Hallowe’en Revels – UA 10.3.35 Irma Thompson Papers

26 10 2018
2687

Irma Thompson, circa 1900. (People 2687)

A collection less than one cubic feet that highlights life on the campus of M.A.C. at the turn of the 20th century is the Irma Thompson Papers. Irma was born in 1880 in Van Buren County, Michigan. While still in high school, the Thompson family moved to Lansing so Irma would have the opportunity to attend college. She entered Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) at the age of sixteen, one of forty-two women to major in the new Home Economics program. Although an off-campus student, she was very active in campus extracurricular activities. She was class secretary, vice-president of the Art Club, and a member of the Themian Literary Society. She graduated in 1900. In 1905, she married Mark L. Ireland, ‘01, whose name appears occasionally on her dance programs.

In her collection are a program and scripts related to a play she was involved in during her senior year. The play, Hallowe’en Revels, was performed in the Armory on November 10, 1899 with an audience of 300 students and faculty members. It was the first production by the “College Dramatic Club.” The play was a mixture of burlesque and vaudeville styles. Today, most people think of a burlesque show as a strip tease, which is partly true, but burlesque also means “an absurd or comically exaggerated imitation of something, especially in a literary or dramatic work; a parody.” (Oxford Dictionaries) That definition properly describes Hallowe’en Revels and in the M.A.C. Record reminder a week before the play was to be performed, an editor wrote, “It will cost you but 10₵ to ‘see yourself as others see you.’”

The backdrop for this play was the M.A.C. campus, making fun of real people on campus, mostly faculty members and a group of men. Included was a prologue and six acts: the trial scene, the rhetorical class, the advanced German class, the cooking class, the midnight spread, and the Calethumpians.

For the trial scene, students acted out the roles of the professors, who were also portrayed as animal characters, such as Miss Kellar representing a dragon and M.A.C. President Snyder as a sheep. In the trial scene, the animals/professors are judged for their bad behaviors/breaking the rules, such as smoking, not attending church, attending too many dances, climbing up a tree, and wandering outside the college grounds by an escort not approved by the Dean. While these “bad behaviors” do not seem to be an issue today, early students had several rules imposed upon them, such as a set amount of dances they could attend, mandatory attend at chapel, and strict curfew times.

 

“The Calethumpians” from the 1900 Wolverine yearbook, page 170.

The last act of the play was “The Calethumpians.” This act is interesting because we can’t verify if this was a true society or not; it might have just been a group men calling themselves that. The Calethumpian Society is listed in the 1900 Wolverine yearbook and it doesn’t list actual names for the six male members, just their nicknames. From the yearbook, “The Calethumpians are a society of high spiritual and physical intentions, having for their object the betterment of the moral and athletic conditions at M.A.C.” and their motto was “never work between meals.” (page 170) For the play, all women played the roles of the males and in the program it stated, “The Calethumpians is a society with high moral purpose whole by-laws prohibit profanity, and work between meals, and whose yell requires athletic training.” In the act, the midnight revels of the Calethumpians in Wells Hall are revealed. Obviously, the women were poking fun at the men.

Along with the play, a poem written in the style of Dante by Harriette Robson and read by N. A. McCune, entitled, “The Abbotiad,” described the storming of Abbot Hall by the nightshirt paraders. The Nightshirt Parade happened at the end of the school year, with the men dressing up in their nightshirts parading around campus. Usually they would stop by faculty member’s homes asking them to serenade the group and/or hijinks would ensue between the classes. According to the M.A.C. Record, “the program ended with ‘A Scene in Hades,’ in which all the characters of the play appeared in costumes weird and grotesque.”

A004617

M.A.C. Juniors pose after the Nightshirt Parade in the Chemistry Lecture room, June 1899. (A004617)

Between the acts, the audience was entertained with lantern slides of original drawings, depicting life on campus, by Irma Thompson and S. J. Kennedy, ’01. A few illustrations by Thompson and several by Kennedy appeared in the 1900 Wolverine yearbook. It seems that the play was a success, but really long.

Thompson Illustration

Illustration by Irma Thompson, depicting the race between the Seniors and Juniors to publish the 1900 yearbook. Unfortunately for the Seniors, the Juniors were the winners. This illustration appeared in the 1900 Wolverine, page 105.

Sadly, the University Archives does not have any photographs from this play. Luckily, in Irma’s papers, we do have the play program and scripts from three of the acts. Even though this collection is only one box, it highlights the time of the first women who enrolled in the Home Economics Program. Irma’s scrapbook contains a few photographs, several illustrations she created of her time on campus, and clippings. She kept in touch with her class mates, keeping a record of their lives. She also wrote her own memoirs about her college experience near the end of her life.

Hallowe’en Revels is a unique play that was written by the students of M.A.C., reflecting their life at that time. Even though it wasn’t performed at Halloween, the play does an amazing job of highlighting the spirit of Halloween by allowing the person to become somebody/something else for a brief moment of time.

Have a safe and Happy Halloween!

Sources

“At the College,” from the M.A.C. Record, Vol. 5 No. 9, November 7, 1899.

The Calethumpians: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 29, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

The Faculty Meeting: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 30, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

The Faculty Trial: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 31, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

“Hallowe’en Revels,” from the M.A.C. Record, Vol. 5 No. 10, November 14, 1899.

Hallowe’en Revels: A Play, November 10, 1899, Box 761, Folder 32, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Midnight Spread Scene: A Play, circa 1899, Box 761, Folder 33, Irma Thompson Papers, UA 10.3.35, Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Wolverine Yearbook, 1900. Pg. 170. Michigan State University Archives and Historical Collections, East Lansing, Michigan.

Written by Jennie Russell, Assistant Records Archivist

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2 responses

26 10 2018
Kevin Forsyth

Thank you for this fun snapshot of campus life! Here are a couple of trivial bits of context I hope your readers might find interesting…

In 1899, Abbot Hall (the original one torn down in 1968, not the current half of Mason-Abbot built 1939) was the women’s dormitory since Morrill Hall was not yet built. So I suspect the “storming of Abbot Hall” fell firmly under the category of hijinks, at least by 1899 standards. http://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/abbot-hall.htm

N. A. McCune ’01, narrator of “the Abbotiad,” was pastor of Peoples Church for over 30 years. His historic house is on the corner of Abbot Road and Elizabeth Street. http://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/mccune.htm

11 11 2018
James Carr

I couldn’t help but notice that Miss Thompson played the character Mr. Ireland in the German class skit. That was a pretty bold move that seemed to pay off!

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