in front of a frenzied audience until both sportsmen begrudgingly agreed to a draw. “Long was clad only in his underwear, Nash had on even less,” as stated in the article. No doubt the sport lives on quietly in dorm bathrooms and locker rooms, but maybe we are due for towel battle revival.
The Thursday Thirsties Organization was formed the very next year with a tradition many of us unknowingly adhere to today. According to their founding legend, the club started when one student invited his friend for a beer during the day.
“Naw, I’ve got class in a little while,” his friend replied. “Aw, come on,” he implored. So they both sat down and had a beer. Soon another friend of theirs came by and they invited him to come have a drink.
“Naw, I’ve got class in a little while,” he replied, but, like his friend, he was easily convinced. Another weak- willed soul joined them – and then another – and the band of beer-drinkers grew until they decided they had to make it official.
Shenanigans in the 1970s got a little more risqué. The Meteor was at the front lines of the great panty raid of 1973, which started with one brave boy infiltrating the girls’ dorm, only to be ambushed in a stairwell and drenched with ice by the dormitory defenders. It ended with the girls making off with three jockstraps after smearing mayonnaise, egg, jam, frosting and acne medicine on the boys’ faces.
Why panties, you ask? “Ahh,” the boys’ commander told the Meteor, “it’s to show the girls that up underneath all that wire and padding they’re all the same.”
This brings us to our next point.
The Delicate Sex
After years of campaigning, women were finally allowed to enroll in the College in 1918, during World War II. President Harrison Randolph decided that if women were going to do all the men’s work in wartime, they may as well be educated.
“And how intense was the resentment of the men when they saw their sanctuary being desecrated by women students!” wrote the 1928 staff of The Comet, the College’s yearbook, under the Co-Ed club’s photo. Still, the women held their own against the tide of outrage; by the late 1920s almost half of all student organizations had a woman at the helm. “All this we have accomplished in one decade,” the Comet boasted. You have to give them credit; it was a different time.
With the admission of women came all the passion and intrigue that inevitably follow sexually repressed young people. Breakups, courtships, crushes, marriages and love triangles were all laid bare in the Meteor’s vicious gossip columns. One co-ed tried to hide her face when reporters caught her on a date with a Citadel cadet in 1940. Still, the news was printed. “Why be ashamed, Eleanor? We would!” During a low point for student news at the College, one especially creepy (and short-lived) 1950 column was titled “Old Dad Ogles Girls and Issues O.K. Verdict.”
Aside from uncomfortable objectification, and one article announcing the shocking news that “Women Handle Mice” (in a biology class, no less), students at the College maintained a relatively progressive view on women. Meteor founder Banov himself called for girls to be allowed to attend Pep Supper, (the Greek Life event that still occurs every year) without a date. He said it was only fair, “now that the members of the gentle sex have been so thoroughly emancipated from the more binding foibles of the not so distant past.”
Years later, a reporter bemoaned the lack of post- graduate jobs available to women. Men could be chemists, architects, doctors, teachers, lawyers and journalists; women made up less than five percent of any of these, but 75 percent of librarians, teachers, nurses, dental hygienists and “home economists” in 1949 were women.
Student news is an ancient and noble tradition that we will dutifully carry on now and forever. Not only did they keep the student body up-to-date before the age of email or Twitter, but they preserved the voices of those students in time capsules of paper and ink. Now when we look back at our legacy as students of the College, we see ourselves reflected in the lives of students who drank, pranked, loved and toiled long before we were ever here.
Additional research came from J.H. Easterby’s “History of the College of Charleston, founded 1770.”
Special thanks to the Special Collections at the Addlestone Library for their aid in researching this article.
*Due to printing malfunctions, this story was cut off at the end of the page in the pint edition of the April 2016 issue of the Yard. CisternYard News would like to express its sincerest apologies to the writer of the article in addition to the sources that were to be listed listed at the end of the piece.