By June Swartwout
My years at Oberlin were from 1944 to 1948. The most important influence at first was World War II, still in progress. The Navy V-12 Unit was on campus, while many male students were drafted, interrupting their education.
I was a Conservatory student, and for the first three years we had no choir because of the lack of male singers. This was a huge disappointment for a Voice Major.
The three main differences I remember between then and now are clothing, food service, and dorm rules. Now, anything goes in clothing. Then, women wore mostly sweaters, skirts, and saddle shoes. If we wore shorts outside, we were required to wear a coat over them! Jeans were never worn. We ate in the women’s dorms, joined by the men. We sat at tables set with tablecloths and napkins, were served by students doing their board jobs, and even had grace said before meals. The food was cooked in each separate dorm kitchen, and generally it was excellent. However, we had no choices. We ate what was served including rationed meals once a week. Now, the food service is casual, served cafeteria style, with many choices including vegetarian. Which is better? It’s hard to say.
Rules then were strict. Girls had a curfew, and the reasoning was that if the girls had to be in the dorm at a certain time, that would also take care of the men, so they needed no curfew! Men were not allowed upstairs to visit their girl friends except during planned open houses. No alcohol was allowed, but smoking was permitted and was quite common. Only married couples could have cars. Even though grumbled about, the rules were mostly followed.
Academically, Oberlin was excellent then and continues to be so now. The music was exceptional, and I received a fine education which led to my career as a voice teacher at the University level. Now, the quality of music is even greater, far surpassing the 40s.
In my student days, we had none of the following: TVs, CDs, Stereo Components, VCRs, cell phones, digital cameras, calculators, computers, or iPods. We had radios, typewriters, 78 speed record players, Brownie Kodak cameras, books, and shared phones down the hall. Technology has developed so rapidly, I fear the students may be spending too much time with their ‘toys’ and may be losing out on personal contacts. Do they ever just sit and talk after dinner? Do they play bridge? Do they really need to call their parents every day just because it’s convenient with cell phones?
The students I have met now are incredibly bright, eager to excel despite tough competition and still seem to be quite friendly. I wish some of them would occasionally ‘dress up’ and comb their hair more often. But as a group, the Obies continue to be unique, concerned, smart and creative as they were in my day as well. I have no doubt they will be successful leaders in the future.