Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Stephens: A Look Back - 1921

It’s 1921 and Miss Jessie Burrall--and religion--have arrived on the Stephens College campus.

Burrall came in February of that year to head the newly reorganized religious education department. The Stephensophia tells us the department is now one of the most vital departments on campus.

“Founded primarily for a religious purpose, Stephens College has never emphasized the importance of the religious phase of cultural education, with its appeal to all that is finest and noblest in the girl-nature.”

We’re told she holds Sunday School in the auditorium and attracts hundreds of students with special themes such as “Blonde Sunday” and “Date Sunday.” A special feature of the class is Glee Club, which promotes pep songs and special music. 

Burrall is pictured left. Here's a photo of her popular Bible Class:

Students seem very receptive of her. “Brimful of the joy of the task, and radiating the happiness that comes when a soul is in accord with its Maker, she has brought to Stephens the inspiration of a life of service for others and the vision of that ideal, best of all womanly virtues, a Christian personality.”

The 1921 Stephensophia’s dedication reflects that mission, as well.

‘To that ideal of superior womanhood for which Stephens stands – a life four-square, harmonious and true in all its proportions, mental, moral, spiritual, physical – we dedicate the Stephensophia for 1921.”

Later, we read on the Young Women’s Christian Association’s page: “ever before our eyes, we see uplifted the ideal of a ‘four-square’ life.”

The use of the phrase “four-square” twice in the yearbook suggests some influence of Aimee Semple McPherson, a wildly popular evangelist during that era. McPherson—who isn’t mentioned in the Stephensophia—was holding tent revivals around the country in the early 1920s preaching four principals of the gospels that she dubbed “foursquare.” She was also the first woman to preach over the radio, so students might have been listening to her even if they weren't attending her revivals.

A new Eastern Star Club has also been organized this year, as well as a new “mystic order of the Sisters and Daughters of Shriners” club.

Other than the 1918 Stephensophia, when the war was raging, the 1921 yearbook has a more serious tone than previous annuals. There aren’t as many jokes or short stories, perhaps because more pages are being dedicated to a growing number of clubs and organizations. 

This year, there are eight sororities at Stephens, a new Hypatia Club focused on math, Le Circle Francais, or French, club and a new Social Democracy Club “to aid wide-awake girls in becoming women informed in international and national issues.” The club is affiliated with the International Relations Club, a division of the Institute of International Education, and fosters discussions of “important social and political problems.”

This is also the year in which the Stephens Standard debuts. The Standard is a literary publication and the precursor to today’s Harbinger. 

There’s also a “dress parade” under the home-ec department—a precursor to today’s student designer runway show, perhaps?

Here’s a view of Stephens circa 1921:

 and some of the lovely ladies of 1921:

The Stephens: Look Back series is made possible by the Missouri Digital Heritage project. You can view the entire 1900-1965 Stephensophia digital collection here.

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