Syracuse University Magazine

Doing the 'Davy Drill'


By Sonia Dalrymple Schork

I often recall my wonderful, difficult, near Stone Age SU years, 1951-56. We emerged onto that Victorian campus from New York City to Buffalo, from Canada to Pennsylvania, all full of uncertainty and excitement. Our lives lay before us. Fifteen girls and parents climbed three floors of Nottingham Cottage, a “firetrap,” my cop father noted. (He immediately showed me an escape route onto a roof.) These “dorms” had once been large, wood, family homes, clapboard, needing paint. We settled in, met roommates.

The first week was all about us—a whirlwind of small meetings and large (all of us in the Class of ’55) convocations, a new word to me. We got our Frosh lids, football passes, I.D.’s, etc. Various speakers greeted us, but one administrator I remember particularly. “Welcome, you lucky 7 percent. That’s right, only 7 percent of the Class of 1951 has gone on to a four-year college.” Then he paused. “And,” he continued emphatically, “only 2 percent of you will graduate, here or elsewhere. Half of you will drop out this year.” (Fear welled up inside of us, purely Dickensian.)

He was right, of course.

It took all we had to stay at Syracuse and keep afloat—nervousness over scholarships, living after being dumped, needing money, braving cold, snowy, sleety, rainy days—all while growing up, one slice of life at a time.

As if we were new Army recruits, we girls were (not carefully) fitted for god-awful, one-piece maroon gym suits, just past Victorian bloomers. We played field hockey, danced at 8 a.m. with football players in Co-ed Rhythms, and learned to be graceful (or so we hoped) in Chinese Ribbon Dancing. Later came tennis, skiing, and golf to make us socially ready.

The worst thing we had to do was the “Davy Drill”—escape from pending conflagrations (someone must have agreed with my father) using a cable contraption known as a “Davy.” We stood atop the catwalk in the Women’s (1890) Gym and an instructor slapped a firehose-like loop under our arms. We then stepped off, into stale air, and were lowered on a pulley to the blessed gym floor below. It scared the bejesus out of me!

But that wasn’t as bad as when we really had to “escape” from our dorms on a Davy. Of course, mine died on the eaves, three flights up, and left me panicked and swinging. I was in my awful gym suit and a nearby fraternity died of hysteria while issuing snide remarks my way. Eventually, a nice fireman hauled me into my room. Thankfully, we never had to use those contraptions again. But we were ready, in case.

Oh, there were romances, A’s, panty raids, rushing, beer parties (off campus, of course), dearest friendships, and pure survival. We were The Saltine Warriors (which I still love) and yelled for Jim Brown ’57 in Archbold Stadium in snow and autumn leaves. The chimes always brought forth tears. We learned our place in placard cheering. We attended chapel and sang. It was grand.

Little was like today—there were strict curfews, housemothers, and no electronics. Our “unofficial uniform” consisted of a gray flannel skirt, light blue cashmere sweater, Sylvia Putziger blazer, Spalding white wool socks (up), Spalding white bucks (slightly dirty) or navy blue Keds. (I’m 81 and I still wear navy Keds.) We worked hard on floats, posters, and snow sculptures—spirit training for PTA, church rummage sales, charity work in wifedom. We learned to pour tea along with our Shakespeare.

In four years, our professors hoped we had “learned to think,” and our parents hoped we would now “make something of ourselves.”

We did.

We went to graduation one hot day, June 1955, in Archbold, and then we stepped off into our futures, just like we did in our Davys. We had always followed the ethics, did what was expected of us, respected tradition. As I wrote in my Class of 1955, 50-year poem, “We were the last of a breed.”

Sonia Dalrymple Schork ’55, G’56 is a retired English teacher who lives in Sierra Vista, Arizona.


Sonia “Sunny” Dalrymple Schork and her husband, Don Schork (pictured above), celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in Hawaii, June 2010.

Fifties’ fashion: Sonia “at leisure” in rolled-up blue jeans and penny loafers (left), outside Nottingham Cottage, 1951.


Fifties’ fashion: ready for tennis in gym suit (bloomers under skirt), 1952.