This is the month of graduations. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters and other relatives are sitting through speeches by graduates and assorted officials, who range from truly inspired to excruciatingly boring.

I have had the pleasure of writing news stories for many commencement activities in the Twin Cities. In each of them, I heard messages of optimism, as well as lots of humor.

I came across a newspaper account of the Edward Little High School graduation of 1903, which gave a detailed look at a class from 112 years ago. I recognized the same sense of enthusiasm mixed with apprehension that we see in today’s graduates.

Here’s a sample of the news story, as well as some examples of the humor those students expressed on that momentous day of their lives.

The ELHS commencement exercises took place in “the audience room” of the Elm Street Universalist Church in Auburn. It was among the school’s largest classes, with about 70 graduates. The junior class had done the decorations for the event.

There were a number of items on the program that would seem very strange to us today.

Thomas E. Gay, salutatorian of the class, was described as “an especially bright student in the Class of 1903.” There must be little doubt of that, because his address “in accordance with the usual custom” was given in Greek. Gay’s speech honored heroes of the past.

The class oration was delivered by Gerald P. Hall, who spoke about changes to the education system as the 1800s moved to the 1900s. He said the tendency of the educational institutions has been to cover too much ground, adding that modern life of the early 1900s will require people to specialize, and “specialization is the key note to success.”

Emma Abbie Hicks spoke on “College for the Girl Who Wants It.”

Lula Murphy read her essay on the class flower, the lily of the valley.

The class essay by Lucy J. O’Connell was on “Friendship.”

At that point, the program took a delightfully whimsical turn as George L. Foss presented the class history. It offered a remarkable picture of the physical, political and religious makeup the ELHS Class of 1903.

Foss said, “The religious preferences of this class are somewhat varied, yet all are without doubt sincere for this has long been known as a pious class and for firm convictions.”

He tallied his classmates’ religious principles as follows: 22 Congregationalists, 11 Universalists, seven Methodists, four Free Baptists, four hard-shell, close communion Baptists, four Catholics, two atheists, one Buddhist, one Adventist, one Episcopalian, one Christian Scientist, one Hebrew, one Sanfordite, one Quaker, one sinner, one agnostic and one theosophist.

He went on with an accounting of height.

“The combined height of the class is 358 feet, or taller than most of the pyramids of Egypt,” Foss said. The average height was 5 feet, 6 inches. Gay was tallest at 6 feet, 1 inch, while the shortest student was 4 feet, 11 inches.

Next, Foss measured the weight of the class.

“The total weight is four tons and 318 pounds,” he said. The average pupil was 128 pounds and the lightest was 98 pounds.

The average age of the class was 18.

“One girl could vote, as far as age goes,” he added.

Foss went on to say that “in the Latin Scientific Division, there are four girls who are only 16.”

His tabulation of political affiliations was quite creative.

“There are 34 Republicans, four Prohibitionists, four Socialists, three Democrats, two for the best man, one Whig, one Greenback, one Independent, one Tammany Hall and one who believes in the ‘Bangor Plan,’” Foss said. “Thirteen are ‘on the fence,’ and as that is an unlucky number and one has fallen off and is now ‘on the hog.’” 

In her class prophecy, Mable Hayes had a lot of fun with some fanciful predictions.

Ina N. would be selling patent medicine in Moscow, she said. In a magazine to be edited by Blaine B., she said Velma B. would be the staff political agitator.

Edith P. would marry the governor-elect of New Mexico, all records of famous automobilist would be broken by Georgia C., Charles T. was destined to be a candidate for the presidency of the Society for the Prevention of Girls Bothering Boys by Borrowing Pencils, Pens, Paper, Knives and Erasers.”

Hayes also predicted that Florence E. would become sheriff of Androscoggin County. Mabel K. would own a pool room in New York City, Margaret G. would give private lessons in Latin pronunciation, Minnie B. would “marry her Chinese laundryman,” and Hazel F. would be superintendent of schools in the Philippines.

Many graduations I have attended have contained a good measure of imagination, but I have no doubt that the commencement activities of the ELHS Class of 1903 would have been most memorable of all.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer, a native of Auburn and a member of ELHS Class of 1958. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected].


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