Chapter IV: The Hall in the Woods

BECAUSE of the isolation of Ladies’ Hall, off in the dense woods, without telephone connection or any means of protection, it was deemed wise to have a family living in the building. During the first year Professor Teisberg’s family took possession of the east half of the first floor. Eighteen girls and their preceptress occupied the rooms on the second floor, and had for a parlor the large southwest corner room downstairs.
It appears that during a part of Miss Margaret O’Brien’s reign as preceptress she had the courage to live with the girls in the Hall without male protection. Strange to say, we have no hair-raising tales from that period.
From the “Ladies’ Department” in the college catalogue for the year 1886-87 we quote: “The Ladies’ Hall is in charge of Miss Margaret O’Brien, an accomplished lady, who takes pleasure in making the Hall as attractive a home as possible for the lady students. Having studied vocal and instrumental music in the East, she is a competent teacher, and students have an excellent opportunity to pursue musical studies. Should a young lady desire to devote herself exclusively to the study of music, she may do so; but as a rule a careful selection of other studies is made by the teachers, and a program prepared for the lady students, suited to their requirements. In order to graduate, a young lady must, however, pass a satisfactory examination in all the studies comprising the course.”
The wild forest in the primitive days of the early 80’s was some place” to plant a ladies’ dormitory. The trees stood so close to the building that anyone climbing them could easily reach the roof or enter second story windows. Not that it was done, necessarily! It was quite possible for a girl “by a hop, skip, and jump from the back steps to land so far into the woods as to be out of sight” and off campus; for college property extended only a few rods beyond the Hall. It did happen that girls venturing into the forest primeval lost their sense of direction and spent an entire day finding their way back to civilization again. That was before they hit upon the plan of tying white rags on the trees to trace their way home. To be sure, it was for students a place quite free of distractions. No neighbors to hobnob with. No traffic to watch. No telephone calls to interrupt. No radios to add droning accompaniments to meditation and concentration. Not even a vista or a view to conjure up imaginations of the outside world.


Oh, yes, there was a wagon road, running down into the woods to the south, which on the hill divided into two tracks, one going west and one north. On this road wood was continually being hauled by teams of horses. From the upper Hall windows a glimpse might be had of wagons and sledges as they passed the lamp-post on their descent toward town. That lamp-post was one familiar landmark. “Always called lamp post,” Miss Mellby facetiously remarked, “because the post was always there, the light rarely.” It was an oil-burning lantern, of course, and greedy as to fuel. One other such fixture stood east of the Main, on the brow of the Hill, at the head of the path up from Lincoln Street. Two stone steps, almost buried, still mark the spot. A light here was very necessary because Forest Avenue was the main approach to the Hill. St. Olaf Avenue was then the back road, down which wood was hauled.
Disheartening it must have been for many an already homesick girl, away from home for the first time, to be shown to one of the little rooms in the Ladies’ Hall, with its walls “calcimined in sad blue” and its soft wood floors glowing with yellow paint. A yawning, wooden bedstead with several slats but no mattress and no springs, a bare washstand, a misty mirror, a deal table, two clumsy kitchen-style chairs — which had not the remotest association with the word “period furniture” — and a little grateless stove made up the equipment of the room. Talk about a challenge! Imagine making such a place cozy and comfortable. Before she could begin to live, or even sleep, in such a place, the new occupant had to make an excursion to town to purchase a lamp, a kerosene can, a wash bowl and water pitcher, a slop-bucket. Bedding she had brought from home in her trunk, but the mattress was a story all by itself. An empty tick she had been advised to bring from home. At an appointed hour Old Tarje, the janitor, loaded all the girls, each with her folded up ticking, on to a hay rack, drove them out to a nearby farm, and supervised the filling of the home-made mattresses with fresh straw. What a sight they must have made on the return trip — the girls sitting on top of their puffed up mattresses! They did not stay puffed up indefinitely, however. Toward spring they were so flat and lumpy and thin that another trip had to be taken in the hayrack and the filling process repeated. For the boys the mattress filling was not quite so romantic. A huge stack of straw was placed to the west of their building and they simply walked out there to fill their ticks.
A girl may or may not have had curtains at the many paned windows, but without question she had to provide a calico or print curtain covering for the improvised clothes’ closet in the corner, where a triangular piece of wood with hooks underneath held up her scanty wardrobe; for only two rooms could boast of closets. This equipment seems meager when viewed from an Agnes Mellby Hall, but, nothing to be ashamed of when we learn that “the only provision Matthew Vassar had made for taking care of the girls’ clothes in his endowed college was three nails on the wall: one for a day dress, one to hold a Sunday frock, and one to hang a nightgown on.”
During the fall and spring months life in the Hall was not too awfully uncomfortable. In fact the setting was idyllic from several points of view. When both double doors were flung wide open, it was a sign that spring had arrived. The surrounding woods, only slightly touched by the ravages of civilization, abounded in many varieties of beautiful flowers: hepaticas, anemones, bloodroot, Dutchman’s-breeches, violets — blue, yellow, and white — dogtooth violets, jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, columbine, and both the yellow and the pink moccasins. Entire carpets of them, amidst rich green borders of dainty maidenhair ferns. The many herbariums from those days attest to advantages taken of living amidst such rich vegetation. But, enjoyed at a price, at times; for, there were snakes wriggling among the flowers, poison ivy ever a menace, and wood ticks eager to get a tenacious hold on human beings and to appear stealthily lodged in an ear or swollen to potato-bug proportions clinging to some fleshy part of the anatomy, several days after one had given up searching for them.
Yes, spring — with slight reservations — and fall, too, were delightful seasons in the verdant surroundings. But, when one of the double doors was tightly closed against the long, cold winter, life in the primitive Hall was far from a long sweet song.
Deep snows were often a great handicap, sometimes pil ing up over the front door. That, however, caused no panic among the Hall girls. They just resignedly staid indoors till the boys shoveled them out. No use worrying about classes when they simply could not get to them! Cold it did get, too. On January third one year the thermometer froze at forty-five degrees below zero. At such times it was good to be wearing long, woolen underwear, heavy woolen stockings, high, buttoned shoes, flannel petticoats, corsets, corset covers, lined woolen dresses with high collars and full length sleeves.
Even so, keeping one’s room warm was a primary concern. The wood was sawed into stove lengths, but left in high piles in the back yard, there to be covered with thick blankets of snow. Hence, each girl had to extricate the sticks as best she could and carry them upstairs and stack them neatly outside her door. The girls who had special boy friends to help them with these chores were the envy of the less fortunate, even though it meant placing the wood in the downstairs hall. Nor were troubles over when the wood was within. When pilfering began, the wood had to be placed inside the door, more than likely under the bed, inappropriate and unattractive as such a sight was. When, in the march of time, a large, common wood-box was placed in one end of the corridor and filled by the janitor, there came a great improvement in the pattern of living.
Making that wood serve its destined purpose was quite another matter. No kindling of any kind was provided. Very resourceful were the girls who had brought from home “butcher knives,” with which they laboriously tried to shave off slivers from the unimpressionable chunks of wood. It was easier, and quicker, though, just to soak the chunks well with kerosene. Much more oil was used for this purpose than for the lamps! To hold the fire through the night was another worry. The school gave no instruction in the care of a stove. So, it was generally an every morning ritual to build the fire. That done, the pioneer, bent on receiving an education, had to run downstairs and out to the cistern pump to fill her pitcher with water and hurry to wash away the kerosene odor from her hands with ice-cold water. Ice-cold, yes. For even if it had been fetched the evening before, it was more than likely to have a crust of ice in the early morning. A trip had to be made to the “powder room,” too — several rods into the woods! Not too bad in daylight, but, oh, very dismal and spooky and with uncertain fumbling of the way in pitchy darkness, with never the faintest ray of light from a lantern, not to mention the as-yet-undreamed-of flash light.
Neither would a lantern have been amiss on the early morning walks, through the closely-set trees to the Main, for 7 o’clock breakfast. Especially in mid-winter through knee-deep snow — before chivalrous boys had been out with their shovels to make more easy the way for skirt-hampered ladies. And, more especially in the evenings when the little tank of drinking water at the Hall ran dry and there was no alternative but to walk over to the Main for the wherewithal to slake one’s thirst. The narrow, high, wooden walk, which in time was built over the nicely curving path, was on such trips more of a hazard than a help. In the unlighted forest one could not see, but only hope to feel, the edges of the walk. Therefore it often happened that the carriers spilled the precious contents of their little pails and had to make the uncertain trip over again.
Periods during the day when the girls had no classes they had to observe study hours in their rooms. When in ’87-’88 a room in the Main had been set aside for the library and reading room, “a branch reading room for the exclusive use of female students” was opened in Ladies’ Hall, thus obviating some trips to the Main.
Lights had to be blown out at 10 p.m. Preceding bedtime there was a period of devotion down in the parlor. At first this was conducted by the resident professor — the housefather — but later taken over by the preceptress. Since there were not chairs for all, some girls stood along the wall, and it did happen when a reading was lengthy that one would topple over in a fainting spell. It was then found safer, even though less dignified, to sit on the floor.
In free intervals the parlor was a delightful place in which to relax. The spacious room was covered with an ingrain carpet, well padded with newspapers and tacked down close to the walls. A few rocking chairs were placed invitingly at measured distances. Up near the center west wall stood a big base-burner heating-stove, with little isinglass panes in the door, sparkling with the cheery glow of the red coals within. In the ceiling a hanging lamp with pendant prisms. One girl was admired for the exceptional feat of kicking as high as that lamp! Over in a corner a square piano. Much used. On the walls were two pictures, which impressed themselves on the girls’ minds somewhat as pictures in the home of one’s childhood leave an indelible stamp. The one was of a beautiful young lady whispering in the ear of a girl friend. It was entitled “The Secret,” and had been painted by Herbjorn Gaustad, of Minneapolis. It was told that the whispering girl was a likeness of Anne Bothne, a sister of Professor Gisle Bothne, of the University of Minnesota, and the other that of a Miss Sanderson, a cousin of the artist. The painting had been procured through the efforts of Mrs. Mohn, wife of the president of the school. She had collected fifty dollars among teachers and students to buy this work of art. The other picture was a crayon drawing of “Pharaoh’s Horses,” done by Clara Bjornstad, who sent it as a present to Ladies’ Hall after she had left the school. These two pictures were for a long time the only works of art at the institution. Many were the times they were borrowed to decorate the Chapel for some important event, as numerous photographs bear witness.
By the way, this Clara Bjornstad was the sister of Alfred W. Bjornstad, who also attended St. Olaf. He was reported killed in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. The flag on the Main was at half mast for three days before it was learned that he was alive, though wounded. Mr. Bjornstad became a brigadier general in the U. S. Army. His textbook on military tactics was adopted for use in army instruction.
The cozy parlor was a much used room. Here during free hours the girls gathered around the piano to sing the popular “sheet music” of the day. Here they received their gentlemen callers of an evening, dressed, not in velvet house coats or slacks, but in lace-trimmed and ruffled, floor length wrappers. Too often the enjoyment of such occasions was spoiled by the steady stream of girls who found it necessary just then to come in and look for a misplaced book or a piece of music!
Of great importance to the girls and of incalculable influence upon their lives was the Felland home in the Hall.
In 1883, on May 11, Professor Ole G. Felland, who had been teaching at the college since 1881, was married to Thea Johanna Midboe, a student at the school. The marriage was a strictly college affair. It took place in the chapel room, or “College Hall” as it was called on important occasions. The room had been decorated by students under the supervision of Miss O’Brien. As the spring season was unusually late that year, the only fresh greens they could find were wild gooseberry bushes. But, by the use of evergreen branches and a few flowers, they managed to erect an attractive arch and suspend from it a floral horseshoe which hung down over the heads of the bridal pair. The attendants were Miss Gina Gullikson and Professor Ytterboe, Miss Julianna Quammen and Mr. H. Boe, Miss Minnie Miller and Mr. O. Ohnstad. President Mohn performed the ceremony, at 7 p.m. Mrs. Mohn supervised the wedding supper, served at 8 p.m. to the entire school family and additional guests.
Until the end of the year the newlyweds occupied “an apartment” in the southeast rooms on first floor of the Main, joining the students, Miss O’Brien, Professor Ytterboe, and the Mohn family at meals in the college dining room. In the fall of ’83 the young couple moved into Ladies’ Hall, occupying the east half of the first floor. In an unfinished autobiography Professor Felland tells: “The Ladies’ Hall was the coldest house that winter that I ever lived in. It had been put up in the flimsiest manner imaginable, old siding with many of the old nail holes left open, open space between the studdings, opening into a cold attic.” A large, new coal stove in the front room made little impression. The chamber joined to the living room by large double doors was bitterly cold.
One of the coldest nights in that extra cold winter the Fellands had as guest Dr. Borchgrevinck from Madagascar. They gave the missionary their own bedroom while they themselves occupied an unheated “guest room” upstairs. After shaking down the ashes in the one large stove and filling the reservoir with two hods of anthracite, Mr. Felland filled the hod again and left it by the side of the stove, with instructions for shaking down and filling again. The following morning all three hods of coal had been consumed, leaving barely enough embers to build on. At that the missionary had not been comfortable under all the bedding the house afforded.
The next year the building was much improved by having open spaces closed and an earth banking placed around the foundation. In Professor Felland’s words, it became a “habitable dwelling though not by any means model.”
The Fellands became very intimately bound up with the early history of St. Olaf. Courageous, patient, and long-suffering they must have been. One may wonder how well they liked the continual sound of feet in and out the bare halls and up and down the uncarpeted stairs, the slamming of doors, and constant activity over their heads. But, Mrs. Felland, who came to her new position directly from the students’ point of view, continued to be always friendly and sympathetic to the girls, and very understanding. How she was bothered, both directly and indirectly! When the odors of her unsurpassed doughnuts ascended to rooms above, the girls could on the spur of the moment invent an errand to her kitchen! When there was an urge for a candy-pull, her kitchen was cheerfully offered as a base of operations, and she never complained of the sticky doorknobs and the messy stove she had to clean. She and her family considered themselves an integral part of the Ladies’ Hall occupants and delighted in the relationship. Their interest in the school and every one connected with it was deep-seated, genuine. One of the “old grads” said recently about Mrs. Felland: “She was the touch of home that we all needed.” All students, also those outside the Hall, felt her heart-warming interest. It was wonderful for the students to have this family and home influence right in their building. Delightful and reminiscent of home to have children to love, to tease, and — to spoil. The last Felland baby to be born in the Hall was pretty little “Toodles,” with long flaxen curls. The girls taught him to knock at a door and upon its opening to call out “wabba neck” and then toddle downstairs again.


The Felland “front room” was practically a second parlor to the girls, on a several degrees higher scale than their own, directly across the hallway. Many were the parties enjoyed, formally and informally, in this room of culture and refinement. Many opportunities there were for stamping upon impressionable minds every feature of the hospitable “best room.” The large-flowered, brown ingrain carpet matched the brown paper on the walls. Heavy drapes at the windows, attached to wooden rings on wooden poles, blended nicely with the scheme of the room. The pictures that hung on single hooks high up near the ceiling, slanting out at a pronounced angle, were reproductions of works of art, such as Hoffman’s “Christ in the Temple,” Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna,” and “Faith, Hope, and Charity.” Some had peacock feathers stuck up behind them or dainty tidies hung over a corner. In the center of the ceiling a hanging lamp. Against the walls several tall, well-filled bookcases and a secretary with bookcase above. A platform rocker and other inviting “easy chairs” with their antimacassars. At the desk a swivel chair. There was a clock shelf hung with an embroidered velvet lambrequin, and a carved corner-shelf holding a statuette of “Rebecca at the well.” The two south windows were filled with flourishing plants on shelves and brackets. And, in the center of the room stood an ornate oak table on which reposed the big family Bible, a stereoscope — with views — and an elegant, large book on The History of Florence, bound in brilliant red, half morocco leather, with gold embossing. The base-burner stove was of such beauty of line and design that Professor Felland himself deemed it worthy of a photograph!


Perhaps all the commotion of the population within the house worried the young bride less than the wildness of the immediate out-of-doors. For several years she kept the back door locked against surprise intrusion of snakes, wild cats, and wolves! And burglars were not an unheard of possibility, either.
In 1888 while Professor Felland was on a trip in Europe, his wife spent the summer with her folks on the farm. During that period the vacated Hall was broken into. A gun was stolen, the roll-top desk plundered, and a bullet hole in the cellar stairway left as evidence. One wonders whether Pooh Bah would have put fright into the burglars had he been on the premises. The big, black Newfoundland, with a name borrowed from Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera “The Mikado,” was a sight to startle the most bold. When Professor Felland heard his growling, he got up at once to see who the intruder might be. The college paper, the Manitou Messenger, 1887, comments: “It is said that Pooh Bah is not liked very well by the girls, as he is apt to notice callers.” Mrs. Felland told of how Pooh Bah appeared on the scene when the ladies’-aiders were leaving her home one afternoon. Immediately there was a woman behind every tree! But it seems that Pooh Bah was not altogether dependable, to judge by items in the college paper. In January 1888, this: “Pooh Bah, an ornament of Ladies’ Hall and a terror to vagrants, is no longer an inhabitant of that establishment. He has taken lodgings in town.” In February 1888, this: “The ladies were pleasantly surprised lately by a visit from their old friend Pooh Bah. The meeting was a touching one.” But, in April 1888, this: “The croquet players regret that Pooh Bah is gone. Who can suggest something to take his place?”
As one might expect, there was also a pet cat at the Hall at one time. It, too, received its name from the “Mikado” and was called Yum-Yum. The Messenger verifies its existence by speaking of “the official cat of Ladies’ Hall, the pride and delight of that colony,” and goes so far as to suggest that the big, fat, black and white spotted cat be placed in a “Mew-seum! ” This cat — or any cat — was useful for one specific purpose. When the ladies’ aid had finished a quilt, the girls were permitted to stand around holding its edges and bounce the cat in it. The girl nearest the place where the cat jumped out was destined to be the next bride! It is quite evident that neither the dog nor the cat served very efficiently the purposes these domestic animals are expected to. Mr. H. Eliassen writing some recollections in the Messenger tells about how one summer night when Professor Felland was away, Mrs. Felland, fearful after the recent robbery, asked him to sleep in a bedroom across the corridor. She gave him a repeating Winchester for defense. Says Mr. Eliassen: “There were noises on all sides. I held my breath for a moment, felt for the combination of the rifle, decided I would use the butt end of it on the head of the first robber who came near enough. I heard footsteps around me, and other sounds, but nothing got within range. Never slept a wink, though, all night. Upon investigation next morning, I found it had been rats.”
The five Felland children who were born in the Hall could tell many anecdotes from their childhood home in the virgin forest. One of their most horrible memories is of the army worms. These pests came, literally, by the millions, marching in a compact body from south to north, crawling over — never around — every obstacle in their path. For three days they so completely covered the Hall that it looked as if painted gray instead of brown. The south entrance had to be kept closed. All who ventured outside carried umbrellas for protection and swept the sidewalk ahead of them as they walked. When the invaders had passed, the basswood trees were like weird skeletons, every leaf eaten off.


In the day of which we are speaking the school girls looked elderly and dignified in their tightly fitting basques over wasp-like, corseted waists, their long henrietta and merino skirts draped in ruffled panniers, and their hair in bangs and high coils. Nevertheless, they were youthful and jolly and given to pranks.
One day during study hours the girls happened to learn that the entire faculty was occupied off the Hill, and decided it was an excellent time to go outside to play games. Some boys came along and joined them. More and more came. The games became livelier and livelier. Neither preceptress nor president caught them at it. It was an interlude known to participants alone, which might have had serious consequences had they been caught.
Being out after 10 o’clock created difficulties. One evening two girls dismissed their escorts and then began whispering to each other about how to get in. They discovered the west window in the parlor unlocked. Marie pushed it up. Anna slipped in and disappeared, instead of holding the window open for Marie. Marie called as loudly as she dared: “Aren’t you going to hold the window for me?” By and by the window was opened. Marie said crossly: “What became of you? Why didn’t you hold it open for me?” It was Professor Felland’s voice that answered: “Didn’t you ladies know it is after 10 o’clock?” Anna had seen the professor entering the room and had flopped down and crawled into a corner!
Very resourceful the girls proved themselves on many occasions. When there was a scare about men with ladders trying to get into their rooms, they went to bed armed with long hatpins. When they frightened each other stiff by telling ghost stories, they hung heavy quilts over the windows so that the ghosts could not enter!
One room in the Hall remains to be mentioned and that is the attic, for it figured prominently in the life of the girls. It was the place for stealthy midnight spreads, and for parties of a rollicking nature for large groups of girls. Only girls were permitted up there, however.
Especially enjoyable — and noisy — were the annual Halloween parties, where energies were let loose and imaginations given full play.
Of mock weddings there was probably one in each student generation. One female “pastor” had the audacity to borrow a white clerical gown, in which she consigned to wedded bliss Berit Sagabraaten, resplendent in conventional white with a lace curtain for a flowing veil, and Nels Miggerdal, uncomfortable in tight trousers that necessitated his standing up all evening. The wedding feast consisted of apples and popcorn. An unplanned denouement was the falling of Kaia down the stairs!
Perhaps the prize party was a certain faculty masquerade. Carrie as Professor Y., tall and stern, but with a hearty handclasp, startled the professor’s wife by asking in a deep voice: “Did you leave the children at home then?” Gina as Dr. M., smoked a pipe the while she was interlacing her legs in the chair rounds. Mary, as the kindly, patient, yellow-bearded Norse teacher, kept saying “Naa da! ” Frida, in a red wig made from hair clipped off Locketts’ dog, in characteristic pose, bowed away at a fiddle which “is most like the hooman woice.” Caroline as an English teacher insisted on “hanging around” the attractive music teacher. Jeanette in precise, well-enunciated, staccato words spoke of English “as she is spoke.” Tall Georgia tried her best to be as gracious and polite as a much admired mathematics teacher. Faculty wives were also impersonated, and a few were there in person to see themselves — and their husbands — as students saw them. One professor did not relish the idea. He went to the president and complained about his imitator: “She mocked me, the scoundrel,” he exclaimed, and demanded that the culprit be disciplined.
Safer, and more quiet were the secret parties, when the girls, in their wrappers, with candles in hand, sneaked up at midnight just for the joy of stolen fun. It did happen, though, that the hollow walls reported in the preceptress’ room and that the affair turned into a sudden surprise party when they saw, like a ghost, the preceptress on the stairway — in her nightgown and carrying her candle — sternly saying: “Girls, what does this mean? Go to your rooms at once!” They usually did!
Strange it is that no preceptress died of heart failure, what with carelessly handled candles in dry as tinder attic; with girls falling down uncarpeted stairs, with the boldest trying to sleep on the roof and even jumping off the roof! Stranger still that the frame building with its many stoves, lamps, and kerosene cans never burned down. To the boys in the earliest days must be given credit for standing guard against forest fires. Twice at least there was the beginning of a fire. One November Sixth a firecracker landed in the dry shingles. Only a swift pitcher brigade prevented a disaster. Another time Professor Ytterboe on his way to town happened to take a backward glance and saw smoke issuing from the roof. His long legs soon brought him to the scene where girls were already busy pumping water and carrying it up in their pitchers. Concerted action averted what might have written the doom on coeducation at St. Olaf College at a time when the financial condition of the school was at an extremely low ebb. In later years when freshman boys were out for wood for a bonfire, some one cried out: “Take the Ladies’ Hall. It is the oldest box up here.” Surely it was a charmed life that old Hall had. It was loved for the part it played in perpetuating coeducation at St. Olaf.
Two old landmarks in the neighborhood of the Hall, now gone these many years, were the pavilion and the “Ladies’ Hall Elm.” The former, a wooden platform with plank seats around inside edges, was set in the woody hillside a short distance southeast of the Hall. According to a Messengeraccount, it was built in 1888. “The 17th of May platform has been left standing here as a social gathering place for our young ladies and — the mosquitoes.” Many outdoor programs were given from this platform, and here the girls delighted to gather in groups. But, when one desired privacy, the Hollow Elm, on the hillside to the northeast, was sought out. The large cavity in it had been burned out to prevent further decay and provided quite a little room. It was possible for a person to squeeze herself into it, there to ponder, study, or memorize. Many are the pictures that have been taken of this dear old relic.


The Messenger for April 1911 has a poem on the Ladies’ Hall Elm, written by Frida Bue (Mrs. G. P. Homnes ):
“Stately and tall it stands,
A veteran guard on the hill-crest,
Bearing the marks of time
Yet showing a spirit unbroken.
Keeping a silent watch
O’er the paths converging beneath it.
Shielding from trespassing eyes
The time honored hall of the maidens.”

Oh, the tales it might tell
Were its murmurings comprehended.
Stories of wilderness times
When Indians roamed on the hillside;
Stories of sugar camp days
When the frolicsome youth of the village
Feasted on sweets of the maple
Cooled in a lingering snow drift.

“Decades have passed since then,
And bevies of fair young maidens,
Merry or grave, have passed
‘Neath the eye of this sentinel watchful,
And to each as she passed
The Elmtree has murmured its greetings,
Whispering gently of rest
In the shade of its wide spreading branches.

“Long be thy life, O Elm,
And many future Manitou maidens,
Though in more sumptuous halls
Their merry young lives be sheltered,
Love and revere thee as we
Who mid tears and its laughters
Dwelt in the dear old Hall
Which thou hast so faithfully guarded.”


The Hill was a world in itself. It was only occasionally that one found it necessary to go down into the town, and definite study hours regulated those infrequent trips. There were no taxis to call. The one horse-drawn hack of which the town boasted was never resorted to except when one came off a train and had a trunk to transport. At such times the driver would lift the trunk up on his own high front seat, usher the lady and her telescope bags into the enclosed carriage and prod his steed in its snail’s pace the long trek up to Manitou. Twenty-five cents, he charged, to the foot of the Hill, fifty cents to the top of the Hill. One preceptress tells of how a spring afternoon her teacher companion prevailed upon her to ride home in the hack. To the foot of the Hill, only! She felt disgraced. As they drove up St. Olaf Avenue she drew the curtains so that the girls would not see her in such shameless laziness and extravagance. The reason for the unprecedented ride was that the preceptress was to be brought to Ladies’ Hall at a certain hour for a surprise party. The party she walked into that beautiful, warm spring day became a memory to cherish. All the school girls were on the green hillside dressed in white dresses. The faculty ladies served pure white ice cream and angel food cake. Professor Felland, ever ready with his camera, has left a picture of the girls in one long white row. Had the preceptress not been so completely surprised, she might have had her wits about her enough to change her suit for a summer dress, too, to be photographed at the head of such a line of feminine daintiness.
And what was there in early Northfield to draw students and teachers down town? There was the “City Book Store, O. T. McClaughry, proprietor” — the source of text books; “The Popular Store, Watson and Moses — the best place to buy dress goods, notions, clothing, gents’ furnishings, groceries, etc.”; “Kinsey’s Cheap Store, headquarters for St. Olaf students — and others, to buy notions, stationery, lamp goods, writing materials, etc. etc.;” “Misses Stiele and Lajord, Millinery and notions.” “Ladies’ Kid or Goat Button Shoes $2, C. W. Gress and Sons.” (1887) With special appeal to men were the following advertisements: “H. T. Budd, Tonsorial Artist. Razors and shears sharpened; Hot and cold water for baths; Shooting Gallery, and guns to let;” “Penniman and Couper, proprietors of the city Livery Stable. First class rigs furnished with or without driver. Four horse rigs a specialty.”
One errand that took the girls off the Hill was the regular trip to the “washer tante.” No parcel post to carry one’s laundry home to mother! As to a Bendix — well, that kind of an invention was so far removed from the most fertile imagination that the mere mention of such a miraculous possibility would have made one eligible for an asylum instead of a college! No neat laundry kits, either, if you please. One “tante” frankly admitted she subscribed to a Minneapolis daily in order to have papers to wrap laundry in. The girls, not to be outdone, smoothed them out and wrapped laundry in them again. These errands were no unpleasant chore, for they often took the form of a coffee party on a free Monday afternoon, when the “tante” set her kitchen table with homemade bread and cake and poured cup after cup of hot, aromatic coffee. One “tante” happened to be in the Hall collecting laundry one evening when one of the girls dressed as a ghost came tumbling down the attic stairs, bursting open the door right at her feet. “Holy Mary!” she cried, and crossed herself. After that she preferred giving coffee parties!
Walking wherever one went was taken for granted, and students were really Orientals when it came to piling up mileage on free days like Sundays. First, there was church to attend, come fair or foul weather. And that meant down to the first St. John’s edifice on Washington Street. If you happened to be a Sunday School teacher, it meant getting there by 9 a.m. — and staying for services. The long walk back up the Hill was shortened by the anticipation of the best dinner of the week. After that maybe a walk to Sandy Rock, or, in the opposite direction, to the beautifully planted cemetery east of town. One wouldn’t miss 5 o’clock supper, either, as that was the one time in the week that cake was served. Cake with frosting! In the evening, down town to church again. Sometimes forsaking one’s own assembly, to attend the German Moravian Church, on pretext of adding to one’s knowledge of German. The girls couldn’t help that there was generally a group of St. Olaf boys, with the same noble purpose, sitting in the back-most pew. Nor could they prevent those same boys from walking behind them all the way home and making such jolly fun! Had they coupled up, they would have run the risk of being “called on the carpet,” for it was an age of strict chaperonage. Still not quite as strict at St. Olaf as in a certain Eastern college, where it was a rule that when a young man called on a lady there had to be a vacant chair between them. But, when the preceptress kept repeating proverbs like “familiarity breeds contempt” and said, unconditionally, that “a college engagement is a calamity” girls trembled and almost decided not to have anything to do with boys. There was absolutely no encouraging of college engagements. When such a rarity as an engagement did take place, it became a matter of greatest seriousness and solemnity. For, happen it did, between students, between teachers, and — most unusual — between teacher and student. One classic case of the latter we have on hearsay evidence. A gallant professor slipped into his pupil’s textbook this note: “I have begun to entertain tender affections for you. May I continue?” When one professor called on the preceptress as often as once a week — leaving always promptly at 9 o’clock — people began to say, “Too often! ”
A roster of the preceptresses who served in the old Hall may be in order. Miss Ella Fiske was the first to serve in the double capacity of preceptress and music teacher, from 1875 to 1879. In 1882 she married Mr. John C. Martin. Miss Caroline Koren, 1879-’80, was the second preceptress. She married Mr. Charles A. Naeseth, in 1886. From 1881 to 1888 Miss Margaret O’Brien was guardian of the girls. She resigned in 1888 to marry Mr. E. T. Archibald, of the famous Dundas milling company. Miss Sarah Larsen served during the years 1888-’91. Miss Helen Steensland (daughter of Consul Halle Steensland who gave St. Olaf its first library) was the first preceptress to teach other subjects than music, 1891-’92. Her subjects were French, drawing, and arithmetic. In 1894 she married Mr. Samuel A. Nielson. From 1892 to ’93 Miss Amalie Olsen was preceptress and teacher of English, geography, and penmanship. She became Mrs. John E. Granrud, in 1894. Miss Agnes Mellby, after her graduation in 1893, as the first girl graduate from St. Olaf, returned that fall as preceptress at her Alma Mater. She taught English, geography, and drawing. From 1895 to ’97 Miss Marie Krohn “was responsible for the conduct and personal welfare of the young ladies at the school,” and taught the same subjects that Miss Mellby had had. She married Mr. Carl J. Rollefson, a fellow teacher, in 1897. Miss Agnes Mellby returned as preceptress in 1897 and taught English, United States history, and physical geography, until 1904. During her year’s leave of absence Miss Agnes Kittelsby (St. Olaf 1900) took her place in the Hall. Miss Mellby concluded her stay at St. Olaf in 1909, and then Miss Georgina Dieson (St. Olaf 1904) stepped in as the third St. Olaf graduate to fill this position. She taught Latin and German. Miss Agnes Glasoe (University of Minnesota 1903), 1910-15, was the last preceptress to live in the old Ladies’ Hall.
The impression must not be left that the old Ladies’ Hall remained unaltered and unimproved during its entire existence. There were a few changes off and on. At the turn of the century the modest front steps gave way to a grand verandah across the entire front, with railing on top. Agnes Kittlesby once remarked that “the Ladies’ Hall minus a verandah bore a closer resemblance to a mammoth strawberry box than to Mount Vernon.” Did she mean to imply that with the improvement it did resemble the national shrine? About the time the verandah made its appearance electric lights replaced the kerosene lamps, to be soon followed by radiators that pushed out forever the crude little stoves. And, joy of joys, plumbing was installed. But, along with advantages there are sometimes disadvantages. The young engineer at the heating plant took discipline into his own hands and turned off the heat in the Hall Sunday mornings, so that the cool temperature would force the girls to get out and go to church. He hadn’t realized that he was going considerably outside his jurisdiction in punishing the preceptress, at the same time.


As It Was In The Beginning


To Be Read First, Please
The Big Woods
On the Banks of the Cannon
Up to Manitou Heights
The Hall in the Woods
From Dawn to Dusk
A New Tree Grows on Manitou
In and Out Among the Trees
Boughs and Branches
The Woods Recede