Saturday, June 27, 2020

Sepia Saturday: Check Us Out

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

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt reminded me of so many of the 1920s era photos in my collection. Skirts in check fabric. Big sweaters. Bows and ties. One of my favorites is this one.
Pals at Harrisonburg Teachers College 1924
Harrisonburg Teachers College 1924
(now James Madison University)
The photo from my grandaunt Velma Davis’s college scrapbook was captioned “Pals.” Since these girls do not appear often in the scrapbook, I believe they were each other’s pals more than Velma’s. Most likely they all lived in the same dorm, Wellington Hall.

I knew nothing about the Pals, so I decided to study Velma’s yearbook to see what I could learn. By carefully inspecting facial features, how they parted their hair, whether they had straight or curly hair, I THINK I have them identified.
Yearbook photos 1926
What do you think?

Jean (actually “Eugenia” – she must have hated that name) was from Bowling Green, Virginia. She was quite active in school serving as both secretary and president of the Page Literary Society and vice-president of the Racquet Tennis Club. She was a member of the Cotillion Club, Choral Club, Grammar Grade Club, Athletic Association, and YWCA. The quote assigned to her was “Could I love less I would be happier.” The Class Prophecy predicted Jean would “enter a domestic life with a lawyer-husband who’s proud of his wife.” And that is exactly what happened. She married Bernard Mahon, a lawyer. In the 1940 census, they had 2 children and a live-in maid. At her death in 1992, she was the owner of an inn in Bowling Green.

Frances was from Luray, Virginia. Unlike Jean, Frances was a member of only the YWCA. Her quote was “He that hath patience may compass anything.” (What? Is that supposed to be “accomplish”? I guess someone had no patience for proofreading.) Frances married William Shenk who managed a kennel, according to the 1930 census. When Frances died in 1985 in Lynchburg, Virginia, she was a retired school teacher.

Gwen was the most difficult to identify, but when I noticed she was from Bowling Green, I was encouraged. Sure enough, she and Jean grew up together as neighbors. While in college, Gwen was as busy as her pal Jean. Gwen was in the Page Literary Society, High School Club, French Circle, Grammar Grade Club, Choral Club, Athletic Association, and YWCA. Her quote was “She hath a pleasant word and a smile for everyone.” Gwen married Clem Jordan, a machinist. She died in 1995 in New Port Richey, Florida.

Jessie was from Bentonville in Warren County, Virginia. She enjoyed some of the same activities as her pals: Choral Club, Alpha Literary Society, Grammar Grade Club, Athletic Association, and YWCA. Her quote was “Ready in heart and ready in hand.” Those must have been the qualities that attracted her husband William Cullers, a Baptist preacher. Jessie worked as a teacher but not during the 1930 or 1940 census. She died in Richmond, Virginia, in 1971.

Check out my pals at Sepia Saturday.

© 2020, Wendy Mathias. All rights reserved.


  1. Good sleuthing again...I would say you're spot on with the identity of these pals from the year book. How fun to actually trace their marriages and lives to their death dates! (Well, not all was fun.)

  2. I do like the short hairstyles. I didn't realize that checked skirts were in vogue in the 20s.

  3. Well done, and that first photo is a winner! Nice to find out a little bit about each girl. :)

  4. I am in awe of your identification skills - well done!

  5. Very well done with your detective work! I like all their quotes. Might have to copy them done and practice some of them LOL :)


  6. You are so amazing at research! This post was fascinating.

  7. i am always envious of the fact that in the USA you have the resource with photographs of school yearbooks. We have nothing like it here in the U.K.

  8. Great photos and research, and I believe you have correctly identified the pals in the first picture. I was also bothered by the word "compass," but it turns out the archaic definition is "contrive to accomplish (something)" -- probably a more common use then than now.

  9. Brilliant match and sleuthing! Molly caught that word 'compass' and that's how I I understood it. It's a kind of Masonic notion too. My research sometimes takes me into high school yearbooks from the 20s and 30s. The photos for band, chorus, clubs, teams, etc. are great for triangulating facial identification.

  10. Fascinating to learn more about the young women and how their lives turned out.

  11. I'm Frances Adeline Broyles Shenk's granddaughter. Certainly her portrait, but I think not her in the "Pals" picture above. She always stands out in pictures because she was 4'9"...tiny...and I don't think that's her face, but I appreciate the efforts. The "compass" phrase is a quote from an author named Francois Rabelias (per google and a lot of posters with sunsets and beach views). As for my grandfather Ray, he died when I was two. I'm sure he managed a kennel, but more specifically he trained hunting dogs. Frances was fun to be around...I just remember watching sitcoms with her in the 70's in Luray when I was a kid and we would laugh and laugh. She was an awesome piano player and everyone said a stellar teacher.

    1. Hello Jill, thanks for finding my blog and commenting about your grandmother. What a sweet memory. You have helped fill out the story.