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Column: We’ve Come a Long Way, Rebels

By Bettye Galloway
Contributor to Hottytoddy.com

History is a compilation of provable facts, figures, dates, and times.  Memories can be random thoughts that are stored in one’s brain in no particular sequence that may or may not surface from time to time. My memories of the University of Mississippi are just that—-memories.  No dates or facts have been verified, although they could be, because I am simply recalling them as I remember them, not as historical events.

My first association with the University of Mississippi, commonly referred to as “Ole Miss,” was at the beginning of the 1949-50 school year.  The City of Oxford had only a grammar school which went through the sixth grade.  The University had built a school on the campus to serve as a teacher training institute for their education majors, and the Oxford students utilized it for grades seven through twelve.  University High School was a tremendous facility in that the faculty members were highly qualified members of the University’s faculty, and with the addition of student trainees, most high school classes had multiple instructors.  The high school was located at the edge of the Ole Miss campus.  When a high school graduate chose to enroll in Ole Miss, all he or she had to do was walk across the railroad bridge.  It was very convenient, but the excitement of “going to college” was lost, because the UHS students had already spent at least four years on the campus proper with university-level instruction.

Enrolling in Ole Miss, though, was quite a learning experience. WWII and the Korean Conflict had caused a two-decade economic sluggishness in Oxford and the University.  The end of the wars and the return of the combat veterans was causing an expanding enrollment at Ole Miss and a scarcity of available housing.  Classrooms were crowded and academic buildings and residential facilities were still on the drawing boards.  Faculty houses were built to attract professorial applicants, and the University administrators were able to contract with Camp Shelby for wartime barracks buildings which, when moved to the campus, served as housing for married students and temporary service buildings. 

There was a long-standing initiation tradition when a freshman enrolled; the upperclassmen shaved his head and gave him a beanie to wear until his hair grew out.  Most of the new enrollees were older veterans who had been in combat.  When the upper-classman approached the veteran to shave his head, the older more experienced veteran simply said, “You’re not shaving my head, Sonny Boy.”  And he didn’t.  That was the end of shaved heads and initiation beanies for freshmen.

Academic classes were held everywhere and anywhere space could be found.   I shall never forget the first business course I took.  It was in the School of Commerce, later renamed the School of Business Administration, which was housed on the third floor of the Lyceum.  There was no air conditioning on campus.  Even with all the windows open that summer, it was so hot that I was embarrassed to stand up after class because I had perspired so much that the back of my dress was wet and stuck to my seat.  A while later, after my office was in the Lyceum, the first floor of the Lyceum was air conditioned and I had the benefit of the Chancellor’s cool air.

Registration for all classes, housing, cafeteria fees, and auxiliary services was held in the Circle in front of the Lyceum.  The lines stretched all through the trees.  There were very specific rules on where students could live, especially for the coeds.  After I was married, I had to stand in the women’s housing line for over an hour to get permission to live in Vet Village with my husband!  With nowhere on campus or in Oxford to rent, we had no choice but the Village, nor did the other married couples. 

We moved into the old two-story Camp Shelby barracks building for several months.  Since I was employed by the University, we were “lucky” enough to move to “Faculty Row” which contained one-story, flat-roofed barracks buildings, a bit of luxury compared to the two-story building to which we were first assigned.  We heated and cooked with kerosene.  When we walked into class everybody knew immediately that we lived in the Village because we and all our clothes smelled of kerosene.  My husband and I solved this problem by installing a new stove and a butane tank. The Village was like a small town; everybody knew everybody else and we made lasting friendships.  We had the only television in the area, and friends came, invited of course, to watch it at any time. It was common for us to come home to find several couples watching our TV.  Our doors were never locked. 

One particular problem we had was bugs.  We called them water bugs, but often we referred to them by other names, not nice names.  Everybody in the Village was overrun with bugs.  If we called the physical plant and asked them to spray for bugs, they always sent a worker to spray.  But they only sprayed our apartment.  As soon as the worker left, the bugs from the other apartments in our building rushed to our apartment for a physical plant buffet.  When we came in at night, we had to open the door and wait for the bugs to scatter before we entered.  The apartment lacked many amenities but it didn’t leak.  The apartment was cheap, and it didn’t leak.  I occasionally think of that student apartment, and after all these years I still keep my sugar bowl in the refrigerator just in case there might be a bug around.

Once we got rid of the kerosene smell in our clothes, there were many unwritten rules about dressing and conduct, especially for ladies.  I once was called to the Chancellor’s office by his gatekeeper.  When I answered the summons, I was told I was not dressed appropriately as an employee.  I was puzzled until she explained that she had seen me in the hall with no stockings on!   I was wearing stockings.  This was the time when the fashion was changing—from stockings with seams in the back to stockings with no seams—and I had saved my hard-earned pennies to buy a new pair of seamless ones.  For once I was ahead of the gatekeeper.

Women employees, of course, were not equal to men in many ways.  We were not paid the same as men and we were never given the same titles even when we performed the same tasks.  I smoked, but not in the office.  Men could (and did) smoke at their desks, but women could not.  Nobody complained in those days because it was “just the way it was.”  There are many stories about Dean Hefley, the Dean of Women, but I have to admit most of them are second hand.  The best story was universal—that the coeds could not wear patent-leather shoes because the shiny fabric might reflect up under their dresses.  But many true stories are attributed to her.  The coeds who went to physical education or to the pool had to wear raincoats over their shorts or swimsuits because shorts and swimsuits were not allowed in public on campus.

These were the days, too, when the fear of communism was rampant.  Every current or newly-hired employee was required to sign a “Loyalty Oath” vowing they were not a member of the Communist Party and listing all memberships to which they belonged and/or to which they had made contributions. 

But all things were not negative.  We had some spectacular things to share and talk about.  Ole Miss had two back-to-back Miss Americas—Mary Ann Mobley and Lynda Lee Mead—and a National Football Championship under the guidance of Coach John Vaught. The Ole Miss golf course was on campus between the football stadium and Vet Village.  It was a prime sin to miss a football game, and all the Village ladies prayed for no rain for two reasons: dry weather upped our odds for winning the game, and we all wore our Sunday best with a huge mum and didn’t want to get our good shoes muddy walking across the golf course.  Things have really changed!  The golf course later moved off campus and now can play host to a PGA tournament. The stadium and its surrounding athletic facilities are major assets to the operation and public relations aspect of the University and are equal to or better than others in the Southeastern Conference.

The best thing about the University in those days was the faculty.  Under the auspices of a couple of great chancellors and a myriad of professors, the whole university was operated like a close-knit family—the students liked and respected the professors, and the professors liked and respected the students.  All students seemed to be there for one reason—to learn academically and ethically.  Not only were the teachers respected, they most often were friends, and the best-liked professors were given nicknames by the students. 

For instance, Joe Cerny was known as “Papa Joe” because the students recognized him as the patriarch of the classroom; Karl Morrison was known as “Mule Morrison” because he was so stubborn that he refused to change a grade regardless of the carrot that was dangled; and Gene Peery was known as “Walking and Talking” because of the fact that he paced the classroom the whole time class was in session.  There were many more nicknames.  The professors knew their nicknames and considered it an honor to be labeled in this way.  These professors are all gone now, but Ole Miss has grown in physical size and academics. 

As is true today, politics continually intervened.  The loss of the Medical School to Jackson was unfortunate, but we were able to retain the Law School.  The Meredith riot put a black mark across the name of the school, but that was offset by good leaders, a good foundation, more offerings, and a higher enrollment.

Year after year Ole Miss continues to grow.  The landscape of the campus which had originally been planned by Olmstead Brothers who designed and created Central Park in New York City was becoming a beautiful setting for the campus buildings and was named The Most Beautiful College Campus in America by “USA Today.”  Although the Ole Miss Rebel football team has not recently won a national title, individual Ole Miss alumni have brought honors home, among them Peggy and Jennifer Gilliam who won Olympic medals in women’s basketball and Sam Kendrick, pole vaulter, who earned an Olympic medal and was named male athlete of the year by USA Track and Field.  Other talented athletes have brought similar honors to Ole Miss.  Remember the Mannings?

Individual faculty members and academic schools and departments are continually recognized nationally and internationally for their record-breaking work—very impressive work.  For instance, the online MBA program has been recognized as one of the best 25 programs in the nation by US News and World Report.  To list all the University’s accomplishments, I would have to research times and dates and go into a history mode.  Several books have been written about the University Medical Center alone.  But I won’t start to list them.  With all the scientific breakthroughs, suffice it to say that my favorite memory from the Medical Center is when the very first heart transplant was performed at the University of Mississippi Medical Center by the late Dr. James Hardy.

My memories just scratch the surface of what was and is Ole Miss, but the road ahead is solid and straight, and I predict greater things to come.  I may be retired from Ole Miss, but as a life member of the Alumni Association, I still feel very proud of what has been accomplished at our University.

Keep breaking new ground, Ole Miss; we’re behind you, and we’ll keep the light on for you.

Bettye Galloway is retired from the University of Mississippi and also as executive vice president of an analytical laboratory. She can be reached at bhg568667@gmail.com

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