Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

Non-Conformist in Classroom

Dec 1939: To disprove the contention of philosophy professor Albert Shepard that "everyone is a conformist," NYU student Rhoda Shafter showed up to his class in a bathing suit.

I like the bewildered look on the face of Prof. Shepard, lurking in the background of the photo below.

New York Daily News - Dec 21, 1939

Rhoda died in 2012. Read her obituary here.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Dec 18, 2021 - Comments (2)
Category: 1930s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

The Tax Centinels

April 1938: Students at Renselaer Polytechnic Institute managed to acquire almost all the pennies in the town of Troy, New York — around 250,000 pennies in total. They did this by first going around store-to-store claiming they needed pennies for a "penny-ante poker game." Then they went to the banks and purchased their entire supply of pennies. Since each bank was unaware that the same thing was occurring at all the other banks, they happily sold the students all the pennies they had.

As a result, the town of Troy suddenly discovered that it was in the grip of a "penny famine." Shopkeepers found themselves unable to make change. And more significantly, they found it difficult to charge the state sales tax.

This had been the point of the stunt. It had been organized by a group of students calling themselves the "Tax Centinels" in order to "focus public attention on the taxes which they claim account for 25 per cent of the cost of all necessities of life."

Having cornered all the pennies, the students went into the town the next day and began making purchases, using pennies to pay for one-quarter of whatever the cost of the item was. It was a bit like the time-honored stunt of paying fines with pennies.

Philadelphia Inquirer - Apr 6, 1938

The movement quickly spread to other colleges, so that other college towns were soon beset by penny famines. New members of the Tax Centinels were required to take the following pledge:

To help fight the growth of taxes which now consume 25 cents out of every dollar spent by the average person, I hereby endorse the policies of this non-partisan, non-political organization knwon as the Tax CENTinels.

It shall be the purpose of this organization to focus public attention on the evils of the practice of keeping concealed taxes and to awaken in the public consciousness a realization that 70 per cent of all taxes now collected by more than 175,000 separate taxing bodies in the United States are obtained through secret levies tacked on to the price of necessities we all must buy daily—food, clothing, shelter, luxuries, and semi-luxuries.

Since the average man does not realize the inroads made upon his purse by these vicious hidden taxes and that he himself pays the major costs of the government instead of the Rockefellers, Morgans and du Ponts, I hereby pledge myself to pay 25% of the price of all purchases in pennies in order to dramatize the situation to the end that it may be remedied.

Wisconsin State Journal - Apr 11, 1938

As far as I can tell, the Tax Centinel movement lasted a month or two before fizzling out. But it seems to have been symptomatic of a widespread popular discontent at the time over the sales tax. See, for instance, our earlier post about the guy who in 1939 took a case all the way to the supreme court over his indigation at having been, in his mind, unfairly charged one-half cent of sales tax.

More info: "Tax Centinels," Star and Lamp (Pi Kappa Phi newsletter) - May 3, 1938. Page 4.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Sep 30, 2021 - Comments (3)
Category: Money, 1930s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia, Pranks

The Piano-Smashing Fad

The fad of piano smashing reportedly began in 1963 at a technical school in Derby, England, but it quickly spread to American campuses via Caltech, where a "Piano Reduction Study Group" was formed.

The goal of piano smashing was "to reduce the piano, in the shortest possible time, to such a state that it may be passed through an aperture of 20 cm. in diameter." This was to be done by a maximum of six people using tools no heavier than 15.4 pounds each.

A record-setting time was achieved by students at Wayne State University who smashed a piano and passed it through a hole in 4 min 51 sec.

I wonder if this college fad was the inspiration for the Destructivist Art Movement, which emerged three years later, and also involved smashing pianos.

Source of images: Life - Mar 8, 1963

Posted By: Alex - Wed Sep 29, 2021 - Comments (4)
Category: Fads, 1960s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

Cigarettes & Knickers:  Forbidden

Source: Parsons Daily Republican (Parsons, Kansas) 12 Nov 1922, Sun Page 4

Posted By: Paul - Tue Mar 30, 2021 - Comments (4)
Category: Misbehavior, Rebellion, Acting-out and General Naughtiness, Bohemians, Beatniks, Hippies and Slackers, 1920s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

The screaming baby in the classroom prank

I don't think this would go over well nowadays. From the Iowa City Press-Citizen - May 12, 1975:

As a pediatrician [Dr. Charles Johnson of the Iowa Medical School faculty] gives a lecture on child development. It’s scheduled for 1 p.m. The students are sleepy, not only because the subject doesn’t send them but because they’ve just finished lunch.

To liven them up Johnson does this:

“I start the lecture by playing a stereo recording from Sesame Street, which awakens about a third of the audience. I briefly outline the two-hour lecture and then, on cue, in comes the first patient... a newborn in a wheeled isolette pushed by a nurse.

“For the pediatrician,” I announce, “this is where it all begins.”

The baby then starts to scream. As it gets louder and louder Johnson becomes more and more annoyed.

At first he rocks the isolette gently, then with more vigor. Finally, in a fit of anger he flings open the glass top, seizes the infant, and throws it out into the audience.


“When the hysteria dies down I state: ‘Infants are helpless parasites. They can be and are battered.’

“Most of my other pearls are soon forgotten, but rarely does the student forget the ‘helpless parasite’ flying into the audience. All that’s needed is a straight-faced nurse, a good tape recording of an infant yelling — and a life-size doll.

Posted By: Alex - Sat Mar 07, 2020 - Comments (4)
Category: Babies, 1970s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia, Pranks

Silence Class

I wonder if it was possible to fail silence class. Perhaps by asking too many questions.

(left) Latrobe Bulletin - Feb 19, 1968; (right) Tampa Tribune - Feb 18, 1968

Posted By: Alex - Fri Aug 03, 2018 - Comments (5)
Category: 1960s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

Anti-Puberty Pill

In 1969, British health officer Dr. J.V. Walker proposed the development of a pill "to give young people to delay the onset of sexual maturity until they leave college and could earn their own living." Walker felt certain "it should not be difficult to develop a hormone preparation for the job."

Such a pill would certainly change the college experience for most people.

Akron Beacon Journal - June 1, 1969

A bit of research revealed that this J.V. Walker was Joseph V. Walker, health officer of Darlington. I couldn't find a fuller description of his anti-puberty pill, but I did come across a letter he sent to the Health Education Journal (March 1, 1970) in which he worried that young women would develop into "promiscuous addicts" if they didn't preserve their virginity until marriage. I suppose his pill would help with that goal as well.

Posted By: Alex - Tue Mar 13, 2018 - Comments (10)
Category: Health, 1960s, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

Policy by slime mold

Artist Jonathon Keats has checked in with news about his latest project. He's helped arrange for some plasmodial slime molds to become the "first non-human scholars-in-residence" at Hampshire College. The slime molds are being put to work analyzing various complex issues, such as immigration and drug policy, so that we can all benefit from "the unbiased insights of slime molds."

The slime molds have already recommended that cannabis should be legalized:

Slime molds were charged with investigating how availability of soft drugs such as marijuana might impact dependency on hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin: to determine whether cannabis is a gateway to dangerous chemical addiction or a gateway from addiction to well-being. Confronted with a binary choice between a highly-addictive chemical and a nutritionally-balanced meal, slime mold populations consistently choose the former, with consequences that can be fatal. However when presented with a chemical gradient between the addictive substance and nutrients – equivalent to availability of gateway drugs in a human environment – P. polycephalum has shown a tendency to migrate away from the hard stuff but not the opposite. Although the results are still preliminary, they were so remarkable that consortium secretary Jonathon Keats communicated them directly to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sending a letter stating the slime molds' position that "cannabis and its chemical derivatives should be legalized by the United States government."

More info: The Plasmodium Consortium,

Posted By: Alex - Wed Mar 07, 2018 - Comments (4)
Category: Art, Universities, Colleges, Private Schools and Academia

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Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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