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A Peak at Student Life B.T. (Before Texting)

If you want to imagine Augustana college life in the late 1800s, consider the most popular student organization at the time. It was called the Phrenokosonian Society and the idea, apparently, was to give students an opportunity to study even harder. On Friday evenings, they would gather for "orations, essays, debates, disputations and declamations," alternating between Swedish and English each week, and then compile their work in a manuscript journal. They had so much fun, competition sprang up. The Adelphic Society, organized in 1882, was nearly identical to the "Phreno," offering students another outlet to burn off excess academic energy. Each group sought to recruit the most gifted students, and lay claim to the greatest improvements of their oratorical and literary skills. Outside of class, of course. It was the place to be on Friday nights.

As time passed, the number of curricular and extra-curricular groups at Augustana soared. In 1906, when the number had climbed to nearly 45, it prompted the editor of the Observer student newspaper to complain that interest in the Phreno and Adelphic societies was being diluted by the proliferation of other clubs and organizations. At the suggestion of faculty, the college tried to reinvigorate interest in the literary societies by allowing them to hold their meetings on a weekday afternoon, but it wasn't enough.
Debating societies also were popular in the early years of the Rock Island campus. The oldest was the Gladstone Debating Club, formed in 1893. Membership had to be limited to 24 students. Several other clubs limited their membership, as well, including the Torgny, a Swedish debating group. At first the debate clubs competed against each other, then against other schools. However, by 1915, these groups' popularity also began to fade

As they did, more social groups began to rise on campus, including Greek organizations like Sigma Pi Delta in 1908, Omega Nu Omega and Sigma Kappa Tau in 1910, Kappa Epsilon in 1913, Phi Omega Phi in 1915, Pi Upsilon Gamma in 1916, Gamma Alpha Beta in 1917, Omicron Sigma Omicron and Phi Rhos in 1919.
"All of these had their own programs, more exciting than orations, debates, declamations," wrote Conrad Bergendoff in Augustana...A Profession of Faith. As the level of competition went up, so did the creativity. The Phreno and Adelphic societies began hosting fairs and carnivals. Class events-such as picnics, outings and dinners-became more elaborate. Students had so many choices. "It did seem that in the fragmentation of social groups only something like varsity basketball and football could bring the whole family together," Bergendoff notes.

But certain athletic programs, like football, were not always well received. In fact, intercollegiate football was banned for 12 years at Augustana.

The football program started well enough. In 1893, the first varsity team defeated the University of Iowa and St. Ambrose University [but lost to Monmouth College]. Their "break-neck performances," as described in the Observer, attracted attention and earned them a nickname, "The Terrible Swedes."

Unfortunately, the games were a bit too violent for some to watch. The sport had emerged rather spontaneously and without many rules. In the fall of the following year, the faculty met with the football team to announce that games already scheduled would be played, but no more would be scheduled. That winter, the faculty decided that games with "outside parties" would not be allowed. This was changed to "parties outside of these cities" in 1897, according to Bergendoff's account. However, if playing these contests "leads to disorderly crowds," they would be prohibited.

In the first decade of the 1900s, football injuries and the reckless intensity of competition became a concern for colleges across the country. Schools began to ban the sport. In 1905, the Augustana Synod adopted a recommendation that intercollegiate contests be abolished not only in football, but also in baseball, track and basketball at Augustana and other synodical schools. In response, students concentrated on other sports on campus like tennis, gymnastics and fencing.

By 1910, the Augustana Synod allowed intercollegiate competition to return, but not in football. For the next several years, students led rallies and petitioned for the right to field a varsity team. Then in 1917, many faculty joined the students in their campaign to restore football. That may have weakened the resolve of the Synod. It decided to allow Augustana's Board of Directors to make the call, and they did: Vikings intercollegiate football returned 12 years after being officially banned.

That proved to be a good thing for George Lenc '39, who was drafted by a pro football team (the Brooklyn Dodgers) and for quarterback Ken Anderson '71, who played 16 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Coach Bob Reade fielded a string of national championship teams in the mid 1980s. And today, Augustana is proud to be the home of offensive lineman Blaine Westemeyer '10, a nationally recognized scholar-athlete who won the 2009 Gagliardi Trophy, presented annually to the top player in NCAA- Division III football.

While perceptions about football seesawed and the popularity of Friday night orations waned after the early years, the college's allegiance to music never skipped a beat. Augustana's first musical organization, the beloved Silver Cornet Band, was organized in 1874 while the college still resided in Paxton, Ill. In 1877, the band embarked on the college's first-ever musical tour, with the Rev. Olof Olsson in charge. He took the band to Lindsborg, Kan., to perform in churches he had served before coming to teach in the Augustana Seminary. Eight years later, the school purchased 16 silver-plated instruments at a cost of $1,000. It was a generous investment for those days.

It was also Olsson who created one of Augustana's oldest and most revered musical traditions. While visiting Europe in 1879, Olsson attended a performance in London of G.F. Handel's Messiah. It was a powerful experience for Olsson, both emotionally and spiritually. The following year, he requested an orchestra be formed, along with an oratorio society of Augustana students and community members. And in April of 1881, Augustana's first Messiah concert was held in Moline. It was followed by performances in surrounding towns. Every year since, for the past 129 years, Augustana students and faculty have joined the Quad Cities' Handel Oratorio Society to continue this rich and historic Christmas tradition.

Another musical legacy, the Augustana Choir, traces its origins to Henry Veld. He joined the Augustana faculty in 1929, and had the idea to combine the talents of the college's women's chorus, the Orioles (now the Jenny Lind), with the Wennerberg Men's Chorus. The bigger group became the Augustana Choir and quickly gained momentum. In March 1931, the Augustana Choir made its successful debut in Orchestra Hall in Chicago. This spring the choir, along with the Augustana Symphonic Band and the Augustana Symphony Orchestra, will return to Orchestra Hall in the Chicago Symphony Center on April 18 in honor of the college's 150th anniversary.
Throughout its history, Augustana's music program has consistently played a central role in campus life, even with the ever-growing menu of curricular and extracurricular opportunities from which students may choose. These now include 22 varsity sports, including the most recent addition of women's lacrosse, and a host of intramural opportunities; regular poetry readings and an art and literary magazine; the Augustana Debate Union; and a Greek system whose members contribute hundreds of service hours within the community each year.

Today's Augustana students, interestingly enough, seem to enjoy much of what their predecessors pursued decades ago.

An 1883 Gentleman's Guide

No scuffling, please

At the end of the school year in 1883, the Board of Directors of the Augustana College and Theological Seminary approved the following "Rules and Regulations" for students, as recommended by the faculty. 

1. All students shall be properly dressed and shall have their rooms properly ventilated at 6:30 a.m.
2. Students boarding at the Institution will go to the dining room promptly at the ringing of the bell; those tardy thirty minutes or more forfeit their right to the meal.
3. Outdoor sports are permitted 10-11 a.m., 1-3 and 5-8 p.m., and at no other time, except Saturday. The place and time must be so chosen as not to interfere with the ordinary use of sidewalks or paths, and not to damage or endanger property. 
4. Scuffling and noise are prohibited in the recitation rooms, halls, porches and students' rooms. After 9 p.m. all noise of whatever kind is forbidden in the building (the First Building). 
5. All kinds of vocal and instrumental music are forbidden in the building: a) during recitation hours; b) on Sundays, except as a part of devotional exercises; c) between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
6. There shall be no lights in students' rooms between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.
7. All are required to be present at Divine Services, and all who room in the Institution at morning prayers. (Beginning in January 1889, chapel was held at 7:40 a.m. and classes began at 8, 9, 10 and 11 a.m.)
8. Students occupying a room are jointly and severally responsible for the care of the room and the furniture therein.
9. Students are not allowed to smoke in or about any of the buildings.
10. All students are expected to conduct themselves as gentlemen, carefully avoiding, as far as possible, everything liable to hinder or annoy others; and no misconduct can be excused on the ground that it has not been specifically forbidden.
Source: Augustana...A Profession of Faith by Conrad Bergendoff