“Sort of Off Campus”

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The dorm was a little overwhelming, but there was an alternative called “off campus.” This really wasn’t today’s meaning of the word, but rather housing that was outside the quadrangle of the big dorms. It was a privilege, and available only by seniority. Fortunately I had friends a year ahead of me who needed a fourth to apply. So I signed on with them and we were able to get two large rooms at 12 Walker Street called Coggeshall(another old Boston name.) I shared the corner room on the second floor left front of this photo.

We could still take our meals at Cabot, which was handy for dinner, only a block and a half away. However, there was a very large kitchen with an industrial sized refrigerator which we could use to store food. So I usually had a light breakfast here. I had learned about bagels and cream cheese for the first time, and I loved a toasted one in the morning.

i lived at 12 Walker for the remaining three years of college. Junior and senior years I had a single room which was the bay window on the second floor. Literally, it was the hall and bay window with a door to close it off. My bed was in the bay window and I always loved the snug feeling, rather like being in a boat’s cabin.

The bathrooms were large and individual with the original deep claw foot tubs, great for long soaks. We were able to have individual phones, and there was no “bells” work. The place was very homelike, and I actually had a couple of dinner parties, cooking veal Parmesan that I had learned from those wonderful “kitchen ladies.” “Sort of off campus” was a perfect life for me.

“Home Cooking, Italian Style”

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Before the large college catering companies like Sage took over, individual dorms had their own kitchens and cooks. Cabot Hall had a wonderful crew of kitchen workers who prepared lunch six days a week and dinner six days a week. On Sunday we had a formal dinner at 1pm and an assortment of cheese and fruit for supper. Our kitchen also served the dorm next door, so they fed about 180 girls a day.

I had grown up on a very bland, unvaried diet. We had frozen vegetables, considered a true step up from the canned vegetables of our parents. We had hamburgers, meat loaf, fish sticks, macaroni and cheese and roast chicken, in a seemingly endless rotation. No one I knew ate much differently. But the cooks at Cabot were local and cooked food with which they were familiar, and they introduced me to manicotti, lasagna, veal Parmesan, fish on Friday, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I often asked the cook what the food was, much to her amusement.

On Sundays, dinner was a formal sit down meal, unlike the steam tables of other days. Different girls took turns serving, and everyone was expected to be on time. In fact, if one was late, it was necessary to apologize to the dorm parents. I often rushed to get back from church in Boston to avoid that embarrassing routine.

I have always been grateful to those warm Cabot “kitchen ladies”who truly served every meal with love and care. And I only gained the “freshman five,” not ten!

“Bells, Bells, Bells, Bells”

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It’s hard to tell in this photo of the back of Cabot Hall, but it was covered with ivy, hence the name Ivy League(really I don’t know if that is the origin of the name!) Living in the dorm meant getting acquainted with 100 girls, dorm parents, and many specific rules and routines.

One practice that everyone had assigned to them was sitting on the “bells desk.” These shifts lasted three hours, usually a couple of times a month. You sat at a desk in the lobby and greeted anyone who came into the dorm. Girls were allowed to go upstairs at any time to visit with friends. Boys, however, were a whole other story. Boys were only allowed upstairs for 3 hours on Sunday afternoon. Otherwise, they had to announce their presence to the person on “bells.”

The desk person then rang the hall phone on the floor of the girl being visited and told whoever answered that someone had a “gentleman caller.” Yep, we actually had to say it that way. We also had the unpleasant assignment of letting a boy know that a girl was out. Bells also sorted the mail, answered the phone and took messages for girls that were out.

The building was locked at 11 on weekdays and 2 on weekends. If you were later than that getting back, you were out of luck. It was amusing on some evenings to see huddled pairs of students getting in their last few minutes of “conversation” before the building was locked.

As for those three hours on Sunday afternoon, alone in your room with a boy,  you were required to have three out of the four feet in question on the floor at any time. That rule continues to baffle and amuse me.

“The Cabots Speak Only to God”

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View From My Room In Cabot Hall

When I got my dorm assignment for my first year of Radcliffe College(now totally part of Harvard, then separate housing), it was for Cabot Hall. My grandfather, ever the wit, promptly told me a little ditty:

“Here’s to the town of Boston, The land of the bean and the cod, Where the Lowells speak only to Cabots, And the Cabots speak only to God.” He was quite amused that he finally had an audience for that poem. It took me a while to realize that it refers to the deep snobbery of the Boston elite.

I had a double room on the corner of the 4th floor. My roommate and I shared a bunk bed and a closet. We each had a dresser, a desk and a chair. We needed pole lamps, since there was no room for a floor lamp. The dorm had been built for single rooms, but had been changed into doubles, hence the bunk bed. The two sets of windows on the corner made positioning the bed challenging. We moved it around from time to time anyway.

The bathroom was down the hall with four stalls and three little rooms with bathtubs. I had shared bathrooms and bedrooms for most of my life, so it wasn’t too hard of an adjustment. However, some of my classmates were extremely wealthy, and I imagine it was a major step down for them.

Many aspects of dorm living were new for me, and I will post more about it. Suffice it to say that my first jolt came as I was moving in and heard a girl yell,”F____k” at the top of her lungs. I had never heard a girl use that word, and I knew I wasn’t in Oregon any more.