Colonial Williamsburg


The years pass so quickly it’s difficult to imagine I graduated from college 50 years ago this spring! I wasn’t able to attend the celebration with fellow alumni at the College of William and Mary, but my heart was there. I chose the perfect college for myself. Inspired by a magazine story and its historical background, I only wanted to go to William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and I was blessed enough to be accepted. I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in English and have been using the knowledge I gained ever since.

I am a sentimental and nostalgic woman and lately my beloved alma mater has gained some happy notoriety. “Fake news” TV comedian, Jon Stewart, is an alumnus, and he occasionally brings up his ties to William and Mary. When he interviewed David Barton, author of The Jefferson Lies, Stewart declared he was a graduate of the same school as Thomas Jefferson. I’m a great fan of the TV series “Nashville” and it turns out one of the stars, Chip Esten, who plays musician Deacon Claybourne, is a 1987 grad, and it seems his parents, sister and wife all graduated from W&M.

Not long ago, Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense for both President George W. Bush and President Obama, became Chancellor of William and Mary. Gates was in the class behind me during our college years, but I didn’t know him. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was an honorary Chancellor of William and Mary from 1993-2000. Not bad for a college with only about 6,000 undergraduates in 2012.

This small college, founded in 1693, is located in an historic town that had figured in the American Revolution. Future US President Thomas Jefferson was a graduate, so were future Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler. Academic honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, was established there: its credentials were and are still amazing.

Ready to graduate

Ready to graduate

Ready to graduate in 1964

When Johnny Carlson, an old friend from Wheelus High School in Tripoli, Libya, who was a couple of years older than me, was accepted, that was the clincher for my choice. His parents and sister Gail invited me along for a Thanksgiving trip to the college while I was a junior in high school, and I adored the colonial 18th century atmosphere. We ate our holiday feast in a little French restaurant in town: Thiemes.

I love history, and Williamsburg was the perfect setting for my idea of a college: venerable old trees, lots of greenery, and aging brick classroom buildings highlighted by the famous Christopher Wren Building, where I later had most of my English literature classes. The Wren Building, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, famous English architect who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, was the most notable building on campus.

Williamsburg, which had been the colonial capital of Virginia from 1699 to 1780, had been restored to its 18th century glory by the Rockefeller family. Living there was like stepping back into history: shopkeepers, restaurant waiters, etc. dressed in Colonial costume. There was no traffic because cars weren’t allowed on the local streets and college students couldn’t have cars either. Walking was a pleasure and far healthier. From the Wren Building, it was an easy walk from the College Corner intersection of Jamestown and Richmond Roads to the Capitol building down Duke of Gloucester Street (nicknamed DOG Street). I remember strolling past Casey’s Department Store, Corner Greeks and Middle Greeks (both restaurants owned by Greeks, of course), the Magazine (where ammunition was stored in the 18th century), and the elegant Governor’s Palace with its beautiful gardens. On certain days a walker might enjoy the Fife and Drum Corps melodically marching up or down DOG street.

If you were a female student and took a walk around Williamsburg during my 1960s college days, you had to be properly dressed—no long or short pants allowed (unless you were on a bicycle and you had to carry a cover skirt in case you got off the bike). Male students had no dress restrictions or curfews either. Midnight on Saturdays was the latest female dorm residents could stay out. It was more difficult to get in trouble with no cars, no males allowed past dorm lobbies, and with strict laws about alcoholic beverages (Virginia was a dry state then). The most absurd restriction, in my opinion, was the one imposed first semester freshmen year. Girls—we were generally 17 or 18—and hadn’t been through the Sexual Revolution–were not allowed to speak to boys after 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

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