I shared a photo of my grandmother Eveline Coates’ high school graduating class in Mystic, Iowa a few weeks (now months!) ago. Along with the photo and her diploma, a couple of other mementos were saved. One is the program for the Junior-Senior Banquet in honor of the graduating Seniors. It was interesting to see how World War I seemed to be the overarching theme of the festivities. I decided to take a deeper look at what her life may have been like during the 1917-1918 school year. There was a lot going on, a war and the beginning of an influenza pandemic to name the two biggies. The list of related posts is getting long, so I’ll link them at the bottom.
The week before commencement was a busy one for Eveline. The Junior-Senior Reception (which I am skipping over for the time-being) was Friday evening, May 10th. Two days after the reception was the Baccalaureate Sermon, followed by the class play on Tuesday, class night on Thursday, and commencement on Friday. Before and during this week, the seniors rehearsed the play and practiced for commencement. I’ll bet there was shopping too – as students planned what to wear to the reception, class night, and for the graduation ceremony. In the class photo, all of the students are wearing caps and gowns, but the girls, especially, might have worn a new dress underneath. And what about final exams? Were the seniors also applying for jobs or college or working to learn a trade? Doing extra chores in the absence of an older brother drafted to military service? As it is today, the end of the school year was a busy time for the graduating seniors of Mystic and for their families.
Performing a class play before graduation is not something that we did when I graduated from high school, nor when my children graduated, but it seems to have been a common practice at the time.
The Senior Class Play was a one-act comedy, “Why Not Jim?” written by Helen F. Bagg. Ms. Bagg seems to have written quite a number of light-hearted plays that were often performed by high school students.
The price of admission was 15 cents and 25 cents. The school principal, Neva Prior went to Centerville to shop the Wednesday before this busy week. Maybe she needed something to wear for commencement, or supplies for one of the events.
The play was staged at the Strand Theater in Mystic. I wish I could find an older photo of the outside of the building.
A digital copy of the play Why Not Jim is available from the Internet Archive of the Library of Congress.
We can try to imagine the set on the stage of the Strand Theater.
The play called for a cast of nine characters.
There were eighteen graduating seniors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any newspaper accounts or other sources that named who played the characters or how the play was received.
There are three male characters in the play and three boys in Eveline’s graduating class, so I’ll assume each of the male members of the senior class had a part to play. Unfortunately, I have yet to identify anyone in the class photo other than Eveline and Alice Tingle, her future sister-in-law. But I do know their names. The names of the young men are: Art J. McDanolds, David E. Lodwick, and Clarence H. Swanson. But who is who?
And who played the parts of Alec Fraser, a young author married to Edna.
Charles Ramsey, a friend of the family, who is responsible for “Jim.”
and James Barry, friend of Charles, who is willing to do a lot for Vivian?
A description of the costume requirements provides more information about casting the parts.
If I were to take a guess, I’d guess student #1 in the part of Fraser, #2 as Ramsey, and #3 as Barry. But what do I know?
There were only five parts for the fifteen senior girls. Did one of the students fill the role of director or did one of the teachers have that responsibility? There were costumes to prepare, backdrops to paint, doors and windows and a window seat to build, props to gather, tickets and money to handle, the stage to light, make up to apply, and costume changes to help with. It would be fun to know if my grandmother acted in the play or was one of the crew. I would guess she was not an actor, unless that was a side of her personality that I never saw.
If only Eveline lived in Centerville, the county seat, rather than Mystic. The newspaper listed all of the students and the parts they played in the Centerville senior class play and many more details for other senior events as well.
I was unable to find any details about Senior Class night, which occurred the night before commencement. I can only guess that it was a party atmosphere to celebrate their last night together as classmates.
Although I did not match the prompt photo, this is my contribution to Sepia Saturday. Please play along and visit other bloggers who participate: Sepia Saturday.
If you would like to read other posts about Eveline’s Senior Year, you can find them here:
Eveline’s Senior Year, Part 1
Eveline’s Senior Year: The Draft and a Carnival
Eveline’s Senior Year: A Look Around Town
Eveline’s Senior Year: Musical Notes
Eveline’s Senior Year: Smallpox
Eveline’s Senior Year: What are you Serving?
Eveline’s Senior Year: Root Beer on the 4th
Eveline’s Senior Year: Miners, Miner and Maps
Eveline’s Senior Year: The Weight of Mining
Eveline’s Senior Year: Gatherings and Gossip
Eveline’s Senior Year: Knit Your Bit
Eveline’s Senior Year: In Search of a Back Story
Eveline’s Senior Year: Sign the Food Pledge
Eveline’s Senior Year: Produce, Preserve, Conserve
Eveline’s Senior Year: Graduation Memorabilia
Eveline’s Senior Year: Baccalaureate
Eveline’s final week looks exhausting, especially for her parents! As a one-time high school thespian, I can attest to the fun and anxiety of a teenager’s theatre stage life. Preparing for a part in a play probably contributed to more stress than final exams or the actual graduation!
Seems like a really busy week, indeed. And you’ve managed to gather quite a lot of details about it as well!
It’s too bad the list of the cast is unavailable! It’s those little lost items that drive me nuts.
Wow, that’s so great that there was the play, and you have a photo of the stage where it was produced…and then there are all the other details you have of her graduation week!
I am amazed the you found a copy of the play! My high school class had a banquet with a hypnotist who got students onstage to do funny stuff while “hypnotized” (unless some of them were just putting us on). But to have an entire play before graduation? That is quite an ancestral gem. Too bad you can’t find exact details about Eveline and her classmates.