On the first printed page, the book announces itself as “The Owl: Published annually by the Junior Class of the Western University of Pennsylvania.” This is not exactly wrong, but arguably it’s filled with the idealism that college students are supposed to embody. The Owl, renamed Panther Prints in 1981, will be published annually, but in this 1907 edition, it hasn’t yet. This is the first year that the yearbook is printed. They can only plan to publish annually.
It is a basic yearbook. There’s a dedication (to Thomas Mellon, founder of Mellon Bank, “the oldest living alumnus…and one who has ever had its best interest at heart”). There’s a printing of the alma mater (different than the current version, which will be adopted later, after the university changes its name). There are photographs of faculty (some with delightfully outdated specialties: one medical school professor is a professor of “Therapeutics and Diseases of the Sleus,” which I haven’t been able to figure out) and students, with short biographies (the students are a bit mocking, an inside joke here and there: one senior is said to have “the fastest liver of the class”—something may be lost in translation here, but I’m hoping this means he could drink the most). It looks, for the most part, the same as my high school yearbook or my mother’s college yearbooks—just a higher proportion of men.
There were, at this point, women, as indicated by the horrifying-in-retrospect “Co’Eds” section. It opens with a drawing of a woman, bordered by a stack of books and a diploma, but also by a hair brush, hair ribbons, and a half-complete work of embroidery, still on the hoop. Below the drawing is a bit of hand-lettered verse:
“Some Sing of the Daughters of Vassar,
And Some of Old Wellesey’s Fair Girls,
Some Sigh for the Sweet Classic Maidens—
Where the Banner of Wilson unfurls;
But the Best of Them All without Question
The Critics United Agree,
Are the Maidens enrolled ‘neath the Blue and the Gold,
The Coeds of W. U. P.”
A list of all the women studying that year follows, with all the names fitting comfortably onto one page, 25 women total. Then there is a longer poem, in which “a sweet co’ed” returns home, full of knowledge and wisdom (“she talked just like a book!”). She is so smart, everyone agrees, but she always acts so haughtily when asked if she had learned to cook. In the end, of course, she marries a young man:
“No more she mends the Universe,
(She’s busy mending hose),
For her many household duties
She all things then forsook,
And ‘twas thus, O gentle reader,
That she HAD to learn to cook”
I try not to be bothered by this. I try not to be bothered by the words of men over a hundred years ago, over women who would, in all likelihood, stop working and start cooking when they were married. And yet, I find myself bothered, both on my behalf and theirs. I am, at best, a sufficient cook, but my older brother had to ask me how to use a can opener last Christmas. And these were brilliant women, on the leading edge, fighting for their right to education, etc., etc. It annoys me to see them belittled. But anger for women long-dead is futile at best.
Yearbooks are, of course, meant to be saved, to be returned to years later. I am meant to flip through my mother’s college yearbooks, to see the year when her name changed from Dunham to Garis and remember the Christmas wedding. I am meant, as a Pitt student, to look through these old Pitt yearbooks and feel some kinship. So, what did they felt needed to be recorded? The names and faces of the faculty and students, the history of the University and of the clubs. It’s odd looking at the names that are, in my present, just buildings. It reminds me, in a way I think the best archives and history and archaeology do, that everything that is history to me had all the present-ness of my world.