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Fannie and Mabel: “Two Special Ladies”

Fannie and Mabel: “Two Special Ladies”


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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.

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