Late Night and Weekend Programming for College Students
By Chelsey Art
Leading up to the 1950s, American colleges and universities experienced a period of growth and prosperity. Enrollment numbers were increasing rapidly, due in part to the return of the students who had left to serve in World War II as a result of the GI bill. Furthermore, the general acceptance of the idea that college was the reasonable next step for students who had completed high school increased. Thelin (2011) described colleges and universities as benefiting from “support marked by the ‘three P’s’ of prosperity, prestige, and popularity” (p. 260). This idea was prevalent in many aspects of campus life, from an increase in academic fields and research opportunities, to the boom of intercollegiate athletics, as well as the popularity of being involved in extracurricular clubs and organizations. Construction was a normal sight, as many schools were able to benefit from donations and fundraising campaigns to enhance their facilities, and students were provided many outlets to enjoy collegiate life, such as attending athletic events or living in the newly constructed residential halls. To summarize, this era has widely been described as a “golden age” for colleges and universities (Thelin, 2011).
Although the overall feel of American colleges and universities during this time period suggest that they were flourishing in many ways possible, there were undoubtedly plenty of issues prevalent for the majority of campuses, including the transition of most schools to the co-ed model, the desegregation and integration of minority students, and the growing participation in off-campus activities by students.
Colleges and universities were still wrestling with how to incorporate previously excluded student groups. Baylor had already successfully enrolled female students, though there were still several activities or aspects of student life that women were prohibited from participating in, namely team sports. History was made for racial groups when in 1954, the landmark case of Brown v. the Board of Education found the separation of black and white students within the public education system to be unconstitutional (1954). Campus administrators were tasked with finding new ways to incorporate different groups of students on their campuses, as well as providing quality experiences for all students.
Another challenge faced by some campus administrators, and the main focus of this paper, is the growing popularity of off-campus activities enjoyed by the students. Although many campuses still had strict control over their students’ activities on-campus, such as separated dorms and designated zones for cross-gendered interaction, what the students did off-campus was largely inaccessible to campus authority. Traditional college-aged students during this era were largely 18-22 year-olds, and were described as being preoccupied with finding their future wives or husbands (Thelin, 2011). To do this, students frequently went on group dates to nearby restaurants and hangout spots. Thelin (2011) goes so far as to refer to this culture as the “Joe College” and “Betty Co-ed” structure, denoting the idea that students came to college, in part, to find their college sweethearts.
In addition, students across the country were characterized as being more open about their activities outside of the classroom, such as engaging in sexual activity or excessive drinking and swearing. This presented a unique power struggle between campus faculty and staff, who wanted to have some influence or control over the activities students partook in, and students who were interested in participating in events that typically involved alcohol or sexual behavior. Throughout the rest of my paper, I will take a deeper look into the ways that staff at Baylor University tried to adapt and counter these off-campus activities. Staff members, particularly those who worked in the Student Union Building, introduced additional late-night and weekend programming, as well as all-university events, in order to provide multiple options to students looking for something to do on campus.
To be a student at Baylor University in the 1950s meant enjoying several campus traditions such as May Day—which is now known as Diadeloso—a day off from classes to enjoy the spring weather and partake in campus-wide community, fun, and games; Homecoming, a time for alumni and students to come together and celebrate being a Baylor Bear; and Corrigan Weekend, a weekend of role reversals in which ladies would take men on dates. Baylor Athletics was seeing all-around success in the brand new Baylor Stadium (later renamed Floyd Casey), on the court with the basketball team, and in the dugouts for baseball. Campus building projects were not in short supply, with the addition of several new buildings such as Penland Residence Hall, Tidwell Bible Building, and the Armstrong-Browning Library (Baylor Lariat, 1953, June 26, p. 1). Students were able to participate in clubs and organizations ranging from academic clubs of almost any interest, social clubs such as the Atheneans or the infamous Noze Brothers, to the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, whose motto is “anything for Baylor” (Chamber of Commerce, 2016). Of course, academics were still an important focus for Baylor’s students; but as mentioned before, there were several “unsanctioned” events that also typified the collegiate experience during this time. For Lily Russell, Dean of the Student Union, these events included “less desirable social centers,” such as night-spots or hotels (Russell, 1954, Box 24, Folder 4).
Mrs. R. L. Mathis
Mrs. R. L. Mathis, Director of the Student Union, was one of the key individuals who worked hard to ensure that the university hosted events that students could attend in order to counter the argument that there was “nothing to do on campus” (Russell, 1954, Box 24, Folder 4). Students previously used this logic to explain their choice to attend other, less acceptable, activities off-campus and she was not going to let this stand. Within her role as Director of the Student Union, and in conjunction with Lily Russell, the Dean of the Student Union, she executed a variety of weekend and late-night programs, ranging from regularly showing films and and live musicians, to having a weekly “fun night” that included roller skating, billiards, and bowling. She also implemented many of our beloved campus traditions such as “All-University Sing,” “Pigskin Revue,” and “Coke Hour,” now known as “Dr. Pepper Hour” (Mathis, 1972).
It is rumored that Mrs. Mathis ran a tight ship during her time at Baylor, but it is clear that she saw immense value in the experiences that can be had on-campus throughout one’s collegiate tenure. Marie Mathis came from a modest background and dreamed of coming to Baylor, only to realize that she would have to attend a small college in her hometown due to her family’s finances (Mathis, 1972). Since that moment, she worked hard to be successful in whatever capacity she found herself in, whether it was as a wife, mother, or employee. She was renowned in her time with the Women’s Missionary Union, traveling all around the world to orphanages and churches, speaking to groups and serving alongside them. She brought that experience to Baylor, and made sure that she was working alongside the students when offering up new ideas and programs (Mathis, 1972).
Weekend and Late-Night Programming
The most notable source of Mrs. Mathis’ contributions at Baylor came through her commitment to providing alternative options for students through regular programming within the Student Union Building (SUB). This was the main hub of student life and activities during the 1950s, and Mrs. Mathis aimed to enhance the opportunities available in order to provide additional options for students looking for anything to do. The SUB opened its doors in 1947, and added the barber-shop, beauty parlor, and bowling alley in 1948 (Student Activities, 2016). These amenities, combined with activities such as skating in the Barfield Drawing Room, enjoying company with friends at the soda fountain, a weekly movie, and more, formed what was known as ‘Fun Night.’ This allowed students all sorts of opportunities to enjoy time on campus, depending on what interests them each week.
In Ms. Russell’s annual Report on the Student Union, she commented on the state of the weekend programming, saying:
“The regular ‘Fun Night’ on Saturday evening offers students a varied program from which to choose: roller skating, bowling, ping pong, table games of great variety, a motion picture (shown twice); and, out of doors when weather permits, intra-mural games and miniature golf. The outdoor activities at night are made possible by the recent lighting of the grounds.
The response of students to the Saturday evening program has been steadily increasing. At times we have had 600-800 in attendance. No student can now truthfully say that he can find nothing to do on the campus on Saturday night.” (Russell, 1954, Box 24, Folder 4)
The success of Ms. Russell and Mrs. Mathis’ Fun Night efforts supports the notion that students were open to participating in events that upheld the ideals and values of the university. Even if students were only attending events one night a week, that still contributed to a decrease in the amount of students who were engaged in activities off-campus that may or may not involve sex or alcohol.
Additions to Campus Traditions
Mrs. Mathis and Ms. Russell also worked hard to bring programs to campus that they thought the students would enjoy for years to come. Three programs that are a result of their work are All-University Sing, Pigskin Revue, and Coke Hour. All of these events were started during her time at Baylor, and continue to be a vital part of campus culture today.
All-University Sing was implemented in the spring of 1953 and began as a way to fill students’ time in the evenings and provide them with a fun social activity (Mathis, 1972). Mrs. Mathis originally got the idea from a similar production held at Southern Methodist University when she visited the year before. As she was watching their production, she noted that it would be something her students would enjoy—and, frankly, do a better job at (Mathis, 1985). Thus, she introduced the idea and modified it to best fit the Baylor campus. All-University Sing began as strictly a singing competition, in which groups that were performing were expected to sing three songs. Two of those songs were usually popular songs of the time period, and one of the songs was required to be from the list of twelve songs about Baylor University (Russell, Box 24). Groups were judged on their performance and presentation of the act. After the introduction of Mrs. Mathis’ next program, Pigskin Revue, the top acts from All-University Sing were invited to perform during Homecoming.
Pigskin Revue began in the fall of 1954, and was initially a talent show for Baylor students (Baylor Lariat, 1954, October 13, p. 1). A capella groups, soloists, comedians and more showcased their talent during the Homecoming festivities. It was not until 1958 when the top three acts from All-University Sing were included in the Pigskin Revue program (Baylor Lariat, 1958, October 22, p. 1). Mathis spoke to the fact that up to that point, there was not much to do during homecoming besides watch the parade and go to the game. Eventually, Pigskin Revue invited the top eleven acts, while today only the top eight acts are invited to perform, something that Mrs. Mathis thought would make Pigskin lose its appeal for being too unattainable (Mathis, 1984). However, that has not seemed to be the case, as All-University Sing is still a competitive event and it is still considered a great honor to be selected to perform in Pigskin Revue.
Another cherished tradition that was formalized as a result of Mrs. Mathis’ work some might know as Coke Hour, but it is better known today as Dr. Pepper Hour. It was known as Coke Hour until Baylor switched its official drink to the Waco original, Dr. Pepper. Held every Tuesday from 3:00-4:00pm, this is a time set aside for students, faculty, and staff alike to take a break from the stresses and worries of the day and relax and enjoy each other’s company over a delicious Dr. Pepper float. Mrs. Mathis, Ms. Russell and Dr. W. R. White, then the president of Baylor University, thought it was important for students to be able to interact with each other and with professors and staff members and have conversations outside of the traditional academic or professional bounds. Occasionally, certain groups act as “host” of Coke Hour, in which information about their club, organization, or event would be available. And, for those times when it was too cold to bear eating an ice cream float, there was no worry because Coke Hour would temporarily transform into Hot Chocolate Hour (White, 1959).
It was no secret to campus administrators and staff members that times were changing in terms of student life on college campuses across the country. Gone were the old rules of single sex campuses, little to no visiting hours with the opposite gender, and monitored free time. Instead, the era of social interaction, off-campus fraternizing, and sanctioned date weekends were more common. In order to adapt to the changing tide, student life staff needed to brainstorm for new opportunities for students to spend their time on campus. They were realistic in understanding that students’ participation on-campus would be the only way they could ensure appropriate choices were being made. Mrs. R. L. Mathis and Ms. Lily Russell were instrumental in developing these new programs for students on Baylor’s campus, leading out on several household traditions such as All-University Sing, Pigskin Revue, and Coke Hour; additionally, she was also responsible for the increase in late night and weekend programming within the Student Union Building. In assessing the effectiveness of these programs, success should be measured not on how many students showed up or if everything went according to plan, as traditionally would be the standard; instead, the presence of additional options for students who were not determined to leave campus, but still wanted to be able to partake in fun experiences would designate an automatic level of success. Even if one student enjoys a program on-campus when they would have gone out to the hotels or the dance clubs instead, something significant has been achieved.
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