Memories of another graduation season

Cartoon of a man sitting on a riverbank, fishing. The word "seniors" is written above him.

Senior title page from the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

The class of 2020 faces a graduation season that is unlike anything seen before. While some schools move forward with in-person graduation ceremonies, many have scrambled to creatively meet the challenges created by the need to socially distance and limit contact. There are drive-through graduation ceremonies, virtual graduation ceremonies, and car parades past student and faculty housing. Needless to say, this graduation season will be one for the history books.

I wanted to see what graduation looked like 100 years ago, for the class of 1920 – another graduating class that lived through a series of unprecedented challenges. During their teen years this class witnessed labor unrest, a global pandemic, and a World War. The statement from the class of 1920 gives us a little insight into how these events impacted them.

Senior Class A's Statement - a full page of text with two portraits on the top - one boy and one girl.

Page one of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Senior class A's statement. This is a full page of text

Page 2 of Senior Class A’s statement in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

This was a class that started its high school experience just before the Everett Massacre occurred in November of 1916, after months of labor unrest had rocked their city and their region. As alluded to in their essay, they had a 6-week ‘vacation’ when the Influenza pandemic that knocked the world to its knees closed Washington schools in the fall of 1918. Some of these students left to go to war in the middle of their schooling, seeing action in the hellish battlefields of France, only to return to Everett High School to finish their classes.

Yearbook page showing student portraits and information about their activities

Page from the Senior Class A section of the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Despite all this turmoil, these students remained essentially what they were: teens. Young people with hobbies, inside jokes, and a fierce sense of loyalty and belonging to their cohort. You can read in their statements, their activity pages, and in their class seniorscopes a little bit about who they were. They had gotten involved with the Service League and Red Cross to help aid the war effort, and I suspect to help pack gauze for the influenza response. Their story about the freshman year candy sale triumph must have been a particular point of pride, because they also boasted about it in their junior year statement in 1919. Competition between the different classes must have been fierce, with the hazing of incoming freshman a known threat and the frequent jibes you see in other annuals making fun of underclassmen.

Chart showing stats about different class members of senior class A

A page from the Seniorscope section for Senior Class A – 1920. Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

They loved music, and flirting with each other, and making up goofy nicknames. There were slackers and overachievers, and heartbreakers. They were sassy and nerdy and, well, teenagers.

Back in the earlier days of Everett High School you often had smaller graduating classes who finished their studies after the first semester of their final year. The 1920 Nesika has a section for a class of 1919 1/2, which from the sounds of it was a proud group of misfits.

Class of 1919 1/2 statement

The statement from the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

These were students who were transfers, or those who briefly left school to work, or in this period fought in a war. For whatever reason, they returned to earn their last few credits and move on with their lives. Some were destined to follow in their fathers’ footsteps into the mills and logging camps, while others continued on with their education either taking junior college classes at Everett High School or entering the University of Washington. Many of these students were probably the first in their families to seek a college degree.

Yearbook page with student portraits and activities

A page of students from Senior Class 1919 1/2 in the 1920 Everett High School Nesika, Everett Public Library

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2

Horoscope page for the class of 1919 1/2, 1920 Everett High School Nesika. Everett Public Library

This blog isn’t meant to be a discussion about how other kids may have had things worse at some time in the past. Instead, it’s a celebration of the resilience of youth. This is certainly not the graduation that the class of 2020 imagined themselves having. Despite that, our students are constantly adapting and learning to meet the challenges that they face during this extraordinary time. Just as the class of 1920 had to figure out their next steps after they made it through turmoil, so are today’s teens trying to figure out where the future will take them. Maybe that will be a new job, or off to college, or some other new adventure. I hope that like the class of 1920, they will be embarking on the next phase of their journey bolstered by the strength and support of their peers and will meet each new experience with the same sense of humor and pride gained from their shared experiences.

Best wishes to the class of 2020 – we’re proud of you!

Inside the Northwest History Room: Yearbooks

1924 Nesika page

Click to see detail

Through this blog I’ve had a chance to talk about a couple of the resources that get heavily used in the Northwest History Room (namely the Polk City directories and the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps). While there are many different areas of our collection that see frequent use, the Polks and Sanborns are joined by our yearbook collection to make up our ‘Big Three’ of local history reference materials. This year we began the massive task of digitizing our collection with the aim of getting them all online. So far we’ve received scans of all of our Everett High School Nesikas; in 2015 we’re hoping to do the same with the Cascade High School Vista. Now comes the fun but time-consuming work of uploading and describing all those pages of history in our database, but I’m not here to bore you with that!

1916 yearbook page

Click to see detail

So why are the yearbooks so important to us and the work that we do? Mainly because they’re very important to the people who contact us. Whether it’s a walk-in to our room or a phone call from overseas, people seek scans from our yearbooks for a variety of reasons. Most people are doing genealogical research; the Nesika goes back to 1909, so there are a few generations of Everett residents contained within them. In some circumstances yearbook photos are actually acceptable forms of identification, so we get individuals and family members seeking them for a variety of reasons. One afternoon I helped a walk-in researcher locate photos of their birth mom whose face they had never seen.

Aside from being of interest for personal or nostalgic reasons, our yearbook collection tells us a lot of general information about Everett’s history as it grows and adapts to changes in local and national society. I’ve only just begun working through our scans but from the beginning in 1909 to the farthest I’ve reached, 1930, I’ve seen the girls’ hair shorten along with the length of their athletic costumes. Also striking to see is the rapidly increasing participation of females in different school sports and the addition of new events like field hockey and swimming. In the boys’ athletics one can watch the rise of the legendary Enoch Bagshaw era of Everett High School football, which led to a string of championships (opens an MP3 of our Bagshaw podcast).1922 Girls Hockey team

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Some of the history documented in these yearbooks can be sad or uncomfortable. The budding Nesika series goes ominously silent in 1917 and doesn’t resume until 1919, with that year’s volume including a memorial for the students and alums who lost their lives in the First World War. Other pages in 1919 display long lists of those who served and returned. In some volumes there are pages featuring minstrel show lineups, racially and ethnically insensitive jokes, and advertisements with black-face caricatures. The jarring nature of how casual and deeply ingrained racism was during those decades helps remind us of where we’ve come from as a society and how to continue moving forward.

In addition to reading between the lines to glean cultural information from the yearbook collection, we also get to learn about Everett’s commerce and industry. Starting in the 1920s the yearbook staff sold advertising slots to local businesses. Through these ads, many repeated from year to year, one can get a picture of what businesses were common. Also present are ads from many of the major employers in the area such as Sumner Iron Works, local paper and timber mills, and packing companies presumably to entice recent graduates to join the ranks of the working class.

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Whether it’s family information, social context, or just enjoying some of the vintage artwork, you can find out all kinds of things by paging through our yearbooks. We hope that our future online collection will make this personal connection with local history more easily established for those near and far. In the meantime, scans are available at any time by request, or can be viewed at the Northwest History Room (the hard copies of the yearbooks are there as well, and are fun to look through). I will also be featuring interesting tidbits I come across during this project on our Northwest History Room tumblr – be sure to keep an eye out.