Roble Confidential

Take a peek at life on the Farm through the eyes of Mary Freeman, Class of 1897. In her diary, she complains about dorm rules, marvels at Jane Stanford, and wonders why boys get to have all the fun.

November/December 2006

Reading time min

Roble Confidential

Glenn Matsumura

It was the spring of 1894. Grover Cleveland was back in the White House after a four-year hiatus. A new soft drink called Coca-Cola was being bottled for the first time, Pullman car workers were on strike in Chicago, and women were shedding their corsets and calling for dress reform, temperance and the right to vote.

Stanford was still reeling from the recent death of Leland Stanford. Yet students on the newly built campus were in high spirits, particularly after someone discovered a stash of cigars and whiskey that Jane Stanford had provided for her distinguished guest lecturer that quarter, former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison.

Among the students who walked the Quad that term was a cheeky English major named Mary Freeman, Class of 1897, eldest daughter of a wealthy pioneer family from Woodland, Calif., northwest of Sacramento. She kept a diary, a ritual she had started a few years earlier as a teenager.

More than 100 years later, the diaries survive. At a Bay Area antiques show in 1995, Tom Flood, ’66, discovered 11 worn volumes of Freeman’s writings and gave them to the University (see sidebar). Today, the diaries rank among the most cherished objects in the Stanford Archives.

About half the volumes chronicle Freeman’s life in Woodland during 1891 and 1892. The rest, from 1894 and 1895, vividly describe her days as a Stanford student—from uplifting lectures and Stanford-Cal tennis games to grinding study sessions, lost loves and late-night raids on the Roble Hall kitchen.

Unfortunately, no one has been able to find a photograph of Freeman; yearbook portraits weren’t common until after the turn of the century. All we know is that she married twice; lived many years in San Francisco with her second husband, John Crabbe, an attorney; and died in 1943 at the age of 69. Her one stated ambition—to write a novel—apparently was never realized. But 63 years after her death, STANFORD is pleased to be her first publisher.

1894. Freshman year.
January 15 I am indignant and over such a trifle. Stella and I went to consult [Roble house mistress] Miss Thompson in regard to Stella’s coming to the room with us, and she decidedly squelched me! Said we were not studious girls—thought more of fun than study. This is my reward for hard study—for never before have I studied like this and never will I study more. So there! . . . I have a good notion to let her see my frivolous side and see if it will shock her. Why, I have scarcely smiled since I have been here and have not looked at a boy once.

January 23 Went to chapel to hear [Stanford President David Starr] Jordan. It was simply splendid. . . . His ideas of religion have aided me considerably. He says Science aids religion in pointing out what is true and what is false as far as it can. Young people’s religious ideas conflict, since truth comes in contact with beliefs learned in childhood, which are as dust on the Bible. I just wish I could remember every word.

February 14 The event of the day was our Bachelor Party. . . . We fixed the room as boyish as we could; putting away hairpins and powder boxes and all feminine knickknacks. We scattered cards, cigarettes and bottles very promiscuously around. Stella’s [gym] trousers were pulled down to the ankles, her hair was combed over her ears and she wore a gigantic straw hat. Luella posed more as a gentleman with violets in her buttonhole—gold glasses and an aristocratic manner. . . . Then cubebs [pepper cigarettes] were passed and the room was soon a cloud of smoke. Just imagine nine girls smoking! It was great. I am supremely happy since I have learned how to put smoke through my nose. I don’t think I ever felt so devilishly wicked in my life.

March 5 Enjoyed some chocolate cake and swellest candy and were raising high jinks [in Roble Room 9] when Miss Thompson made a friendly call. Finding one of the girls from the Row there, she made us all promise that we would take her home. So we did. A most lovely starlight walk it was. We wandered around the Quad singing college songs, which sounded great as they rolled in and out of the arches. The watchman pursued us so we came home sooner than we wanted.

March 7 English, French, Latin . . . every lesson was pokey this morning. . . . Prayer meeting night, so as we could not dance we went to the library and I enjoyed some more of Lowell’s poems. I can digest them now just like table pancakes. . . . I nearly forgot to mention that this was the day we heard Bennie’s lecture on Law, which I might have at least enjoyed or understood had it been on any other subject. I refer to the Hon. Benjamin Harrison, who is as meek a man as lives. He looks like an ideal grandfather. But one fault he has; he lisps through his nasal appendage.

March 8 This p.m. heard a fine lecture by Archbishop Kean of Washington, D.C. He was accompanied by about a dozen Holy Fathers, and oh my they did have the reddest noses and most corpulent frames imaginable. How different from we poor Roble maidens who live on the crusts and bones of the land. . . . About 11 we poked our pillows—for rumor says no feathers are within—and tried to think them soft and crawled into bed. I was having one of my imaginative dreams when I suddenly awakened. Our room was lit with a strange light. We ran to the windows and there a weird sight presented itself. Around the grass plot in front of Roble were dancing twenty-four ghosts. A fire was in the center, which threw a ghastly light on each ghost. They fired sky rockets all the time, keeping up a groaning melody. It must have been the initiation of some Frat or Secret Society. Now a girl can’t have any fun like that, poor thing. She can’t even crawl out a window. I wish I were a horrid boy.

March 9 We went to the [Founders’ Day] memorial service held in the Encina Gym which was decorated just lovely in palms, flags, bamboo, etc. It was just crammed with people, although no one was allowed but the faculty and pupils. The university trustees were present and occupied seats of honor upon the platform. . . . Mrs. Stanford was also cheered. I do think that much more courtesy would be shown if we would all rise whenever she appears.

April 10 Can’t learn the two-step polka. Blanche sits at my elbow half-asleep and I feel myself going, going . . . Our room is a distraction. Luella’s shoe is tied up in the chandelier, the table is strewn with provisions. At least we have an appropriate motto for Room 10: “That those eat now who never ate before, and those who always ate now eat the more.” The opposite is true of the dining hall. Who can rejoice over tough beefsteak and cold insipid pancakes? Not I.

April 11 Had a horrid exam in English 4. Dear me. I think my brain is quite worn out. . . . Since dinner I have conquered the two-step polka and intend to dance it all during my dreams so that I will be in good practice. I would I could go to the Junior Hop.

April 13 One damsel—with bangs that always need curling and dresses that will bob up in front just to show her pretty feet—has taken my only love from me. Thou traitorous man! Canst thou still face me when thou dared to dance with her three times and when thou didst deign to dance but once with me—with an air that “I have to do it, the sooner the better”? Never shall I stand up for you again. I hate thee, thou wicked villain. Thou! Who might have taken me to the Junior Hop.

April 14 What a time last night. Blanche had to sleep on our springless settee because her roommate locked her out. As soon as breakfast was over we started to enjoy the day. Luella, Gertie and I went to the Lake. It was perfectly lovely and we enjoyed it hugely, since there were two boys at the boathouse dying to go swimming. It is so seldom that girls ever get ahead of the boys! On our return whom should we meet but a score or two of Berkeley boys. There we were, armed with the oars, togged ridiculously.

April 17 This evening I went to a lecture by Charlotte Perkins Stetson on “Art for Art’s Sake” which on reflection I find that I enjoyed. Luella says she is somewhat radical and scorns corsets et cetera. She was attired in a dress reform gown, which so much resembles our precious gray [dressing gowns] that we are about persuaded to wear them to the Quad tomorrow.

April 24 After lunch Blanche persuaded me to go and vote with her for the student body election. As we entered the Quad, one dapper little fellow stepped up and bribed us with candy. Oh, it was awful. But you see Blanche was determined, owing to her knowledge of economics, to exercise her right to vote. As for me, I think it is something terrific to do. I don’t believe in woman’s rights, i.e., I do think the right is theirs as much as it belongs to the men, but it will somehow make women lose dignity to vote. So saith I.

April 26 It stormed all p.m. so we girls got a big box of candy, locked the door (for too much company is not appreciated just about refreshment time) and devoured it and it was yumity yum. Then at 9 p.m. we went to a Pop Corn Fete in the kitchen, where we analyzed tomorrow’s soup and skated on the greasy floor.

April 28 We had the best game of tennis. . . . After luncheon Blanche and I wended our way to the library where we delved deep into the firmament of knowledge. I seem to be making the most of my time now that the term has almost come to a finis.

1895. Sophomore year.
April 30
What can repay me for the hours, days and years I have spent searching for knowledge? Oh rats rats rats. Someday I shall wander into the land of somewhere where even ugly girls will be popular, where books will be unknown, where there is plenty to eat and nothing but new dresses et cetera to wear. Where people can dance to their heart’s content!

May 15 All p.m. I have been absorbed in Tess of the d’Urbervilles and I enjoyed it. Only it makes me just a little angry to see how wicked man always escapes and woman is crushed. I think I will write a novel if only to make poor man wriggle and suffer.

May 19 This morning I was sound asleep when Luella woke me up and exclaimed that a mouse was in the cocoa pot. I had to chase down the hall for hot water before I was even awake. And then she armed herself with a tennis racket and I poured on the water. Over went the water on the floor and away went the mouse and we sought the chairs.

May 21 After lunch we played whist. Then we went to chapel to hear Miss Susan B. Anthony speak. She is quite old. [She was 75.] Not much of a speaker, but a Miss Shaw who was with her was most entertaining and funny. The poor boys! I’m sure they felt better when it was over.

May 29 Luella is in a high state of excitement for today she graduates. We saw the whole class as they marched two by two into the gym. They just about yelled themselves hoarse. . . . This p.m. we had to pack; and such an exciting time. There seemed to be about eight times as many things and the more we packed the more there was to be packed. We almost gave up in despair but didn’t as we were buoyed by the thoughts of the Hop tonight. We looked like two dirty ragamuffins but just the same had a most jolly good time. Such a glorious time I have had this past week. Yes, for once in my life I hate to leave Stanford.

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.