Could you imagine being on campus today and not having a place to go for lunch or even more shocking – not being a short walk from a Starbucks? From burgers to burritos to caramel Frappuccinos, there are plenty of options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a quick coffee break on or near UC’s West (Main) campus. With all of us so used to so many food options, we were stumped when the University’s Architect’s office asked us “Where was the university’s first dining hall and when did it open?”
We do not always have the answers in our heads, but we can always come up places to start looking. The Cincinnatian (UC’s yearbook) is a great place to start especially for questions that have anything to do with UC’s students. What makes this resource even better is that UC’s yearbooks have been digitized and are freely available online through the Libraries’ website: http://digitalprojects.libraries.uc.edu/cincinnatian/ Lucky for us, the 1914 Cincinnatian provided the clue that we needed. An announcement in this yearbook stated, “Varsity’s New Lunch-Room, opened February 9th 1914.” The article also included a menu with interesting options like pineapple and lettuce salad with egg dressing and cold ham and a pickle. The most expensive item on the menu was only 12 cents.
Although the yearbook announcement included a “floorplan,” there was no clear indication of where the “lunch-room” was located. With a preliminary date in hand, the next place to search was the Board of Trustees minutes. The Board of Trustees minutes are indexed, so we commonly suggest researchers start there. Looking through Board of Trustees minutes from the 1910s there were many blurbs about the “lunch-room.” Discussions mainly involved financial matters, but the February 19, 1914 meeting minutes include a report from the Department of Home Economics and Domestic Arts which establishes that the lunch-room was run by members of that department.
For even more detail, I examined the university annual report for 1914. The annual reports are also a great place to look for information on events that concerned the entire campus. The annual report from 1914, provides some further information on the administration of the lunch-room and states that the University Lunch-room was “operated under the direction of the Board of Trustees on a plan that makes it self-supporting” in conjunction with the School of Household Arts and it served a laboratory for students in the school. Even though everything else, seems to refer to this area as a place to eat a mid-day meal, the annual report explains that the “lunch-room” was actually open for the entire day from 7:30 am until 7:00 pm and served breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During its first year it was serving up to 800 meals per day.
The lunch-room was enthusiastically supported by the students as a worthy endeavor. The annual report states that it was a place where club and committee meetings were held for both students and faculty. The student newspaper at the time, the University News, also reported on the opening of the new lunch room on February 12, 1914 in an article entitled, “Lunch Hour Now Enjoyable.” The author writes, “For years we have dreamed of it, we have pictured it in meditation over our beanless soup or with fork poised over meatless stew. Now it is a reality, an actuality, a practicality….The very atmosphere makes you hungry.” The article also expresses the student excitement at the possibilities of mingling with fellow students in the lunch-room. “We look forward to luncheon from eight-thirty on.”
We have yet to figure out the exact location of the lunch-room, but University Archivist, Kevin Grace, states that the most likely place would have been McMicken Hall. This would have been the center of campus at the time and the most practical place for students to gather for some brussel sprouts and chestnut sauce or maybe just a cup of coffee.
If you have a question about University history, come see us in the Archives and Rare Books Library, we are located on the 8th floor of Blegen Library and are open Monday through Friday from 8:00am-5:00pm. Stop by our your way to lunch or give us a call at 513-556-1959 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.