Signs of the Times

Watercolor Vintage pocket watch

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

If you’ve walked the old stone steps of Old West or belted out “Noble Dickinsonia,” you know about Dickinson’s timeless traditions. You also know that campus life changes over time. So how do our newest grads compare with their elders, in big and small ways? We scoured headlines, yearbooks, magazines, Pew Research studies and other sources to mine a few touchstones for the classes of 1917, 1967 and 2017.

Watercolor camera painting

Acclaimed movies

1913-17: The Tramp, In the Land of the Head Hunters, Les Vampires, Intolerance, The Birth of a Nation (highest-grossing movie to date in 1915)

1963-67: My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, A Man for All Seasons, In the Heat of the Night

2013-17: Argo, 12 Years a Slave, Birdman, Spotlight (star Mark Ruffalo visited campus twice)

Watercolor painting ipod

Popular Songs

1913-17: “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” “It’s a Long, Long Way to Tipperary”

1963-67: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “My Girl,” “San Francisco”

2013-17: “Stay With Me,” “Lemonade,” “Harlem Shake” (first viral song to hit Billboard No. 1)

Watercolor clock image

History and Culture

Class of 1917: In childhood, many heard family Civil War stories; the FBI, NAACP and World Series were formed; Jim Thorpe won Olympic golds; Arizona became a state and child labor was legal. Children lived at home until marriage. Formative events: Industrial Revolution, women’s suffrage, psychoanalysis, Titanic disaster. As adults, they saw women vote, watched hemlines rise and listened to “War of the Worlds.” Some lived to see two world wars. In 1913-17:

  • U.S. cities adopted speeding laws and installed traffic lights, thanks to “lead foots.”
  • Mother’s Day became an American tradition.
  • Einstein published his most famous theory.
  • Panama Canal finished.
  • Puerto Rican residents became U.S. citizens. Sixteenth Amendment ratified. Federal Reserve Act signed. Asiatic Barred Zone Act restricted immigration.
  • Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion.
  • WWI began. Russian Revolution began. U.S. entered WWI, sending some 1917 grads to the battlefield and changing worldviews, global order.
  • Federal segregation put in effect for workplaces, lunchrooms and restrooms.
  • Alexander Graham Bell placed the first transcontinental call.
  • Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” caused a stir.
  • Above-ankle skirts and “duster” jackets allowed more ease getting in and out of the car.
  • 1915 price of gas: 15 cents/gallon.
  • Postage stamp: two cents.

1963-67: Born in the wake of Hiroshima, they had “duck and cover” drills in school. They were infants when Dr. Spock popularized “common sense” parenting. The TV market grew; kids watched Howdy Doody. In high school, “the pill” became available and the first black student enrolled at Ole Miss. When they began college, Kennedy was in office and the first lady set the fashion; by graduation, the president had been assassinated, America was at war and the counterculture movement was afoot. They graduated into the “Summer of Love.” One year later, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; two years out, a man walked on the moon. In 1963-67:

  • Freedom Summer, Selma to Montgomery march, Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show.
  • Muhammad Ali became world heavyweight champ.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered “I Have a Dream” speech.
  • The first Super Bowl. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10, and more than 51 million TV viewers tuned in.
  • Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” was an anthem of racial pride, women’s rights.
  • A Time magazine cover story asked, “Is God dead?”
  • Malcolm X assassinated.
  • Andy Warhol created art at his original Factory location.
  • American combat troops entered Vietnam.
  • NASA’s Mariner 4 approached Mars, became the first spacecraft to take images of a planet from deep space.
  • Rolling Stone published its first issue.
  • 1967 price of gas: 33 cents/gallon.
  • Postage stamp: five cents.

Class of 2017: Many used computers in grade school and iPhones as teens. The 9/11 attacks occurred when most were age 6; this may have contributed to a protective parenting style. Some had metal detectors in school. They’ve never known a world without terrorism, frappuccinos or a Disney movie starring an interracial couple. They’re more educated and less religious than their predecessors, less likely to drive, more likely to identify as politically independent and gender-fluid. They get along with their parents. Formative events: the Great Recession, advent of social media, cyberbullying laws, election of Barack Obama as first U.S. president of color. In 2013-17:

  • Scientists at Cornell University grew a living ear using a 3-D printer and cell cultures.
  • Bathrooms became politicized; Title IX protections applied to transgender students.
  • Chicago Cubs captured the World Series for the first time since 1908.
  • Zika and Ebola outbreaks. Flint water crisis.
  • Gay marriage ruled legal nationwide.
  • Black Lives Matter movement.
  • American Pharoah became the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown.
  • First female U.S. presidential candidate nominated by a major political party.
  • American Idol, the No. 1 TV show for eight straight seasons, ended its 15-year run.
  • Photography, video, internet on the go. Online ordering, drone delivery. Pokémon Go.
  • Donald Trump elected president. “Fake news” in national conversation.
  • 2016 avg. price of regular gas: $2.14/gallon.
  • Postage stamp: 47 cents.


Buzzed-about books

1913-17: The Metamorphosis, O Pioneers, Sons and Lovers, Psychology of the Unconscious, Foundations of the General Theory of Relativity

1963-67: The Autobiography of Malcolm X, In Cold Blood, The Feminine Mystique, Human Sexual Response, The Psychedelic Experience, The Virtue of Selfishness, The Warren Report, Why We Can’t Wait

2013-17: The Goldfinch, Go Set a Watchman, On Immunity, The Sixth Extinction, The Hunger Games series, The Gene: An Intimate History


Science and technology

1913-17: Model Ts shared the road with trollies and horses (many Americans walked). Washing machines made housework easier. Silent movies used new blue-screen technology. Penicillin, flu shot and other life-saving vaccines not yet available. Electrocardiograph invented.

1963-67: Students called home long-distance, wrote letters. Computers were room-sized. Mumps vaccine, soft contacts invented; first human heart transplant. Color TVs in most homes. Portable LP players, transistors, car eight-tracks took music on the go. Typewriters were essential.

2013-17: Students grew up with computers, widespread internet access, Google, 24/7 shopping, microwaves and cellphones. They think “shopping” when they hear “Amazon.” Most would rather text/type than call/hand-write. Many can’t read or write cursive. Inventions: VR 360, Facebook Live, hoverboards, smart tech, wearables, genome editing, health apps and more sophisticated robotics.


Fashionable food

1913-17: Supermarkets introduced. Families ate home-cooked food. Food marketed as “sanitary,” “pure” and “untouched by human hands.” Lard was a staple. Hamburger bun invented. Coca-Cola introduced its iconic bottle.

1963-67: Julia Child brought French flair to American TVs and stovetops. Packaged/frozen food and fast foods boomed. “Health foods” emerged. Party food included onion-soup dip and grape-jelly meatballs. Themed dinners were in. The California wine industry picked up pace.

2013-17: Hand-crafted/small-batch/artisan and local/sustainable, organic fare. Food Network. Online ordering. Avo toast, cronuts, acai, bacon and cold brews were popular. Burger King aspired to new markets with “Satisfries.” Photos of idealized meals posted on social media.



Named generations: All born within a few years of a generational switch.

1917: Antebellum/Lost Generation.

1967: Silent/Boomers.

2017: Millennials/Generation Z.

Bridging physical distances: 1917 grads minimized distance with the new automobile, airplane and cross-country phone line. 1967 grads drove on highways and saw Americans travel to the moon. 2017 grads live in a world of internet-based conversation and telecommuting.


Dickinson Moments and Milestones


  • James Henry Morgan, class of 1878, inaugurated as president.
  • First African-American woman student, Esther Popel Shaw, enrolled.
  • Celebrations included Nisbet Day, May Day Festival, Week of Prayer.
  • Some Dickinson professors gave occasional lectures at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School.
  • Yearbook nicknames included “Lardy” and “Shorty.”
  • 1914-15 basketball team was undefeated.
  • Students requested and received a drillmaster on campus to help them prepare for war.


  • Bologna, Italy, study abroad program launched.
  • Approximately 1,000 students treated during 1967 outbreak of viral respiratory infection.
  • New buildings: HUB, Dana Hall and 12 residence halls opened.
  • Students marched from High Street to Old West
  • to protest residence-hall designs.
  • Students ate in Dining Hall (previously in dorms). Dinner dress code enforced.
  • Eight students entered NBC’s General Electric College Bowl and won, earning a silver bowl, $10,500 in scholarships.


  • Food studies and social entrepreneurship certificate programs and the Innovation Competition launched.
  • Nancy Roseman inaugurated as Dickinson’s first female president and served three years; Provost and Dean Neil Weissman filled in as interim president (2016-17); Margee Ensign inaugurated as 29th president.
  • Coffee sold in the library, Dining Hall, Quarry and Union Station and via The Peddler.
  • College purchased 3-D printer.
  • Dickinsonians volunteered tens of thousands of hours annually.
  • 2013-14 men’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight.
  • College awarded four prizes for environmental activism.
  • Five buildings earned LEED gold certification; ground broken on a new residence hall.
  • Sixteenth Dickinson-run study abroad program launched in South America.



1917: Stuffed shirt, spiffy, cushy/cinch/snap, in the flap (worried), simp (fool), dope (gossip or something enjoyable), on the make/giving the eye, crabbing (complaining), scabbing (studying late), pipe (easy class), peach/dish (attractive woman), brick (attractive man).

1967: Flake, flip/freak/cop out, hippie, downer/bummer, blown away, with it, groovy, heavy, bag. Far out, freaky, out of sight! Let it all hang out. Don’t be so negative. Peace.

2017: Unicorn, triggered, bae, probs, trill, FOMO, sweet, woke, can’t even, extra done, FR, low-key, high-key, selfie, fam, creeper, dad jokes/jeans, RT.

What else stands out for you? What do you think the class of 2067 will experience? Email with your thoughts!

Read more from the fall 2017 issue of Dickinson Magazine.


Published October 24, 2017