First day of school jitters span more than 70 years

Fred Tally-Foos

Editor’s note: This is the first of a weekly series documenting past articles The Daily Texan has covered in its 114-year history. 

Freshmen stepping onto the 40 Acres for the first time tend to find the hectic comings and goings of roughly 50,000 students jarring, but, in 1943, there was a different kind of bustling energy due to the overbearing presence of World War II on campus.

In the Sept. 1, 1943, issue of The Daily Texan — alongside an editorial discussing the pros and cons of “thinking men” staying home and an advertisement urging students and faculty to invest in war bonds — reporter Marifrances Wilson depicts newcomers’ experiences in an article titled “Cheer Up, Freshie! Those Buildings Won’t be So Strange After a Week”.

The heightened presence of the military is apparent when Wilson warns students of the “marching columns of khaki which you have to dodge on your way into the commons.” These days, the armed forces still have a home on campus, but students are likely to see more columns of khaki shorts or sorority T-shirts than uniformed young men.

The University itself was much more constrained in terms of space during World War II, fitting nicely inside the actual 40 Acres. Food, drinks and entertainment were all sought out primarily in the building known today as The Texas Union. In 1943, a slew of common monikers was used for the building, such as “The Chuck Wagon,” “Commons” and “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You.”

Just west of the Union, where Wilson suggests new students try to find their bearings, stood the University Co-op on the Drag. Wilson cautions students about crossing the street, explaining that there is one traffic light that “no one, neither drivers nor pedestrians, seems to observe, so they should soon become quite adept at dashing across the drag, dodging the trucks, jalopies, and bicycles which fly back and forth.” Current freshmen probably can’t imagine anyone trying to rush across busy Guadalupe Street, although they are sure to see it happen many times over the coming months despite the increasing amount of jaywalking tickets handed out to students.

In the article, freshmen are reminded that they should never feel lost in the shadow of the Tower, as it “serves as a sort of beacon when one gets lost on campus.” Wilson advocates for friendliness on campus and encourages frightened “freshies” to never hesitate to ask questions. 

“University students, faculty, even the Navy, love to display their knowledge and will divulge any facts about the campus which they happen to know,” Wilson said.

Walking around the now expanded campus in 2014, it is easy to see why so many students dread the first day of classes — many of the same trepidations and fears about experiencing life on campus were held 71 years ago. That students were learning the same lessons then as they are now may hint at feelings of solidarity or frustration — but keep in mind that, year after year, the first day has never been too terrible, because there has always been a second day.