Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stephens: A Look Back - 1919

By 1919, the Great War was over and the Stephensophia staff dedicated the annual to those who supported the effort.

But that’s really the only mention of World War I, which dominated the pages of the 1918 yearbook.

In fact, there’s nothing especially notable about this particular school year compared to the previous, although I do find this drawing of College Town USA circa 1919 fascinating. It’s in the ad section and includes what appears to be a road leading to local landmarks. At first I thought the building on the right was MU’s Academic Hall (the structure looks similar), but it burned down in 1892.

Like previous years, the book is divided into sections for faculty, students and activities along with a section of sayings and jokes.

The most interesting tidbit actually comes from a little follow-up research. After reading a poem about a Stephens alumna who went on to be a perfect wife, I wanted to see whether I could find out anything more about the author. In the Home Ec pages, student Nelletta Ehlman tells us how her character, Mary, uses her domestic skills to give her family members meals with the ideal calorie count while making hats in her spare time. The piece ends with some matrimonial praise: “And her husband says in solemn truth/ ‘Find an efficient wife under Stephens’ roof.’ ” A quick Google search shows Nelletta Ehlman went on to teach domestic sciences in Illinois. She died in 1973, and I found no evidence that she ever married—and if she did, she didn’t take her husband’s name.

Nelletta was from Illinois, which in 1919 was the only state other than Oklahoma to have a state club at Stephens. The Oklahoma Club is the only state to have had an active chapter since 1900—and had more than 25 members this particular year. The Fire Department, created a few years before, remained active this year, and Stephens also added a jazz band. A list of faculty shows a violin instructor in addition to several piano teachers.

Stephens’ population this year is 400 students—up from 52 in the 1912-13 school year.
The book has somewhat of a nautical theme, praising faculty for being “Our Pilots,” which, of course, in those days referred to ship pilots rather than airplane pilots. The yearbook reads: “Every ship has the need of a skillful pilot—the faculty, as our faithful pilot whether we were gay or distressed, has endeavored to show us the true straight path to the right harbor.”

In various jokes and rule sections, we’re told that students were instructed not to talk to men on the street “because they might kidnap you.” 

But students came to Stephens with internal rules built in. Here’s one clever poem about it:

Those Doubtful Don’ts

My parents told me not to smoke;
I don’t
Nor listen to a naughty joke;
I don’t.
They told me it was wrong to wink
At handsome men, or even think
About intoxicating drink;
I don’t.
To dance or flirt was very wrong
I don’t.
Wild girls chase men and wine and song;
I don’t.
I kiss no men, not even one—
In fact, I don’t know how it’s done;
You wouldn’t think I have much fun;
I don’t.

It’s signed “Life.”

Students could be just as witty in 1919 as they are today. Here’s one line from the joke section: 

Teacher: what figure of speech is this ‘I love my teacher’?
Pat Smith: Sarcasm

On another page, seniors are asked what college has meant to them. Answers ranged from sarcastic, “Hours of Misery,” to sentimental, “Two years of joy,” and “Everything.”

The book leaves us with some photos of students and the Stephens Special train.

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