A Day in the Life of a Wesleyan College Student

Towers and a verandah added in 1881 turned Wesleyan into a Victorian structure. The Philomathean Hall was on the top floor to the left of the clock tower.

A glance at the daily schedule  of students attending Wesleyan Female College, as described by President George F. Pierce in 1840, will attest to the serious nature of their educational program:

“At sunrise of each day, the young ladies who board in the College Building are summoned, by the ringing of the bell, to meet in the Chapel, for family prayer – conducted by the President. The attendance is regular and punctual. From this service they study till breakfast, and then have recreation in Autumn and Winter, till 9, and in Spring and Summer till 8 o’clock, when the bell rings again, that all the pupils in both departments may assemble for morning prayer. Then Recitations till 11, two hours to each class – then study till 12 – the boarders in their rooms and the day scholars in the Chapel, under the supervision of the Officers alternately. From 12 till 2 o’clock dinner and recreation, and then study in the aforementioned order till 4, when all the classes recite again. At 5 P.M. prayer and dismission. Supper and recreation till 7, then study till 9, and afterward retire to sleep at will.”

The young ladies who were boarders paid less than $200 for all costs of going to college for a year. Tuition was $50, board $10 a month. Washing added $2 per month, heavy furniture (if supplied by the College) another $5 per year. There was a charge of $5 for fuel, per winter, and lights cost $6 to $9. Day students paid the $50 tuition, a matriculation fee of $3, and fees of $3 for fuel and $2 for repairs.

The diploma fee was $3, and the students needed from $8 to $16 for books and stationery for the year. They were not allowed to open store accounts in the city. “Whatever they need will be purchased for them by some member of the Faculty or by the ladies of the Officers, for the cash, or according to specific written instructions of the Parents or Guardians,” the 1851 Wesleyan catalog specified. They were asked to refrain from wearing “merely ornamental or expensive dress.”

The food was generally simple fare, with treats such as ice cream reserved for special occasions. Appetites of young ladies in their teens were insatiable, however, and there was unrestrained excitement when a box containing food arrived from home. There were many midnight feasts, after hours, by candlelight, strictly against rules. The boarders even concocted their own recipes for such things as cocoa heated over the gas jet, or satisfied their late-night cravings with crackers, sugar and other foods spirited from the dining hall in a pocket or napkin.

Their courses included “natural philosophy, mental and moral philosophy, astronomy, botany as connected with chemistry, physiology and geology, history, ancient and modern languages,” according to James Monroe Taylor’s Before Vassar Opened.

A continuing chore was the writing of compositions. Booklet after booklet was filled with writings in the finest examples of flowing penmanship, on subjects from Greek mythology to Shakespeare, religion and issues of morality.

As its reputation for an unexcelled education spread, Wesleyan attracted students from all parts of the country. A large percent were from Georgia and other southern states, of course, but many came long distances over difficult roads or by rail from the North and West, and some even came from the Orient.

During the War Between the States, Wesleyan continued in operation. The building became a home for many refugees of the conflict. Students found it difficult – sometimes impossible – to travel to their homes because battles raged across the South. The young students watched apprehensively from inside the building as blue-uniformed Federal troops occupying Macon gathered in front of the Wesleyan walls. To everyone’s relief, the troops gave a band concert for the students.

Strict Rules for Students
After the Civil War, when Wesleyan received a new bell for its tower on the main building (the original bell had been donated to the war effort), it became a favorite prank of the girls to climb to the Conservatory tower and ring the bell – an act strictly against the rules.

It was only one of many rules. The youthful age of the students and the attitude toward proper behavior in those 19th century days combined to produce a plethora of rules regulating the daily conduct of the students. (One Philomathean recalled that “they didn’t even let the girls look out the windows at the boys. They kept the blinds closed across the front of the building all the time.”) Of course, in every walk of life, woman’s sphere was much restricted in that period of history.

A copy of the rules issued in the mid 1860s is headed, “By signing their names in the Matriculation Book, the Young Ladies pledge themselves to observe the “RULES of the WESLEYAN FEMALE COLLEGE.” Among the rules were stipulations that “noise of every kind, collections of pupils in the Chapel . . . and all conduct opposed to quiet and good order are strictly prohibited.” They were required to “make up their beds, and sweep, and arrange their rooms when they first rise; and they must keep them neatly through the day.” Frequently abused was the rule prohibiting “going
out upon the cupola or roof.”

Thirty years later the rules had relaxed precious little. Visiting with outsiders – limited, no doubt, to discourage distraction from study and contact with the opposite sex – was by then possible but carried many restrictions. The 1893 Wesleyan College Catalog defines the extent of visitation possible:

“Under proper restrictions, boarding pupils are allowed to receive lady visitors from the city, and near relatives; provided they call at such hours as do not conflict with College duties. “They may also occasionally visit friends in the city when parents make special application in writing to the President. “Monthly musical soirees, and entertainments by the Literary Societies to which select parties are invited, afford as many social advantages, outside of the College family, as are profitable to young ladies at school.”

In this setting the Philomathean Society was founded.

Source: Lamb, Annadell. C. The History of Phi Mu: The First 150 Years. The Grace Group, 2002. Print