Getting Schooled with the “Southern California Wampus” by the Associated Students of the University of Southern California, December 1927

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

The first university in our region opened in 1880 across from Agricultural (now Exposition) Park at the edge of Los Angeles city limits and the University of Southern California was affiliated by the Methodist Church until the early 20th century. Its growth somewhat paralleled the extraordinary transformation of greater Los Angeles until, by the 1920s, it was increasingly widely recognized as a major institution of higher learning.

Tonight’s featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection is the December 1927 issue of Southern California Wampus, the journal published nine times a year (basically, during the school year) by the Associated Students of U.S.C. In many ways, it was like many other college magazines, filled with humor, jokes, cartoons, poems, photos, fictional works and so on, but we’ll focus this post on a few major articles and other content, including those related to the Christmas season.

Deke Houlgate, whose nickname (his given name was Carroll) seems emblematic of sports, offered “Do You Remember When . . . . .?” about “former Trojan heros and [how] their valorous deeds [were] recalled by Homecoming.” Houlgate, who went on to be a well-known sports publicist and statistician and who developed what was known as the “Houlgate System” for mathematically determining the national collegiate football championship team.

Houlgate began his piece by observing that “continued achievement begets pride. Southern California is proud, and justly so, of its past achievements. Its football teams have come up in the last two decades from the ranks of the gridiron unknowns to its present position as one of the several outstanding and remarkable colorful elevens of the nation.” Lesser known were the baseball and basketball squads, but “the Trojan track and field teams have flung the renown of Southern California throughout the world,” so that no other school “has more to boast of in the way of cinderpath and pit achievements.”

The author went on to note that “with Homecoming but a few days in the offing, numerous will be the tales of past deeds and once-greats.” He recalled growing up in Hollywood and having to “negotiate the wilderness and wheat fields that is now the Wilshire district” to see the Trojans at the old Bovard Field on campus and “since that youthful and enthusiastic beginning” in 1915, Houlgate stated that “few teams have played the Trojans at football, track, or marbles without the writer being on hand.”

He rhapsodized about Fred Kelley, “the most versatile athlete in Southern California,” being a star fullback but also a hurdler, sprinter, shot out and discus thrower, and broad and high jumper and also talked about sprinters Howard Drew and Charlie Parsons, the latter with a 9.8 second best in the 100-yard dash (the current world record is 9.07 by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell.) Returning the football, Houlgate noted such recent stars as Herb Jones, Rabbit Malette, John Fox and Roy “Swede” Evans, the latter a tackle considered a giant at 220 pounds (now 300 pounds is not at all uncommon!) but who was also a discus thrower who made the 1920 U.S. Olympic team.

After discussing other football stars, sucg as Charlie Dean, Leo Calland, Johnny Leadingham and Jeff Cravath, Houlgate briefly mentioned that “Charlie Paddock startled the world with his springting and is still up to his old tricks,” Paddock being one of the greatest track stars of the era. While Trojan basketball teams “have never set the world on fire” (and, decades later, ran second fiddle to John Wooden’s perennial powerhouses at U.C.L.A.), Kenny Boyer was an All-American forward in 1924.

While “baseball doesn’t tend to glorify the amateus star or make much of the college team,” it was noted that Fay Thomas, also a “demon tackle” on the football team, was a pitcher who got signed to the majors. Thomas played sporadically over four seasons between 1927 and 1935, with a 7-15 record in 49 appearances for the St. Louis Browns that last year, though he was a star in the Pacific Coast League from 1930 to 1943 and is in that association’s Hall of Fame. Houlgate then ended his piece by stating “how impossible to remember them all and how idiotic to try comparisons—rather should all songs of praise for those who have fought the good fight for Southern California serve to enrich memories.”

Another notable article is Lorraine Young’s “Troy in the ‘Dim’ Ages” with her beginning by observing:

“Now in my day—.” What college student hasn’t heard that old standby from parent or professor, as, with uplifted eyebrows and horror-stricken countenance, he recites the model tale of—”now, when I went to college, such things were not thought of, much less done! etc.” The modern culprit sorrowfully hangs his head and wonders how he could ever be as pure and proper as they were in the “gold old days,” and, secretly, what “kick” did they get out of life.

Yet, she continued, a look back at U.S.C.’s early days finds that the reality “completely destroys this false halo which for years has been used as the guiding light for the modern generation.” Those infant years of the institution were quite different “but it was far from the model life of peace and propriety which we have ben led to believe.”

For example, Young found an early school paper account of a class rush between freshman and sophomore girls, during which “shirtwaists and pompadours of girl students suffered heavy damages” including “a melee which no congregation of men could ever hope to equal.” As for the gents, though, the author located another article concerning the U.S.C. football team’s contest against University High, in which “there was slugging galore. In one instance a U.S.C. player resorted to biting, and several free fights were narrowly averted.” University’s coach threw off his coat and challenged some of the Trojan lads to a brawl “but the crowd interposed.”

As for women’s sports, the writer noted that the skirts, “being just below the calf,” were such that they “would have been quite shocking if worn on the campus,” but allowed “to permit active playing” on the basketball court. The referee, however, wore typical clothing for the time “with sweeping skirt [down to the ankles], high bodice, and mutton sleeves.”

As for classes, Young observed that “there was not more than one section of each subject” until English classes became so impacted that several were scheduled. Tuition was, presumably in the late 1880s, thirty dollars a semester and hazing included having underclassmen “dragged to the duck pond” and “what happened there is too sad a tale to be told.”

Social life included “slating,” the term used for dating, and, with far more men than women, “there was one mad rush to be first to ‘slate’ the girl whose company one desired.” There were beach picnics, trips to local mountains, literary society events, “oratorical contests which everyone attended in style,” and private parties, these requiring formal dress.

At such parties, “the wickedness of dancing was a commonly accepted fact,” so attendees played charades, took part in a grand march around the venue, and sang popular songs like “Goodnight Ladies” or “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” Having said this, however, Young noted “it must be admitted that the fraternities endeavored to slip one over on the faculty and, ow and then, the banquet, which was their main social affairs, tuned out to be a dance. And then they felt so wicked!”

Fraternities and sororities were few and had a small number of members, though not much was said about them, though Young concluded with a story of “Nelly, the College Belle,” whose job was to toll so students know when to go to class. Some male students, however, reasoned “that the absence of Nelly would eliminate the necessity of going to classes,” so she was removed from her post “although pandemonium reigned” until she was returned. Yet, “they say those were the peaceful days when all was law and order and no one ever dreamed of going any place but Heaven whe they died.”

Clifford Lees offered his view of the university’s growth in “Hitting the Stride” in which he began by noting that “Southern California has advanced rapidly and today is at the highest point it has ever attained.” In 1880, when founded, the school’s student body numbered 55, or one for every 203 people in the Angel City, but, in 1927, there was one student for each 100 people, or 13,000 scholars. As “Los Angeles has changed from a village to a world center . . . Southern Californa has grown from a small educational enterprise to a mammoth institution, third largest in the world.”

He added that there were some 40,000 students who “have been educated in the halls of Troy,” with some meriting no better a description than “mere cowsheds.” Consequently, “it is only in the past few years that Southern California has begun to give birth to buildings fitting to be termed campus constructions.” Removal of the Geology Bulding and the “Engineer’s barn” were examples of improvements, with the latter to be replaced by an impressive Science Building.

Lees named over two dozen structures, but “if all Trojan buildings and schools were grouped closely together as is the case on many college campuses Southern California would appear to be muchg larger than the average person believes.” He called for improving the layout, especially along University Avenue heading north from the campus with “suitable structures” along the thoroughfare, but taking out the pavement and replacing it with grass with a central walk and landscaping replacing streetcar tracks.

There were also many more buildings needed, including a library, gyms, a theater, a marine lab and and structures for the schools of music, speech, religion, medicine and commerce. Lees ended with the observation that:

So the physical growth of the University of Southern California may be likened to an athlete. In 1880 the starter’s gun echoed to the 11,000 souls. Now the University has hit the stride and is going ahead at full speed. The tape to be breasted or the goal to be reached lies stright ahead. The idea is for the institution to keep the stride and not look back until the tape is broken and [the] goal attained. The Southern California will be the LARGEST and GREATEST university in the world.

The centerfold features drawings of seven campus structures including the Student’s Union, Science and Engineering Building, the Administration Building, proposed edifices for the library, gymnasium and arts and sciences, the old college, and “The University of Southern California Of Tomorrow.”

Jemima Ralston’s snappy “Dumb! Not Really: A Third Dish of Piping Hot Cereal” is a breezy exposition of several aspects of campus life laden with plenty of humor. One example is her assertion that “I finally did go to one class, and had such a good time that I think I’ll go again some time.” This was a course in social psychology, even though she was not registered for it. She said that the talk concerned facial expressions and emotion and “the Prof said that in fear one’s mouth flew open.”

When Ralston begged to differ and then offered to demonstrate why, she said that a male student was chosen to assist by seeking to scare her with a loud “BOO!” She continued, “so I was frightened, but I pivoted qiuckly, and fainted with deadly aim so that he caught me. My mouth was not wide open, but my lips were puckered in the most inviting way. I thought I had proved my point, and laying comfortably in his arms I opened one eye. I found the prof was right for Ralph’s mouth was so far open the jaw hinges creaked.”

The author had to acknowledge that she was beaten, but offered the defense “that Ralph’s mouth is always open” and noted “the prof agreed that women do not open their mouths when they silently show fear.” Later, Ralston added that, during Homecoming month, “the students and the alumni get together to trade telephone numbers and bootleggers’ addresses,” Prohibition being the law of the land but well honored in the breach.

Talking to a student organizer, she asked if these transactions were part of the process “and he looked at me with disdain” and pontificated about holding a rally for “the dear old school and the dear old team and the dear old—but I left him, because the way he stressed dear made me think he was getting personal and I do abhor pet names.” Ten minutes later, she spoke to another planner who had a pair of alumni assistants and Ralston added, “I knew he meant that he was to get telephone numbers and bootleggers’ addresses for these two good alumneses.”

The main holiday item is a full-page cartoon collage under the heading of “Wamp Wishes You a Merry Christmas” and featuring humorous vignettes, including one where a “modern youth” asks Santa Claus, who carries his sack of toys, “Why All the Cotton, Dad?” while another shows “The Famous Athlete” who “Sends Out Christmas Cards” in a wheelbarrow. In fact, there are many cartoons and drawings, most interspersed with the humorous stories and jokes, and the cover is a striking “The Height of Optimism” by Bob Crosby.

Among the seasonal ads is one from the Student Store promoting “Christmas and Homecoming Week” during which “Happiness Means Giving” including university Christmas cards, college jewelry, stationery, pennants, book ends, notebooks and more. Another, from Whitman’s, the candy brand, noted that “for eighty-five years, the candles have cast their gleam over Whitman’s candies for Christmas” and added that “for gifts nothing can be more imbued with the spirit of Christmas than the SAMPLER in its gold ands green and red holiday wrap.”

Otherwise, there are planty of ads for restaurants and cafes, clothing stores, Richfield Gasoline with it colorful football scene, Revelation Tooth Powder, auto dealers, drug companies, candy and ice cream shops, shoe stores and much more. The magazine is a great overall look at campus life at U.S.C. in the late 1920s and certainly a marked contrast in many ways to the school today, bearig in mind Young’s article about the difference between “the good old days” and contemporary college life!

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