It was the middle of the Great Depression in America and World War II was looming ahead. Yet the mood was light at Portland Junior College, a forebear of USM, judging by the 1937 edition of its student newspaper. The award-winning Portland Junior College News began publication that year as a four-page biweekly.
Despite a scarcity of female students, the social scene was very active, with well-attended dances, athletic clubs like skiing, bowling and badminton, and a simmering but jovial rivalry between freshmen and sophomores at the two-year college.
Curiously, the college was housed entirely within the YMCA building at 70 Forest Ave., where room and board was provided to some students. All students had free use of the gymnasium and pool.
Portland Junior College didn’t move out of the YMCA until almost a decade later, when it bought the land that USM’s Portland campus currently stands on.
What do the girls think?
Just a handful of PJC’s 160 students were female. An anonymous News reporter got the scoop on what those few girls at the College thought about the boys.
The article reported, “Doris Hasson intimated that she liked the freshmen so much better than the sophomores… Shirley Mewer, of scavenger hunt fame, considers boys all good pals and ‘more fun.'” Ellen Zukunft just allowed, “They are all right.”
Annette Murch said the boys were “just all-around good kids, not a bit snooty like some college boys.” Mary Nichols declined to go into detail but called them “a nice crowd of boys.”
When Frances Cleaver, Margaret Harvey and Helen Trafford were asked what they thought of the boys, they “hesitated, grinned at each other, and chimed symphoniously, ‘What we think of PJC men would cause too much jealousy if printed. But if they want to know — let ’em come and ask us.'”
Hoping to start a new tradition, students and faculty declared Dec. 17 to be Nut Day, “one day in the college year students and faculty alike can forget the serious side of study.” Professors exchanged classes: English Prof. S. Lindsay Lord taught Einstein’s theory in Prof. Luther I. Bonney’s math class, for example, and registrar Leon G. Milliken took charge of the girls’ gym class.
Racy comments at Thanksgiving Eve dance
Organized by the sophomores, 1937’s Thanksgiving Eve dance was held at the Purpooduck Club and was a big success, the News reported. An article also reported on some overheard conversations at the dance. Among the quotes:
“People who carry glass bottles shouldn’t sit on stone steps.”
“She’s been in more laps than a napkin.”
“Did you join a frat at B.U.?”
“Naw, I’ve got plenty of my own clothes.”
Germany and Japan will join forces
History Prof. Walter A. Beyer predicted that Germany and Japan would join forces and declare war on Russia. He noted that Russian troops were moving out of Spain to return and protect their homeland.
At the time, Japan was trying to take over the “National Settlement” in Shanghai, China, and Beyer predicted great international opposition. He said that Japan’s motivation was to “stop Chiang Kai-Shek from building China into a world power,” and added that Japan would have a very hard time conquering China because of the latter’s large population.
“Italy will probably sit on the fence until the others get things well underway” and will wait to see what France does, Beyer predicted.
As for U.S. involvement, Beyer said that America would probably not intervene in China. But “British propaganda will draw the United States into the European troubles whether she wants to or not,” he said. “The United States will be in for plenty of trouble no matter what happens.”
Down with Roosevelt!
Finance professor L. Cleveland Amidon spoke out harshly against the Roosevelt administration, criticizing their economic strategy for not letting “capital… flow freely.”
He charged that the administration’s plan was to “pay out twice as much as you take in,” and he ridiculed it as “hocus-pocus finance” that would lead the nation to the “brink of disaster and bankruptcy.” He also took the time to mock Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats” with the American people.
Amidon was particularly irate over Roosevelt’s imposition of “the vicious Undistributed Profits Tax and the Capital Gains Tax,” insisting that they were “taxing [the nation] out of existence.”
New fad: “going Dutch” on dates
Girls at PJC had varying opinions about the “Dutch treat fad.”
“I think the Dutch treat is an excellent idea,” exclaimed Doris Hasson.
But Alta Gray did not buy it. “It is positively out as far as I am concerned,” she said emphatically.
Other girls who were interviewed for the article said they would do it under certain circumstances, such as if the boy is out of work and the girl has a job.
The world’s 10 outstanding men
Journalism students voted on the most important men of 1937. On the list were industrialist Henry Ford, aviator Charles A. Lindbergh and world leaders Franklin D. Roosevelt, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Pope Pius XI.
Ski club fails to attract a single girl
The Ski Gulls, a PJC ski club, strenuously sought out female members, having been an all-male club since their founding. They failed miserably.
“Despite their urgent call for coeds,” the News reported, no girls showed up at their meeting. Maybe it was because of the bad weather, the article speculated, “or the ski club boys may lack the necessary attraction.”
25 cents: too much for one cigarette
A brief front-page editorial declared, “25 cents is too much to pay for one cigarette — but nevertheless the student council has no mercy on those who smoke outside of the designated smoking rooms. A fine of TWENTY-FIVE CENTS will be imposed upon all nearsighted students who fail to notice a council member’s approach. All-inclusive warning — Boys, Girls, and faculty members.”
Boys out-bowled by coeds
In 1936 the girls formed their own team in the College bowling league, but “when they came up against the boys, the masculine superiority was too much for them,” according to the News. The next year, students decided to make two male teams and one coed team, though the boys on the latter team were unenthusiastic because they felt the girls would make them lose.
It turned out just the opposite way: “To a startled group of boys last week, the coeds of the Junior College outplayed the boys in rolling the old ball down the alleys.” Helen Trafford had the highest single score with 111, and Margaret Harvey bowled the highest total with 277.
Should Roosevelt run again?
The News surveyed nine students with the question, “In view of current conditions in the United States and throughout the world, do you think that President Roosevelt should break the precedent and run for a third term?”
Six out of the nine students said no. “Roosevelt has broken about everything else in the country,” said Frederick Rawlinson. “Why should he stop at a mere precedent?” Others said a third term in office could potentially give Roosevelt dictatorial powers.
Of the two who supported a third term for Roosevelt (one student was ambiguous in his response), Mary Nicholas said he should stay in office because national chaos could result if his “program for economic rehabilitation” were derailed. She also worried that the situation in Europe “may embroil America in war in spite of herself, [and] it is no time to change leaders.”
Coleman Gorham cautiously supported a third term, but speculated that Roosevelt would refuse to run again, so the point was moot.
Professor calls for more “government-controlled” radio
In an interview with the News, music Prof. Frederic Tillotson advocated for the “government-controlled method of broadcasting” like that of the BBC in England, because it brings “finer music” to the common people. He claimed that eliminating commercial sponsors from programming was the key to elevating radio content.
Prof. Tillotson also spoke about folk music, saying, “The days when folk music could be created are gone. Folk music is born of simplicity and the leisurely living of the peasant classes. And there are no true peasant classes today. The popular tunes of the day take the place of folk music in the hearts of the American people. These tunes live only because of their sentimentality, and not because of any lasting qualities in their melodies. ‘Stardust’ is a good example of this, but 20 years from today it will not be remembered.”
Richer than the ordinary gob
Naval reserve officer Lt. Cmdr. Lawrence Eastman addressed an assembly at PJC. If war were to break out, he said, being commissioned in the reserves would “give the man a decent income instead of the usual $30 a month of the ordinary gob.”
About 60 students and guests went on the annual Mountain Day trip to Mt. Chocorua to view the autumn foliage of the White Mountains. “The group met at the halfway house for lunch at noon, and climbed to the summit of the mountain in the afternoon. Prof. Luther I. Bonney, educational director, was in charge of the group,” read the article.
Unlike the Free Press, the Portland Junior College News was not free. The price was 15 cents per issue or $1 for a year’s subscription.
From 1936 to 1937, enrollment at PJC doubled to 160. Business administration was by far the most popular major, accounting for over half of the students. Trailing were engineering, education and law.
Brian O’Keefe can be contacted at [email protected]