College Dorm Life 110 Years Ago

By | February 19, 2017

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It’s hard to imagine what college dorm life was like in the early 1900’s. How did people learn before the internet? Was there even electricity or indoor plumbing? While a lot of things have obviously changed, college dorm life has been quite consistent over the years.

So, what has changed?

• College dorms definitely felt homely a century ago, especially within the female quarters (yes, there were female college students at the time). Many students decorated a portion of their rooms with porcelain tea sets – which they actually used – and flooded the walls with framed pictures of their loved ones. They lined their windows with frilly curtains which were complemented by patterned wall paper. Today, pictures of loved ones are more likely displayed on the wallpapers of students’ electronic devices.

• Furniture designs in dorm rooms have definitely changed. The designs have moved from those metal-frame beds that were common in barracks in the early 1900’s, to sturdier beds with wood finishes. Chair designs have also changed. A century ago, wooden lath chairs were common within dorm rooms. Today, ergonomic chairs are the more popular (and healthier) option for college dorms.

• There were bookshelves. Okay, were not saying that dorm rooms today don’t have book shelves. Perhaps some rooms still do, but they’re probably used to store ramen noodles instead of books. In the age of e-books and online lecture notes, there is just no longer a need for 6-tiered book shelves with the capacity to hold textbooks for every course, and endless volumes of encyclopaedias and dictionaries.

• They made provisions for families. In the early 1900’s many students were already married with young children by the time they went to college. Colleges made provisions for this. Family friendly student housing continued well into the 1960’s. Also, men and women were housed in separate buildings – co-ed dorms were unthinkable at the time.

What has stayed the same?

• College pride. Whether you’re in 1905 or in 2017, your dorm room will probably be flooded with university-branded pennants, flags, or pillows that ooze your dedication to your alma mater.

• Pin-up ladies in male dorm-rooms. They say that boys will be boys, and this seems to be the case for the preferred decorations in male dorm rooms. In 1912, the pinups in male dorm rooms were of women in bonnets, chokers, corsets and dresses flared at the waist. Some even dared to show off their collar bone! Today, if males have pinups, the models may be in bikinis, or completely naked. Most college males have probably resorted to either watching erotic videos online, or just having their girlfriends come over.

• There was always a place to study (as expected). Whether you had to share a desk with your 4 other roommates in 1905, or if you had one for yourself, every dorm room had provisions for studying.

• The rooms were tiny. Over the span of 100 years, the size of college dorm rooms have more likely shrunk than expanded. Furniture was always masterfully stuffed into the room so that you had just enough space to sleep, study, store some personal items, and walk to your door. Many students got creative and re-arranged the rooms to suit their preferences.

• Beds were used for everything. One thing that has definitely stayed the same about college dorm life is that friends would come to each other’s rooms and flop on the bed to talk, laugh, eat, sleep, or study. It didn’t matter the occasion or the century, beds played a role when college students showed off their shiny new record players, chugged alcohol, ate communal watermelons, drank tea in their nightgowns, or binge-watched shows on Netflix.   

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