Iowa Alumni Magazine | June 2000 | Features

These Rooms, They Are A-Changin'

By Tina Owen
Blue Book

It's a typical evening at Burge Hall. In one of the rooms, a freshman is rushing around, getting ready for her date. Dresses, skirts, Levis, blouses, and sweaters are pulled out of the wardrobe and strewn across the bed as she struggles to decide what to wear. With a sigh of relief, she eventually pulls something from the pile of clothing.

"With bobby socks and tennies, your sweater and skirt will take you to classes and meetings; change to flats and hose and you're ready for an evening date," she reads. Phew! Problem solved. Thanks to the indispensable "Code for Coeds," our 1960s freshman can go out for the evening. And she can feel confident that, thanks to advice from the "Code," she really is "lovely to look at."

It may sound now like a scene straight out of a corny sitcom, but the "Code for Coeds" was produced by the Associated Women Students (AWS) at the University of Iowa to help new women undergraduates adapt to campus life. Fashion tips on what to wear to class, teas, receptions, and picnics; information about the Student Senate and Central Party Committee; details about the Hawk-I Pep Club—all that and much more could be found in the pink pages of the "Code." Along with the AWS's "Blue Book" and the university's own "Student Handbook" and "Code of Student Life," the "Code for Coeds" set out strict rules of behavior that today's students would find incredible—if not laughable.

Over the years, generation after generation of students has moved into the same rooms in Burge and other residence halls. Yet, while the rooms themselves have remained remarkably unchanged, the lives of their inhabitants seem to have altered beyond recognition—on the surface, at least.

If our 1960s freshman were to travel in time to the same room in Burge Hall in 2000, she would find familiar sights overlapping bizarre new ones. The room probably looks the same: the bed's still next to the window, the study desk is cluttered with books, pens, and papers. Posters, snapshots of friends and family, and Iowa pennants still adorn the walls.

But what about the microwave, the computer with Internet hook-up, the TV/VCR combination, the cell phone, the stereo booming so loudly that the walls are practically rattling? If nothing else, the sheer quantity of possessions filling the small room would alert the 60s student that times have definitely changed. In her day, new students would arrive on campus with little more than a couple of suitcases. The "Code for Coeds" regarded essential items to be a laundry bag, clothes hangers, sewing supplies, tennis shoes, typewriter, and alarm clock. Listed under the heading, "Squeezed in if there's room," are "small hair dryer" and "cup and spoon."

In contrast, many current UI students are probably doing their part to keep companies like U-Haul® in business. Some things—such as candles, guns, halogen lamps, and hot plates are prohibited in dorms for obvious safety reasons—but students are otherwise given free rein to bring whatever they decide they just can't survive without. Which equates to a lot of stuff. Forget a cup and spoon: today's dorm resident practically brings a fully equipped kitchen to campus. Corn poppers, toasters, coffee makers, microwave ovens, and Crock-Pots® are just some of the myriad, must-have items. What with the microwaves, mini-refrigerators, TVs, computers, and stereos that are now indispensable features of university life, some UI students haul thousands of dollars worth of "essentials" with them.

Burge 1960

Thirty years ago, some other aspects of dorm life looked dramatically different, too. As she prepared for her date in the 1960s, our freshman would have had to make sure that, Cinderella-like, she was back in her room before midnight—although on Saturdays she could stay out until 1 a.m. without running the risk of having to sign a late slip. Three decades ago, all single undergraduate students under the age of 21 were required to live in university-approved residences and to follow strict rules of behavior. Those over 21, or juniors and seniors who had their parents' permission, could apply for privileged hours, which accorded slightly more freedom from the rules—on the assumption that "each woman is obligated to use the privilege with thoughtfulness and discretion."

If a beau—inspired by the fact that his girlfriend "looked so lovely" from having followed apparel guidelines in the "Code for Coeds"—should decide to serenade her one night, such a romantic gesture would need the prior approval of her house director. A student's overnight stay in a motel or hotel required a letter of approval and explanation from that student's parents before the house director would grant permission. Overnight absences without permission were cause for suspension from the university.

1960 Card Game

Socializing, it seems—at least with members of the opposite sex—was hard work. "During certain hours of the day and evening, men visitors may be entertained in the ground floor lounges," the "Code for Coeds" states. In men's residences, women could only be entertained when the housemother or other official chaperone was present. With such restrictions, no wonder Currier Hall's soda fountain was a popular place for Coke® dates on campus.

Our time-traveling freshman would surely marvel at the freedom today's students enjoy. Free to dress as they please, to live where and how they want, to devise their own rules of life, they don't have to worry about all the guidelines that encouraged earlier generations to toe the line.

In a few months, a new generation of students will move into the rooms at Burge and all the other dorms, bringing—along with their DVD players and microwaves—new hopes and dreams. If the walls of their rooms could speak, what stories would they share from the lifestyles of previous inhabitants?