By the time you read this, the fall semester will be complete for 5,050 of the most academically accomplished class ever to enroll at UMass Amherst. Early in the semester they were roaming the footpaths in safe clusters as they looked for classrooms and discovered dining halls, making friends along the way. By winter break, they’ll be old pros, thanks to myriad websites, apps, tours, and gatherings to help them make the most out of college. The effort to make first year students feel welcome has a long history. The 1932-33 Freshman Handbook of the Massachusetts State College refers to several mandatory meetings of freshmen for “organized singing and cheering,” educational talks, and the non-compulsory wearing of the maroon and white beanie. The handbook is chockful of good advice, like:
First, don’t be discouraged if things do not seem to come your way; you are on your own now and you will have to go after what you want to get. Second: you are in college primarily to study: remember that extra-curricular activities, even though a large part of college life, should not take too much of your time. Third: uphold the standards of Mass State: fight hard but fair under all your competition, and support the honor system in all your scholastic work. Be friendly towards everyone on campus and observe especially the traditional custom of greeting fellow students with a familiar “Hi.” However, pick your real friends carefully. Above all, bear in mind that you will get out of college life only as much as you put into it.
The handbook came to us from Friend of the Libraries Paul Murphy ’73, who enjoys hunting for antique UMass memorabilia. Proffered by the Christian Association for every entering freshman, the sleek, leather-bound volume includes a campus map, a daily calendar, information about fraternity/sorority rushing, student government, clubs, campus history, and much more.
This particular handbook belonged to Clement R. Purcell and contains handwritten notes which offer some details about him: he hailed from Winchester, Mass., and on campus he lived in South College. By the signatures on his autographs page, it appears he had three good mates: Harold A. Midgley, Lewis C. Gillett (“Lew”), and Arthur Stuart (“Art” )(the only one with a record of graduation, in 1936, was Lew). According to the class schedule Purcell handwrote in blue ink, Thursday was his heaviest day, starting with Horticulture at 8 a.m., followed by English, Chemistry, Military, and then Physical Education, without a break, through to 4:15 p.m. In the daily calendar, Purcell recorded the scores of football games, perhaps those he attended. The two final games of the season (Coast Guard Academy and Tufts) are not noted; the last thing in Purcell’s hand is the word “vacation” penciled in the two days before Thanksgiving (which was then held on a Friday). Then—nothing. Purcell passed away in Winchester in 2002, at around the age of 90. The university has no record of him, either as a student who withdrew or an alumnus, which isn’t unusual. From the scant evidence, one could surmise that Purcell didn’t return after the Thanksgiving break. Perhaps, as for many students of the time, the Great Depression impacted his education.
The initial feeling of having the volume in one’s palm is that it is nearly the exact, size, shape, weight, and thickness of a cell phone. Like their smart device counterparts today, students carried these handy sources of information and inspiration, wherever they went. Another striking characteristic is its gender-ancient text — as in its very title. Most universities including UMass have replaced the gender-binary terms freshman and freshwoman with the inclusive “first-year student.” The handbook’s advice is all about developing the character of the university man despite the fact that women had been students at the College for more than three decades by the year this was printed.
Of note, too, are the references to spirituality and difference. The Student Health Service advised freshman to “practice equanimity and optimism.” While the publication was put out by the Christian Association, it describes opportunities for all sorts of religious life in Amherst, and shares the Association’s ultimate tenet: “That love as taught and practiced is the true basis of personal attainment and of desirable group relationships, and is the effective power for overcoming evil and transforming human life.” While modes of messenging have evolved from paper to digital, character is still a goal of education at UMass Amherst. The freshmen of the Class of 1936 were encouraged “to stand for tolerance versus intolerance, to stand for service rather than selfishness.” The Class of 2022 first-year students were welcomed by messages across campus proclaiming UMass’s commitment to “Building a Community of Dignity and Respect.” The tag line “honor differences, see the humanity in everyone” is as relevant to our mission today as it was 86 years ago.
Directory of Development and Communication
UMass Amherst Libraries