I know it’s just a painting but I can’t help but imagine Elsie the Cow as a stealthy witness to history, wending her way through generations of Colby women, silently observing changes in customs and culture.
The story by Jim Merrick and Laura Meader, and the accompanying photos, are like a Colby timeline. Quick preview: Beginning in the 1940s, Elsie the Cow was secretly passed along for more than 50 years. No one spilled the beans about the homely picture (sorry, Elsie) that hung in their dorm room. No official person oversaw the process. Few people outside of the tradition knew it existed and yet it continued, propelled by the shared experience of women passing through Mayflower Hill.
What began as a playful game between friends evolved into a more serious ritual of solidarity. Women contacted by the writers often had only vague notions of why they had been picked for the secret honor, but had very good reasons for choosing the next recipient: friendship, leadership, feminist solidarity, a bond between activist women of color.
Through it all, Elsie watched—the cow on the wall.
The funny thing is that most of the participants in the passing of Elsie the Cow were unaware of the experiences of the others. It wasn’t until our sleuths began putting the pieces together that the full picture emerged.
I like to think this is one of the most important roles of Colby Magazine: to illuminate the shared experience of the Colby community and give that experience the clarity of broader perspective. In that sense, the stories in this issue aren’t one-offs. From Elsie the Cow to Pandit Mami, from Corrie Marinaro and David Pulver, they’re part of a bigger picture.
This is Colby Magazine, winter 2018, but it’s also the Colby we all share, handed down from class to class, generation to generation.
Gerry Boyle ’78, P’06