My group members, Alexis, Caleb, and I have been searching through the upperclassman-issued “Freshman Bibles” from decades ago, looking for a topic to focus. These “Frosh Bibles” began in the 1930s and included information of a variety of topics pertaining to what a first-year student can expect in their first year at Cortland. The upperclassmen filled the Freshman Bibles with neat tidbits and traditions now lost in the past–and even some offensive language. For example, the Bible issued in 1946 explains that due to World War II the Cortland fraternities are depleted, now only down to one house, and the men are off “fighting the Germans and the Japs.” The Freshman Bible dips into how to act, what to wear, what to do, where to live and who could forget our Cortland fight songs.
Our first few days in the archives, our group thumbed through the Bibles stopping on anything that caught our eye. Old school cartoons drew my attention and moving through the years it was interesting to see the sketches of what the campus layout looked like that particular year. We would come in, jot down as many citations as we could (just anything that was remotely interesting) and leave with a page full of potential focuses for our exhibit.
As we continued to research it became apparent that Frosh Bibles could well document changes and evolutions in traditions that occur between their first Bibles from the 1930s and those of the latter years (believed to be some time during the late 1960s or early 1970s). Freshman Bibles from the mid1940s are a great a primary source look into what it would have been like to be a freshman during war time, something I though would make a great focus.
Part of the story of the Freshman Bible that interests me so much is that we are really not sure when or why the Bibles stopped being issued. The archives have Frosh Bibles from the late 1960s and have record of some into the 1970s, however; there is no definite “last bible” that we have been able to uncover. Being these Freshman Bibles were put together by upperclassman why did they stop? Did the Frosh Bible get replaced with another handbook? Did the students get lazy one year and say “enough of this”? Did the school put a stop to them to put out their own literature to freshman? These questions are what lead to new discoveries, as a historian I was fascinated by the Freshman Bibles and I am looking forward to finding answers.
An event that really caught my attention was the Tug of War. On the day preceding Thanksgiving vacation, it was mandatory for freshmen girls to play the old school house game of tug of war, but they would play through a stream or over a creek nearby. The winners are allowed to remove their freshman buttons while the losers get nothing but wet in November, and November in Cortland no less!
By far the most difficult part of my groups research has been nailing down a focus. With so much mentally and visually stimulating information filling the pages of the Freshman Bibles and not a lot of time in the archives, it gets easy to just write down every interesting thing that you see. Not until the end of the archive session you realize your research had no real direction; which can be a problem.
My group cycled through a few topics, gender differences, war time changes on campus, the evolution of sororities and frats. What stuck out to me the most was the evolution of the different ways freshman, men and women both, were initiated by upperclassmen as a whole. The Freshman Bibles made it clear that initiation was not limited merely to fraternities and sororities but forms of initiation reached campus wide. This provided us with a wide range of instances to cover over decades of Bibles instead of being limited to the United States’ involvement in World War II or slight differences in gender rules.
We have decided to divide Cortland initiation into three subjects, General rules to perform in day to day life, and then analyze the tug of war and a Cortland fight song. These Freshmen Bibles were important to the culture of Cortland thus it is important that they are not forgotten. Using the Frosh Bibles to investigate forms of initiation at SUNY Cortland Alexis, Caleb, and I will be able to create an exhibit preserving an important part of Cortland’s past.
By: Christian Foster, fall 2018