(Excerpted from James F. Willis, Southern Arkansas University: The Mulerider School’s Centennial History, 1909-2009, pp. 175-79)
The radio broadcasts featuring student performances were merely among a number of activities. Growing enrollments filled the ranks of student organizations and led to the creation of new clubs. After the war, the non-denominational YMCA and YWCA (both with roots in the school’s early days) found themselves becoming secondary to other religious groups. First, the Baptist Student Union (BSU) and then the Wesley Foundation (Methodist) appeared, soon followed by the Young Christian Association (Church of Christ). A survey of students’ religious affiliations in 1947 revealed that 54 percent of students were Baptists, 36 percent Methodists, and 10 percent were scattered among nine other denominations. The BSU and Wesley Foundation joined together to sponsor a Religious Emphasis Week beginning in 1948, an event established at many colleges during a period of renewed religious fervor in American culture. During the religious week at A&M, a different denominational minister held a devotional each day in Overstreet Auditorium. Attendance was voluntary.
Among other new student groups were those in education, business, and the college’s hostesses. The Future Teachers of America was chartered on January 3, 1949, with John Frachiseur as the first president. Stella Stevens and Tabbie Mae Moore served as its sponsors. The Commercial Club of 1938–39 after its wartime disappearance was reborn as the Business Club on September 20, 1949, with Charles Lamphere as president. Alvarene Peace and Otie Wood were its sponsors. A new dean of women, Jane Greer, established the Gold Jackets, a group limited to thirty young women based on scholarship and leadership achievements. They wore gold jackets and blue skirts and acted as official hostesses for the school at special events. Lillian Shirey served as the first president.
Among the most active clubs were agriculture and engineering. The Agri Club regularly sponsored square dances at the armory. The clubs jointly held an Agri-Engineering Day each spring beginning in 1949–1950. The day was filled with games and concluded with a tug-of-war between club members of each side pulling on a rope stretched across the pond on the campus’s east side.
Dances were held during most holiday seasons. They were usually formal affairs that had first appeared in the late 1930s with the young women in all their finery and their well-dressed dates who gave them corsages. The May Day tradition continued. Queens and kings still received crowns but with less ceremony than before the war. The dance around the May Pole was discontinued. The Mulerider yearbook continued to feature a campus beauty queen and court selected by celebrities picked from submitted photographs of ten coeds. Homecoming queen ceremonies and dances after the games were revived when football was resumed after the war.
One of the biggest social events of the year—Sadie Hawkins Week—could hardly have been less formal. This annual event of the late 1940s was a fad at many colleges in the era based upon the Li’l Abner comic strip, the most popular cartoon in the country. Its creator, Al Capp, told stories of caricatured but lovable hillbillies in the fictional town of Dogpatch. His primary character, Lil’l Abner, was constantly trying to evade the marital designs of Daisy Mae Scragg. In desperation to get a husband for his daughter, Daisy Mae’s father established a contest in which all bachelors could be chased by the town’s girls and, if caught, had to marry their pursuers. At A&M, as at other colleges, Sadie Hawkins Week consisted of a beard growing contest and dressing as the hillbilly characters. The day’s fun ended with a race in which girls chased boys for dates to the evening’s dance where awards were presented for hillbilly costumes. Sadie Hawkins Week (or its successor, Twirp—the woman is requested to pay—Day) would continue throughout the 1950s.
A daily activity for many students was a stop at the post office and snack bar. There one would find, the Bray declared, “the pulse of A&M’s heartbeat.” Students could get a hamburger, sit in the booths with friends, and listen to the latest hits on the jukebox. The number one hit tune in late 1949 was Frankie Laine’s “Mule Train.” Some students wanted A&M to adopt it as a school song, but others did not think it was “all that good.”
With Overstreet Auditorium’s large stage, Margaret Harton was able to direct a series of plays that had only recently appeared on Broadway or in major Hollywood movies. These included Kitty Foyle, two of George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart’s comedies, The Man Who Came to Dinner and George Washington Slept Here, and Agatha Christie’s mystery Ten Little Indians. These productions attracted large audiences of students and Magnolia’s citizens and established the new instructor’s reputation for excellence. Harton later recalled that during theatrical productions in the 1940s and 1950s, plays were sometimes adjusted to avoid offending local mores. For Blithe Spirit, coffee was used in place of cocktails. Harton said, “It did seem a bit weird to be having coffee before dinner instead of after.” As a quiet protest against censorship, cast members acting in the same play some years later used buttermilk in place of coffee to reveal the absurdity.
The A&M music department was also rejuvenated after its wartime inactivity. A new young piano teacher, Shirley Grear, with a master’s degree from North Texas State, first trained her pupils in a studio on the second floor of the armory. Later, the training school, no longer needed for student teaching, was remodeled and served for a decade as the music department’s offices, studios, and band hall. Immediately after the war, the A&M band was revived under the direction of Adam West; in 1948, Richard Oliver assumed leadership. Oliver had a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma and served as band director for twenty-three years. He also took direction of the new Varsitonians, the student-faculty dance band that had been resurrected in October 1947. An A Cappella choir was established whose director, Charles Williams, also came from North Texas State. Oliver and Williams took choir and band on a three-day tour of South Arkansas towns during A&M’s final year.