Happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully everyone is getting ready to visit family and friends, and looking forward to eating a great meal together! Our students are getting ready for their Thanksgiving break by packing up and heading home for a long weekend. Although it’s become common over the years for students to visit home several times during the school year, in the early 1900s, it was just the opposite!
Centenary College has always endeavored to be a second home for its pupils, and for many who attended in those early decades, it was. The school wanted students to develop long-lasting relationships with their peers and to grow into self-sufficient, thoughtful adults, so to accomplish this task the school set limitations on how often students could travel off campus. College handbooks advised students not to take trips home during the first few months of school, nor should they write home saying they were homesick.
Often students remained on campus all year, only traveling home between semesters. At that time, Centenary’s school year was divided into three terms: fall, winter, and spring. Early calendars show a schedule with three breaks, one in each term. Students could travel home for Thanksgiving in the fall semester, for Christmas in the winter semester, and for Easter in the spring.
Although the students were given a scheduled break for Thanksgiving, many stayed on campus and enjoyed a ‘vacation’ planned by a joint student and staff committee, called the Committee of Arrangements (today, we have a Student Activities Department that organizes events and programs for students. Over one hundred years ago, Centenary Collegiate Institute had a similar department called the Committee of Arrangements). In the December 1903 issue of the Hackettstonian (one of Centenary’s earliest student newspapers), an article devoted to the Thanksgiving festivities stated that thirty students and the entire faculty celebrated from campus.
The Committee of Arrangements planned events for the whole weekend. The night before Thanksgiving, the students held chapel in the girl’s parlor, and then enjoyed a recess with games and dessert. The next day they held a Thanksgiving service at the local Methodist Church, followed by a Thanksgiving dinner. As the article says, “there was a great abundance of everything and nobody lacked (Thanksgiving at C.C.I., 1907).” After dinner they spent some time off campus. One year, the students took a walk to the foot of Schooley’s Mountain, and another year they took a canal boat ride.On Friday the students focused on recitations. Recitations (or rhetoricals, as it was also called) resembled a talent show; students and staff performed vocal solos, impromptu speeches, recitations, and piano pieces, and sometimes acted out a mock wedding. They followed that with singing, games, and a joint meeting of the four literary societies on Saturday (Rhetoricals). By Sunday, students started traveling back to school, and the holiday weekend was officially over. This makeshift Thanksgiving vacation was enjoyed by all; many students called it one of the happiest experiences they’d ever had.
As the years progressed, student events shifted their focus from fellowship and self-improvement to community service. Centenary still held traditional Thanksgiving dinners and designed Thanksgiving themed events, but now the focus was on what the college could do for the Hackettstown community. The cafeteria still makes traditional Thanksgiving dishes, but instead of holding a special dinner event, the meal is available during normal mealtime hours. Now every student can spend a little of their Thanksgiving with Centenary College!
“Rhetoricals.” The Hackettstonian [Hackettstown] Dec. 1907: n. pag. Print.
“Thanksgiving at C.C.I.” The Hackettstonian [Hackettstown] Dec. 1903: n. pag. Print.
“Thanksgiving at C.C.I.” The Hackettstonian [Hackettstown] Dec. 1907: n. pag. Print.