Grace McClellan Hobson

1.  Why did you decide do go to college? Was it difficult financially or socially (did people look down on women going to college?) What did you want to get out of it?

In my family, going to college was the next thing you did after high school. There was never a question of whether to go. My parents were both educators and they instilled in my sisters and me the importance of a good education. The only question was where to go. My parents would only pay for me to go to a state supported school in Virginia where we lived because they would not (or maybe could not) pay out-of-state tuition. I believe that room, board and tuition were just under $1000 during my years at MWC – can you believe it? I got my degree in three years and three summers at MWC. I think three summers cost a little less than a year, so I saved my parents some money that way. I also got a teacher’s scholarship from the State of Virginia for all three years. It paid something like $300 each year. When I graduated, I had to either teach in Virginia one year for each year of the scholarship or I had to pay it back to the state, so I taught in Virginia for three years. Even though the $700 or so per year my parents paid doesn’t sound like much by today’s standards, it was a lot of money back then and it was not easy for them to cover it, especially since my two younger sisters were still at home.

If people looked down on women going to college, I wasn’t aware of it. I wanted a good education that would prepare me for the future, whatever that would bring.

Although I believe that people didn’t look down on women going to college, there is a women’s issue that I would like to bring up. MWC was the women’s college of the University of Virginia. Except for nursing students, women could not go to the University of Virginia on the main campus in Charlottesville. How fair is that?

2.  What kind of career options were available for someone who went to college vs. someone who did not.

Well, if I listened to my dad, people who went to college got professional jobs and people who didn’t worked as waitresses and as clerks in stores. I did not stop to think much about options available to someone who did not go to college because not going to college was never an option for me (how’s that for a bunch of negatives in one sentence?). I think most of my high school class, male and female, went on to college. My plan was to prepare to be a teacher because teachers are always needed, but I always figured that I would have a career doing something else. I have to say, though, that I was woefully unprepared to think about career options when I graduated. I had no idea what kinds of jobs existed out there in the big world and I didn’t know how to find out. I did apply for a lab tech position, but I ended up getting a teaching job first, so that’s what I did for about 4 years. When I had my two children, I was a stay-at-home mom for 9 years. Then I went back to teaching for 4 years before becoming a student again and getting a PhD. Now I head the Neurogenetics Research Lab at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, DE. Obviously, that path would not have been available to me if I hadn’t gone to college.

3.  What was the classroom like? Was the mood serious? What was the teaching style(was it mostly lectures, group work, or something else?)

This question does bring up some memories! The classes were as varied as the subjects and teachers. Some teachers were very casual. I remember that in one class, we were allowed to smoke. Needless to say, the teacher was a smoker. Can you imagine what the room was like after class – gasp? Back then, smoke-filled rooms were not so unusual. Most teachers tended to be very proper. We were always addressed as Miss So-and-So. Many classes like math and the sciences were lectures where the teacher would pick up a piece of chalk when he/she entered the room and the blackboard would be full by the end of class – no Powerpoint back then. Our job was to listen and take notes (essentially what was written on the board) for study. I was a biology major, so I had classes with labs. I drew my way through the developing chick embryo using microscope slides. I loved the genetics labs where we set up fruit fly matings to do experiments. Those labs and one of the genetics exams may have a lot to do with my eventual career. On the exam, we were asked to name a chemical that was involved in each cellular process on a list and tell what role the chemical played in that process. Rather than name a different chemical for each process, I said that DNA was involved in all of them and explained how. The teacher wrote “Cheers!” in the margin and I got 20 extra credit points, which made my score way higher than anyone else’s in the class. I had one geography class with a popular teacher who regaled us with tales about all the places he had been, but in the end, we had to memorize a whole host of facts for the exams and I wasn’t very good at it. In history classes, the teachers would lecture, we would take notes, and the exams were discussion questions where we were supposed to bring ideas together. We were assigned what was called parallel reading which meant going to the library and spending hours and hours reading stuff that seemed pretty boring to me. I’m a slow reader and I never could get through it all and probably didn’t retain what I did read. I wasn’t too keen on history before college, but that parallel reading just did me in. My dad, whose PhD was in history, never did understand why I didn’t like history. In English courses, we read poetry or plays or books or stories and we had discussions led by the teacher in class. According to one teacher in a summer school class, every short story we read that summer was about sexual frustration. For someone brought up to barely mention sex, that was an eye-opener. In modern dance class, we danced; in bowling class, we bowled, etc. I actually don’t remember much group work at all.

4.  Do you have any memories of the classroom experience or of college here in general that you would like to share? 

I remember one of the history professors, Dr. Quenzel, very well. The library was his turf. He was quite a character. He always lectured with his eyes closed. He prided himself on remembering his students’ names and when he would pass us on the sidewalk, he would call us by name. [Added later: I was just looking through the 1964 Battlefield and beside his picture it says, “Librarian of the College, Dr. Carrol H. Quenzel is a familiar figure on campus. Never forgetting a name or a face, Dr. Quenzel is always ready with a cheery greeting.” – LOL!!] One day, as he was passing me, he said, “Hello, uh, uh, uh….” That was quite amusing to me because it seems like a history professor should remember my name, Miss McClellan. I saw on your blog that you are from Canada and not well-versed in US history, so if you don’t understand this story, I will give you a hint – General George B. McClellan.

One day I was sitting in Dr. Quenzel’s class and I had cramps really bad. I couldn’t just raise my hand and ask to leave (remember, he lectured with his eyes closed). I must have really gotten to looking bad because one of my fellow students tried to get me to go to the Infirmary. In the ensuing commotion, Dr. Q opened his eyes and asked what the problem was. The other student said I needed to go to the Infirmary. Dr. Q, very prim and proper, said, “By all means, Miss McClellan, if you feel infirm, go to the Infirmary.” I don’t know why I remember his exact words all these years later. I guess the way he said it just struck my funny bone. At least he remembered my name that time!

Speaking of the Infirmary, I have an Infirmary story for you. The cramps I had in the story above turned out to be the worst that I ever, ever had. It was back before the days of ibuprofen, so there wasn’t much you could take to ease them. The nurse in the Infirmary didn’t “believe in” cramps, so she put me in bed and just left me literally kicking and screaming. An older black woman, I think from the kitchen of the Infirmary, came and sat down on the side of my bed, talked softly and got me settled down. She told me she knew what I was going through and getting all worked up was just making it worse. When she got me calmed down, she went back to the kitchen and fixed me some tea and toast. It didn’t make the cramps go away, but I did feel much better. Today, this wouldn’t be much of a story, but you have to realize that this was the 60s, a tumultuous time for civil rights in the US. I’ve often wondered if she could have gotten in trouble for sitting on the bed with me. I am so, so thankful for that woman and I will certainly never forget her kindness. [I’m sure you already know that Venus Jones was the first black woman to attend MWC. She came while I was in school and graduated in 1968.]

There was one teacher who said he would throw an eraser at us if we fell asleep in class. I got really droopy in his class one day and on the way out, he told me he almost threw an eraser at me. LOL.

Have you ever had barbecue at Allmans? I was not doing too well in one of my history classes. I don’t remember the professor’s name. He was visiting from another school for a year or two. I had gotten a D on the mid-term and now it was almost time for the final exam. I had gone home so that my dad could help me study. When he brought me back to Fredericksburg, we went to the battlefield there to study some more. Just before dad was to go home, we went to Allmans for barbecue. My history teacher was there, so I introduced him to my dad and told him that he was helping me study. He and Dad got to talking (remember my dad had a PhD in history) and the professor ended up saying, “I hope you studied …. and …. and …..” When we left, Dad said we should go study some more. It turned out that he had told us all the questions on the exam and I passed the course.

5.  What was the dress code like? Was it strictly enforced? Did girls wear pants to class? Did people dress up for class?

Not only did we not wear pants to class, we were not allowed to wear pants when we were outside of our dorms. I don’t remember it having to be enforced – we just didn’t wear pants. It was the way we had grown up. Girls just didn’t wear pants to school and certain other places, like church. I was out of school (graduated in 1966) and had been teaching for several years before “pant suits” became acceptable garb for females. The principal of the high school where I was teaching said he didn’t like them but we could wear them to teach in if we wanted to, so I did. That was in 1970. At MWC, we did find one legal way around the no pants rule. Trench coats could be used to cover up shorts (or long pants if you could roll them up, I guess). I had archery classes on a field down the hill. It was hot and we could wear shorts in class, but we couldn’t wear them to walk across campus and there was no place near the field to change, so I would wear a trench coat over my shorts to get to class. Silly, silly, wasn’t it? I wouldn’t say we dressed up for class. Dress up would be like what we wore to church – dressy skirt or dress with heels. We wore less dressy skirt or dress to class with flats or loafers. We also had slacks, jeans, tennis shoes for more casual.

6. What was dating like? How did you ladies meet guys? Were you allowed to have guys on campus and of not, did students do it anyway? When you did go on dates where did you go and what did you do?

I’m sure you will hear from others about the Mixers that were held on campus and about dating the guys who would be brought in for them from Quantico and the area men’s schools. If not, maybe we can find someone who can tell you more about them than I can. I’ll stick to telling you about me. I met my husband-to-be, Don, when we were in high school together. We had been dating for 2 years when I came to MWC. He had been a student at UVa for a year. Guys were allowed on campus, but they had to get permission from the Head Resident of the dorm in the form of a date card to take us anywhere. The Head Residents ruled with an iron fist – or at least we thought they did! I guess they had to! Anyway, if you were dating someone steadily, that person could get a “permanent” date card so that he wouldn’t have to pass Head Resident inspection every time he came for a date. One of the first things I did when I started at MWC was try to get a “permanent” date card for Don. I remember that the Head Resident was reluctant to give him one. She thought that we were too young to be dating one person exclusively, so she made Don get temporary passes for awhile. I guess she finally realized that we were pretty serious about each other.


Don could always come see me because he had a car. We would go to dinner somewhere (not fancy usually) – it was good to not have dining hall food once in awhile – and go to a movie, or go bowling. We loved to get ice cream at Carl’s – if you haven’t tried it, you should!! It was still there when I went to my 45th reunion last year. Sometimes we’d just sit in the car and talk or make out. Do they still call it “making out?” Other things we did – several times a year there were formal dances at the school where we would get all dressed up in long dresses and dance in the ballroom upstairs in Ann Carter Lee Hall (which sadly is not a ballroom anymore). Formal dances really were formal. I took my shoes off to dance one time because they were killing my feet and I was admonished that young ladies do not take their shoes off. Junior year we had Ring Dance when we got our class rings. Sometimes Don would take me home, which was Springfield, Virginia. In my first two years, he would come from C’ville on Saturday and go back that night (70 miles one way). By my last year, Don had graduated from UVa and he lived at his mother’s home in Annandale, Virginia, which was much closer. He lived there so he could save up money for when we got married after my graduation. Anyway, by then, I had a friend who graduated and got married and lived in F’burg. Don would sometimes stay with them. I saw him a lot more frequently that year than when he had to go back to C’ville.


It was much harder for me to get to UVa to see him than it was for him to come see me, but I managed to do it a few times. Mostly it was harder because I didn’t have transportation, my parents didn’t like for me to go and because I only had money that they sent me, and they didn’t send enough for me to go very often. There were much more controls imposed on us women than the UVa men. We had to sign out to go anywhere off campus and the guys didn’t. In fact, my parents had to give written permission for me to go to UVa or to visit with Don’s family at the beach. I remember something about a list of homes in Charlottesville that we were allowed to stay in when we went there. However, when I was a Senior in high school (and Don was in his first year at UVa), our high school band had an exchange with the high school band in Charlottesville. I got along well with the mother where I stayed and she actually had a daughter who was already a student at MWC. She invited me to come stay with her any time I wanted to visit Don in C’ville, so I took her up on it and stayed there every time I went to see him (counted on one hand). It was not too difficult to get her on the approved list since she had a daughter at MWC. Otherwise, there would have been a lengthy approval process. She ended up being a friend that Don and I would visit later when we were married and we lived in Charlottesville while he was getting an MBA and I got a Masters degree in Education.


One more thing about guys on campus – When I started at MWC in 1963, men were not allowed in the rooms, except maybe to carry something heavy for you. This included parent-type men and date-type. They had to get permission from the Dorm Mother and then they were in and out. Someone would run up and down the hall saying “Man on the floor! Man on the floor!” to announce their arrival because we didn’t pay particular attention to what we were wearing in the all-girls dorm (baby doll PJs, slips etc.). By the time I graduated in 1966, men were allowed in the rooms with the door open during certain hours on Sunday afternoon. Of course, most of the men came in for dates on Saturday and they were mostly gone by that time on Sunday afternoon… But the three years that I was at MWC saw a lot of loosening of restrictions on students. There were other things, too, like the time that we had to be in the dorm at night got later. In my first year, we had “sit-down” dinners in the dining hall every night. This meant that we each had an assigned table. We would all arrive and stand at the table until everyone was there. Grace would be said and we would all sit down to dinner together. Dinner was served family style (by students who needed or wanted to work). By my second year, “sit-down” dinners were gone.

7.  What was the atmosphere if campus, did it stress academics or more of the social life? What did you do for fun? Was there a lot of partying on campus? What did you do when you went out?

I would say that the atmosphere of campus was academic, but we had fun, too. During the week, there were no men around. Dorm life was very important. Some of my closest friends were roommates, suitemates or people in rooms nearby. My senior year, I lived on the 1st floor of Mason on the short hallway through the parlor and to the left. We were all pretty close on that hallway and we had get-togethers and parties, sort of like one big slumber party (of course no one slumbers so that’s really a misnomer). I think only time I was ever party to illegality in the dorm was when I lived on that hallway. We were not allowed to have iron and ironing boards (fire hazard, I guess), but my suitemate had them. Whenever they needed to be moved from one room to another, you would hear, “Surf’s up!” in the hallway as the ironing board came through the hallway and someone would be posted at the door to the hallway to ensure that we didn’t get caught. I know others would have alcohol in the rooms which was strictly forbidden, but I didn’t do that. See #6 for what we did on dates. For other stuff we did during the week, it varied. I belonged to the Canterbury Club, which was the Episcopal Church group for students. We had a room for meetings in the basement of the church and I would hang out there sometimes. When my suitemate and I both got engaged senior year and friends wanted to throw a shower for us, they had it there. To get me to come, they had the priest (who was also a math prof at MWC) call and tell me that the Vestry wanted me to come to their meeting and give a report on the Canterbury Club. It was getting close to exams and I protested loudly that I didn’t have time until my suitemate told me to cool it because it was to be our shower. I don’t know how she knew. I also was on the competitive swim team for awhile and I was a Terrapin. That was the synchronized swimming club. We put on several shows a year. I played clarinet in the band and had to practice regularly to keep up with the music majors. Band was a course we could take for credit. I also took private lessons for credit for awhile. I also paid one of the students who lived in Trench Hill with me in my second year at MWC to give me piano lessons. I had never played the piano before and wanted to learn how. It was an honor to live at Trench Hill where we had a “great books” seminar every week. I remember we read USA by Jon Dos Passos and What Mazie Knew by Henry James among others. Trench Hill, across the street from Brompton, is now the Alumni Center and I got to visit there when I was there for my 45th reunion, but you can’t get into the attic, which is where I lived. One time when I lived at Trench Hill it was a beautiful spring day and a friend and I got really board. We decided to go visit Chancellor Simpson at Brompton. We knocked on the door but no one answered. We were still bored, so we walked over to Allman’s for some barbecue…


There’s one other very important thing about campus life at MWC that I would like to mention and it doesn’t seem to fit in any of the above questions. That is the honor system, which I believe is still alive and well at UMW today. I don’t remember the exact wording of the pledge that we wrote on all of our work, but I do remember that we were not to lie, cheat, steal or break our word of honor. It was a wonderful thing to be trusted and I have several stories in that regard:


One time I had studied for an exam until late at night. I set my clock and was going to go through my notes one more time before going to take my exam, but I must have set it wrong or turned it off in my sleep. Next thing I was aware of is that it was about 10 minutes until the exam was supposed to start. I threw on close and ran over to Coombs (which was the science building). The professor took one look at me and asked what was wrong. When I told him why I was disheveled, he told me to take several deep breaths. He said I could take some time and go back through my notes again and he would give the exam to take when I was ready. Of course, I really appreciated his letting me do that and I knew that it was only possible because of the honor code. It wasn’t until years later, though, that I was to fully appreciate the honor code at MWC and what it meant to be trusted (see next story).


In 1982ish, 16 years after I graduated from MWC, during which I taught for several years, had two children, taught several more years, I started taking classes at the University of Delaware because I thought I might want to go back to school for a PhD. I was in the exam for a big lecture class and I had a huge coughing spell and couldn’t quit. So that I wouldn’t disturb other students, I got up and went to the ladies room and I was followed by a proctor. It had never entered my mind to “ask permission” to leave the lecture hall. When I realized what had happened, it just struck me so odd that someone would think I would cheat and I felt humiliated to not be trusted. I ended up having to explain to the professor why I just got up and walked out of the exam: “Well, you see, sir, I went to Mary Washington College as an undergraduate student and we had an honor code …” Good thing he trusted me on that one because it was apparently a big no-no to walk out of an exam to go to the bathroom without asking.

Oh, the memories!

Grace McClellan Hobson, MWC ‘66