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Traveling Back in Time

  • News Image
    An exhibit featuring some of the letters written by Reba McMinn is on display in the library foyer. (Photo by Lucas Adams)
    Lucas Adams
  • News Image
    This was the first letter Reba McMinn wrote to her best friend, Mary Biggerstaff, from Southwestern. It is dated Sept. 25, 1913. The two women were lifelong friends and corresponded with each other for 50 years.
  • News Image
    Reba McMinn lived in a room at the front of the Ladies' Annex, which burned down in 1925.

New Facebook page enables people to follow a first-year Southwestern student – From 1913

Among the newest people on Facebook is a young lady who attended Southwestern University nearly 100 years ago.

Reba McMinn entered Southwestern as a 17-year-old student in 1913 and lived in the Ladies’ Annex, which burned down in 1925.

While she was at Southwestern from 1913 to 1914, McMinn wrote weekly letters to Mary Biggerstaff, her best friend from Childress, Texas. The letters detail all aspects of McMinn’s life at Southwestern – from her classes to social activities in the Ladies’ Annex. They were written at a time when Georgetown was transforming itself from a small town to a center of commerce and education. Nationally, women were seeking the vote and the country was on the verge of entering World War I.

In 1988, Biggerstaff’s daughter-in-law, Mrs. J. Rodney Lee, donated all the letters to Southwestern.

The letters have found a new life on 21st century social media thanks to the efforts of Anne Veerkamp-Andersen, a library assistant in Southwestern University’s Special Collections.

“We were revisiting some collections in our archives from past students, thinking it would be interesting to showcase a few for the incoming first-year class,” Veerkamp-Andersen said. “This collection really stood out.”

Veerkamp-Andersen has created a Facebook profile for McMinn as well as a Twitter account. Throughout this year, people can follow McMinn as though she was a first-year student at Southwestern. The social media posts are enhanced with additional historical material from Special Collections.

Veerkamp-Anderson also has put together an exhibit on McMinn that is on display in the library foyer. The exhibit has excerpts from some of McMinn’s letters, memorabilia from the Ladies’ Annex, a drawing of McMinn’s dorm room, an outfit similar to what McMinn would have worn to Southwestern, and a 1913 Southwestern yearbook.

Among McMinn’s friends at Southwestern was Fannie Dobie, who attended Southwestern from 1910 to 1914. Dobie was the sister of noted Texas writer Frank Dobie, who also attended Southwestern.

In reading McMinn’s letters, Veerkamp-Andersen said she was struck by how little some things have changed. For example, McMinn writes about a girl down the hall “who sure can borrow” and laments about how much food she eats at college – much like the “freshman 15” that is common with students today.

One thing that has changed, however, is the cost of attending college. When McMinn went to Southwestern, tuition was $63 a year and room and board was $190.

Veerkamp-Andersen said it is obvious from the letters that McMinn enjoyed her time at Southwestern. Southwestern “seems like it is the finest spot in the world – a regular Garden of Eden,” she writes in one letter.

In 1915, McMinn left Southwestern to attend Southern Methodist University, which had just opened in Dallas and was closer to her home. She became a member of SMU’s first graduating class. McMinn later married a man named Joe Shanley and moved to Florida, where she lived until her death in 1973.

Veerkamp-Andersen said she hopes the Facebook page and exhibit on McMinn will prompt current first-year students to contact her for information about making scrapbooks of their own experience at Southwestern that can be donated to Special Collections.

“We’d like to have something we can show students 100 years from now,” she said.