Headed off to college is a life adventure like no other. In 1951 LIFE chronicled that experience through the eyes of Mary Lloyd-Rees, a first-year student at Wellesley College, an all-girls school in Massachusetts. Photographer Lisa Larsen followed Lloyd-Rees as she said goodbye to her father, decorated her room, met new people, and learned to manage life on her own. “I felt fluttery in the stomach,” said Lloyd-Rees of those first days. “It was like going to the doctor’s.”
LIFE’s story, titled “Mary Goes to College,” appeared in the October 15, 1951 issue, which featured actress Zsa Zsa Gabor on the cover. If Lloyd-Rees felt comfortable sharing those first college days with a nation of LIFE readers, it may have been because she had some experience living away from home. Her father had the unusual occupation of managing a sugar plantation in Cuba, and Ms. Lloyd-Rees spent her high school years at a boarding school in Virginia.
Still, that didn’t mean she was immune to the shock of going off to college. One of Larsen’s photos shows Lloyd-Rees alone in her bedroom, hugging her pillow for comfort. Lloyd-Rees assured LIFE readers that the lonely moment, from her first night at school, passed quickly: “I put on my Mario Lanza records and felt better.”
Soon the fun began. Larsen’s photos show Lloyd-Rees biking around campus, posing with friends, going out for ice cream, picking out songs on a juke box, and even going on her first date, with a friend of her brother’s who was a law student at nearby Harvard. LIFE reported that Lloyd-Rees and her friends had fun educating each other on the latest slang expressions, such as “in the valise” (drunk) and “does he have a message?” (which LIFE translated as does he really send you?).
While much of the story focussed on Lloyd-Rees’ life transition, it also noted that after two weeks of school, with homework starting to pile up, “Mary opened up her library books, and, knitting her brow, took stock of the hard work that lay ahead of her in the next four years.”
Lloyd-Rees did go on to graduate from Wellesley with a degree in history. Her 2008 obituary described an active life that included becoming a mother of four, running her church’s Christmas pageant and serving on the national board of the Girl Scouts, and it featured a photo of the mature Lloyd-Rees with a smile much like the one she showed in LIFE, when she was just starting out.