Pulling a president out of the hat

Jeff Sauve
Assoc. College Archivist
While sorting through some files in the archives vault this past year, I ran across this newspaper clipping of a photograph. The caption reads: “Partisan–These St. Olaf Students wore tall beaver hats so that all might know they were Republicans. That was in 1888. And, Ivan Ringstad of St. Paul recalls, the Democrats, not to be outdone, wore similar beavers embellished with a black band.” [note: Ivan Ringstad was Pres. Mohn’s brother-in-law.] The practice of wearing a beaver hat with party affiliation continued at St. Olaf for several more years.

I thought I would share a few lines as to the makeup and expectations of the student body of 1888. “Olefites”–as they were known then–were active in establishing on-campus organizations (mind you the college department started just two years earlier). According to the college bulletin, there were two literary societies, which afforded practice in debate and in composition both in the Norwegian and English languages. The Inter-Collegiate Prohibition Association met to discuss various aspects of the liquor traffic. College tuition was free but board and room was $80 for the year. At the time there were 15 students in the college department and 118 in the preparatory department. Agnes Mellby was the lone woman in the college department.

Among the habits forbidden were the use of intoxicating liquors, tobacco, obscene or profane language, visiting saloons or billiard rooms, playing cards, and reading books or papers disapproved.

With the advent of the student newspaper, The Manitou Messenger, in 1887, political commentary and notes appeared regularly, including the following in the fall of 1888:

“The students frequently attend political lectures. This makes them so interested in the affairs of our government that they talk politics while asleep.”

“The enthusiastic young chap who cheered so lustily for Harrison on the 6th [election day, November] beyond doubt had in view cheap candy, short school hours and long vacations.”

“When the Republican students received the news that their party had gained the victory they magnanimously treated their Prohibition and Democratic friends to a fine supper.”

“An ardent student politician returned from town much depressed in spirit election day. The judges of election had informed him that to be a legal voter he must among other things have a wife. He scratched his head as he muttered, ‘Had I only known this two weeks ago!'”

* 1888 advertisement (Notice 8 teachers)

N.B: Benjamin Harrison (R) was elected President of the United States in 1888. In the Presidential election, Harrison received 100,000 fewer popular votes than Grover Cleveland, but carried the Electoral College 233 to 168.