Then and now: Looking back at UK a century ago

University of Kentucky President Frank L. McVey

Bailey Vandiver

A quick look through UK’s 1918 yearbook makes it clear how much has changed in the past century— for example, all the pictures are in black and white, and the foreword includes the words “thy” and “lo.”

There are other changes as well— the freshman class this year is just a little bigger than the 291 freshmen of 1918, and when students talked about “McVey” then, they meant UK’s president, not a building on central campus.

Many of these changes and details would be lost to time if not for the Kentuckian yearbooks, which chronicled UK each year for more than 120 years. But the Kentuckian ceased publication in 2014, so many current students probably have not seen a more recent copy, much less a historical one.

I hadn’t either, until I helped move the yearbooks from the Kernel’s old office to our new one. That’s another monumental change: After calling the Grehan building home for more than 50 years, the Kernel is moving to a new office in McVey.

We’re taking a lot of history with us, in yearbooks dating as far back as 1906. Two copies of the 1918 yearbook have survived to make the move, to give us a glimpse of what college life was like a full century ago.

“The joys we have possessed here together are ever ours,” the foreword to the yearbook reads. “You may dispossess a man of everything but his blessed memory.” Because of this yearbook, we have access to those memories.

Some things sound pretty familiar: The UK football team played Vanderbilt and Florida— though rather than being on the losing end of a 31-year streak against Florida, the Cats beat the Gators 52-0 that year. Basketball was already popular, though the men played in shorter shorts and the women played in long skirts.

Today, Greek life is a large part of campus, and the same was true in 1918–

and the Kentuckian editors certainly had their fun with it. In the “Gossip” section, several pages were devoted to “fraternity roasts” of many organizations that still have a home on our campus today.

Other aspects show how UK and Lexington have changed: Both John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan were featured in the “Great Kentuckians” section, whereas the statues honoring them were just relocated a few weeks ago after a controversial debate about Confederate-era symbols.

In 1918, the Kentucky Kernel was published on Thursdays instead of Mondays, and that staff would probably be jealous of the technology we have now. But not everything has changed: The staff still publishes the newspaper “for the benefit of the students, alumni and faculty of the institution.” Hopefully, that will still be true in another 100 years.

So in order to create memories worth preserving for those who come after us, let us take the advice of those who came before us, written 100 years ago at the beginning of the yearbook: “Sustained by the glory of the past, let us strive toward a more glorious future.”