Federico García Lorca: #DormLife in 1929

What was Columbia dorm life like in the 1920s? To hear one student, the views from the dorm rooms are great, the food is plenty, but laundry is pricey. Federico García Lorca was a student at Columbia during the summer session and fall semester in 1929. In his letters home, he described his life on the Morningside Heights campus.

Federico Garcia Lorca sitting by the Sundial, 1929. Scan 1829. Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, University Archives.

According to the letters he wrote to his parents, Lorca arrived in New York in the summer of 1929 and was met by Columbia Professor Federico de Onís. He enrolled Lorca in the summer program and encouraged the young poet to move into a Columbia dorm. He did not want Lorca to reside in the International House, because there he would meet with other foreigners and Latin Americans and thus, he would speak Spanish all the time. In a campus dorm, he would be forced to speak English.

A Furnald dorm resident, Lorca enjoyed his meals at John Jay Hall. As he told his parents, the food was inexpensive and good: “¡por 55 céntimos! y muy buena comida. Otras veces cuando tengo más hambre me cuesta 75.” (“for 55 cents! and very good food. Sometimes when I’m hungrier, it costs me 75.”) What was included in this meal? According to Lorca, 

una sopa; un plato de carne con patatas, guisantes, remolachitas y salsas; un dulce o una tarta de manzana, un vaso de té frío con limón para beber, y café con leche, o un vaso de leche. Todo por 55 o 60 centavos de dólares. Como bien. No necesito más.

soup, meat with potatoes, peas, beets and sauces, some dessert or apple pie, iced tea with lemon, and a cup of coffee or a glass of milk. All for 55 or 60 cents. I eat well. I don’t need anything else. (To his parents, August 8, 1929) [1]

After living in Furnald during the summer session, Lorca moved to John Jay for the fall semester. He described his new room 1231 and the view:

Mi cuarto de John Jay es admirable. Está situado en el piso 12 del hall y veo todos los edificios de la Universidad, el río Hudson y un lejano panorama de rascacielos blancos y rosados. A la derecha, tapando el horizonte, un gran puente en construcción, de fortaleza y agilidad increíbles. El cielo es magnífico y la temperatura admirable. El otoño en Nueva York es quizá la época más bonita del año, como en todos los sitios.

My room in John Jay is wonderful. It is on the 12th floor of the hall and I can see all of the University buildings, the Hudson River, and view of the white and pink skyscrapers. To the right, spanning the horizon, there is a great bridge under construction, of incredible strength and flexibility. The sky is magnificent and the temperature is wonderful. Fall in New York is perhaps the most beautiful time of year, as it is everywhere else. (To his parents, September c21, 1929)

That bridge in the horizon is none other than the George Washington Bridge. A typical college student, Lorca wrote about the “rugby” players (or really, football) practicing on South Field, the statue of Hamilton “decorated” by students, and the price of laundry (up to $2.00!). The letters can be found in the Epistolario Completo, edited by Andrew A. Anderson and Christopher Maurer, Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 1997. 


[1] Lorca uses the diminutive “remolachitas” for beets, or literally, “little beets.” A contemporary John Jay Grill menu lists them as “new beets.” Historical Subject Files, Box 251 folder 5.

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