Throwback Jack: When Rats ruled the Hilltop

September 22, 2011

Today, faculty at Georgetown take the student Code of Conduct quite seriously, doling out fines, written reprimands, and work sanction hours. Yet when it comes to run-ins with the law our 19th century counter-parts were battling a much stricter set of rules.  Still, their prescribed punishments did not prevent these distant Hoyas from having their fun.

The Jug Rat Society was comprised of students who regularly ended up in the “Jug,” a Catholic school term for detention hall which either is as an acronym for “justice under God” or derived from the Latin word for “burden.” Although it is unclear when the Society came into being, but the Jug was located in the eastern tower of Old North, erected in 1795.

In an 1848 letter, a student sarcastically explained that “the Jug was reserved for those guilty of repeated misdemeanors. It was a pleasant room, where one might lie at ease and fare sumptuously on bread and water, with coffee for breakfast on Sunday mornings… I had also been told that the rules were so severe that it was impossible to pass a week at Georgetown without becoming an inmate of the ‘Jug.’”  A stay at the Jug entailed translating lines from Latin under the watchful eye of a faculty member. According to the same letter, smoking was “a grievous crime, punished with 300 lines.” In addition to translating Latin, students were also known to write a few lines of their own on the walls when no one was watching. According to a note written by Father Francis Barnum, an alumnus who managed the University archives in the late 1800s, “juggies” would frequently scribble the phrase “Can a man live on air?,” a reference to the meager rations afforded to guilty students. (zolpidem)

Not much is known about the club’s origins or activities, but in a letter by a member of the class of 1854, the students claimed that the expression “Jug Rat” was coined by fellow student Dominick O’Burnes, nicknamed “Rat.” The society’s most attended annual event was its end of the year “extermination,” a ceremony that parodied the annual commencement ceremonies of the College. The event’s program read “Disorder of Exercises” across the top, followed by acts such as “Rat Tales,” “In the Jugular Vein,” “Homer on Jug Rats,” and “Elegy on the College Barnyard.” They even had their own “Song of the Jug,” which began “With memory weary and worn, a Jug Rat sat on a bench in the Jug, and these were the words he said, ‘lines! lines! lines!’”

Besides having its own song, the Jug Rat Society also had four presidents, a humorous constitution, and a coat of arms that consisted of a cracked brown jug with rats crawling out of its cracks. According to the rules, the position of “first president” was given to the boy who had been assigned the most Greek lines to memorize from The Iliad and The Odyssey at the Jug over the past term. The constitution also noted that entering members were required to translate 25 Latin lines, that the number of members of the association needed to be limited to a “jug-full,” and that “one of the presidents and one member constitute a quorum.”   The constitution’s concluding statement claimed that “it shall be the duty of any member who shall witness a violation of any of the by-laws or constitution … to keep mum on the subject,” and that “this association be non-dissolved except by the unanimous consent of the whole world and the rest of mankind.”

The University archives are short on details, but the “unanimous consent of the whole world” must have been achieved at some point, since the Society was abolished in 1872. So next time you’re doing work sanction hours in the mailroom for a party broken up by SNAP, just be thankful you’re not in the Jug, copying line after line of obtuse Latin poetry.

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