Annie Gertrude Gilliam: Reflections of a Student’s Life in the 1920s

Gertrude Gilliam at the Florida State College for Women campus.

Annie Gertrude Gilliam was a Florida State College for Women student, Class of 1929.  She earned her BS in education, was a member of the Young Women’s Christian Association, and a sister in Phi Mu sorority.  Heritage Protocol recently acquired her scrapbook, which documents her time as a student at FSCW, from her freshman year in 1925 through to her graduation four years later.  Gertrude, as she was known to her friends, annotated the scrapbook with her day to day thoughts and opinions, capturing both her fun-loving personality and her experiences at FSCW.

As a student, Gertrude and her friends frequently hiked in and around Tallahassee.  Those “little strolls” sometimes took her and her friends as far as nine miles!  While traversing the area, they often enjoyed chewing gum, which was strictly forbidden by the FSCW administration.  She claimed to have no idea how the gum fell into her hands.

Gertrude, always fashionable, on one of her “little strolls.”

Gertrude loved entertainment and frequently caught the latest and most popular plays, movies, and musical performances.  Her tongue-in-cheek wit was occasionally revealed in her reviews, such as after one disappointing comedy performance when she proclaimed that “no one was responsible for laughing.”  While it was customary for FSCW students to be accompanied by a chaperone when leaving campus, she and her friends sometimes attended shows without one.

Gertrude’s close friend and sophomore roommate, Dorothy Brown, had her own car that she brought to school, which was affectionately known as “the pet.”  Dorothy would take Gertrude and their other friends out on “Sunday drives,” in and around town.  The notion of the car breaking down and leaving them stranded was of some concern to Gertrude, but she never let those fears hinder their mini adventures.

Gertrude and “the gang” traveled in style thanks to Vogue, the Tallahassee shop where a girl went when she was in the mood for a new dress or shoes.  Gertrude, a fashion enthusiast, praised Vogue’s payment plan for its shoppers.  Her desirable wardrobe sometimes led to issues with roommates.  On one occasion, her friend left her a note explaining that she had borrowed her brown and red dress.  If Gertrude was upset that she had taken it and wanted it back, the note continued, her friend would be at the dentist.

Gertrude Gilliam (center) and the “Gang” getting ready for one of their Sunday drives.

Gertrude sometimes struggled with her classes and, during her freshman year, failed biology.  She always seemed to be called upon in class to provide some “unheard of date.”  Despite these setbacks, she strove for excellence and worked toward improvement in all aspects of her education.  Her college experience included organized extracurricular activities, such as YWCA and Phi Mu sorority.  She attended campus parties, where her classmates and she would dance the Charleston and eat Baby Ruth candy bars.

Annie Gertrude Gilliam’s scrapbook helps us to understand that while so much has changed since then, many similarities remain between students at Florida State University today and students 80 years ago at the Florida State College for Women.  Although the times appear so much different, Gertrude faced many of the same issues that modern day students do, such as adherence to rules and regulations and roommate problems.  As today, Gertrude pushed the edge of the envelope with the latest trends and established lifelong friendships.

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