“Much is the embarrassment of the audacious student who dares to step from the straight and narrow campus paths onto the tempting green lawns. A shrill blast from the whistle of a watchful “grass cop” accompanied by the flash of a large and officious brass badge brings the erring one swiftly back to the ways of virtue.” Smith College Press Board News Release April 16, 1930.
The Grass Cops (aka the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Grass) were organized in the spring of 1921 by the Botany Department which had charge of maintaining the college grounds. Professor William F. Ganong was distressed at the damage caused by hundreds of trampling collegiate feet seeking the shortest routes to class. Large “Keep Off The Grass” signs were not persuasive so the idea of the Grass Cops was borrowed from Vassar College. A group of six students from each entering class were selected and served as Grass Cops all four years. They helped reduce the cost of maintaining the lawns which was estimated in 1930 to be two hundred dollars a week which was a significant amount of money during the Depression.
As the years passed, Grass Cops expanded their role to include enforcement of the bicycle regulations, chapel attendance, smoking, sunbathing and dress codes. There was to be no talking, knitting, studying or crossword puzzling during the mandatory Wednesday morning chapel. No slacks, blue jeans or shorts were to be worn downtown without a coat. Bicycles improperly parked were tagged by Grass Cops and the owner subject to a fifty cent fine, three of which constituted a Judicial Board offense. At the bottom of page three of the 1949 Grass Cops rules sheet, almost as an after thought, is the admonishment “Please do not walk on the grass.”
During the 1950’s, the transfer of Grass Cop powers to other areas of student government slowly made the organization obsolete. The Grass Cops were disbanded in 1960 for a one year experimental period and never revived. However, the struggle to keep the grass lush continues on the Smith campus today. Instead of employing whistle blowers the Physical Plant staff have created new paths so inviting it is hoped pedestrians will steer clear of the precious green.
Karen Eberhart, Archives Assistant, Smith College Archives