Greater and More Enduring: WU Campus Traditions

“Such an atmosphere may at times stunt the growth of ephemeral campus traditions; but it nourishes the great tradition of learning, to which every university worthy of the name owes first allegiance.” 

These words conclude an elegant preface in the 1932 Hatchet yearbook, written by Raymond F. Howes, Professor of English at Washington University.  His essay addresses a theme repeated throughout WU history —  campus traditions, or rather, the seeming lack thereof.   His words from eighty years ago are still in many ways true of the campus to this day.   Reproduced here is the entire text of Professor Howes’ introductory essay. 

This blog post is the first in an occasional series exploring unusual, obscure, and sometimes near-invisible student traditions at WU.



        The superficial reader of the volume may conclude that Washington University is merely another group of imposing Gothic buildings surrounded by greensward, where students attend dances, edit a newspaper, play football, strive for political office, produce plays, sing college songs, prance about local stages in abbreviated skirts, and lope around a cinder path in short pants.  But the careful reader will notice that Washington’s buildings, though varied in detail, have a distinct architectural unity, and that a single thread – perhaps a somber thread – of meaning runs through the reports of student activities.  Football heroes of last year, though still to be seen occasionally in the library, fail to appear on the field; youthful maidens whose toes twinkled so expertly in last season’s    musical comedy have vanished from this season’s cast; one or two basketball players leave the squad after Hatchet_1932_p03midyear examinations; and the outstanding achievement of the season is not an undefeated athletic team but a Missouri Valley championship for the Glee Club.  Washington is still primarily an institution of learning.  The sideshows have not swallowed up the circus.

That Washington remains a university in fact as well as in name is a tribute to the intelligence and vision of her administrators and trustees.  For quackery is abroad in the land, and to resist it calls for firmness and courage.  The advantages of hiring professional athletes, offering correspondence courses of dubious merit, lowering scholastic standards to increase registration, and cheapening advanced degrees to attract hordes of mediocre graduate students, are too evident to need explanation.

But through less obvious, the advantages of making the university a place where scholars and scientists may conserve and interpret knowledge, search for truth, and train students who will practice and carry on, are greater and more enduring.

It was the dream of Washington’s founders that the university would someday become a dominate educational influence in the Southwest.  If that dream is not approaching fulfillment, it is because their successors have held steadily in view the basic ideal of liberal training.  The spirit of the College has been carried into the professional schools. Washington attempts to produce business men who know more than the mechanics of book-keeping, lawyers who comprehend the broader problems of statesmanship, engineers who can grasp larger projects than the construction of a viaduct, and doctors of medicine who care not merely for the details of practise [sic] but for the advancement of scientific research.

The individual student may miss some of the ease and excitement to be found in a country club, but he has the privilege – no less real when unrecognized—of spending several vital yeas in an institution whose purpose is, in the words of Cardinal Newman, “to open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge.”  Such an atmosphere may at times stunt the growth of ephemeral campus traditions; but it nourishes the great tradition of learning, to which every university worthy of the name owes first allegiance.


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