#7 (Mary Washington)

My years in high school were rather uneventful.

That was when I realized that I wanted curly hair and finally figured out that that would require putting curlers in my hair. Well, this whole arrangement was new to me and I didn’t realize you were supposed to put curlers in the back of your hair too. I couldn’t see the back of my hair. All I could see in the mirror, was the front. I had to ride the bus to get to school, so with the humidity of Norfolk, it really didn’t make that much difference since the curls in front would already be gone by the time I stepped off the bus.

I remember that I wanted a pair of Capizio shoes something awful. They were the REAL thing, not the copies they sold in the department stores. One of those things you lust for at the time, but can’t quite figure it out years later. I did know we didn’t have enough money for the Capezios.

The one time in high school that I remember my mother being proud of me was when they sent out a notification that I was a finalist for the National Merit Scholarship. Being a Merit Scholar helped in applying for scholarships, but the colleges mother wanted me to apply for, Sweetbriar and Hollins, two of the most prestigious women’s colleges in Virginia. Well, I did win some big scholarships to both schools but the scholarships hardly made a dent in the cost of attendance. What it did get me was being named “Most Intellectual” in the high school year book. I was horrified. I wanted to be “Most” of anything except NOT “Most Intellectual.”

Finances dictated the choice of Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. State school and after some scholarship money and being a state resident, the cost for the first semester was $13. Not bad. The problem was that I was so traumatized by being named Most Intellectual, that I lost both scholarships by the end of sophomore year. Luckily I was still a state resident.

My roommate and best friend for the first two years was Margo Walcovich (now Tate). We got off to kind of a rocky start when she first arrived in the room (rooms for freshmen were assigned) and saw the present my grandfather had left on my bed — his prized slide rule that he had used in college. Not the best thing to avoid being called “Most Intellectual”! It didn’t take that long to convince her otherwise and we’ve remained good friends to this day. We were both in each other’s wedding party.

After all my efforts to get curly hair, I copied Margo and got a short pixie cut. Unfortunately, when Mother picked me up at the end of the semester, she looked at me for a moment and the asked “Was I trying to make myself as unattractive as possible?” Sixty years later the hurt is still pretty raw. Being “Most Intellectual” was bad enough, but I certainly didn’t want to be “Most Unattractive”!

Mary Washington College
Mary Washington College

Mary Washington was a beautiful campus. It started out as one of the state teaching colleges but was fortunate to be the closest one to the Washington DC area plus being richly endowed with DuPont money. (I think some DuPont went there once upon a time.)

The next trauma was when I got a C in my English Literature class. Mother had her master’s degree in English Literature. For some reason (maybe being Most Intellectual), I had ended up in an advanced English Lit class. Several girls in my class had already published books and poems that they had written so I was obviously out-classed. Somehow I got a C. When the C got back to my mother, I received a phone call telling me I was “obviously not college material, and they would not be paying any more college fees.” I think what really happened is that money had gotten really short and cutting out that expense would help. My grandmother wouldn’t admit that when her sister asked her for a loan and I think my mother wouldn’t admit that to me. But that left me in a real bind.

I quickly got a job working in the college dining hall. Dinner every night was a sit-down dinner, eight girls to a table, served by the dining hall staff. Fortunately, I had a really wonderful group of eight girls at my table. I worked in the dining hall for the last two and a half years at Mary Washington. That with what I made working during the summers paid the bills.

Being cut off like that really made me want to prove that I belonged in college. I really buckled down, helped by the fact that I loved chemistry and physics. I was working towards Final Honors at graduation, based on your grades for the final two years. I didn’t make a big deal out of my goal, probably due to the “Most Intellectual” debacle. I was pretty sure I had made it and was sitting right next to Evelyn Wright, my competition, at graduation. But they called her name and not mine. It ends up that I did qualify but because of the trouble (Social Prohibition) they didn’t calculate my score. They announced it at the first gathering the next year but that was too late.

Meanwhile, the Desegregation Movement was going on. Mother was teaching high school in Norfolk. Then they decided to shut down all the Norfolk school rather than integrate. Fortunately, this impetus to close the schools had been gaining momentum for several years, giving Mother the opportunity to find a teaching position in Ridgewood, New Jersey. My parents and my grandfather moved to New Jersey the summer before my senior year. Mother had contacted Mary Washington and they agreed to let me keep my in-state status for my senior year. That saved from having to pay out-of-state tuition. That summer I worked as a camp counselor/tennis instructor at the Hackensack YWCA camp outside Bear Mountain, New York.

One more trauma senior year. It was a Saturday night and seven of us at the end of the hall didn’t have any dates and someone was getting a permanent on her hair. Everyone can remember how bad those permanents smelled. So somebody turned up with a six-pack of beer. The beer didn’t help much and we all ended up going to bed early. Not exactly a wild and crazy Saturday night.

About two weeks later, I was taking a nap in the afternoon when I was woken up by the question “On your Honor, have you been drinking in the dormitory.” I took the Honor System very seriously, so I said “Yes”. I really had no idea of the repercussions. The seven of us were hauled up before the Honor Commission. The first option was dismissal, then suspension. That was enough to scare all of us half to death. I called home and I remember my father telling me that “that was really a stupid thing to do, but they still loved me and were behind me all the way”. The sentence came down as Social Prohibition for the remainder of the senior year.

No more “male callers” as dates were called. But then none of us were dating that much anyway. The seven of us then took it upon ourselves to station ourselves in the lobby on date nights and sing hymns much to the dismay of everyone else. But they couldn’t do much, since after all, we were just singing hymns.

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