"Her [Elizabeth Mead]
silk dresses conveyed a new elegance,and,
in the trio of faculty members that students
tagged "The World, The Flesh, and the Devil,"
she stood for the world"(23)
During her time at Mount Holyoke, President Mead initiated self-governance and discarded self-reporting even though they only different in the public acknowledgement of misdemeanors. Rather than have a student tell the rule she broke to the college community, it was internalized into her own self-conscious. The individual morals of students were relied upon to maintain the new rules of the college. While this was an important first step toward student independence, it was crucial of students to break these new regulations to force the administration to respect them and treat them as adults in the college community.
A Time of Change: When Elizabeth Mead came to Mount Holyoke she was the first president who was not an alumna of the seminary or college. She brought a new perspective to the table in how the college would run and be organized. But most importantly, President Mead had to contend with the fire of the seminary building in 1896. Her job was not easy, but some say that the fire was an “undreamt-of opportunity”(24) for the college to expand. In 1897 five new dormitories, chapel, bell/clock tower, and administrative buildings graced the landscape. This pivotal change at Mount Holyoke was also carried over into the curriculum and the regulations that students would have to adhere by. Since there were now five new places of residence for the students the method by which the rules would be enforced would have to change as well.
But Resistance is Still Strong: A Mount Holyoke alumna from New York wrote to the seminary expressing her deep dislike toward the numerous rules that students had to abide by. Pauline Woodford Halbert of the class of 1882 argued that Mount Holyoke could not move toward a new future unless it changed or disposed some of its traditions(25). One of her main points was the self-reporting system and the restraints it put upon students. Rather than giving student poise and self-reliance to take control of their own lives “narrowed them, making them morbid and introspective”(26). Halabert continues by saying if she and her other classmates had been treated like women and adults, rather than children needing discipline, “what a leap forward we should have made into broader thinking, more healthful feeling”(27). The underlying message of worldliness and independence for students did not fall on deaf ears.
The Solution: But with five new dormitories to house students who would watch over them? How would rules be enforced if everyone was not under the same roof? What rules could maintain student behavior and give them independence? These are some of the questions I suppose President Mead would have asked. If you thought of the new dormitories as different sections of the seminary building as a whole, only spread out throughout more of the campus, the answer is simple; the faculty of the college would remain living among the students. But while the faculty and students are off working a Matron would be the care taker of the building. To follow in suite of the new living arrangements, new rules surfaced in the form of “self-government”(28). This method of control was suggested to President Mead in the form that “the best government is…that which, like the government of God, is least seen and is self-executing, and that in which the governed are taught to govern themselves”(29). Thus forth, the self-reporting system was exterminated and the responsibility of orderly conduct was placed upon the student’s shoulders.
The Plan of Self-Governance: For the most part this new plan of rules was successful with only minor offenses. Matrons recalled “raids upon the pantry” or “spread”—the making of chocolate with oil stoves proved in the student’s rooms(30). With this last misdemeanor, teachers were lenient, but it was the Matrons responsibility to make sure “House Regulations” were enforced. Mainly, these consisted of fire safety rules, however, there were “permission required” policies for all activities off campus and of course dancing was not permitted in any of the rooms.
New Regulations: Students were still required to get permission from the Matron for attending social functions outside the grounds of campus or the town of South Hadley. As well, students were forced “to extinguish their lights at 10 P.M. and preserve quite” and were “not permitted to study before the rising bell”(31) (Regulations from 1890-1896). Furthermore, students were “not to be absent from the house in the evening without permission” or “to make call, meet company, drive, or be absent from town without permission”(32). While these rules are slightly different from those under the seminary, at least students could ask for permission, but they do not deviate from placing formal authority in the hands of the Matrons or another person within the instructional hierarchy of the college.
However, the relationship between President Mead, as well as the faculty, and the students could be compared with a parent and child relationship. And while every good parent wants to protect their children a parent must grapple with letting children make mistakes, break rules, and suffer the consequences knowing they are the steps toward become an independent person.
Click here to see the similarities and differences between the rules of Lyon and Mead.