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Jackson in the Jazz Age

The well-documented college days of Muriel Simonson

Nothing like the Hollywood sign has ever been erected on the Hill, but if it had been, it would have been in honor of Muriel Simonson. At least that’s what visitors to the Tisch Library are likely to conclude after seeing the new exhibit Archival Traces: Muriel Simonson at Jackson College, 1924–1929. Shown here in her official freshman photo—she’s in the middle —Muriel, known to her friends as “Mac,” was a gifted athlete and scholar, but her real love was drama. She was the first undergraduate theater director and producer, male or female, at Tufts. And she performed, garnering raves. One of her biggest fans was her classmate John A. Holmes, a poet and future Tufts professor who wrote reviews for the Tufts Weekly. As Queen Elizabeth, she “gave herself to the part” with “her whole being,” Holmes wrote. She “swept the audience into the feelings that were breaking her own heart.”

In the exhibit, Muriel’s memorabilia—donated to Tufts by her son—open a window onto women’s lives at Tufts during the Roaring Twenties. For example, we learn of the hazing rituals, in which the frosh, dressed as babies, were led blindfolded through a gauntlet of discomforts such as paddling and drenching. And there’s one particularly juicy exclusive. That guy John Holmes? He and Muriel were an item. They were engaged in the spring of 1929, and he gave her a binder filled with poetry he composed for her. After they broke up in 1930, she quietly tucked the poems away. But now, in the Tisch exhibit, on the hundredth anniversary of her birth, a select few of them are on display for the first time.

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