Column, Looking Back

Looking Back: College life in the 1960s

By Mary Ellen Shaw

Most of you reading this probably did not go to college in the 1960s. And if you did you were probably not at an all-girls Catholic college. It would probably seem like being in the convent if you could relive that experience today.

I spent four years at Trinity College in Burlington. Unfortunately the school closed several years ago, but it was so popular in the ’60s that many applicants were being turned away because it was full.

The “all girls” college had strict rules that were enforced by the Sisters of Mercy. The students didn’t really seem to mind early curfews and strict codes of behavior. I suppose we wouldn’t have chosen that particular college if we did!

Parents were probably delighted that their daughters would be “reined in” when it came to our social life and studying. Our curfew time was 7:30 p.m. except for two “10 o’clocks” which we had to request in advance. Although we were free to go anywhere on a “late night” most of us headed to the library as our course load was heavy. We had a library on campus and also had access to the University of Vermont library which was within walking distance. We were expected to always have someone with us when we left our campus in the dark. College life took on a whole new meaning on Saturdays when we could stay out until midnight!

The campus had two three-story dorms that housed a total of 150 students in each. One nun resided in each dorm. She was our “go-to” person if we had a problem and was also in charge of the register on the front desk of our dorm. We signed out and entered the time and the place where we were going. When we returned we signed in and entered that time. The resident nun was on “desk duty” until the last student was in for the night. Looking back I hope she was OK with being up until midnight once a week! Except for Saturday nights this same nun did “spot checks” shortly after 10 p.m. to be sure that we were in our own dorm room and were studying. If we were not, we lost our “10 o’clock” freedom for a week.

Each dorm room housed two students and had a large picture window. On the desk of about every student was a manual typewriter to use for our essays. Correction tape and liquid White-out were our “best friends” as college prep students in high school never took typing. We would have loved today’s method of a looking at our words on a computer screen, proofreading our material and sending it to a printer.

We were encouraged to attend daily Mass in the chapel on campus. Fr. Leo Steady, who was our chaplain, had living quarters next to the chapel. We were required to wear a black gown like you would wear for graduation. Since Mass was at 7 a.m. I think just about every student who attended rolled out of bed, rolled up their pajamas and put on our gowns! Looking back that was not a respectful way to receive communion but that thought never entered our heads at the time!

Now that I am old enough to sometimes feel challenged by icy conditions I can understand why Sr. Mary Cephas used a ski pole to get down the hilly sidewalk from the nuns’ house to the chapel and cafeteria. She was as round as a butterball and we found her “method of descent” down the hill quite entertaining. Hopefully, she never noticed students at their dorm windows watching her.

Only seniors could have cars at Trinity but very few actually did. In fact many of us didn’t even have our license. I was fortunate to have a friend who had a Volkswagen and sometimes we would squish five people into it and head to The Lure at night for burgers and fries. We all needed a break from dorm food. In case you are wondering, we worked that trip into our “10 o’clock sign-out” after going to the library!

So with rules like those mentioned above how did we ever have a social life? There was at least one dance a year at Trinity and the students at St. Michaels’ College (a.k.a. St Mike’s) were invited to come down from Winooski and meet Trinity girls. I assume they came on a bus since, just like Trinity, very few students in that school had cars. We were also invited to dances at St. Mike’s. These dances opened the door for weekend dates. Many romances and future marriages started at these dances.

There are many more memories where these came from so stay tuned for another trip down memory lane soon. If you are a college student today I doubt you would “sign up” for Trinity’s lifestyle. But my college friends and I still recall those days fondly and with laughter as we look back at the things we did.

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