Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 1, Page 15
Fall 1992
Tales told out of school

John A. Munroe received his B.A. degree at the University of Delaware in
1936, his M.A. from Delaware in 1941 and his Ph.D. at the University of
Pennsylvania in 1947. Before completing his doctoral work, he returned to
Delaware as a one-term substitute in February, 1942, and remained on the
history faculty for more than 40 years. The author of a number of books
including Louis McLane (a biography), The History of Delaware and
Federalist Delaware, 1774-1815, Munroe wrote a history of the University as
part of the University's 150th anniversary celebration of receipt of its
charter. Now H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus and a member of the Alumni
Wall of Fame, Munroe resides in Newark, Del.

      My ill health and the Great Depression were major factors affecting
my undergraduate experiences at Delaware in 1932-1936. A massive internal
hemorrhage in the spring of 1932 had almost finished me. Only an emergency
series of person-to-person blood transfusions from my mother (they couldn't
store blood in those days) had relieved my pallor and headaches and sent me
on the road to recovery. I spent weeks in bed regaining strength, but by
the time college opened, I was permitted to walk a block at a time.
      Even had I been healthy, I would have been required by lack of money
to commute from my home in Wilmington. My father was well and had a job,
but the foundry where he worked was closed much of the time. At such
periods, my family had no income at all, for there was no unemployment
insurance. Fortunately for my education and for the payment of my doctor's
bills, I was an only child, and fortunately my parents had saved money in
the good years of the 1920s. As the Depression went on and on, these
resources were used up and my parents were forced to various expedients
(like taking in roomers) to make money. My mother sold all her jewelry
(which wasn't much) except for her wedding ring.
      Through my parents' foresight, I had saved money for college. (They
had insisted on banking every gift I had received on birthdays and
Christmases from indulgent uncles and aunts, of whom I had many.) College
didn't cost much. My total bill for a year was about $150. I bought my
textbooks second hand. (One-third off each time a book changed hands was
the custom.) I paid a friend 25 cents a day for transportation to and from
Wilmington. My great-uncle gave me a dollar a week- maybe it was a dollar
and a half, for we had Saturday classes-to cover this expense.
      I carried my lunch in a brown paper bag and ate it in a locker room
in the center of the basement of Old College. Each of us had a locker where
we could leave books and, in winter, an overcoat or a raincoat. I always
wore a jacket or sweater to class, and also a tie. I recall that one
professor was known to expel students from his class if they were tie-less.
      Sometimes, I would spend 5 cents at Rhodes' Drug Store, next to the
campus on Main Street, for a drink called a "500," which was milk, flavored
with chocolate and served in a Coca Cola glass (milk shakes were too
expensive.) My parents wanted me to drink milk to build up my health.
      My memories of those days are very happy ones. As far as lack of
money was concerned, my friends were in the same boat. Riding back and
forth each day was like being in a club.
      We had adventures, as on the day we had three flat tires in
succession. One cold winter day, we stayed till evening to see a basketball
game and found our car wouldn't start-not until we pushed it, as we slipped
and slid in the snow, from its parking place on North College Avenue, up
that street, and a long way down Cleveland Avenue before it got going.
Because one window was missing, we became very cold on the way home (the
temperature reached a record 14 degrees below), and had to stop at a little
gas station and sit by a stove to warm up before we continued.
      I couldn't take physical education or military training (both
required) because of my health, but I took extra subjects-six courses in my
freshman year. After taking two lab sciences (chemistry and botany), math,
German, English composition and European history, my grades (and my degree
of enjoyment of the courses) told me I belonged in the last three.
      Every day, I left home about 7 a.m. because someone in our carpool
always had an 8 a.m. class. Except on Saturday, when classes ended at noon,
I got home around 5 p.m. because someone would always have an afternoon
      So, though a commuter, I spent a full day on campus. My two main
hangouts were the locker room, where I played bridge while I ate lunch, and
a student lounge in the east wing, second floor, of Old College. My
freshman science classes and labs were in Wolf Hall, but most of my classes
were in Recitation Hall (home of the art department today). The president,
the dean of arts and science and the business manager were also in
Recitation Hall, where every student had a mailbox.
      Once a week we were required to attend an assembly in Mitchell Hall.
The library (now called Memorial Hall) is another building I went to often.
Women students used the library, too, but they generally sat at separate
tables (though not required to). No women were in any of my classes, except
in summer school.
      We attended athletic contests and some plays and lectures, and I was
a member of Student Council and some clubs. I wrote some stories for the
Review and the Humanist (a magazine), and I was also a freshman tennis
manager (I had to line courts) because one of my gang was on the tennis
team and we had to wait for him to finish practice.
      I never went to a dance and was hardly ever on the lower campus (that
is, the Women's College campus). My health held up, though I missed a week
here and there and had a few more transfusions.
      I was cheered by knowing that the peculiar blood problem I had (a
lack of platelets) normally cleared up when a patient reached 30 (as mine
did) and could, worse come to worse, be cured by a splenectomy. I enjoyed
college very much. I was home only to eat dinner and breakfast, study and
sleep. But one question bothered me. How would I make a living? I knew
students who had waited a year to find a job after graduating.
      Teaching was one career I could enter quickly, but I was shy about
facing people and put off practice teaching to the fall of my senior year,
though thanks to summer school, (which cost about $10), I could have
graduated after three years. But when I started teaching, I loved it. And I
kept at it, with time off for graduate school, for 45 years.
                                   -John A. Munroe, Delaware '36, '41M