Posts Tagged ‘Mills College history’

Illustration by Kathryn Uhl in Fifth Chinese Daughter.

With great anticipation of a new day dawning, she dressed with care the next morning in what she thought the smart career girl should wear: her new gray tweed suit, a gift from Older Brother, a freshly pressed white shirt, shiny alligator shoes and brown bag, all of them graduation presents. She even wore precious nylons and spotless white gloves.

Jade Snow Wong (1922-2006), American ceramicist.

This quote is from Ms. Wong’s first memoir published in 1945, Fifth Chinese Daughter (Harper & Brothers). She made the unusual choice to write in the third person. In the quote, Ms. Wong is talking about her first day working for the US Government as a “typist-clerk” at the shipyard in Marin County. WWII was raging and there was a great need for all kinds of workers. (This was her first job after college.)

Ms. Wong grew up in San Francisco Chinatown, where her parents owned a jeans factory. She got her AA from City College of San Francisco and attended Mills College, from which she graduated in 1942. She had studied economics, but while there she took an art class and discovered a love of ceramics. After graduation, she was invited to stay on campus for the summer and take a ceramics class from Carlton Ball, who was an accomplished potter and taught at Mills from 1939 to 1950.

After she left her government job, Wong split her time between writing her memoir and pottery, which she initially made and sold in the window of a small Chinatown shop. She would go on to be become a renowned ceramicist exhibiting her work in museums around the country.

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Students at Mills Seminary and that’s Mills Hall in the background. C. 1870s.

No uniform is required, but it is especially desired that the outfit be plain, and so complete as to avoid necessity for frequent purchase during term time. All are expected to look carefully and properly after their own wardrobes, and to keep an accurate account of their expenditures. Every article of clothing should be distinctly marked with the whole name. All should come provided with thick boots, and with flannels for use in Winter.

Mills Seminary, Circa 1872.

I was doing some research in the Mills College archives for an article and I came across this little fashion tidbit.

I am reminded of the private school I went to in 7th and 8th grades, Bentley. We didn’t have a uniform but we did have a strict dress code. No jeans, no shorts, no t-shirts, and no pants on girls. We didn’t have to dress in “plain” clothing and I didn’t. I loved patterns and color and I really enjoyed putting my outfits together, of course! It was then that I started wearing pantyhose (they didn’t seem as uncomfortable as they are now) and I bought my first pair of heels – a mere two inches and they were chunky. (I graduated to stilettos in high school.)

Back to the quote – one might wonder, why thick boots? Well, doing my research I learned that Susan and Cyrus Mills, the couple that ran the seminary at the time, were very keen on physical exercise. The young women were encouraged to take advantage of the vast open landscape of the campus and go on daily walks. Boots were a necessity. Flannels were soft wool undergarments worn for warmth.

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