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Some of the first journalism students at the University of Montana attended classes in tents.

The class of 1932 had a leather "class vest," complete with fringe and a "32" embroidered on the pocket.

For a while, UM students also had "yell books," little booklets printed with school songs and chants that allowed new students to sing along and participate in the fun. Naturally, one old booklet shows an enormous grizzly bear dangling a much smaller kitty cat by the tail.

"It was a way of building school spirit," said Hannah Soukup, archives and special collections technician at the UM Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library.

This year, the Mansfield Library hosts an exhibit that takes viewers through the flagship's 125-year history, from the adoption by the 1893 Montana Legislature of an act to establish a state university in Missoula to its first two graduates in 1898 through to the present day.

"That's a long time," Soukup said. "And it's so much fun to look back on it, at all the students, and see all the things (they and) faculty and staff were creating back then. That hasn't changed. We're still creating things. We're still creating stories."

A couple of cases with historical posters and images of UM's presidents will be on display through the remainder of the calendar year. Soukup said additional items may again be showcased around homecoming given their popularity last year.

One case celebrates departmental histories, including that of the Department of Mathematical Sciences. In a quote that's part of the display, Gloria Conyers Hewitt talks about her tenure as chair of the math department from 1995 to 1999. UM notes she increased the visibility of the department, raised more than $500,000 for it, and oversaw a renovation of the math building.

"They were saying that it was very unusual for a woman to be chair of a mathematics department of a major public institution," Hewitt said in a quote from her oral history. "I said, 'Is that right?' and they sat there and named them off. At major public institutions, that was really a rare thing."

Another case shows relics of student organizations on campus ranging from long-time to lesser-known groups and some that have gone by the wayside. In the middle of the 20th Century, UM had a synchronized swimming team named the Aquamaids, for instance. The exhibit also notes Lambda was founded at UM in 1975 and was Montana's first openly gay organization.

Kyiyo, the Native American Student Association, held its 50th annual powwow this year, and it's the oldest one run by students in the U.S., according to the display. The exhibit shows printed material for the second annual "Kyi-Yo Indian Youth Conference On Education" with a quote from Chief Plenty Coups of the Crow Nation.

"Education is your most powerful weapon. With education, you are the white man's equal; without education, you are his victim," Coups said.

For its 100th anniversary, UM celebrated with a birthday cake, and someone created a replica of Main Hall out of sugar that served as the cake topper. That topper still exists, and it's one of the many treasures in the archives, a particularly sweet one.

"I wouldn't eat it now because it's 25 years old, but it is made of sugar," Soukup said.

It's among the special items that may make a reappearance in the exhibit this fall, as is a top hat signed by the classes of 1910 through 1919 and a poster printed by the Class of '24. In bold lettering, the poster offers a severe warning about some of the younger cohorts at UM.

"Know Ye the Sophomores By Their Odoriferous Permeation." 

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.