Student Life in the 1930s: Rollins Memorabilia from Milford J. Davis ’35

The Freshman’s Don’t Book, by Milford J. Davis

A popular Rollins 360 story a few years ago featured the Freshman’s Don’t Book, a booklet offering new students “a few helpful hints on what not to do at Rollins.” At the time of its publication in 1935, the distinctive style and voice of the author would have been familiar to Sandspur readers, as Milford Davis was a regular contributor to the paper and the author of its “Rollinsania” column on campus life. He also participated in a number of other activities at Rollins:  singing in choral groups, performing in theater productions, managing the tennis team, and taking part in several clubs and other student organizations.

Milford Davis, from the 1935 Tomokan yearbook

The first “Rollinsania” column

Mr. Davis saved many mementos of his college days, including his letterman’s sweater and freshman beanie. He collected his Sandspur columns in a scrapbook and filled others with invitations, clippings, cards, and snapshots. In keeping with his advice to freshmen (“Don’t forget to write home once in a while”), he wrote often to his parents and saved the letters. All of these items help bring his student years back to life, and the Archives is grateful to Mr. Davis’s nephews, Andrew and Michael A. Wartell, for donating this collection to the College.

Some of Mr. Davis’s Rollins memorabilia

What was student life at Rollins like in those days? When Mr. Davis arrived on campus in the fall of 1931, Hamilton Holt was president, and the Conference Plan of education had been underway for five years. During his second semester at Rollins, Knowles Memorial Chapel and the Annie Russell Theatre were dedicated (Miss Russell herself served as its director). Tuition, room, and board cost $815-$870 per year (approximately $13,609- $14,528 in today’s currency), the charges depending on whether a student lived in one of the “new dormitories.”  Football and baseball were popular sports, and the Animated Magazine was an annual highlight of campus life.

Snapshots from Milford Davis’s Rollins scrapbook

A program for a local concert by pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, attended by Mr. Davis and fellow students (“The whole gang went to hear him. I shook hands with him backstage!!”)

Milford Davis (second from left), pictured in the Tomokan yearbook with faculty members and fellow students in Pi Kappa Delta, the honorary debating fraternity

Milford Davis (standing, second from the right), with the Rollins Octette, a choral group, in 1935

An event that came to be known as “The Rice Affair” occurred during these years, resulting in Prof. John Andrew Rice and several other faculty members leaving Rollins in 1933 to found Black Mountain College, an experimental school in North Carolina. Mr. Davis’s correspondence includes an undated letter from former Rollins professor Theodore Dreier, inviting him to attend “a new liberal, coeducational college” that was being “contemplated,” but could become a reality if 50 students could be found to enroll.

Portion of the letter introducing the future Black Mountain College

Milford Davis stayed at Rollins, graduating in 1935. He went on to become a cartoonist whose work appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and other publications. After working for the War Department during World War II, he moved to Albuquerque, where he illustrated several books about New Mexico and worked as a writer and editor for the Atomic Energy Commission’s Sandia Corporation. He kept in touch with the College over the years, sending lively letters to the Alumni Office. Sadly, he was unable to attend his 25th Reunion in 1960 and died suddenly the following summer. Just a few months earlier, he had sent a cartoon of himself setting out for the campus from Albuquerque.

His sister, Betty Davis Wartell ’39, wrote that “Rollins can well be proud of an alumnus such as he, for his achievements were many and his contributions to his community unlimited. He gave unselfishly of his time and his talents for the benefit of others.” She continued, “M. J. often spoke fondly of Rollins, of the four wonderful years spent there and of his many good friends.” How pleased he would be that his Freshman’s Don’t Book and memorabilia from his student days will be enjoyed by visitors to the College Archives.

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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