In the mid-seventies, the Skidmore News began a long and illustrious tradition of publishing “fake” April Fools editions*. The first one, April 1, 1975 was printed almost completely backwards & upside-down. The April 1, 1980 edition featured a front page story on how then college President Palamountain was briefly held hostage by students in a triple in Wilmarth. This same issue also has a Star Trek/Rocky Horror quiz and an ad for something called a “Lung Brush” for smokers to scrub out their lungs (comes with a one year supply of Lung Paste!). Tuition cuts seem to be a popular theme for fake news articles, like in the April 1, 1982 issue. Interested in reading about an epidemic of hoof-and-mouth disease on campus? Check out April 1, 2001. The April 2, 2004 edition boasts of a successful “Student Sobriety Campaign” that purportedly propelled Skidmore to first place in Princeton Review’s “stone-cold sober schools” and “don’t inhale” categories.
In 1981, Joanna Zangrando, a member of Skidmore’s American Studies Department from 1976 to 2007, began a student project to document the history of Skidmore College. Recorded interviews were conducted throughout the 1980s with a large cross-section of the college community participating, including alumnae from each of the previous decades, retired and current faculty, staff and administrators, as well as the former chair of the Board of Trustees. The resultant recordings explore of a variety of experiences and include subjects pertinent to each time period in the college’s history, from its early days as the Skidmore School of Arts through its transition to a co-educational institution in the early 1970s.
Some highlights: Gladys Munro Icke (class of 1919), speaks engagingly about student life at Skidmore, including the effects that both the First World War and the 1918 flu pandemic had on her experience; Mary Elizabeth Larsen, personal secretary to Lucy Scribner (1920-1931), shares memories of the college’s founder and of the college’s early days; Ella Van Dyke Tuthill (class of 1932), who lived through the 1929 stock market crash and subsequent Depression during her time at Skidmore, has fond remembrances of the downtown campus and the college’s second president, Henry T. Moore (“Prexy”); David Marcell, American Studies professor and Vice President of Academic Affairs (1964-1991), recalls the student strike of 1970, and the prevailing mood on campus during the Vietnam era; Lynne Gelber, professor of French (1966-2002), speaks at length about the factors that led Skidmore to become a co-educational institution; Peter Sipperly, Associate Dean of Student Affairs (1972-1979), discusses in detail the Wilmarth fire of 1976, which claimed the life of one student, and the spirit of community that arose from the tragedy.
Housed in the Department of Special Collections in the Lucy Scribner Library and originally recorded on cassette tape, most of the interviews and transcripts are now available digitally via the library’s Digital Collections initiative, which is an ongoing effort to make the history of the college accessible to a wide audience. The digitized portion of the collection represents 26 individual interviews and includes more than 18 hours of audio, along with over 500 pages of transcripts.
Credits: [Mary Elizabeth Larsen and Lucy Scribner on the Porch at Scribner House], Department of Special Collections, Lucy Scribner Library (top); Ella Van Dyke Tuthill, Eromdiks, 1932, p.90 (middle); “Skidmore News,” April 1, 1971, front page (bottom).
Winter Carnival began in 1919 as a second semester, early February athletic celebration of the season. Faculty competed against students in an array of races at Congress Park: skiing, snow shoeing, three-legged run, relay and an obstacle race. The event quickly grew to incorporate costumed theatrical activities with a winter theme including skits, dancing, singing, figure skating demonstrations and the annual faculty play along with food vendors. February 1923’s finale featured the entire winter carnival chorus singing “Snowballs” and, “in the final chorus, snow balls were thrown to the audience and each spectator was very surprised to find that the imitation cotton snow balls contained a candy kiss.”
The athletic offerings also grew to incorporate hockey, downhill skiing events, speed skating and other sports. Non-competitive group skating, skiing and tobaganning were hugely popular for all students. As Saratoga had far less cars at the time, students and visitors happily skied endlessly all over town and into the surrounding woods that ringed the town during the weekend. Skidmore equestrians took their horses skijoring through town and trails as well.
By 1928, a Winter Carnival Queen was being selected, and this quickly but briefly morphed into a double prize for the Royal Monarchs where both Queen and King were female. Prizes were awarded at the athletic events and at interclass competitions for the best stunts, some of which were surprisingly inventive. In 1930, for example, the sophomore class “presented a troup of trained cats and dogs which were very clever.” A formal dance became part of the carnival and in later years, became the major focus of the weekend.
Winter Carnival was wildly successful and soon grew to become a three day destination event. Colleges such as Dartmouth, Princeton, Cornell, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Barnard, University of Rochester, RPI, Colgate, Syracuse and more sent both male and female athletes to compete in the now serious athletic events. Male dates from these colleges were also drawn to town for the fun. By the late 1930’s, the crowned Queen was female and the King was male. Local restaurants and inns were caught up in the Winter Carnival fever and wooed students and their dates in for special romantic fireside dinners and hearty breakfasts throughout the three day festival. Winter Festival had become not only the social highlight of Skidmore’s academic year but one of the most important annual events in Saratoga and a weekend many other colleges’ students looked forward to all year.
The ice sculpture contest, which developed in the 1920’s, pitted classes and sometimes dorms against each other and remains one of the most memorable features of the Winter Carnival to alumni and local townspeople alike. Winners received the coveted Snow-Girl trophy, created by Skidmore art professor Robert Davidson , for a year. As befitting a school with a heavy arts influence, many of the sculptures were artistically impressive, occasionally sexually suggestive and – in later years – some paid a nod to contemporary drug culture.
Winter Carnival thrived and enjoyed a lengthy hey dey all the way through the 1950’s. But many changes arrived beginning in the middle of the 1960’s that spelled the end of Winter Carnival as a major northeastern college festival. Saratoga itself was more built up and with more cars on the scene, widespread casual skiing around town became a thing of the past along with many of the wooded trails that had bordered the town. As college athletics grew more specialized and competitive, Skidmore’s physical facilities for winter athletic competition could not keep up. And finally, cultural changes arriving with 1960’s youth culture and Skidmore going coed evaporated student interest in formal college dances and Winter Carnival as a highlight of the student dating calendar. Although variations of Winter Carnival have continued at Skidmore in various minor iterations on and off since then, the celebrated Winter Carnival of the first half of the twentieth century was no more.
The Lucy Scribner Library’s collection of 16th – 18th century land grants (documents granting property to individuals or groups) have been digitized and posted online. The original documents, donated by Professor Emeritus Patricia-Ann Lee, are housed in the library’s Special Collections and Archives. The documents are written on both parchment and rag paper and vary in size from 10 to 144 centimeters wide. Anyone can log in to this site (after creating an account) and transcribe these documents. If you have trouble creating an account, or have questions about this project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Did you know that the land upon which Skidmore College now sits can be traced back to the Kayaderosseras Patent, a land grant signed by Anne, Queen of Great Britain in 1708? Ownership of the land was disputed until the late 1760s, when a negotiated settlement was finalized. In the 1770s, the land was surveyed and subdivided, at which time a portion was purchased by Jacob Walton from the heirs of Rip Van Dam. Walton’s son, Henry, inherited the property in 1816, and, subsequently, built an estate he named “Woodlawn.” In 1879 Judge Henry Hilton bought Woodlawn from Henry Walton’s heirs and rechristened the property “Woodlawn Park.” Hilton upgraded the property, adding 25 miles of roadway for carriages, a mansion, stables, lakes and an athletic field. After Hilton’s death in 1899, the property fell into decline and was sold as eight parcels at public auction in 1916.
In 1960, the land was purchased and donated to the college by Mr. and Mrs. J. Erik Jonsson of Dallas, TX. Jonsson, a co-founder of Texas Instruments and subsequent mayor of Dallas, was a trustee of the college at the time of the gift. In addition, the Jonsson’s daughter Margaret had attended Skidmore College for two years as a member of the class of 1960. During their 1961 fall meeting, the Skidmore College Trustees authorized the college to proceed with building a new campus on the Woodlawn site. “This action by the Trustees means more than just new buildings on a new site,” emphasized President Val H. Wilson. “It signals the beginning of an era for Skidmore that will open the way to enrichment of college academic offerings and achievements.”
Construction began in November, 1963 and the New Campus, as it was then known, officially opened on January 2, 1966, when the first 528 students moved into four new residence halls: Kimball, Penfield, McClellan and Wilmarth. Construction kept apace, as the Lucy Scribner Library opened in the summer of 1966, the Therese W. Filene Music Building in 1967 and the Dana Science Center and Bolton Hall in 1968. In 1980, the site was named officially the Jonsson Campus.
The Department of Special Collections in the Lucy Scribner Library holds many collections related to the history of Skidmore College. Some of these materials and collections are now accessible digitally via the library’s Digital Collections, including all the images and information which were used to construct this brief post.
Credits: Eromdiks, 1964, p.68 (top); Absolute Trustees’ Sale, 1916 (middle); “Skidmore News,” October 12, 1967, front page (bottom).
Artists’ Books are part of the Rare Books Collection in Special Collections. It is a growing collection of limited edition books – sometimes one-of-a-kind – that are, in themselves, works of art. The collection represents the work of artists from North America and around the world, each piece personally selected by the Special Collections Librarian and Curator. Selected works are photographed (with permission of the artist) by David Seiler, Visual Resources and Digitization Director, and are part of Scribner Library’s Digital Collections.
Maureen Cummins is a book artist who lives and works in New York State. She graduated with a BFA from the Cooper Union School of Art, and has her own print shop/studio in Brooklyn. Her website states that she has produced over twenty-five limited edition artists’ books, twenty-one of which Skidmore owns. On the eve of All Hallows’ Eve, and in the spirit of the season, two of her works are featured here: “Ghost Diary” and “A Twentieth Century Version of Poe’s Classic Tale: The Masque of the Red Death.”
Ghost Diary was inspired by a handwritten letter, written by Colonel Jonathon Rhea in 1807 to his children on the anniversary of their mother’s death. Five images accompany the text, and are original glass negatives dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The haunting, ethereal nature of this artist’s book has been elegantly captured in the digital images. To learn more about this work, visit the artist’s website .
A Twentieth Century Version of Poe’s Classic Tale: The Masque of the Red Death is just as the title describes. There are six chapters or sections of woodblock images, with the final image in each section in red and black. A page of text acts as a postscript to each section, as if narrated by Death itself. The ‘story’ is set in seventeenth century London, but the images depict cityscapes and interior landscapes of modern-day New York. The woodcuts are beautifully ‘brutal’, and evoke an atmosphere of violent destruction and ultimate despair. But, is the final “Guardian Life” image hopeful? What do you think?
Skidmore College’s Special Collections & Archives holds a number of ancient Greek and Latin literature texts, 26 of which, dating from 1489 to 1875, have recently been photographed. From Homer to Saint Augustine, the authors represented span over 1000 years of literary output and hail from regions and intellectual perspectives across the ancient Mediterranean world. Some of the works were printed within the first 50 years of Gutenberg’s invention; others reflect the development of publishing and printing during the Renaissance and beyond.
Anna Hocker ‘17, a double major in Classics and History, is currently constructing a website dedicated to these texts. In addition to the photographs and metadata provided by the library, the website will provide synopses of the authors’ lives and literary productivity, and as well details about the publishers and printers. The latter will comprise A Concise History of Publishing and Printing, which will explain the progress of printing from the late 15th to the late 19th centuries. This portion of the website will outline the technological history of the printing press, as well as examine the role of classical texts during the Renaissance and how humanists used the voices of antiquity to teach their students not only Latin and Greek language and literature, but also the histories of these ancient cultures.
A descendant of former presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Elizabeth Fisher Adams graduated from Skidmore in 1929 as an English major. Her fierce anti-isolationist views led her to leave a safe career as an English teacher to become an ambulance driver in France during World War II, two years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The collection consists of, among other things, photographs and letters to her family, some of which eloquently describe the dark cloud of uncertainty hovering over a country on the brink of war. Take a look at “Midnight Thoughts” written in Paris on March 18, 1940, just weeks before the Germans invaded France. “At the Front,” written from the Belgian Front on May 14, 1940, describes what it was like to actually be right in the thick of it, bombs dropping and gunfire blaring. Elizabeth had a unique perspective as an American woman, a volunteer, far away from home and family. It’s clear that she cared deeply for all the people affected. Her letters are passionate, sometimes beautiful, and sometimes funny. She went on to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and later, after the war, went back to France to help that country rebuild.