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Bovine Hijinks at Swarthmore College – Halloween 1929

In December of 1929, the editor of The Phoenix, Swarthmore College’s campus newspaper (then and now), received a letter regarding an incident which took place during the wee hours of Halloween.

December 4, 1929
Mr. Thomas S. Niceley, Editor In Chief
Swarthmore Phoenix (1)
Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pa.

Dear Sir:
On the night of October 30th (2) a very peaceful cow was missed from my barn. On the same night a cow, I am told, was discovered on the second floor of Parrish. Rumor has it that these two cows were one and the same. It does not seem possible that my cow could have wandered to Parrish unassisted. If she was assisted I am filled wonder and amazement. This particular animal, when out, has a decided antipathy to assistance of any sort and would require the whole football squad to manage her.

Under the circumstances I am filled with curiosity and envy; curious to know if this cow discovered in Parrish was really mine; envious because I should have liked to have been in on the fun.

An, anonymous letter from someone who really knows the facts would be much appreciated and at least satisfy my curiosity. Thank you!

Very truly yours,
W. A. Clarke (3)

A month later, the editor received the requested reply from an anonymous student.

January 6, 1930
Mr. William A. Clarke,
2117 Packard Building
Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear Sir:

I’m afraid I owe you an apology on several counts, first, for helping “borrow” your cow on the night of Oct. 30th, secondly, for this long delay in answering your very fine and sporting letter, and lastly because I have here-to-fore been under the impression that you were somewhat of a “crab”!
For all which I offer you my sincere apologies and regrets. The idea, of course, was not original but the prank was the outcome of several factors and the fulfillment of a long felt desire. It was done partly to embarrass Miss Stilz (House Director) (4) who possesses an astounding faith in locks as a means of keeping students within bounds, and partly because it was felt that the college was losing its “spark” and more or less neglecting the human side of college life. Summing it all up we felt that a more appropriate night than Halloween couldn’t be chosen.

There were three of us involved in the deed which was accomplished between the hours 2 and 3 A.M. We knew the general location of your barn (5) and felt pretty sure a cow was kept there. We had no difficulty in locating her but we experienced considerable trouble in unfastening her headstall by the flickering and unsteady light of matches. Finally the job was done and we led her out thru the door-way and across the lawn towards the road. Never shall I forget the noise her hoofs made as she crossed the drive. To us the noise seemed appalling and almost unbelievable that anyone could sleep thru it. To me, at least, the worst part of the whole affair was getting the animal safely out onto the open road, once that was accomplished I felt fairly comfortable. The cow behaved admirably until she struck the main road where she suddenly took it into her head to bolt and off we went (fortunately in the right direction) down the hill at express train speed, hanging on for dear life and with our feet seldom, if ever, touching the ground. She finally stopped for lack of breath and we proceeded with only occasional such outbursts up the hill, thru the college gates, across the Dean’s front lawn and so to Parrish. Outside the front door, with the goal almost in sight, a particularly violent outburst aided by a few trees and several low hanging branches tore us all loose and we spent a rather anxious and exciting fifteen minutes chasing the animal thru-out the length and breadth of the campus before we finally recaptured her. We then jimmied the window to one of the classrooms, opened the front door and up the steps. Half way up she stuck while she relieved herself with awe inspiring plops of an excess amount of waste. After which she calmly proceeded the rest of the way and with a final shove thru the swinging doors our job was done.

The ensuing excitement when she was discovered I can leave to your imagination. Truth to tell I believe few, if any, of the girls (6) had ever been confronted so close at hand with so large and so terrifying an animal! The night watchman was called upon to remove the animal but proved unequal to the task and finally had to go and seek the aid of a friend. Together with a great deal of moral encouragement and advice from the girls they finally succeeded in ejecting the creature. It was afterwards claimed that the friend hadn’t proven of much use since he seemed to be more interested in the girls than in the job at hand!

We all feel that something constructive was really
accomplished by the act and I sincerely hope you don’t regret the part played by your cow in the re-awakening of the college.

It was later learned that the author of the letter was Norman Hugh McDiarmid (7). Many years later (c. 1962), he wrote a response to a letter he must have received from Mrs. Clarke.

Mrs. William A. Clarke
Crumwald Farm
Box 262
Wallingford, Pennsylvania

Dear Mrs. Clarke:

Your very nice letter of November 29th recalled to mind many poignant memories of that long winter of discontent at Swarthmore in the Fall of ’29 and the early months of 1930 that I had thought would not be long remembered.

As the instigator of the affair to which you refer, I have retained an affection for that particular cow and especially for your husband who demonstrated superb sportsmanship and understanding in the aftermath of that event. It was for these reasons that I supplied the “anonymous” reply in response to your husband’s request to the Phoenix.

The date of December 1930, however, is incorrect since the young ladies of Parrish West entertained your cow of an evening late in 1929 or early 1930. I am certain it was within that period of time because; first, Dorothy S. (now Mrs. McDiarmid (8) and the first woman elected to represent this area in the Virginia Legislature), had graduated the previous June and was therefore not around to exercise her restraining Quaker influence she has so aptly demonstrated throughout the years. Second, my interests in animals (and humans) is chiefly limited to the anatomy which first transits a fence. Therefore, Lisle Gould (9) also Class of ’30, who had more familiarity with the subject, handled assignments at the rear that night. Third, my friend Everett Hunt (10), whose latest book I have not yet read, may recall that the former Dean, Alan Valentine (11), subsequently attempted to constrain my graduation the following June “for maintaining a car on campus,” a charge occasioned when I drove Dorothy, who had come up from Washington one day in her car, to a friends wedding. At the time Valentine, alluding to the cow, the serenade of the Library bells, and other purported enterprises, “Perhaps we now have the wrong cause but we do have the right man.” To my knowledge Valentine neither then or since has ever admitted error Q.E.D.

Long ago when I was young and twenty and all the world seemed bright, I little thought of the advantages of copies. Now that I am older and wisdom comes apace, I should dearly love to have a copy of that epistle which you have so carefully preserved.

Thank you for illuminating the day!




(1) The Phoenix ran a story about the incident in its November 5th issue:

Cow Invades Parrish!    The early hours of last Friday morning were indeed eventful ones for the fair coeds of Second West. Shortly before dawn their peaceful slumbers were rudely shattered by the bovine musings of a cow which had suddenly turned intellectual. However, under the supervision of Miss Stilz, the intruder was ejected. Beauty was rescued from the Beast, and all was quiet on Second West. This was not the first time that Parrish’s sacred precints [sic] had been profaned by a bovine presence. On the morning of January 17, 1908, a group of freshmen, led by Lew Darnell, desired some amusement. By the chances of Fate they also picked out Second West for the home of their cow. They experienced some difficulty with “Father Time,” the night watchman, but a decoy attack on the kitchen left the front stairs unguarded, and their purpose was soon achieved.

(2) The cow-napping occurred on Halloween, 1929 – just days after the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression.

(3) William Anderson Clarke, Sr., (1896-1965), was a graduate of Swarthmore College (’17) and president of the W.A. Clarke Mortgage Company in Philadelphia. The Clarke family has strong ties to the college; many members of the family have attended Swarthmore. This, and the fact that he was a ‘gentleman farmer’ rather than a professional one, may account for his good-natured response to the theft of his property.

(4) Miss Ethel Stilz appears to have had a long tenure as House Director at Swarthmore. A quick look finds mention of her in The Halcyon (the College yearbook) in 1930, 1941, and 1950.

(5) In 1928, William Clarke and his wife, Eleanor Stabler Clarke (Swarthmore ’18) built “Crumwald,” on Rogers Lane in Nether Providence on a property adjacent to the college woods. The house was designed by R. Brognard Okie. Mrs. Clarke gave the house and property to Swarthmore College in 1971. It is used today as faculty housing. All that remains of the barn are its stone walls.

The wild ride described in the letter is difficult to picture. To travel from Crumwald to Parrish ‘as the crow flies’ is a short trip, but the terrain and the creek would have made it impossible with a cow in tow. Did they really drag (or ride) that poor cow out Rogers to Plush Mill, up Victoria and Hillborn to Walnut, then Elm, then Cedar and then through the College entrance?

(6) At that time, the upper floors of Parrish housed female students (as did Worth and Bond Halls). Male students were housed in Wharton Hall.

(7) Entry in the Swarthmore College yearbook, Halycon, 1930:

N. HUGH McDIARMID, 255 Seventy-fourth St., Brooklyn, N. Y.       ECONOMICS       This is Hugh McDiarmid of the low, calm voice, quiet, unruffled dis-position, and modest studious air. Despite these handicaps, Mac attained fame and fortune in his nightly carousals through B section, occupying a prominent position on the freshman entertainment committee. But his ability in this respect was further developed by his entertaining in out of the way corners in Parrish, where he was really in his native element. Mac’s talents, though, do not lay wholly along social lines — he is a letterman in football, basketball, and tennis; and ’tis said, moreover, that he revived the quaint old English custom of punctuating one’s athletic endeavors with more or less animated exclamation points.

The Free Lance Star, Fredericksburg, VA, June 14, 1994

(8) Dorothy Shoemaker (Swarthmore ’29) was a Political Science major. She had a career in the family business, McDiarmid Realty, before entering politics in 1959. She served as a Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates, 35th District, in 1960-1961, 1964-1969, and 1972-1989. She also served on the Swarthmore College Board of Managers.

At Swarthmore College, the Dorothy Shoemaker ’29 and Hugh ’30 McDiarmid Scholarship was established in 1987. It is awarded to a freshman on the basis of academic merit and financial need. At the Volgenau School of Engineering at George Mason University, the Dorothy S. and Hugh McDiarmid Scholarship is awarded to a freshman who plans to major in business, science, engineering, or technology.

(9) Entry in the Swarthmore College yearbook, Halycon, 1930:

ROBERT LISLE GOULD, Locust Vale, Towson, Md.      MATHEMATICS      Robert Lisle Gould, alias Doc, comes to us from near the faraway city of Baltimore. He landed here in his freshman year with a shyness for work and a love for entertaining members of the opposite sex. Perhaps that explains the fact that we found him sojourning in Baltimore the first semester of this year, trying to gather up a few credits at Hopkins. Doc’s other main weakness, besides entertaining the Parrish Dwellers, is a love for lacrosse. No activity seems a success without Doc, whether it be a fraternity affair, a freshman party, a trip to Lamb’s, or a bull session — everyone is so used to his being right on hand for all of these, ready with some witty remark to begin the thing correctly.

(10)  Entry in the Swarthmore College yearbook, Halycon, 1930 as a coach of the Debate Team:

EVERETT L. HUNT, A.B., A.M.        Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory       A.B.. Huron College: M.A.. University of Chicago ; Assistant Professor of Public Speaking, Cornell University: Acting Assistant Professor of Public Speaking. Swarthmore College, 1925-26: Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, 1926.

There’s a trophy for annual giving, given in his memory by the class of 1937.

(11) Alan C. Valentine was the Dean of Men in 1930. Frank Aydelotte was the President.

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