Wednesday, February 19, 2014

We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident

"We hold these truths to be self-evident..." These words were written in a strongly worded protest letter to Mount Holyoke College's student newspaper in November 1976.  What did these words presage?  An anti-war protest?  No, the Vietnam War had ended a year prior.  A feminist call for the right to choose or equal rights?  Not this time.  A failed promise for ice cream on Founder's Day?  Yes, that's the one...

Students receiving ice cream on Founders Day, 11/7/1964


On November 4, 1976 choragos (aka Mount Holyoke News) ran a front page headline article calling on students to arrive at Mary Lyon's grave at 7AM on Saturday to receive ice cream from the Trustees.  The article quoted Mary Tuttle, Assistant to the College President, who said she had a 'feeling in her bones' that the Trustees would deliver ice cream to the students.

What the editors of the paper did not know was that the Board of Trustees was hotly divided on the issue of serving ice cream on Founders Day.  They even took a balloted vote, which failed to affect a decision on the issue.  Because of the division, the Trustees resolved not to serve ice cream at all.  However, this information was not communicated to the students.  When Saturday morning arrived, approximately 75 students congregated at Mary Lyon's grave to receive their traditional treat, only to found out there would be no ice cream served that day.

The students were furious.  Is there anything that boils the blood more than a false promise of ice cream?  When the next issue of choragos came out on Thursday November 11, it included a letter to the editor titled "Where's the ice cream?"

The letter boldly declared: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that Mount Holyoke women will do anything for ice cream, and that they are endowed by the Founder with a natural taste thereof.  To satisfy these tastes, traditions are instituted among women.  Whenever these traditions are neglected, it is the right of students to register their protest."

It wasn't just the lack of ice cream that infuriated these students.  It was the fact that they had risen early on a Saturday morning and braved the wind chill factor to receive this ice cream, only to be denied.  The letter explained: "Laying at the foundation of this complaint is the bitter cold and disappointment of waiting for a half hour at Mary Lyon's grave for the good to be delivered in order to affect a breakfast there."

While this letter didn't reverse the lack of ice cream for 1976, the Board of Trustees learned an important lesson from the event: don't mess with traditions, especially ones that involve ice cream.  The Trustees would resume their tradition of serving ice cream at Mary Lyon's grave the following year and the tradition has continued until the present day.

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