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No aspect of American life escaped the impact of the Great Depression, especially the Christmas holiday. Life at Antioch College in the 1930s was certainly no exception: cooperative education jobs dropped left and right as unemployment rose to a paralyzing 25 percent and employers had to decide whether or not the few jobs they had left went to students or the heads of increasingly needy households. More and more students withdrew as their ever scarcer funds went to survival rather than tuition, not to mention to the needs of their families. Many of the students that managed to stay in school did so through “hard times” housing, off-campus residences where they were responsible for their own board and housekeeping to defray costs. The faculty went on a sliding pay scale based on the sizes of their households that resulted in the president, Arthur Morgan, taking home less salary than Professor of Economics William Leiserson, who had six children.

Not that the season wasn’t still silly, it just suffered from economic conditions so severe (the US monetary supply had shrunk by over 30% between 1929 and 1933) that the holiday spirit didn’t include much gift buying. Great Depression Christmas recollections are replete with what people didn’t have, which was cash. Presents of the time were often things like fruit (oranges were a favorite), homemade clothing and toys, and hand me downs. The era is nonetheless frequently remembered as a happy one for the one thing that Christmas has always been about: fellowship.

The following account of the 1932 Christmas break from the campus weekly (then called The Antiochian; the paper didn’t become known as The Record until the 1940s) bears much of that out. The numbers of students staying in town during the break is not known, but some of the events appear well enough attended that the percentage was significant (for reference, enrollment for the 1932-33 academic year was 560). The accent for that Christmas was clearly on fellowship, for the only mention of gifting of any kind is an extension of the 10:30 curfew for first and second years to 11:00 PM; that, and having tea. Antiochians of the 1940s well remember the high teas that “Lady Alice” Bingle, College Nurse 1927-1945, would host, and it seems the then Dean of Women Caroline Norment (who once had a dormitory named in her honor, but it was destroyed as a firefighting exercise by Miami Township in 2006) did as well. She managed off-campus housing for women on co-op on East Center College Street called Spruce Cottage, which according to the back of the photo we have burned down a few years later. The other possibly unfamiliar venues mentioned are: the tea room, the College-operated restaurant that became the Antioch Inn when it moved into the Student Union, and “Twin Oaks,” originally built for the new faculty of the Morgan era and served only briefly as student housing. Twin Oaks still stands on “Faculty Row,” also known as West Limestone Street.

Other Antioch notables noted here include Bishop Paul Jones, the first person to hold the title College Pastor and a prominent peace activist, Adeline Brown Bassett, the College Hostess (kind of a catch-all event planning and alumni relations job last held by the beloved Charlotte Drake), and Ava Champney, longtime Instructor in Piano. Professor of Aesthetics Raymond Stites directs the Community Christmas pageant held at the long gone Yellow Springs Opera House on Dayton Street (Stites’ biographical file in Antiochiana includes an undated script for a Christmas program about the Three Wise Men and their biblical journey to Bethlehem called “Toward the Star.”). Ernest Roy Strempel was briefly director of the Antioch Industrial Research Institute, an organization dedicated to, as Professor of Chemistry Clyde S. “Doc” Adams said, “to finding out what you are going to do when you find out you can’t do what you are doing now.”

Happy New Year, dear readers. As Horace Mann opened the January 1848 issue of The Common School Journal: “Where ignorance has heretofore presided, may Knowledge hereafter reign.”

From The Antiochian, vol. 14, # 13, January 6, 1933

Gloom, Study, Grades Forgotten As Social Events Fill Holiday

      With “gloom,” “study,” and “grades” just words in the dictionary the Antiochians who remained on campus over Christmas and the New Year made merry throughout the holiday season. The festivities began with a dance in the gym Friday, December 16, with music by Danny Casasanta. One lonely stag attended, and was kept busy all evening.

      The following Sunday, Miss Norment and Lady Alice entertained with high tea at Spruce Cottage. About fifty people were served, and later, some of the group adjourned to Bishop Jones’ residence for carol-singing.

      On Wednesday afternoon Mrs. Bassett sponsored a tea in the girls’ parlors in honor of Miss Judy Strempel, daughter of E.R. Strempel, who has just recently become a member of the research faculty. Miss Strempel and Julia Levant poured.

      Thursday night was the occasion of Miss Bingle’s annual party for Mr. Bartlett. An informal supper was served, and afterwards the group, together with a group from Mrs. Champney’s, joined in touring the village and singing carols along “Faculty Row.” Genevieve and Natalie Cowling also held open house at Twin Oaks, and true to the spirit of Christmas, caroling proved to be the diversion of the evening.

      The Community Christmas pageant, under the direction of Mr. Stites, took place Friday evening at the Opera House. Many students assisted in the staging and the costuming.

      Christmas Eve Saint Nick reigned supreme at the dance held at the gymnasium. The revellers were invited to Spruce for refreshments during the intermission.

      Most of the faculty members held open house on Christmas day, and each student was invited to have Christmas dinner at some faculty home.

      In addition Miss Norment served tea at Spruce each Monday and all were welcome. Two informal dances on successive Wednesday nights, one at the gym and the other at Sewannee Hall, made up in gaiety what they lacked in numbers.

      A New Year’s Eve party at the tea room concluded the vacation entertainments. The party was given by the social committee; Walter Short furnished the music. No admission was charged and everyone was invited.

      As a Christmas gift to all the students, Santa Claus contrived to change the rules so that eleven o’clock, instead of the usual ten-thirty, was the deadline for freshmen and sophomores, and special permissions were in great abundance for all who desired them.