Apart from showcasing the literary talents of Newcomb students, The Newcomb Arcade also records the values and events of the time.
The Evolving Newcomb Student:
From the late nineteenth and early twentieth century emerged a creature who came to be known as the "New Woman." Frequently engaged in the suffrage movement, her motto was believed to be "I want. I will. I must." Many frowned upon such ambition, self-reliance and "selfishness," and claimed her motto really should be "I ought" (Banta 60). In literary circles, as well, this was not a time during which "strong," individualistic women were accepted. Recall the rejection Kate Chopin faced in 1899 when her most famous book The Awakening was published. In the South, as other parts of the country, rebellious female (and feminist) characters like Chopin's Edna Pontellier who disregarded society's norms were shunned and discriminated against.
During the era of The Newcomb Arcade, Newcomb College adhered largely to the gender conservatism of the South, and students were expected to uphold the code of white southern womanhood. Even though they were going to college, the lives of Newcomb students were expected to continue as before, complete with all the social obligations of a woman not pursuing higher education (Gordon 175). Newcomb students, obviously, were not to be "different" from the women in rest of the community. In fact, the "new" Broadway campus resembled an extended (and "safe") residence more than a place of higher learning. Its Colonial Revival architectural "represented 'ethical qualities and chasteness and restraint in form' ... and was often associated with 'traditional female qualities of delicacy and refinement' " (Kingsley 14).
It is interesting to note here the tensions Newcomb College faced in educating the young women of Louisiana without compromising their "femininity" and marriageability. Mrs. Newcomb's original letter of bestowal had asked that "the education given shall look to the practical side of life as well as to literary excellence" (Dixon 10). The Art School tried to direct student energies towards the practicalities of life but failed to provide students with adequate skills for complete self-reliance. The school practiced sexual stereotyping and hindered its artists' attempts/desires to actually make a living from of pottery design and sales (Coyle 35). Indeed, pottery making was not really intended as a career for Newcomb graduates -- only a vocation -- and employment opportunities for educated women were quite limited (Coyle 23). Arcade writers also took pains to point out that while they engaged in intellectual pursuits, they were not challenging societal norms concerning women. In one article about the "New Economic Course" the writer assured readers that just because Newcomb students had petitioned for a course on political economy, they were not evolving into suffragettes (The Newcomb Arcade, June 1911: 71-72).
While they did not like being labeled "suffragettes," there is ample reason to believe Newcomb students wanted to be known as "intellectuals." In a satirical play titled "A History of Varsity Debating at Newcomb," a student writer described one debating match between Agnes Scott and Newcomb College in which the Agnes Scott competitors had appeared in formal evening dress while Newcomb students wore simple attire. In the play published in The Newcomb Arcade, Newcomb students wore military clothing while their opponents wore "Mary Pickford curls, a fluffy frock with a large sash, and carried some knitting" (The Newcomb Arcade April 17: 257-261) The playwright accused Agnes Scott of using "feminine wiles" on the judges (Gordon 178).
Other Women's Colleges:
The content of The Arcade, unlike that of other college magazines of the time, lacked a keen awareness of and interest in the "outside world." Arcade writers focused more on national and local events, while the scope of other college magazines was more international. For example, Bryn Mawr's The Lantern included stories set in foreign countries--like "La Mina de Difficultad" set in Mexico and peppered here and there with Spanish (The Lantern 25, no. 4 (May 1936): 42). The Vassar Miscellany Monthly covered an extensive range of material as well. (One might also speculate that the Northern students were better traveled than their Southern counterparts and/or enrolled a more international student body.)
A contemporary reader might infer from comparing college publications from the same era that a college's location influenced the way its students looked at themselves and the world -- and then consequently expressed it in their literary work and various organizations. One can speculate that perhaps the rural locations of colleges like Bryn Mawr and Vassar led their students to "fend for themselves." Students thus reflected on the world's affairs unencumbered by the demands of a coed or co-ordinate institution. Urban women's colleges like Newcomb and Barnard College, which were female co-ordinates of larger male universities, had to face certain already existing standards. They also had to deal with issues that arise in a coed environment. As a result, student publications from colleges like Newcomb and Barnard appear much more conservative then those of Bryn Mawr or Vassar.
Issues such as women's suffrage, for example, are more freely discussed in Bryn Mawr's The Lantern and Wellesley's Wellesley College News than The Newcomb Arcade (in its October 17, 1912 issue, the Wellesley College News published an article that vowed to make its readers pick a side on the suffrage question if they hadn't done so already). The Suffrage question was not openly debated -- indeed does not even appear to have been a hot topic -- at Newcomb. The Newcomb Arcade once mentions an Equal Suffrage Club at Newcomb, in a piece about a visit from famous New Orleanians Grace King and Ruth McEnery Stuart, but does not do so ever again (The Newcomb Arcade, November 1914: 41).
Apart from The Newcomb Arcades, one also finds proof of this fact in scrapbooks maintained by Newcomb students around 1918. These interesting pieces of memorabilia contain pictures of college life, mementos from college events, as well as numerous newspaper clippings. Like The Newcomb Arcades, these scrapbooks also provide an intimate glimpse into the lives of Newcomb students. (Some students on The Newcomb Arcade board like Louise Adela Nelson business editor for 1911-12 also kept scrapbooks.) Here, as well, one sees Newcomb students were not as involved in the movement for women's suffrage as other women's colleges--of the thirteen scrapbooks maintained before 1918 only four contain material showing some activity in the suffrage movement and even that is somewhat limited to only casting straw ballots. The scrapbooks, like the Arcades, thus show that Newcomb students valued intellectualism and sharpness in women but shied away from strongly advocating women's rights.
A straw ballot from the Julia Schwabacher scrapbook
The Newcomb Arcade, as well as other student publications of the time, did reflect upon American race relations as a key social issue of the day. Articles like "The Negro Problem" seem to echo what was in the minds of many. The "Negro problem" (sic) was described essentially as the question of "the future of the American Negro." The writer complained that Americans "cannot fit the Negro as we know him into the future that we wish for the United States." She resolved that white Americans must "help the Negro maintain a steady birthrate" and "preserve his good traits" (The Newcomb Arcade April 25: 160-165). Such benevolent racism was not peculiar to The Arcade Other college magazines like Wellesley College News also printed such articles as "Hinduism" that exhibits a pronounced colonialist naiveté about other cultures (Wellesley College News, Jan. 22, 1920). In keeping with the local color literary trend, as well as prevailing colonialist social ideology, Newcomb Arcade writers often wrote as if only whites could understand people of color.
It must be noted here that Newcomb College was expressly established for the education of young white women. Mrs. Newcomb was very clear about this in her original letter of bestowal to the university. It is also interesting to note that Newcomb's first (and only) President, Brandt V.B. Dixon, places his own emphasis on the word "white" in a copy of Mrs. Newcomb's letter in his book on the college (Dixon, 10). Newcomb itself was grounded in the racist ideology of the Jim Crow South.
The Great War:
During World War I, Arcade writers discussed the war's effects on students' schedules and enrollment and the establishment of a Students' Army Training Corps (The Newcomb Arcade Feb. 1919). Some alumnae columns also report on the activities of the Newcomb Relief Unit which traveled to Europe at the end of the war. In fact, November 1918 issue of The Newcomb Arcade was dedicated to the Newcomb Relief Unit. Other college magazines from around the country also reported on the work of students in the war effort. Publications like the Wellesley College News reported from time to time on the activities of student units similar to the Newcomb Relief Unit, as well as the war effort here in the States ("Wellesley's work in Constantinople" Wellesley College News Jan. 22, 1920)
Looking for Something
In keeping with the southern conservative attitude, the Arcade steered clear of certain topics. It approached only hesitantly some other issues that were sure to cause a riot if read by parents. Among these are Storyville, and "Crushes."
During the years 1898-1917, "legal" prostitution flourished in Storyville (or "The District"), New Orleans' official red-light zone. In spite of its proximity to campus, Newcomb students, like almost all "respectable" women of the day, practiced a type of public "selective blindness" about what went on there (Nadiene van Dyke). There is absolutely no mention of Storyville in The Newcomb Arcade (but notice the similarities between this picture in Tulane's yearbook, The Jambalaya, and a Bellocq photo).
It was a well-known fact that Storyville prostitutes spent Sundays shopping on Canal Street, no doubt at the same establishments that advertised in The Newcomb Arcade. From 1911 to 1918 Newcomb students were prohibited from "walking on Canal Street on Sunday" (from "Rules for Student Residence" Elder scrapbook, Coyle 67). Such "enforced separation" kept the students of Newcomb College distinctly segregated from the notorious women of Storyville who lived only a few miles away. Storyville existed during the same time period Newcomb College was situated at the Washington campus. It is interesting to see how both Newcomb College and Storyville simultaneously represented changing ideals and social conditions for women from all economic and social classes.
Another submerged topic is the prevalence of "crushes" among the students of women's colleges in the early twentieth century. One of the contemporary arguments against the higher education of women was that college life encouraged lesbianism among students. Having a "crush" meant having a romantic, but usually non-sexual, relationship with another female student. Student publications like The Vassar Miscellany not only openly discussed "crushes" in an editorial, it also published short stories on such relationships. It is not easy to spot stories or poems proving the existence of crushes in The Arcade. There is only a handful of poems and sketches that hint at such relationships (like "My Lady of Dreams" and "A Tragedy from Real Life"). However, the very first issue of The Newcomb Arcade lists "C is for Crush" in "The Newcomb Alphabet."
Meanwhile, Tulane University's yearbook, the Jambalaya, published this interesting tidbit among the "Things that Make Us Laugh": "These Newcombites and their crushes. For instance, Miss Frotscher and Alice Odenheimer, Frances Ferguson and Rita Unga...." Women's college students have been easy target of such lesbian-baiting "anti-feminists" throughout the twentieth century, but at the time of The Arcade such gossip meant social death for the women so condemned. Nonetheless, it can be speculated that the conservatism of the South and the close proximity of their families discouraged Newcomb students from writing stories depicting crushes to be published in The Arcade.
Winds of Change
The quantity and quality of the submissions to The Newcomb Arcade began to decline in the early twenties following Newcomb's move to its current Broadway campus. The later issues get thinner and thinner, and almost all contain "appeals for contributions" from the editors. Such a change was only a part of some major changes taking place in the society in general.
A Changing Society:
With the end of World War I came a social change that inevitably affected the quality of The Newcomb Arcade. Newcomb College had, until that time, been among a handful of women's colleges in the country. As the war drew to a close, social attitudes were changing and women's colleges "began to be seen as inhibiting healthy relations between the sexes and, increasingly, women chose not to 'waste' themselves in a world without men" (Horowitz). Previously, society had considered women to be sexually "latent" beings. Now it viewed them as more sexually active and began to fear this sexual attention could turn to other women as well as men. The move was thus towards more and more integration of male and female students. Students at all-women's colleges were also increasingly uncomfortable with the single-sex world of female colleges. They began to demand more and more "freedoms" on campuses -- staying out late, riding automobiles, and smoking on campuses (Horowitz 284, 285). However, in an era when women were demand rights equivalent to those of their male counterparts, it was still important to remain "feminine." College magazines also reflected this bind. In one story in Agnes Scott's The Aurora, when the male character finds the girl of his dreams (!) he exclaims, "You are the girl of my dreams. I never dared hope to find you. I did not even think you could exist. I am so tired, so tired of the modern women, who tries to compete with men. I am tired of their sophistication, their rouged lips, their--" (The Aurora April/May 1920: pg. 195).
The editors of The Newcomb Arcade also realized how larger social views about the higher education of women were changing and wrote about their distaste for this. In one editorial they complained that "the truly studious girl at Newcomb is considered a freak by her classmates." They realized that college was becoming sort of a training ground for social behavior and remarked, "What we have now is a convenient place to send your daughter between seventeen and twenty-one, a place where she will learn to make herself more attractive; where she will join all campus organizations 'because she is going to college now and must be very active' " (The Newcomb Arcade February 34). It should be pointed out that The Arcade editors appear to be more conservative than their peers. No doubt in dealing with the alumnae as well as the Newcomb institution itself they had to be careful in the subject matter printed in the magazine.
A Changing Newcomb:
Other reasons for changes in The Newcomb Arcade can be attributed to changes at Newcomb in particular. The Washington Avenue campus of Newcomb College was several miles away from the campus of its co-ordinate university, Tulane. Newcomb students thus were free of the "burdens" of living and attending classes close to the male students of Tulane University. Changes at Newcomb began in 1918 with the move of the College from its Washington Avenue campus to the Broadway campus.
The Broadway campus, from Dixon's book
This brought the female students into much closer contact with the male students of Tulane University who now resided only a few minutes away. The Washington campus boasted the famous oak trees and the beautiful chapel dedicated to H. Sophie Newcomb. In contrast, the new Broadway campus was quite barren and utterly unattractive. The move, therefore, was not very popular among Newcomb students who loved their old campus. The Newcomb Arcade documented these sentimental feelings with one issue (June 1918) devoted almost entirely to the "old Newcomb."
The move also intensified a phenomena occurring nationwide on women's college campuses--the loss of "gang spirit" (Alma Mater, page 285). The editors of The Newcomb Arcade also worried over the reducing numbers of students attending student body meetings. One article in the April 1933 issue titled "Student Government" complained, "'Business' hangs uncompleted from one student body to the next for want of a quorum.... Attendance at class meetings is almost the same story--that is, until election time, when competition between sorority factions waxes hot, and all good sisters are out pulling for offices (The Newcomb Arcade April 1933: 75).
This brings one to consider another factor in the decline of the Arcade --the rise of "societies"-- sororities and other Greek organizations at Tulane. Since the majority of Tulane students were from the state of Louisiana -- and many from the New Orleans area -- they already had a taste of "society." The Tulane Hullabaloo reported from time to time on the activities of New Orleans debutantes -- especially former Newcomb students -- around carnival time. Newcomb and Tulane students took avidly to participating in socially-oriented Greek letter organizations.
Sororities had existed at Newcomb since 1891 but were under strict supervision (Dixon 133). In fact, Newcomb faculty rarely approved of them. The sorority question was also being asked on other campuses around the beginning of the century. According to the Wellesley College News, students there were contemplating the complete dissolution of societies as early as 1909 (Wellesley College News, November 24, 1909). Sororities at Newcomb abounded with the move to the new Broadway campus. The Hullabaloo, Tulane's weekly newspaper, covered the goings-on of Greeks on campus extensively. In one news brief, the Hullabaloo reported on a meeting of all Newcomb sororities to discuss the "accusation" that they were damaging "the school spirit of Newcomb". The Newcomb Arcade was wary of sororities and their implications. It was obvious student opinion favored societies; once when The Newcomb Arcade published a letter from a student discouraging sororities, it had to publish another one in the next issue that chastised the magazine for the act (see December 1931: 24 and June 1932: 164).
Article on sororities in The Tulane Hullabaloo
It seems that sorority life may have emerged as a "corrective" for the "dangers" of student life as society viewed them. Sororities proved Newcomb students were as active in the social scene as they were interested in getting an education.
Newcomb College Center for Research on Women @ Tulane University New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5238 firstname.lastname@example.org