Letters from 1929 reveal a different life at the UniversityBy Katherine Owen | 10/21/2012 11:00pm
Cookie Keller said she knows a lot about her father’s life for a man who didn’t talk much. In her garage sits a wealth of information about his history, including the letters off his fraternity house, scrapbooks he made and letters he wrote home.
“He was a really friendly person,” Keller said, “But he just didn’t talk a whole lot about his own life.”
Keller, a 1963 graduate of The University of Alabama, has been able to share a first-hand account of what life was like at the University in 1929 through her father’s letters to his mother.
She said the way she’s been able to find out so much about both her father and the history of The University of Alabama is through the number of pictures, letters, documents and items her father kept.
“I find out all this by reading,” she said. “In fact, I wouldn’t have known that, but I just found this letter to his parents. The reason I even found it was that he wrote [his mother], and she would write on the same sheets and send them back to him.”
The letters, which were sent from Tuscaloosa to his home in Alliance, Ohio, would contain several conversations between Keller’s father, Russell Daugherty and his mother. In these letters from 1929, Daugherty told his mother of all the “initiation stunts” he had observed at the University so far, which he said “sure are funny.”
In the letters, Daugherty describes both the fraternity and sorority stunts leading up to initiation.
“The sororities are doing their initiating now, the girls have to come to class on roller skates and carry a red or blue parasol and it’s fun to watch them,” Daugherty wrote. “… Others had to wear long underwear under silk hose and it looks so funny the fellows laugh at them every time and they all blush so.”
Daugherty’s letters describe many fraternity pledges having to dress up and perform or sing in public. In one letter, he writes about one of the boys who had to stand as watchman atop the Alpha Tau Omega house.
“He had on a sheepskin coat and a cap, and kept an alarm clock with a luminous dial on a string around his neck. Then every 10 minutes he had to yell out, ‘10:20, and all is well at the ATO house.’ Then he had a strong flashlight and whenever one of the fellows came home to the house he would yell out, ‘10:40 and Bill Johnson is returning to the ATO house.’”
In the letters, Daugherty goes on to describe several more fraternity stunts. Daugherty was greek himself, involved in both Phi Alpha Psi and Delta Sigma Phi in his time at the University.
Daugherty studied accounting at the University and went on to work for Liberty National Life Insurance Company.
Keller said the letters played such a vital role in carrying the history of her father’s life and of what life was like at the University and that people should still be documenting history like this.
“There’s not going to be anything left for people years from now,” she said. “We should write more letters.”