For my personal research I study issues related to health and disease, so whenever I see something health related in the CAP collection I jump at the opportunity to do a blog post about it. That happened recently when I came across this seemingly simple …
Over the past year, I have been working on identifying the animal (faunal) bone material excavated by the Campus Archaeology Program. Currently, I have been working on bones that were recovered during the Saint’s Rest excavation. Saint’s Rest was the first dormitory on campus, and …
I’ve written at length about the foods purchased by the early campus boarding hall (aka dining hall), as well as the dishes they likely served. However, what we do not know is what the students thought of this food. Did they like it? Or did they find the boarding hall offerings unsatisfactory? Items such as diaries and student newspapers can provide students’ perspectives on the meals they were served. In the case of early MSU, student dissatisfaction with food eventually led to widespread changes in the early boarding system in the 1880s.
Edward Granger was among the earliest students at the Agricultural College, and luckily wrote in great in detail about food served in Saints’ Rest, the first student dorm (ca. 1858-1859). Granger occasionally expressed positive feelings about the food, stating on Christmas Day that he “had a fine Christmas dinner considering that it was in the Agricultural College.” The next day, he wrote “After meeting we had a feast… Chicken and peaches, brown bread and ginger snaps. Everything was first rate, and we had a glorious meal.” (1)
However, Granger generally wasn’t the biggest fan of the food served by “the Institution,” as he refers to it. He mentions frequently skipping dinner and despairingly declares “[I] finished my supply of good things and suppose I shall have to live on the Institution or starve.” To cope, Granger and his friends ate snacks from home in their rooms or occasionally stole food from the kitchens. One late night he recounts that “Mr. Charley and Bush have just returned from an expedition to the lower regions. The booty consists in about a peck of fried cakes, to a portion of which we have been giving ample justice.” Another evening, a snack of eggs led Granger to observe, “Where Charley procured the eggs I don’t know. We asked no questions for conscience’s sake.” (1)
Student discontent with food increased over the following decades as the college grew. The students expressed their anger through the establishment of a student newspaper, The College Speculum, and dissatisfaction with food served in the boarding hall is indicated as one of the principal arguments in favor of starting the paper (2). The first issue of The Speculum contains a lengthy treatise on the “question of the students’ board”. The author notes:
“Our system itself is no doubt at fault. Two hundred different tastes and dispositions can never be satisfied with the same food. The wholesale preparation of victuals is objectionable. Food cannot be well prepared in large quantities, and with the haste that necessarily attends such preparation. The wholesale use of canned and prepared goods, which are nearly always unwholesome, is a feature which has been overlooked. The finest vegetables are now growing in the garden, and are literally wasting as fast as they become eatable. Canned beans, peas, corn, tomatoes, etc., take the place of fresh food in the dining hall. With these facts before us we do not wonder that so many students complain of ill health, and so many leave college on that account.” (3).
This treatise may have been laying the groundwork for a student movement against the boarding hall steward, Emory C. Fox. The boarding hall stewards purchased supplies, oversaw food preparation staff, and presided over the tables in the dining hall (4). Fox was the steward from 1877-1881, and was extremely unpopular with students. In 1881 they charged him with fraud, claiming that Fox purchased lemons, oysters, mackerel, and oranges but that these items were never served to the students, implying that Fox purchased these items for himself (5). The students accused Fox with several other acts of fraud, as well (6).
After a review of the charges against Fox, the college Board of Trustees found that the alleged illicit food items were actually served to sick students in their rooms, and they found Fox to be an overall competent steward (7). However, on August 15, 1881, President Abbot notes that Fox resigned following the backlash but that “there was some hesitation about allowing him to resign” on his part (8).
This was not the end of student discontent, however. The Annual Catalogue of the State Agricultural College listed average weekly boarding costs for the prior academic year. During Fox’s tenure as steward, the average cost was between $2.27-$2.38. Under his successor, Conroy B. Mallory, this cost rose to $3.15 in the Spring of 1882. Students appreciated the improved menus under Mallory’s tenure, but not the increased cost (9).
The idea of boarding clubs was inspired by Professor Carpenter, who, after observing the boarding system of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, painted a “bright picture” of the advantages of the club-boarding system, including better food at less cost (4). The Speculum supported this idea, suggesting the establishment of cooperative boarding clubs which would be under the control of the students. The establishment of smaller clubs would also serve to resolve the “boisterous conduct” seen in the solitary boarding hall (3).
The College, likely weary of student complaints, was quick to acquiesce to this plan. Cost effectiveness and practical concerns for feeding the increasingly large student body undoubtedly also played into the decision to do away with the traditional centralized boarding system. The transition is mentioned once in the Board meeting minutes:
“Prof. Carpenter presented the petition of the from the students of the College asking the Board to allow them to adopt the System of Boarding in clubs & made recommendations regarding the carrying out of this plan… It was resolved that the Secretary be Authorized to have the College Carpenter construct moveable partitions according to the plans of Prof. Carpenter in the basement of Wells & Williams Halls for five clubs at a Cost not to exceed $150.00 dollars.” (10)
The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 includes the first formal proof of the establishment of such clubs, stating, “A new plan of boarding in clubs has lately been put into operation. Separate kitchens and dining halls have been provided, and five clubs have been organized, by which the students are divided into groups not exceeding forty persons” (11) The average cost of board was $2.45, much less than the previous year.
Following this move, The Speculum reported that “not a word of complain was heard as to [the club system’s] price or quality,” marking a drastic change from prior discontent (2). However, this level of satisfaction would not last forever, and the boarding club system would see critiques, modifications, and eventual dissolution. But that’s a story for another time…
This account of MSU’s early food services is full of the kind of drama that makes for exciting history. More importantly, it exemplifies the power of unified student voices in times of great discontent, and just how much food-related issues can drive people to question and challenge powerful institutions.
Author: Susan Kooiman
Diary of Edward G. Granger, 1859 (MSU Archives UA10.3.56, Folder 1)
The College Speculum (1883) Vol. 3 No. 2, p.12
The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 1, p.7
Beal, W.J. (1915) History of the Michigan Agricultural College. Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 216)
State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives)
The College Speculum (1881) Vol. 1, No. 2
State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 28 July 1881 (MSU Archives)
Diary of Theophilus Abbot, 15 August 1881 (MSU Archives UA.2.1.3, Box 861)
Kuhn, Madison (1955) Michigan State: The First Hundred Years. The Michigan state University Press East, Lansing.
State Agricultural Board of Trustees Meeting Minutes 27 November 1882 (MSU Archives)
The College Catalogue for 1882-1883 (1883). Agricultural College, East Lansing (p. 38)
So what does history really taste like? As you can read from Susan’s event preview blog post, this past week we hosted a 1860s MSU-inspired meal based on archival and archaeological research. This event took place through the collaboration of Campus Archaeology and the MSU …
Today is the day! Campus Archaeology is throwing it wayy back with an 1860’s-inspired three-course meal. For my blog post this week, I thought I’d get into the spirit of historic food and drink with a little history—and some of my own, highly professional market …
It’s official… the fish skeletal material recovered from the Saint’s Rest privy, the toilet associated with the first dormitory on campus contained walleye!
Walleye are the largest member of the perch family and can be caught in shallow bays and inland lakes. As there are plenty of inland lakes surrounding East Lansing, it is possible that these fish were caught locally and served on campus. Also, walleye actively feed all year round, they can be caught during any season, however, it is easier to catch them during the early morning and evening, as that is their prime feeding times (MI DNR).
When the privy was excavated, an immense amount of bone was recovered from the southwest corner. The bones were very densely packed, and excavators were under time constraints so the area was block lifted and screened back at the lab!
This privy was a permanent brick structure, a earth-closet type of privy, which means that it would have been cleaned out regularly, which may explain why the fish remains were packed tightly into the back corner, possibly out of reach as a result of the cleaning process.
So how do I know that they are walleye? To determine which species the fish remains were, I began at the MSU Museum, where in the collections is a small fish index. This has many different bone elements separated out and labeled by species. This allowed me to get a preliminary identification of walleye or sauger. However, as the index does not include every single fish bone, I wanted further verification. Luckily for me, Dr. Terrance Martin (Illinois State Museum, emeritus) was visiting MSU and was able to take a few minutes and look at the Saints Rest privy fish remains. He also agreed that they looked like walleye, but suggested that I verify the remainder of the materials against other walleye specimens. Unfortunately, the MSU Museum did not have any other walleye skeletal materials in the collections so I turned to another museum. This past week, a specimen loan from the Field Museum arrived, allowing me to take the material and confirm that it is in fact walleye! Below are some images of the fish remains, in comparison to the walleye specimen.
Now that I have many of the previously identified elements confirmed as walleye, I am going to move forward on identifying the remainder of the fish remains, as I already have them sorted by side, counted, and weighed. In addition to focusing on the fish materials, I will begin looking through the mammal remains that have been uncovered on campus, including cow, pig, and sheep/goat with the goal of determining what type of meat cuts were present, and the proportions of species present within the archaeological contexts. Stay tuned for more updates on the Campus Archaeology animal bone identifications!
During Susan Kooiman and I’s research on the early foodways of MSU’s campus, we scoured our way through a number of purchasing records in the MSU Archives. After Susan’s blog post on the seasonality of food purchased, we realized that it might be interesting to …
Happy Fat Tuesday! After flocking to the nearest paczki-filled bakery, I hope that you sit down and enjoy your Polish donut on some fine china. Perhaps, if you’re historically or archaeologically inclined, you might want to enjoy your treat on a nice British ceramic plate. …
There are many different ways that we can date a site or specific artifact. We can look broadly at the contextual history of the area, look at how a glass bottle was constructed, or use construction material like nails to create broad date ranges. Specifically with ceramics there are several ways to establish a time frame for the artifact including: paste thickness, decoration style, rim construction, colors used, as well as size and shape. Sometimes we get really lucky, and a ceramic sherd will have a maker’s mark. Most ceramic companies have well documented records for the changes made to their unique marks, making it relatively simple to establish a date range for most marked ceramics. But sometimes with 19th century British ceramics we get every more lucky and can establish the specific date the ceramic was produced on. This occurs when we are fortunate enough to have a British Registered Design mark.
Beginning in 1842 England begin offering “registered designs” for ceramics. This is akin to a patent or copyright trademark today. The ornamental design act of 1842 expanded design protection into new types of materials, such as ceramics. This allowed for manufacturers to protect not only the functional design of their products, but also their aesthetic design as well.
Each of these diamond marks contain very specific information that tells us what class of material the object is, the day, month, and year it was produced, and the bundle number. There are two ways this information can be arranged. The first configuration was used from 1842-1867.
There are published tables that identify what each of these letters and numbers mean. A good example can be seen here, but there are also published books where the same information appears. Based on those tables we know that the ceramic pictures above was produced December 18th, 1856:
IV = ceramic
L = 1856
A = December
18 = 18th
We don’t need to worry about the bundle number
If we were in England we could go to the British Archive and view the specific design that corresponds with this information. However, even without a trip to England, there’s still even more information that this mark can tell us. By knowing the specific date it was produced, you can look this information up in books, and sometimes figure out who the manufacture was of the ceramic. This is useful if you have a sherd that contains a registered design mark, but not lucky enough to have the maker’s mark.
The design changed slightly for ceramics produced between 1868-1883. During these years the arrangement of the symbols changed. The year and day marks have switched places, as have the month and bundle.
In 1884 England switched from the diamond registered date mark to a new registry number system where a numerical mark designated a specific year. Similar to the registered date marks, this information can also be found in published tables. The dates in the tables are the lowest/first number recorded for each year. So for example let’s look at the registered number in the above image, 49221. This number falls between the 1906 number (471860) and 1907 number (493900) so we know it was produced in 1906.
So sometimes diamonds are not just a girls best friend, they’re an archaeologists best friend.
We are continuing our quest to chronicle historic campus cuisine, so I hope you are starving for more information. I have recently been exploring cookbooks from the latter half of the nineteenth century to get a feel for the kinds of recipes and dishes that …