From Special Collections/University Archives: 100 Years Ago –Student Life in the 1920s

It seems hard to believe that the decade coined “The Roaring Twenties” began exactly a century ago. When one thinks of this time period, scenes of opulence from The Great Gatsby, images of flappers, bootlegging gangsters, and hallmarks of economic boom all come to mind. In the first part of a series focusing on the 100 year anniversary of a decade that still captures the imagination of filmmakers and creative minds, I will be highlighting different aspects of Bucknell life and influences during this time. One of the first questions that I thought of was: How did students live at this time? How was campus life different than it is today? To answer this, I found the Bucknellian from January to March of 1920 to discover more about students in whose footsteps many of us walk every day on campus.

 A large part of campus life was the Greek life. The most notable event commonly reported about in each edition of the Bucknellian were the Interfrat games. These games involved challenges for fraternities to go head-to-head to earn points. In one article, the interest in the events seemed apparent, as crowds “attending bi-weekly contests [were] increasing as rivalry grows keener.” Ultimately, after the score updated each week, Sigma Chi won the championship in March.

Also in Greek news, sorority Bid Day results were announced in February for the women. The soritories, including  Delta Delta Delta, Eta Sigma, Kappa Delta, Pi Beta Phi, Phi Epsilon, took in between 5-10 women. The women students also held the annual Sarah Lawrence style co-ed dance which was held by the Women’s College in February. The Women’s College was part of the university structure, but separated women into different classes, dorms, and common spaces from men. This dance, dubbed “College Girls,” was advertised as follows: “So when ‘she’ asks you to be present at the solemn occasion, the idea that you do not like a ‘Prince Albert’ or ‘Tuxedo’ will not necessitate your saying ‘no,’ for, as in the last three years, the reception is to be informal.” There may have been resistance from the men on campus in going to the dance, or maybe the author was poking fun at stereotypes – either way, the dance was a co-ed opportunity that, for the time, was sure to cause contention on campus because students were separated by gender most of the year. In 1920, this was due to the separation of genders by classes and dorms.

In sports, the Bucknell basketball team lost to Juniata in “most exciting game of the present season” in February, but later recovered their loss in other games later in the month. The Mathematics Club was proposed in February, and the Glee Club was in demand – requests for their concert expanded to Williamsport and Watsontown. Sad news reported in the article “Dammit, He’s Dead.” Dammit the Dog, the college mascot for 4 years, passed away. He was honored by a funeral and buried on the college campus. In March students took on philanthropic projects, contributing to a “Near-East” relief. The article concludes with the statement that the “amounts received at present are very munificent and the total is expected to be large.” Also during this month, the fraternity Tau Kappa Alpha was proposed to be established.

In many ways the university has changed drastically in its social and physical environment. However, it is clear to see that students have always been active in sports, social events, and philanthropy. As we look back in history, it is truly amazing how no matter how much time passes, we can always see a part of ourselves in them.

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