Decorate Your Dorm Room in 5 Easy Steps! (Circa 1891)

The dream of the 1890s may be alive in Portland, but this week we’re bringing the 1890s alive in Milledgeville. Welcome back to part two of a three part series on Georgia Normal and Industrial College life, fashion, behavior, and education at the founding of G.N. & I.C. and the turn of the century in Milledgeville. After reading about the fashion and uniforms of the college in 1891, you may be wondering where these girls kept their uniforms and rested their heads for full days of studying. To answer those questions, we’re going to dive into room and board.

One of the biggest points of stress for today’s students is the small, yet imperative question of what their freshmen dorm room will look like! Everywhere from Target to Walmart to Bed, Bath, and Beyond has college essential checklists, and students across the Georgia College campus coordinate their color schemes, tapestries, and Christmas lights, and compete for a chance to win Best Decorated Dorm Room in the many diverse dorm buildings across campus – ranging from Bell Hall on Main Campus; Sanford, Parks, Foundation, Napier, and Parkhurst Halls by the Centennial Center; and the Village Apartments on West Campus.

Upon our founding, still struggling to see if this experiment in women’s industrial (or women’s technical) school would come to fruition and success, the only dorm available was the Executive Mansion, or known by its common name around Milledgeville, the Old Governor’s Mansion. The Mansion stopped housing governors after General Thomas H. Ruger, the military governor of Georgia, left the building in 1868; after this abandonment, it had fallen into disrepair and served an ever changing list of uses including flophouse (a very cheap, run down, boarding house) and as a home and dormitory for the President and Cadets at Middle Georgia Military and Agricultural College. Among other elements of disrepair include an 1870 kitchen fire, leaking around the dome, and a herd of goats that took up residence on the front lawn.

With all of these problems, how could the mansion ever hope to house these young women? With no source of funding readily apparent to the newly elected directors of the college, it seemed like this housing issue was insurmountable. However, this was solved by the faith the people of Milledgeville placed in the success of the college by voting for bonds to assist construction, $5,000 of which was bookmarked specifically for the purposes of refurbishing the Mansion. This money went towards refurbishing the building by replacing the plaster with stained wood ceilings, the window blinds with inside shutters, and placing a gothic cupola over the dome, as well as towards constructing 35 dormitories.

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Photo of Executive Mansion 1891 scanned from A Centennial History of Georgia College

The inside of these dorms were furnished with bureaus, closets, tables, chairs, and bedsteads with springs and mattresses, much like the basic furniture provided to today’s students. Pupils at G.N. & I.C. were required to provide basic items all marked with the their name. These items are listed as follows in the 1891 Prospectus:

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GN & IC Spoon
  • blankets, sheets, and bed coverings,
  • pillow cases,
  • towels,
  • napkins, and
  • one tea spoon and one fork, either of solid silver or heavily plated

Compared with today’s list of college “essentials” this is a paltry list. Nowadays the college recommends everything from rugs and carpets to curtains, and partners with outside companies to provide lofts, futons, mini fridges and safes. I think we can all say that dorm room decoration has gotten a lot more complex since our founding.

The most intriguing thing about this list is the requirement to bring your own silverware, a tea spoon and fork. Not only that, but these were required to be engraved with the student’s monogram. These were required because meals happened within the dining halls. Furthermore, the so-called “lighter work” about the dining room, including setting the table and serving meals, was done by the girls as well.

Living in the dorms was also a much different experience than today. The 50 girls housed in the Mansion Dormitory were under the “direct control” of the matron. The matrons enforced rules of the college pertaining directly to living – uniform dress, visitors (especially male visitors!), keeping the dormitory in good conditions, and keeping the girls to “good morals, good order, neatness, promptness, faithful discharge of duty, and ladylike conduct.” This also included making sure the pupils made up their own rooms and kept them in order. Think of checks by your CA, but amplified! I know that I probably would not have passed inspection during my undergraduate years at Georgia College!

Finally, costs were much different as well. Students residing in the dormitories were expected to pay a grand total of…$12 a month (per capita). President Chappell devised this rate by creating an accurate account of the exact costs, which was then divided pro rata among the “inmates of the house.” Through this plan, he hoped to keep the costs for running the house – everything from board, washing, fuel and lights – to under the $12/mo cap. Payment was made by immediately upon their arrival making a deposit of $30.00 with the treasurer which was charged month to month with the cost of room and board. When this money was exhausted, the pupil or their parents were contacted to place another deposit. All students who did not comply with this regulation were not allowed to remain in the dormitory.

With only 35 rooms housing 50 students available, a great deal of students were left to find private accommodation. Decisions on which students were given preference in the dorms were made by President Chappell, who took into account the applicant’s “moral character, age, financial circumstances, and the purpose for which she comes to the College, preference being given, other things being equal, to those who come in good faith to prepare themselves for the vocation of teaching, or for some of the other industrial arts taught in the college.” Where did the rest of these students live? Much like students today rent houses, apartments, and a myriad of other locations across the city and county for housing, these girls not accommodated in the dormitory sought out private boarding.

Upon the college’s opening, President Chappell called upon the people of the town to provide room and board to almost 200 students not housed in the Mansion Dormitory. The college in fact provided an early search service for these girls; President Chappell forwarded on a list of boarding houses with accommodations and prices (ranging from $12 – $15) for the girls to make their own arrangements. Interestingly, these girls were held to the same standard as those living in the dorm! Members of the faculty were allowed to visit and inspect the boarding houses, and the lady of these boarding houses was required to report every instance of breach of discipline. Frequent breaches and insubordination to authority (which I can only assume was a request to not inspect their private living quarters!) would lead to expulsion.

The next year, in 1892, the school requested construction of a second dormitory – an annex to the Mansion that would house 120 girls. This opened by the 1893-4 term. Soon afterward, in 1896, Atkinson Hall was completed. While known to today’s students as home of the J. Whitney Bunting College of Business, Atkinson was originally a dormitory near the main college building. It housed 135 students, as well as teacher’s apartments and a central dining room. With the completion of Atkinson, it was finally unnecessary for G.N. & I.C. students to board in private homes.

There you have it! College essentials from 1891 to now. Let us know in the comments how you would have done as living as a student in 1891, and as always, if you’d like to see the artifacts photographed in this post, visit Special Collections on the second floor of Ina Dillard Russell Library. You can also tour the Old Governor’s Mansion located at 120 S. Clarke St. on Tuesday through Saturday from 10-4 and Sunday 2-4, on the hour.

And remember to add your monogrammed silverware to your college essentials list!

Works Cited

Georgia Normal & Industrial College Engraved Spoons, metal, Georgia Normal & Industrial College Flatware Collection, Ina Dillard Russell Library Special Collections, Milledgeville, GA.

Georgia Normal & Industrial College Room Key, metal, Georgia Normal & Industrial College Flatware Collection, Ina Dillard Russell Library Special Collections, Milledgeville, GA.

Hair, William Ivy, James C. Bonner, Edward B. Dawson, and Robert J. Wilson III. A Centennial History of Georgia College, University of Georgia Printing Department, 1979, Print.

Prospectus of the Georgia Normal and Industrial College A State Institution for the Education of Girls to be Opened at Milledgeville, GA on Wednesday, September 30th, 1891. Augusta: Chronicle Publishing Company, 1891.

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