“Much and Nothing”: Notes from the Normal School #8, February

A 9:15 bedtime? Check out these stats of a student survey from 1880!

By Nicole O’Connell

Nicole looks into history right here at Worcester State. She deciphers old class diaries to explore the lives of students from the early days of Worcester State, back when it was known as the Worcester Normal School. “Much and Nothing” refers to how one diarist summed up a day’s happenings in 1877 and, more aptly, a multitude of days.

The class diaries are part of the Apprenticeship Materials in the WSU Archives.  

What was student-life like back around the turn of the nineteenth century? I often try to pick out the most intriguing entries, but there is also a lot of the mundane. While these entries are not always the most electrifying, they have their own points about history to make. Coming across a wild and unexpected anecdote in the entries is thrilling, but the ordinary things are also nice to know. It helps us understand who the writers were every day, not just in isolated and extraordinary instances.

The start of the 1880 diary brings us some simple, yet informative facts from the results of a survey answered by the students.

  • The average hours of study per day was reported at 2.3 hours.

Classes at the Normal School seemed more high school-esque; students mostly took the same courses with the same instructors and had the same assignments. But, at WSU there can be so much more variation with the amounts of credits and it would be difficult to compare data about average hours of study.

  • The latest average bedtime was 10:15, the earliest average was 8:50, and the total average was 9:15.

These times would certainly shift a bit (or a lot!) later if the survey was given today. Many students wouldn’t consider 10:15 to be late at all and for them, an 8:50 bedtime would be reserved for grandparents and morning news announcers who wake at such unearthly hours. However, there may be some students reading this who are quite happy to see the representation of early bedtimes in the history of Worcester State.

  • 26% of students considered themselves primarily coffee-drinkers while 19% considered themselves to be primarily tea-drinkers. 11% enjoyed both tea and coffee while 53% enjoyed neither tea nor coffee.

The beverage question would certainly be one that could be recreated on our campus and it’s probably the easiest one to visually estimate. This data makes me wonder what the coffee-culture was like back then. I doubt the students of the Normal School were showing up late to class with a caramel latte, but if this was an important enough question to ask on the survey, coffee and tea must have been of some significance to them.

Some days later, after this initial data had been inscribed into the entries, more survey results had been collected. This time, it was on the subject of subjects.

  • It was determined that the “most-exacting studies” were drawing and history, while the “least-exacting studies” were algebra and music.

As I wouldn’t like to start any animosity between the departments at WSU, I am going to leave any speculations up to the readers on this question. However, there was also an earlier recorded attack on the subject of history by the students of the Normal School.

In 1876 it was written, “some of the girls were heard to say, that if they were expected to study harder in Grecian and Roman History than they had on French and English, life had no longer any attraction for them.”

A dash of the dramatic. But I truly wonder how these students would feel as they are now a part of history that is being studied.

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