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 The Great Sadie Finkelstein Hoax

The front page of the November 4, 1921, Cosmos joyfully reports the return of Sadie Finkelstein to campus: "This news will be hailed with joy by her host of admirers on the Coe campus, and the Freshmen are urged to become acquainted with one of the most renowned personages in recent Coe history." Her arrival, tinged with gossip, was recorded on the calendar of the 1922 Acorn as well: "Friday, the 17th: 'Sadie' makes her first appearance on the campus for the coming year. Understand that she wears a rock on her left hand." Perhaps the most surprising part of learning of this engagement is the fact that Sadie was not a real person at all.

Created as a joke by students in Professor Leroy Coffin's freshman mathematics class, "Sadie's" name was secretly placed onto the roll sheet, and a female student would quietly say "Here!" to continue the charade. Students went so far as to complete an exam for Sadie after finishing their own, and both the professor and registrar were impressed by the excellent grades Sadie managed to pull in.

The November Cosmos issue explains Sadie's absence from Coe in this discreet manner: "She was suspended in 1919, because of rather unpleasant notoriety in connection with a flirtation with a prominent member of the T.N.K. But Sadie bravely lived down this scandal and is now respected by all who know her. She is a star pupil under Professor Coffin, who no longer worries over her chapel absences."

Sadie's fame was not limited to the classroom, however. The Nov 5, 1920 Cosmos reports that at the Halloween dance, "Sadie Finkelstein and her sister, clad in very brief skirts and very, very bright red hose, gaily romped from one end of the gym to the other…." Miss Finkelstein wrote a letter to the editor of the Cosmos for the February 17, 1922 edition on the subject of fraternity and sorority initiation practices of the day.  The letter begins, "This place is gettin' crazier every day what with one thing an' another goin' on ter sort of get a person mixed up an' thinkin' he sees things when he don't and don't when he does. For instants I'll jest tell you what I've been livin’ amongst the last few weeks so if you hearn tell of me bein' a inmate of one of these here nut houses you can bet it ain't my fault." The letter continues in this vernacular to describe the variety of strange sights on the campus, including guys using gunny sacks for book bags, and girls "wearin' heathenisher close than ever lately.  The only sensible thing I recollect wuz several dunce caps that somebody sed they wuz wearin' to celebrate Probishun." 

The Sadie Finkelstein hoax left the campus with the class of 1922, the group of students who created her.  In the final Cosmos  issue, June 7,1922, the joke apparently ended:

A tragic accident which marred the happiness of Commencement time at Coe and plunged the senior class into deepest grief, occurred two weeks ago when Sadie Finkelstein abruptly departed from this life.

Her leaving was as spectacular as the rest of her career; she was peacefully making her way down First Avenue when she suddenly became tangent to an on-rushing Ford, described an angle of forty-eight degrees, and was boosted into infinity.

The funeral was held in T. M. Sinclair Memorial Chapel, Friday morning, May 26.  William Burger, president of the senior class, had charge of the services, the obituary was read by Ray Peterson, and Bruce West “came to bury Sadie, not to praise her.”  The entire senior class followed the bier, each member wearing deep mourning.


Miss Finkelstein was born in Nonesuch, Iowa, and was graduated from the city high school in 1917.  She enrolled as a freshman at Coe the following autumn, and soon distinguished herself as a student, displaying unusual ability in Professor Coffin’s mathematics class.


Miss Finkelstein was a popular member of Carleton literary society, and a habitual subscriber to the Acorn, The Cosmos, and the Y.W.C.A.  The only blot on her career was her suspension from college during the year 1919-20, following a romantic adventure.


Miss Finkelstein was posthumously awarded a gold medal by her former instructor in mathematics.  Her diploma, which she was to have received at the Commencement exercises today, was withheld by the faculty.

Miss Finkelstein is survived by one sister, Rebecca Finkelstein, a member of the class of 1925.

With the graduation of the Class of 1922, it seemed the Great Sadie Finkelstein Hoax was over. But Sadie was not gone forever.  According to Coe at 125, the published radio scripts from Coe's 125th anniversary, Sadie had the last laugh at the 50th reunion of the class.  One of the alumni received a telegram from a Miss Sadie Finkelstein, conveying "her greetings to her old friends in the class and her sincere regret at not being able to attend the reunion."

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