Bachelor Hall – The Chorus Girls – Who Are They?

In my last post, I presented the cast of a performance of Bachelor Hall, a play presented on June 5 and 6, 1907 by the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 — with a notable exception: the chorus girls.

According to the Norwalk Daily Reflector, these young women provided the highlight of the show. Accompanied by the Spencer Orchestra, they sang and danced three songs: “When Love is Young,” “Oh, Be Careful of the Alligator,” and “Be My Little Teddy Bear.” So who were these “chorus girls?” [1]

Once again, my grandmother, Harriott Wickham (who was one of their number), comes through again with a photo I found in her papers. Here are the chorus girls from the play Bachelor Hall, apparently performing “Be My Little Teddy Bear.” Unfortunately, she did not include the names. [2]

 

Chorus Girls

There are eight women in the photo, but the newspapers only reported seven: Lillian Smith, Carrie Spurrier, Ruth Jenkins, Florence Davidson, Cleo Collins, Harriott Wickham, and Irene Bragdon. [3]

Who is who? And which girl is in the photo, but not listed in the cast of characters. Here are individual photos of the seven in clockwise order from upper left as listed in the previous paragraph. See if you can figure out who is in the group photo.

 

I must admit that I am not doing well figuring out who is who. Perhaps it is because in the group photo the girls are smiling. After examining the photo closely, I can be sure of only two: Carrie Spurrier, fifth from left (because of the spectacles); and Irene Bragdon, sixth from left.

What do you think?

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Descriptions of the play and cast are from these newspaper articles: “Bachelor Hall,” Norwalk Reflector, 6/1/1907, page 4, column 5; “Brilliant Success,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 6, 1907 – page 1, column 3; and “Bachelor Hall a Big Hit,” Norwalk Evening Herald, 6/6/1907, page 1, column 6.

[2] The chorus girl photo is from the unpublished collection of Harriott Wickham’s papers in my possession. I clipped the individual photos from the Commencement photo of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907, also in Harriott Wickham’s papers.

[3] The links for each cast member of Bachelor Hall lead to that person’s WeRelate person page.

 

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Class Day 1907 – Bachelor Hall

In my last post, Class Day 1907 – A Witty Speech by a Future U.S. Senator, we saw that Wednesday, June 5, 1907 was Class Day for the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. The evening began with a farewell speech to the Class of 1908 by future U.S. Senator, Stephen M. Young, Jr. [1] Following that “witty, well-worded, and well-delivered” address, the Class of 1907 presented Bachelor Hall, a comedy in three acts. [2] According to newspaper accounts of the evening, the performance was well received by a large audience, [3] An even larger crowd attended a repeat performance the following night, June 6. [4]

 

Bachelor Hall

Bachelor Hall is a parlor-play, designed to be performed by amateurs. Written and published by Rachel Baker Gale and her father George Melville Baker in 1898, it was performed frequently by schools and in homes over the next decade.

Reviews in both the Norwalk Daily Reflector and the Norwalk Evening Herald gushed their praise. To do otherwise, of course, would have invited the wrath of angry parents, but from the accounts, it seems the class did put on a solid performance. Both newspapers, in addition to praise, diligently recorded the names of the cast members and descriptions of the parts they played. So, here, in one of the longest posts I have ever published, is the cast of the Norwalk High School’s performance of Bachelor Hall over a century ago.

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The romantic leads in this farce were Robert Venus, as Ensign Jack Meredith, acting under sealed orders, and Florence Bascom, as Betty Vance, the ward of the Honorable Geoffrey Myrtleton, “congressman from the Ninth District,” and played by Arthur Young.

 

The Norwalk Evening Herald reviewer of the play was generous in his praise of the leads. “For legitimate work the honors belong to Robert Venus and Florence Bascom,” he wrote. “The naturalness with which they played the sentimental scenes could not have been improved on.” His assessment of Arthur Young’s performance as the Honorable Geoffrey Myrtleton was favorable, also, although he was bold enough to criticize the young man’s choice of costume as not being appropriate for a congressman. Everyone’s a critic, it seems.

Harry Holiday and Stephen Young, Jr. played Silas Jervis and Elisha Bassett, Deacons who are Congressman Myrtleton’s constituents from Rambleton.

 

The plot of Bachelor Hall, such as it is, involves the presentation in the home of Congressman Myrtleton of The Fatal Shot, a play written by amateur actor Vera Lee, played by Fred French. In addition to Mr. Lee, the cast of The Fatal Shot include Lotta Sand, leading soubrette of The Fatal Shot, played by Ruby Hoyt, and an amateur actress named Polly Reynolds, played by Sara Joslin (Sarah Barnett). Irene Eline played Mrs. Van Styne, who has dramatic aspirations and Nina Humiston is Claire, Mrs. Van Styne’s daughter, who does not.

 

Clockwise from top left: Fred French, Ruby Hoyt, Sarah Barnett (Sara Joslin), Irene Eline, and Nina Humiston.

In what would be awkward to modern sensibilities, Sheldon Laning played Jasper, an African-American butler at “Bachelor Hall”and Edna West his wife and fellow servant. Both, I assume, performed in black-face.

Rounding out the cast were O’Rourke, a policeman, played by Eugene Bloxham, and Pinkerton Case, an amateur detective, played by Homer Beattie.

 

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What is the plot of this comedy? I’ve tried to read the script, but did not get very far. Here’s what the Norwalk Daily Reflector had to say about it:

Act I: An evening in the living room of Congressman Myrtleton at “Bachelor Hall,” in Washington D.C. Myrtleton has opened his home for the production of The Fatal Shot. The untimely arrival of his constituents, the Deacons, who are deeply set against theatricals, and the disappearance at the same time of one hundred thousand dollars in bonds entrusted to him by them, puts Myrtleton in a bad position.

Act II: Myrtleton seeks to keep from the deacons the fact that a theatrical performance is in progress, and his prevarications are amusing and cause many peculiar situations.

Act III: The following morning — The newspapers make a sensation of The Fatal Shot, thereby causing Congressman Myrtleton to lose a wager with Rear Admiral March that the affair would be kept from the papers. The mystery of the bonds is cleared up satisfactorily.

Not very illuminating, is it? What about the romance between Ensign Meredith and Betty Vance? And who is Admiral March? The author of this article was not a trained critic, apparently. However, seeing that most readers were probably at the performance, this synopsis was probably not necessary to begin with.

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After the final curtain, the Class of 1907 sang their class song, written by Harriott Wickham to the tune of “Down the Field.”

 

We are the seniors of Old Norwalk High

And out into the world we go,

Prepared to win or die;

Conquering now, and still to conquer then

When ‘neath the Black and Gold we march

On to the glorious end.

Our banner fair we bravely bear

All hail the Black and Gold.

The evening concluded with ice cream and cake served in the Philomathean Hall.

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That’s it for two evenings of entertainment over one-hundred years ago. Except for one thing: the Chorus Girls of Bachelor Hall. More about them in my next post.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The links for each cast member of Bachelor Hall lead to that person’s WeRelate person page.

[2] Bachelor Hall is a play published in  by . The script can be read online on Google Books. A warning: what was hilarious in 1907 may not appear as witty to modern readers.

[3] “Brilliant Success,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 6, 1907 – page 1, column 3, and “Bachelor Hall a Big Hit,” Norwalk Evening Herald, 6/6/1907, page 1, column 6.

[4] “Another Crowd Sees Bachelor Hall,” Norwalk Evening Herald, 6/7/1907, page 4, column 3.

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Class Day 1907 – A Witty Speech by a Future U.S. Senator

At 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5, 1907 — one-hundred and ten years ago today — school hall on the third floor of Norwalk High School was crowded with students, parents, and friends. The occasion? Class Day of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

 

old-norwalk-high-school0001

Norwalk High School

 

The evening began with a “witty, well-worded, and well-delivered farewell speech to the Juniors” by future United States Senator Stephen M. Young, Jr.

The Junior Class responded with their class yell. What was the class yell? Unfortunately, the article in the Norwalk Daily Reflector did not say. [1]

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stephen-young-commencement-photo-1907

Stephen M. Young

As we saw a few weeks ago in the post Oratorical Contest for a Future U.S. Senator, Stephen M. Young’s public speaking skills had earned him fourth place at an oratorical contest in Bowling Green, Ohio the previous month. Now it had given him the honor of keynote speaker at Class Day. That talent for public speaking would lead to a life as a lawyer, soldier, and politician, a career more illustrious than any of his classmates.

Stephen also knew where he would be going after graduation: he was headed to Case University in Cleveland. These days, it is not unusual for high schools of the caliber of Norwalk High School in 1907 to see the majority of their students pursue higher education. But only four of Stephen Young’s classmates were heading to university that fall. [2]

Harriott Wickham Commencement Photo

Harriott Wickham

Some students would continue studying at Norwalk High School: Harriott Wickham (my grandmother) for instance. In diary of 1908-09, she wrote: Graduated in 1907, but took 2 courses with class of 1908 — History & chemistry — botany 1/2 year. Harriott also prepared to take an examination to become a teacher, which led to her teaching in a one-room school house 1908-1909. Then she got her big break: her great uncle Louis Severance sent her to Wooster College, where she graduated in 1914. She was the only girl in her class afforded that opportunity; in those days young women rarely were allowed to pursue higher education. [3]

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Enough of that. Back to Class Day at Norwalk High School! The Class of 1907 had a treat for their audience: A play. We’ll see how well they pulled that off in my next post: Bachelor Hall.

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Brilliant Success,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 6, 1907, page 1, column 3.

[2] Stephen Young’s classmates that attended college that fall were Arthur Young, Harry Holiday, Homer Beattie and Robert Venus.

[3] Oil Magnate Louis Severance married Fanny Benedict, sister of Harriott’s grandfather David Benedict. After Doctor Benedict’s death, Louis established a trust fund for his nieces and paid for the college educations of many of their children.

 

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A Play – A Dance – A Test

After introducing missionary Ora Tuttle in my posts Serendipity and The Hermit Kingdom, I’m afraid I must leave off telling the rest of her story for another time. I have uncovered so much information (and surprises) about this interesting woman and her mission that I have not been able to properly research and write about her. I promise, though, that I will return to her soon.

Anyway, we must return to our main story, from which I have strayed: the saga of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. Today marks the beginning of their final two weeks in school, and we have much to talk about. So let’s get started.

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June 1st fell on a Saturday in 1907, and that day the Norwalk newspapers were full of news about the class.

The Norwalk Evening Herald reported the cast of the class play, Bachelor Hall, which was scheduled to be performed on Thursday, June 5 and Friday, June 6. Tickets would go on sale on Tuesday, June 3. The price for general admission was fifteen cents ($3.73 in today’s dollars), reserved seats went for a quarter ($6.22 today). [1]

I’ll report on the reviews for this performance in a later post. Spoiler alert: it received rave reviews.

According to another article in the June 1 issue of Norwalk Evening Herald, the previous evening, the Junior Class of Norwalk High School had held a reception for the Senior Class, complete with strawberry ice, wafers, and dancing. About sixty couples, to include thirteen out-of-town visitors, gathered Link’s Hall, the venue for the event, which was decorated “prettily” with streamers of the Senior Class colors of black and yellow, the Junior colors of black and red. College pennants added to the festive display.

The dance began with a Grand March, led by Junior Class President (and basketball hero) Pitt Curtiss and Miss Irene Curtiss of Findlay (a cousin?). Imagine the scene, if you will. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the Netherfield ball scene of the Pride and Prejudice A&E television series comes to my mind.

 

A Grand March

Saratoga Lancers – Promenade [2]

The seniors had reason to celebrate that evening. According to an article in the June 1st issue of the Norwalk Daily Reflector, all twenty-six members of the Class of 1907 had passed their final exams with a comfortable margin [4] . . . wait, did I say twenty-six? There are only twenty-five students in the class commencement photo. Who is missing? We’ll find out in my next post.

 

Footnotes:

[1] “Bachelor Hall,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, June 1, 1907, page 4, column 5. The script of Bachelor Hall is available on Google Books at this link.

[2] This photo on page 61 of a 1900 instruction book on dancing by Marguerite Wilson. An excellent description of the Grand March begins on page 21.

[3] “Juniors Honor Senior Class,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, June 1, 1907, page 1, column 5.

[4] “Everybody Passed,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 1, 1907, page 1, column 5.

 

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