“it should cremate itself and cast its ashes to the four winds of heaven”

Not long after the Toilers Club prevented the election of any social club member to student body office in the spring of 1922, they met and, after some vivid rhetoric from President Dudley South, unanimously voted to disband:




Whatever your opinion of social clubs this was a remarkable and beautifully designed piece of political theater.

I can’t help but smile thinking about what the days after this meeting must have been like. Even now when there’s conflict on campus the place just buzzes. It must surely have been the same, maybe even more intense at a much smaller institution where everyone knew everyone else. I bet the students hanging around the Sallyport talked of nothing but the Club Problem.

Several of the social clubs balked at disbanding, of course, but the decision to ban them seems to have been completely without controversy among the faculty, administration, and board. The best piece of evidence in the archives about their view of the matter is this letter from Dean of Students Robert Caldwell:


The hazing problem, unfortunately, would prove to be intractable.



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9 Responses to “it should cremate itself and cast its ashes to the four winds of heaven”

  1. Gloria Meckel Tarpley says:

    This is all fascinating, particularly in light of the ongoing strife at Harvard over precisely this issue — the social damage wrought by exclusive clubs. How forward-thinking of the Toilers and all the other groups that saw the greater good to be achieved through the dissolution of the clubs. At Harvard the Dean of Students has proposed to penalize members of any and all single-gender clubs by not allowing them to apply for any fellowships or grants, and to also bar them from becoming captains of the various athletic teams — all this in an effort to eradicate the finals clubs from the Harvard social scene. This dispute is alive and well at Harvard today, with much dissension in the ranks. Again, Dean Caldwell was prescient in noting that the dissolution of the clubs could be done because they were not yet deeply entrenched — this is a huge problem at Harvard, involving current students as well as the alumni memberships of the clubs. Thanks for unearthing this, Melissa!

  2. Don Johnson says:

    I find it very intriguing that in Caldwell’s 1922 letter, he mentions “residential colleges.” Prescient?

    Also, couldn’t he have found a better typist?

  3. Buddy Chuoke says:

    What a Bizarro world the Rice social scene has been in the last century. In the 1920’s, they blamed the poor performance of Rice athletics on an overactive group of student clubs. Well, I hope the Rice administration and faculty is satisfied with the results all these years later. Today, I can’t imagine ANY school in America with a more apathetic posture towards athletics than Rice students. Sad.

  4. effegee says:

    Dudley Pritchett South was the younger of Ruby Belle South’s two older brothers (one of 5 out of 6 South siblings who attended Rice). https://ricehistorycorner.com/2012/04/04/update-on-early-womens-athletics-plus-another-rabbit/ and https://ricehistorycorner.com/2014/02/03/rice-women-in-medicine-1973/

    • Melissa Kean says:

      I know! And he was fully smart, a natural politician.

      • effegee says:

        And an unusual Rice career: He was listed as a sophomore in the 1917-18 yearbook, but enlisted in the Signal Corp in November 1917. He served in France, was discharged in September 1919, and appears in the 1921 and 1922 yearbooks as junior and senior, respectively. His appearance here today gave me an excuse to fill in his box in Linda’s family tree.

  5. Kermit Lancaster says:

    Back to the subject of hazing…
    The residential colleges used to have a tradition of freshmen servers at the six sit down dinners (M-F evenings, noon Sunday). Each student had the responsibility for an entire week at a time, for two tables per meal. The rotation meant repeating the job again every few weeks.
    Some students considered freshman serving to be hazing. It didn’t seem that way to me at the time. After all, someone had to fetch the food and clean the dishes. However, if the poor fellow was slow or incompetent then he was likely to be punished by having a mess to clean up afterwards. Although some of the colleges were discontinuing the practice during my time at Rice in the mid-1970s, Wiess College kept the system proudly. I’m not sure when it stopped altogether.

    • Doug Haunsperger '99 says:

      Freshman serving was still going strong (at Wiess, anyway) in the late 90’s when I was there. I believe it pretty much died off when the commons were combined into serveries shortly thereafter.

  6. wsanders says:

    IIRC There was a rule on the books even in my years (74-78) that spelled rustication for any student who joined a fraternity. Thus, the existence of “clubs” and “literary societies”. It that true, or an urban legend or my faulty, creative memory?

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