Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Stephens: A Look Back - 1912

I’m not sure what happened in 1911, but there’s no Stephensophia online for me to highlight this week.

That’s OK. 1912 is really rich.

Just listen to some of the toasts Stephens students made 101 years ago:

“Here’s to the chaperon! May she learn from cupid; Just enough blindness; To be sweetly stupid.”
“The good die young. Here’s hoping that the Seniors live to a ripe old age.”

Here, here.

The women of 1912 had much to celebrate. That year, Stephens teamed up with Phi Mu Alpha, the musical fraternity at MU and brought violinist Jan Kubelik to Columbia. Kubelik, we’re told, was the “biggest treat of the season.” Apparently, St. Louis tried to get him to perform a recital and failed, so
 “Columbia people especially appreciated the opportunity of hearing perhaps the world’s greatest violinist.”
I’ve mentioned the strange drawings in the Stephens yearbooks of old. The images leading up to the sorority pages have been especially interesting. OK, that’s not the right word. They’re just creepy. Earlier years showed figures in white hoods with cutout eyes. Here’s the image from 1912:

I know sororities and fraternities and other societies have histories shrouded in secrecy, so I’m sure there’s some cultural context that I’m lacking.
The Expression Department—essentially the drama club—grew in enrollment in 1912, and there seems to be a highlighted importance placed on the student government association this year (spoiler alert, in 2013, we’ll learn that this year they negotiated some important rights). Here are the officers:

Domestic Science is also offered, but this is no frivolous study. The yearbook staff introduces the department with this this quote from American writer Rose Terry Cooke: “After much meditation and experience, I have divined that it takes as much sense and refinement and talent to cook a dinner, wash and wipe a dish, make a bed and dust a room, as goes to the writing of a novel, or shining in high society.”

The department is described as being a “very interesting feature at Stephens,” having grown over its four-year existence. The department included sewing, or making “practical, simple garments” (you’ve come a long way, Susies!); cooking candies for fundraisers; and hosting a dinner for the Board of Curators. Student Hattie Moore then gives final defense of the program, saying “there should be no more question as to the need of education and training for the woman who ‘selects’ the food, clothing, and art which minister to the highest welfare of the family than there is for the need of study on the part of the farmer, manufacturer, or the artist who produces these various necessities.”

Amen, sister.

On a a completely superficial note (but it’s kind of interesting) this is the first year I’m starting to notice women actually wearing unique hairstyles. In the previous years, every student — and I mean every student — wore the exact same hairstyle. Here are some brave students starting to buck the trends of the day:

There are a lot of prose and poetry pieces in the Stephensophia yearbook again, and many of the poems play off famous works. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells” is in there, only with tribute to the chapel bells that called students to classes, recitation and evening activities.

I told you last week that the Class of 1910 wrote the Ten Stephens Commandments. The Class of 2012 went a little further and tweaked Exodus 20:1-17.

“Thou shalt not boast of future greatness for thou knowest not when thou flunkest.” “Thou shall always, always, always wear gloves, lest thou disgrace thyself and the whole student body.” “Thou shalt not chew gum except in thy room, lest some one think thee unladylike.”

Chewing gum must have been a double no-no; it was forbidden in the commandments, as well.

As in past years, there’s a joke section. This time, I actually got one:

Mrs. Collins: “Who is the smallest man mentioned in the Bible?”
Lucy: “Perhaps you mean Bildad the Shuhite, but wasn’t the Roman guard who slept on his watch smaller than he?”


There’s a college dictionary in the yearbook and, frankly, some of the definitions apply 100 years later. Take “Graduation.” It means: “The act of bluffing the faculty into thinking you know about five times as much as you really do.” I also notice “Xmas” is listed on here. Not “Christmas,” but “Xmas,” which is described as a “time when there is much rejoicing—for we all go home.”

The calendar was a little different this year, as well. Instead of events, the calendar served as a collection of things that actually happened. Here are a few:
  • Sept. 19 The University Sophs try to make a Freshman propose to Sara in the library window
  • Nov. 8 Girls all talking about the big football game
  • Feb. 9 Doris climbed on a chair at dinner and screeched because of a poor little mouse.
  • April 14 Gale and May Day had company (masculine) to dinner
By 1912, there’s an alumnae association using the yearbook to ask for contributions. Membership dues were $1 a year (which might sound inexpensive, but these days, if you graduate from Stephens, you’re automatically a member of the association).

And on a final and very historic note, James Madison Wood was named president this year, although he’s not mentioned in any of the copy. It’s noted in the calendar that Dr. H.N. Quisenberry is “no longer our beloved President” on March 1. Wood is noted only in a back-page ad:

Wood, of course, would go on to serve an amazing 35 years, shaping the campus into the college we know and love today and becoming known as the Father of the Stephens. I look forward to exploring that legacy over the next 35 Stephensophia yearbooks.

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