The 1950’s At Defiance College

– Barbara Sedlock, DC Archivist


The 1950s is the decade when Russia’s launch of Sputnik started the space race, Senator Joseph McCarthy was the force behind Communist “witch hunts” in the U.S., and Crick and Watson discovered the structure of DNA.  It was the decade when major league baseball became fully integrated, the Civil Rights movement began, and Charlie Parker and Miles Davis were leaders of jazz.  Elvis was rock and roll’s king, science fiction and monster movies were popular, and the 50s saw the opening of Disneyland and the first McDonald’s.


Defiance College was in the national spotlight in the 50s due to President Kevin McCann.  He took office in 1951, after DC trustees asked former General Dwight (“Ike”) Eisenhower, who was then President of Columbia University, for suggestions of candidates for DC’s presidency.  McCann was one of Eisenhower’s aides at the time, read the letter, and proposed himself as one of the candidates.

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The connection between Eisenhower and Defiance College continued after Eisenhower was elected U.S. President in 1952.  McCann wrote a biography of Eisenhower, Man from Abilene, published during the election year.  The DC choir performed at Ike’s inauguration in 1953.  Several times between 1951 and 1957, the Board of Trustees granted McCann a leave of absence to go to Washington to serve temporarily on Eisenhower’s staff as a special assistant.  Mrs. McCann or a Trustee acted as DC’s President while he was away.  In October 1953, President Eisenhower came to campus to lay the cornerstone for the new library building, which can be viewed today in the Career Services Office in Hubbard Hall.  Eisenhower’s Vice President Richard Nixon came to campus in 1956, to give DC’s Fall Convocation address:


What was student social life like on campus in the 1950s?  Freshmen were hazed.  In 1950, they were required to wear beanies at all times, learn and recite the Alma Mater to anyone who asked, or be prepared to give a shoeshine to any upperclassman who asked for one.  Men had to wear their shirts backwards, roll their trousers to their knees, and grow beards until Homecoming.  Women had to wear pantaloons under their dresses, an onion on a string around their necks, and their hair in pigtails.  Here’s the issue of the 1950 Tom-Tom student newspaper describing the rules:


The Tom-Tom ran a gossip column in the early 50’s, and polled students on questions that are still an issue in 2016, such as “How can we improve social life on campus?”  Some of the more facetious answers were “First we have to HAVE a little social life,” and “Import some good looking women.”


Trowbridge Hall, a bit south of where Schauffler Hall is now, housed women on campus, and men were in Sisson Hall (about where the Defiance Hall parking lot is now.)  Meals were served in Trowbridge’s dining hall,; there was no student union building until the very end of the decade.


The Civil Rights movement taking place elsewhere in the country hadn’t reached Defiance yet.   There were very few nonwhite residents in the city of Defiance in 1950, 0.1% according to the US census.  If you look through the student portraits in the Oraculum yearbooks from the era, there were only a handful of nonwhite faces.   Some of those who did attend DC were student leaders.  Here’s a link to a page from the 1952 Oraculum showing Spriggs (Sandy) Parker serving on Student Council:


Today students raise money for the fight against diseases like AIDS and Ebola; in the 1950s, the big concern was polio, a disease that could cause permanent paralysis or death, especially among children.  The disease reached a record U.S. outbreak in 1952.  The Tom-Tom carried articles on how to prevent infection on campus, and students helped raise money for the March of Dimes to fight the disease.


In sports, DC fielded an undefeated football team in 1953:  DC’s football games were held at the city high school (now junior high) field downtown, at the corner of Arabella and Wayne.  Ohio State’s now-legendary, but back then still-new coach Woody Hayes visited Defiance, to speak at a joint College-High School sports banquet:


The campus landscape had big changes during the 50s.  DC’s original fountain, which had been in front of Weston Hall, was removed in 1958.  Freshmen being hazed were probably glad they no longer risked being dumped into the fountain.  As mentioned above, the original part of the Anthony Wayne Library, the west end of the current Hubbard Hall where the bookstore and student services offices are, was begun in 1953.  In October 1958, Navy Commander William R. Anderson laid the cornerstone for the new Enders Student Union building, which was located in front of what is now the colonnade of Serrick Center.  Here are photos from the event:   Anderson had commanded the first submarine ever to cross under the North Pole ice.  A model of his sub is currently in the glass case on the lower level of the Pilgrim Library.  Very late in the decade, ground was broken for building Whitney Hall: here’s a picture of the ceremony, with Miss Whitney in the center:


If you want to read more, all of the 1950s student newspapers and yearbooks that are in the archives have been digitized and are available on DC Memory: and are searchable via the “simple search” tab on that page.





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