Guest contributor Rodney C. Lawley, Troy University Archivist (Troy Campus)
The Troy University yearbooks, Palladium, have always been popular at the University Library, and for good reason. Visitors and alumni enjoy browsing nostalgically through the pages of the University’s past, and they often seek information related to family and friends who attended the school. In this respect, the Palladium is an entertaining read and a helpful genealogical research tool that can yield surprisingly detailed results.
But the Palladium offers much more than just historic photographs of family and friends. It is also a substantive primary-source that researchers frequently overlook when investigating broader social and cultural questions.
With a span of coverage from 1912 to present day, researchers can use tools such as textual harvesting and photograph evaluations to illuminate topics like local economic concerns; gender and race issues; and changes over time to culture, society, or politics.
Women’s sports is one example of how the Palladium can be used for research. Public acceptance and support of women’s athletics evolved slowly and unevenly across the US, and student events recorded in the Palladium from the late-1920s until the mid-1970s document a local transition that was similarly uneven and protracted.
The Palladium began to include women in sports-related photos as early as 1923, just three years after women won the right to vote. The 1929 yearbook featured photos of women as junior volleyball champions, swimmers, and even “trained” acrobats. Unfortunately, this progressive coverage of women’s sports did not continue until the conclusion of World War II.
During the 1950’s the Palladium presented the school’s women athletes as members of the “Women’s Athletic Association” or as participants in school physical education programs. This practice distinguished women’s physical activities from the high-profile men’s sports that received substantial coverage in the Palladium. But in 1957, and perhaps for the first time at the University, female athletes were included in a photograph as equal members of a mixed-gender tumbling team.
The 1967 Palladium offered a 2-page spread covering the “Women’s Recreation Association,” with accompanying photos. Unfortunately, this revised effort at inclusion was substantially blunted—and perhaps ridiculed—by condescending captions under several photos. One, inserted below a female student swinging a tennis racquet, asserted: “There are occasional distractions on the tennis courts.” The implication, of course, being that the student athlete was distracting real players—the men.
Troy did not fully fund women’s extramural sports until 1974. Even then, a lack of funds prevented them from participating in national competitions. But by 1975, the Palladium published a half-page photo of the women’s extramural basketball team, with all members dressed in official competition uniforms. The uniforms signified organization and institutional recognition of the team. This represented a great victory for women’s sports at Troy.
The 1976 Palladium included women’s sports in the same section as the men. The lady’s basketball, tennis, and volleyball teams were now full-fledged independent programs with professional coaches. Game-action photographs were also included in the Palladium’s coverage, even if the photos did reflect the noticeably empty bleacher stands behind the players.
Through this example of how the Palladium covered women’s athletics, we can see how the yearbook can be used as a primary-source that records incremental change
s in our society and culture. We can ask how women’s sports and the Palladium‘s coverage differs from that of other universities. Did Troy State College/University, for example, lead or trail behind in this transformation of gender equality? Questions like these are the seeds of informative social research, and they demonstrate the power of the Palladium as a primary information source capable of adding insightful support to academic investigations.
Copies of the Palladium are available at the Troy University Library in Troy, Alabama, and there are plans to provide issues electronically in the near future. Issues prior to 2015 are currently available online at the Internet Archive. The Troy University Special Collections and Archives (TUASC) encourages the use of the Palladium yearbook in research studies and requests researchers credit the Troy University Library when publishing their work.