by Meredith Minter, class of 1984
There's not much to say about Helis, or so it seems. They appear each fall, like Capistrano swallows, feathered with photos and captions. Few sentences stripe their plumage. History is viewed, not read.
This is a change, and a great one. The early Helis were mainly literary. Their predecessor, Maconiana, printed in 1899, had 200 pages; twenty of them bore photos. Ten years later, photos graced one page in six. By 1919, there were nearly as many pictures—and as few articles—as there are today.
What changed the Heli? Two things. First, it ran into competition. The Tattler, a popular literary magazine, was founded in 1904. The Sun Dial (as it then spelled itself) premiered in 1915. As these publications printed articles and stories, it became less important—and less easy—for the Heli to do so. So the stories were dropped, and photos went in their place. Editors abhor a vacuum.
Something else happened too, but it can't be dated so readily. R-M's first students were proud. They were proving that they could learn what men could. They were, at first, thirty-six girls (the number quickly rose) who felt themselves a close and special group. They dwelt at great length on even their most trivial doings, sure that the world would be interested.
Naturally, this feeling soon faded. The size of the school guaranteed its disappearance. Five hundred girls have a hard time feeling like a clique. Editors took the attitude, "If students were there, all they need is a picture. If they weren't, they won't care." Of course, they were wrong.
For the early Helis are fun to read. Once heard, the cheer of '03 is unforgettable: "I-I-I! Me-Me-Me! Ego! Ego! Nineteen-Three!" There are senior superlatives and class averages. There is a Class Census for 1901, revealing, among other things, the nicknames, favorite occupations (e.g. Yawning) and marriage prospects of the senior class. Tubby, professorial rabbits point to chalkboards. A sketch of cats on a back fence adorns the Glee Club's page.
Whimsy can be found everywhere. In their class history, the Tribe of Twelve records, "The kingdom of the Randolph-Maconites was a land flowing with tomato soup and stewed apricots...." "I would be a senior, and NEVER DO A THING!"" a poet concludes triumphantly. There are jokes, "grinds" (i.e., quotes applicable to various students) and characteristic phrases of faculty. There is even what purports to be a description of the meeting of a secret society. It follows:
"On Tuesday night, February the fifth, the miserable Delta Mus...sorrowfully assembled in their gloomy chapter room. Here they tearfully whiled away a few moments in funereal discourse....The [room] was exquisitely decorated in the fraternity [sic] colors, black and black. At parting, the assembly was dissolved in tears."
In short, cheerful or not, the Heli and its editors produced a world in which others could share; described events of their lives which should happen to everyone. It's fun to read about "social evenings," where a hundred girls came for every three men. Or to join the Seniors on a "Nutting Party"—which included a trip to "the small town of Boonsboro." Be glad such things happened. They won't—again.
Originally published in The Sundial on September 25, 1981 (Vol. 66, no. 3?)
This article is taken from "The Past Master," a column written by Meredith Minter Dixon, class of 1984, for the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College student newspaper, The Sundial. It is published here with her permission.
Mrs. Dixon has written an invaluable multi-volume set, Maconiana: A Social History of Randolph-Macon Woman's College. For additional information, please visit her author's page on Amazon.
Please contact Mrs. Dixon (dixonm at pobox dot com) if you have comments or questions about her articles.