Friday, August 3, 2012

Sepia Saturday: Crossing the Finish Line


Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt shows track runners triumphantly crossing the finish line.  I offer a different kind of finish line.  A different kind of triumph. 


Violetta Davis, 19 years old
Senior picture 1923

The year was 1923.  My great-aunt Violetta Davis (later Ryan) was graduating from the Harrisonburg Normal School after just two years.  Educating the populace has always been a priority of the United States, but in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, teaching requirements were not as demanding as they are today.  However, the need for teachers was great.  The State of Virginia built 4 normal schools to train teachers and establish educational standards or “norms.” The typical normal school offered several courses of study aimed at developing teachers and putting them to work as soon as possible:
1.       Training Class Certificate:  a person with two years of high school education could enter a one-year program that qualified her to teach in a rural school for three years. 
2.       Professional Diploma:  a person with four years of high school education could enter the two year program that qualified her to teach anywhere for seven years.
3.       Bachelor of Science Degree in Education:  a person who had earned the Professional diploma could enter this four-year program that entitled her to teach for life.

Violetta opted for the Professional Diploma.  But she didn’t stop there.  She returned to Harrisonburg Teachers College and received her Bachelor of Science degree in High School Teaching and Administration in 1930, which was the same year her professional certificate would have expired.  Then she went to New York where she earned a masters degree at Columbia in 1934.

But back to 1923 ….

When Violetta was a student at the State Normal School in Harrisonburg, the traditions surrounding commencement had been in place for over ten years.  Five days of activities were planned.  The entire student body stayed to share in the excitement of their friends’ achievements and to dream of the day when it would be their turn to join the “Normal Line.”

Click to enlarge

On Friday, June 1, 1923, the Senior class presented a play in the outdoor theater.  Violetta’s class performed “The Lamp and the Bell” by Edna St. Vincent Milay.  It was a poetic drama based on the fairy tale “Snow White and Rose Red.”  Milay wrote it specifically as an outdoor production with a large cast, colorful medieval period costumes and a great deal of spectacle.

On Saturday night, June 2, the Seniors were entertained with music by the music students and dramatic readings by students in the expression class. 









Click to enlarge
The Normal Line marched past Spotswood Hall
to the gates at South Main Street
Sunday was Baccalaureate in the morning and Vesper Service in the evening.  For many years Baccalaureate rotated among the various churches in Harrisonburg.  As long as the service was downtown, the people of Harrisonburg showed up to watch the procession of faculty in academic gowns and seniors in their white dresses as they walked in a line from campus to the church.  It came to be known as “the Normal Line.”  The Normal Line stretched for blocks.  It must have been an impressive sight.

Click to enlarge
The Normal Line marching down South Main Street

Since the students were on display, the faculty and administration required a uniform look.  The girls wore white dresses with white stockings, white shoes, and white hats.  Sleeves had to be at least half way to the elbow and the hem had to be fourteen inches from the floor.  The rules were nothing to mess with. Graduates had to pass inspection conducted by a committee of students and chaperone of each dorm.  For Violetta, inspection day was April 30, 1923. 

The Vesper Services were held Sunday evening in the amphitheater, concluding with a candlelight service in which the graduating class relinquished their seniority to the Juniors.  The ceremony was usually accompanied by a great deal of sadness and tears.

On Monday was the annual tennis tournament between the two clubs on campus, the Racquet and Pinquet clubs.   Homecoming for the alumnae was always during commencement week, and in 1923 the Alumnae held their banquet on Monday evening, June 4.

Click to enlarge
Harrisonburg Normal School in 1923
Harrison Hall is second from the right.

On Tuesday evening, June 5, 1923, Commencement was held in the Blue Stone Dining Hall in Harrison. Finally, Violetta and the other Seniors had triumphed in their studies.  They crossed the finish line.

Violetta's "casual picture" in the yearbook.
Each senior had a formal portrait plus a
casual photo taken somewhere on campus.


I’ll race you over to Sepia Saturday for more triumphs of blogging genius.



RESOURCES:
Dingledine, Raymond C., Jr. Madison College: The First Fifty Years 1908-1958. Madison College. Harrisonburg, VA. 1959.
Schoolma'am. State Normal School of Harrisonburg. 1923.

©2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

42 comments:

  1. What an unusual angle on the theme and I enjoyed reading about Violetta's triumphs - a lovely name too.

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  2. I'm so glad you took a different 'line' Wendy but managed to stay on theme as well. It's wonderful that you still have all these pictures and memorabilia of Violetta.

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    1. I've enjoyed looking at Violetta's college experience since the Normal School eventually became James Madison University, my Alma Mater.

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  3. Snow White and Rose Red, sounds very interesting....I like the road you ventured on too....Violetta was amazing! Great photos as well!

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    1. I've heard of Rose Red, but I don't know that I've ever read that fairy tale.

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  4. A wonderful finish for Violetta. She must have been very ambitious and determined. I love the Normal Line and the precise conformation to the rules and regs.

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    1. Ambitious and determined -- 2 perfect adjectives for Violetta. Are you sure you didn't know her?

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  5. That is amazing, the pomp, the circumstance. I wish that it was true that teachers were held in high regard today. I just don't see it. So very, very disheartening.

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    1. I have been thinking the same thing. Professors were like gods -- their knowledge was admired. To be complimented by a professor was the greatest gift ever. But now, hmm.

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  6. Interesting story and pictures. I didn't know that there were different classes of teachers.

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    1. I'm surprised that people with only 2 years of high school could earn a certificate. But I guess there weren't too many advanced courses back then. I volunteered to help index the 1940 census and saw several teachers who had completed only 7 or 8 years of school. They were teaching in poor rural areas of the state.

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  7. What an exceptional finish! And very instructive from a historical point of view as well. I truly enjoyed reading it.

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  8. What a great post and in the telling, surprisingly on theme! The details of an early teacher's life are well worth recording, so I hope we will read more on Violetta's career.

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    1. I appreciate your encouragement. Violetta was a significant influence in our family.

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  9. This wasn't the type of post I was expecting today so it was a pleasant surprise. I knew knothing about teacher training in the USA so Violetta's story was very instructive. I just wonder how much it has changed.

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    1. First of all, teacher training has changed A LOT! Getting into college has changed a lot too.

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  10. I love this story! I used to be a teacher and found reading about Violetta's training to be very interesting.

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    1. Me too. It boggles my mind to think about teenagers running a classroom.

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  11. What a lovely collection of photos and an interesting read. I especially liked the picture of the 'normal line' which I think should have been called the 'white line'. It would have been impressive to see.

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    1. It was indeed a white line, wasn't it!

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  12. Wendy, she is so pretty and was obviously very smart! I appreciate you explaining what was behind the name "Normal School." Drain had one too, but I didn't realize that it was a school for teachers, even though Aunt Aurilla attended there (and became a teacher).

    Violetta was a hard worker who achieved her goals, and you tied this article all together beautifully! You should submit it somewhere.

    Kathy M.

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    1. When I was a kid, hearing Violetta talk about the Normal School used to confuse me. Normal as opposed to what? An ABnormal School?

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  13. Wendy this was a marvelous post. So interesting and creative. I graduated from a very formal private school and I loved all the pomp and ceremony.
    QMM

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    1. I love the pomp of graduation too. I love to see the academic robes. I love to see the banners of the various departments. I'm not much of a crier, but graduation will do it to me every time.

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  14. Wendy, this is a wonderful story of Violetta's amazing achievements! What a pretty girl, and her name is lovely too. She was obviously very ambitious and smart.

    And you did a fabulous job on this week's theme. Very clever!

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    1. Thank-ya much, Jana. I don't know how clever I was -- just desperate to stick to the theme at all costs, I guess.

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  15. Wendy, bravo for your aunt Violetta, she was an achiever. How regimental everything was; that must not have been easy!

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    1. I really think the regiment made things feel important and lofty and grander than the lives the students had led before they went to college.

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  16. A perfect example of a creative interpretation of a Sepia Saturday prompt - and a thoroughly enjoyable read as well.

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    1. Oh aren't you nice. Sometimes I think you're just trying to make it hard for me. (ha!)

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  17. What a wonderful story. Well written. Others have commented on your creative interpretation of 'finish line'. That's true and echoed by me. I just found your post so wonderful to read that I didn't want it to end (sort of). And, in some cases, I felt myself saying out loud, I'm glad commencement is shorter these days. But a long commencement makes for a better story. What a great read.

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    1. I can't imagine the whole school hanging around to watch the seniors graduate. Heck, many graduates don't even want to be there. They should feel proud -- you know their parents are.

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  18. Violetta was a cool chick all her life. She was interesting and interested in people. I guess that is why so many folks stopped by to see her over the years. I can picture her sitting in a rocker on the porch with her cigarette smoke encircling her snow white hair.

    When I look at the last picture I see Zoe, and I always think she looks like Velma, but in that picture Zoe and Violetta are the twins!

    Wonderful post!

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  19. What a creative twist on this week's theme. Makes me think of many "finish-lines" we reach in life. Your aunt certainly achieved her educational goals - it must have been very satisfying for her.

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    1. I believe Violetta was indeed proud of her education. She always preached independence and education to the women in our family.

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  20. I particularly like the photo of the normal line. They look like a group of angels.
    Your aunt was really something. What a great post.
    Nancy

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    1. I like that photo because it's a true action shot, but I also wish there had been some close-ups in Violetta's scrapbook.

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  21. I can just imagine each girl facing the chaperon as the hem gets measured up.... These processions in white makes me think of something else, but I much prefer this here.
    ;)~
    HUGZ

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    1. I imagine the inspection of sleeves and hems was much like the scene in "A League of Their Own" with the charm school matron.

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