Bobby socks, Mohawk hair cuts, and malt shakes – it was the '50s at West Georgia College.
Deprived of malls, video games, and I-pods, students were forced to create their own fun by using their imaginations. The Maple Street Soda Shop was a favorite hangout. The hamburgers at the Green Front were also popular, but students also enjoyed the good down home cooking of Mamma Kate Hudson who faithfully served the students for nearly three decades in the cafeteria located in the basement of the old gym. No need for student debit cards – meals were less than a dollar.
Miss Jane Woodruff created goodwill and recruited students for the college by taking the choir throughout the state. The first full-time drama teacher was hired. The first parking permits were issued.
Traditions and rituals bind a campus community together. For many years young male scholars had a chance to prove whether they were a man or mouse during “Rat Week.” A group of sophomores presided over the Rat Court which was held in the gym. The freshmen wore red and blue rat caps. (Wearing a beanie cap around campus could shake the self esteem of even the most self-assured individual, but it was all for fun).
Dressed in their pajamas and rat caps with red and black face paint, the students paraded from campus to Carrollton Square. From time to time, they were given various menial tasks to do such as cleaning a monument with a toothbrush. Again, all the teasing was designed to create camaraderie. The culminating event in this rite of passage for freshmen was always the “pushing of the peanut.”
Churchill Downs has the “Running for the Roses” during the Kentucky Derby and you might say that West Georgia College had the “Running of the Noses” with the pushing of the peanut. Amid the cheers and jeers of fellow students and assorted citizens, freshmen had to demonstrate their proficiency at pushing a peanut with their nose for a predetermined distance. An individual with a prominent proboscis definitely had an advantage in this endeavor. The competition among the participants was fierce. Some years the races were very close and highly contested, but eventually someone won by a nose…
On the academic front, big changes were in the store for the college.
The Board of Regents had been evaluating the role of junior colleges around the state for some time. After much deliberation, the chancellor offered West Georgia two choices. One option was to let the University of Georgia offer fourth-year courses as an extension of its programs. The other choice was to grant West Georgia four-year college status.
In 1956, West Georgia became a senior college. Four new buildings were built. Earlier in the decade, Aycock Hall opened as the first permanent men’s dormitory
On the athletic fields, the West Georgia Braves played with passion, although they didn’t register many W's in the record books.
The campus newspaper did the best it could to put a positive spin on some of the less than stellar records. “Here at WGC the boys play because they have an inside yearning and a great love of the game.” The teams faced a number of hurdles. Sports facilities and equipment were limited. There were no scholarship athletes. Many of the athletic events were against larger senior colleges.
For some of the smaller teams the student-athletes crammed their gear and themseleves in West Georgia's all- purpose rapid transit vehicle – the “Blue Goose” - an old campus bus. Despite some of these drawbacks, the baseball team won the junior college baseball championship in 1954.
Two men and two programs defined academic excellence in the '50s at West Georgia.
Carson Pritchard, the college chaplain, developed what came to be known as “College in the Country.” Essentially, it was an adult continuing education program.
In 1954, the school received money to further expand the program. One of the more interesting educational outreach programs involved teaching prisoners at the Atlanta Penitentiary. The program proved to be successful and none of these students complained that they didn't have time to do their homework.
By the end of the ‘50s College in the Country was in 21 communities around the Carrollton area. The local library supplied books for the “courses” which covered a wide range of topics from poetry to raising children. More than 3,500 people became a part of the study groups.
The old saying goes “Travels broadens the mind” - well in the '50s there were some “broadmined' folks” in Carrollton because quite a few had taken advantage of the opportunity to tour the country through a unique program at the college.
Colllus Johnson was the assistant director of the College in the Country program and he also developed another pioneering continuing education program called studycades.
The studycades concept harkened back to the practical philosophy of the early years of the college represented by the school motto “We learn to do by doing.” Students and residents from Carrollton immersed themselves in learning about a particular culture or another part of the country then they traveled to that location by bus. These “road trips” were a bit different in the '50s - there was a definite destination and a purpose with each excursion.
Nowadays, it is very common to have some senior citizens or retired people auditing classes on a university campus. Older people from the Carrollton community were also active participants in the studycades. One eighty year man was a member of three studycades that took him from Mexico to Canada.
West Georgia College set a standard for adult education that drew national acclaim.Visitors from across the nation came to the campus to learn about the studycades program. West Georgia's Delbert Clark Award became the top recognition for adult educators nationwide.
Helping folks in their own backyard through College in the Country and helping students and local people see new faces and places across the country and the continent through the innovative studycades program were two of the progressive ideas that set UWG apart from other institutions during the decade.
At the close of the '50s, Dr. Irvine Ingram's tenure as president came to an end. For more than 40 years he had guided the institution. Ruth Green, one of Ingram’s secretaries summed up Ingram's legacy in a statement in the college's official history From A & M to State University.
“ ...The overall atmosphere was one of great dignity, respect for all people, and throughout prevailed the great bigness of the heart of Irvine Sullivan Ingram. He never turned down a good person of promise in need – and he turned many person of NO promise at all into accomplished people.“