When Men will be Boys: Masculinity and Late 19th Century Fraternities

When I started research on my newest book, Scholarly Pursuits, the sixth novel in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, my only agenda was to take some of my series characters across the San Francisco Bay to solve a crime on the University of California campus at Berkeley. I was primarily curious about what life was like for college students in 1881, and since my mystery series focuses on women and their experiences in this period, I assumed I would mostly deal with what life was like for my female characters. (If interested in this topic, see this post.)

What I did not expect was to find myself researching college fraternities and the role they played in the emergence of a new kind of hyper-masculinity among young men of the late nineteenth century.

In fact, if you had asked me before I embarked on the research for this book, I would have guessed that there weren’t any fraternities on such a recently-established, state-supported campus (the University of California was founded in 1868 and opened its first campus at Berkeley in 1873.)

Instead, I learned that in 1881 there were five male fraternities and one female fraternity (which was not yet called a sorority) and that four years earlier, Berkeley’s Zeta Psi fraternity was the first fraternity in the nation to have built their own fraternity house.

I also discovered that members of these campus fraternities had played prominent roles in the brutal hazing of fellow students, drunken beer bashes, and the creation of scurrilous fake publications, sparking an anti-fraternity movement on campus that resulted in a temporary ban on fraternities that divided the students and faculty and may have resulted in the recommendation by the Board of Trustees that the university president be fired in May, 1881.

The rest of this essay can be found posted on the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative website. When you have finished reading it, do take a look at the wonderful books in its catalog.

M. Louisa Locke

Who were the Women Attending Berkeley in 1880-81?

In Scholarly Pursuits (now available), I set the mystery on the University of California campus at Berkeley during the spring term of 1881. The university, first opened in 1863, didn’t enroll any women until 1870, and between 1874 and 1881, only ten percent of the bachelor’s degrees granted by the university went to women.

This is not surprising, given that one of the decade’s most popular books was Sex in Education (1873), a book by Edward Clarke, a Harvard medical school physician, who argued that women who were educated in the same fashion as men would face an inability to conceive and produce healthy children, life-long illness, and possible death. Clarke only produced anecdotal evidence to support his claims, nevertheless, his views gave a veneer of science to already held prejudices against women attending institutions of higher education, particularly co-educational institutions like Berkeley.

As a result, in 1880, less than a third of young people who attended four-year colleges or universities were female and only nineteen percent of bachelor’s degrees granted by these institutions were granted to women. And the University of California at Berkeley followed national patterns when it came to women’s enrollment.

For example, in the academic year, 1880-1881, less than a third of the currently enrolled students were female. To translate this into actual numbers, there were only 216 students enrolled as undergraduates that year, sixty-two of them female. In addition, only slightly more than half of the women who were enrolled were full-time students (compared to the male population of students, where eighty-five percent were enrolled as full time students that year.)

Women were definitely in the minority wherever they went on campus.

For instance, there were only four women in the whole senior class in 1880-81, and the two of them who majored in chemistry were probably the only two females in their upper- division science classes.

Since the primary characters in Scholarly Pursuits were freshmen, I am going to examine this group of women, the graduating class of ’84, in more detail.

At the start of the year, there were fourteen women listed freshmen, only eight of them registered as regular, full-time students. Eight of those fourteen freshmen women (fifty-seven percent) eventually obtained bachelor’s degrees, which was actually a fairly good percentage, given that only twenty-four percent of the men who started with them in this class made it to graduation.

These fourteen women were young. The youngest was Adelaide Graham, who was only fifteen when she started out, and the oldest were the twins, Mabel and Maude Walcott, who were nineteen.

While these women apparently didn’t agree with Edward Clarke and his belief that the use of one’s brain would damage a woman’s reproductive ability, neither was there much evidence to suggest they were particularly radical in their goals for attending the university. None of these young women were majoring in one of the sciences, in fact all but one of them were taking the literary versus the more difficult classics course of studies in the College of Letters. And, according to the Illustrated History of the University of California, 1868-1895, among the women from this class who graduated, nearly two-thirds of them were listed as having married, and the only occupation any of them listed was teaching, which was generally seen as the occupation that was most compatible with motherhood.  

Berkeley at this time didn’t have any sort of university-sanctioned housing or dormitories for its students (see my blog post on how this deviated from other contemporary universities). This meant that most of them had to find housing for themselves. Angie Bemis, Blanche Newell, and Margaret Scobbie, the three women who commuted from San Francisco, and Bella Taggart, who commuted from Oakland, may have been living with their parents, and Helen Gompertz, and Carrie LeConte, who were the children of Berkeley faculty members, were definitely living at home. 

However, based on the information I found in the local Berkeley directory, the rest of the students seemed to be living in some of the boarding houses that had sprung up on the edges of campus, including Mabel and Maud Walcott and Louise Brier, who were boarding along with siblings who were also attending the university.

With such a small number of women starting out in the class of ’84, it would have been easy for them to get to know each other. First of all, the entire freshman class (all sixty-eight of them) were required to take the basic English and Math classes held in one of the large North Hall lecture rooms. 

North Hall, U.C. Berkeley

The accepted convention in this period was that women sit together in the front of the classroom and this ensured they would get to know each other. It also meant that each morning as they walked to the front of the room, they would be painfully aware of the fifty or more young men watching them as they did so––most likely aware that many of these men were not particularly pleased with the presence of women in their classes.

However, this would also encourage them to develop strong friendships with the other women, as they sat together, walked with each other to the next class, or perhaps used their breaks between classes to go down the hill to get a pastry at the Golden Sheaf Bakery, just west of campus.

After their English and math classes were over, over forty percent of the freshman would peel off to take either the more rigorous Latin and Greek classes required of classical studies majors or the expanded math and chemistry classes required of students in one of the departments of the College of Sciences. The rest (about forty students and thirteen of the women) would stay together for the truncated Latin class for the literary studies majors. This group would then split further because they could chose between French or German for their required modern language as their fourth class their freshman year.

For fictional purposes, I had two of my female characters, Kitty Blaine and Celia Beale, taking the classical studies course, whereas in the real freshman class there was only one woman, Bella Taggart, who did so. This would have meant that in her Greek and Latin classes she would have been the only woman present (along with the seven men taking these classes). 

The fourteen female freshman would have also had opportunities to meet some of the other forty-eight women on campus, even if they didn’t take classes with them. They would have passed them on the stairs of North Hall, met them in the Ladies Lounge of South Hall (which contained the classes in the sciences), or in the temporary library that was housed in that same building. 

After classes were over, some of these first year women might have even struck up a friendship with an upper class woman who was an exercise enthusiast at the Harmon Gymnasium, which was open to women every Wednesday and Friday afternoons while the male students were marching around campus as part of their required military drills.

Illustration from 1880 Blue and Gold Yearbook

In contrast, there were lots of opportunities for Berkeley men to socialize with each other outside of class. They had the weekly military drills, the rifle club, baseball and football teams, all-male glee clubs, and the five male fraternities, not to mention Bachman’s, the local Beer Hall. 

There were, however, a number of extra-curricular activities that Berkeley women could attend, where they could meet women from the other graduating classes, as well as get an opportunity to socialize with men.

In 1880-81, there was the small University Bible Students club, the newly formed Philosophy Club, the various graduating class glee clubs, the Durant Rhetorical Society and the Neolaean Literary Society and the meetings of the “class unions,” where all the members of a graduating class would gather.

None of the first year women attended either the Bible or the Philosophy Club, but ten of them belonged to the Class of ’84 Glee Club, along with sixteen men from their class. Only one of the first year female students, Isabella Miller, was a member of the Durant Rhetorical Society, while three of the part-time students, Lizzie Beggs, Louise Brier, and Alice Chapman, belonged to the Neolaean Literary Society (although in later years five other of their female classmates would join.)

The Durant and Neolaean societies held weekly meetings, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the reason so few of the young women joined was because of how busy they were with their school work. Given the popular idea promulgated by Clarke and others that  too much academic work would damage a woman’s health, it could be that those women taking a full-course load feared over-extending themselves with extra-curricular clubs. Surely they would have been aware of how many of the previous class of freshmen (thirty percent) had failed to make it through the end of year exams and matriculate on to their sophomore year.

The difficulty in finding time outside of the classroom to study would be particularly true for those students who, like Laura Dawson, one of main characters in Scholarly Pursuits, commuted to campus from San Francisco. The three hour round trip between San Francisco and campus (which would include taking a ferry across the Bay and then a train to Berkeley), on top of at least four hours in classes, wouldn’t leave them much time to go to the library, exercise at the gymnasium, sing in the glee club, or attend a weekly literary society meeting.

It could be that some women were also hesitant to join organizations where they would have been even more of a minority than they were in the classroom. Both of the literary societies had only recently permitted women to join at all. The year before, the Durant Society had no women members, and I suspect that one of the only reasons that Isabella Miller felt comfortable joining this society (where women were less than a fifth of the membership) was that her brother belonged.

The Neolaean Society seemed more welcoming. In 1880-81, a quarter of the members were women, one of them an officer, and while that year the society’s glee club members were all men, by the next year, half of them were women. 

However, this was not to say that every male was welcoming. Many of the men on campus were still uneasy about co-education in general, and the Blue and Gold yearbooks frequently included unflattering comments about and illustrations of Berkeley co-eds, with constant references to them as old maids.

From the 1881 Blue and Gold Yearbook

These negative attitudes by some of their male classmates (which are a plot element in Scholarly Pursuits) might explain why four years later, all of the class of ’84 women who answered the yearbook survey of seniors gave their political affiliation as “women’s rights.” It also might explain why only one of the women in this freshman class, Mable Walcott, ended up marrying a fellow Berkeley student—a young man, I might say, who didn’t impress me greatly when I noticed that his response on this same senior class survey to the question about whether or not he supported co-education, simply answered “yum, yum.”

In short, the young women of this freshman class would have been very aware that society in general, and many of their fellow students specifically, thought that they shouldn’t be at Berkeley. The fact that they obtained their degrees at over twice the rate of their fellow male classmates, demonstrated just how dedicated they were to prove everyone wrong.

Scholarly Pursuits is now available in print and on all major retailers!

M. Louisa Locke

In loco parentis: A comparison of 19th century and 20th century coeducation

Berkeley 1880-81 Blue and Gold Yearbook

Introduction: I confess, that like many historical fiction writers, I often choose my characters and plots as a way to explore certain subjects. For instance, my primary goal in starting to write my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series was to further explore and tell stories about the women I had studied for my history doctorate. Consequently, during the past ten years I have researched jobs women held in a variety of occupations including domestic service, spiritualism, public school teaching, the printing industry, and department stores.

However, while doing the research about public school teaching for Bloody Lessons, the third book in my mystery series, I discovered that the University of California had opened up its door to women in 1870, and I decided that at some point I would like to see what life was like for women attending a coeducational institution in this period.  (Bloody Lessons is free until February 5, 2019)

Fortunately, I had created a number of characters for Bloody Lessons that I could eventually send off to the University of California, at Berkeley, and the result is the forthcoming book in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series, Scholarly Pursuits (now available for pre-order.)

My initial reason for doing this was simple. I was curious about what had changed (or hadn’t changed) for college women since I had gone off to college in 1967.

Much of what I discovered in doing this research surprised me, and in later blog posts I plan on looking at a range of issues, including the role of fraternities on the Berkeley campus.

However, in this blog post, I am going to concentrate on comparing the ways in which college institutions tried to regulate the behavior of their students, particularly women, in both the late nineteenth century (the setting of my Victorian mysteries) and the middle decades of the twentieth century (when I went off to college).

Continue reading

Scholarly Pursuits Now Available for Pre-order

Something is rotten in the state of Berkeley
–1881 Blue and Gold Yearbook, University of California: Berkeley

In Scholarly Pursuits, the sixth full-length novel in the USA Today best-selling Victorian San Francisco mystery series, Locke explores life on the University of California: Berkeley campus in 1881, where Laura and her friends face the remarkably modern problems of fraternity hazings, fraught romantic relationships, and fractious faculty politics. 

While Annie and Nate Dawson and friends and family in the O’Farrell Street boardinghouse await a blessed event, Laura Dawson finds herself investigating why a young Berkeley student dropped out of school in the fall of 1880.

No one, including her friend Seth Timmons, thinks this is a good idea, since she is juggling a full course load with a part-time job, but she can’t let the question of what happened to her friend go unanswered. Not when it means that other young women might be in danger.

This cozy historical mystery of romantic suspense is set in the period immediately after the fifth book in the series, Pilfered Promises, and two novellas, Kathleen Catches a Killer and Dandy Delivers.  However, it can be read as a stand-alone.

Available on Kindle  iTunes  Nook  Kobo

I have been working on this, the sixth full-length novel in my Victorian San Francisco Mystery series for a year, and I am very excited to announce it is now available for pre-order. When I started, all I knew was that I wanted to set this book in the University of California: Berkeley, where Laura Dawson and her friends were attending school. What I didn’t expect to find was how contemporary the issues were that students and faculty were facing in 1881. Later I will write a blog about these findings, but for now, hope you all are as excited about reading this book as I am about finding out what you think about it!  Meanwhile, have a great holiday!

M. Louisa Locke, December 20, 2018

New Historical Mystery Anthology

For over eight years I have been an active member of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative, a group that now has over 52 members and  over 280 books in our catalog. One of the popular sub-genres that a number of us write is historical mysteries and five of us decided to put together an anthology of shorter works as a way of introducing our different historical mystery series.

This collaborative project was great fun, with everyone helping in choosing the content, coming up with the title, creating the cover, editing, formatting the interior, proofing the text, and writing the product description. And unlike the old joke that getting writers to cooperate is like herding cats, this was a very smooth and organized operation.

I am proud to announce that here is the result, a 495 page books filled with 3 novellas and five short stories (including my Mr. Wong Rights a Wrong and Kathleen Catches a Killer) for only $4.99.

Medieval to Modern: An Anthology of Historical Mystery Stories

Join amateur sleuths, private detectives, and feisty female protagonists in a journey through time with this anthology of historical mysteries spanning nearly a thousand years, from Medieval Wales to 1940s Ohio. This collection of eight novellas and short stories is the perfect introduction to five award-winning series in settings ranging from the back streets of Elizabethan and Regency London to the steep slopes of Victorian San Francisco.

— Libi Astaire, the Jewish Regency mystery series.
— Anna Castle, the Francis Bacon mystery series and the Professor & Mrs. Moriarty mystery series.
— M. Louisa Locke, the Victorian San Francisco mystery series.
— M. Ruth Myers, the Maggie Sullivan mystery series set in Depression-era Ohio.
— Sarah Woodbury, the Gareth & Gwen Medieval Mysteries.

Available on Kindle  iTunes  Nook  Kobo  GooglePlay.