"Well, it could be worse."

Last week thousands of University students returned to Grounds for the start of the spring semester. The first two weeks are always exciting: new classes, new schedule and new ways to try to explain to your friends at other schools why ISIS is the most hated four-letter word in the city of Charlottesville.

Maybe you've resorted to figures of speech to try explaining your frustration. I find similes especially instructive. Logging into ISIS is like:

Getting into a prize fight with your computer and losing.

Running into a brick wall six or seven (or 79) times. Head first.

Reading a "Choose your own Adventure" book. Except, instead of finishing the story, every time you turn the page you just get punched in the face.

That last one admittedly makes no sense. But it does sound really frustrating.

Indeed, in the midst of a particularly severe fit of ISIS-related annoyance, you may have asked yourself: Have U.Va. students ever dealt with anything quite this aggravating?

I'm glad you asked. Just remember: it could be worse. You could have gone to U.Va. in 1825.

Susan Hitchcock, author of "The University of Virginia: A Pictoral History," recounts what daily life was like for U.Va. students in the 19th century. Think ISIS is a pain? Consider the following:

The Rotunda bell was rung before sun-up every morning, and if you didn't wake up quickly enough a janitor would be dispatched to your Lawn room to give you a personal wake-up call. Breakfast was held in the hotels behind East and West Range -- by candlelight -- before class began at 7:30.

Of course, having class at 7:30 every day might not be so bad if you got to sleep in on the weekend. Except you'd be up on Saturday morning, too -- participating in mandatory military exercises on the Lawn, including "field evolutions, maneuvers, and encampments."

You wouldn't have to worry about extensive course requirements. In fact, there was only one mandatory class: Latin.

Need a book from the library? No problem. First, get a written note from a professor, because students don't even have access to the library without faculty approval. Make sure you buy a ticket because admission into the library is by ticket only. Most importantly, don't forget to get your ticket early. Only 20 students are allowed into the library per day.

You'd probably want to get your studying done early, since reading in your Lawn room might be difficult. There's a chance you'd have a roommate, since several of the Lawn rooms were double occupancy even as late as the 20th century. And given that your only heat comes from burning expensive firewood, and your only light from candles and gas lamps, trying to get any reading done late at night might be more trouble than it's worth.

U.Va. students clearly hoped that modernization at the University would mean the disappearance of some of these more arcane academic traditions. An 1888 edition of "University Magazine," celebrating the recent installation of electric lights on Grounds, hoped that future innovations would include the end of early morning lectures so that "the weary student [could] finish his morning naps in peace and comfort."

You have to wonder how "University Magazine" would feel about 8:30 a.m. discussion sections.

Finally, as a student in 1825, you're probably wondering what there was to do in Charlottesville for fun on a Friday night. You might be able to sneak into one of the hotels along East or West Range, where private merchants were known to host students for drinking and gambling. You'd have to be careful, though -- faculty had very strict rules about "rowdiness" and "festive entertainment."

In fact, according to the winter 2000 edition of "U.Va. Alumni News," by 1831 the faculty had decided that the best way to promote discipline was to introduce a mandatory school uniform: pantaloons, a vest and a gray waistcoat.

Please. No catcalls.

So there it is. In the midst of our latest University-wide paroxysm of ISIS-induced rage, it's helpful to keep in mind that inconvenience is always a matter of perspective.

Just remember: next time you try to log in to ISIS for the 900th time, and are ready to throw your computer out of your third-floor dorm window, imagine attending the University 150 years ago.

I'll take a few thousand mouse clicks over pantaloons and pre-dawn wake-up calls any day.

Daniel Young is a former University Guide Service historian. His column runs bi-weekly on Wednesdays. He can be reached at danyoung@cavalierdaily.com.

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