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Leicester Special Collections

Sylvia Dowling's Social Life

A Sketch of Sylvia

This is a sketch a friend of Sylvia made depicting Sylvia sitting down while knitting

Sylvia's time at the Univesity of Leicester was filled with many colourful moments that she shared with her friends, acquaintances, and even animals! While these events took place in the 1950s, we were struck by just how entertaining and relatable many of these events were, and we are confident that you will too!

Jan and Linnea: Vibrant Friends and Flatmates

This photograph shows Linnea, who was one of Sylvia's good friends

28 October 1956

Today Sylvia spent some time with her friends at the film society, watching films of Hamlet, which she thought was quite funny.

Jan and Linnea are Sylvia's friends and flatmates. Linnea is shown in the accompanying image. Sylvia adores them, but finds it annoying how much time these two girls spend talking about men, and their own boyfriends in particular. Linnea is even known to hang around her boyfriend's neck at 11 in the morning, which is not typical for normal university standards. Sylvia often feels the need to give them space, but it is often hard to do so.
Today Jan has taken a habit of continuously reading German poetry aloud (her boyfriend is German), and when an annoyed Sylvia made a joke about Jan's boyfriend about being German, that seemed to have made Jan angry!

One of the special things about living at University is the opportunity to meet new friends and colleagues. While they can make us laugh and cheer us up, they can also be infuriating at times, especially if you are living with them! This is normal of course. If you live with any one long enough you are bound to find times when your personalities clash!

Can you think of a time that you were annoyed with your friend at school? How did you reconcile?

The Importance of Coffee

An artistic rendition of a cup of coffee enjoyed by Sylvia

4 November 1956
11 November 1956
4 May 1958

Coffee appears to have been an important part of Sylvia's life at the University of Leicester. On several occasions, such as 4 November 1956 and 14 November 1956, she mentions having coffee parties with her friends that last well past midnight, and sometimes they even go on all night!

In fact, coffee appears to have been so important to the students of the University, that there was even a college strike over its increasing cost! Sylvia's 4 May 1958 letter mentions that students went so far as to boycot buying the coffee and posted pickets.

Coffee is certainly an important element to a student's life at university, both in the present day and, evidently, in the past. In what ways has coffee helped you or your friends during your studies at school?

Concerning Dogs and Cats

A fun comic depicting Sylvia's run-in with an affectionate little black cat

14 November 1956

Today, Sylvia describes her memorable run-ins with a couple of animals: a dog and a cat. Firstly, she writes how she managed to pacify an excitable dog, who she instantly took a liking to. She did not, however, like how the owner eventually came and dragged the dog away by its collar, who also hit the dog as well!

Sylvia apparently had a way with animals, as a certain black cat also seemed to have taken a liking to her as well. Sylvia was walking home from campus and happened to notice the cat was following her home. She pet the cat, walked away, but noticed that it continued to follow her. So, Sylvia picked the cat up, gently placed it on the fence by the road, and proceeded to run home so the cat couldn't follow her anymore!

While not necessarily related to academia and major social events, run-ins with animals on university campuses happens more often than you'd think. The University of Leicester still has its hedgehogs that can sometimes be seen at night, and it is not uncommon for certain universities in countries like Canada to host warrens of rabbits and the occasional coyote visitors! Such run-ins with nature create lasting and special impressions about how one's time was spent at university, and should certainly not be overlooked!
Can you think of a time that you had a special run-in with an animal while at school?

Sylvia's Cabaret Sketch

This is an original sketch from the Sylvia Dowling letters depicting the fresher's cabaret

Sylvia's Letter Describing the Cabaret

This is the letter written by Sylvia describing the Fresher's Cabaret

19 October 1955

3 March 1957

As suggested from her 3 March 1957 letter, Sylvia and her friends had a love for music. She was particularly fond of listening to Beethoven, and was saving up to buy a gramophone. 

Sylvia and her friends also enjoyed going out to social events and performances, much like many of the students today. As told in her 19 October 1955 letter, she found the fresher's cabaret that was put on by the older students to be particularly entertaining. She also decribes that there was a conjurer who did card-tricks, and a “pantomime” which the older students had written, using the plot of Hamlet; they called the finished production Omlet 

What sort of social events do you like to attend with your friends?