The first students

Friday, August 11, 2023
Zoe Cochrane
About the Author

Zoe Cochrane

Zoe Cochrane is a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Teaching (Secondary) student at Avondale University and works for Adventist Heritage.

They had it tough

I think on some level we can all relate to the strange mix of anticipation and nervousness that heralds the publishing of a timetable for a semester of study. While adding units to the timetable wizard at Avondale, one may find themselves muttering, “Please not another 8 am class.”

Whatever your feelings about early mornings or chilly late nights, most of us look forward to the blank parts of the timetable, for each one represents the illusive thing we seek and rarely find: discretionary time.

Our world is full of noise and distraction, and between work, classes, friendships, romances and family, it’s hard to find time to relax. But if you think your timetable is full, take a step back to the late 1800s and see what a typical day looked like for Avondale’s first students.

A day in the life of a student in the late 1800s
It’s 5 am, and whether you like it or not, it’s time to get up. Your 82 fellow students are waking, too, and the ladies go about putting on their many layers of skirts.

At 5.30 am, everyone is expected at morning worship. If you miss even one session without notice or reason, you can be expelled from campus.

After worship you have an hour of supervised study time in the chapel, then breakfast, then you must rush to your 8.30 am mandatory daily spelling class before the rest of your studies begin.

It’s now time for hours of class. What will you study? Astronomy, bookkeeping, botany, business, classic history, English, mathematics, physiology, teaching or scripture? By 1901, you’ll be in class Sunday through Thursday, with Friday set aside for manual labour until sunset.

After a 1.30 pm “dinner,” you can enjoy the lovely Australian sunshine during your three-hour work program. You have a choice of duties. Fancy beekeeping? The principal, Cassius Hughes, who is also the equivalent of a residential assistant, keeps “fine Italian bees.” You also have the option of bottling fruit, cataloguing library books, cooking, farming, milking cows, milling timber, picking fruit, printing in the press and selling books.

In your limited spare time there are few moments for romance. In fact, it’s highly discouraged, with the most popular phrase on campus being, “Courting is not to be carried on in the school.”

Even on walks, boys and girls are separated—notice the walks still bear the names “Girls’ Walk” and “Boys’ Walk.” When walking to and from worship, you are also chaperoned in separate lines.

After an optional supper, you attend the 6.30 pm worship session before completing silent personal devotions—supervised, of course.

Finally, after a hard day’s work, it’s 8.45 pm and time for bed. But banish those thoughts of late-night cramming; you won’t get electric lighting until 1908.

That’s a hectic schedule, isn’t it? From 5 am until 8.30 pm is 15 and a half hours of activity. At the time, this schedule was set to cultivate the mind and avoid providing time for students to be poorly influenced. While the reins have certainly loosened, the next time you see an 8 am lecture on your timetable, remember it’s not so bad, and spare a thought for the students of the past.