Girl Coming of Age in the 1960s


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In 1962 most girls at Penn State were majoring either in Home Economics or Education. Today I wonder if any university still has a home ec major. (Nursing was another popular career, but not offered at the Penn State main campus.) During my first term my father had asked me to keep an account book showing everything I spent, since I was their first child to go off to college and they didn't know how much petty cash I'd need. But I hated him seeing my expenditures for items such as sanitary napkins, so that was the impetus for getting the dining-hall job.

Letters from Penn State - September 1962

10:00 pm

Fall Registration

I got your letter this morning. I'm sorry I wasn't as prompt but these two days that I thought would be vacant are anything but. I spent all yesterday in the food supervisor's office and all today with my advisor.

Most wonderful point: I started working last night. I have a job in the dining hall, paying .90/hr for the first 50 hours, then $1.00/hr for the next 200 hours, then $1.10 on. The hours are transferable from term to term. We eat our meals before we start serving, and we are required to eat them (this means breakfast) before we work. Breakfast is at 6:15, lunch at 11:00, dinner at 4:15. I love it! I have my own little time card that is punched in and out and a white uniform. We supply hairnets, leather shoes, and socks.

So far I have only done bread-and-butter and tea-and-coffee. Tonight the bread was Italian, in chunks. That's much harder than slices. I have to take the bread out with tongs and put the butter on with tongs. They're very sanitary.

The other kids who work are all awfully nice. I feel so "inside" eating with them in a little group before the kids come in. We are privileged! I take my registration schedule in tomorrow to the supervisor after my visit to Rec Hall. Then she schedules me permanently.

Mrs. Lawson [advisor] didn't seem quite so terrible this morning. On my Fall schedule I have Clothing & Textiles 100, General Family Studies 100, English 12, Phys.Ed., and Sociology 1, which is a TV course. My band tryout is Friday at 9:50 a.m.

1:30 pm

Didn't make band

Lousy tidings. I did not make band. At my tryout I had to play a march. I started too fast and couldn't keep up with myself. After a few bars Mr. Dunlop put his hand over the music and asked me what key it was in. I said F, the key I'd been playing it in. He took his hand away and, lo and behold, two flats. I continued, and still didn't play the E-flats.

I was absolutely sick I was so nervous. At the summer tryout I was too ignorant to be that scared. But this time I knew the kind of kids I was up against. And never was there a worse audition. However, I'm not that discouraged. I knew I wasn't up to the par of this band and also that saxes are a dime a dozen and few are used. Being a glutton for punishment I'm going to try out again Winter Term and practice more in the meantime.

At 3:30 Linda Myers is stopping by and we're going to go up to Eisenhower to try out for Chapel Choir. Carol chickened out when her orientation leader told her what is was like. She joined the Wesley choir instead, partly because a boy she knew from Sky Lake is in it. I hear for the Chapel tryouts that we have to sing O Come All Ye Faithful and then one completely unknown piece. Then Mr. Beach tells us what's wrong with our voices. I don't know if I can stand two terrifying personal appearances in one day.

On the whole the atmosphere is good around here, despite disappointments. Rita and I walked down to Atherton last night to see Joan and Linda and then Kathy came over from South so our summer term group had a reunion. We went up to the HUB. It was crawling with people. Down in the Lions Den you had to fight your way through the throng, which was 98 percent boys. It is so different around here from the summer!

You probably won't have to send me any more money. I love working in the dining hall. For lunch today I was on iced tea, back in the kitchen. That isn't as much fun as being on counter and watching all the kids come through. But if you're on bread and butter (which I usually seem to be) you scarcely have a chance to glance up. Do it once and you're three plates behind.

My roommate and I don't meet in the room much but we get along together fine. I'm much happier with her than I was with Barb. And do I love this room! The kids say you have a good chance of remaining in the same residence hall especially if you request your old room. Well, you couldn't get much more convenient than mine.

I hope this clear weather holds for the game tomorrow. What I'm worried about with the game is meeting the other kids. Freshmen have to sit together. I don't get off work till 1:00 and I'm the only freshman on the "staff". West Halls is very predominantly upper-class. You see hardly any name-card frosh going through the tray line.

I don't have any Saturday classes. We get one weekend off a month from the dining hall. They may run a bus down to the Pitt game and I'd love to go to it. Linda wants me to join the Outing Club with her. They're climbing Mt. Nittany this Saturday.

Well, me so fired up about band, I want to get in an hour down at Carnegie before Linda comes. Maybe I'll run through O Come All Ye Faithful too.

6:30 pm

Suicide at East Halls

Classes start tomorrow. I have an 8:00, my English 12. I'm so lucky to be in that! At registration they told me it was closed, then let me in anyway. I'm out of commission for breakfasts on those days because serving is till 8:15.

I love working so much! The only thing that sometimes bothers me is eating beforehand with other kids who work. They're all upper-class and talk about kids I don't know and the way the dining-hall setup used to be. Also, there are only a few girls who work. It's mostly boys.

It is now 7:00 September 24 (Monday). I got interrupted last night because Rita came in and wanted to walk down to see Joan and Linda. It was our last free evening so we had to celebrate. We went down to Herlocher's and split a pizza four ways.

Latest scandal: You probably read in the newspapers about the girl who jumped off the roof of one of East Halls Thursday night. She was a sophomore, Ruth Kaplan. I've heard many things about it--that she was drunk, that she was under psychiatric treatment, that she left a note in her typewriter saying "I can't live without you, John". It seems so impossible, something like that happening so close. This brought up several old stories, about a girl who stood on the roof of McElwain for over an hour while people tried to persuade her to come off and not jump, and about a girl in McKee two years ago who slit her wrists.

My first day of classes went all right. First impressions: I don't like my English teacher in some ways. One girl was chewing gum and he told her she looked like a cow and went on about it for about five minutes while she could have crawled through the floor. He's insensitive. Fencing is interesting. It just feels funny, it's against the grain to purposely stab your partner till the foil bends.

Sociology, TV though it is, has started out very well. Mr. Foreman is a very good lecturer. He broadcasts from the second floor of Boucke to 16 classrooms on the third floor of Boucke and one class in the Altoona extension by microwave.

The football game which we won 41-7 was of course very nice but when we got so far ahead it wasn't very exciting. I'd rather watch a close game. Also, freshmen get the lousiest seats. However, it was very colorful and gorgeous until it started raining. I hope band day is perfect.

Tomorrow I have no classes scheduled and work all three meals. This means getting up at a quarter to six. I stand there at the counter at 7 a.m. looking at the couple of nuts who are always first in, wondering what on earth makes them get up so early. Ugh! It's colder in the mornings now and I can hardly tear myself out. It's only the thought of money that makes me do it. That isn't true at all. I like being on the inside and knowing all the problems of the kitchen, and what "supers" to watch out for. It does limit you, though. Rita and Kathy went on a hike up Mt. Nittany yesterday afternoon which I couldn't go on because I wouldn't be back in time to serve dinner.

Customs started this morning. Between classes boys cluster on the steps of Schwab and haul in any luckless freshman that passes. Everywhere you go there are little knots of boys wearing dinks [beanies] giving "Short Yell State" or singing the alma mater. And it's "button, frosh" (tip your hat, boy) and "curtsey, frosh" (to the girls) all over campus. I'm glad I'm not in it. [because I started in the summer.]

5:30 pm

Seeing Ray Charles

DeDe [roommate] and I are waiting till almost 6:15 to go to dinner as the waiting lines are terrible at Waring. As an employee I have the right to cut line. But it seems so nasty that I haven't done it yet. Maybe one of those mornings when I have 15 minutes for breakfast and it looks like the line will take 10.

I got this typing paper for my first English theme, which I turned in this morning. This paper is erasable and I'll never use the other kind again if I can help it. You can erase whole lines and it doesn't show. My theme was on an exterior. I did it on a damp foggy night on the golf course. It's not too difficult to get a damp foggy night to observe around here, though I must say the past two days have been perfect fall days. I'm going for a bike ride after dinner.

In English Mr. Galbraith called on quite a few kids and had them read their papers in front of the class. I was very thankful that he didn't call on me. He really pounces on mistakes and anything he doesn't happen to like. He doesn't like pathetic fallacy (giving human qualities to inanimate objects). I made my mist into a white army, regiments of raindrops, etc. He said we'll probably get our papers back on Wednesday. I'm really anxious to see how he marks.

Last night Ray Charles, sponsored by the Jazz Club, gave a concert in Rec Hall just across the way. It cost $1.75 and I had to type my theme and none of the other girls could be talked into going. So DeDe and I were sitting in the room working with the window open while drums and piano floated in for about an hour. Then DeDe said "Let's get some clothes on and go over and stand outside where we can hear better." So we went across the street and stood up against the door looking in wistfully. Several people came out while we stood there. Then two boys came out, asked if we wanted to go in, and gave us their tickets.

So we went in, had a marvelous view from the center of the balcony, and saw the last twenty minutes. It was really good and we feel we saw the best part, since they save the best till last. Rec Hall was solid people, all standing up and clapping. The band was great. There were also four girls in emerald green dresses, called the Ray-lettes, who sang a few songs. And a girl soloist who was very good.

We won the Air Force game, 20-6. It was more exciting than the first game. Of course, the half-time band show was spectacular. [band day, many visiting high school bands, over 5,000 kids] I could have screamed when DeDe and I arrived after the kickoff to find that the Blue Band had done their demonstration show for pre-game. I was late because I had to work for lunch.

1:30 am

Parents coming to visit

Sunday is fine. I work Sunday breakfast but not dinner or supper and I got dining-hall tickets for you for the noon meal. Church at St. Paul's is at 10:45. At Schwab it is 10:55.

I got a B minus on my first English paper.


My First Paycheck

The working girl got her first paycheck today. It is for $20.66. They deducted $4.71 for federal tax and .82 for F.I.C.A., whatever that is. I went down to the basement of Willard right after my first period class, which is in that building, to get it. There were two lines of people waiting, A to L and M to Z. The man didn't even ask to see my matric card, just handed it to me when I gave him my name. I can hardly bear the thought of cashing it (I'll force myself), it looks so important and businesslike.

The heady feeling of independent income is overwhelming. I splurged what cash I had left on a beautiful sweater. It is bone in a very loose soft fuzzy wool. I could stand in Schlow's and drool for hours, they have such gorgeous college clothes. That's the kind of store I'd love to operate.

Tomorrow evening at 7:30 there's a program in the Home Ec auditorium presented by senior fashion merchandising students who spent this past summer working in stores. Linda and I are going. I can't find anyone else who is going to try to pass the written clothing construction test that will be given tonight at seven. If I do pass it, I'll be given a practical test at the end of the month. Did I tell you Carol and I both passed the health exemption test?

On the subject of Phys. Ed., my loathing for fencing is increasing. Thank goodness it's more than half over. I have only seven more periods of it. My trouble is, I am not aggressive. I spend more time defending myself than I do going after my opponent. But I still can't stand the idea of stabbing somebody. I bet I get a D in it. Next half-term I've got to take something I'm sure I can do fairly well in to balance it out. I'm praying that they give ice skating.

Tomorrow at seven p.m. there is a meeting of all Waring student employees in C dining hall. I hear we even get paid to attend the meeting. And the kids say they served ice cream at them last year.

I got my second English theme back on Monday, a B plus. My third one, which I handed in today, will probably not be so good. He read it in class and criticized me for putting too much action in my description and for using a situation that I had to recall, not just sit down and look at, a point which I very stupidly forgot all about.

Carol came over to McKee Monday night and we talked for a couple of hours. It's really nice to have her around.

Leaves are swirling down thickly now. This is a perfect fall day. I actually dared go out without my raincoat. It's just right for bicycle riding, which I'll probably do later. This afternoon, however, I am going to read Sociology. Mr. Foreman said there would be pop quizzes and I have a sneaky feeling about today. So, this letter will close. I hope it is more informative; anyway, it is easier to read. You'll notice I am copying your style. What is this, no paragraph indentations?


Going out with a boy

I just got your package. The slacks really do fit beautifully now. And I never dreamed you were even working on the dress yet! Many thanks. It fits too and I love it.

The weekend was pretty nice for me socially. I gave in to Rita and went to the Waring dance Friday evening. I met a boy from East halls there and we danced together for half an hour. Then I went over to the bus station with Kathy to meet two of her girlfriends who came for the weekend.

Last Wednesday evening a boy called me up and started out, "This is housing and food service. We've had some complaints about you.." This went on for about 15 minutes and then he asked me to go to the movies with him Saturday. He's one of the guys from the dining hall. We went to see El Cid, which isn't very good. It's a long one, drawn out and over-dramatic. But it was fun, and we stopped at a restaurant afterward. He's taking art history. I commiserated with him about it. He's an architecture major.

The meeting of the student employees Thursday evening was funny. We met in the dining hall and sat around at the tables. Mrs. Schleiker came in and passed out ice cream and cookies, then expressed her appreciation for our loyal service and asked if anyone had any questions. The whole rest of the time we listened to boys' complaints. It seems that starting this year the supervisors are trying to abolish the seniority practice . Always before, the boys who had worked the longest were exempt from jobs like trayline and dishroom. They got the soft jobs like checking and linen room. Now, a boy who has been working for three years is complaining about being assigned to potsink for three meals in a row. They are giving the new boys the checking jobs, saying it's good to give them the easier jobs to start out with. This makes for much griping from the "old guard" boys.

Did you watch the Army game on television Saturday? The campus was practically deserted while everyone sat in the lounges, glued to the sets. Rita and I went downtown during the first quarter with her transistor radio along to keep us posted.It was such a beautiful day for a game, it's a shame it was away.

I got my third English paper back this morning, a B. I haven't gotten a mark in any other subject yet, but the first Sociology test is on Friday. My Phys. Ed. teacher announced the sports that will be given the second half and ice skating is among them. I only hope it doesn't fill up too fast. It's just luck, whether or not you get the activity you want.

That General Family Studies is a misnomer. It is a survey of the Home Ec curriculum and what it has to offer. Each week a teacher from a different branch gives a talk. So far we've heard about education, families and communities, and something else which I can't remember. Next week it's a speaker from the clothing department.

You said you thought having a family visit could be an ordeal. I must admit I felt a little self-conscious in the dining hall. But I also felt proud. Feel free to drop in any time. I loved having you.


My First Kiss

Wonderful news! I got a letter yesterday saying that I passed the written part of the sewing exemption test. I really had my doubts about whether I would or not because there were a couple of essay questions on alteration and fitting that I just felt my way through. Mrs. Lawson gave the test and announced before she started that most girls didn't pass it, so not to feel bad about if you didn't. I am so glad! Now I'm worrying about the other part of the test. It's a practical exam to be given next Tuesday evening, the 30th, from seven to nine. I have to bring with me the following:

  • Cotton fabric for blouse
  • #66 Singer bobbin
  • Small sewing equipment
  • Blouse pattern in your size
    Pattern requirements:
    • set-in sleeves
    • attached collar
    • buttonholes

We will "carry the construction of it as far as the examination time permits." I hope it doesn't permit getting as far as buttonholes. I've never made one. The only time I ever set in a sleeve was on the nightgown I made for Carol. It says the lab will supply sewing machines, pressing equipment, and table space. I need a tracing wheel. I'll never even get past the darts if I have to fool around with tailor's tacks. How much do they cost? Please rush any helpful hints you can think of on making a blouse.

We won over Syracuse yesterday 20-19. It was a beautiful day, almost hot. The crowd was tremendous, standing room only. At halftime the homecoming queen was crowned, a sorority girl named Shirley Benjamin. The Blue Band played "Oh, You Beautiful Doll" and the drum major escorted her down the field.

Last night I went bowling with the same guy I went to the movies with last week. We played three games; he won two, I won the middle one. We're both pretty amateur. Then we went downtown for a snack. I'm not going to go out with him again. Milestone! He kissed me goodnight and that I could have done without. It was a real let-down. I don't like him especially. He'll probably call again Tuesday night and I'm trying to think what to tell him.

I have my dining hall Food Handler examination scheduled for Tuesday morning. I understand it's not much more than another tuberculosis shot test like the one I had during orientation week.

My first Sociology test on Friday had eighty questions in it and I wouldn't venture a guess on my mark. The score is 150 points minus double the number wrong. We may get them back tomorrow since they were the IBM kind, easy to correct. My fourth English return was another B. I don't think I'll ever see an A. He gave one girl an A--, and called it "a very inferior A paper."

It's almost midnight so I better knock off, if I ever expect to pry my eyes open for my written fencing test tomorrow. By the way, I got ice skating for the second half, which makes me very happy. Looks like I start riding my bike to class; the ice rink is pretty far out. What are these football teams Chris [younger brother] plays with, his phys ed class? Congratulate him for me.

6:30 pm

Student Phone Books

I hope you do go to Cape Hatteras. I'd like to know how it is down there at this time of year. It would be even more exciting in a hurricane. Be sure to go over to Ocracoke and see if my hotel is still vacant.

I got back my number grade for the Sociology test today, 122. I saw all the grades for my section, about 25 kids. The highest mark was 144, the lowest 88. I also got my fifth English paper back. It was a disappointment, a C. It was a description of a person. Rereading it, I can see it's not too good. That makes four Bs and one C in that course.

After two weeks of raging controversy that each day filled the editorial page of the Collegian, "Froth" has had its charter revoked. It's the college humor magazine, published monthly. The September issue was sold out by mid-afternoon the first day it hit the stands and I didn't see it for several days until I borrowed a copy from Karen, across the hall. That magazine could be classified as pornographic. It was just page after page of dirty jokes. I'd think the writers would be ashamed to see their names in the bylines. I wish they hadn't banned it, just required a big change in the material, but it is sort of sickening to see Penn State's name on something like that.

We got our student telephone books. They're really informative. Every person registered for classes is listed. It gives the local address, home address, term standing, and major for each one, plus, of course, the phone number.

On Saturday the Artist's Series is presenting the play "The Matchmaker" in Schwab. There are two performances, at 3:30 and at 8:00. I wanted to get a ticket for the evening because I'll probably have to work dinner and leave the afternoon show early, but by the time I got over to the HUB the eight o'clock's were all sold out. So...

It snowed off and on today. With the first flakes everyone headed over to Carolyn Chock's room (she's next door to DeDe and me) to see what she thought of it. She's from Hawaii and never saw snow before. I like her a lot. I brought those travel folders of Hawaii here with the idea of decorating the room and she borrowed them to use for Speech 200. She has sold me on her state; she lives in a modern house in Honolulu.


The Upcoming Sewing Test

Thanks for your timely information. I took your letter down to the fabric store with me so I would be sure not to forget anything. Egolf's is the name of the State College store and it is very nice. They have all the pattern catalogs but on the McCall's one was a little note saying "we do not stock this brand but will be glad to order it for you from our Lock Haven store." Which I didn't feel like waiting for. So I got a Vogue pattern, 5204. The view I'm doing is an overblouse, roll-sleeved, with only underarm darts. No pockets. It doesn't give directions for making buttonholes by hand, but I notice you sent me some directions on that. The material was a mistake, perhaps, because plaid. [Mistake?! Can you spell impending disaster?!] I just had to get it because it reminded me of Indian madras. But I intend to get the layout all figured out before I go over there, including matching the plaid. It's dark olive and black with dark red running through it. I also got two spools of dark olive thread, a card of five gray pearl buttons, two bobbins (they only came in twos), scissors ($5.00), and tracing paper and a wheel, which isn't on the bill because I decided on it afterward, feeling much more secure with very clear markings. So your monetary donation was much appreciated, and I couldn't have managed without it. This ice-skating course costs $5.00 for some reason or other and we're supposed to bring it to our first class on Monday, but I can pay for that. I am sending you $10.00 worth of green stamps, courtesy of Egolf's.

You said to keep you in mind for sewable items and just buy the non-sewable ones. So far I have bought the fuzzy sweater, a pair of dressy black flats, and a blue blouse to match the corduroy jumper. One thing I could use is another pair of slacks, same measurements as the suede ones. It's been snowing here for the past three days and in this cold slacks are very comfortable to wear to class. They would be nice in dark green or navy flannel. By the way, I get compliments on the suede dress and slacks every time I wear them, but especially the dress. It's really beautiful. And I guess I didn't tell you before, but all my neighbors loved your brownies. They were lucky to last two days.

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