Welcome Back To Whitworth

Published 6:07 pm Wednesday, June 23, 2010

She had driven to Jackson from Whitworth College for therendezvous that day in 1945, and as her future husband slipped thering onto her finger and the courtship became an engagement, it wasa moment the lovers would share forever …

… with the Margaret Hall dorm mother.

“I met my husband in Jackson, and I had to take a chaperone withme to get my engagement ring,” said Jeanne Drury Cordell, 83, nowof Houston, Texas.

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The war era was a different age that came with a different setof rules, rules that vigorously protected the virtue of theall-female student body of Brookhaven’s Whitworth College. Cordellhadn’t forgotten those rules Tuesday when she and four classmatesvisited what is now the Mississippi School of the Arts campus forthe 65th anniversary of Whitworth’s Class of 1945.

Elaine Richmond Dunn, 85, still has a copy of the rulebook ather home in Excelsior, Minn.

“We could only go from campus two at a time, and you had to signin and sign out and you could only be gone one hour,” she said. “OnSaturday nights, you could see a date in the parlor for two hourswith a chaperone right around the corner, or you could go to themovies – accompanied by a chaperone.”

Christine Pritchett Herndon, 84, of Lepanto, Ark., recalled thelights went out in Margaret Hall at 10:30 p.m. every night. Therewere no exceptions, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I studied in the bathroom because it was the only place youcould have lights after hours,” she said.

Were Herndon’s late-night study sessions her only infractions?Probably not …

“Oh no, I never broke any rules. I was perfect,” she said,dubiously.

Despite the hard and fast rules, Whitworth became home for thewomen of ’45. They loved it then, and Tuesday they came back fromall across the country because they love it now.

“Those were such formative years,” said Madalyn Maxwell, 84, ofSpringfield, Ill. “My dad kept telling me, ‘You’re going to be sohomesick.’ I wasn’t homesick at all. I was meeting new people andenjoying new things.”

The women of ’45 toured MSA for hours Tuesday, revisiting thoseold familiar buildings for the first since MSA began operating in2003. Their last visit came in 1995 for the class’s 50thanniversary, before any renovations had been done to preserve thehistoric campus.

That sight 15 years ago was quite sad, but much progress hasbeen made.

“Last time I was here, Johnson Hall was so torn down youcouldn’t even go in it,” said Betty Slaughter Starnes, 85, ofKingsport, Tenn. “Now, it’s beautiful. I barely recognize it.”

Johnson Hall – or the Johnson Institute, built in 1883 – is nowthe home of visual arts, theatre and dance classes.

The old tall doors still open and close on the originalclassrooms, but those rooms now contain paint supplies, computersand a dark room for photography. The rooms and halls are lined withthe arts students’ creations.

But the old spirit of Whitworth is still on campus, and thewomen of ’45 sniffed it out. They argued and pointed all around theJohnson Institute, trying to pinpoint the exact location of theWhitworth library, and observed the spacious third-floor dancestudio, where the Whitworth women attended chapel.

They remembered when the Y-Hut, built in 1903 and once known asTeen Tavern, which now houses MSA’s top administration, was arecreational building. They were enchanted by the old flattop pianoparked against the north wall inside Lampton Auditorium, the lastof its kind to survive from Whitworth College. They expressedconcern with the rough state of Elizabeth Cottage, built in 1903 toserve as the Whitworth president’s home.

The women of ’45 were most saddened by the absence of MargaretHall, the dormitory where all five first met and became friends 65years ago. It couldn’t be saved and was torn down in the early1980s.

“Some president sold it for the bricks, and I hear there’s ahouse here in Brookhaven made of those bricks,” Cordell said. “Itwouldn’t do for us to see it.”

While some of Whitworth has been lost, what remains will bepreserved.

Work is scheduled to begin this fall on Enochs Hall, which beganlife in 1903 as a dorm and cafeteria. Approximately $1.5 millionwill be poured into Enochs to give the structure new life withadditional classrooms, a black box theatre, art gallery and setdesign space.

“We’ve already started picking out paint colors. We’re so, soclose,” said MSA Director Suzanne Hirsch.

Elizabeth Cottage will also be saved, with around $125,000earmarked to stop the building’s deterioration by installing a newroof and repairing the cracked foundation. More grants have beenfiled for that will, hopefully, renovate the cottage’s interior inthe future.