AT Shorts: Growing Up Next to the University

Hiking across the Tucson Mountains, creepy taxidermy, and other anecdotes about a Tucson that is almost unimaginably small. Georgiana Boyer shares a few stories of her childhood during the 1930s and 1940s.

VO: Georgiana Boyer grew up next to the University of Arizona in the 1930s and 1940s.  

BOYER: My father was a civil engineer. My mother had taught English at Tucson High School. And they met on Mount Lemmon because my mother and another school teacher had a flat tire. It must have been on the old control road because it was before the prison road was built. And instead of a white horse, there was a burro, and my father came around and fixed the tire. And that was the beginning.  

I was born into the Sykes family and it was right after the depression began, so there weren't many children around who were younger. We were fortunate. My father always had work. I do remember hearing my mother say: “Glenton, don't worry, we have $40 in the bank,” or something. I remember thinking, we have what? That's nothing! And also, her protesting saying, I don't want a washing machine. I don't want a refrigerator. I don't want that. And of course, that was because they were costly. And I just thought for years that she didn't believe in washing machines.  

My parents did a lot of things at the university--they even went to graduation when they didn't know anybody who was graduating. But then, we lived nearby--4th Street which is now the McKale parking lot or lawn. And the first two words I could read were "Bear Down” because the gymnasium was visible from our front yard. And they had an aviary in those days. And the state museum had a great, horrible, scary, stuffed bison. And I remember being just deliciously scared of the bison. I always want to go and stand near it. There was a beautiful cactus garden at the university and part of it was sunken and it was all the way to Old Main. And it was lovely.  

When we were kids, we were outdoors all the time, played outside--cops and robbers, hopscotch, jacks, marbles, you name it. I used to browbeat my poor friends into hiking in the summer--out to Old Tucson was our goal. Oh, my poor friends.  

I guess Tucson had something like 7,000 people when my father was a child. By the time I was in school, we memorized 36,000 as the population of Tucson. When my cousin and I were four and three, we ran away from our house on 4th Street, down to the train station. I don't know how we got there, but we did. And of course, our mothers realized we were gone and were frantic. And amazingly, a police car showed up and said: “I want to take you home.” And they knew where we lived! Anyway, it is just, the town was this small.  

VO: To hear the rest of Georgiana's story and other oral histories from the University of Arizona Libraries, visit 

ShortsAengus Anderson