About Site


Reunion Time 1919
Written April 28, 2019


Most universities celebrate “homecoming” in the fall, when throngs of alumni return to campus for a football weekend.  But not every school schedules its alumni reunions at that time of year.

In particular, Oberlin College rarely fills its modest stadium for football in the fall, but it does fill Tappan Square for Commencement in the spring.  Therefore my class will gather for its 50th reunion in May, on the same weekend that the Class of 2019 receives its diplomas. 

It’s a longstanding tradition.  In The Oberlin Review for April 9, 1919, five months after the end of World War I, we read that reunions were part of the plans for the Eighty-sixth Annual Commencement on June 18. 

“During the last three or four years, on account of the war, Commencement has necessarily been restricted.  Now that a victorious peace has come, it seems fitting to celebrate in an appropriate manner.  One of the chief attractions will be the Oberlin Ambulance Unit, which has been operating in Italy.”  A future professor of European History, Frederick B. Artz ’16, was a member of this unit.

“Definite word has been received from 14 classes which are planning reunions this year.”

And the returnees even included townspeople.  “Last Friday Mayor Phillips called a meeting of representative citizens of the college and community at his office in the Town Hall to make plans for the big Oberlin Home Coming which is to be held in connection with Commencement.  On account of the significance of the year, an effort will be made to secure the return of every former Oberlin resident.  This work will be carried on through the cooperation of churches, fraternal orders, schools, and women’s clubs which will canvass their membership lists.”


Worldly Dancing

Oberlin College, having been founded by preachers during the Second Great Awakening, was still reluctant to let men and women dance together.  Here’s a condensed version of a letter to the editor from a member of the 25-year class, Louis H. Norton ’94.

Dancing never presented more serious problems or possibilities of evil than it does at present.

People objected to dancing because it was worldly and irreligious.  Gradually they have come to see that many dance whose lives are thoroughly Christian.  They withdraw their objections and turn the matter over to the young people with almost no restrictions as to how, when and where they shall dance.  Themselves inexperienced in the art, they hesitate to make what might seem prudish suggestions.

I should decidedly oppose promiscuous dancing in college boarding houses, but I believe a few properly conducted dances during the year might furnish wholesome entertainment and send out some of our earnest college young people better fitted to help solve a real social problem.

The nation's latest craze in 1919 was the shimmy, according to Miss Alice Martin in a St. Louis paper.  “Everybody's doing it.  ...There hasn't been anything really new since 1911, when the one-step and the fox trot set the world dance mad.”  But the Review reported on a staid campus event for women only.  “Warner Gymnasium was the scene Saturday evening of a very pretty dance given by the Freshmen to the Sophomore class.  Pink, green and blue streamers and apple blossoms were the decorations, and the music was furnished by the men’s orchestra.”

An editorial alluded to men daring to “crash” a women’s dance party and noted that good manners were rare.  “But they ought not to be among college students.  Such people should at least know better than to go out to a party to which they were not invited.  The gymnasium is not any too large for the two classes which it has to accommodate at the class proms, and when other classmen appear on the floor the situation is impossible.  It may be accounted for on the basis that since mixed dancing is not permitted, the poor students seize every opportunity to indulge in some form of the amusement at least.”


Advertisements, Hats, Sports

The evils of alcohol were not permitted either.  Moreover, the 18th Amendment had just been adopted, and Prohibition meant that Anheuser Busch could no longer sell beer.  Their advertisement in the Review promoted a non-alcoholic “near beer” called Bevo.

According to another ad, if you traveled nine miles on the interurban railway to Elyria and spent $10 or more at the Elyria Dry Goods Company, they would refund your fare.

In other news, the beanie issue came before Men’s Senate.  “Some Freshmen are not wearing their caps.  It is hoped all will feel their responsibility to observe these traditions in the future.  DISCUSSION regarding plans for the Freshman Cap Burning.  MOVED AND CARRIED, that all plans for this event be left with the Freshmen.”

One basketball player from Oberlin, E.D. Howard, was named to the All-Ohio Conference team.  “At center,” the Review quoted the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “the three best players were Howard of Oberlin, Kull of Denison and Knowlton of Akron.  Howard was one of the steady, reliable types and against Ohio State practically won a victory for Oberlin single handed.  He is placed on the first team, while Kull of Denison is given the berth on the second five.  Kull was a star combination and floor man but did not locate the basket with desired accuracy.”


Social News

I close with two longer, lighter stories.  The first concerns a stag party (men only) at the Men’s Building, now known as Wilder Hall.  It was “the Opening Men’s Event” of the spring.

With a draw boxing bout between Duff S. Hansen, ’20, and Karl F. Kaserman, ’22, as the headliner on the program, a stag was held in the Men’s Building last Wednesday to inject into the male element of Oberlin part of the amount of “pep” required for existence through the Spring term.

The first number on the bill consisted of several selections by the “Old Faithful” trio of Burenson, Angle and Ayres.  The trio proved to be on hand with the goods and made the usual hit.

The mats were then dragged into the lobby, and Hansen and Kaserman were escorted to the ring. The combatants failed to get properly warmed up for some time, and the early rounds of the bout were given over to exchanges of love taps.  In the latter rounds a little action was forthcoming from both parties, but the bout was ended before any desperate work could be done.  The match was devoid of thrills except once when Kaserman slipped off the edge of the mat and went down for the count.

Professor E. A. Miller was then called onto the carpet for a speech.  Professor Miller intimated that if one were diligent in searching he might perhaps discover a few members of the faculty who were human beings, and he expressed the hope that faculty and students might come to understand each other’s viewpoints more completely.

Eats were next on the schedule, and because of the small number present, three rounds of pie and cocoa were on tap.

The evening closed with a stag dance assisted by the orchestra.  Few stags there were, however, who cared to disport themselves in such a manner, and the dance gradually languished and died in spite of the efforts of R.T. Lansdale, ’21, for “what were dance without women?”

The other tale is slightly odd.  It’s written in a stilted, pseudo-formal manner which was the style at the time.  At least I think it was the style, because my mother wrote an article in similar fashion a decade later.

I need to explain a couple of other things first.  Then as now, some businesses catering to the campus were on Main Street while others faced Tappan Square.  The undated photo below of West College Street shows the A.G. Comings book store on the right, operated then by the ancestors of Sid Comings of the Class of 1969 and later to become the Co-Op Bookstore.  One of the other shops down the sidewalk to the left is Tobin’s Drug Store.

I also should explain that “dope,” from the Dutch “doop” or sauce, is the term for the varnish used to waterproof the fabric of airplane wings.  In 1919, it also referred to another sticky fluid, the syrup used in the making of sundaes and colas.  In our present context, therefore, “a dope” is a soft drink.  Who sold dope?  Pharmacies, naturally.  These stores with soda fountains included Tobin’s, where boxes of candy could also be purchased, and Kelley’s at 35 West College Street.

Further down the street, the big attraction was the Apollo Theater at 19 East College, already in its sixth year of operation.

Enough preliminaries!  On to the story of a young man of Asian descent who was pranked by his buddies upon his return from a date.

Confident heartbreakers, whether from the East or from the West, are likely at some time to meet their match.  And the Chinese gentleman whom a group of freshmen introduced to Miss New York realizes this.  It happened thusly:

As Shanghi and New York strolled down West College in the general direction of the Apollo, it struck the former that a dope was the thing to start the evening on.  So Kelley scored heavily.   New York chalked up three dopes to her credit and was still going strong when Shanghi suggested the show.  She liked to hear the tinkle of the shekels; she wanted the real life.  And Shanghi knew the ropes.

His lady thoroughly enjoyed the pictures, but she wriggled with suppressed excitement as Shanghi proposed that their next move be toward the gym to see the game between Mt. Union and the ’varsity.

Tobin’s window caught his eye for a moment.  Miss New York expressed some little curiosity over a trim little box that he carried under his arm on the way up to Warner.  But he made vague replies that dealt only with a parlor after the game.

It was with infinite relief that he finally rescued Miss New York from the victory-flushed mob and led her down a quiet street to her boarding-house.  He followed her up the steps.  She hesitated for a moment at the door and told him that it was too late to receive visitors.

Shanghi turned dazedly toward the steps.  Was this to be the end?  He realized that she was still waiting at the door, rather expectantly.  The box?  Oh yes, he must give it to her.  And he fled into the night.

Shanghi had recovered himself by the time he arrived at the house where he was to render an account of the evening’s adventures.  He managed to tell a glowing tale of his tremendous successes.  The others in the room listened in a strained manner, until they heard a step in the hall outside. The door opened and in walked Miss New York!  She tossed a partially-emptied box of candy upon a table and proceeded in a matter-of-fact fashion to undress.

Horrified, Shanghi wheeled about to face the others.  Their evident amusement caused him to again observe the manoeuvres of the strange apparition.  His startled eyes noticed the absence of the beautiful black locks and detected a stiff military pompadour.  Why, it was —!  But we will never know this freshman by any other name than “Miss New York.”



Back to Top
More CollegeMore College