Archives Uncovered: The Ormsby Files

While cleaning out the basement of Ormsby Hall this summer, several boxes of scrapbooks were discovered that shared the memories of those who attended Lawrence in the days before cell phones and social media. These scrapbooks share accounts from the days when the best way to disseminate information by Residence Hall Directors (RHDs) and Residence Life Advisors (RLAs) were to hold a thing that most current students can only say they’ve been to a few times: hall meetings. The days when there was no red-eye correction filter on photos and when a photo was posted on a bulletin board, not a Facebook wall or a Snapchat story. Indeed, the Lawrence University Archives provides insight into a by-gone era.

Many of the events found in the Ormsby scrapbooks have similarities to today. For instance, an article about “cart hooligans” was published in The Lawrentian on Oct. 24, 1986 in response to an increasing number of near misses from maintenance carts as students were walking around campus. In light of the recent situations regarding students crossing College Ave., this uncovered article showed that some things never change. Another piece that was printed in The Lawrentian on Feb. 27, 1987 spoke about prejudice on campus, something that is, again, still very relevant today.

Some fun October activities portrayed in the scrapbooks were the 1988 “Fright Night” Halloween celebration in which a group of students gathered in the allegedly haunted Ormsby Hall in order to watch horror films. These books also documented pumpkin carving at Ormsby in 1992 and a dorm decorating contest held for several years as a homecoming activity.

Sports also played a huge role in the lives of the scrapbooking students. Included are many newspaper clippings both from The Lawrentian and the Appleton Post-Crescent that discussed the various sports achievements or failures at Lawrence. One such sporting event was ‘Anchor Splash,’ an event held as a fundraiser for Sight Conservation and Aid to the Blind, according to The Lawrentian article from 1988. This event included teams made up of faculty, students and residence hall teams, among others. The competitions were primarily swimming related, but some even included such things as going off the highest diving board in a kayak. It is unclear what part that particular activity played in the event.

Yet another game that seems to have been popular through multiple years and that, for reasons that will become obvious, would not be acceptable today, was the ‘assassination game,’ in which students in Ormsby Hall were given targets by a ‘game master’ and had to follow specific rules regarding bystanders and location of a so-called assassination of another student with a water pistol. The sporting did not stop with simple bragging rights either. There were accounts of gambling within Ormsby in 1988, including a bet between the residence halls as to which would have the highest voter turnout that year. The prize: $10 contributed from each of the residence halls for a total of $70 to go into the budget for the winning hall.

Finally, the scrapbooks also included references to the Outdoor Recreation Club (ORC) and trips that various members of the scrap bookers’ friends group went on.

As can be compared to today, there were also the tough times in the late 1980s. Among other things the university raised tuition by $2,000 to a whopping $15,000 a year. Compared to the $56,130 price tag Lawrence had for the 2017-18 school year, $2,000 does not seem to be such a major burden on students, but a 15% increase to tuition is a major jump that many students and their families had to cope with at that time.

No matter the year or the subject, the scrapbooks from the Ormsby basement provide valuable insight into the lives and shenanigans of Lawrentians long gone from campus. The names of most of these individuals are either not known at all, or only the first names are known, which represents the kind of causal campus Lawrence was then and remains to be today.



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