Back to the Orchard

October 7, 2005

The early 1940s. Exact date and time unknown.

Apple Day, one of Mary Baldwin’s most revered traditions, is about to begin. The college, back when it was a seminary, had started a tradition called Rat Day. Sophomores ordered freshmen around for the day and made them do their bidding, both serious and silly. But the gravity of the world in the early 1940s demanded a little more decorum, and Rat Day evolved into an off-campus picnic hosted by the sophomores honoring the freshmen class. When the wartime shortages of 1942 forced the picnic closer to home, the college orchard is chosen as the location. Students walk the two miles there, pick over 1,000 bushes of apples, and walk home again. Apple Day.

9 a.m. Wednesday, October 5, 2005, Apple Day.A light morning rain does not prevent Mary Baldwin students, three busloads of them, from descending on Sky 1 parking lot. The students mingle and wait, anticipation evident, as the buses pull in ready to carry them to their destination. They are going to the orchard. There are apples to pick, and they haven’t been picked for 30 years.
Students pose for a photo
Then and Now

Mopsy Pool Page ’48: It was secret, only the sophomore class knew. There was a big sheet of paper put under each dorm room door early in the morning before everyone got up, and you woke up and saw that and it was Apple Day.

In the year 2005, Apple Day is no secret. The sophomore class plans the event and the schedule of the day’s activities circulates. Times are set for Apple Day Brunch ? the carnival ? the class versus class tug of war competition. The long-standing tradition of no classes on Apple Day pleases everyone, student and professor alike. It’s a day for celebrations, and everyone knows about it. Many even prepare, donning red and green apparel for the day.

Jane Proffit Pruett ’46: I don’t really remember how I found out. I expect there was screaming and hollering. We never knew when it was coming. We just got up one morning and we had no classes. My favorite part? We didn’t have class ? and it usually fell on my birthday!

Students find inventive ways to reach the applesThis year’s celebration was special. The trip to the orchard returned — a tradition that began in the early 1940s, but has had a 30-year hiatus. It was President Pamela Fox’s idea to bring back the orchard trip, but only if the students were interested. The interest, it turned out, was there for many — including students Joy Nesmith, Arielle Acosta, and Amber Byas. RCW students and Sister nULLS in the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, they boarded the bus and sat near each other, all with similar and unique reasons for rising early on a day with no classes. Acosta ‘09 had never been apple picking and thought it neat to have such a new experience. Nesmith, a spirited sophomore prone to cheer “Apple Day!” at random, loved Apple Day last year and was inspired by the decision to donate the apples to the hungry. Byas ‘09 summed up what many were feeling. “One thing I like about this school is that it keeps traditions going. It’s not just Apple Day, it’s all the traditions. This campus is so old ? I mean, if these walls could talk!” The conversation on the bus ebbed and flowed as the three busses navigated the curvy, country roads to the orchard.

Page ‘48: Well you either walked, or you thumbed a ride. Not actually thumbed a ride, Staunton knew about it and they were very good about stopping and offering us a ride. It was different then, you couldn’t do that today. They were people who knew the college.

Pruett ‘46: Well, we didn’t have any buses taking us. It was in the Baldwin Acres area (near Covenant Presbyterian Church) Sometimes we hitched to The Triangle, which was a darling tea room. It was during the war and there was not much gas and we went in groups so it was okay. Was it far? It was when you had to walk!

Students walk to the orchardMore than 30 minutes after leaving campus, the buses arrive at a farm in Middlebrook. Former Mary Baldwin board of trustees member Carole Lewis Anderson has volunteered her property. As students leave the buses, friends ask each other “Have you ever been apple picking?” The most common answer is “no”. Senior Renee Brill, who was disappointed her freshman year to learn there was no apple picking, is especially pleased. “I’m so glad I get to do this before I leave,” she says, walking briskly, “It’s tradition and it’s fun!” The group hikes down the picturesque tree-lined lane towards the large stately house, rounds the corner and comes face to face with the apple trees.

Page ‘48: The students, the faculty, the whole college was there. It was a big orchard, the college owned it. That’s why it was called “Baldwin” Acres. It was an all day thing.

After Dr. Fox initiated a preliminary gleaning of the ground to harvest the apples that had fallen, the students, many of whom had never seen an apple tree, let loose. Two ladders are quickly commandeered and put to use. Within moments, friends hop on each other’s backs and shoulders to reach the prized fruit. The frenzy continues as pictures are snapped, laughter is shared and apples are picked, sometimes tasted, and placed in boxes. When the lower branches are cleared it’s discovered that gently shaking the trees will help loosen fruit from the hard to reach upper branches. One particular shake leaves the ground quite cluttered with apples and one enthusiast yells “Let’s glean everybody!” in a tone one would normally associate with the phrase “Let’s party!” The learning curve was small ? these are now apple pickin’ women!

Pruett ‘46: We had ladders, and you could shake the trees a little bit. Oh sure, we could eat apples right off the tree.

Page ‘48: We didn’t glean, the orchard had to do that. Yes, we had ladders out there. We picked before we ate. The dietician and her staff provided the food. We ate in the orchard, a picnic lunch, and we had chicken livers, which I loved. Each class performed a skit.

Students feed apples to the horsesApples are placed in boxes, the rotten ones removed, and the group has a little time before the buses return. Some take a hike. Some visit the farm pond. A number of students approach the horses who have been watching the proceedings with great curiosity. One has secreted apples in her pockets and the horses are deliciously rewarded for having their daily routine disturbed.

Pruett ‘46: I don’t really remember any lunch, because we probably didn’t get back until the middle of the afternoon.

Page ‘48: People would drift back in the afternoon. I’m sure they served a light supper, not a big dinner.

It turns out that apple picking has worked up an appetite. The few bites enjoyed in the orchard are just the appetizer. The bus ride back is filled with excited discussion of the Apple Day Brunch. A menu, full of tempting dishes featuring apples, awaits the students. Seniors advise freshmen that running from the buses to Hunt Dining Hall will be futile, seniors will be served first. Remnants of Rat Day remain…

Students harvest the apples

We wanted to know what Apple Day was like when it first began. Special thanks to Mopsy Pool Page ’48 and Jane Proffit Pruett ’46 for sharing their remembrances of Apple Day.