Songs From the Stacks

By Scott Sanders, Archivist

Nellie Cox on Antioch vacations

What follows appeared in the very first issue of earliest Antioch College publication in the archives, and the earliest known account of a holiday break in our holdings. Though unattributed, the article has the literary stamp of a member of the class of 1870, Ellen A. Cox. “Nellie” as she was known, was an exceptional student, a leading figure in the women’s Crescent Literary Society, and served on the editorial staff in The Antiochian’s first year of existence.

Front page of the first edition of the Antiochian
The very first edition of The Antiochian, in which “How We Spend the Vacations at Antioch” appeared.

A modest but magnificent collection of Nellie’s letters was given to Antiochiana by a descendant, Caroline Shaw Sherer, in 1959. To quote Sherer: “With all her seriousness Ellen had much fun in her nature,” as evidenced by her lively correspondence and a few other items of note, particularly an unpublished satirical magazine, the “Emersonian Scientific and Literary Journal, devoted to sense, nonsense, and general intelligence,” and a delightful story called “History of a Pair of Shoes.” The latter may just show up in a future installment of Songs from the Stacks. Thanks for reading!

From The Antiochian, vol. 1, #1, 1 April 1869:

Nellie Cox
Ellen A. “Nellie” Cox, Class of 1870

How We Spend the Vacations at Antioch

Never having spent a vacation at Antioch, during my course here, I concluded to stay last winter, and never shall be sorry, for I am sure that I could not have spent the holidays more agreeably anywhere else. Just about a sufficient number of young ladies and gentlemen remained to form a pleasant and agreeable circle—a family over which the matron presided with becoming dignity.

For the first two or three days of the vacation she took the “family” skating, to the river, about two miles from the college, where they gave vent to their young joyous spirits. There were some good skaters among them, some not so good, some just beginning to learn, and some who would not venture upon skates at all, strictly adhering to the old advice of their mothers “never to go on ice until they learned to skate.” It is always fun to watch new beginners on skates, and so it was here—to see the graceful movements, the bows and scrapes which were necessary to keep them on their feet—to see them tumble down and mark the earnestness with which they would “up and at it” again, one could almost read in the face with broken nose, the expression of determination which seemed to say: “It’s hard work, but it’s fun, it’s fashionable, and I’ll learn it if it kills me.”

The great difficulty with beginners in skating, as in dancing, is to get both feet to “go off” alike; they try to do all the striking with one foot and all the sliding with the other. The ice was splendid, and the opportunity was well improved, until the sun made a mistake, bringing spring in winter, and spoiled this source of fun, so we were obliged to turn our attention in another direction.

The “Squibobs” were the next object of engrossing interest after the ice failed. A description of this peculiar, mysterious society in full would render my subject voluminous, but it is so completely connected with all the scenes of hilarity and enjoyment of a winter vacation, that the subject would be incomplete without some mention of its working, in this connection. It has for its object fun, and improvement in nonsense. Each member assumes a fictitious name. It meets only in vacation. Its constitution is written only in the memory of its members, and the principal clause in that constitution is that each member shall be perfectly independent, do as he pleases, but shall always vote in the affirmative of every question which is put; in fact the negative is never put. Anybody can become a member if he can get his name proposed. The exercises are of no definite character. Anything literary, musi-dramatic, aesthetic &c., is appropriate. Even the menagerie and circus are brought within its limits.

There were five or six meetings of the “Squibs” during this vacation, at the last of which the family appeared in full dress according to their several characters. The audience were kept in a perpetual roar of laughter while these characters were being introduced, one after the other. A description of each would render our story too long. We will leave it to the imagination to picture the appearance of this company as they entered. The principle exercises of the evening were: the Letter of Mr. Wilkins Micawber, stating his embarrassed circumstances; “Criticisms” on the previous meeting by “Sam Slick of Slickville down East;” “Instructions in Etiquette,” by the “Hub;” Mrs. Spriggins’ “Candle Lecture” to Mr. Spriggins, concerning domestic economy; “Old Dog Bowser,” by “Jim for Short” and Agness and a song, the “Antioch Worthies” by “Jim for Short” and the “Hub,” assisted by a full chorus. The remainder of the evening was spent in playing charades and dispatching the oyster supper which had been ordered for the troupe by one of the good professors. Besides the Squibobs there were many other sources of amusement, not least among which we may mention the “taffy pulling” which took place one evening in the dining hall. Here literary figures pulled wax until it was white, and scattered pop corn and molasses all over the floor; here “hide and seek” was entered into with juvenile earnestness by those who aspire to literary fame and diplomas. Thus, with many other similar amusements, the vacation passed, and tapping of the “old familiar bell” aroused us to the stern reality of the fact that the term had begun, and that earnest work must take the place of play.