Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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I had to start at Penn State in the summer quarter, a week after graduating from high school, because my grades weren't high enough. I wasn't a good student; all I really wanted was to be done with education and go live in New York City. In 1962 Penn State was on the quarter system (a.k.a. terms), not semesters.

Letters from Penn State - Summer 1962

9:30 pm

Arrival Day at Penn State

I just got back from the Wesley Foundation. Barbara [roommate] hasn't come in yet. She is Jewish and went to Hillel. Our hall meeting is in about half an hour.

After you left I unpacked everything and put the suitcases in the hall. They are still there. I hear we are assigned lockers for them and put them there ourselves. But I don't feel like crowding up our lovely room till I get a locker.

I walked around for a while. We changed for dinner, I felt so sticky. Barbara and I and four other girls from our floor—Bella, Rita, Eve and another girl—went to the dining hall together. They certainly feed you around here. We had tomato juice, large salads, one or two cold beef-on-buns, french fries, ice cream, and iced tea or coffee. Behind us in line were two Indians who jabbered away in their own language the whole time except for saying their meal ticket numbers.

I couldn't find anyone else who was going to the Protestant meeting. There seem to be a lot of Jewish girls in this dorm. I looked at the sign-out sheet when I came in (I forgot to sign out) and many were signed to go to Hillel.

I walked up to the chapel with some girls who were going to Newman (Catholic) and met five people going the other way. They asked if any of us were Methodist. So I went with them; they drove me to the Wesley Foundation. There were about twenty kids there, mostly girls. We saw slides, played ping pong, toured the building and had refreshments. And scarce though the men were, one walked me home! He's an engineering student from New Jersey.

The square of dorms is pretty all lit up. Well, the meeting is going to start now.

11:15. The meeting just ended. I am really tired. Tomorrow will be a full day.

4:00 pm

Registering (as a Home Ec major)

This is the first time I've sat down all day, except for eating. My feet are killing me from walking, walking, walking in these sneakers.

This morning at 9:15 I registered. What an experience! It was complicated and I got confused. I left too soon, found out later that I wasn't completed, and had to go back. It must be a mile, that round-trip to and from Rec Hall.

At 10:00 I tried out for summer band. I wasn't very good (my lousy tone) except when you consider sight-reading. Anyway, he said to come back tomorrow at 12:45. He would know then if he could use me; it depends on the number of sax applicants.

Yesterday afternoon I took and passed the swimming test. It was exhausting. You had to dive in, tread water for two minutes, swim around the pool (huge) twice, and then finish out the fifteen minutes any way you wanted. No touching was allowed, the sides or the bottom of the pool. Passing it means that I don't have to take the swimming course before I graduate. By the way, I signed up for tennis in Phys. Ed. [...]

I just got back from dinner. It's 6:30 now. Barbara has the curtains down and the lights out in our room; she must have her nap. So I am sitting in the floor study hall, watching the boys out playing basketball below.

My "best friend" so far is Rita Ewing from Plymouth, PA. She's very nice. [...] She's tall too (5'9") and wears a size 10 shoe. What things we have in common.

There is a freshman mixer at 8:00 in the Hub ballroom tonight and I better go get ready.

5:30 pm

Late to Class

[...] Today was my second psych class. I walked over with Linda Moran from the seventh floor. We thought we remembered where it was so we didn't bring a map. Well, by the time we found it we were ten minutes late. Two boys were standing out in the hall across from the door getting a drink and we asked if they were going in late too (safety in numbers). They said they had already gone in and Dr. Singer had bawled them out for lateness and told them to leave and come back to see him after class. Linda and I stood there terrified for a few minutes, tempted to cut the class. The boys said it would be worse the longer we waited. Finally we screwed up our courage and walked in. As I closed the door I heard the boys burst out laughing. We got seats and the professor hardly glanced up. Urge to kill!!

The classes don't even seem like an hour and 15 minutes. Maybe it's just the newness, but they seem even shorter than high school courses. All my teachers are fascinating. In psych we spent the whole period hearing about an experiment on whether rats are more active when they are hungry or when they are normally fed. It turns out that they are more active when hungry. But hunger can't be measured. Only the individual knows how hungry he is. You have to measure food-deprivation.

Did I tell you I made summer band? I'm not so sure it's an advantage. I find I can't be in the fall Blue Band (the marching band, male only), the other summer sax player is really terrific (I feel so inferior!), and I miss lunch. Band rehearses every day, fourth period. I have classes third and fifth. No allowances are made for this. Lots of the other band members have it the same way. We just don't eat. And I get so hungry here! [...]

There is a dance at the Hub tonight. It's seven thirty now and I have to get ready, so am signing off. Tell Chris [younger brother] I appreciated his advice!

We're taking the bus out to Whipple's dam tomorrow. By the way, I think you'll have to fill out another slip because all the girls are sure it is not considered "campus", being ten miles out. But nobody will know if I go tomorrow. We're back before signing time (8:00). [...]

8:30 am

Expense Accounting

I got your letter yesterday and also a long one from Barbara R. Some of the things she said made home seem so real, like "Kathy got the car so we went bowling yesterday". It really is a shame to miss this last summer we could all be together. [I had to start in the summer instead of the fall because my grades weren't high enough.] Nevertheless, I'm glad I'm here.

I guess now is a good time for a complete financial run-down. I am enclosing a copy of my account pages to date. I just added up both columns. According to my figuring I ought to have only $50.63 left. I actually do have $50.76 left. Oh well. It's funny though, coming out with more than you should. I'll have to check my adding again later.

Boy, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I am on the go all day. After being late for psych twice now, I have come to the conclusion that I better not count on getting back to the dorm from 9:30 to five. Twenty minutes sounded like plenty of time between classes, but it isn't.

In psych we're supposed to put in 6 hours in volunteer free-time experiments. People come in at the beginning of the class period and ask for guinea pigs. I think it sounds like fun. I signed up for a personality test that will be given at 7:00 tonight in the lab. [...]

In band yesterday we played for the first time. I was so nervous I was trembling. But it didn't turn out to be bad. The boy on first sax, Bob, is really terrific, of course. I sight-read the music fairly easily. I can get it if I can practice. I'm going to ask if you have to rent a practice room to practice. Mr. Dunlop says he expects us to practice, but didn't say where.

I saw him and his wife and daughter in a store yesterday evening. Rita and I went shopping. There was a sale in a dress shop and we spent most of the evening looking at everything in that store, and nobody got mad at us (salesgirls, I mean), though we left without buying anything. This town is so wonderful, because they cater mainly to us! They don't mind if college girls paw through the merchandise. College girls are their best customers! And there are several little hang-outs where you can just buy a coke and sit as long as you want, with no dirty looks or cover charges. [...]

The food here is still out-of-this-world. I really look forward to meals. Of course, I'm always hungry, that could be why. You burn up a lot of energy just hiking around to classes. [...]

I can just get one radio station, WMAJ (State College), and even it isn't clear a lot of the time. Some girls have FM and theirs come in well. They say the college blocks out other stations to keep the radios off more, so you'll study more, which sounds sort of silly to me.

I'm going to St. Paul's Methodist on College Avenue. It's a big, nice church. I could go to the Protestant services on campus, but at the Wesley mixer Sunday night (the first night) I met two girls from the seventh floor who are Methodist so we go to the denominational church together. [...]

10:00 am

Dorm Telephones

[...]Band here is wonderful. It's really thrilling to be a part of such a beautiful sound. I still have to find out where I can practice, because I need to and want to. Our concerts are on July 22 and August 2. [...]

The first meeting of the bridge club was Monday night. I'd love to go, if they took beginners. Rita says she would too. Maybe we'll drop in next Monday and see. I went to the library last night for the first time. It's really nice for studying. Much quieter than the study lounge on this floor, where girls wander in and out with food all the time. I recently made a fatal discovery. There is a "grille" open from 8:30 to 10:45 in Pollock dining hall every night. They sell hotdogs, hamburgers, milkshakes, and all such junk. Night snacks weren't so tempting before when all I knew about were the vending machines.

I didn't sleep too well last night. I watched the Steel Hour, then went to bed at 11:00. My roommate was visiting another room. The kids next door weren't in. So I was the only one to answer the phone. (You can't hear the phone in the hall, only in the rooms it's ringing for; like, you can hear the phone just outside my door only in my room and the kids' next door.)

The phone rang three times between 11 and midnight and each time after about six rings I had to give up and answer it. No call for me, I just had to take messages or go find somebody. Then, this morning I woke up for the third morning in a row to "reveille" at 6:00 a.m. There is a boys' club staying in Nittany halls right next to our dorms. It is called "Keystone Boys State". All they do, all day, is march. And play that darn trumpet. The 4-H is also here now.

I'm really not complaining. It's all wonderful. I guess different groups will be coming and going all summer. I can look out the window now and see the Keystone boys doing drills on the field. They're fun to watch, they have a band.

4:30 pm

Outdoor Movies

This morning we went to St. Paul's for the late Sunday service at 10:45. I'd like to go to the 8:30 one but no one else seems enthusiastic. It was communion. I saw Mr. Dunlop, the band director, there. He's an usher.

The weather is really gorgeous today and I spent it in the library. Ugh! I had to finish my paper and study psych. I've tried to combine studying with sun-bathing on the roof but it doesn't work. The heat makes me too sleepy.

There is a plan hatching among us girls for a trip to Skytop (6 miles) on the fourth. We may rent bikes at Metzgers (.50/hour, 3.00/weekend). I haven't heard about any fireworks program here.

Friday night I went to the outdoor movie at the Hub. We brought beach towels to sit on. It was "Pillow Talk" and it was really good.

I found out about practice rooms. You can go over to Carnegie hall any time and just pick out a room. No charge. I was over there today to "case the joint", and played a grand piano. [...] I've got to get dressed for dinner now.

10:15 am

Fourth of July

The fourth wasn't too lively around here, but we had fun. I started the day by over-sleeping and missing breakfast. Rita came in around eleven and dragged Barb and I out in time for lunch. I spent the first half of the afternoon up on the roof and have a slight burn, especially my midriff.

At three-thirty we started up to the creamery for cones. Suddenly a fire engine came roaring around the corner onto Pollock road. There were a lot of boys on it and a few girls. They asked us where we were going, told us the creamery was closed, and offered us a ride. We (Rita, Barb, and I) got on and it was more exciting than the rides at the fair. We were clinging to the rails on the side when it tore around the corners. The boys were from Pi Kappa Alpha; their fraternity owns the fire engine.

At six we went down to College Avenue to watch the parade. There were bands and fire companies and American Legion posts from Hollidaysburg, Altoona, Bellefonte, Centre Hall, and State College. A large crowd turned out for it.

It ended up at the fair, which is on Beaver Avenue, blocked off for the occasion. That street was just a solid mass of people last night. We drifted around with the tide and looked at everything, eating most of the time. There are two big ferris wheels, one with yellow lights and one with blue.

Around ten we came back to the campus and went over to the pub (Pollock Dining Hall Rec Room) and played ping pong. Rita is just learning but I played with another girl two doors down, Linda Wolff, who is good at it. [...]

1:00 pm

Smoking in the Classroom

I'm sorry for the lapse in letters; I don't know what I've been doing all week. I'm glad to hear that you like my letters. I was especially glad to get yours, Daddy.

Yesterday a bus was supposed to run to Whipples again and again it rained, natch. I went to church this morning with a girl from the sixth floor. It was the first time I'd heard the Methodist minister give a sermon. I really liked him. He is short, sun-tanned and white-haired with a wonderful voice. He wore an all-white suit, white socks, and white shoes. His sermon was "Religion in the Public Schools". He advocated the New York decision, which surprised me. He said church and state should be separate. I agree.

I am having my first art history test tomorrow. That test worries me in a way. I don't know what it will be like. Our whole class period is spent in seeing slides. I think I've told you, that classroom makes me sick. The windows and blinds are closed to shut out light and the doors are closed and then all these kids start to smoke. I nearly suffocate.

This morning I made it to breakfast and was lucky to get any (the main course, that is). Since the great majority of kids don't get up for it on Sunday, they usually consolidate the facilities. This morning they really consolidated, having everybody from all four dining rooms in B. What a jam! Blueberry pancakes were on the menu and at least a hundred kids at the end of the line missed out on them, due to a low estimate by the supervisors. There was a lot of griping about this, especially since they didn't even have anything to substitute; the kids just had to make due with toast and orange juice.

Did I tell you I am playing in the dance band? It meets Wednesday and Monday evenings from seven to nine. ...I love being in it, playing things like "Talk of the Town" and "Mood Indigo". I'll feel so let-down if I'm completely "out-of-it" as far as band goes in the fall. [...]

On Thursday evening I went over to the Wesley Foundation to a play reading. So did a grand total of two other girls. I agree with Harry, that place is dead on its feet and a waste of the church-payers support money. [...]

Barb had her bike sent up [from Florida] . That kid! She has had so much stuff sent up here the freight company must be getting rich. She has twenty-one pairs of shoes. All her stuffed animals are decorating the room. A brand-new pink typewriter. She has a picture of her house. It looks like a Bermuda hotel. They live on Palm Island off Miami beach. And you think I spend money. She spent twenty dollars last Thursday on clothes in preparation for a trip to another girl's house this weekend. [...]

11:00 am

Please Send Money

This is a difficult letter to write because it must include the information that soon I will need money. I know I've been spending more than I should. Most of it has gone for food. I don't often miss a meal but it's hard to go without snacks after having food around at home all the time, especially in the evenings. I think my appetite has doubled since I came here.

Other expenditures include lamp, extension cord, bulbs, sax reeds, tweezers, ball-point pen (the give-away one I brought ran out of ink and the regular refills won't fit it), tennis balls (we were required to buy a whole new can of three balls, unopened, to contribute to the Phys. Ed. department), soap, a haircut, pingpong ball, church, laundry, stamps, writing paper, etc. Also movies.

It really kills me to ask for money. I have tried to avoid it. A couple of weeks ago I went in to see about a job. They said there would be vacancies later in July. So I went back this morning and Mrs. Pennato, the supervisor, looked over my schedule. She said the only vacancies were Monday, Wednesday and Friday on breakfast and lunch. I could shoot myself. The whole first half I've had Mon. Wed. Fri. breakfast time (6:30-8:30) clear. But when we re-registered for the last five weeks of Phys. Ed. I switched from 6th period tennis to first period swimming (8:00). This begins Wednesday, tomorrow. Honestly! I can't change it now. Mrs. Pennato said that if I wanted to work in the fall I should come in as soon as I've registered to get in the spots my schedule will allow, and I'm going to. They pay 85 cents an hour. Anyhow, at present I'm jobless and getting down to penniless and would appreciate some reinforcement.

[...] Yesterday in band us saxes got lit into for the first time. Usually it is the trumpets or clarinets or drums or some stand-out, large section that gets the "personal attention". But in the August concert we are going to play a piece the high school band did in our spring concert, the Second Suite by Holst. It's the one I had a solo in, that sounded sort like an Irish jig. Mr. Dunlop wants all the saxes to play it, not just Bob. We are supposed to sound like "one". He made us each play it separately. At such times I feel absolutely faint with terror. But I didn't do too badly. [...]

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