Norwalk, Ohio High School Class of 1907

norwalk-high-school-commencement-1907

Norwalk High School Class of 1907: Front Row: Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff. Second Row: Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Harriott Wickham, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt. Third Row: Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French. Fourth Row: Homer Beattie, Florence Bascom, Alice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Cleo Collins.

How many times have you come across an old family photo, but have no idea of the identity of the people in it? Unfortunately, too often our ancestors neglected to scrawl identifying information on the backs of their photos. Fortunately for me, my grandmother Harriott Wickham (second row, third from left in the photo above) understood how important it is to record names of people in her photos for future generations. She not only preserved this photo of her graduating class, she also recorded her classmates’ names on an accompanying scrap of paper.

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Old Norwalk High School

The members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 are no more. But in their day, at the beginning of their adult lives, they were full of enthusiasm and hope for the future. As I gazed at their faces, so serious, yet so full of life, I wondered who they were and how they lived their lives? I decided to find out.

Not only had my grandmother recorded the names of her classmates, she kept a diaries during those years that describe many of them and tell of her interactions with them. Unfortunately, the diary for her senior year is missing, but she did preserve one for May 1908 to May 1909. From it, and from information I gleaned from research, I began to form a picture of these young people and their families; of where they came from and how they spent their senior year–and the rest of their lives.

What did they do? In small town America of the early 20th Century, young people went to balls, hung out at the library, formed societies, performed in plays and concerts, and played basketball (both boys and girls). They had séances and house parties and spent their summers in cottages on Lake Erie, lazing away the days and dancing at “The Grove” at Ruggles Beach at night.

Who were they and their families? What stock did they come from and how did they spend their lives after graduation? Because I have their names, I’ve been able to answer some of those questions. One of the young men in the photo became a U.S. Senator, but the rest of the the class led ordinary lives: some did not do well, some of them had successful careers. But each one of them has a story I want to tell.

Using my grandma’s diaries and research on the internet, I’m continuing to flesh out the stories behind these faces. Over the next year, I’ll post what I’ve learned–and what I don’t know. I ask your help as I take this journey: to correct my mistakes, and to add your stories to the tale of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

 

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

Class of 1907 – Irene Eline

Over the next year, I be posting articles about each member of the Class of 1907 on the anniversary of their birth. Today, we’ll begin with Irene Eline; her birthday is past, but because it was only last week, just before I began this series of posts, I hope you will forgive me.

irene-eline-commencement-photo

Irene Eline Commencement Photo

Irene celebrated her seventeenth birthday on September 5, which fell on Wednesday in 1906. Two days previously, Norwalk had celebrated Labor Day, which was a big deal in those days.

 Hers was a laboring family. Her father Joseph was a cabinet maker at a piano factory in town, probably A.B. Chase [1]. Sister Lillian, age 19, was a stenographer at Pressing & Orr, a manufacturer of Wilton Brand Ketchup [2] and other food products. Irene’s Aunt Margaret, who was living with the family in 1900, was a seamstress.

The family lived at 180 Whittlesey Avenue, over seven blocks north of Main Street, in the blue collar part of town. The do not count among the Firelands Pioneers featured in The Sufferers’ Land which is posted on the Firelands History Website. Joseph and his wife Anne, were originally from Maryland, and moved to Norwalk from Pennsylvania sometime between the birth of their eldest child, Mary and Lillian.

 How did Irene spend her birthday? School had just begun, so we can imagine she spent the day in class. The high school in those days was at Main and Foster Streets, so she had a walk of almost a mile. What celebration could we imagine for her when she returned home. Her father and mother would be there, and her sister Lillian. Her eldest sister Mary was probably still at home, but by 1909 she was married to James Cooper, a boiler maker with the railroad. And there were three young children in the home: her brother Robert, age 6, and sisters Ruth, age 3 and Catherine, age 2.

 But what about friends? Who were they, and where did they live. Just as in any society and at any time, there are stratums of society that dictate whom we associate with. That would have been the case in 1906 Norwalk. In my grandmother’s diaries and other papers and photos from that time, she never mentions Irene as being her friend. But she moved in different circles from people in north Norwalk. In her diary entry for December 30, 1908, she wrote of meeting a young man named John Yerpe, who she liked. But, she added: “if he were only something other than a Swedish mechanic’s son from north of twon, he would make a hit, I’m sure.” We’ll further explore this social divide in future posts.

Notes

[1] A.B. Chase was founded in Norwalk in 1875. See the Antique Piano Shop Website for details.

[2] Andrew F. Smith, Pure Ketchup: A History of America’s National Condiment, with Recipes, University of South Carolina Press, 1996, p. 219.

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