Last week I spent some time in the CAP lab with Campus Archaeologist Lisa Bright resorting and accessioning artifacts from the 2008 and 2009 Saint’s Rest rescue excavation. This excavation uncovered many ceramic artifacts (among other items) including plates, bowls, and serving dishes. Among the …
The analysis of animal bones from historic MSU involves more than the identification of species. While it is important to determine the species that were being consumed, we are also very interested in the specific portions of animals that were being purchased and produced by …
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
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?
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?
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.
Author: Susan Kooiman
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.
Archaeologists care a lot about garbage. We can learn a great deal from looking through what people throw out, how much they throw out, and when they throw it out. Because trash is the byproduct of what humans consume and use in their daily lives, …
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 …
Michigan State University is a big place. Today the main campus is over 5,200 acres, there are 545 buildings, and over 50,000 students. Campus is essentially its own little city and there’s a large work force of approximately 6,800 support staff employees that work around the clock to make things run smoothly. In the early years of the campus, although the campus size and student body were much smaller, a large staff was still necessary to run the college. We’ve been able to do extensive research on experiences of the early faculty and students, but finding information on the employees is more difficult because their experience is often missing from the historical and archaeological record.
As part of the ongoing food reconstruction project, I’ve been going through the Saint’s Rest boarding hall receipt books with Susan Kooiman and Autumn Beyer at the MSU Archives. While recording the 1866-1867 book I noticed some purchases that didn’t quite maker sense; corsets, garters, ribbon, parasols, hoops skirts, etc. Each was associated with a woman’s name. Female students weren’t officially admitted to the university until 1870, so who were these women showing up in the boarding hall account books?
I think that they were the employees of the boarding hall.
Before going through this receipt book we only knew of them through brief mentions in other archival material. In his essay “The Dawn of Michigan Agricultural College” James Gunnison, a member of the inaugural class of 1861, mentions that boys used the parlor (in Saint’s Rest) to visit with the “dining-room girls” (UA 17.107 Box 1140 Folder 8). A 1859 letter notes that the following women were employed at the boarding hall: 2 girls to do the laundry, 2 women as cooks, 1 women in the kitchen to wash dishes and do other odd jobs, 2 girls in the dining room to serve, 1 girl for “chamber work”, and 1 girl for the general washing, washing towels for the washing room, and making candles (Madison Kuhn Collection 17.107 Box 1141 Folder 66). Thankfully now we have identifies for at least 33 of the women that worked at the boarding hall in 1866:
Lucinda Van Horn
The 1859 letter indicates that at least 9 women at a time were employed at the boarding hall, and as enrollment grew it’s logical to assume that more women were hired to work on campus. The receipt book also notes when employees left for a period of time, and when new ones began working.
Unfortunately the timing of the employment records, 1866, makes it a little difficult to track down more information on these specific individuals. The 1860 Michigan census can be a bit sketchy, and by 1870 many of these women may have moved out of the area, or gotten married and thus changed their last name (although Pamelia Trevallee appears in the 1870 census still working as a domestic servant in the boarding hall (spelled Travailla in the census)). Most likely these women were in their late teens or early 20s when employed by the university, further complicating finding them by traditional genealogical means (Pamelia Trevallee is 21 in the 1870 census, making her 17 in the 1866 book). Interestingly many of these women share the same last night, suggesting that they are related.
In the mid 1860s there were approximately 100 students on campus, so why was there the need for so many female employees at the boarding hall (there are male laborers listed in the receipt book but that is a blog for another day). We need to remember that housework in the 19th century was incredibly laborious and highly gender specific.
The women were being paid $2.00 – $2.50 per week for their work. It appears the room and board was also included as part of their employment. What I’m seeing in the receipt books appears to be purchases/charges employees made against their weekly payroll. At the end of every month the accounts are balanced, with any remaining money being paid out to the individual. For example Millie Trevallee charges $11.28 in May and $4.05 in June and is paid $4.90 at the end of June, balancing the ~$20 she would have made for two months work.
These receipt books provide a unique glimpse into the lives of female university employees in the 1860s. Stay turned for The Kitchen Girls Part 2 next week where I will explore the fashionable purchases they were making.
Author: Lisa Bright
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
United States Census 1870 State of Michigan, Ingham County, Town of Meridian schedule 1, page 30
As part of my on-going research project for Campus Archaeology, I have been focusing so far on the dinner wares from the early period of the campus (1855-1870). These dishes, which come in many shapes and sizes, have greatly informed our understanding of meal times …
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 …
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.
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!
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.
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.
Several days later, on December 9th, Professor Tracey invited Granger and several other students to track and hunt white-tailed deer.
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.
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.
Author: Autumn Painter
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
Analyzing and interpreting past food practices has always been one of my passions. This year for CAP, I will be working with Susan Kooiman to explore and recreate the food environment during the Early Period of MSU’s campus (1855-1870), as explained in Susan’s previous blog post. While …