The cover of the 1959 pamphlet on social customs created for Corps distribution.
This spring, a pamphlet donated by Malcolm Hall ’62 titled
Social Customs: Corps of Cadets made its way to my desk. “Just as you have entered A. and M. to raise your educational level to the high degree demanded of students here,” the pamphlet begins, “you will be expected to develop your knowledge of social customs to an equally high plane.” And then later: “It is the duty of every Aggie to strive for the standards of Soldier, Statesman and Knightly Gentleman.”
Intrigued by its dignified tone and advice for just about every imaginable social situation, I emailed former Aggies for information about its origins. One of the more than 150 responses I received was from Weldon “Bo” Lee ’60, a member of a committee of cadets who wrote the pamphlet in summer 1959 before its distribution to all members of the Corps in fall 1959.
Intended to teach cadets an overview of social customs, the pamphlet breaks down social behavior into categories: gentlemanly conduct, good grooming, conversation, introductions, table manners, receiving lines and receptions, Aggie customs, military customs and coed do’s and don’ts.
From various Aggies, I learned that the manual was the brainchild of Percy Mims, the Corps’ 2nd Air Wing Commander in 1960 (and interestingly, the grandchild of William Adam Duncan, director of Texas A&M food services from 1920 to 1937 and the man for whom Duncan Dining Hall is named). Unfortunately, Mims passed away in 2010, but former Corps commander and classmate Bill Heye ’60 recalled his efforts to produce the book. “As a leader in the Corps, Percy was absolutely meticulous in his manners and dress,” he said. “He was concerned about how cadet behavior reflected on the college, and he knew that many of us would enter positions in the workplace where etiquette was more important.”
By all accounts, the Corps at this time was a rowdy, all-male organization full of “hazing, cussing and raising hell,” as one responder put it. Most of its members were first-generation college students, many from small farms and walks of life without much exposure to the customs and manners of polite society. Lee recalled that students from other Texas colleges frequently showed an attitude of disdain toward Aggies.
Percy Mims '60 (left) with his brother Larry Mims '63.
Percy Mims '60 (center) at Final Review.
“The pamphlet was intended as a personal reference to help our classmates avoid some of the more common social gaffes,” he said. “There was certainly a bit of hubbub when it came out, but I will say that I still do not wear white socks with a suit!”
While the pamphlet was only distributed in fall 1959 and never became official issue, some company leaders may have used it for instruction in their units. It was compiled by referencing works like Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette and printed by the college.
“We did not work much as a face-to-face committee,” said Lee. “Two or three of us might meet and loop in another by telephone to decide what topics should go in a given section. Then, someone wrote a draft and typed it, with perhaps three carbon copies. Then, another would deliver the carbons to others for proofreading before someone else would consolidate the final proof. Percy was the traffic cop who coordinated it all.”
It was well-intentioned, but an unknown cadet who was probably “the wisest and fastest thinking guy in the Corps,” according to Heye, jokingly dubbed the pamphlet “Mims’ Manual of Manners.” The sardonic name stuck, but didn’t faze Mims.
“To write a book on manners in that time and culture was to say, ‘give me something else I can joke about,’” Heye said. “But I’ve always admired Percy and his fortitude in publishing the pamphlet. He looked upon this as part of his contribution to the Corps and the school.”
While the all-male environment and remoteness of College Station from the fairer sex may have discouraged serious consideration of the book, it was—most coincidentally—published around the same time that Gen. Earl Rudder ’32 began initiating Corps reforms. While Rudder is credited with injecting more discipline into the Corps, Mims and others deserve perhaps equally high credit for starting cadets on the road to being more sophisticated, even if they didn’t recognize it at the time.