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So Many Duke Handbooks

Post contributed by Amy McDonald, Assistant University Archivist for the Duke University Archives.

Hello new friends who are arriving on campus this week! Duke is big and busy and multi-faceted and, well, sometimes you need a guidebook. (And there’s no shame in that; I’ve been here for 14 years and I sometimes still need a guidebook.)

First things first, it’s Orientation Week, so of course you need a guidebook to orientation week activities (for you and your parents), just like these 1971 orientation schedules for the Woman’s College and Trinity College/the School of Engineering (coincidentally, this would be the last year of the Woman’s College, which merged with Trinity College in 1972). That year, your orientation activities would have included a Union “Happening,” whatever that might have been, and a discussion of The Lord of the Flies.

Side by side covers of the 1971 Freshman Week schedules for the Woman's College (cover design in pink) and Trinity College/the School of Engineering (cover design in orange)

If those events were signs of their times, then so too was the “Welcome to Personal Computing at Duke” session you would have taken as part of the 1989 Orientation Week. You’d also have taken part in the inaugural annual address to the first-year class by poet, author, Wake Forest University professor, activist, and legend Maya Angelou, which is pretty enviable in my opinion.

A passage from the Fall 1989 Orientation Week calendar, reading "1:00 and 2:00 p.m. Welcome to Personal Computing at Duke! Video Screening Room, Bryan Center, West Campus."

The cover of the "Fall 1989 New Student Orientation Calendar of Events," featuring a Duke blue-toned photograph of Old Chem and the quad, taken from the Davison Building tower.

Starting with the class of 1970, you’d also receive a class directory (sometimes referred to as a “pic book,” since its main feature was photographs of your new classmates). Initially published by the Associated Students of Duke University (Duke’s student government until 1993, also known as ASDU), they’ve more recently been a gift from the Duke Alumni Association. This page from the Class of 1992’s directory includes a now-famous alum. Let us know if you spot her!

A page from the Class of 1992 Pic Book, showing four columns of black-and-white photos of incoming first-year students, along with their names, hometowns, and interests

We’ve digitized these, if you’d like to browse through a few decades of hairstyle trends.

As with any community, there are policies and rules meant to ensure that everyone has a safe and positive experience. These were outlined in The Duke Handbook (admonishingly titled The Duke Gentleman from 1965-1968) and the Woman’s College Handbook.

Woman’s College students took a two and a half page “exam” about the regulations outlined in their handbook as part of their Orientation Week activities. A question from the 1964 exam reads: “What procedure would a student [follow] if she wishes her brother to carry her record player to her room?” and yes, I’ve asked most of my colleagues this question this past week. I don’t actually know the correct answer—any alums reading this who can help us out in the comments?

Typed section of the 1964 Freshman Handbook Exam: "6. What procedure would a student [follow] if she wishes her brother to carry her record player to her room?"

But wait! If you were a student at the Woman’s College, one handbook wasn’t enough. The Social Standards Committee of your Woman’s Student Government Association provided you with a guide to proper campus etiquette called “It’s Not in the Handbook” (late 1940s-mid-1950s) or “Design for a Duchess” (mid-1950s-early 1960s).

The cover of the 1954 Design for a Duchess. "Design for a Duchess" is printed in Gothic font in silver ink on navy paper, along with an illustration of a woman in a ballgown, tiara, and scepter.

This 1954 edition promises “frowns unlimited” to students who “wear socks to the Union for Sunday dinner” or “use the phone as if it were a personal possession.” (You were to wear hose to Sunday dinner and yeah, there was one phone for your entire dorm.) Design for a Duchess did also advise you to keep up with studying so you don’t have to cram, get plenty of sleep, and eat breakfast, which is still pretty sound advice.

In the late 1960s-1970s, progressive students appropriated the handbook concept to create an “unofficial” guide to Duke called The University Experience. In addition to some fantastically psychedelic covers, the table of contents from the 1974-1975 edition below shows some of the voices that were beginning to speak out and claim space on campus, with articles titled “Duke’s History of Feminism,” “Being Black and This Being Duke,” and “Being Gay and Proud.” (There’s also an article titled “Journey through the Archives,” which I’m fond of.) You can browse through digitized copies of all of the issues here.

(And this type of handbook is alive and well in the recent Duke Disorientation Guides; here’s the 2018 issue!)

Cover of the 1972-1973 University Experience on purple paper. The illustration shows a . . . dog, maybe, dressed in a flowered shirt, bell-bottoms, and a beret.

The table of contents for the 1974-1975 University Experience. In addition to a list of articles, the page includes three photos of the terraces at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

There are stacks of guides to student organizations, including guides to Religious Life groups on campus and to club sports and recreational activities, but let’s just focus on one of my favorites: this 1930s handbook from Duke’s Young Women’s Christian Association. Yes! The spinner on the cover really spins!

Cover of a 1930s YWCA handbook for first-year students. The cover is tan construction paper and bears the title "Dial Your Choice." A dial with a blue spinning pointer is in the center of the cover; the dial choices are freshman fellowships; social service; Christian faith and worship; campus public affairs; and publicity.

Of course there’s a guide to the Libraries.

Cover of "A Guide to Duke University Libraries, 1992-1993. The purple cover includes a black and white photo of a student browsing books in the library stacks.

And a 1982 guide from ASDU—titled Bull on Bull: Duke’s Guide to Durham—reminding first-year students that they should get off campus and explore Durham! It’s also digitized, if you’d like to see where Duke students hung out in 1982.

Cover of "Bull on Bull," with Duke blue printing on light blue paper. An illustration shows a collage of the Blue Devil, the Duke Chapel tower, a bull, and tobacco leaves.

Hmmmmm. Do I love these handbooks so much that I found it difficult to choose which ones to share and just . . . included way too many here? Yes, and I apologize. Please don’t feel overwhelmed, new friends. You’ll figure all of this out more quickly than you think you will—and until then? Just ask anyone on campus! We’re the best guides around! Good luck this year and come visit us at the Duke University Archives!

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