This month in Ebell History: Mays in the 1950s

by Loyce Braun

Because the archives of the early years of our Ebell are so full of information that charms, surprises and impresses, it is with a certain reluctance that I push on to an era with which I have the beginnings of personal experience – the 1950s.

The President’s yearbook message in 1950 set an unmistakable Cold War tone.  “We have taken a determined stand against the subversives and un-American activities which beset us on every hand.”

In programing, therefore, a “special emphasis has been placed on lectures on world affairs because an enlightened public is America’s greatest security.”

That first May of 1950 the Monday afternoon program was presented by Kermit Roosevelt (Teddy Roosevelt’s grandson) on the subject of Arabs, Oil, and History.  The Psychology Department (which in 1952 had an average attendance of 345) presented a program for the month called Iron Curtains of the Mind and two presentations for that May in the Public Affairs Department were The Students’ Answer to the Marxist Challenge and Communistic Inter-Penetration of American Colleges.

Happily, subversive threats did not dominate all programs in May in the 1950s.  The Music Department’s Annual Luncheon theme in May 1952 was Music as a Spiritual Force in Human Life, featuring a trumpeter, a tenor, and Marion Darlington, “Bird Voice of the Movies.”  The Applied Design Department, guided by well-known California regional artist, Millard Sheets, designed and illustrated a woodblock cut alphabet book to be reproduced in quantity and given to poor children of the city.

Never let it be said that the ladies of the Ebell, even in the fraught 50s failed to honor high standards of communication.  The Better American Speech Department in May 1952 tackled the question “Is the Art of Letter Writing Obsolete or Merely Half-Forgotten?” (Oh, dear ladies, if only you had known what lay ahead.) Subsidiary questions on this topic were “What form of salutation and concluding phrase should we use?” and “Do we know the type of stationery adapted for each occasion and the ink that is in good taste?”

However much times had changed and were changing in the 1950’s,  May continued to be marked at the Ebell by the celebration of the birthday of the poet Browning, whose department was one of the most enduring in the history of the Ebell of Los Angeles.  So, in honor of that tradition, “Happy Birthday, Robert Browning!”

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