Happy (House)Mother’s Day!

Hi all! This is Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow. May 14th is Mother’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a brand new blog post? While working on the “Dining Services” page of the Women of Davidson college website, we came across several stories of “housemothers” from the early days of Patterson Court. Even though these women were not the actual mothers of the students they served (there might have been a few exceptions, who knows), we thought you would get a kick out of some (House)Mother’s Day Davidson history.

The post below is an excerpt from the History of Dining Services page of the “Women of Davidson” site, which you can view here: https://digitalprojects.davidson.edu/omeka/s/college-archives-women-of-davidson/page/dining-services-history. The site focuses not only housemothers, but on the untold history of cooks on Jackson Court and Patterson Court. We hope you can give it a read!

Starting in the 1860’s, one of the most common dining options for Davidson students was to eat at private boarding houses in the town of Davidson. These boarding houses were run by local women who formed lasting connections with the students that frequented their homes; below, a Davidson alum of the late 1800’s recounts the significant impact that Mrs. Barnes, who ran the Barnes’ Club eating house, had on the other students who stayed under her care. 

His remembering of Mrs. Barnes reflects the beginnings of the important community and connection built by women who worked in Davidson College’s dining services. 

“After staying with Mrs. Barnes for four years, eating her prepared food week by week and absorbing some of her steadfast upbuilding philosophy, they graduated feeling like a new born man literally as well as seeing the beauty in life, the dependability in others, and the beautiful world given to all of us to embody.”
– “Influence…,” Harris A. Johnson. The Mecklenburg Gazette, July 23, 1964

In response to the rising popularity of fraternities amongst Davidson students in the early 20th century, Jackson Court was created in 1928; a semi-circle of houses along Concord Road that were rented out to fraternity chapters for 500 dollars a month by Davidson College. Unlike the fraternities and eating houses of Davidson today, the Jackson Court houses were only meant as meeting places and had no dining facilities, meaning students still had to join local boarding houses to get their meals.

Image of the entrance to Jackson Court. The image is in black and white. There are two houses to the left of a dirt road, which goes down the center of the image. Large fir trees line the road, and there are two brick posts at the entrance to the road.
Entrance to Jackson Court, circa 1940’s.

As more Davidson students belonging to fraternities matriculated into local boarding houses, certain houses in town became closely associated with specific fraternities. The women who ran these boarding houses used the kitchens and dining spaces of their own homes to serve fraternity members. Over the course of Jackson Court’s thirty years, these “boarding house women” became known as surrogate mother figures to Davidson students, setting the precedent for the housemother role to be introduced in the Patterson Court era. 

Greek life began to move from Jackson Court to the new Patterson Court starting in 1958. As Patterson Court houses were built to include kitchens and dining facilities, each house hired its own housemother to plan the fraternity’s menus, assist in managing the house’s budget, and hire cooks to prepare meals. Another new feature of the Patterson Court houses were the inclusion of apartments for housemothers, where they would live year-round to monitor and facilitate fraternity activities.

“Patterson Court.” Pamphlet for Admitted Davidson College Students, 1959.

Over the next decade, housemothers became significant figures in the everyday lives of Davidson students, taking up the mantle from the boarding house women of the past. This can be seen in the article from the Davidson College Bulletin below, which describes an honorary event thrown for housemother Johnsie Shelton, who served at the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity for over 10 years. Shelton had previously run a boarding house affiliated with the PKP fraternity and moved into the fraternity’s Patterson Court house upon its construction, further showing the close correlation between the housemother role and Davidson’s boarding house history. 

Several men stand in front of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house. The front of the house has a banner across that reads, "Thank you, Miss Johnsie."
From “Johnsie Shelton Appreciation Day.” Davidson College Bulletin, August 1959.

“I still keep up with my boys,” says mother to generations of Davidson students, Miss Johnsie Shelton, who has been a guardian angel to Davidson College boys all her life. (…)

Her home on Concord Road was used as the boarding house for the fraternity until the new half million dollar Patterson Fraternity Court opened last year. When asked whether she would leave her home to live in the housemother’s apartment in the new fraternity house, Miss Shelton said, “You can’t put old wine in new bottles.” But she went anyway, and now the “old wine” feels much at home in the “new bottle.”

“My favorite subject right now is ‘what are ya goin’ to feed the boy’s?'”

“Her boys feel she has done more than feed them. This spring, the Pi Kappa Alpha Phi fraternity surprised her with “Miss Johnsie’s Appreciation Day.”

– “Johnsie Shelton Appreciation Day.” Davidson College Bulletin, August 1959.

The importance of housemothers in student life can also be seen through their numerous mentions in the Quips and Cranks yearbooks of the 1960’s. Below, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity dedicates a line of their 1960 yearbook page to “Mother Payne”; “[She] fed us well, helped us impress our dates, and was an excellent housemother.”

Yearbook page for Phi Delta Theta. On the left is an image of the president of the fraternity standing in front of the fraternity house. To the right is in an image of pledge day. In the pledge day image, around 20 young men are excitedly running towards the fraternity house.
Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. Quips and Cranks, 1961.

Mrs. J. Carey Stewart, housemother of the Alpha Tau Omega house, even reserved her own spot on a wooden paddle that was gifted from one fraternity member to another in 1961. 

Close up on a wooden fraternity paddle. In Sharpie reads: Housemother. Underneath, in pen is the signature of J. Carey Stewart. Beneath this is the crest of the fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega.
From the Estate of C.L. Hardy, Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.

In the 1970’s, fraternity housemothers began to lose their once strong influence over student life; a Davidson College student life study from 1973 reported that five housemothers split their time between eight different fraternity houses, a far cry from the individualized attention given to each house by housemothers of the past. This came during a time of larger cultural changes at Davidson brought on by campus integration in 1963, coeducation in 1972, and other social movements that broadened perspectives of students, faculty and staff, and shifted the mission of Davidson College as a whole.

Davidson was no longer a school for exclusively male students to be molded into “Davidson Gentlemen” under the watchful eye of housemothers and guiding hand of college administration; instead, Davidson students of all genders desired more independence and freedom in their college experience, and this extended into their dining options. By the 1980’s, the housemother position had been phased out completely, but cooks remained and took on a more central role in the eating houses and fraternities of Patterson Court, becoming figureheads in their own right. (Refer to our previous blog post on Fannie and Mabel.)

Housemothers represent many of the complexities of Davidson’s history; they belong to an earlier version of campus that could be seen as quaint, tight knit and more nurturing to students than the Davidson College of today, or alternatively, a stuffy and restrictive past. What remains undisputed is that housemothers made a difference in the everyday lives of Davidson College students by helping to provide them with a warm meal and a space to enjoy it in, and that is a legacy worth celebrating.

Johnsie Shelton stands next to the chapter advisor of the fraternity to accept gifts on a table in front of her.
From “Johnsie Shelton Appreciation Day.” Davidson College Bulletin, August 1959.

Remembering Davidson Icon Lula Bell Houston 20 Years After Her Retirement

Hi everyone – Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow, here with another blog post for you! While we’ve been working on the “Women of Davidson” website, one of the names that kept coming up again and again in students’ recollections of their time at Davidson was Lula Bell Houston. She worked in the college laundry service for 57 years (!) and made countless connections with generations of Davidson students, alums, faculty and staff. Although she retired all the way back in 2004, her influence can still be felt on campus through the Lula Bell Houston Resource Center. 

In celebration of her retirement almost 20 years ago, we’re revisiting the life and legacy of Lula Bell Houston. If you’re interested in reading more of Lula Bell’s story in her own words, we encourage you to access the full transcript of her 2012 oral history, here.

Fun fact: April 29, 2004 was officially declared “Lula Bell Houston Day” by the town of Davidson! This is mentioned in the Congressional record of May 2004, when Davidson alum Senator John M. Spratt gave a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives honoring Lula Bell Houston.

From the 1990 Quips and Cranks Yearbook.

Lula Bell Houston was born in Cornelius, North Carolina, in 1923. She was raised by a single mother along with her older brother, with whom she shared a close relationship throughout her life. Her mother, Rosa Carr, was an early employee of the Davidson College Laundry. In 1943, she began her career at Davidson College in dining services, serving meals to soldiers at Davidson during World War II, before she moved on to working at the college laundry a year later. Following a short time at the laundry, she decided to leave her hometown and go on to new adventures. Lula Bell traveled to Washington D.C and New York City, meeting plenty of new people and working a variety of jobs (including at a pen factory and a toy factory!) before she decided to return to Davidson in 1948. Here, she took up a job ironing at the Davidson College Laundry alongside her mother.

For more than twenty years of her time at the laundry, Lula Bell did the behind-the-scenes work of taking care of student’s clothes. This changed in the late 1970’s, as Lula Bell took up the role of manning the laundry check-in desk. According to Lula Bell, she was the first Black staff member to have the job, which allowed her to regularly interact with students. Arguably, this was when Lula Bell’s reputation at Davidson truly got the chance to shine; students through the years remember noticing her friendly smile when they walked in the Laundry door, leading many to strike up conversations with Lula Bell as they dropped off their clothes. In her oral history from 2012, Lula Bell speaks fondly of one student in particular, a foreign exchange student from Nicaragua who wrote her a heartfelt letter about how speaking to Lula Bell at the laundry check-in made him feel less isolated at Davidson. 

When she retired in 2004, Lula Bell was awarded with a variety of honors from student groups at Davidson, including the “Spirit of Davidson” award from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. Lula Bell, a lifelong Cornelius resident, jokingly responded in her oral history, “I didn’t live in Davidson, so why was I the Spirit of Davidson? But to the boys, I was the Spirit of Davidson. [laughing]”

“Changed College Says Warm Goodbye.” Charlotte Observer, 2004. From the Maggie Smith scrapbook, Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.

Along with her connections with students, Lula Bell also reminiscences in her oral history about the tight knit community of laundry staff at Davidson. She and several other staff members would form a singing group called “The Laundrettes,” inspired by the group humming in harmony during the work day. The Laundrettes sang at Davidson College events, and Lula Bell even remembered being requested by a faculty member to sing at his funeral once he passed. Singing was a lifelong passion of Lula Bell’s. After her retirement, Lula Bell would continue to sing at her home church even during the health struggles of her later years, according to her daughter, Peggy Rivens. (You can read Peggy Riven’s oral history here.)

After her retirement, the laundry was renamed “The Lula Bell Houston Laundry” in Lula Bell’s honor. The college laundry service closed in 2015, but two years later the building would reopen as The Lula Bell Houston Resource Center. The resource center was funded in part by a generous donation from the family of Tom Anstrom, a Davidson alum from the Class of ’04 that passed from a heart condition in 2015. Lula Bell attended the dedication ceremony and met Carol Quillen, the first female president of Davidson College.

President Carol Quillen and Lula Bell Houston at the Dedication of the Lula Bell Houston Resource Center. Davidson News, 2017.

Today, Lula Bell’s (as it’s called by Davidson students) provides important resources such as easily accessible food, professional clothing for interviews, and programming like communal trips to the grocery store for students. The center describes its mission to carry on Lula Bell Houston’s legacy:

“Lula Bell Houston, a name associated with making others feel valued and loved, will once again be attached to a space that makes a lasting difference in the lives of students. Her legacy will live on in Lula Bell’s, an on-campus resource center that aims to prepare students for success at and after Davidson.”

Mural painted by Davidson College Students at The Lula Bell Houston Resource Center, 2023. (Photo by Ellen.)

If you’d like to learn more about the Davidson College Laundry, its origins and the women who worked there, you can come see the in-person “Women of the Davidson College Laundry” exhibit at the E.H. Little Library! Or, visit the “Laundry History” and “Laundry Staff” pages of the Women of Davidson College website. 

Welcome to the E.H. Little Library, James!

Andra and James Simon in Mexico

1.You’re just beginning to get to know the E.H. Little Library –what’s your background and how has it contributed to your work in the library?  

I’m tremendously excited to join the team here at the E.H. Little Library. Prior to coming to Davidson, I worked at the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) in Chicago, a consortium of academic libraries with a shared collection of specialized research materials. My early career was spent working closely with international subject specialists in identifying unique collections for scholarly access. I’ve had the good fortune to work with colleagues and peers across the globe in the preservation of knowledge resources. My background has led to a deep appreciation for the diversity of knowledge from different cultural perspectives, worldviews, and ways of knowing. I try to bring that to my work in identifying unique resources for research and teaching.

I’m excited that Davidson recently joined CRL, by the way, because this partnership opens up amazing opportunities for our students, faculty, and community. CRL’s collection includes more than five million volumes of research material, including more than 50,000 digital resources. CRL makes accessible thousands of newspapers from around the world, rich archival collections, and primary sources that significantly augment Davidson’s own impressive holdings. Interested in the Calvinist tradition in 17th c. Geneva? The drawing of Iraqi boundaries after World War I? Perspectives on migration during the Partition of India? CRL has something unique for every researcher. 

2.While working on your library degree, which classes have been the most helpful? Will working in a library change your selection of future courses?

Obtaining my degree in Library and Information Science (LIS) became a goal during COVID as I realized the profound work libraries were doing in providing emergency access to information, combatting misinformation, and even providing basic needs for students struggling to maintain their status in college. While I have been working in the academic library field for more than 20 years, it became important to me to take a step back and undertake the important work of understanding the background to librarianship’s core values, and to develop a professional philosophy to further guide my work. 

I’m in the process of obtaining my MLIS degree from Dominican University and am having an absolute blast in my courses and work outside the classroom. One of the most enlightening classes to date has been on Information Divides, really digging in to the systems and motivations that are driving the divide between privileged and disadvantaged groups and societies in today’s information age. Now that I’m working at Davidson, I’m focusing my coursework on academic libraries and leadership, which has the advantages of both informing my present work and giving me a lot of useful case examples to draw from in class! 

3. What about the position of Assistant Director of Collections & Discovery interested you?

I’m a habitual highlighter when reading, and when I started outlining the roles and responsibilities of this position, I found I had nearly covered the entire posting with yellow highlights.

First, I love that Davidson Library leads with its values. These were front and center in the position description and shaped my entire view of what this position was about. The Library clearly has a vision and a direction, and I was excited to envision how the A.D. of Collections & Discovery could play a role in that. There were a dozen other criteria in the position that excited me, but most of all was the emphasis on relationships with teaching and learning partners across the college as well as with consortial partners. There was a clear recognition that Davidson has much to gain from working collaboratively with its partners in North Carolina, the Oberlin Group, the Eastern Academic Scholars’ Trust (EAST), and other libraries in building and stewarding shared, open, and equitable collections. This is where I’ll be placing a lot of focus to ensure Davidson maximizes its investments.

4. Are there any projects you’re particularly passionate about introducing to Davidson?

There are two areas to which I’m paying attention for the future. One focus is on Davidson’s investments in open access and open knowledge initiatives. The library is already supporting faculty open access publishing through a number of transformative agreements with publishers. Davidson is also championing knowledge producers that are committed to open models of scholarly publication, such as Lever Press. I’m interested in finding unique “Davidson-sized” opportunities to expand access, facilitate innovative pedagogy, and shape the scholarly communication landscape through open knowledge.

The second area of focus is on providing more pathways to access to non-owned, non-licensed content. Davidson’s holdings are considerable, but the budget is finite. We must make challenging decisions all the time on what to purchase and what to put on hold. By building and activating our partnerships, we can turn to the network to provide access to significant content at the point of need. We already have the tools we need, we just need to leverage them. I already mentioned the EAST partnership. This network of institutions committed to retaining print monographs also has reciprocal lending agreements. By virtue of our participation, Davidson has access to 10+ million print items held by other participating libraries. It’s a highly effective network of trusted institutions.  

5. You haven’t been here long yet, but what has been your most memorable or surprising experience at Davidson thus far?

I knew Davidson was a well-regarded school, but I have been surprised by the number of conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues who light up when I tell them where I’m working. I’ve had no fewer than ten conversations along the lines of “Oh, my cousin/neighbor/friend’s daughter went to Davidson! They had an amazing experience there!” Having been here just a few weeks, I can certainly agree with them. I’m finding the students, staff and faculty are–without fail–kind, generous, and just really good human beings.

Cooper as mascot

6. What are three things you want Davidson’s community to know about you

1) I’m an amateur brewer, closet artist, and erstwhile stage performer. 

2) I’m a dedicated fan of the @DavidsonVB team. I flew home with them after my interview and considered it a good omen. Come join me for home games this year!

3) My dog Cooper, frequently seen around campus in the evenings & weekends, reeeally wants you to pay attention to him. 

Cooper pondering his next read.

Fannie and Mabel: “Two Special Ladies”

Hello, everyone — Ellen Huggins, JEC archives fellow, back again! For the past few months, we’ve been updating our “Women of Davidson” site to center lesser known stories of women from the Davidson archives, particularly Black women of the Davidson College staff who have not yet been highlighted for their contributions to Davidson history. Here’s a preview of what you’ll see on the Dining Services page!

Did you know that from 1971 to 1985, one of the eating houses on Patterson Court was named after cooks Fannie and Mabel?

Black and white image of Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence. The two women are standing side by side and both are wearing white dresses with white aprons. Fannie Brandon has her hair in a bun and is wear glasses, and she is standing on the left, wearing glasses. Mabel Torrence has short hair and is standing on the right.
Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence. (Fannie is on the left, Mabel on the right.) From the Davidsonian, 1982.

Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence were two longtime staff members of dining services at Davidson College, and by 1982 they had a combined total of 72 years of service. According to the 1982 Quips and Cranks yearbook, “With the closing of the 1980-81 school year, Mabel finishes her 28th year of Patterson Court service and Fannie marks up 40 years of catering to hungry students.” Although Mabel and Fannie started their work at Davidson at different times, the pair began working together at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house in the 1950’s. 

The student members of the Fannie and Mabel eating house are sitting on a brick wall outside. There are 21 people lined up, some sitting on the wall and some standing behind. There is a tower of large steel beer kegs arranged on the wall as well. Fannie and Mabel are at the center of the group. They are wearing white dresses with white aprons over them.
The “F&M” eating house, 1972. (Fannie and Mabel are wearing white dresses and standing in the center.) Courtesy of Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.

After the fraternity left Davidson College in 1971, students rallied to form a new eating house on campus around the two women and named it “Fannie and Mabel” in their honor, going by F&M for short. Fannie and Mabel’s personability and excellent meals (including the famous “Melt-in-Your-Mouth-Wednesday-Mabel-Rolls”) were well known across campus and the two would be regularly visited by alumni of F&M and the Kappa Sigma fraternity, especially on Davidson game day weekends. 

Pencil illustration of Mabel Torrence and Fannie Brandon. The women are wearing aprons and are standing with their hands behind their back. The title at the top reads Two Special Ladies. The caption below the image reads With Love, Lisa Buckley class of 1982.  Mabel Torrence is on the left and Fannie Brandon is on the right.
“Two Special Ladies,” dedication page by Lisa Buckley ’82, secretary for F&M eating house. From the Quips and Cranks yearbook, 1982.

In response to Davidson College’s lack of retirement benefits for Patterson Court staff, the residents of F&M began a retirement fund for Fannie and Mabel starting in 1979. The F&M eating house raised more than $1200 in donations from alumni and students who had been impacted by the pair, and in the Davidsonian article written about the retirement fund three years later, the two women reflect on their long years of service for the college and the changes they had experienced while working on campus. 

Black and white text reading F and M's Celebrated Cooks.
“F and M’s Celebrated Cooks” article headline. From the Davidsonian, 1982.

“Fannie and Mabel have enjoyed Davidson and generously share their impressions on how the community and the campus have changed over the years. “We just love the kids,” Fannie explained. Mable will tell you of the growth of the town. Both smile quickly when reminiscing on changes in the student body. “It’s the girls. That’s the big change,” Fannie says. “And it’s good to see more Blacks,” Mabel adds.” 

Benedict, Jeb. “F and M’s Celebrated Cooks.” The Davidsonian, January 22, 1982. Page 6.

(As Fannie started in dining services around 1941, followed by Mabel in 1952, both were working on campus well before the entrance of the first Black student at Davidson College in 1962, or the beginning of coeducation in 1972.) 

The F&M Eating House was shut down in 1985, but Fannie and Mabel continued working in dining services, moving on to different Patterson Court fraternities and eating houses where they kept cooking, serving up meals, and making connections with Davidson students. 

Black and white headshot image of Mabel Torrence. Mabel is wearing large glasses, has short black hair, and is wearing a white shirt.
Mabel Torrence, 1990.
Black and white headshot image of Fannie Brandon. Fannie is wearing large glasses, has short hair and is wearing a white collared shirt.
Fannie Brandon, 1990.

Fannie Brandon and Mabel Torrence in the 1990 Quips and Cranks yearbook, where they were listed as cooks for Spencer eating house.

Behind the Display Part 2: Title IX and the History of Women’s Basketball at Davidson

Title of Display Case Two.

Welcome back! In this part 2 post, we’ll be looking at the second case in the “Title IX and Women’s Basketball Davidson” exhibit. The oral histories featured in this display case were originally collected as part of a student research project in 1999 by Davidson College alum Eileen Dwyer (Class of ‘99). 

First half of Display Case Two.

Figure 1) For her senior capstone paper entitled “Women’s Athletics at Davidson College: Grassroots Movement and Institutional Support,” Eileen Dwyer decided to research the history of women’s athletics at Davidson College, starting with the then current 1998/99 women’s basketball team. The interviewees include; John Filar, the head coach of the women’s team; Jessica Montrella (‘99), a center on the team; Jennifer Roos (‘93), assistant coach; and Emil Parker, sports information director for athletics at Davidson College. 

The 1998/99 team were the first in the history of women’s basketball history at Davidson to reach the Southern Conference finals. In these oral history interviews, Dywer asks candid questions about topics including the realities of student athletic life at Davidson, the impact of Title IX, and the journey to the 1999 Southern Conference. 

1999 is at the midpoint between 1972, the year that Title IX was passed, and today. By listening to the stories and perspectives within these oral histories, we can learn more about the complicated legacy of Title IX at Davidson College.  

While navigating this display case, consider:  

What is Title IX? A) Title IX is a legal obligation towards women’s sports that college administration upholds at the risk of losing funding for men’s sports or men’s teams memberships to athletic conferences. B) Title IX is a significant step towards equality between women’s and men’s athletics that gives female athletes the opportunity to dedicate themselves to the sport they’re passionate about.  

Can both be true?  

Figure 2) Jennifer Roos, Assistant Coach for the 1998/99 team, was also a member of the 1991/92 inaugural Division I women’s basketball team during her time as a Davidson student.  

In this excerpt, she discusses her views on the funding behind women’s basketball from the dual perspective of a student and a coach. [33:07] 

[Click here to access Roos’ complete oral history audio/transcript: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01DCOLL_INST/1lben0i/alma991025209482805716 ]

Figure 3) John Filar was the first women’s basketball coach after the varsity team was brought back in 1992, and the first to coach Division I women’s basketball at Davidson College.  

In these excerpts, John Filar speaks about the difficulty in transitioning from a team club to Division I in order to join the Southern Conference. [8:57] He then talks about Title IX and how the college’s desire to move men’s basketball into the Southern Conference affected the women’s team. [10:21]  

[Click here to access Filar’s complete oral history audio and transcript: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01DCOLL_INST/1lben0i/alma991025209482705716]

Second Half of Display Case Two.

Figure 4) Jessica Montrella was a senior in 1999 and a center on the women’s basketball team. She was a star player on the women’s basketball team during her time at Davidson, surpassing 1000 points scored over her college career.  

In these excerpts, Jessica Montrella speaks about her time as a student athlete at Davidson College. [28:45] She then talks reflects on what she had to sacrifice to play on Davidson’s newly Division I team. [34:21] 

[Click here to access Montrella’s complete oral history audio and transcript: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01DCOLL_INST/1lben0i/alma991025210483305716]

Figures 5-7:  

Figure 5) Image of more players on the 1998/99 women’s basketball team, including Kelly Copeland (#15), D’Erica Taylor (#30), Bethany Schott (#40), Leah Uhernick (#25), Janna Magette (#20).  

Figure 6) Guide for the 1999 Southern Conference. Featuring John Filar and Jessica Montrella in the bottom right corner. (Courtesy of the Davidson Athletics Department). 

Figure 7) Article from the March 3, 1999 edition of the Davidsonian, “Montrella-less ‘Cats fall to ASU in finals.” The 1998/99 team finished their winning season by losing the Southern Conference final to Appalachian State University, 69-78. Montrella suffered an injury before the final game that prevented her from playing, and in the article’s image she stands on the sidelines with Coach John Filar.  

Click here to access the “Women’s Athletics at Davidson College, 1999” oral history collection: https://davidson.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/discovery/collectionDiscovery?vid=01DCOLL_INST:01DCOLL&collectionId=81316843600005716  

Behind the Display: Title IX and the History of Women’s Basketball at Davidson

Display Case One.

Hi! This is Ellen Huggins, current JEC archives fellow. In honor of the 50th anniversary of coeducation and Title IX at Davidson College, the Archives and Special Collections are looking back on the history of women’s athletics and the impact of Title IX. This exhibit was originally meant to highlight one of the newest additions to our oral history collection, a series of recently released interviews recorded with staff and players belonging to the 1998-1999 Davidson women’s basketball team. The exhibit eventually evolved into a deeper look into the history of women’s basketball at Davidson and how the trajectory of the varsity team has been affected by the college’s relationship to Title IX.  You can use this post as a way to navigate the exhibit, or just as a way to learn more about the research that went into the exhibit making process!  

Case One: History of Women’s Basketball at Davidson College (1973-1986)

First Half of Display Case One. Figures 1-5.

(Timeline) 1973- Board of trustees votes for basketball to be one the of the first varsity sports for women at Davidson College along with field hockey. 

Figures 1 and 2) In this oral history excerpt, Emil Parker talks about Davidson College’s trustee board’s conception of the first female athletic award in the 1970s, the Rebecca E. Stimson award, and the difficulty of naming the award without a legacy of female athletics at the college. (click here for Parker’s interview). Stimson was a student at the time of the award’s creation, and she speaks about her mixed reaction to being the namesake of the award in her oral history interview, collected as part of the “Women’s Oral History Project.” (click here for Stimson’s interview).

Figure 3) Davidson College’s plan to comply with Title IX circa 1973, which includes how to divide the newly created women’s athletic programs into divisions and club classifications. Davidson College’s plan for the women’s basketball program was for the team to be a part of the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) league as Division III. (You can listen to Emil Parker’s oral history for more information on the college’s experience while in the AIAW.)  

Figure 4) Images from women’s basketball at Davidson while the team was a part of the AIAW, or the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, in the period between 1973-1982. (Both images are circa 1975, courtesy of Davidson Archives and Special Collections). 

Figure 5) Promotional brochure from the 1980/81 season of Davidson women’s basketball, as an AIAW program. According to the program, one of the benefits of being a part of the AIAW Division III team was that it was a non-scholarship program. This meant female athletes were able to play basketball on a competitive level but could also join other sports teams at Davidson which many female athletes like Rebecca Stimson, who lettered in three sports during her time at Davidson, took advantage of.  

Second Half of Display Case One. Figures 6-8.

1982- The NCAA began to accept women’s sports into their divisions, and the women’s basketball team switched from the AIAW as a Division III team to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) league as a Division III program.  

One reason for Davidson College’s push for women’s basketball to leave the AIAW and become a member of the NCAA was to join the Southern Conference tournament, which held its first tournament for NCAA women’s basketball in the 83/84 season. (click here to learn more about the history of the Southern Conference)

1983- The women’s basketball team joins the Southern Conference in 1983, along with the women’s tennis, field hockey and swim teams.  

Figure 6) Second set of pictures: Pictures of women’s basketball program while a part of the NCAA, or the National Collegiate Athletic Association, post 1982. (The image of the team player is from 1985, and the team picture is from 1984, Courtesy of Davidson College Archives and Special Collections.) 

1986- Women’s basketball team wins the Division III State Championship.  

Figure 7) From the 1985/86 Davidson College Quips and Cranks yearbook, “Ladycats Achieve Winning Season.” Despite winning the state Division III championship that year (see the Davidsonian headline above, “Lady Cats take first home victory”), the 1985/86 women’s basketball varsity season would be the last at Davidson until the team’s reinstatement in 1992.  

1986- The women’s basketball team is cut from the varsity basketball program due to budgetary constraints and inadequate resources to maintain a competitive team. 

Despite an elevated level of interest in the women’s basketball team and the program’s continued success, women’s basketball was cut as a varsity sport at Davidson College in 1986. This change was possible because Davidson College already had six varsity sports for women other than basketball, which was enough to retain their Division I NCAA membership. The varsity women’s basketball team was brought back in part as the result of a 1991 rule change by the NCAA regarding women’s sport divisions. (click here to learn more about the history of NCAA divisional regulations).

1991- Women’s basketball is brought back to Davidson with Coach John Filar as a varsity NCAA Division I team.  

Figure 8) Image of Coach John Filar from the 1992 Quips and Cranks yearbook, with the women’s varsity basketball team of 1991/92. The caption reads, “Coach Filar is excited to bring women’s basketball back to Davidson.” John Filar’s oral history was collected in 1999 by Eileen Dwyer for her senior research project, “History of Women’s Athletics at Davidson College, Grassroots Movements and Institutional Support,” and is featured in the following case in the exhibit. (click here for the Womens Athletics oral history collection).

Interested in the history of women’s athletics and basketball at Davidson? Check out these entries currently in the Davidson College Archives and Special Collections Encyclopedia: Women’s Athletics, Women’s Basketball.

Fun, Frolics and Homecoming Queens Part 2: Dating at Davidson

Hello, Ellen Huggins, current JEC Archives Fellow here. Welcome back to Fun, Frolics and Homecoming Queens at Davidson! In the last post, we spoke about the cultural significance of Homecoming and the Homecoming Queen ceremony. This week, we’ll be looking at the history of Homecoming at Davidson and the origins of the Homecoming Queen competition, leading up to coeducation in 1972. By looking at Davidson dating culture during Homecoming Weekend, we can hopefully gain more insight into what it was like for women as “guests” visiting campus before they were able to come to Davidson as degree earning students.

Dates on the dance floor of Homecoming 1953. At the center of the floor are three couples, all dressed in formal attire. At the edges of the floor are more couples, facing a stage where a big band is performing.
Dates on the dance floor at the 1953 Homecoming Dance at Davidson College. Image #27-1125.

This blog post primarily looks at Homecoming editions of the Davidsonian, the Davidson College newspaper, through the fifties and sixties. It’s important to acknowledge that the women who are featured below represent a very limited demographic in the history of women at Davidson College, which will be acknowledged further in upcoming Homecoming Queen posts.   

Article entitled "Homecoming Queen Candidates." Depicts portraits of 12 women, with their names followed by the fraternity that nominated them.
“Homecoming Queen Candidates.” The Davidsonian, October 30, 1959

 In 1959, the first Homecoming Queen competition was announced. Before this point, fraternities on campus would nominate female students from neighboring universities at as Homecoming “sponsors,” but this was the first year in which women were expected to compete for a title. In the midcentury, universities across the country began to adopt Homecoming Court as an annual tradition, and Davidson was no exception. The public pageantry of the Homecoming Queen ceremony reflected a trend in post war America towards more conservative gender roles in popular culture; crowning a queen was not only an opportunity to reward the “ideal” woman to represent Davidson College, but also provided a form of wholesome entertainment for the weekend.  

Article entitled "Seven College Girls View "The Davidson Gentlemen." The seven schools listed are Randolph-Macon, Sullins, Salem, W.C.U.N.C, Converse, Hollins, Queens and U. of N.C.
“Seven College Girls View “The Davidson Gentleman.” The Davidsonian, October 30, 1959.

The Homecoming Queen nominees were typically students from a variety of local women’s colleges, including Queens College, Hollins University, Salem College, and others listed in the article above. These colleges were also hotspots for male Davidson students to find weekend dates for events, and in this article, published in the 1959 Homecoming Edition of the Davidsonian, female representatives from these colleges weighed in on what typical “Davidson Gentleman” was like. One student from Sullins College in Bristol, Virginia, wrote, “The spirit of the Davidson Gentleman is high and I can see his true self emerge on those big weekends. He always seems to have a blast, especially when he is traveling here and there without “here” knowing he’s going “there” and vice versa.”

Article entitled "Why Your Date is Gray."
“Why Your Date is Gray.” The Davidsonian, October 21, 1960.

Davidson was known as a “suitcase college” in the years before coeducation. This was because many students would leave campus over the weekend either to go home or to go meet dates at neighboring colleges, leaving the campus a ghost town until classes started again on Monday. Since Davidson students weren’t able to see their dates on a regular basis leading up to the Homecoming Dance, many experienced anxiety over if/when/how their date would show up leading to the big weekend. The above article, “Why Your Date is Gray,” reflects some of those anxieties by parodying the letters male Davidson students hoped not to receive before Homecoming. Some notable examples include their date not being able to find the town, bringing their mother with them, or their date discovering that the “Davidson Gentleman” had been visiting another girl over the weekend (which could be what the Sullins student from the previous article was subtly referencing in her “traveling here and there” comment.)

Cartoon entitled "Homecoming Classic" by Bob Cole, class of 1959. Depicts an illustration of two men standing next to a truck. The caption reads, "Sign here for the blind dates you wanted, pal."
“Homecoming Classic…by Bob Cole, ’59.” The Davidsonian, October 21, 1960.

The pressure to show up with a date for Homecoming is illustrated in the “truckload” of blind dates cartoon above, which pokes fun at the sometimes superficial ways that students would procure someone to bring with them to the dance. The practice of “busing” in girls from neighboring schools for social events was another dating tradition at Davidson College that would later be challenged by female co-eds.

Posters line the wall of a dorm room, featuring large photos of women. The caption reads, "Playmates with Clothes? - This unlikely situation occurred after two students [...] received a mandate from [...] the supervisor of dormitories to remove any nasty pictures from their bulletin board in 109 Belk before the Homecoming Weekend. They complied, but with some nifty art work rather than the removal thereof."
“Playmates with Clothes?” The Davidsonian, October 21, 1960.

On Homecoming weekends, male underclassmen were moved out of their dorm rooms and into shared living quarters to accommodate the large number of visiting women who needed someplace to stay. Before they left though, some students would plan practical jokes for the arriving dates to find, like leaving behind frogs in trash cans, or in this case, drawing clothes on the Playboy posters that were meant to be (temporarily) taken down before the women’s arrival.  

Dates line up in formal attire in front of a football stadium.
Dates arrive at the Davidson Homecoming Football Game, 1963. Image #27-0320.

As we can see in the articles and comics above, women arriving for the Homecoming weekend marked a loosening of the strict academic standards and Presbyterian morals that ruled over male student’s lives for the rest of the school year. If the Homecoming Queen was once crowned as the ideal for what Davidson’s female guests could be, the meaning of the title completely changed once female co-eds could be nominated at the introduction of coeducation in 1972. This transition brought with it plenty of tension, so stay tuned for Part Three, where we’ll be looking at Homecoming Queens in the aftermath of coeducation and the mixed reactions of female co-eds towards Davidson dating culture.  

A Brief Study of Fun, Frolics and Homecoming Queens

By Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow

Post 1: Introduction

Crowning of Barbara Kelley, Homecoming Queen 1981, Image #27-1414

In the spirit of the “Fun and Frolics” theme of this year’s Archives Month, I’ve been rifling through our folders of archival photographs from college events (Freshman Orientation, Cake Races, Spring Flings….) to get a sense of what fun has looked like over the years on Davidson campus. The 50th anniversary of coeducation this year has also been sticking in the back of my mind, particularly the question of how women show up in the Davidson Archives before they were officially full time, degree earning students. Surprisingly, one of best places to find pictures of young women pre-1972 in the archives is the “Homecoming Queen” folder, which dates all the way back to 1959. It would be easy to view the title as a relic from a time when women were considered guests at Davidson, but as I dug deeper into the folder, I found it even more intriguing that the Homecoming Queen continued to be crowned far past the beginning of coeducation, and into the present day.  

In 2022 the College’s tradition of crowning a Queen during the Homecoming weekend football game might be all but forgotten, but it remains unexplored as one the longest running institutions for women on the Davidson campus. What can the history of Homecoming Queens tell us about the evolution of women’s roles at Davidson College from before coeducation to the present? I’ll be attempting to answer this question in this series of blog posts, so follow me through the archives as we explore fun, frolics, and Homecoming Queens at Davidson! 

Homecoming Banner, 1983, Image #27-1323

But first, what is Homecoming?

Every school has a different definition of what Homecoming means and how their traditions inform that meaning, but essentially, Homecoming is a weekend early in the school year where the college welcomes both current students and alumni to campus, hosts a football game, and traditionally, a dance. Homecoming weekend exists at the intersection of multiple interests; alumni who want to have a nostalgic time on campus, faculty who wants to show off their campus to those alumni (and maybe get appreciation in the form of money) and students who just want to have a carefree weekend. By extension, the Homecoming Queen represents an equally wide array of parties on campus; unlike a student dance like Prom where the title would be announced and given solely in front of their peers, the Homecoming Queen ceremony takes place on the football field in front of faculty, parents, alumni and students alike.  

Crowning of Sara Porter, Homecoming Queen 1963, Image #27-0357

So, who (or what) does the Homecoming Queen represent?

For more than a decade before women could be degree earning students on the Davidson campus, the original Homecoming Queen candidates were female students from different colleges in the area. Initially, it confused me to see how far back in time the Homecoming queen folder extended. I had always assumed a school’s Homecoming Queen was elected based on their great grades, their involvement on campus (and yes, more often than not they just so happen to be conventionally attractive as well); that they represent, at least subjectively, the best that the student body had to offer. But this is a fairly modern interpretation of what the Homecoming Queen competition was originally conceived to be. At least at Davidson, Homecoming Queens were initially crowned not as student representatives, but as feminine figure heads of the wholesome, nostalgic heart of Homecoming itself. In the next blog post, we’ll discuss more about how women were tied into the “wholesomeness” of Davidson Homecoming celebrations starting with the introduction of the Homecoming Queen competition in the midcentury, and what this reveals about the connection between fun, frolics and understandings of gender at Davidson.  

Thank you for tuning in, and come back soon for Part 2!

Works Cited: https://davidsonarchivesandspecialcollections.org/archives/encyclopedia/homecoming-results 

Welcome to the Library, Ellen!

Head shot of Ellen Huggins, JEC Archives Fellow. She is wearing a blue button up shirt and smiling at the camera.
Ellen Huggins

Ellen Huggins is the current Justice, Equality and Community Archives Fellow. She graduated from University of Iowa in 2021, majoring in Creative Writing with minors in American Studies and Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies. Ellen is originally from Colorado and still getting to know Davidson College!

You’re just beginning to get to know the E.H. Little Library—what’s your background and how has it contributed to your work at the library?

In terms of my background, I’ve always been interested in non-fiction creative writing, which is what I ended up majoring in in college. But over time I became more and more interested in history, which led to me working as a transcription editor at some different oral history projects. I think it’s contributed to my work at the library because I place a lot of value in storytelling and thinking of new ways to make archival material into something that an audience wants to engage with because they find it compelling or can relate it to their own experiences.  

What about the position of the JEC Archives Fellow position interested you?

What really stood out to me about the JEC Archives Fellow position was that there were so many sides to the job; not only would I get the chance to look at oral histories, but I’d also get the chance to learn more about Davidson history, work on the social media for the Archives and Special Collections and share my research with a cohort of other fellows working under the Duke Endowment. It’s a really unique opportunity that has so much possibility to it, and I’m excited to keep discovering what I can do in the position!  

Are there any projects that you’re particularly passionate about introducing to Davidson?

I’m interested in doing projects related to the 50th anniversary of coeducation and the less spoken about perspectives within the history of women at Davidson College. I’m currently working on an exhibit on the second floor all about Title IX (which also has its 50th anniversary this year!). It’s going to feature some oral histories collected from members of the women’s athletic program in 1999 that have been sealed and unavailable to listen to until now, so look out for that, and come check it out once it goes up!  

You haven’t been here long yet, but what has been your most memorable or surprising experience at Davidson thus far?

I have to agree with everyone that mentioned the great first day “Hello Dolly” serenade; I was especially honored that they took the time to rhyme my name in the lyrics! More generally, I’ve been surprised by just how welcoming everyone at the E.H. Little Library has been and how comfortable the campus feels to be on every day. The traffic in Davidson has also surprised me, without fail, every day that I drive to work.   

What are three things you want Davidson’s Community to know about you?

My favorite movie fluctuates between Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Rosemary’s Baby.  

I have two brothers, one older and one younger! 

The best day for me weather wise is probably 50 degrees, foggy in the morning and drizzling in the afternoon, with not too much wind.   

My dog, Piper!

Welcome to the E.H. Little Library, Sydney!

Falls Park Greenville, SC
Photos in this post taken by Sydney Adams

You’re just beginning to get to know the E.H. Little Library –what’s your background and how has it contributed to your work in the library?

I am a native Carolinian–I say Carolinian and not North or South Carolinian because I’ve been traversing the two states my entire life. I received a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy from Clemson University and a Master of Science in Library Science from UNC-Chapel Hill. I held roles in the libraries at both of these institutions, and I sought out internships at Duke University and NC State University while pursuing my MSLS. All of my roles in libraries have been slightly different. Still, I have always had a passion for outreach and community engagement, whether that has been tabling to meet students, hosting workshops and events, or developing my skills in graphic design and marketing. Having the opportunity to engage in meaningful ways with the campus community is what drew me to this work, and I hope to continue doing so with the Davidson community.

What about the position of Library Outreach Coordinator interested you?

Ultimately, what drew me to this position was that I knew I could develop lasting and meaningful relationships with folks across campus. Outreach is about supporting and engaging with your community, and I felt confident that I was joining an organization where I would be supported so that I could pursue new and exciting outreach opportunities.

Are there any projects you’re particularly passionate about introducing to Davidson?

I am looking forward to launching collaborative library programs with student organizations, on-campus partners, and community partners. I am likewise excited about working on our capsule collections, which are the themed collections we have displayed in the library lobby, and supporting folks across campus who are interested in curating these collections.

You haven’t been here long yet, but what has been your most memorable or surprising experience at Davidson thus far?

My most memorable experience so far has been tabling on the first day of classes. Students were so excited to see that we were out there tabling just to hand out snacks and talk with them, and it made me happy to have such a successful first event.

What are three things you want Davidson’s community to know about you?

I am a home chef who likes to craft new vegetarian dishes.

I like going on walks through the woods. Not hikes; just walks.

I’m always happy to exchange jigsaw puzzles!

Color photo of waterfall in Central SC
Waldrop Stone Falls Central, SC