Through Golden Years

Through Golden Years

Through Golden Years, 1867 – 1943

Whenever I do any research on Centenary College’s early years, I always first consult this book. Through Golden Years is a treasure trove of facts and remembrances that the archives staff uses all the time. Written between 1944 and 1947, it was published for the 75th anniversary of the college.

The book is part earlier manuscript, part unpublished autobiography, part research, and part interview. When beginning their project, Centenary Collegiate Institute was considering publishing an earlier manuscript written by a long time professor, “History of the Centenary Collegiate Institute Compiled from Original Documents and from the Memory of Events Quorum pars parva fuit by Albert O. Hammond, A.M., during forty years a Member of the Faculty of C.C.I.”, with additional chapters that would bring the report to the current year. They decided that there was enough new information and access to new resources for old information that they would start at the beginning.

Professor Albert Overton Hammond

Professor Albert Overton Hammond, author of an earlier history of C.C.I.

Leila Roberta Custard, faculty member at C.C.I., was chosen to write the new history. She was a graduate of Goucher College and received a Doctorate of Philosophy degree from the University of Southern California. She had a unique relationship with Centenary; her father was part of the conference that started the school, and her brother was an alumnus. In writing the updated history, she relied not only on Hammond’s manuscript, but also the autobiography of the first president, Dr. Whitney, written for his children under strict orders that it never be published. Custard used these documents as well as documents from the archives of Centenary and Hackettstown, and numerous student/staff accounts of their time at the college.

One of many pages of Custard's notes. This note was written using the back of a student's examination booklet cover.

One of many pages of Custard’s notes. This note was written using the back of a student’s examination booklet cover.

She wrote copious notes as she did her research, and sent letters out to staff and alumni requesting any humorous or memorable stories regarding their years at Centenary. The library has hundreds of pages of her correspondence and research. She wrote on any type of scrap paper, including using the blank pages left over from her students’ examination booklets. The letters to and from students display the cordial nature of correspondence at that time; when her research time was split by a trip to Chile as an exchange professor, students wrote to her hoping that the trip would not impede her research or prevent her from finishing the book. Custard spent two semesters in Chile in 1945, and as soon as she returned, she went right back to work and had the manuscript ready to present during the 75th anniversary event.

Leila R. Custard ceremonially hands over the finished manuscript

Leila R. Custard ceremonially hands over the finished manuscript.

Through Golden Years is a diamond in the rough. It may look unassuming in its simple blue cover, but on the inside, there are years of rich history bursting through the pages. We learn something new every time we look in it!

The Lady


The Lady

“The Lady” was a trophy given to the school by its trustees, and presented each year to the society that won the Trophy Contest. In the early years of the college, there were only two literary societies that would compete: Diokosophian and Peithosophian. These were both sororities (societies for women). Diokosophian, or Diok, as it was called, was organized by the female students in 1874-5. Diokosophian stands for “those who live according to the custom of wisdom”. In 1880 the girls organized another society, which they first called the Evergreens, but then later changed to Peithosophian, or Peith. Peithosophian stands for “persuaders to wisdom.”   There were also two literary societies for men, the Whitney Lyceum and Alpha Phi, but it doesn’t seem like they took part in the trophy contest. The college also boasted several dormitory societies, such as “Spook and Spectre” and “Knife, Fork and Spoon”. The college introduced a third literary society the next year, Callilogian. It was founded in 1861 at Pennington Seminary, but moved to Centenary Collegiate Institute at the start of the 1910-1911 school year, when Pennington became an all boys’ school.

The first mention of “The Lady”, as the statue was called, was in the July 1910 issue of The Hackettstonian, the college’s first student newspaper. It stated that the award was presented during commencement exercises that year. In this publication they don’t mention the prize’s name, but describe it in great detail; “The trophy is a handsome piece of gold bronze statuary by a French artist and imported by Tiffany. It rests on a tall mahogany stand…” The trophy resided for a year in the winning society’s hall. In 1910, the award was presented to the Diokosophian Society. 


The winners of the Trophy Contest of 1910


“Through Golden Years”, a history of Centenary Collegiate Institute from 1867 – 1943, explains the rules of the trophy contest. According to “Through Golden Years”, the trophy contest consisted of submissions of the best masterpieces of literature – prose or poetry – that members of the sororities could produce. A large panel of judges comprised of sorority members and faculty then read these submissions and chose the best ones to move forward. The essays finally selected had to be memorized. Final judgment was made on the basis of both literary merit and presentation.

The Lady was presented to the winning sorority for decades until she disappeared. We have no knowledge of where the statue is now, although there is the possibility that she is still on campus. She may be housed somewhere within a building/department that is unaware of her rich history, or she may have been placed in some kind of storage during a move. The other possibility is that she was stolen or sold, although with any luck this is not the case. We all hope that she’ll turn up someday!

1943 Banner Hunt

The dedication of the Senior Class banner and the banner hunt were old traditions at Centenary College. The traditions were popular in the early days of the college but had apparently disappeared by 1943, when the students brought it back.


This illustration by Alice Wolfson, class of 1943, shows the banner used in the hunt that year.

The senior class is given a banner emblazoned with their year of graduation. The freshman class has three days in which to steal and hide the banner, and if they succeed, the senior class has three weeks in which to find it.

According to the 1943 yearbook, the banner arrived on April 14th, and the girls had a dedication ceremony that day. All the seniors wore their class jackets and sang their class song as they marched into the dining room.


Pictures are scarce for 1943, so unfortunately we have no picture of the senior class in their jackets. Here is a picture of the 1943 freshman girls in their class jackets to give you an idea of what they looked like: clean, white blazers embroidered with a college logo and the class year.

The class officers carried the banner “for all to see and admire”. After dinner they tacked it on the wall in North Hall (now Reeves Hall) where it remained undisturbed for five days.

On Monday the seniors began posting guards for one hour shifts after classes and overnight. Classes were out of hours, so students were not allowed to steal the flag during those times. The yearbook recalls a “contrite thief” that stole the banner during class on Tuesday but returned it after learning that classtime was off limits. Fair play was one of the big three tenets of the college at that time so it’s no wonder that the thief returned the banner. If the freshman were going to steal the banner, they were going to do it fair and square. On Tuesday night, some ‘friendly warm words were exchanged [and] challenges were issued and accepted.” That is a really nice way of saying the students were trash-talking. Apparently it became something of a mob, more and more freshman coming to attempt to steal the banner while more seniors were called to barricade them from it. All of a sudden, the banner was gone! The freshman, “promising to take good care of it,” victoriously carried off the banner to hide it. Later in the evening they gloated by singing the freshman class song up and down North Hall. Senior banner-hunting parties were formed and the girls set out to find the banner. Wednesday, April 28th proved to be the lucky night for one fortunate hunting party when they found the banner buried in the dirt in the cellar of South Hall (now Smith Hall), and they marched the halls “singing in triumph”. Sometimes I wonder why traditions like these don’t continue into modern years. They create great memories.

Some candids of students from the 1943 yearbook.

The Centenary Scrapbooks

Scrapbooks have become a multi-billion dollar business in modern America, but long before they became a commercial enterprise they were a way for Americans in the 19th and early 20th century to “record” history in the pre-digital world.  Among the many “treasures” in Centenary’s Archive are the various scrapbooks of former Centenarians – - including a scrapbook kept by Centenary’s first President, the Reverend George Whitney.

Centenary’s scrapbooks include ticket stubs, programs for school ceremonies, invitations, dance cards and a variety of other ephemera that tell the story of life at Centenary a century ago.  The delicate bits and pieces of paper pasted on the pages are fragile and in danger of falling apart. For that reason the scrapbooks have been kept in storage in the Archive and have seldom been seen by members of the Centenary community.

The Taylor Memorial Library is planning to display a few of these scrapbooks in May 2014; hopefully we will be able to grab some images to post! Watch for further information and to see these bits of history at their first public viewing in a hundred years!

The Ways and Customs of Centenary College

Things were very different for Centenary students about a hundred years ago. C.C.I. (Centenary Collegiate Institute) was an all girls school, following the trend at the time of same-sex schools. C.C.I. expected that its girls would not lend out or borrow clothes, eat candy, or show their knees.

Image        In order to teach students the proper etiquette, the college used to publish a pamphlet stating the rules and guidelines set forth to create “happiness, health and finest development”. This document was called “The Ways and Customs of C.C.I.”. The three main tenets of this document were fair play, courtesy, and unselfishness. Girls were expected to show fair play: in the description of this idea, C.C.I. asks that girls not be slackers or grumblers, but to do whatever task they are given with honor and determination. Girls were expected to be courteous and considerate of others.  They were also to be unselfish and to do their full share in being a good comrade and room-mate, and according to “The Ways…”, not to be a snob.

This was a time when the girls would have written home to tell them how things were going, and C.C.I. suggested they write home regularly. They cautioned against writing a homesick letter during the first few days of school, because by the time the letter arrived at home the girl may have forgotten she was ever homesick.

Later issues of this pamphlet focus more on activities and wardrobe. Girls were expected to be dressed neatly at all times, and suggestions for the wardrobe included: a tweed suit, top coat, raincoat, wool sport dress, one or two silk dresses, lots of sweaters and skirts, ski clothes for cold weather and snow, a formal evening dress and an informal one, plain lingerie, and pajamas and slippers. Take note that at no point did the suggestions include pants! Girls were to be dressed in skirts or dresses all the time.


This is the front lawn. As well as being available to the students for their free time, it was used for events such as Commencement and May Fete, a May celebration.

         Students who attended Centenary in its early years were expected to spend a minimum of two hours out of doors every day from 3:30 – 5:30 pm. In the fair weather their options were nearly limitless. The girls would have picnics, swim, play tennis, go horseback riding, or take bike rides or walks. Weekends at C.C.I. (and later, C.J.C. – Centenary Junior College) were always full of fun. The girls would take hayrides to Budd Lake, train trips to the Delaware Water Gap, and (much like today) trips to NYC. In the wintertime, they ice skated on the Morris Canal, went on sleigh rides, and took plenty of ski trips (To learn more about their winter activities, see this post).


Here is a view of the back of the campus. You can see the tennis courts and a part of the school farm.


“…dinner is served on Hallowe’en, at which the girl who cannot hold her tongue is called upon by the tinkling of glasses to give a toast”. An excerpt from “The Story of C.C.I”. It gives a short history of the college and a description of the programs offered, as well as activities and events provided to the students. It resembles a prospective student guide.

According to a 1940s edition of “The Ways and Customs of C.J.C”, the girls were required to attend lunch and dinner during the week. On the weekend, the students could sign in the supper book and eat at one of eight approved local eating places. The girls would have to get permissions for many things; the main three were “smoking permission, permission to motor unchaperoned with men, and a list of men friends who were approved as callers and escorts.” Students had to request to spend a weekend away because the administration recognized the importance of the relationships made at college and did whatever it could to promote close friendships. Low grades could prevent students from leaving the campus to go into town.

      All these restrictions didn’t stop the girls from having a marvelous time. Every student was a member of a sorority: Callilogian, Diokosophian, or Peithosophian. Every year the sororities would have their “Anns”, when each sorority would celebrate its anniversary with a play and dance. Image        C.C.I. and later C.J.C. tried to foster the complete development of its young ladies in an attempt to create well-rounded women. Although its guidelines may seem strange compared to today’s standards, these were probably no different than normal moral standards of the time. It’s very funny to consider what Centenary would be like today if similar guidelines applied.

“The Millionaire Straphanger”: John Emory Andrus

ImageJohn E. Andrus, the son of a Methodist minister, was an American businessman and investor who made a fortune in chemicals, minerals, and land deals. His nickname, the “Millionaire Straphanger”, came from his habit of riding the subway when he had business in New York, part of a lifelong habit of thrift. He served as mayor of Yonkers, New York and in the U.S. Congress.

Three of Andrus’ children (he had eight or nine altogether  – - depending on which source one uses) attended Centenary College: May D., William L., and John E. Andrus. May Andrus met William H. Taylor at Centenary where they became interested in each other in their second year, sat opposite one another in the dining hall, and were ”steadies” socially.  May and William both graduated in the Class of 1890 and were wed in 1895.

In 1917 John E. Andrus established the SURDNA Foundation (Andrus, spelled backward). The Surdna Foundation made a gift of $125,000 for a new library – - at the time it was the largest single gift ever presented to Centenary College. This donation, along with others, made possible the building of the Taylor Memorial Library, named for both May and her husband, William, who also bequeathed a portion of his estate to the college – - having expressed his wish that Centenary build a memorial building in the name of his wife.

The library’s construction began in 1953 and was completed in 1954. Dr. William P. Tolley, Chancellor of Syracuse University was the speaker at the formal dedication exercises and stated that the Taylor Memorial Library would be “the heart of the College . . . where intellectual curiosity is aroused.”

The Surdna Foundation is still in existence today.


Winter at Centenary College

Winter is a busy time for Centenary College. The same could be said for Centenary nearly 90 years ago! Back then, Centenary College was Centenary Collegiate Institute, an all-girls school.

A 1923 student included in Leila Custard’s Through Golden Years writes:

One of my pleasant recollections is a sleigh ride we went on – horses, bells and all. It was beautiful. The country was glistening with snow and made a lovely sight.


Another student from the 1920s recalls the night before the last day of classes, with “Seniors singing Christmas carols as they moved very slowly through all the corridors, each with her lighted candle.”

The holidays went from somber to swinging in later decades. Photos and newspaper articles from the 40s – 70s tell us that Centenary Junior College hosted holiday concerts, a Winter Carnival, and other fun festivities. Outdoor trips were very popular and the students would go tobogganing and skiing. The Winter Carnival included a snow sculpture contest, the Winter Fantasy Dance and the crowning of the Snow Queen. The girls looked forward to these days all year long.



Choral festivities continued to be popular through the 1970s. Students were members of college choral groups, and they would give town concerts and even produced records.


Currently, Centenary College unites with the Hackettstown BID (Business Improvement District) to celebrate the season. This year our town/gown event (town/gown meaning a college/community partnership) was called Hometown Holiday and it included fun activities like sleigh rides, crafts, and caroling. Our theater will also be presenting A Christmas Carol and The Nutcracker for audiences to enjoy. What will you be up to this winter?