May 4, 2004

How They Lived

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Though freshly founded in 1904, the Cosmopolitan Club was in many ways typical of male societies at Cornell in the beginning of the 20th century. Students lived together and held frequent social events called “smokers.” They invited faculty to lecture. They hosted dances and dinners. On special occasions, they ventured to Sage College, now the home of the Johnson School of Management, where female students lived.

But, then again, the Club also was not typical. It was “born out of necessity for [international] students who are coming in constantly increasing numbers.” In 1904, male international students coming to Cornell in partnership with American students created the Cosmopolitan Club. Seventy-six persons representing 20 nationalities were part of the first crop of members, including 18 Chinese, 10 Indian and 11 Filipino undergraduate and graduate students, according to the Club’s first newsletter.

The aggressive internationalism of the Club’s earliest meetings — explicitly condemning discrimination and hailing “cosmopolitanism” — made them a target for the Cornell Widow, a humor magazine in its Dec. 1904 issue:

“The [Club] meeting was opened by the musical selection, ‘Every Race Has a Flag, but the Coons’,” after which a Swede with a large blonde voice made the call to order and proposed that the tentative constitution be read. This was strenuously opposed by two Russians, who didn’t know what a constitution was, but the opposition was hooted down and the following constitution was read and adopted: Art. I: This is the Cosmopolitan Club. Art. II: Everything goes. Art. III: The purpose of the Club is to get the different races broke to one another and thus to prevent gouging and biting in the stately halls of learning, far above Cayuga’s shore.”

Whether skewering or reinforcing the popular prejudices of the era, the Cornell Widow is just a window on how students lived at Cornell one hundred years ago.

In the 1903-04 school year, Cornell was home to 3013 students and 398 professors. The women lived in Sage College and the men were spread throughout at least 30 fraternities, such as the newly built Alpha Delta Phi, dormitories, boarding houses and societies.

Students shopped for supplies at the Co-Op in the basement of Morrill Hall. Advertising in The Sun, “The Students’ Store” bragged that “Last year one man saved over $10.00 on his supplies by patronizing the Co-op.” The Co-op was owned by students and managed by a board of students and faculty.

Freshman lived by their own code, punishable by hazing, a scourge that President Jacob Gould Schurman denounced in an address to the University.

The “Rules for Freshman,” published as a Sun Editorial on Sep. 30, 1903, promulgated that: “II. –No freshman shall smoke at all on the campus, nor shall he smoke a pipe on the streets of Ithaca. III.–No freshman shall be allowed to enter Zinck’s … These prohibitions shall not apply to a freshman accompanied by an upperclassman, except that no freshman shall be allowed down stairs in Zinck’s under any circumstances. IV.–Each and every freshman shall wear at all times except Sunday, a cap of the following description: a grey cap with a small visor and a black button. He shall not at any time wear a pin representing his “prep” school in any manner, nor shall he wear any emblem or insignia of that institution. V.–No freshman shall be allowed to go without a coat or cap on the Campus. VI.–No freshman shall be allowed to sit in the first three rows of the orchestra circle, nor in the boxes at the Lyceum, unless accompanied by an upperclassman. VII.–These rules shall take effect immediately …”

In addition to lecturing to undergraduates on the evils of hazing, President Schurman also gave instruction in a lecture entitled “How to Study” on effective scheduling habits: 8 hours of sleep, two for meals, one for recreation, two for outdoor exercise, and the remaining 11 hours for study. Schurman also recommended to students “the least comfortable chair as the best seat to use” and to avoid last-minute cramming.

Seniors that year became the first undergraduates to benefit from rules permitting undergraduates to borrow two books from the University for two weeks at a time.

The photographs and materials in the collection of Henry Hasbrouck 1904, one of the founding board members of the Cosmopolitan Club, give another demonstration of how student life was lived at Cornell one hundred years ago.

Friends study and drink in their rooms, perform human pyramids, gather in front of an unidentifiable Ithaca home, stop during a stroll through the gorges and pose on the waterfront.

The Sun is publishing photographs from Hasbrouck’s collection this week and will continue tomorrow with a look at how sports enlivened the undergraduate experience at Cornell.

Archived article by Peter Norlander
Sun Senior Editor