A Contrast in Paths to Achievement: Daily Dorm and Campus Life

November 4, 2016 in 1950s-1960s

Continuing an eMemoir on University of Kentucky and Fisk University in the early 1960s:


The list of notables from each school that appeared in previous posts (see the list of all posts at the project page) is a testament to how people may or may not reach different goals by the same paths.

In addition to perusing the Fisk yearbook during the evenings between dinner and bedtime, downtime was spent in a variety of ways.  A few students retired really early so that they could do their studying early the next day depending upon their schedule.  Some had nightly dates during which they spent their time in the student center or at the sports games or at University Inn across the street from the campus. (Incidentally, I found out when my time was almost over at Fisk that the owner Bill Corley was a distant relative of my mom.  He had no idea who I was, and I had no idea about him.} A very few went to parties during the week and the bulk of others such as myself stayed in the dorm to study or play cards.  In my case, I very soon became the floor beautician to my dismay.  My beautician aunt had taught me to “fix” hair, so I multitasked between studying, gossiping, and “frying” hair with a non electric steel or brass pressing comb and Marcel curling irons which had to be applied to a hotplate.

The female students at UK, on the other hand, prepared their hair with big spring or mesh curlers, or tiny “kids” which had to be used frequently during the time they had to take a swimming course.

Ebony magazine cover, July 1962

Broadway and TV star Diahann Carroll on the cover of Ebony, July 1962

Fisk University students when I was there did not take swimming as I never heard of a pool.  To my knowledge there was not one to be used for a campus course.  That was a good thing, since regular black hair is not conducive to a daily pressing.  There was a great beauty shop across from campus called Odessa’s which did towel pressing that left regular, non naturally-relaxed black hair (that more recently mixed “Negroes” had) looking like white hair, but was very expensive.—-As a reminder, the period of the Afro had not yet come.

The remaining Fisk students in my dorm spent all night long playing Bid Whist card games, swearing when they lost, and jumping up and down when they “ran a Boston.” Then someone else would plug in a hotplate, which with mine running to prepare hair was too much!  All the lights would go off!  Total darkness on that hallway! Then there was utter chaos.  They would run out of the card session up and down the long hallway screaming and ########## to find out who had “messed” up.  My room was usually where they came first.  They did not stay angry with me long knowing that I might have to fix their hair the next day.  Actually, I would be relieved for that night, because I was tired of pulling on their tresses and smelling the smoke from the oil that I had to use.

As the evening wore on, some students spent much time perfecting makeup routines they would use for the next day.  That was a “new” for me, because at UK, very little time was spent on makeup for the next day’s perfect appearance.

On my end of the hall at UK, many spent much time studying with some putting the traditional blue towel on their outside door knob, signaling that no one was to come in until it was removed and their studying was concluded.  Those particular students were trying to prevent going on probation with only a semester to pull their grades up before being sent home or just to establish a very acceptable GPA.  A few, however, did participate in nightly dating.  As a result of this dating and going out in a nonfamiliar environment that a tragedy I shall never forget took place.  A very quiet, beautiful, nice young lady from the East Coast who usually spent most of her time studying was goaded one evening by the dorm “partier” to go out on a blind date.  AW did not want to go, but was persuaded to by the “partier” and others to go on.  She paid with her life when the automobile in which they were riding crashed into a Lexington viaduct wall and AW’s medulla oblongata was  crushed  She lingered in a coma for only two days and then passed a way.  I was so saddened.  I never saw her parents but always hoped they knew that she was a very quiet student and not an “away from home gone wild” person.

At UK I volunteered for one session of close-down-the-dorm with timeline steps of what to do if those on the sign out sheet were not in by a specified time for all. This duty was designed to be aware about incidents such as the one that happened to AW.  At both universities underclass female students had to be in by a certain curfew.  A few, but not many differences existed between the two universities as far as dormitory life was concerned.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar