Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications
Alum’s Letters Offer Peek Into the Oddities of Post-WWII Student Life
Kruger photo courtesy of Terrapin yearbook; letter photos by Karen Shih ’09; collage by Stephanie S. Cordle
Mollee Coppel Kruger ’50 and her friend Betty once squirmed through an office window into their residence hall after missing the 10 p.m. curfew for women. She and other undergraduates writing for campus publications worked in cramped army-style barracks hastily built to accommodate the influx of veterans on the GI Bill. Along with female peers, she had to step onto a scale at the start and finish of a physical fitness course to confirm the pounds were coming off.
Seventy-five years ago, Kruger couldn’t capture and share such magical, mortifying or hilarious college moments on social media. Instead, she wrote letters, hundreds of them, to her parents, other family members and friends over four years at the University of Maryland. She later donated many of them to UMD Libraries’ Special Collections, where readers can get a glimpse into the unique challenges of post-World War II life, especially for female students.
“Probably no one at UMD wrote so many letters as I, although I even came home most weekends!” wrote the 94-year-old Kruger in a series of emails recently (she can no longer speak on the phone because of a voice disorder).
Her gossipy, sprawling missives gave her parents, who owned a shoe store in her hometown of Bel Air, Md., a peek into the college life they’d never experienced. Kruger, the youngest of four, was the first in her family to pursue higher education, so she regaled them with detailed recaps of her classes and extracurriculars.
Kruger’s words didn’t just reach her family. She penned a Diamondback column called the “Mocking Molecule” (which covered everything from hockey-golf to the plight of dateless men during Homecoming and musings on a mule that interrupted her bus rides to and from home), and worked her way up to become the first female managing editor of The Old Line, a humor magazine.
Kruger also took to the stage in numerous theater productions and delighted in being asked to school dances, including an annual Rossborough Inn soiree featuring popular big-band orchestras, and in sipping fountain sodas at Hyattsville’s Hot Shoppe.
She never stopped writing—she worked as a copywriter, became a federal newsletter editor, and published memoirs, poetry books and a new novella in 2022, “A Collector’s Item,”—even as she raised two sons with her husband, Jerry, in the Maryland suburbs. (Her son, Len, holds an M.F.A. from UMD.) She looks back at her undergraduate days “with the deepest affection,” she said in a recent interview.
“At the time, I didn't recognize what changes were taking place in my ability to handle new ideas, make lifelong friends, acquire knowledge, and use it as a springboard for future growth,” said Kruger, who earned an education degree. To seniors graduating this May, she offers this advice: “No matter what your field, you can enrich your life a hundredfold if you continue to pursue the humanities. They'll keep you young and alive.”
Readers who can decipher cursive can get a glimpse into her thinking and experiences at the time, as well as complaints that wouldn’t be out of place in a text message today, like her 1947 Valentine’s Day card message: “To Mom and Dad: Could you mail me a check or something? I’m broke.”
Here are a few excerpts:
On UMD traditions:
Oct. 17, 1948: “It’s the morning after. Homecoming has gone the way of all Homecomings, and I am left with a wilted corsage, straight hair and sore feet… Saturday morning I was buzzed out of bed to pick up my chrysanthemum from the office. It’s customary for girls’ dates to send them a chrysanthemum… to wear to the game. The flower is a great big yellow powder-puff looking thing and it’s all done up in a black and yellow stain ribbon for the school colors, black and gold.”
Nov. 16, 1948: “Last week was Autumn Carnival week. At the pep rally Friday night, they even crowned a king of Autumn Carnival. Guess who it was? Don Mortimer! I wasn’t there but they tell me they put a toilet seat around his neck. Isn’t that perfectly lovely?”
On physical fitness class:
Feb. 27, 1947: “After getting our X-rays [for T.B.] today, our gym teacher took our weight and measurement as a record for our physical fitness course. When we finish the course we’re to measure and weigh ourselves to see if the exercise helped us lose weight.”
March 13, 1947: “That eager beaver teacher made us slap our thighs to the floor in time to jitterbug music. The worst part of it was we had an enormous masculine audience peeking in the Coloseum [sic] door. I can’t remember when I’ve felt sillier—especially since I had a button missing and I gaped open in a very conspicuous place.”
On Adele Stamp:
While students today think of Stamp as just a building to buy lunch or books, Dean of Women Adele Stamp, who held her role for 46 years, was a figure who loomed large in Kruger’s day. She recalls being invited to Stamp’s house when she was inducted into Mortar Board, created by Stamp as the first UMD honor society for women. “From a gleaming silver teapot, she poured each of us a delicate china cup filled to the brim with Lipton's finest,” Kruger recalled. But Stamp’s relationship with the study body was often fraught.
Oct. 22, 1947: “I’m supposed to make an appointment for an interview with Dean Stamp. I’m sure we’ll have a lot in common. We both have toes (she thinks the toe is the sexiest part of the body).”
March 10, 1950: “Oh yes, our last issue [of Old Line] finally came out. It was clean as a whistle. People are calling it the “Dean Stamp Issue.” Actually I think it’s one of our better ones. I know, however, that some people were disappointed not to find any dirty jokes. Let them be. It’s not worth risking our necks to print them.”
After seeing some of her youthful comments on Stamp, Kruger said, “Good grief, I wrote THAT about poor Dean Stamp? Looking back, I'm assuming that she was only trying to do her job, reflecting some of the conservative standards of early 20th century small town America.”
“It was always open season on Dean Stamp. Students saw her as a prude,” Kruger said. “Adele Stamp carried with her traces of the Victorian and Edwardian Ages. All that propriety and repression began to change with the return of the World War II veterans, and even at UMD in the '40s and '50s, I could detect the impatience of some of those restless young men who had seen much more than the Chesapeake Bay.”
On living in the new Dorm C (now Harford Hall):
March 5, 1947: “There have been men walking around inside the dormitory for two days now. Don’t get excited; they’re installing a buzzer system to let us know when we have callers down in the lobby. Now Mrs. P-J [the house mother] won’t have to lie that we’re not in.”
March 27, 1947: “There was some excitement in the dorm last night. Bo, the girl across the hall, had her girdle stolen. She’d been wearing it all day and had taken it off to wash it, and when she turned around the girdle was gone. Of course, she dashed into our room all excited and asked Myrtle if she’d seen anyone go into her room. Then she looked suspiciously at me… [But] I don’t need a girdle. I take physical fitness.”
On breaking curfew:
May 24, 1948: “Last night was the Old Line ‘banquet’ but last night was also Monday, closed night and we had to be in the dormitory at 10:15. No late leaves. … The ‘banquet’ turned out to be beer and shrimps at Greenbelt Lake. I broke my dry period of prohibition and had a can of ice cold Schlitz…. We got to the dorm about 10:18 or 10:20. Naturally the front door was locked. Betty pushed open the window to the office and in we both crawled, crossed out our names and the sign out list, and dashed into the laundry room to collect ourselves.”
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