Friday, May 17, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Turning the World Upside Down

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





This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt shows a line of children draped across a bar viewing the world upside down.  One photo in my great-aunt Velma Davis Woodring’s scrapbook from her freshman year at Harrisonburg Teacher’s College (now James Madison University – Go Dukes!) suggests the ladies of HTC did their share of viewing the world upside down too:

Velma Davis Woodring and friends 1925
Left to right: Velma Davis,
Leta LeVow, Thelma Haga
Upside down - ??
Velma captioned this photo "On the Dayton Pike
March 28, 1925"


However, nothing turned the 1920s world upside down like the flapper.  A poem in Velma’s scrapbook announces that the modern woman is different from those of previous generations. 

The Flappers Choice

There was a little flapper girl
Who bobbed her hair and skirts;
And she was known in town as one
Of its most vampish flirts.
Her face was powdered – coated,
With a heavy smear of red,
Which came off on the pillow
When at nite she went to bed.
She laughed and smoked & danced
In perfect happiness.
Some people said she’d go to - - - -
Whenever she was dead.
She soon upset their theories
And went to heaven instead.
When St. Peter questioned her
Beside the pearly gate
And asked her what she’d ever done
She answered him quite straight.
He let her in; she took up her harp
. . . .


There the white ink is so faded that I cannot make out the words.  What a pity.  If Velma wrote this, she did Dorothy Parker proud.

Judging by Velma’s scrapbook, bobbed hair ruled the day at HTC.

"Courtney G"
Velma, Bill Porter,
Leta LeVow, Unknown


Bill Porter, Leta LeVow, Velma
Velma Davis (Woodring)








































But that wasn’t always the case.  In fact, HTC tried to discourage students from cutting their hair.  Student teachers were expected to keep theirs long or at the very least disguise the awful truth with hairpins and nets. 

Then in 1924 Mrs. Beatrice Varner entered the picture.  The new dean of women was the perfect combination of attractiveness and ability.  She set the example of good taste in dress and standards of conduct.  No doubt the administrators and faculty were confident that under Mrs. Varner’s leadership this flapper business would soon end.

Those thoughts were short-lived, however.  Mrs. Varner attended a conference in Atlantic City, and while there she treated herself to a new haircut. 

Mrs. Beatrice Varner
(from the yearbook 1926)

When she returned to campus, the president of the college just gave up.  From then on students – even student teachers – were allowed to follow the example of the dean of women, a woman who possessed the spirit of the flapper and turned the HTC world upside down. 


Varner House at JMU
Varner House - Built in 1929, the home economics
practice house was named in honor of Beatrice Varner.
I'm not sure how this building is used today at JMU.


If you want to see people standing on their heads and children at play, please visit Sepia Saturday.  Without a doubt, there will be something there that will turn your world upside down.




© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

42 comments:

  1. What a great poem! How sad that we can't know how it ends.

    I love the bobs; I've had one for years. :)

    Have a great weekend, Wendy.

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    1. I know -- it's aggravating. I looked at those missing words from every angle and under every light but just can't see them. You have a great weekend too!

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    2. have you tried playing with the gamma on this pic?!?
      :)~
      HUGZ

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    3. Ticklebear, are you speaking French again? You know I'm not Photoshop-savvy (even though I got it for Christmas). What's a gamma and how do you play?

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  2. What a fantastic poem just sums up the era perfectly. The 1920's was a decade of great change especially for women and your Great-aunt Velma was a great advocate and such a fun lady.

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    1. The 1920s would have been an exciting time to live.

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  3. Wendy, I love the final photo of Velma. She looks gorgeous. I love her hair, look & style - everything. What a wonderful picture.
    Sharon

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    1. That's one of my favorite photos of Velma. Her hair looks so silky and shiny.

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  4. Hairstyles were not an issue at my boys' school until an American caused waves with the first crew cut we had ever seen. It was frowned upon when English pupils tired to copy him.

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    1. I never knew the crew-cut was controversial. However, I do remember the trouble boys faced when they tried to grow their hair longer like the Beatles.

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  5. Awww, I was getting into the poem when it ghosted out on you. And good for Mrs. Varner.

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    1. I feel like I've played a dirty trick on everyone not having the full poem, but that's how it goes sometimes. It's a real tribute to Mrs. Varner that she didn't get fired over that haircut. She must have been too valuable to let hair get in the way.

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  6. Oh - I was disappointed too! What did she play for St. Peter? And what did he have to say? Love that last picture of Velma!

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  7. My experience with boys haircuts was the opposite of Bob Scotney's. The first time I saw a boy without very short hair, it was an English boy that had recently moved.

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    1. When boys at my school started growing their hair longer in the late 60s, they met with lots of opposition from the school principal. Sideburns presented a bigger problem.

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  8. Without those few enlightened teachers, I think the memories of our schooldays would be far more dreary.

    As with Bob, the hair length rules were very restrictive when I was at boarding school. The school barber came regularly, and you had to have it cut, whatever the length. There could be no hair covering the ears, and if you came back from the holidays with your hair too long, you were sent on a special trip to the barber. And crew cuts weren't just frowned upon - that was considered taking the mickey and you were likely to be in trouble unless you had a medical excuse.

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    1. I'm intrigued by the controversy over the crew cut. Too rebellious??

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  9. I am sure your great aunt would not have anticipated that you would share these pictures with the world one day !! My daughters are pretty possessive about crazy images of themselves, they don't trust me not to blog them !! That is pretty strange really as they "Facebook" much worse.

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    1. I sometimes wonder what my great aunts would think about my blogs. I hope they'd be amused and proud, not embarrassed or horrified.

      My girls have appeared only a couple times in my blog, and the pictures were from their early years. I do my best not to use them. There are several I could have used for this week's prompt in which they really were upside down!

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  10. I guess we can add our own ending to that poem of yesterday! Very nice. I'm always a bit envious when I read your posts, you are so lucky to have first such an interesting and wonderful family to be from, but also to open up a family album and explore their days. You are blessed Wendy, in so many gifted ways.

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    1. Now I'm blushing. I do feel lucky to be from the family I'm from. But I'll admit I haven't always been grateful enough for what they've left behind. Really Velma -- only ONE year of college photos and far too few name tags?? In reality, it's more than many people get, so I should be happier. Thanks for reminding me.

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  11. It is always fun to learn more about Velma, and I like how you tied in the whole flapper theme too, Wendy.

    I bet that young woman who is upside down in that top picture saw that and said, oh, Lord, look at my thighs!

    Great post, as always.

    Kathy M.

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    1. Kathy, you are my (evil) twin! I confess in trying to identify the head-stander, I kept looking at heavier girls in the photo album. HA

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  12. I loved your post today. Such a scandal, cutting hair. When my grandmother cut hers people were shocked but she was delighted. The weight of her long hair had caused dreadful headaches.

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    1. I had not thought about problems associated with long hair. I'm sure your grandmother felt very liberated.

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  13. Delightful stroll through Flapper times. At a stage of life now where I cannot abide my hair becoming long and wonder how the women managed to keep their long hair back then without blow driers and the like. Interesting flapper poem there too..

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    1. I can't stand long hair either, and I swear my hairdresser adds fertilizer to the shampoo. Indeed, getting ready for a night out had to start the day before, I suppose, to allow time for hair to dry.

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  14. Velma and her pals must give you great pleasure to recreate their stories, Wendy. Each one is a winner and this one is especially good.

    What I enjoy from reading their history is that they are such perfect examples of that great wave of female empowerment that exploded in the 1920s after women achieved the right to vote with the 19th amendment. Previously, young teachers were terribly controlled in everything such as their employment based on staying single, or their salary capped one level below a male teacher. The many classroom photos that Sepians have posted in the last two weeks show a lot of contrast between the teachers of pre-1920 and those post-1920. A woman changing her hair style was one way to celebrate that liberation.

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    1. You are so right, Mike. The photos give me some idea of what my great-aunt's everyday life was like. What an exciting time to have lived. Today things seem to move fast, especially technology. I'm sure the changes seemed fast in the 20s too.

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  15. Is a girl named Bill equal to a boy named Sue? I wonder if future generations will chuckle about how quaint we were making a big fuss over a few tattooes? Such a fun take on the theme.

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    1. That Bill Porter is killin' me! She's on almost every page of Velma's photo album, but I do not see her in the yearbook at all. I've even looked at yearbooks online through Ancestry and can't find her.

      Interesting idea about the tattoos. I was at the doctor's office recently and struck up a conversation with a very tattoed and pierced woman and a little girl. I assumed the woman was the child's mother but no -- her grandmother.

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  16. Well done to the new Dean of Women! What attractive ladies these were too; Velma is so pretty in that last picture. I loved her poem and the mystery ending.

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    1. I should challenge all my poetry-writing friends to supply an ending. Hint Hint

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  17. Your great-aunt Velma and her friends seemed like such a fun-loving group! And that last photo of Velma is beautiful.

    I actually did a Google search for that poem. First I searched for the title of the poem...nothing. Then I copied the first two lines of the poem and...ta da! Your blog showed up in the first two results! HA! I guess we'll have to make up our own ending.

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    1. Too funny, Jana. I also Googled some lines from the poem when I was trying to find the author. Maybe Velma wrote it herself.

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  18. The flappers were wonderful, the world was their oyster.

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  19. Good for the dean to pull a trick like that on them.
    :)~
    HUGZ

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    1. Mrs. Varner had to be aware of the president's views on bobbed hair. She must have been confident in her value to the school to risk being fired for insubordination.

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  20. The pictures seem to capture the decade perfectly. I suppose when we think of recent historical times we think in pictures (particularly those times since photography has been around). Any of these would act as a perfect signpost for the twenties.

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    1. "Courtney G"'s hairdo especially!

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