The first cadet handbook, commonly known today as the Rook Book, was published in 1908. Rather than an official training document issued by the commandant’s office, it was conceived and produced by a group of students as a code of conduct and source of advice for incoming freshmen.
The handbook for the 1908-1909 academic year was a slim maroon volume with a Norwich seal on the cover—heavily faded on the two surviving copies housed in the University Archives. It was 72 pages long, in contrast with this year’s 185, and included among other things a message from President Spooner, the lyrics to Norwich songs and cheers, a listing of clubs and activities, and “Pointers for Freshmen” from the Professor of Military Science and Tactics.
Little is known about the motivation behind creating the handbook for the first time, but we do know that it was created by the Young Men’s Christian Association of Norwich University, also known as the YMCA. The YMCA was founded in 1844 as a Christian social organization with an emphasis on physical fitness and health. While a local chapter existed as early as the 1880s, Norwich’s campus-affiliated chapter didn’t start up until 1908—the same year that the first cadet handbook was issued under the organization’s auspices.
The fact that the organization was new to campus might explain why they wanted to distinguish themselves by sponsoring the first cadet handbook. Indeed, the introduction implies that the handbook is their way of extending a welcoming hand to Northfield’s newest residents. They did so with the support of many local businesses to cover the cost of printing—nearly half of the book’s pages consist of advertising, and in fact the Rook Book continued to include advertisements until the 1950s.
The university administration appears to have taken over printing of the Rook Book in the 1920s. Over the decades, it expanded into the hefty primer on Norwich life that we know today.
The two surviving copies of the first rook book, as well as a near-complete run of the publication throughout its lifetime, can be viewed in the Norwich University Archives.