To Promote the Advancement of Virtue and Learning

1829 "Regulations for the Students of Georgetown College"
The final of the 27 rules of the Regulations for the Students of Georgetown College 1829 states that "prompt obedience and submission to their professors, prefects, and superiors will be expected from all the students." University Archivist Lynn Conway adds, "I'm sure that the students worked very hard at breaking as many of the rules as they could get away with."

Interview by Jeffrey Donahoe

For much of the 19th century, the majority of Georgetown students were under 16. The preparatory department, which educated younger students, had a significant impact on the age demographic. Accordingly, students' daily life was strictly regulated.

From her sun-filled office in Lauinger Library's Booth Family Center for Special Collections, University Archivist Lynn Conway showed off the 1829 "Regulations for the Students of Georgetown College," a slender, handwritten book—about 4" by 7"—with a worn, but still intact, blue-green cover.


Lynn Conway:
This is a small booklet, "Regulations for the Students of Georgetown College," written in 1829. It is a 27-point rulebook. To give you some context for the rules, in 1829 there were about 45 students here, and about eight faculty members. The students at this time were usually younger than the students today. John Carroll's original provisions for students simply said that students had to be able to read. There was no age limit at all. That was subsequently amended to say they had to be at least 8. I do think [the students' age] accounts for the nature of some of the rules.

One of the things I like about this book is, if you look at the cover, it has clearly been used. It is in good condition but this wasn't something that sat pristinely on a shelf. It most likely was kept in the president's office. It's handwritten and as far as I know, this was never printed, so it certainly wasn't circulated to the students. I don't quite know how you can promulgate a set of rules that students have to abide by and not let those students know what those rules are, which suggests to me that this was read aloud to them, I suspect possibly at the beginning of the academic year or the beginning of the semesters.

"I think this rulebook does give the sense that student life here was very strictly regulated."

The introductory section says, "The directors of this institution, wishing to promote the advancement of the students in virtue and learning"—I think it's interesting that the order was virtue first and learning second—"are inclined to govern them with levity and mildness than with rigor and severity. But as order cannot subsist without some certain fixed rules, they have thought proper to adopt the following." And then it goes into the rules. I think it does give the sense that student life here was very strictly regulated.

1829 "Regulations for the Students of Georgetown College"
The college governance of faculty and Jesuits acted in loco parentis in the 19th century. Rule books, such as the 1829 regulations held in the university archives, defined student behavior literally from the break of day, including limiting dining out of college (No. 13) and restricting private conversations (No. 16).

We don't have many documents—letters or diaries—that speak in the voice of the students at this time. So you can look at this rulebook and extrapolate a little bit what life was actually like for the students, or at least what the administrators wanted life to be like for the students.

You just have difficulty imagining what a student of today would make of this. Take No. 20: "All letters written by the students are to be given to the president unsealed, and all letters received for students are to pass through his hands to be read or not, as he may think proper." Information was being very strictly controlled both ways.

Another rule states that students were not allowed to have any money with them. If they arrived with money, it was taken from them and held by the president, as was any money that was sent to them. The college then gave the students an allowance—they got pocket money. While parents could assign how much that would be, the college made recommendations as to how much was appropriate. One of the byproducts of the students not having any cash and the college holding it for them is that the college then had to account for all of that money. We have extremely detailed account ledgers with entries that can span across pages for an individual student.

If you were a student, you could go off campus, but not unescorted. You would go with one of the faculty members. They would go downtown to the Capitol to hear sessions of Congress. There were other cultural activities. Those were times when students might need money. There were things on campus, like a shoemaker shop. The accounts show charges for things like pen and paper, haircuts.

The archives exist to document all aspects of university history. This little book really does speak to student life very specifically at a particular time. There's still a student handbook today, and so this book from 1829 fits into a continuum of records.

We want somebody 200 years from now to be looking at the student handbook from last year, laughing about what the rules were and trying to imagine what life would have been like for students who had to live under those rules.

The only rule that I could find in here that I thought that there was a version of today is rule No. 19, which says, "all cutting of benches, breaking of windows, injuring in any way the furniture of the house is prohibited. Should such acts be committed, they will be repaired at the expense of the student who was guilty, and deducted from his allowance or pocket money." The same principle would apply today—you break it, you pay for it.