Commencement Speakers – Chosen by the Class

Unlike the speakers described in my previous two posts, who were chosen for best grades in regular work and best grades in literary work, the other four speakers at Norwalk High School’s Class of 1907 Commencement were not selected for academic performance. Today, we look at Sheldon Laning and Nina Humiston, who were chosen by the class – a popularity contest, it seems.

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Sheldon Laning

As the son of a U.S. Congressman, Sheldon Laning would be expected to talk about politics, and he did not disappoint. His oration was titled “Our National Peril and How to Avoid It.” The national peril, in his view, was the system of political bosses, who selected candidates for office in “smoke-filled rooms.” His solution to this problem, was to adopt primaries, and allow voters to decide who would represent their parties in general elections. These days, of course, primaries are used by parties to select candidates in most states, so Mr. Laning was prescient in that regard. That his father was selected in by the party is ironic.

Nina Humiston Commencement Photo 1907

Nina Humiston

Like Irene Bragdon, Nina Humiston broke the norm for female students, although, unlike Irene, she did not risk tackling an oration. She instead opted for a recitation of the poem Bud’s Fairy Tale. According to newspaper accounts, “Miss Humiston’s imitation of a small child telling a highly imaginary stories was almost perfect, and was greeted by the audience with laughter and applause.” [1] Although she did not sing at the commencement ceremony, Nina was quite the musical performer as well. Like Ora Tuttle, subject of the Serendipity post on this site, Nina was active in the Methodist Church and performed at services and at church and social events. [2]

So how did these two young people fare in life? Sheldon Laning did not venture into politics, like his father. He did follow in his dad’s footsteps when it came to  business, though. After obtaining a law degree, he moved to Chicago where he worked in the automotive industry. In 1915, he married fellow Norwalk High School graduate Mildred Monnett (Class of 1908), then returned to Norwalk and took over the family publishing business, where he spent the remainder of his working life. [3]

Like many of the other young women in her class, Nina Humiston married soon after graduation. In 1908, she wed Henry Ronk, a fellow Norwalk graduate who had also been active in the Methodist Church. Henry was seven years her senior and had already graduated from college. They set up house in Shaker Heights where Henry established a successful accounting practice. [4]

That’s it for the two speakers who were selected for this honor by their classmates. Next up: the two speakers chosen by the faculty.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Descriptions of Sheldon and Nina’s presentations are from “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3; “School Life is Ended,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 15, 1907, page 1-2, column 6; and “Get Their Diplomas,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, pages 1,4.

[2] “Good Meeting,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, March 30, 1903, page 4, column 4.

[3] From the Stephen Laning person page in the WeRelate Wiki.

[4] From the Nina Humiston person page in the WeRelate Wiki.

 

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Norwalk High School Commencement, 1907

On Friday, June 14, 1907, one-hundred and ten years ago today, the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 walked across the stage at the Gilmer Theater to receive their diplomas.

What did those young people experience that memorable evening? Well the Norwalk Daily Reflector and the Evening Herald reported extensively in their issues the next day, giving us a blow-by-blow description of the pomp and ceremony.

How did they look that night — these young people about to “join those who are fighting life’s battles,” as the Daily Reflector put it. How were they dressed? We don’t need to imagine. We have a photo taken that very evening at the Gilger. [1] Aren’t they are good looking crew?

 

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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.

 

The audience arrived at the Gilger to find the auditorium decorated with the school colors of black and gold and Stewart’s Orchestra playing “Slavery Days.” The Norwalk High School Classes of 1904 and 1906 occupied boxes decorated with their class colors. After all had settled into their seats, the curtain rose to reveal the Class of 1907, dressed as captured in the photo above, the women holding a single stemmed American rose. Above them hung a banner in black and gold, with the class slogan “Immer Siegend,” (always victorious). Accompanied by the orchestra, the class sang the chorus of the hymn, “A Dream of Paradise.”

Father in heaven above,
Glorious and mighty;
Send forth Thy Light of Love,
O King most mighty!
Father, Glorious and mighty;
Send forth Thy Light of Love.
Thy Light of Love. [2]

To great applause, the curtain lowered, and when it again raised, the class were seated in wicker chairs set in a semi-circle on the stage. With them were School Superintendent A. D. Beechy, the school faculty, and members of the board of education.

This graduation ceremony was not like what we experience today. There was no Valedictorian and Salutatorian, nor did a respected member of the community address the graduates. Instead, this ceremony focused on the graduates, with orations and essays by speakers selected for academic excellence, interspersed by musical performances by others in the class. [3]

Who were the speakers, and why were they chosen? The newspapers are handy references for this as well. Eight young men and women were honored in four categories: Arthur Young and Irene Bragdon for best grades in regular school work. Inez Adams and Alice McCammon for best grades in literary work; Sheldon Laning and Nina Humiston were chosen by the class; and Homer Beattie and Carrie Spurrier were chosen by the faculty. [4]

What did they talk about, these speakers? The subjects may surprise you. We’ll see what they said, and who they were, in subsequent posts, beginning with Mr. Young and Miss Bragdon.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The commencement photo is from the papers of Harriott Wickham, my grandmother,

Gertrude Ryerson 1

who kindly wrote the names on the back. As I reported in my post, Mystery Girl, missing from this photo is Gertrude Ryerson. Newspaper accounts tell us that twenty-six graduates were at the ceremony, so I do not know why she is not in the commencement photo. It is a mystery. I clipped this image of her from a photo of the Senior / Junior study hall that I also found in my grandmother’s papers.

[2] “A Dream of Paradise,” by Claude Littleton, 1900. Full text of the lyrics and an audio file of the tune are at Hymnary. org.

[3] Lengthy descriptions of the ceremony and fulsome praise for the graduates are in “School Life is Ended,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 15, 1907, page 1-2, column 6, and “Get Their Diplomas,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, pages 1,4.

[4] “Forty Seventh Annual,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 13, 1907, page 1, column 3.“Get Their Diplomas,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, pages 1 and 4.

 

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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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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.

 

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Who Are They?

The Norwalk High School Class of 1907 included my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham, and twenty-five other students. Who were these other pupils? Well, here is a class roster:

Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff, Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt, Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French, Florence Bascom, Homer Beattie, Slice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Harriott Wickham, and Cleo Collins.

Just names–for now. Over the next year, I will endeavor to breathe life into them: to discover what kind of people they were, who their families were, and what world they inhabited one-hundred and ten years ago.

I have a small treasure of photos to get me started. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Like this image from a long ago theater production of the Class of 1907, for instance.

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Who were these young people? What theater production were they in? I do not know the answers–yet. Let’s find out together.

 

 

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