The Udderly Legen-dairy History of Dairying at MSU: Part I

I am a Midwestern stereotype: I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. We sold our milk to a creamery in the Cheese Curd Capital of the World (Ellsworth, WI). Milk runs through my veins. I admire my vegan friends for their ability to resist the creamy deliciousness of cheese, ice cream, and yogurt, without which I would languish in despair. As you can guess, my interest in anything dairy-related is rather high.

Therefore I was delighted upon my arrival in East Lansing to discover the MSU Dairy Store. Most of you who have spent any time at MSU are familiar with the delicious flavors of the ice cream and cheese produced here on campus. Since we are in the middle of project documenting early foodways of the college, I thought it would be fun to explore a topic integral to both my personal history and the agricultural origins of MSU. This first in a series of two blogs about the history of MSU dairying will chronicle dairy production and manufacturing on campus.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Prized cows of the early MSC dairy herd.E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

In the earliest days of the College, the only cows on campus were kept by the families of the professors. Frank S. Kedzie, a former MSC president, was the son of one of the first professors, recalls that his mother made the first cheese on the campus grounds (UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411). In 1867, Dr. Manley Miles, Professor of Practical Agriculture, bought the first dairy cattle for the college, which were Ayrshires. Jerseys were added to the herd in 1871, and the first Holsteins, the black and white standard dairy cattle, arrived in 1880 (Anthony 192: 12-13). Brown Swiss and Guernseys were slowly added into the mix, as well. We know from the early account books that the boarding halls were acquiring milk from the early herds of the  Farm Department by 1871, if not before.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

MSC dairy barns built in 1900 and 1929. E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

The first dedicated Dairy Barn was built in 1900 and held 100 cows. A new barn was constructed in 1929, which could house almost 150 heads of cattle and contained the most up-to-date equipment of that time (Anthony 1929:19). While updates were part of the reason for this move, another reason was disease. Tuberculosis wiped out most of the herd in 1904 (Anderson 1929), and contagious disease continued to plague the herd in the decades after. Those in charge of the dairy hoped the move to a new, sanitary location would break the disease cycle (Anthony 1929:16).

The first building containing a plant dedicated to dairy manufacturing was constructed in 1913. Known as the Dairy Building, it was located on the north end of Farm Lane and cost $55,000 (Anthony 1929:16). It contained a well-equipped creamery for the practical training of the students. The original Dairy Store was opened in this building, although the exact date of this event is unknown.

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913) Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

MSC Dairy Store in the Dairy Building (post-1913). Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Ice Cream Bar wrapper
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

The Dairy Department and Plant remained in the Dairy Building until 1954, when Anthony Hall was constructed. Letters from the Michigan Agricultural Conference (1948), Michigan Purebred Dairy Cattle Association (1950) and Michigan Livestock Improvement Association (1952) to the state complained about the poor facilities and outdated equipment of the Dairy Building plant and called for improved agricultural, livestock, and dairy facilities at MSC (UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8). Following the construction of Anthony Hall—which was named after Ernest L. Anthony, the former head of the Dairy Department—the new dairy plant was highly productive. They provided milk to all of the residence halls, and made products such as chocolate milk, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, cottage cheese, buttermilk, dry milk, butter, and, of course, cheese and ice cream (including ice cream bars).

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Milk cans outside of the Dairy Building awaiting delivery to campus dorms. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

M.S.C. Dairy Plant milk can. Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. John Partridge, an emeritus faculty member of both the Dept. of Food Science and Nutrition and the Dept. of Animal Science, could be considered the Oral Historian of dairying on campus. He showed me and Lisa, our Campus Archaeologist, his stash of old dairying equipment, packaging, and photos from the mid-century era of the Dairy Plant. It provided us insight into the type of things we might encounter during our archaeological investigations on campus, such as historic milk bottles, bottle crates, and milk cans.

According to Partridge, the high level of productivity during the 1960’s become a point of contention with local private dairies, who did not feel it was fair that the MSU Dairy should have a monopoly on the campus milk market. Therefore, the dairy plant closed in 1968. In the meantime, local dairies found out how difficult it was to handle the fluctuating demands for milk of a college campus, and the dairy plant opened up again in the early 1970s. After this time the plant ceased to distribute fluid milk. The plant was gutted in the early 1990s and refitted with updated equipment.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

M.S.C. Diary Plant worker making ice cream bars. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Historic apparatus for making ice cream bars in M.S.C. Dairy Plant
Photo by S. Kooiman, courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Engstrom, the Dairy Complex Manager, kindly gave Dr. Goldstein and several CAP fellows (myself included) a tour of the dairy plant in early February. The facilities are spacious, shiny, and clean, and we saw the production of the curd for cheeses take place, which thrilled this Cheesehead. Some of those curds were bagged and sold the following day in that form, while the others were packaged into box forms to be pressed and aged and sold as various kinds of block cheese later on.

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

MSU Dairy Plant Facilities today

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

Diary Plant facilities soon after the construction of Anthony Hall. Photo courtesy of Dr. John Partridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dairy Plant currently focuses on producing shelf-stable cheese and ice cream. They produce 40,000 gallons in 40 different flavors of ice cream each year and 40,000 lbs of cheese in 11 different types or flavors. The milk is supplied by the 180 cows milked on campus in the Dairy Teaching and Resource center, as well as those milked in the Pasture Dairy center in the Kellogg Biological Station (although cream is acquired from another source). The MSU Dairy Store is both locally and nationally renowned, and you can even order their products online here.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in the Anthony Hall Dairy Plant, Image courtesy of Dr. Partridge.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.

Making cheese in Anthony Hall today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the long history of diary production and manufacturing on the Michigan State Campus is intriguing, the role of dairy in our institution extends far beyond just the delicious output of the Dairy Store. Part II of this series will explore the illustrious history of diary research and education and MSU, so stay tuned!

 

Sources:

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

Madison Kuhn Collection. UA17.107, Folder 3, Box 2411
E. L. Anthony, History of Dairy Development at MSC, 1929.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA17.107, Box 2411, Folder 2
A.C. Anderson, “The Dairy Herd” (1929)

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Folder 1, Box 2411
F.S. Kedzie, Letter to Mr. G.A. Bowling, Graduate Assistant in Dairy Husbandry, ca. 1955.

UA 16.37, Box 521, Folder 8

Accounting for Historic MSU Foodways

Last semester I focused much of my attention on the account books from the boarding halls (i.e, dining halls) during the Early Period of MSU history. The books cover a period from 1866 to 1874, during which the school was known as the State Agricultural College. While I have written about some of the information gleaned from these books (check them out here and here), below are some final themes and observations:

Food Logistics and Transportation

Example of A Boarding Hall Accounting Book (this is Vol. 108 listed in my references - says it goes until 1869 but actually goes to 1871). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Example of A Boarding Hall Accounting Book (this is Vol. 108 listed in my references – says it goes until 1869 but actually goes to 1871). Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Today, MSU faces the challenge of keeping its many cafeterias and coffee shops stocked with enough food to feed 40,000 students on a daily basis. While this is quite a feat, they have the advantage of modern transportation and bulk food suppliers to make the task a bit easier. Although the student population was much smaller in the nineteenth century, it must have been a great challenge for the State Agricultural College to acquire the amount of food needed to feed the students and faculty, considering the limited amount of transportation available in and out of East Lansing at the time. Railroads reached Lansing by at least the 1860s, but all roads leading into campus/East Lansing were reportedly very poor, making the delivery of goods from town an unsavory task for horses and wagons (UA.17.107 F10 B2410). However, certain items were ordered via mail or train, such as teas and extracts, which are always noted to have the added expense of “express”. The first direct railroad line between Detroit and Lansing opened up in August of 1871 (MDOT 2014), and the first mention of food items being purchased occurred in April of 1872, when “express on extracts from Detroit” was paid. By early 1873, “freight from Detroit” was a very common listing amongst provisions purchases, indicating a change in the ways in which food was being procured and perhaps even influencing the types of foods being selected. “Fresh fish from Detroit” became increasingly more common after this time as well.

Fry Me an Egg and Butter My Biscuit:

Much of what is listed in the account books is eggs and butter. Eggs and butter. Butter and eggs. Over and over again. It’s obvious that these items were important ingredients for the boarding hall cooks. Sometimes the accountant listed the people from whom butter and eggs were purchased, usually the names of individuals. The college therefore had to coordinate with various local farmers and producers to procure enough eggs and butter to feed hundreds of students and faculty. In May of 1871, one account book (UA 107.17 Vol. 32) lists payments for 273 pounds of butter and for 246 dozen eggs! Can you feel your arteries clogging?

Self-Sustainability at the Agricultural College

While it might be assumed that an agricultural college would produce a lot of its own food, evidence of this in the account books is sparse. Not until 1871 does one account book specifically list vegetables purchased from the “garden” (and later the Horticulture Department). Garden purchases include items such beets, parsnips, salsify, pickles, onions, cabbage, and carrots (UA 17.107, Vol. 32). In 1872 they begin listing purchases of meat and milk from the Farm Department. The boarding hall bought 6838 lbs. (795 gallons) of milk from the MAC farm in June of 1872 alone! It must be assumed that the boarding hall was acquiring food from the Horticulture and Farm Departments prior to this date, but did not record these as monetary transactions prior to the school’s expansion post-1870. Therefore, while food needed to be purchased from sources outside of the college, it was partially self-sustaining. In 1872, Beal himself mentions that crops in garden did well and were used in the boarding halls, but that the “orchards and fruit gardens are a disgrace to the Agricultural College” (UA 17.4, B891, F16). Records we found from 1863 indicated plans for a pear orchard on campus (UA 17.107, F2412,) – this was evidently not very successful.

So…What Else Were They Buying?

1867 Ad for Andrew Bertch Meats, Lansing Michigan. Image Source

1867 Ad for Andrew Bertch Meats, Lansing Michigan. Image Source

While the account books give us good information about the types of raw foods being purchased, there are a lot of specifics that get left out because of the nature of the account book listings. Meat was purchased almost exclusively from a butcher named A. Bertch – he was billed monthly but the types of meats purchased are usually not listed. Some individual meat purchases were recorded – veal, beef, mutton, and pork were all offered on the boarding hall menu at some point or another. Flour was purchased in bulk from vendors like Thoman & Co. and Reitz & Beiderslatt. “Groceries” were obtained from the grocers E.B. Miller and J. Esselstyne & Son, and the details of the items within those bulk purchases are lost to time.

It’s clear from these books that some foods were reserved for special occasions or came at too high a price to buy in bulk for students. President Abbot purchased beef steak, veal, and oysters through the college account (UA 17.107, Vol. 32), all items that do not frequently appear in the books otherwise. Canned oysters were purchased for students only occasionally: “oysters and jelly for commencement” and “18 cans of oysters, supper for students, Week of Fires” both show up in 1871 (UA 17.107, Vol. 32). Who knew canned oysters were such a special treat?

Canned Oysters - mmmm!!! Image source

Canned Oysters – mmmm!!! Image source

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the account books have given us a good idea of the types of foods being purchased and consumed. While the types of food chosen for consumption are strongly tied to culture, so too are methods of food preparation and dishes/recipes – all of it is part of cuisine, or food culture. In the coming weeks I will be exploring what dishes were prepared from the ingredients that were purchased—as well as how these dishes were received by the students.

 

References:

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2533, Vol. 108, Collection UA17.107, “Boarding Hall Account Book, 1866-1871”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2531, Vol. 82, Collection UA17.107, “Cash Account with Boarding Hall 1869-1874”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Vol. 32, “Accounts 1867-1873”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA.17.107 Folder 10, Box 2410, “Student Life at MAC 1871-1874” by Henry Haigh.

Madison Kuhn Collection, UA 17.107, Folder 52, Box 2412, “Pear Orchard Report,” 16 June, 1863.

Beal Papers, UA 17.4, Box 891, Folder 16, “Reports to the President of MAC”, 11 Nov. 1872.

Michigan’s Railroad History 1825-2014. Michigan Department of Transportation, Lansing, 2014. Accessed online at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/Michigan_Railroad_History_506899_7.pdf

The Kitchen Girls Part 2: Early Campus Female Life

In my last blog I introduced the female employees working at the Saint’s Rest boarding hall in 1866. These 33 women were paid an average of $2.00 – $2.50 a week for their work and were purchasing personal items through the university, charged against their monthly pay. Their purchases don’t appear to be work related; rather they are personal in nature. So let’s take a moment to further examine what these women were buying.

Corsets

Page of Saint's Rest Account Book showing corset purchases. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Page of Saint’s Rest Account Book showing corset purchases. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Corsets were the first things that caught my eye in these boarding hall purchasing records. On April 19th, 1866 seven of the women purchases corsets at a cost of $2.50 each. That’s an entire week’s pay!

Today wearing a corset may seem odd (although in some circles they are making a comeback) but the 1860s were at the height of the Victorian era (1837-1901), when corset wearing wasn’t just the norm, but was expected of women in order to obtain an ideal form. Because some of the women were also separately purchasing whalebone (at $0.15 a piece), we can deduce that they were not purchasing corsets with pre-weaved boning, which became popular (but more expensive) in the 1860s.

Whalebone corset c. 1864. Image Source - Victoria & Albert Museum

Whalebone corset c. 1864. Image Source – Victoria & Albert Museum

Balmoral Skirt

Balmoral Skirt. Image Source: American Textile History Museum

Balmoral Skirt. Image Source: American Textile History Museum

In May of 1866 Millie Trevallee purchased a balmoral skirt for the whopping price of $5.75. A balmoral skirt, or petticoat, is worn over a hoop skirt. There are several entries for girls purchasing hoop skirts. A hoop skirt gave the structural component to the large full dress skirts in fashion during this era. A balmoral petticoat was made of colored or patterned fabric and intended to show at the bottom of a dress. The most common type of Balmoral skirt was made of red wool with 2-4 black stripes running around the hem. In the late 1860s other patterns became popular as the trend spread through different levels of society.

Fabric

Sewing machine invented in the early 1850s lead to mass production of clothing. However, due to the amount of raw fabric being purchased, it’s likely that these women were making their own clothing. The rural nature of the area, and their socio-economic status may explain the lack of pre-made clothing. The kitchen girls were purchasing muslin, printed fabric ( such as gingham), cotton fabric, ladies cloth (a lightweight multipurpose fabric), bishop lawn (light weight slightly blue cotton fabric), silk, and a variety of colored fabric (such as pink and purple). They also purchased trim, ruffling, buttons, and hook and eye closures.

Saint's Rest Account Book showing purchase of hoop skirt, fabric, medicine and other personal items. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Saint’s Rest Account Book showing purchase of hoop skirt, fabric, medicine and other personal items. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Ayer's Ague Cure Ad - Image Source

Ayer’s Ague Cure Ad – Image Source

Medicine

Most of the entries related to health purchases are vague such as pills, “Doctor Bill”, “Paid to Dentist”, or “1 chicken for Mary Bage (sick)”. However a few purchases give us a glimpse into the medical issues and treatments of the time. Several women made purchases of iron tinctures, quinine, and Ague Cure. The iron tincture is a bit more straightforward than the quinine and Ague Cure. Today quinine may only sound familiar to as an ingredient in tonic (it’s what gives tonic it’s bitter flavor), but historically this was used to treat malaria and other ailments. Since malaria isn’t exactly common place in Lansing, it’s more likely that Ada was using it for one of it’s other purpose – such as treating a fever of another cause. The Ague Cure she also purchased in June was also used for fever and chills, known commonly as “malarial disorders”.

This is not a complete list of the items purchased by the female employees, but they are perhaps the most interesting.  Although clothing related purchases dominate the 1866 record they were also incurring expenses for mending shoes, purchasing stamps, and travel.  These account books have provided a rare glimpse into the everyday lives of early female university employees.  They have also allowed us to begin to understand part campus history that we have not yet uncovered in the archaeology of campus.

References:

http://www.maggiemayfashions.com/corsets.html

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/corsets-and-crinolines-in-victorian-fashion/

http://thedreamstress.com/2012/11/terminology-what-is-a-balmoral-petticoat/

Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections:

UA 17.107 Box 1140 Folder 8

Madison Kuhn Collection 17.107 Box 1141 Folder 66

UA 17.107 Box 2461 Item #40

Seasons’ Eatings! Seasonality of Food Acquisition and Consumption on the Early MSU Campus

Behold the Seasonal Bounty!" (source: https://janebaileybain.com/2011/11/24/thanksgiving-traditions/)

Behold the Seasonal Bounty! Image Source

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the long winter holiday season, and as we don our elastic-wasted pants and prepare to eat until we hate ourselves, there seems no better time to, once again, talk about food. As you sit down to your holiday meal this week, take some time to think about the food traditionally served at Thanksgiving. Some of the signature dishes include items such as cranberries, yams, apples, squashes, and pumpkins. These are late-autumn harvest foods, and they demonstrate how deeply food traditions are embedded in the seasonality.

What is seasonality, you may ask? The term refers to foods, usually fruits and vegetables, that are only available during the season of the year in which they ripen or are harvested. In our modern world of industrialized agriculture and global markets, it is easy to forget that people were once at the mercy of the nature for their food. In the past, fresh fruits and vegetables were not available all year round like many types of produce are now. Today, once-seasonal foods can now be grown in climates that produce year-round or in specialized greenhouses, and then distributed across the world via modern transportation. That’s not to say that we are not completely unaffected by seasonality, but societies in the past, including the early MSU population, were affected by it to a much greater degree.

College Hall & Boarding Hall (Saint's Rest) 1857. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

College Hall & Boarding Hall (Saint’s Rest) 1857. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

During MSU’s Early Period (1855-1870), the boarding houses, or dining halls, faced the challenge of feeding hundreds of students based on the availability of local resources. Routinely transporting foods in from long distances would likely have been generally too difficult and costly during most of this early period. A report from 1874 notes that there was a railroad to Lansing but none to campus, and all roads leading into campus were very poor. Therefore, acquiring food from MSU’s own fields, gardens, and livestock, and purchasing additional foodstuffs from local farmers and stores would have been the preferred and necessary means by which to procure food.

I and other CAP fellows have been mining account books from the early days of the college and boarding halls to determine early food purchasing habits. In three separate receipt books, all spanning the general time frame between 1866 and 1874 (which captures the end of the Early Period and the beginning of the Expansion Period), food seasonality patterns become strongly apparent.

The boarding house bought berries exclusively between July and September, while cherries are purchased almost every year, only in the month of July. Other summer items purchased only in summer months include plums, tomatoes, beets, radishes, summer squash, and salsify, a root vegetable that tastes like oysters (what a treat!). Grapes and pears, which are available in the fall, were both purchased in November, and turnips, and autumnal vegetable indeed, were procured in August and September. Dried fruit, dried apples, and dried peaches, however, were purchased mostly between February and April, although dried peaches were also bought in July. Therefore in the absence of fresh fruit, it seems dried alternatives were sought to supplement the daily nutrition of students and faculty.

Boarding Hall Provisions Account. Salsify purchase highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Boarding Hall Provisions Account. Salsify purchase highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Salsify. Sadly, it does not instantly turn things into salsa." (Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/salsify

Salsify. Sadly, it does not instantly turn things into salsa. Image source

Other seasonal items were also noted in the account books. Maple syrup was purchased in March and April, when sap would be flowing freely through the Michigan maple trees. MSU diners happily guzzled down cider as the apples ripened and the weather turned chilly from September to November. And of course, MSU maintained holiday traditions as well. Pumpkins were bought annually in October, either for decoration or consumption, and large numbers of turkeys were procured in November. Even our earliest students were lulled into tryptophan comas following their Thanksgiving feasts.

So let us follow in the footsteps of our predecessors and dine upon the season’s ripest and most delectable comestibles. Let the starch of yams and squashes fill our bellies, the juice of cranberries stain our tongues, and the grease of turkey glisten upon our hands and faces. ‘Tis the season, the season for eating!

 

Sources:

Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2533, Vol. 108, Collection UA17.107, “Boarding Hall Account Book, 1866-1871”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 11, Box 2531, Vol. 82, Collection UA17.107, “Cash Account with Boarding Hall 1869-1874”.

UA 17.107, Vol. 32, “Accounts 1867-1873”.

Madison Kuhn Collection, Folder 10, Box 2410, UA.17.107; “Student Life at MAC 1871-1874” by Henry Haigh.

http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/to_everything_there_is_a_season_understanding_seasonality_in_michigan

http://www.sustainablebabysteps.com/seasonal-foods.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragopogon_porrifolius

Rim Diameter for President!: An Archaeological Distraction for Your Anxious Election Day

Hopefully, like me, you have already voted today and are awaiting the results.  While we all wait anxiously to hear what the next four years will be like, let me distract you with some good, old fashioned archaeology.  In my last blog post, “Let’s Dine Like it’s 1872!,” I explored archival evidence for a diverse set of college-owned dinner wares within the Saint’s Rest boarding hall, signaling that the college at this time followed the Victorian ideal of mealtime as one of education and conspicuous presentation.  Since that time, we in the Campus Archaeology lab have been classifying and measuring dinner wares from the Early Period (1855-1870) of campus that were recovered through various archaeological excavations.  What we have found matches quite closely with the information seen in the archival documents, but also presents us with aspects that were left out.

"Berlin Swirl" pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

“Berlin Swirl” pattern plate. We have this pattern produced by two manufacturers. Photo source: Lisa Bright

For this work, we have been identifying specific vessels, which were then analyzed for a number of characteristics.  While this work is still underway, we do have some preliminary results to share.  During this time, most of the college-owned vessels were white ironstone dishes, which were much cheaper alternatives to the fancier, porcelain dish sets so popular with the upper class.  While these dishes were not colorful, many of them have different embossed designs on the rim, such as the Berlin Swirl pattern, a wheat pattern, or a scalloped decagonal pattern.  A few were plain white dishes with no designs at all.  Many of these dishes have maker’s marks, all coming from pottery manufacturers over in England, such as Davenport, J. and G. Meakin, Liddle Eliot and Sons, and Wedgewood.

"Wheat Pattern" plate produced by J.&G Meakin. Photo source : Lisa Bright

“Wheat Pattern” plate produced by J.&G Meakin. Photo source : Lisa Bright

"Fig Pattern" plate produced by Wedgwood. Image source: Lisa Bright

“Fig Pattern” plate produced by Wedgwood. Photo source: Lisa Bright

Thanks to further archival research done by CAP fellow Autumn Beyer, we can presume that these different designs do not represent different functional sets owned by the college, such as dinner sets, tea sets, or lunch sets, but instead represent different purchasing episodes.  In the purchasing records from MSU in 1862, we have evidence that the college did not buy all of their dishes at one time, but were buying a small number of them each month (MSU Archives: Kuhn Collection Volume 91-Agricultural Boarding Hall).  As the student population grew and as dishes broke, the college needed to acquire more, possibly buying them from different grocers.  This might be why different dish patterns are represented, as different grocers could have had different selections.  The stock of the grocers may also have changed based on the availability of different imported dishes and what was popular for that year, so it may have been difficult for the college to buy replacement dishes that matched their original set.

Small "Scalloped Decagonal" bowl produced by Davenport. Image source: Lisa Bright

Small “Scalloped Decagonal” bowl produced by Davenport. Photo source: Lisa Bright

Rim diameter and vessel height data also provide further evidence that a number of different vessel types and sizes were present.  Among the plates, at least four sizes were represented.  While there is some minor variation due to refitting, incompleteness, and different manufactures, plates tend to group around a 6.5 inch diameter small plate, a 7.5 inch medium plate, a 9.5 inch large plate, and an 11 inch very large plate or small platter.  Two diameters of bowls were present, small bowls that were only 5.5 inches in diameter or smaller and larger bowls with diameters around 9.5 inches.  These bowls also had different depths. Of the large bowls, some had depths of 1.5 inches while others had depths of 2 inches, suggesting that these bowls had different functions.  The small bowls all tended to be shallower, with depths of around 1 inch.  Besides bowls and plates, other dishes represented include saucers, handle-less cups, deep casserole-like dishes, and other serving dishes that were more fragmented and difficult to identify.  While different styles of cups and saucers were represented, all of them tended to be the same shape and size, only differing in their embossed designs.

"Scalloped Decagonal" serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Image source: Lisa Bright

“Scalloped Decagonal” serving dish. Most likely made by Davenport but no makers mark present. Photo source: Lisa Bright

This archaeological data further corroborates the information found in archival documents and demonstrates the power of using these tools in tandem.  When only archival resources were used, it was clear that the college owned a number of dishes of various types that were used as dinner ware, a dining style typical of wealthier Victorian Era families.  What these sources did not make clear was the type of dishes that were used.  Were they expensive porcelain dishes or cheaper ironstone?  Were they plain dishes or decorated with elaborate glazes or painted designs?  Archaeological data, on the other hand, can tell us more about the types of dishes used, how cheaply they could be purchased, and what they looked like, but it cannot inform us about the total amounts of dishes and dish types that were present, or how the college went about procuring these items.  Together, the use of both archival and archaeological information helps to paint a more complete image of what life was like for the first students that attended MSU.  Dining was a much more elaborate affair than it is now, involving the use of numerous specialized dishes that were meant to educate students about proper behavior and to demonstrate their middle-class status.  MSU, despite not having great amounts of money, must have believed this practice to be important for the well-being and education of the students; therefore, they invested hundreds of dollars into buying cheaper versions of these dishes.  Based on the great variety of designs present, the college must have had a difficult time finding dishes that matched when it came time to replace or expand the number of dishes.  Overall, by combining these two types of data, it can allow archaeologists to create a more accurate and life-like vison of the past, one where the anger of those who had to replace broken dishes and could not find the same type of designs can reverberate through history.

 

References:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. Agricultural boarding hall.

Here Fishy Fishy: Fish Importation in the 1860s

As I have been going through the purchasing records for the Agricultural Boarding Hall at the MSU Archives, I’ve noticed some interesting purchases that I did not expect to run across. These are the purchasing notes for imported fish, including Lake Superior Whitefish and Halibut. I am particularly interested in the importation of the Lake Superior Whitefish because I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, right across the street from Lake Superior. Growing up in Marquette Michigan, Lake Superior Whitefish was a staple in our house and is very common at local restaurants in town. I was surprised to find it purchased by Michigan State during the Early Period! The archival records show that during the 1860s, not only was MSU was purchasing Lake Superior Whitefish, but that they were doing it throughout the year. During the Early Period of MSU (1855-1870), I was expecting that almost all food resources that MSU utilized would be local, because of the difficult nature of transporting more exotic/distant food. To be able to transport fish from Lake Superior to MSU, the fish would have to be either transported on ice (more difficult to do during the summer months) or they would have been salted to preserve them.

1861 Purchasing records for the boarding hall (Saint's Rest) - lake superior whitefish highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1861 Purchasing records for the boarding hall (Saint’s Rest) – lake superior whitefish highlighted. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Before I dive into the history of fishing on Lake Superior, here is a quick background information on Lake Superior Whitefish. Lake Superior whitefish are a member of the trout/salmon family (Salmonidae). The reason whitefish were and still are such a popular fish is due to its tasty flavor, convenient size, and their habit of schooling that allows for easier mass catching (DNR). Whitefish hatch in the spring, and grow rapidly, allowing them to reach over 20 pounds and can live over 25 years (DNR).

Whitefish - Image Source: DNR

Whitefish – Image Source: DNR

Fishing for Lake Superior Whitefish has a long history in the state, and commercial fishing on Lake Superior has had some major changes throughout Michigan’s history (Goniea DNR; Minnesota Sea Grant). Small steamer ships are no longer required for transporting fish to the market (Holmquist 1955). Now it is possible to drive the fish catch downstate along the highways throughout Michigan, many of which follow the Great Lake shorelines. One part of commercial fishing that has not changed is the most common method of fishing: gill nets. However, there are now different laws that govern the size of the mesh used by fishermen as well as fishing seasons (Holmquist 1955).

The steamer "Hiram R Dixon" fished regularly along Lake Superiors North Shore. Image Source

The steamer “Hiram R Dixon” fished regularly along Lake Superiors North Shore. Image Source

Through the 1890s, whitefish were the most popular/mainstay within the Lake Superior commercial fishing, but through the early 1900s, the species almost became extinct. Now with the help of more restrictive fishing methods and artificial propagation, whitefish populations are at adequate levels for commercial fishing once again (Holmquist 1955). According to Holmquist (1955) a second attempt of large-scale fishing on Lake Superior occurring around 1860, when a commercial operation was opened at Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It is possible that this push in commercial fishing during this time influenced Michigan State’s purchasing of imported fish in addition to the more typical local resources.

Fishermen in a Mackinaw boat raising their nets. Image Source

Fishermen in a Mackinaw boat raising their nets. Image Source

While MSU farms and local businesses provided the majority of the food resources consumed by campus residents during the Early Period, it has been exciting to learn about the non-local resources that are being purchased for the boarding halls. While the purchasing of Lake Superior whitefish does not appear to be a constant throughout the 1860s (archival records indicate sporadic purchasing during three separate years), it is interesting that there was an inclusion of food that would have been more difficult to acquire. Students and faculty were treated to a more varied diet than what their local surroundings could produce. The purchasing of Lake Superior whitefish during this time shows the appreciation of great resources and the wonder of the Upper Peninsula before the building of the Mackinaw Bridge!

 

Resources:

MSU Archives & Historical Collections: Kuhn Collection Volume 91. Agricultural boarding hall.

Commercial Fishing on Lake Superior in the 1890s by June Drenning Holmquist (1955): http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/34/v34i06p243-249.pdf

DNR: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_18958-45680–,00.html

Tom Goniea (DNR) – The Story of State-licensed Commercial Fishing History on the Great Lakes: http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10364_52259-316019–,00.html

Minnesota Sea Grant – Lake Superior and Michigan Fisheries: A Closer Look: http://www.seagrant.umn.edu/fisheries/superior_michigan_fisheries

 

 

 

 

Four Pickles for Dinner? Trials and Tribulations of Archival Research and Tips for Success

History is fleeting yet enduring. We hardly ever realize that we are making it, but the remnants of our historic actions can sometimes remain long after they are done. Things casually jotted down, random papers and notes tucked away—these are items we don’t realize that someone may use for information in the future. Fortunately for Campus Archaeology, the Michigan State University Archives serves as a repository for these bits of history, housing both official records and other written information collected from MSU alum and faculty emerita.

As lovely as such resources are, the often pose a problem for researchers. Diaries and notebooks, etc. were not written for the public and may only make sense the author. More official records, such as account books, weren’t necessarily private, but still bear the marks of individuals living in certain times and places, which doesn’t always translate for later generations.

In my efforts to recreate diet and foodways on the early MSU campus (1855-1870), I have been begun recording the food purchases in account books for the boarding houses. Boarding houses and clubs were the original cafeterias, so they are key to understanding early MSU food culture. However, the documents I have surveyed thus far, dating to between 1866 and 1871, have given me as much trouble as information.

Here are some of the issues facing researchers using historic archives:

  1. Illegibility:  Most handwriting prior to the last couple decades was in cursive, particularly in official records. Some record-keepers’ handwriting is clear and perfectly legible, but most of the time, this is not the case. As we move further away from using and reading cursive in the modern era, our untrained eyes find further difficulty with deciphering it. This problem will only continue to worsen, as many elementary schools have ceased teaching cursive writing.
Exprep

Exprep on extracts from Saints Rest account books. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

2. Outdated Terms:  Some of our problems with reading past documents can be attributed to the use of terms that are no longer commonplace. Early on I ran into a word I could not read (see photo), but upon a text conversation with Lisa, we decided the word may be “exprep”. Googling this phrase didn’t turn up anything useful, and we concluded that it may have stood for external preparation (hiring an outsider to prepare something). Later I ran into the phrase “express in tea”, referring to postage for a tea delivery. I thought perhaps I had misread it the first time around, but the last letter of the previous entry simply does not look like two esses. I remain confused! (And please help if you can!)

Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Express on tea seen in Saints Rest accounts book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

3. Incomplete information: One issue I have been running into with the receipt books is the lack of itemization of food purchases. Sometimes entries are very specific (e.g., “4 3/12 dozen eggs”), while others simply say “Pd Bill to Hentch for meat” without specifying the amount or type of meat that was purchased. Often the bookkeeper would simply reference the person paid without indicating the goods for which they were paid. This means that we are only able to get information about some food goods being purchased and not others.

So, how can you deal with the issues we face when researching in the archives? Here are some tips:

  1. Talk to an archivist:  This is the most obvious and probably most useful tip of them all. If you are having problems reading something, then it’s likely that the archivist has encountered the same problem and is much more experienced at reading and interpreting old records. This is a resource I have yet to tap—I’m  saving up all of my problems so I only have to bug them once!
  2. Discuss with friends:  Visiting the archives with friends can make the tedium a little less painful, plus you can ask them if they can decipher a word that has you flummoxed. If you go alone, you can take a picture (with permission of the archives) and send it to a friend for help.
  3. Revisit:  Take note of words you can’t read and revisit them later. Sometimes looking at them again or after you’ve seen a certain word or term written more clearly can help you read it the second time. I kept thinking I was seeing the word “sand” but later realized that it actually said “lard,” which makes more sense for a boarding house…
  4. Utilize alternate resources: Since certain documents often include only one type of information, you must draw on other resource types for context and other types of data. The account books list only foods purchased, so how foods were prepared, the recipes used, and students’ perception of the food are still unknown. I will be drawing on a variety of other sources for this information, so stay tuned…

These methods, however, cannot solve everything. One entry in the boarding house account book said “four pickles for dinner.” Did they really just buy four pickles? Or did they forget a word? Pounds? Jars? Barrels? And why were these pickles specified to be used for dinner? Was it a special dinner?! Or were pickles banned during lunch?!? Oh 1870 account book keeper, why do you vex me so?!?

Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Mystery word in Saints Rest account book. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

Some remnants of history may always remain a mystery.

Resources:

Kuhn Collection Vol. 108, Boarding Hall Account Book 1866-1871

Let’s Make Botany Hip Again: Building Beal’s Botanical Laboratory, Part 1

The tragic fate of Michigan Agricultural College’s first Botanical Laboratory is the stuff of campus lore. Built in 1879, it burned to the ground in March of 1890 when a defective flue—and, legend has it, incompetent graduate students—contributed to a fire in the building’s attic. The Campus Archaeology Program has conducted several brief investigations of the site. To provide historical context for past and future excavations, I am combing the MSU Archives for information about the short-lived building. While the story of the first Botanical Laboratory’s fiery demise has claimed its fair share of attention, this blog post incorporates some of my archival research in piecing together its less known origin story.

Photograph of the Botanical Laboratory circa 1885. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Photograph of the Botanical Laboratory circa 1885. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

To understand why the Botanical Laboratory was built, one must understand that William J. Beal wanted people to know he was a cool professor. No, really. In Beal’s seminal 1882 lecture, The New Botany, he distanced himself and his teaching philosophy from the stereotype of the “dried up old fossil” of a botany teacher who “wore odd looking clothes” and “taught the class from the text-book.” Indeed, Beal’s contempt for the outdated teaching style of the “Old Botany” centered on its primary emphasis on book learning. Without specimens for students to observe and handle, Beal lamented, “It is little wonder that botany found so little favor.”

According to Beal, the antidote to the Old Botany’s ineffectual brand of academic stuffiness lay in what he called “The New Botany.” Beal believed a student should “earn his facts.” Influenced by his Harvard undergraduate advisors, zoologist Louis Agassiz and botanist Asa Gray, and drawing on the scientific processes employed by eminent scientists like Charles Darwin, Beal recommended prioritizing the study of objects before books, providing short lectures, and requiring the pupil learn by “thinking, investigating, and experimenting for himself.” With this method, Beal prepared to restore a hipness to the field of Botany not seen since Linnaeus.

Photograph of Beal with botany students in the laboratory 1880-1890. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Photograph of Beal with botany students in the laboratory 1880-1890. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

An educational strategy focused on doing and seeing over reading and memorizing required a bit of creativity, some equipment, and a laboratory space in which to work. Almost as soon as he arrived at MAC, archival documents suggest Beal set his sights on procuring and equipping a botanical laboratory. The laboratory would be the first in the country built for the express purpose of botanical study (Forsyth). A trip to the MSU archives uncovered a stack of letters Beal exchanged with colleagues between 1876 and 1879 seeking advice and support. Beal found a vocal ally in Professor Charles E. Bessey of Iowa Agricultural College. In a letter to Beal dated December 31, 1877, Bessey wrote, “A college which proposes to keep up with the current must provide Botanical and Zoological laboratories. The college which does not provide such laboratories will fall behind the progressive institutions at least so far as the biological sciences are concerned.” Mic drop.

A page from a paper submitted by Frank J. Stahl, one of Beal’s botany students in 1886. The paper includes elaborate illustrations comparing and contrasting cells of white ash, pine, and oak. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

A page from a paper submitted by Frank J. Stahl, one of Beal’s botany students in 1886. The paper includes elaborate illustrations comparing and contrasting cells of white ash, pine, and oak. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

With the support of colleagues at other notable institutions, Beal secured the College’s green light to build his laboratory in 1879. It was built on the bank of the brook, north of the green house, on the same site where an apiary (bee-house) once stood. Watkins & Arnold, a Lansing architectural firm also responsible for Station Terrace and the first Wells Hall, were enlisted to design the building. They chose a “Gothic Revival” style popular on college campuses in the 19th and 20th centuries. The eclectic two-story wood-frame structure sported a large rose window and two towers with decorative finials. The design provided the laboratory a bit of a spooky gingerbread house appearance of which Beal was apparently quite proud. Of the building Beal wrote, “As seen from the west, it is very conspicuous and adds a great deal to the appearance of the grounds.”

Inside, the laboratory was finished handsomely in native wood. The first floor consisted of a study and a large combined laboratory/lecture room, where students had their lessons. The room was equipped with a teacher’s desk, a pump and a sink, three blackboards, three rows of tables, and drawers for each student. Upstairs was the museum, which held an extensive collection of plant specimens.

As with all collegiate activities unrelated to income-generating sports, the budget was a concern. The Board of Trustees grudgingly agreed to pay the contractors, Fuller and Wheeler of Lansing, $6,000 to build the laboratory and install a furnace. This tight budget would eventually prove itself a costly mistake—it was not enough to fireproof the laboratory in brick.

One set of costs involved equipping the laboratory. Beal’s hands-on approach to teaching required hands-on equipment, namely microscopes. This was a truly novel and applied approach to teaching biology. In his first decade at MAC, Beal was one of just four professors in the country to provide compound microscopes for each student in his class. Beal required freshmen students two write two theses a year based in part on microscopic observations of plant specimens. His seniors spent every day of a six-week course using the compound microscope. The students must have enjoyed the microscopes–or at least recognized their value–because in 1890, these were among the few items they managed to save from the fire.

While the laboratory itself met an early end, the applied teaching methods Beal championed and that drove its construction left a lasting legacy at this university. If you liked this blog post, stay tuned because I will continue to discuss Professor Beal, the laboratory, and this legacy in my next post.

References

Beal, William J. The New Botany, A Lecture on the Best Method of Teaching the Science. Transactions of the Twenty-Ninth Annual Meeting of the Michigan State Teachers’ Association, 2nd ed., rev. Philadelphia: C.H. Marot, 1882.

Beal, William J. “Studying the Sciences Fifty Years Ago.” The Michigan Alumnus Volume XXIII. October 1916-August 1917, pp. 257-259.

Kevin Forsyth http://kevinforsyth.net/ELMI/botany-lab.htm

MSU Archives & Historical Collections

UA 1 State Board of Agriculture/Board of Trustee Records

  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1879
  • Board of Trustee Meeting Minutes Notes: 1881
  • Michigan Board of Agriculture Department Reports, 1880: Report of the Professor of Botany and Horticulture

UA.17.4 William J. Beal Papers

  • Letter from C.E. Bessey, December 31, 1877.
  • Lectures and Laboratory Work for Students in the Botanical Laboratory of the Michigan Agricultural College. 1882.

 

Hunting and Gathering on Campus

As I began my archival research about food in the Early Period (1855-1870) I continued to run across stories about students activities on campus related to food procurement. While the students paid weekly for room and board, they also supplemented their diet by hunting on campus and gathered berries and other fruit from the surrounding area. Similar to students today going to local restaurants and grocery stores, the first students at MSU used resources surrounding them to get food other than what was provided by the school. The following stories were found within the Saints Rest documents from the library and historic archives.

Gathering:

While not in the Early Period of campus, during the year of 1898, a poem was written about students eating honey that they found within a tree that they cleared. My favorite part of the story was that the students ate so much honey that they all became sick!

Man & Woman with beehives, date unknown. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Man & Woman with beehives, date unknown. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In a letter home from a student dated July 13th (no year given), the author wrote to their sister describing how they would go huckleberry picking in the swamp just a little more than a mile away from the Hall.

Huckleberries, Image Source: Flickr

Huckleberries, Image Source: Flickr

Hunting:

One of the first students at MSU, E. G. Granger, wrote a personal diary that contains many stories about his extracurricular activities from 1858.

On December 4th, 1858 Granger and another student Foote went out hunting on MSU’s campus and successfully shot a turkey. They decided to give the turkey to Professor Williams, who invited the two students to have it for dinner with him. That night at dinner, another professor, Tracey, attended and informed the students that they shot the turkey that he was hunting early in the day from his hunting shanty he built in the woods.

Young man holding a turkey. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Young man holding a turkey. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Several days later, on December 9th, Professor Tracey invited Granger and several other students to track and hunt white-tailed deer.

Deer in the campus deer park, c. 1907. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Deer in the campus deer park, c. 1907. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

From the diary of A. B. Morse, on May 8th of 1858, he talks about going fishing for the first time, and caught three fish. While the location is not stated, we may be able to assume that they went fishing on the Red Cedar River, which is possible to do today! During our campus archaeology excavations, we uncovered a lot of fish bone in the privy associated with Saint’s Rest.

unknown. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Red Cedar River date unknown. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

These are just a few stories that show some of the outside activities of students supplementing their meals provided by the boarding halls. Almost all of the food provided to the students through the boarding hall dining facilities was produced locally, from the campus farms and orchards to the privately owned farms in the area. Unlike today, where the surrounding resources include hundreds of restaurants and stores where students can buy food from around the globe, the first students on campus had limited options outside of the dining hall.

Sources:

MSU Libraries:
PS3515.0173w3.c.5 — The Wandering Singer collection

MSU Archives & Historical Collections:
US 10.3.5 — Charles A. Jewell Papers
UA 17.107 — James Gunnison, Dawn of the Michigan Agricultural College Collection
UA 17.107 — Diary of A. B. Morse 1858
UA 10.3.56 — E. G. Granger Papers

Feast your Eyes on This: Banquets and Changing Cuisine at MSU (or: How I Wish I Could Time Travel to 1884 and Eat All the Cake)

During a recent visit to the MSU Archives, I was beginning my search through records pertaining to food and came across a rather interesting folder containing programs for various MSU and other local banquets. These programs all featured menus for the event, and demonstrate changes in taste and cuisine over time. Naturally, they piqued my interest.

Class of 1886 program banquet cover

Class of 1886 Banquet Program – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The first menu is for the “Class of ’86 Banquet” held on August 1, 1884. This banquet seemed to be quite a grand affair. It was held at the Lansing House Hotel in downtown Lansing, which became the Downey Hotel a few years later and was the premier luxury hotel in the area (it was later torn down and the famous Knapp Building was built in its place). The menu for the banquet was extensive; topping the menu was “Chicken Salad, a la Mayonaise” and “Lobster Salad.” Cold dishes included items familiar to us now, such as sliced turkey, chicken, and sugar cured ham, as well as some less familiar fair—“boned turkey with Jelly,” “Beef Tongue, Spiced” and “Pressed Beef”. Boned turkey is a whole turkey carefully de-boned and baked or boiled for a long period of time, served cold over a savory jelly made of calves’-foot (yum!). Spiced beef tongue is much as you would imagine. Variations have been popular in parts of Latin America, where it is know as “lengua”, but tongue has rather fallen out of typical modern American cuisine. Pressed beef is made when a joint of silverside beef is boiled, pressed, sliced and served cold.

1886 Banquet Menu - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1884 Banquet Menu – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

“Relishes” on the menu include something called “Chow Chow”. This relish is around today in the southern US, and consists of some combination of tomatoes, cabbage, onion, carrots, bean, asparagus, cauliflower, and peas, which are all canned and pickled together.

Now here’s where things get really exciting: Under the “Social” category on the menu are listed ten, yes, TEN, different types of cake. Cake is one of my favorite foods, so this is my kind of party. Most of the flavors are typical, although you may not recognize “white mountain cake,” which is 3-layer white cake flavored with lemon, frosted between layers and over the outside (YUM). In addition to the cake were “Desserts” such as various ice creams and fruits.

1886 Banquet Dance Card - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1884 Banquet Dance Card – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The other half of the interior Banquet program listed the order of dances with a space to fill in your partner for each one—a dance card. The owner of this program had but one blank filled in; he was to do the Grand March with Grace Boosinger. Curiosity prompted an internet search of her name, which turned up the alumni update section for the Iota Chapter (Michigan Agricultural College) of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity in 1892. It reported that H.E. Thomas married Grace Boosinger (“his old freshman girl) on July 12, 1982, and that he had been “re-nominated as circuit court commissioner.” Harris Thomas was a mover and shaker – he began his career as a lawyer but served as president of multiple companies later on and even served as a US Postmaster. He and Grace lived in Lansing their whole lives and are buried here as well. It seems he only had one name on his dance card for a reason…

But I digress. Let’s jump ahead to 1926, from which we have a program for the “All-College Night Banquet… Celebrating Jointly the Sixty-Ninth Birthday of the Founding of the Michigan State College and the Opening of the New People’s Church.” The menu this time is a bit simpler with fewer options, and approaching closer to the types of food we might expect at a banquet today. Menu items include fruit cocktail, veal birds, mashed potatoes, gravy, head lettuce with Thousand Island dressing, rolls, butter, ice cream, cupcakes, and coffee. Veal birds are pounded strips of veal rolled or wrapped around a stuffing, and while perhaps not a staple of American cuisine, one can find modern recipes for them online.

1926 Banquet

1926 Banquet Program – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1926 banquet menu

Menu from 1926 Banquet – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The menu for a banquet held by the Michigan State College Board of Publications in 1939 grows even closer to modern feasting fare. The spread consists of cocktail, baked ham, au grautin potatoes, corn, spring salad, assorted rolls, coffee, and fresh strawberry sundaes. I would expect to find this exact menu at certain catered events today.

1939 Banquet Card - Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1939 Banquet Card – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1939 menu banquet

Menu from 1939 Banquet – Image Source: MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Over the course of fifty-five years, it is interesting to see evolving food preferences on the MAC/MSC/MSU campus. Early banquets featured a wide variety of foods, many of which were labor-intensive for preparation, and included a number of dishes not readily familiar to the modern palate. They were also heavy in meat, which was considered a symbol of wealth. The 1884 MAC banquet seems to have been an attempt by the class or college to display or at least mimic the upper class traditional of “conspicuous consumption.” Display of a wide variety of foods, especially meat, which was expensive, was a tradition dating back to medieval times.

Moving into the 20th century, the variety of food offerings became narrower, the options generally easier to produce en masse. There is a trend of simplicity and subtle flavors during the pre-war era, expressed in fare such as potatoes, salad, and rolls. Also, it is presumable that as class sizes grew on campus (including the addition of women), that budgets were tighter and food choice had to be more economical. There are likely a variety of other factors influencing these differences, which I hope to investigate further in the future.

We still know little about the food traditions of the early MAC period (1855-1870), neither in terms of daily student and faculty diets in the campus boarding facilities, nor of special event food traditions. This will require digging deeper into the archives and using archaeological evidence to recreate the earliest diets of our academic predecessors. I, for one, have both my trowel and my fork ready to dig in.

Sources:

http://www.lansingmi.gov/295/Knapp-Building-300-Washington-Square

http://chestofbooks.com/food/recipes/Cooking/How-To-Cook-A-Boned-Turkey.html

http://neilcooksgrigson.blogspot.com/2009/11/202-pressed-beef.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chow-chow_(food)

http://www.newenglandrecipes.org/html/white-mountain-layer-cake.html

The Rainbow of Delta Tau Delta, Volume xvi, No. 1 (1892). Hall, Black & Co., Minneapolis, MN. Accessed online at https://books.google.com/books?id=xy8UAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA63&lpg=RA1-PA63&dq=grace+boosinger&source=bl&ots=v8DscJy94J&sig=7p0QwCCrJrEH1aivfMEzCCVuBls&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiopc3T1rzPAhVQ6WMKHdprBOsQ6AEINzAE#v=onepage&q=grace%20boosinger&f=false

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1992-03-19/entertainment/9201250795_1_veal-stuffing-birds

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/oh-what-a-lovely-pre-war-1920s-and-1930s-food-was-about-more-than-stodge-and-luncheon-meat-8320568.html

http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-281