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From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:


Commons was for many years the provider of food for boarding students. Early students took their meals in an unadorned room in the College Edifice under the watchful eye of the steward. The menu, as prescribed by the Laws of 1783, provided a main meal which varied to include during each week two meals of salt beef or pork, two meals of fresh meat, one meal of soup and fragments, one meal of boiled meat, and one meal of fish, accompanied by “good small Beer or Cyder.” Breakfast consisted of tea or coffee with buttered bread, or chocolate or milk with unbuttered bread. Supper could be the same as breakfast, or might be milk with hasty pudding, rice, or samp. The rules decreed that the steward should dine with the students, acting as “the head of a family at his Table,” and that the students “shall sit together in alphabetical order, and while there, shall behave decently, making no unnecessary noise or disturbance, by either abusing the Table Furniture, or ungenerously complaining of the Provisions.” That this ideal behavior did not prevail is evident from a letter written by George W. Keely 1824 to his father in June 1820:

“A fellow then comes up with a kind of sheep-bell and just rattles it at the top of each story; in a moment we all issue out and drive down stairs, enough to break our necks, into the dining room, where there are placed 6 tables as large as the long boards we used to dine on at Ridgmount. These are covered with hot rolls, butter, very good Coffee & tea & plenty of milk and sugar; after that Tutor has asked a blessing we set on like bears issuing out of their dens after 3 months of starvation. As not a word is spoke every thing is called for by a thump of the knife on the board; and as each one wants every necessary immediately, for the first few moments the noise is sufficient to distract; this one thumps for sugar, that for milk; the one for Coffee and the other for tea with horrid jar of discord presently all is still save the clattering of plates & the Clack of our milk and it is quite amusing to see the immense piles of bread that are demolished in a very few minutes.”
In 1832 arrangements were made for two tables in order to accommodate the poorer students, who dined for one dollar per week, while the weekly cost of the more expensive meals ranged from $1.50 to $1.61. Commons was abolished in 1850. James B. Angell 1849 described its latter days:
“Most of us took our meals in Commons Hall, the room ... on the first floor in the middle of the east side of University Hall. Each class had its own table. If the fare was not very sumptuous, it was not costly, and the conversation was lively. Occasionally it became so boisterous as to stir the amiable steward, Mr. Elliott, known familiarly to us as “Pluto,” to bring down his big bread-knife with a loud resounding whack on his table, and to shout with his husky voice, “Order, order.” I cannot say that the usages in Commons Hall were conducive to elegant manners. But the plain meals were spiced with the flavor of excellent companionship.”

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.

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