Campus couples, 1917 (click for larger image)
by Paula Bosse
I came across three wonderful World War One-era photos in the SMU archives while I was looking for something else. You know how you can become enthralled by the charm of old photos and sit for long stretches of time staring at every little detail and wondering about the lives of the unidentified people who populate them? That happened to me with these. There is one particular young woman who stands out more than anyone else. Not only is she the best-dressed person in the photos, she also seems calm, collected, and serene. She looks friendly. She was probably very pleasant to have around.
These three photographs show a group of ten young couples and a pair of chaperones spending a beautiful sunny day together, with the highlight of the day being a trip to Highland Park’s Exall Lake. The men are SMU students, identified only as members of the Omega Phi fraternity. The women are identified merely as “dates,” but I’m sure that some of them were also SMU students. The photograph above shows the crowd gathered on campus in front of Dallas Hall. The woman in white looks like she’s on a pedestal, glowing in a spotlight. Below, a closer look at her stylish outfit (as well as a look at the young be-medaled WWI soldier next to her).
And, below, a similar detail, but this one showing the daintily crossed ankles of another pretty girl, seated beside a sour-looking companion.
And here’s the gang on the idyllic banks of Exall Lake. Diane Galloway included this photograph in her book The Park Cities, A Photohistory with this caption:
At one time a bridge crossed Exall Lake near the Cary house, shown in the distance. The photographer was standing on the bridge to capture this picture of well-dressed SMU students going boating on the lake. A trip to Lakeside Drive was one of the few off-campus excursions permitted in 1917.
I love this photo. If I didn’t know what the Turtle Creek area looked like, I’d be hard-pressed to identify this as Dallas!
Here’s a close-up of the beatific, smiling woman in white. I like the kid lurking in the background.
And the boat.
And the sour-looking guy again, looking even more annoyed than before.
And here’s the crowd sitting on the steps of the frat house (which was located at Haynie and Hillcrest). The personnel has changed a little bit (they gained a woman and lost a man), but (almost) everyone seems pretty happy.
And, below, my very favorite detail from these three photos.
After a bit of sleuthing, I found a picture of the house at the time these photos were taken. It was actually a residence which was, I think, being rented out to the small group of Omega Phis. They had a proper fraternity house built several years later.
The top photo had “1917” written on the back, so I checked SMU’s Rotunda yearbooks from around that time. Here’s a look at the men who were members of Omega Phi in 1918. Several of these faces match the ones in the photos of the afternoon outing.
And, below, a photo collage from the Omega Phi page of the 1917 Rotunda. Several of the women look familiar. I see the Woman in White in at least one of these snapshots.
And here she is, close up. I hope she was as happy, intelligent, and confident in her real life as she appears to be in these photos.
Sources & Notes
The three photos of the afternoon outing all come from the collection of the DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University:
- “Omega Phi Fraternity members and their dates in front of Dallas Hall” is here.
- “Omega Phi Fraternity member outing to Exall Lake” is here.
- “Omega Phi Fraternity members and their dates on porch” is here.
The quote from Diane Galloway comes from her FANTASTIC book, The Park Cities, A Photohistory (Dallas: Diane Galloway, 1989), p. 24.
The ersatz Omega Phi fraternity house was located at 115 Haynie Avenue, just west of Atkins (now Hillcrest). (The photo of the exterior of the house is from the 1917 SMU Rotunda yearbook.)
1919 map (detail), Portal to Texas History
I have absolutely no idea how college fraternities work, but it seems that when they formed on the SMU campus in 1915, the Omega Phi group was not actually affiliated with a national fraternity. They “petitioned” to be chartered by national groups, but they finally stopped trying after 11 years of, I guess, being repeatedly turned down — in 1926 they declared themselves to be an “independent society.” But one year later, they were granted a charter by the national Kappa Sigma fraternity. In the Dallas Morning News article announcing the news, this sentence was included: “The local chapter will be known as Delta Pi chapter.” I have no idea what any of that means, but if you’re really into these things, read the DMN article “Kappa Sigmas Grant Charter” (Sept. 26, 1927), here.
As for the identities of the women in the photos, it’s a mystery. I would assume, though, that at least some of them were the women mentioned in this little article about a cozy winter get-together at the Haynie Ave. house:
DMN, Jan. 19, 1917
If you’re not familiar with beautiful Exall Lake, you can watch a short, minute-long video of the lake’s history, produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Highland Park, here.
For other posts featuring photos I’ve zoomed in on to reveal interesting little vignettes, click here.
UPDATE: I stumbled across another photo of this group, from Diane Galloway’s book The Park Cities, A Photohistory:
Most pictures much larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2015 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.