My college alma mater appeared recently in most major media outlets: Otterbein University was, of course, the site of the recent Democratic presidential debate. I tuned in for a glimpse of the campus where I spent four years but saw only the Rike Center, the physical education building erected in 1975 and spiffed up just in time for the debate.
My nostalgia-meter had already been set off when I agreed to help with next year’s class memory book being readied for the most golden of anniversaries – the celebration of our 50th year since graduation in 1970.
Even before that, however, in preparation for one of the articles I occasionally write for Otterbein’s alumni magazine, I talked with Carol Smith, Class of 1969 – a departure from the norm for me. I usually interview alums who graduated in the 21st century. Carol was from my era!
Back then, our paths never crossed. Carol earned a B.S. degree and lettered in several sports. I spent lots of time on campus governance committees and graduated with a B.A.
Carol was quite the athlete, glad to play modern, full-court basketball rather than the outdated, half-court style we girls used to play in P.E. class. This Otterbein standout went on to begin a girls’ basketball program at Walnut Ridge High School. When the Ohio Basketball Hall of Famer decided to stay at home with her kids twelve years later, she began and ran the North-South All-Star game for girls and served on countless committees to equalize Ohio’s athletic opportunities for girls and boys.
A comment during Carol’s interview sent my mind sailing back to my campus days. She mentioned her goal to acquire uniforms for Otterbein’s women basketball players, thus eliminating the need to borrow tunics from the field hockey team. Her remark reminded me of how different dressing for college was fifty years ago.
Let’s start with the age-old collegiate tradition of freshman beanies: not the stocking caps of today but baseball hats, tan-and-cardinal in color, with a nametag pinned to the back. The newest students on campus were required to wear the annoying headgear so that upperclassmen could yell, “Hey, Frosh, stay off the grass!” Freshmen obediently wore them until the end of football season. I cannot imagine any current college freshman submitting to that kind of clothing requirement – tradition or not.
Nowadays anyone can purchase a whole wardrobe of clothing emblazoned with names and symbols of any college in the nation. Not so, way back when. Although such clothing was available, I never owned an Otterbein t-shirt, sweatshirt, or jacket the entire time I studied there.
However, several groups did use garments to distinguish themselves on campus. Greek organizations provided much of Otterbein’s social life. Our fraternities and sororities were local only: no Tri Delts or chapters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon within our ivy-covered walls.
The Greeks identified themselves by donning a sort of uniform each Monday. The frat guys usually wore some sort of blazer. My sorority sisters and I had burgundy blazers and white wool skirts, my sister dressed in pink, and the raciest group on campus topped a black pencil skirt with a white wool blazer. Pledge pins, lavaliers, and chapter pins completed our ensembles.
Two other campus groups dressed in real uniforms. There was then, and continues today, a ROTC organization with members wearing required uniforms at stipulated times. Back then, there was an auxiliary group called Angel Flight. These gals also periodically wore uniforms and marched in parades with the guys. I believe some Angel Flight groups from the 70’s may have morphed into more of a service organization now called Silver Wings.
Five decades ago, the administration at my conservative school, known as Otterbein College until 2010, expected students to observe a dress code – absolutely improbable and impossible at practically any college or university today.
A major tenet of those regulations required women to dress up – dresses/skirts and high heels – for Sunday lunch and Wednesday supper in the dining hall, with men expected to wear jackets and ties. However, during the 1969-70 school year when every campus rule nationwide was being challenged by students, several Otterbein guys precipitated the demise of said dress code by following the rules to the letter: they began showing up in jackets and ties – no shirts. Thankfully, they did wear pants!
On the social side, each year members of the Junior Class were tapped to reign as queen and court over May Day. They were fitted with the same formal, each in a different pastel color. On the day of crowning, the candidates wore blindfolds as they dressed and learned the identity of the queen only when the blindfolds were removed: Her Majesty was dressed white. My all-time favorite Otterbein tradition.
In 1970 when college protests became riotous with the closing of OSU and the deaths at Kent State, many schools contended with “outside agitators” arriving on campus to incite trouble. To head off potential problems, Joann Van Sant, Dean of Students, distributed armbands to student leaders with instructions to slip them on if we detected trouble. Fortunately, we never had to use these official accessories, but it was a sobering, real-life chapter in the “quiet peaceful village” we sang about in the Otterbein Love Song.
Those were great, memorable years in what seems like another lifetime – quaint traditions, even quainter clothing – to which we shall never return.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe..