Another batch of materials from the Masterson family arrived at the Woodson recently and contained within are the most remarkable artifacts of the early college system that I have ever seen. For each of their first four years in the master’s house, Vetta Masterson, the wife of Hanszen’s first master, William Masterson, kept a notebook. They seem to have been primarily used to keep track of entertaining expenses but Mrs. Masterson frequently wrote as though she were keeping a journal, describing their experiences with the students, faculty associates and visitors. It begins with a long description of moving into the brand new master’s house on March 23, 1957 and soon moves on to stories of various social occasions, many of them of a sort long since vanished. The details of the dinners and teas are both homely–how many cans of pineapple for the salad–and redolent of a world that I can see, but can’t touch.
An entry from the fall of 1957 brought a smile to my face. Then as now Rice’s History Department had significant strength in the history of the American South, including Dr. Masterson himself as well as Frank Vandiver. It seems that Southern Historical Association held its annual meeting in Houston that year and the Mastersons threw a dinner party in Hanszen House for some of the attendees. Here’s Mrs. Masterson’s account of the evening. I would point out only two things. First, the guest list is impressive. These were important people. And second, since moving in in March, the Mastersons had been plagued by both unfortunately timed torrential rain storms and malfunctioning domestic equipment. Go ahead and read it. It’s a wild, preposterous story and absolutely everything about it rings true to me. I do not believe that the behavior of Civil War historians would be any different today, fifty years later.