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from the Archives: 1913

Simple little things

Marie Fennell 16
Marie Fennell ’16

By Becky Simmons
RIT Archivist

Among the holdings in the RIT Archives is a scrapbook created by a 1916 graduate. Marie K. Fennell, who went through the home economics program, compiled this scrapbook over a period of 40 years.

The scrapbook opens with her acceptance letter from the registrar, addressed to “My dear Miss Fennell.” This brief note sets the stage for the next three years of her life as a student. On the next page is a sheet with very specific instructions for buying fabric and sewing the uniform she is required to wear to class. She was instructed to purchase eight yards of pink gingham and sew a skirt with a 6-inch hem that falls 3 inches off the floor. The shirt was to have a white linen collar and she was required to wear a white tie.

Next are two cards with information about housing for women – one advertising a room at $6 per week, the other $2.50 – reflecting the fact there were no dorms in 1913, and students had to find housing on their own.

The book continues with announcements of events, programs, ticket stubs, clippings and cards as well as snapshots of the neighborhood around the school and images of off-campus picnics that evoke the day-to-day life of a student of the era. A few pieces deserve special note – a metal meal ticket used in the school cafeteria and records of her tuition payments that doubled as official schedules. We can follow her schedule through nine quarters.

In the pages after her graduation ceremony announcement, the scrapbook is filled with newspaper articles about the school, the faculty, and her fellow classmates. The last clipping is dated 1955.

Some facts on the university in 1913: RIT was called the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute (RAMI) and usually Mechanics Institute for short. The campus was located in downtown Rochester. There were three departments – Industrial Arts, Household Arts and Applied and Fine Arts. Total enrollment at RAMI was 2,344. Marie Fennell’s three-year Normal, or teacher training Household Arts and Science program, had 378 students. Tuition was $30 per quarter and estimates of yearly expenses, including lab fees and room and board, were $360.

The Home Economics program encompassed a rigorous combination of chemistry, physics and biology along with cooking, dressmaking, millinary, psychology, education courses and gymnastics.

Once she graduated, Marie Fennell would go on to teach the subject in an elementary or high school.

Miss Fennell’s personal touch distinguishes the scrapbook from other holdings in the RIT Archives and it contains a number of items not found elsewhere. RIT is very fortunate to have such a treasure with which to remember a slice of our history. If anyone has a similar item that they would like to donate to the RIT Archives, they are encouraged to contact Becky Simmons, RIT Archivist at raswml@rit.edu.

View the PDF of this story.

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