New swim instructor dives in head first

The following first appeared in Tribune on Oct. 6, 2003.

There was very little ritual about graduating from University High School in the early 1930s; many of us continued at the University of Missouri. Two of my teachers had suggested that I consider journalism.

Three years later, I won second place in an Atlantic Monthly essay contest, and I felt almost ready to find my niche in writing. As I was planning my schedule for 1935-36, a woman called to ask whether I could come for an interview with the president of Christian College. "Dr. Briggs wants to discuss the possibility of your teaching some swimming classes here," she said.

I knew that Christian College had a nice, big, white-and-blue tile pool, but I had never seen it. Our neighbor, Carl Hobart, built that pool when I was 4 years old, and he built the natatorium over it the next year. It was a marvel in 1919 when completed.

Eugene Briggs was a former athletic coach. I liked him immediately. He was willing to schedule the six classes I would teach in the afternoons so I could complete my journalism degree at MU, as planned.

Teaching swimming -- the sport I loved so much -- had never crossed my mind. I was on the swimming team, but two of my friends were usually at the finish line before I arrived! Miss Ruby Cline coached me in diving so I could perform all of the skills required for membership in the Mermaid's Club.

I had taken all of the theory classes required for teaching, had judged at swimming and diving meets, and the MU physical education staff had recommended me to Briggs. I was hired that morning before I had even seen the pool! 

It was a beautiful white tile floor and pool with blue tile lane markers. There were gray, imported marble, shower walls. The huge room was lighted by 23 frosted windows and an overhead skylight. Four days a week, I taught three swimming classes and a class of Senior Life Savers.

Christian was a two-year girls' school with about 300 students and was proud to be the first women's college chartered by a state legislature west of the Mississippi River. It was "Small, Select and Serious in Purpose." 

In 1935, almost all students lived in two dormitories: St. Clair -- the oldest -- and Missouri "Mo" Hall. Most town girls, called "Tee Gees," lived at home. Several single women teachers lived in the dormitories and ate in the dining room, too. In addition to teaching, they served as advisers, house mothers and personal friends.

Most CC students arrived by train and were already getting acquainted after transferring from the main lines to our slow, Wabash spur. It made its way from Centralia in about an hour. The Katy brought lots of students from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas as the college's field representatives were especially effective in the South. They were met by second-year students who began "showing them the ropes."

Second-year students -- called seniors -- were thrilled to help the just-out-of-high school newcomers find their rooms, the tea room, their advisers and downtown Columbia. They also helped the new students learn the rules. Christian College had outstanding success with self-government. There were some complaints, too -- hard-packed cotton mattresses, especially.

A number of the instructors had advanced degrees. Some whose names were highly respected in Columbia's civic, social and religious organizations in 1935: Spalding, Mitchell, Abram, McMillan, Graham, Launer, Stern, Long, Meyer, Keeley, Hertig and Miller.

Today, the college is called Columbia College, offering a full four years and a co-ed campus. I'm proud to be "retired faculty."

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