Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I write historical mysteries. It tickles me to delve into the exotic past, especially if it gives the reader a glimpse of quaint and outmoded customs of distant times and remote places. So today I take you to the College of Saint Elizabeth in Convent, New Jersey in 1959. That this is my own past makes it no less strange and unbelievable in my eyes. Here are excerpts from actual instructions distributed to my Freshman class. Bracketed comments in italics are mine:


During this week you will be hearing a variety of instructions from a variety of sources. It has been suggested* that a listing of the more important regulations might prove beneficial. You are requested to read over the following items and ask for an explanation of any points which may not be clear. Keep this copy convenient for future reference.

{*The author of these rules, identity unknown, was certainly NOT associated with the English Department, where my mentor, Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor (who possessed two PhD's from Columbia University) ruled with an iron mind. She would never have tolerated the use of the passive voice throughout the document.}


Students may patronize all those luncheonettes, tea rooms, coffee shops, and drugstores which maintain proper standards. They may, however, patronize only those restaurants which are on the approved list. Violation of this rule is subject to judicial action by the Student Executive Board.


You are to preserve a neat appearance at all times and to observe the following specific instructions:

1. Either stockings or socks must be worn at all times.

2. Sneakers and sweatshirts are part of the gym uniform and are to be worn ONLY for gym activities. THEY ARE TO BE WORN AT NO OTHER TIME.

3. Slacks, dungarees, and shorts are forbidden as campus attire.


Students are expected to be courteous and respectful at all times. They will show this respect by rising immediately when a faculty member or other older person enters the room. It is taken for granted that students will greet members of the faculty when they meet. Exceptional courtesy is to be shown to visiting lecturers and to anyone who may at any time address you.


1. When a student arrives at a dance, she presents herself and her escort to the chaperones; when leaving she bids them good night.

2. Students do not leave the building in which the dance is held while the dance is in progress. This applies to escorts as well.

3. Students remain at the dance until it is over. All return promptly and directly to the residence hall at the same time.


1. The snack bar is not a place for study or wasting valuable time. For this reason no books are to be taken there, and you are to leave promptly after being served.

2. Playing cards is forbidden during class hours.


1. Students have the privilege of unlimited lights. Freshman, however, may visit other students between check-in and ten o'clock only with the permission of the proctor and between ten and eleven only with the permission of the sister on the floor. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO VISITING AFTER ELEVEN O'CLOCK ON ANY NIGHT PRECEDING A CLASS DAY.

The penalty for a violation of the above regulation is a one-week campus including signing in for twenty-one meals, and supervised study from 8:00 until 10:30 each night during the week in a place designated by the sister in charge of the residence hall.**

{**I myself was given "twenty-one meals" for getting caught visiting my friend Fran Maraziti and her roommates after lights out. It was worth it. She is still my dear friend, and I delight in her company whenever we are together. It was she who preserved the handout I excerpt here and sent it to me a few months ago.}

2. On Sundays and holydays students are to wear afternoon dresses or suits, stockings, and dress shoes. Sweaters and skirts, class jackets, socks, and "loafers” are not to be worn. This regulation is also to be followed on certain designated nights for supper.

3. When leaving campus by the train for the weekend, stockings, dress shoes, gloves and a hat are to be worn.***

{***It never occurred to me then, but now I look at this rule and picture droves of young women boarding the 5:26 to Hoboken wearing the required items, and nothing else.}

--Annamaria Alfieri

1 comment:

  1. Yes, and Cosmopolitan Magazine (before it was a sex rag) ran an article on what to buy to wear when you got to college. They were pleased and proud to bring the whole wardrobe in under $300. My mother nearly fainted; we didn't have $300 to spend on my clothes. Wish I had a copy of that now, it would be good for another laugh.