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Cornell in the Twenties

In Their Own Voice... student thoughts from the era

Katherine Lyon

Katherine Lyon, Class of 1916

Katherine Lyon's letters to her parents detail her academic and many social activities. She lived for a time in the new Risley Hall, a women's residence, and the regulation of women there was one of her onging concerns. She went on to teach creative writing and courses in Victorian literature at the University of Kansas. From First-Person Cornell, Carol Kammen, Cornell University Library, 2006.

Tuesday evening was the first night of Senior Singing. That certainly is great. From seven thirty till a little after eight, the Senior men sit on Goldwin Smith steps and sing. Everybody goes over and walks around on the campus or stands around in groups. The Seniors sing college songs and snatches of popular music and its very lovely and impressive and college like. We all went over. [Katherine Lyon, May 21, 1913, page 110.]

Now I want to tell you about the rooms at Sage. They draw for them Wednesday and all lower classmen must room there or in Prudence Risley so that much is settled. But, the prices! Instead of paying so much for your room and so much for board as before, this year they have posted that room, board and laundry must all be paid in a lump sum and the lowest is $290 in Sage and $310 in Prudence Risley. That is a big increase of about fifty or seventy five dollars over the prices hitherto.... May asked me yesterday to room with her next year. Curses. What shall I do. I certainly like her but it doesn’t seem as if I wanted to have another whole year with her. I suppose that’s horrid of me isn’t it, but I can’t help it. [Katherine Lyon, May 26, 1913, page 110.]

Well I have a home for next year in Prudence Risley. But such a time as I had getting it. We girls went over to Sage at about two thirty and it was seven before we finally got our rooms. All this time I was standing up in an awful jam most of the time so you can imagine I was nearly ready to drop. We could not get our suite, which we were so anxious for but we got four single rooms quite near together on the second floor. [Katherine Lyon, June 4, 1913, page 111.]

Now listen: Mr. Wilson wants to come to Hudson sometime this summer. What about it? I’d sort of like you folks to look him over for he is going to be back here next year, instructing, and I probably will see more or less of him. Of course I don't know a lot about him but his frat is about enough to vouch for him and he sure is some bug here in Cornell. He knows Paul too, belongs to Y. M. C. A. and doesn't drink! I haven't any desperate case on him but he's awfully nice to have for a friend. [Katherine Lyon, June 9, 1913, page 111.]

After the dramatic Club meeting I went to the mass meeting in Barnes Hall and it was some meeting! As far as dramatics go, it had the dramatic club skinned a mile. It lasted from seven thirty till nine, so you can imagine how hot the discussions were about the new rules. Well, they aren’t so bad as at first reported but they’re rather strict at that, it seems to me the worst ones are that girls cannot go walking after eight o’clock, that is they must be in by then. Girls cannot go to the theatre unless accompanied by a chaperone (a married woman from those approved by the Dean) or an escort. In the afternoon two girls may go together without a chaperone but in no larger groups. There are a lot more of pretty bad freshmen rules, which, as they do not concern me, I will omit. I think the theater rule is rather arbitrary, not letting more than two girls go together. For my own part it would seem wiser to me to let more girls go for I think that I should rather sit with a lot of girls than have men on all sides of me. But we shall see. On Tuesday we vote on them and whether they will be passed or not is the question. One fool rule is that you have to get permission from the head of your house to go away for vacations. [Katherine Lyon, October 27, 1913, page 112.]

My dears, I didn’t get to write yesterday on account of studying for Psychology and now I can hardly write on account of being besieged by despair at the thought of the mark I undoubtedly obtained in it. It certainly was a hard exam. I will send you the question paper next letter, but Clara has it at present. I didn’t know quite what to expect in the way of a prelim, but this was pretty bad. It was not so much the difficulty of it, but the idea of knowing just what to give in answer to each one. I may have passed it would not surprise me, or I may have failed it would not surprise me. [Katherine Lyon, November 13, 1913, page 113.]

Yesterday as you know was St. Patrick’s Day and the Architects had their usual parade. We had Classic Myths at twelve but Durham, for once was mighty nice and let us out to see the sights. The Architects had their usual long green snake ... all the men were much decorated with green crepe paper etc. And of course all the Arts and Sci men snowballed them. This year there was an added attraction, ... for the Electrical Engineers had an Orangeman’s parade. They all wore much orange crepe paper and other decorations and a large orange drum and horns to march by. For a time, when the Architects saw ‘em coming, it looked as if there was going to be a hot time, but after exchanging a few snowballs they all apparently thought better of it and the Architects yelled for the Engineers and the Engineers returned the compliment, and everybody went home. [Katherine Lyon, March 18, 1914, page 113.]

Friday night was the Sophomore and Frosh dance at Sage. Leonora asked me to go and I broke then my rule of “no more dancing” to go this once. Each Sophomore asks a freshman to go and plays the part of a man, furnishing flowers etc., and some even got carriages. It was some classy dance all right. The Sophs wore tailored shirtwaists and skirts in very manish style, but Freshmen wore their very bestest and swellest creations. Of course I wore my pink gown and with white carnations presented by my man I felt real swell. Had an awfully good time. It was just crowded. Catharine, Belle and Lida went from the house here and they all enjoyed themselves as much as I. I guess. Met a lot of nice girls and it sure was good fun. [Katherine Lyon, April 22, 1914, page 106.]