Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Presidential Socks: Starting Off on the Right Foot

Hello, I'm Megan, one of the student Archives and Special Collections assistants! I'm a class of 2015 Gender Studies major, and I enjoy playing rugby, long dinners with friends, and discussing feminist and queer issues. I will be contributing monthly blog posts on a variety of objects and stories I find in the Archives.

For this blog post, I'm going to talk about an interesting find from the Presidential Papers of Richard Glenn Gettell.  Gettell was an accomplished economist and professor who worked for Time, the White House, and the U.S. Air Force before becoming the thirteenth president of Mount Holyoke College in 1957. While looking through the contents list for his papers, I discovered that an unusual item is tucked away in one of the boxes- a pair of socks! Curious, I took out the box, and discovered a hand-knitted pair of blue woolen socks, each patterned with a design of a red beer mug and the initials 'RG'. 

According to a clipping from the February 1958 issue of The Mount Holyoke News, these socks were given to President Gettell as an anonymous donation in the President's PO box, along with a poem. The poem explained that this student had knitted the socks for a boyfriend whose initials were R.G., but her boyfriend had "jilted" her, and she hoped that President Gettell would wear the socks instead. The President received the socks the day before his birthday, and wore them to a Tuesday morning assembly of the College.  He also referenced their origins which apparently sparked the interest of the student reporter who wrote the article.

A photocopy of the article was donated to the Archives by the same woman who gave Gettell the socks - Carol Sweeney Benson, née Carol Sweeney, class of 1961, a freshman in Mead Hall. In 1986, Benson sent the article to the Archives, along with a note explaining that she had knitted the socks for Robert Graham, and that over 25 years later, they were still good friends.

Carol Sweeney Benson later mentioned this experience in a recollection of her Mount Holyoke years in the Alumnae Quarterly: "And I certainly remembered the Tuesday morning assembly in Chapin when he [the President] wore my anonymous gift of initialed socks I'd knit for another R.G. who jilted me" (Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly, Spring 1992, pg. 21). As of 2011, Carol Sweeney Benson was still an active member of the Mount Holyoke community, recently attending her 50th class reunion. 

Today, many Mount Holyoke students are active knitters, as can be evidenced by the student organization Knit Happens!  We at the Archives wonder if President Pasquerella has received any such unusual gifts. Feel free to comment on your memories of Mount Holyoke presidents, or the most astonishing gift you've ever received!

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