Eveline’s Senior Year: Grandma Was in a Play After All

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 biggiesThe list of related posts is getting long, so I’ll link them at the bottom.

I was in the middle of writing what I knew was the next post in this series. I was doing a little newspaper research for that post when I found something at about 11:00 Saturday night (the day I had hoped to post it!), not for the post I was writing, but something I needed for the previous post.

Sometimes search terms bring us what we are looking for. Sometimes we use all the search terms we can think of in all possible configurations and spellings, with and without quotations marks … and come up empty. As I read this information that arrived too late, I sat back in my chair, no amusement on my face. Now? Really? I needed you weeks ago.

My previous post was about my grandmother and the Mystic High School Senior Class Play. I wrote things like:

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?

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.

Trying to finish the post I was working on, I searched for the name Lodwick, the surname of one of Eveline’s classmates, who was mentioned in the Junior-Senior Reception program.

Page 5 of Semi Weekly Iowegian,published in Centerville, Iowa on Monday, April 22nd, 1918

And there it was – the names of the students and what parts they played. Unfortunately, I still can’t identify any of the students in the class photo except for Alice Tingle, who would one day be Eveline’s sister-in-law.

But look at the last paragraph in the clipping: “The other Seniors will present ‘Georgia’s Wedding Gown’ or ‘Who’s to Inherit?’ on class night.” So … those who didn’t have a part in the Senior Class Play “Why Not Jim?” would not be left out completely. But which play did they perform? And could I find a copy of the play or at least some information about it? I found a reference to the play “Who’s to Inherit?” on the internet, but I could never find “Georgia’s Wedding Gown.”

I went back to the local newspaper again, trying several search terms. What finally worked? “Gown”. And there it was.

Page 4 of Semi Weekly Iowegian,published in Centerville, Iowa on Monday, April 29th, 1918

“Georgianna” had been misspelled as “Georgia” in the first article. Ah well. I found it.

So grandma Eveline played the part of Madge Gilliard in the play “Georgianna’s Wedding Gown.” The play, by author Bell Bayless, is described in a 1914 booksellers newsletter as “a farce in two acts” and the publisher as “Dick & Fitz,” which I eventually learned was Dick & Fitzgerald.

I was about to give up locating a copy of the play when I finally found it by searching the name of the character Grandma played, Madge Gilliard. I almost wish I hadn’t. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

In this series, I’ve written about The Red Cross, smallpox, coal mining, food conservation, immigration, the draft, Eveline’s family, and more. One thing I did not delve into was race. The “gift” of locating the play Grandma was in compels me to acknowledge this influence on Grandma’s life as well.

The first hint of where this might lead was finding a Wikipedia entry about the publishing company, Dick and Fitzgerald.

Eric Lott cites them as one of the leading publishers circa 1850 of songbooks (typically just lyrics, not melodies) of the popular blackface minstrel songs of the time, which he characterizes as “little lyric volumes of mass-produced racist caricature.”



There were not many black families in Appanoose County at the time and I read somewhere along the way that a number of them had been recruited from Missouri or other parts south to work in the coal mines. What the men who moved their families to Appanoose County did not know until they showed up for work was that they had been recruited and hired as strikebreakers. Scabs. They did not receive a warm welcome.

In one class photo of Eveline in elementary school, there is one black girl in the picture of about thirty children.

There are no black teens in the 1918 Senior Class photo. Eveline wrote an autobiography as a school assignment when she was about sixteen. In it she wrote:

After spending four years of delightful work and play here, I started on my way to the Central Ward.  The children there were strangers to me and there were so many that for some time I was afraid to try any pranks and when I got over this feeling, I was told that I was old enough to act like a lady. Well I did, for it wasn’t but a few days later, when with some of the other girls I found myself in a big quarrel with some colored girls. That afternoon the professor for some reason or other kept coming into the room and it was with a sigh of relief that we marched out of school that night without even a scolding.

Grandma did not share details of what the quarrel was about.

Back to the play …

The setting of the play is the home of Madge Gilliard, a young, single woman of about 20. Her parents are out of town. Georgianna is a servant in the home. The time of the play is noted as “the present,” and since the play was written in 1914, this production in 1918 was representative of the present.

Costumes, characteristics of the characters, props needed, and stage directions.

The gist of the play is that Georgianna hopes to marry her beau right away, but doesn’t have a white gown to wear. She took her aunt’s funeral shroud, but it was eaten by a calf when she set it out to dry. At Madge’s house, she takes a white dress and hat out of the closet while she is cleaning and wants to buy them from Madge, but Madge does not want to part with them. Madge and her guests decide to make a wedding gown for Georgianna.

Nice enough story.

But the play features racist caricatures and language and the black characters speak in distorted Black language. The lines for Grandma’s character include “that” word as well as others.

I have questions.
Who chose this play rather than Who’s to Inherit?, the other play considered? That play has no black characters or racial stereotypes.
Did the students vote?
Did the teacher in charge select it?
Did students think it would be a test of their acting chops to play characters unlike themselves?
Did anyone have reservations about anything in the play?
Did the students perform in blackface?

I can guess, but obviously can’t answer any of my questions. I can only point to the popularity of minstrel shows and entertainment of this nature at the time. The frequent carnivals that came to Appanoose County usually included a minstrel show. I remember finding a newspaper clipping several years ago about a minstrel show performed at church – the Methodist Church – if I remember correctly. And by 1920, the KKK was gaining a foothold in Appanoose County. The editor of the Centerville newspaper apparently put up quite a fight with them.

Under Jesse Beck, The Iowegian waged a fierce — and ultimately successful — fight against the Ku Klux Klan in southern Iowa, where the KKK had gained a foothold that modern Iowans would find astonishing. The paper editorialized against the KKK on its front page and faced reprisals from Klan supporters, Mills told us.


I have struggled to find words to close this post, but none that seem fitting have come to me. I was sad and disheartened to read the play and to imagine Eveline and her classmates performing in it and being entertained by it … for Senior Class Night, no less.

As for Eveline, her interactions with people of color were limited by the part of the country where she grew up and lived out her life. I never heard her speak the words that she apparently delivered in the play and I never heard her disparage anyone because of the color of their skin or ethnicity. But just as patriotism, frugality, and service were heavy in the air in 1918, so was racism. Young Eveline lived and breathed an environment that unquestionably influenced her and her classmates. As we all do.

I wish I could ask Grandma about that play.

Maybe I don’t know how to finish this post because it is an unfinished story. I wish we could say that our racist past is all in the past, but we know it is not. The past remains with us – sometimes blatantly obvious, but often unrecognized, unacknowledged, and exerting more influence than we are willing to recognize.

A series of search terms to tell a simple story delivered a hit.

This is my very late response to Sepia Saturday for October 22.

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 Senior Year: Senior Class Play

Eveline’s Senior Year: Family and Friends on Chairs – or Not

I shared a photo of my grandmother Eveline Coates’ high school graduating class in Mystic, Iowa a few weeks 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 biggiesSee:
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

The prompt photo for Sepia Saturday this week features a heavily carved chair circa 1900.

Old Chair In Reykjavik Museum, Cornell University Library Collection : Sepia Saturday 619 Prompt Image

How to make a chair fit with the theme of Eveline’s senior year? I looked for photos that might have been taken inside her home. I didn’t find any, but there are a few photos of people sitting on chairs. There are also photos of people outside her home. They were taken not long before or after, if not during, Eveline’s 1917-1918 school year and provide another glimpse into her life during that time.

I’ll start with a photo of Eveline holding her youngest sister, Nellie. Eveline and Nellie both had February birthdays – Eveline born in 1901; Nellie born in 1912. Nellie would have been about six during Eveline’s senior year. She looks a little younger here, I think. I wonder if the photograph was to commemorate their February birthdays?

Eveline and Nellie Coates, circa 1915-1917

Below is Eveline’s brother Leonard (“Lindy”). He was born in March of 1910, so he would have been about eight during Eveline’s senior year. He might be a little younger in this photo, but close enough. The dog is tied to the handle of the wagon where Lindy sits, holding a long stick.

Leonard “Lindy” Coates

Eveline’s older brother, John, had his photo taken in uniform while sitting in a carved chair. John registered for the draft during the summer of 1917. This photograph was likely taken not long after Eveline’s graduation in 1918.

John Coates, 1918

That’s the end of the photos of family members sitting circa 1917-18. So we will move outside. I have shared this photo of Eveline’s parent’s before. The backdrop of a painted house with white trim is consistent in other family photos. It must be the family home.

Joseph and Mary Harris Coates

Eveline’s sister Marjorie was born in 1906, which would make her about twelve in 1918. I’m going to call this close enough. Her hat looks the same as the one Lindy wore in the earlier photo.

Marjorie Coates

These are not all of Eveline’s siblings, just the ones I found photos of around this time in her life. It must have been a busy house with at least eight of the nine living siblings at home. As the oldest girl, it would fall to Eveline to help with the chores and the care of her younger siblings.

Eveline kept some photos of friends and neighbors.

Bernard and Mary Reinscop, neighbors
Marion and Eveline Morlan, neighbors
Maggie Train

As I looked through old newspapers, names of other Mystic residents appeared repeatedly – motoring to Centerville or attending a club meeting or a party. Eveline’s family very rarely made mention. They never seemed to go anywhere with anyone. Until …

Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen, Centerville, IA, 21 Jul 1917

Eveline had a party! She hosted her class. At the covered bridge. In the middle of the week in July.

Finding this made me inexplicably happy.

Unfortunately, I have not seen any photo that records the events of the day or who was there. Although her graduating class was small, they would not all fit into one car. The names Fenton and Ford do not appear on a list of classmates, so the drivers of the cars must have been family friends who offered to drive those who did not live within walking distance. There is one photo of Eveline with some girlfriends.

Top to bottom: Unknown, Eveline Coates, Unknown, Alice Tingle, Unknown

I only know the identity of the two girls leaning left – Eveline and her friend and classmate Alice Tingle. I think you can tell which one is Eveline by her hair! All of the girls look like they could be incoming high school seniors and there is water, so it’s possible this photo goes with the newspaper reference to a party, but their long sleeved dresses make me wonder about it being July. Eveline and Alice attended normal school in the summer of 1918, so this photo could have been taken with friends there. In any case, they look like they are having fun – and at least one of them is sitting. On something.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday and my family history. Get comfortable in your chair and visit other Sepia Saturday bloggers here.

Sepia Saturday – Love Notes

Sepia Saturday provides bloggers with an opportunity to share their history through the medium of photographs. Historical photographs of any age or kind become the launchpad for explorations of family history, local history and social history in fact or fiction, poetry or prose, words or further images. If you want to play along, sign up to the link, try to visit as many of the other participants as possible, and have fun.

I learned this song with slightly different lyrics, but I do enjoy this video. Here are the words I learned as a child:

A-tisket, a-tasket, 
A green and yellow basket. 
I wrote a letter to my love, 
And on the way I dropped it.

I dropped it, I dropped it, 
And, on the way I dropped it. 
A little boy picked it up, 
And put it in his pocket.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

School started this past week and I am reminded of my eldest daughter’s first day of school. Trying my best to be a good mom, I put a little love note in my daughter’s lunch box. I don’t remember exactly what it said. Probably just, “I love you! Mom” – or something simple like that.

When she returned home, I asked about her day. Her reply, ” Well, I was okay until lunch. Then I saw your note and started to cry.”

Needless to say, I did not put little love notes in the lunch boxes of the next two kids I sent off to Kindergarten.

I kept a scrapbook when I was in college and there are a few love notes from my future husband.

He was big on giving me roses. He still is. Although he didn’t follow his first idea to mark each year together with that number of roses, he has more than made up for it! When I was diagnosed with my first cancer 6+ years ago, he started bringing home roses when he did the grocery shopping every weekend. Sometimes he switches up and gets a seasonal bouquet or now, in the spring, peonies are often available. Since they don’t grow in Texas and he knows my sentimental regard for them from my grandmother’s garden, he always gets them when he can. He has only missed a couple of weeks in six years.

When I had my stem cell transplant, I was not allowed to have fresh or potted plants in my room. I was in the hospital over Valentine’s Day and he found me a little plastic solar powered flower.

Unfortunately, our big grand dog wagged his big tail and broke it.


My great-uncle Fred Webber wrote a love poem to his future wife. I included it in a previous post, but I’ll just include the relevant information here.

“Carol Webber shared with us the following poem. She explained that, while they were both students at the University of Iowa, she and Fred  went on a picnic with friends. They fetched a bucket of water for the group. Later, Fred presented Carol with the following poem, above which he had mounted a picture of the two of them carrying the pail of water for the picnic.”

I also have a previous post that includes a letter my grandfather Thomas Hoskins wrote to his future wife, Eveline Coates. I consider it a love note because he made sure to let her know at the beginning of the letter that writing to her was first on his agenda when he arrived at his destination.

Here they are pictured on their 50th anniversary.

Okobogi Ia       July 3, 1922

Dear Eveline: I have just arrived at Okobogi, I have been here but about two hours, so you see I am prompt in writing. It is sure a beautiful place here. 
We are camping in Highland Park, I think I will like it fine. There is plenty of shade and as I am a fish you know, I will enjoy being in the Lake. I think I will go down and catch a big fish pretty soon but not until I get something to eat for I am nearly starving. I am sending you some pictures of Storm Lake we just left there this morning. There is going to be lots going on here tomorrow. We have just been trying to find out who was the cook of the bunch but nobody seems competent of the job.

Well if you want any fish you had better get in your order as we are going to make a shipment up there the last of this week. Well I will close for this time as the boys are naging me to get a bucket of water.

I will try and write more next time.

Write soon.
Thomas Hoskins

I received a letter from my grandmother Eveline in Feb. of 1983. She was 82; I was 29. She had fallen and broken her hip. She wrote::

“I refused to take my therapy this afternoon. Can’t see that it is helping very much. I feel a lot better sitting here and writing to you. Will just leave the rest up to God. 

Well Kathy, I still love you and I hope this letter doesn’t discourage your faith in me.”

I had been thinking for months that I should write a letter to my grandmother expressing my gratitude and love for her and this note prompted me to do just that. I won’t share the whole letter; it is too long and maybe my whole post here is a bit too personal. My parents separated and divorced when I was two and my mom and I moved in with my grandparents. We lived with them until my mom remarried when I was almost eight – some very formative years spent in the care of my grandmother while my mom went to work. I’ll share a few excerpts from my love note to my grandmother.

The return letter I received from my grandmother included this sentence:
“Your letter was so full of loving memories I am going to put it among my keepsakes as a reminder of you.”

My aunt was caregiver for my grandmother for several years. She found the letter in my grandmother’s purse and returned it to me.

I know there must be many little love notes around here, but these are the ones that first came to mind. I’ll close with this photo of my other grandmother’s nephew, who has a basket that would hold many, many love notes should he choose to pick them up.

Who knows what will fill the baskets of other Sepia Saturday participants. Go visit and find out – here.