By JIMMY BRYANT
The University of Central Arkansas “Freshman Handbook” from 1929 contains a pledge that was considered at the time to be the oldest tradition in the history of the institution.
The pledge read as follows, “I hereby accept residence in Arkansas State Teachers College (now UCA), and by so doing pledge to abide by and conform to all rules and regulations of the college and further promise to conduct myself in such a way as not to interfere with any other student’s person, property, liberty, or comfort, and to protect the property of the college.”
The pledge was created and put into effect during the administration of UCA’s first president, J.J. Doyne.
The aforementioned pledge was considered the only guiding influence needed to govern human behavior on the UCA Campus.
Under the category of “College Traditions” the 1930 “Purple and Gray Handbook” stated, “The oldest tradition of the college is that there shall be no law or regulation set up to govern the conduct of the individual student. The principles that control the conduct of ladies and gentlemen in all walks of life have had full sway in the school with few infractions. This method of control was announced by President J.J. Doyne to the students at the opening of the school in September 1908. It is a fixed rule of conduct and seemingly an all-sufficient one.”
The Doyne Administration (1907-1917) was also a strong proponent of religion and believed students should be involved in a local church. Doyne made it a requirement for students to attend church while in Conway. While this would not go unchallenged in today’s world, it was the rule of the day during Doyne’s tenure as president.
Doyne required students to provide his office with the name of the church they had decided to attend. The pastor of that church was given the names of the students that had decided to attend that particular church. If the student was absent from church a communication would be sent to Doyne by the pastor informing him of the student’s absence. President Doyne then visited with the student in question to determine why he or she was not in church that particular Sunday.
Religion wasn’t just for Sundays at UCA. There were chapel programs held on the campus and students were required to attend; later they were strongly encouraged to attend. When UCA first began operation in 1908 and for several years thereafter, the chapel programs were a daily affair. However, at some point the daily chapel program was dropped in favor of a more elaborate service once a week.
The leaders of several Christian churches in Conway took turns presenting chapel programs.
The chapel program for Wednesday, Oct. 9, 1929, included a sermon by the pastor of the First Methodist Church of Conway, Dr. J.M. Workman, on the topic of “The Spirit of a Christian.”
The Wednesday, Oct. 16, 1929, speaker was a Baptist minister, Dr. E.P.J. Garrott, who gave a sermon on poetry of the Bible.
A week later, a minister from the Christian Church, the Rev. J.C.
Dawson, spoke about the vices that he considered bad for humans to engage in, such as tobacco use and indulging in alcoholic beverages.
The “Purple and Gray Handbook” of 1930 did contain some guidelines about things students should refrain from doing.
One of those things was smoking.
According to the Handbook, “Our students do not smoke in the buildings or on the campus. As our students are to become teachers, and as school boards will not employ women who smoke, our women do not smoke.”
Even though smoking was banned for everyone, emphasis was placed on the impropriety of a woman smoking. The ban on smoking was not just for students but also applied to the faculty and staff.
The “Purple and Gray Handbook” from 1926 addressed smoking and simply stated, “All smoking in the buildings and on the campus is prohibited.”
Another form of behavior that was strongly criticized was dancing.
Dancing at UCA was frowned upon from the beginning and for several decades thereafter. According to the “Purple and Gray Handbook” of 1930, “By common consent mixed dancing by students either at school or in town, has never been recognized as having a place in the activities for students.” Also stated in the same Handbook, “The fact that students of the Teachers College (UCA) come from homes of moderate means, as a rule, has tended toward conservative spending of money. No wild parties or sprees ever occur.”
The acceptance of dancing on the UCA Campus happened slowly, over a long period of time. Unfortunately, no exact date is given for the beginning of organized dancing on the UCA Campus. However, we do know that dances were taking place sometime before 1935.
A factor that had to figure prominently into the institutional acceptance of dancing at UCA was the creation of the “Tophatters,” the college dance orchestra, as it was originally called, in 1935. One could argue that the creation of a dance band meant that UCA, as an institution, had accepted dancing as part of student life.
Obviously, restrictions on dancing had loosened significantly by the mid 1930s as social dancing had become more accepted. Additionally, folk dancing was being offered as part of a course in the Department of Physical Education, beginning with the 1934-1935 academic year.
During the latter part of the 1930s, the word “folk” was dropped and dancing stood on its own as part of a physical education course.
Traditional dances soon began to be held on campus, often in McAlister Hall. The first pictures of students dancing appear in the 1936 Scroll, and often the music was provided by the “Tophatters.”
The “Tophatters” were organized in 1935 and provided music for UCA functions as well as for off-campus organizations. The “Tophatters” were quite popular, and in 1936 they accepted an invitation to play aboard cruise ships belonging to the Cunard White-Star Steamship Line during the summer.
Author’s Note: Sources for this article included the Arkansas State Teachers College Bulletins, 1930 – 1940; Purple and Gray Handbook, 1926-1930; the Freshman Handbook, 1929; The Official Records of UCA, M99-01, Box 1A, File 7; and the Scroll.