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The Special Events of Coe

Dancing in Canfield Hall

[An unfinished text, but full of fascinating documents on a story that remains untold]

The faculty minutes for the early years of the 20th century are neither thorough nor complete.  Many significant events in the period are often passed over without any reference in the surviving documents.  Other events, however, which never made it into any official public history of the college, are occasionally revealed with surprising density.  One such event unfolded in December, 1911 after some Coe students attended a dance in a public hall without faculty supervision.  What follows is a sample of the letters as the college faculty notified parents of the college’s actions and of how different parents responded to this information.  The letters from the parents provide a powerful testimony to the educational and social background of these students–and the role that Coe might have played in their aspirations.  These letters have not been edited; we have attempted to reproduce as accurately as possible the texts as found in the College’s archives.

Mr. Jacob Wolfe, Red Oak, Iowa                       December 16, 1911

My dear Sir:

I am requested to inform you that the Faculty of Coe College finds that your daughter has, by participating in a dance at Canfield Hall Nov. 28th violated three specific rules of the College pertaining to social functions, and that she has been advised that she may before Wednesday afternoon, December 20th show reason why she should not be suspended.

            The dance in question was

                        (1) given by a College organization.

                        (2)    “     in a public hall.

                        (3)    “     without Faculty permission.

                        (4)    “     without regular chaperonage.

                                    Very respectfully,


                                                W. S. Newell (signed)

                                    Sec’y. of Faculty.


Prof. Newell was in the Department of Philosophy and Psychology.  The copy of the letter in the College archives is a carbon copy of a form letter created for this specific situation; spaces for writing in son or daughter and the he or she pronouns occur at the underlined points in text.  Mr. Newell’s letter is followed by a handwritten response in pencil from Mr. Wolfe with an attached envelope dated Dec 18, 1911:

W. S. Newell

            Dear Sir

                        in Reply to this would Say I don’t think my Daughter would do wrong intensionaly but if She knew She was violating the College Rules.  She did wrong.  She must abide by the Rules or Come Home.  She never Seamed to Care for dancing I know this is the first time She ever went to a Public Hall the young man She went with lives Hear he ought to have known he was Violating the Rules  She did not keep it a Secret  She told her Mother all about it,  Truly Yours Jacob Wolfe


Here is a second handwritten letter in pencil from another parent who had received a similar letter from Prof. Newell:

                                                                        Dec 16 11

Cherokee Iowa

Dear sir I just received your letter informing me of my sons liable suspension and am verry sorry to hear that he violated any of the c [crossed out with /] College laws I don’t think he done it nowing it was against the rules and truly hope he will make amends for so doing please forgive him this once and hope he will never do so again yours truly Mrs J B West

Another handwritten letter from a parent apologizing for his son’s behavior:


            Des Moines  Dec 19  1911        

            Dear Sirs:-

I am in receipt of your favor Dec 16th.  Thanking you for the advice contained therein.  Am very sorry to learn that my son has violated the rules mentioned.  I have this date written him requesting that he appear before the Faculty and acknowledge his guilt and ask your forgiveness & promise to live with-in the rules of the College—I trust he will obey my Command and have no reason to doubt but that he will.  I have also explained to him the reasons of such rules in a College for the betterment of character as well as developing the mind.  I earnestly believe that Carter has prompted by these older than he into this act of wrong doing and I truly believe—what I have said to him in my letter of even date will prompt him to keep within the College Laws if what he has already done can be overlooked.-

            Trusting that the Faculty will be as light as possible in passing sentence in this case.

                                                I beg to remain

                                                            Yours Truly

                                                                        J. E. Cook

                                                                                    1232 – 38th St


Handwritten note on T. M. Sinclair & Co. stationery.  Dated Dec 19/11

There are, however, letters from parents less apologetic for the behavior of their children:

To Members of Faculty.

                        In answer to your letter concerning dance given on night of Nov. 28.  Will say this dance was given during vacation and thought all rules and regulations were abolished during all vacations.


                        Ruth Porter

Mr. W. S. Newell

            Secy. of Faculty.

                        My Dear Sir:  Replying to yours of Dec. 16th, My Son Maurice attended the dance in question with my permission, I am acquainted with the Lady he took & know who was there, the Public was not admitted at the hall, there is plenty of evidence in Cedar Rapids that up to the present time Maurice has not needed a chaperone to behave as a gentleman, I am to broad minded to agree with the Faculty that Maurice has done anything so far that ought to entitle him to suspension.

                                                Yours Very Truly

                                                            Bert S. [?] Church.

This letter was submitted using stationery of the parent’s place of business:







                                                                                BURT, IOWA, 12/18 1911

Walter S. Newell.

            Cedar Rapids Ia

Dear Sir:  Your favor of the 16” at hand and note what you say in regard to my sons violating the rules of the College.

I expect him to live up to the rules of your College. and would not dictate to Faculty of Coe College.  Will say that I supposed that your School was out on Nov 27 and that the students had a perfect wright to have a dance if they felt so desposed.

            My advise would be for you to live up to the rules of the College.

            There are other Schools that I can send him to.

                                                            Yours truly

                                                            O. P. McDonald

The college received another letter apparently typed by a secretary on the company’s letterhead stationery: 

Cedar Rapids Transfer Company

Cor. A Ave. and Fourth St

Telephone 165

Cedar Rapids, Iowa       12/18/11.

Walter S. Newell,

Sec’y of Faculty, Coe College

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

            Miss Esther Hammond has turned over to me her notice of suspension received from you yesterday, and has asked that I should take this matter up with you.  To say the least, I consider your action about as unreasonable as anything I have ever heard of, as Miss Hammond attended this dance not only with my permission, but with my full approval, and I can not see where it concerns you in any way.

            I consider this letter as a direct insult to Miss Hammond, and unless you or any one so authorized cares to apologize to her for your action, you may consider her connection with the school colsed in every way, and expect to make settlement with me for the tuition due her for the rest of this term.

            I am in my office in the Cedar Rapids Transfer building from eight to give every day, and if there is anyting further you wish to take up with me, call on me at my office.

                                    Your truly,

                                                A. S. Hammond [signed]


Also included in the file is a Petition from the Student Council of Coe College, signed by Lucy St?, Secretary.  Although Williston Hall had developed in the 1890s a student organization for helping to administer some functions of the boarding hall, it was only with the arrival of President Marquis that students began to develop a functional student government.  This petition, submitted to faculty for their consideration on December 12,  1911 is one of the first efforts by the Student Council to change college policy on an issue.  The petition was to be delivered at the December 12 faculty meeting, four days before Prof. Newell sent the notices of suspension to the parents of the implicated students.

To the faculty of Coe College:

            We, the Student Council of Coe College, after an investigation of the policies and conditions in regard to dancing in most of the other colleges of Iowa and several standard colleges in nearby states and comparison with those now existing at Coe, do set forth the following views in regard to dancing at Coe:

First: [all numbers in red ink]  There is a large percentage of Coe Students who dance with the sanction of their parents and their own conscience.

Second:  That the recognition of dancing in Coe College would not affect those persons or organizations who do not care to dance.

Third.  That if college students cannot dance at College functions they will, and do, go elsewhere to dance.

Fourth:  That it would be better to have dances by college organizations, controled by the faculty and under proper chaperonage, than to leave as an alternative the frequenting of public dances, or those conducted in less wholesome atmosphere than the college atmosphere.

Fifth:  That it is out of keeping with the college spirit to have regulations which look well to the outsider but which are not, and cannot, be enforced.

Sixth:  That Coe College organizations now attempt to, and do give dances, and a spirit of lawlessness and trickery is fostered by the present regulations.

Whereas:  In view of the foregoing statements the present regulations at Coe College are inefective and worse than useless, we the Student Council of Coe College do present to the faculty the following recommendations:

First:  That dancing be recognized as a legitimate form of entertainment and amusement at Coe College.

Second:  That permission for a social function shall not be refused because it includes dancing.

Third:  That the chaperone at dances be some member of the faculty.

Fourth:  That the permission to give dances be limited to organizations such as classes, literary societies, fraternities and sororities.

The immediate resolution of this controversy is evident in the following typed letter that was sent to the students who the faculty chose to suspend because of they went dancing in Canfield Hall.

                                                                                                December 22, 1911

Dear Mr. Aston:-

            The Faculty at its meeting yesterday evening found the following in regard to the event at Canfield Hall on November 29th, in which you were concerned.

            1.  That it was essentially a College function, promoted by members of a College organization; that it was given in the name of a man from the outside for the purpose of evading the College regulation requiring permission to hold it, which permission was neither secured nor asked.

            2.  The fact that it was given in the Thanksgiving Holiday, a few hours after recitations ceased, does not affect the responsibility of the College for it.  The students had not dispersed to their homes and the College was still responsible for them and their conduct as students. 

            3.  No proper effort was made to secure chaperonage.  The member of the Faculty who was approached on the matter made it clear that in case she attended at all she would not act as chaperon.  She did not attend, and the function continued without Faculty supervision.

            The Faculty recognizes that all of the students involved were not equally at fault in the matter, and action was taken with this in view.  The older students who have enjoyed a wider College experience are held more responsible and are given degrees of suspension varying with their responsibility.  Those who have been in College a shorter time are subject to reprimand by the President.

            In accordance with this action you are hereby notified that you are suspended from attendance at the College from Jan. 3rd to 16th inclusive.

                                                Very respectfully yours,

                                                Signed by ____________________________

                                                                        SEC’Y. OF FACULTY.


Attached to this letter is a second page with further information on the suspensions.  The names of students identified in sections 1, 2, & 4 are written in by hand.

            In view of the fact that the students who attended the dance in Canfield Hall on Wednesday evening Nov. 29, 1911 are not all equally culpable either in fact or intent the Faculty adopts the following:

            1.  That the case of the Academy students who attended be referred to the Principal of the Academy with the recommendation that he deal with these students firmly but not harshly.  (Eunice Sherman and Ruth Porter)

            2.  That in view of the communications received from the Misses McFuff, Ferguson, Williamson and Wolfe of the College classes the President of the College be directed to reprimand or counsel these girls as he may consider best.  (adapted to each individual case)

            3.  That the Freshman members of the Beta Phi Omega Fraternity be severely reprimanded by the President for their part in the dance on Wednesday, Nov. 29, and at the same time counselled with regard to their future relations to this organization and to the college.  Kegley, Chuck Whelply, Young

            4.  That the upper class members of Beta Phi Omega who took part in this dance be suspended from attendance at the college from Jan. 3-16, 1912.  Aston, Larkin, McKinley, Wist [?]

As a postscript to these documents, it should be noted that before the end of the decade, the situation had changed so quickly that male and female students no longer had to sneak off to places like Canfield to dancing.  Social dancing was actually permitted at some at social events on campus.  The impetus for such a quick and dramatic change in college policy was the arrival in the fall of 1917 of hundreds of soldiers on campus for S.A.T.C. training.  These men needed social events on weekends, and Coe began sponsoring dances for these men in the gym.  Since these men needed women to dance with, female students were allowed to attend the dances–which created the anomalous situation that for several weeks, female students could attend dances on campus but male students who were not in the military could not.  By the winter of 1918, all students were given permission to attend on-campus dances–and life at Coe has never been the same again.


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