University of Maryland: Circumventing Curfew and Chemistry Woes in 1930s College Park

It’s been 85 years since Janet Weidemann Crampton ’37 graduated from the University of Maryland, but she still vividly remembers parts of her student days, from going out dancing and sneaking back into her residence hall after curfew to male classmates playing nasty pranks on her, the only woman in a science lab.

Crampton, who just celebrated her 106th birthday, attended UMD during the Great Depression, but many of her experiences sound typical for Terps today: She joined a sorority, cheered on the Terps at football games, and dated young men from College Park and the Naval Academy, enjoying movies, ice cream and dances.

“I never, ever went steady,” she said, choosing to keep her options open. It wasn’t until the end of college that she started dating her future husband, William Crampton ’37, with whom she would go on to have two sons.

Black and white photo of young Janet Crampton wearing a fur coat and hat
House rules for female Terps made it tricky to go out in the evenings, she recalled. Most nights, she had to be back by 9 p.m.—but she made a pact with two other Kappa Kappa Gamma sisters to keep a certain door unlocked, away from the prying eyes of their house mother, so they could get inside after curfew. The sorority members bunked together in the attic of the house, which sometimes got so cold in the winter she had to add her raccoon-fur coat to her blanket to keep warm.

In addition to football, Crampton attended plenty of boxing bouts—incredibly popular in the 1930s—and baseball games. She also served as the women’s editor at The Diamondback, where she wrote a gossip column about how “so and so was seen out with so and so” and drove to Hyattsville at 7 a.m. each Saturday to proofread pages.

It wasn’t all fun, though. In her chemistry lab, the men hooked up her Bunsen burner to water, causing it to spray and destroy her notes. They continued to sabotage her throughout the semester, causing her to earn a D in the class.

“I didn’t like to complain for fear that it would make it worse,” she said. “It was awful.”

That adversity couldn’t keep her from getting her degree. Her parents instilled in her, their only child, the importance of an education, and would never have accepted her simply getting married right out of high school, Crampton said. After graduation, she worked as a dietician at a cafeteria in a government building in Washington, D.C.

Janet Weidemann Crampton
Crampton put her career on hold after having children, later resuming employment at age 45 as a teacher. She didn’t retire until she was 96 years old, when macular degeneration made it impossible for her to guide 4- and 5-year-olds in learning how to read.

Today, she keeps her mind sharp through some of the same games she used to play with her students. Crampton regularly beats fellow residents at the Sunrise Senior Living center in Friendship Heights, Md., at Word Challenge, finding shorter words that can be made from the letters of a longer word. But despite regularly exercising her body and brain, she doesn’t take any credit for her longevity—“It’s God’s will,” she said.

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