Our Student Government System
by Meredith Minter, class of 1984
R-M's Student Government is often maligned. Students, unaware of its work in campus organization, look on it mostly as a source of decidedly inconvenient hall meetings. Nevertheless, they would probably find it hard to imagine the campus without it.
Yet SG did not spontaneously arise at the school's founding. Its methods of organizing itself have altered drastically over the years. In the beginning, Miss Celestia S. Parrish ran the dorm. She was responsible for enforcing curfew, set campus limits, and on more than one occasion escorted absent students triumphantly to chapel or to class. In addition, she informally patrolled the halls, making sure that students' study lamps were placed at the proper angle for health.
These duties, already onerous, grew impossible as the College expanded. By 1900, enrollment had jumped from 78 to 255, and matters were getting out of hand. Then, to a discouraged faculty, Dr. Smith put forward the concept of Student Government.
No sooner said, than done. Dr. Smith summoned the Class of 1900 (all six of them), three students from all the other classes, and three "special students"—that is, girls not working for a degree. This group, asked to promote self-government on campus, set to with a will. They were a miserable failure. Quite simply, they had no authority and very little student support.
Faced with this debacle, Dr. Smith took drastic action. The little group was empowered with absolute control over the social life of the school. That was all very well—but they were completely unprepared for such power. They did not even have committee officers!
Officers were hurriedly chosen, and in the next few years some stringent social rules were put forth. A system of Corridor Monitors and Head Monitors were established—three Corridor calldowns (that is, infractions) equaled one Head calldown; a student with three Head calldowns against her was tried for a social offense.
Lest this seem less taxing than today's rules, a few of the first regulations were as follows:
Students had to be on campus by dark, and were expected to study between 7:30 and 10:15. Lights-out was at 10:30; the lights had to stay out till five. Two nights a week, a student could study in the library till eleven; those who availed themselves of this, while allowed ten minutes' preparation for bed, were not allowed to turn on their room lights. At no time were lights above 40 watts allowed.
By 1936, only underclassmen had a curfew—juniors could burn lights till twelve, seniors could study all night if they liked. Only upperclassmen (juniors and seniors) could own radios or record players, and typing, while permissible to during the day, was illegal after 10:30 PM.
In these years, SG changed, too. Membership varied between forty-four and thirty, the majority being delegates elected at large by their classes. Seniors and juniors had grossly disproportionate representation: there were about five seniors for every freshman.
During World War II membership changed once more. The seats in Student Legislature became ex officio, with only a few members of each class specifically chosen as SG delegates. Rules relaxed, too—campus limits were extended to 10:30, anyone could have a radio. Lights-out was ended. In compensation, telephone regulations became more stringent—no one could phone another hall between 7:30 and 10:15.
Although the rules of the forties remained on the book till the mid-sixties, by the end of that time they were more honored in the breach than observance. Freed from their enforcement, SG officers became able to take on the many administrative responsibilities they have today. In 1975, membership rules were modernized to the present hall-delegate system.
Originally published in The Sundial on February 26, 1982 (Vol. 66, no. 18, p. 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.