Extracurricular Activities

Palmer Weber summed up opportunities for growth outside class thusly: "The extracurricular thing is, in the 30s, the student could do anything that really interested him" (Oral History, 10). Weber took this sentiment to heart by starting a Marxist study group which became the Liberal Discussion Group. Bringing the first black speaker to the University since Reconstruction, socialist Richard Moore in 1934, the group discussed current issues like sit-down strikes, black rights, civil liberties, and the technocracy (ibid.).

Vincent Shea and Richard Brandt remembered things slightly differently. Unless a member of a fraternity, said Shea, options for extracurriculars were pretty limited (Oral History, 8). Baxter outlined a system of political appointments (to Honor Committee or editorships of publications) that resulted from the informal social hierarchy that fraternities provided (Oral History, 93). Baxter speaks to this by detailing the growing sense of egalitarianism and diversity across student groups throughout the Depression (441).

In the revival of both the Washington and the Jefferson Literary and Debating Societies in 1934 (Dabney, 148), the University gained valuable fora for philosophical exchange. A spirit of free inquiry and intellectual ferment gained more and more ground as the years progressed (Baxter, 90). "So many fundamental ideas had been shaken by the Depression that these discussions acquired [new] vigor and passion" (ibid.). Weber:

We had all kinds of varieties of--but not in big chunks--boys that were asking questions about the social process. And it was inevitable because you could count 50 to 100 men on every freight train...trains absolutely loaded with desperate people...And the social structure was under huge pressure there in the 30s. (Oral History, 15)

The Depression, then, created new organizations while stretching the old ones as each dealt with new ideas. Opposing ideas exited side by side like the Liberty League on the right and the Communist party on the left (Baxter, 428).

Intellectual Happenings

Faculty-student relations, perhaps because of the smaller size or greater sense of ideological urgency brought on by the Depression and WW2, were markedly warmer and congenial. Baxter posits that the colorful personalities of some professors may have enticed and entertained the students (431). Some things never change, as the opinion piece in a College Topics made clear. An unnamed professor bemoans the lack of student-faculty interaction and the tendency of students to view professors as obstacles to get through. But the events of the day stand the true test of commonality between student and teacher. Dabney tells of the Law professors, led by Dean F.D.G. Ribble debating the Political Science professors, with Dean Robert Gooch at the helm, over Roosevelt's "Supreme Court packing" strategy (172). Previously, Gooch made headlines with the publishing of his book, _Regionalism in France_. And in 1934, Gooch presented the talk "Social Aspects of Modern Trends," wrestling with "the upset political conditions...and the relation of the New deal programs to these conditions" (Oct. 19, 1934, College Topics). Ribble, meanwhile gave his own talk to the Jefferson Society in October of 1933 when addressing the "Constitutionality of the N.R.A." (Oct. 13, 1933, College Topics). to the point, the headlines from the early and mid-30s are littered with accounts of University professors and non-University affiliated scholars giving talks or holding discussion meetings. Everyone from Frances Perkins to Irish poet James Stephens to M.I.T. President Karl T. Compton gave lectures on grounds. A prototype Festival of the Book took place in 1931 with such authors in attendance as William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, Allen Tate, Josephine Pinckney, James Byrd, and James B. Cabell (Dabney, 214).

Living Spaces

Prior to 1934, most students lived in one of 12 boarding houses located near grounds (Brandt Oral History). Brandt himself told of paying $20/month and taking 3 meals a day at his house on Chancellor Street. A house mother would feed up to 50 men a day with the "fabulous food." Thursday, Brandt recalled, was Steak Night. Vincent Shea boarded at Mrs. McIlhenny's house on Brandon Avenue with 30 or 40 other men (Oral History, 14). Baxter viewed the houses as split by where the boarders had attended prep school--another social ordering mechanism at work.

McCormick Road dormitories opened in 1934, immediately causing an uproar among the Virginia men (Dabney, 142). The new accommodations, now thought to be prime real estate and exceedingly close to central grounds, were then named "as far from the life of Virginia as if they had been built on Boston Common"--this from an unnamed student of the day. Palmer Weber remembered the grand opening of the dorms accompanied by the two whores who lived there. After 50 cases of "the clap" had been reported, new rules were established for first-year men--including the restriction of alcohol to one quart of whiskey per room and a requirement that all women visitors leave by midnight. Two upperclassmen were assigned to live on dorm and act as general resources for the first-year men, and presumably whore-patrol as well. Thence arose the Resident Staff system of today (all Weber, Oral History).

Living Expenses

Though many students benefited from family money, some men found themselves faced with the prospect of working to pay the bills. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration had earmarked $3435 a month to fund part-time student work if their education might be cut short on financial grounds. Jobs included research, library/lab work, construction, or janitoring (Mannina, 2). In a similar move, the National Youth Administration, created in 1935, helped to subsidize student living costs (Baxter, 34).


The University saw its fair share of characters over the course of the Depression. Aside from the usual suspects in the administration, Alderman, Newcomb, Lewis, and a host of popular professors like Gooch, Ribble, or the prodigiously named Stringfellow Barr. Add to the list one Professor Barlow, whom Richard Brandt swore could "teach accounting better sauced than sober".

Then there was Tim, the Irish "Professor of Bumology." Tim normally escaped arrest for vagrancy by leaping over the serpentine walls onto grounds, where the local Charlottesville policeman had no jurisdiction (Dabney, 223). Tim occasionally received a beer from a kind student.

But an institution like Beta should not go long without mention. Beta was a black and white mongrel dog beloved by student and faulty alike. Helping himself to a free run of the grounds, Beta attended classes, dances, and sporting contests. Often painted with winning scores from last weekend's games or sporting advertisements for student government candidates, Beta's passing in 1939 inspired a funeral procession of 1000+ students, faculty, and alumni. Dean Ivey Lewis gave the eulogy whereafter Beta was interred in the school cemetery, next to deceased professors and their spouses.

A visitor only slightly less renowned than Beta was a gentleman originally from New York, who then made his home in the nation's capital. Franklin Roosevelt would often come to visit with one of his closest aides, General Paul Watson at his Kenmore estate (Dabney, 205). Brandt recollected seeing the President touring on McCormick Road one spring afternoon with his trademark cigarette holder and smile (Oral History). When FDR spoke at the University's commencement exercises in 1940, he had ulterior motives. Gilliam reports that Roosevelt's son graduated from the Law School that day and he planned to use the opportunity to rail against the isolationist factions in the Democratic Party. The current events of the day (Mussolini's traitorous relations with France) necessitated the last minute addition of the now famous "hand that held the dagger" phrase.

Daily Life

Brandt provided the clearest peek into the everyday life of a student during the 30s. Rising at 7, he would take breakfast on the Corner, at the Commons, or in his boarding house at about 7:45. Classes began at 9, meeting six days a week. Intramurals or study in the afternoon gave way to evenings of study, movies, bridge or poker playing, and perhaps some music. Brandt turned in by midnight. News could be gleaned from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, or the radio.

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American Studies at Virginia