The College Years: 1921-1925
by Elizabeth Newell Marvel Marti
I shall never forget my arrival at Hastings College, alone, on the train and not knowing a single person. Had I gone home at the end of the first week, I would never have returned. But by the end of the second week all had changed — Hastings College, the “College of the Plains,” in those days was very small, with only 300 students and by today’s standards, its education quite simple, elementary and unsophisticated. But those four years, which seem rather prosaic and uneventful as I try to recall and recount them, probably changed my whole life more than any other such a short time span. Truly, it set the direction, the course, for all the rest of my years and life experience. The faculty members at Hastings College were dedicated and caring, and occasionally inspiring and intellectually stimulating. My affection and respect for Dr. Calvin French, the beloved and saintly President of Hastings College, kept me from breaking any college rules and thus disappointing him, although several of my good friends were expelled after going to a Demolay dance during my freshman year.... I felt much the same about Dean Frank E. Weyer, for he was not only an inspiring teacher but a very wise, dedicated, and understanding Dean.... Miss Janet Carpenter was probably the greatest teacher in all of the history of the College. Her course in Advanced Composition taught me to think independently, to read with discernment, and constantly to want to learn more. It was she who introduced me to the Atlantic Monthly and Harpers, two of the then great magazines of opinion.
Life at Hastings College was strictly regulated. Church attendance and daily chapel services, as well as a Bible class every year, were required. I lived in Alexander Hall for the first three years, where the rules were very strict. We were required to be in our rooms for study hours every week night from 8-10 p.m. But on weekends we could sign out of the dormitory, saying just where and with whom we would be until 11:00 p.m., when the front door was locked. After that the only way to get in was to awaken the housemother and receive a demerit, or go in by the fire escape window on the third floor — which I used on a few occasions!
Automobiles were not permitted, and so we walked every place, even to church and the Hotel Clarke, a mile and a half away, for our formal banquets. What a sight we must have made — dressed in formals, high heels, gloves, and wearing beautiful corsages — as we went tripping off on that long trek! Since dancing was not allowed either, our social life consisted of formal banquets and various kinds of parties, usually given by the societies which were the substitute for sororities and fraternities. I belonged to Theta Psi Beta and helped to organize a new one (Chi Omega Psi) in my senior year, when the increased enrollment made it necessary. In our passion for democracy, the year before we had instituted a requirement that all girls should be invited to join a society in order to overcome the heartache and stigma of rushing followed by the selection of only a chosen few. To be democratic and kind and yet retain some elements of preference and selectivity, we instituted a quite complicated set of procedures which I had finally designed but attributed it to a dream — not wishing to claim it as an original idea! I think it really worked quite well for several years.
Hastings College gave me the joy of some dear life-long friends and widened my academic knowledge, but there were several other contributions — “hinges” so to speak — which opened doors into new and different life experiences. Someone has said, “that to become educated is to become someone and not just to learn some things.” For me, the process of becoming someone — a person — an identity — has been lifelong, but as I look back in the perspective of many years, I can now recognize some of those turning points when my life was being shaped and I was in the forever on-going process of “becoming.”
First of all, I learned to study — the hard way! Good grades had come to me in High School without any effort on my part and so the night before my first Chemistry test; I had blithely relaxed and attended a party. To my utter amazement and chagrin my grade on that test was a 60% which I had never seen before! Needless to say, my grade on the next test was 100% which amazed the professor so much that my final grade for the year was also 100% (A+), and I finally graduated cum laude in 1925.
The second “hinge” for me at H.C. was intangible, but no less real. Because of the religious emphasis at the College in those years, the Bible and our religious heritage became a living and growing experience. The strong commitment on the campus to a life of service permeated all of our planning for the future. It was a faith and commitment which ever deepened into a fundamental part of my life. In later years, this intangible concept was put into words for me — by Oldham, I think, in Life is Commitment — “that we find the good life, not by who we are, not by what we do, nor by what we have. We find the good life by what we give ourselves to.”
Midway through college came one of those again unrecognized turning points.... Toward the end of my second year, Miss [Janet] Carpenter, as faculty adviser, called me into her office to ask me to accept the position of President of the Student YWCA. I was completely amazed, for although I had attended the weekly YWCA meetings, held on Thursdays in lieu of the chapel service, and I had served on the Student Cabinet, to become its President absolutely scared me to death. I felt that I was totally unprepared and very ignorant. That was my first experience in being asked to do a task which was much too large for me. But fortunately for me the confidence and faith and support of many people led me to accept the honor, and to try to respond to the opportunities of the task.
This was the first time I had ever confronted my own sense of inadequacy with the then very shaky faith that God would never ask nor give me the opportunity to do a task without giving me also the strength and support to try to accomplish it. Such confrontations have persisted throughout my life, for I have never felt completely adequate. Self-assurance is not one of my characteristics, I am convinced. As a consequence of that election, the path of my life was set in a new direction for the next sixty years — one of great and lasting rewards.
As I look back ... one thing has become very clear, my gratitude to, and appreciation of, the Hastings College of 1921-1925. During those years we were given a “ground on which to stand” for life in this rapidly changing world. We were exposed to values and attitudes, to a religious faith and to commitment to service, to a respect for decency and acceptance of all people and to a curiosity for learning, all of which truly changed the course of my life. Thus, I treasure especially two honors: an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters awarded to me by the College in 1962, and my election to the Hastings College Board of Trustees in 1964.