100 Years Later: Time Capsule from Wellesley’s Class of 1919 Featured in Library Display

A staff members places an archival collar on a student
August 14, 2019

In 1994, Wellesley Archives received a small, unassuming bin labeled “Time Capsule, Class of 1919” from the family of alumna Julia Brannock-Rees. This summer, 100 years after the commencement of the class of 1919, Clapp Library archives is displaying the contents of the time capsule for the first time. With items from the class of 1919 and recreations of significant items in the history of the class, the display gives visitors a window into the lives of Wellesley students a century ago.

Among these finds is a copy of the Wellesley News from June 1, 1916. In this edition, there are a number of sections that could be plucked out and reprinted today without readers batting an eye, like an article lamenting high prices at stores in the “Ville” and an editorial on the daunting, yet rewarding idea of “Outside Reading”.

Other spots, such as an advertisement for secretarial school and a summary of a lecture on U.S. military strategy after World War I, are very much signs of the time. Much like the current comedy section of the Wellesley News, “The Artichoke,” this edition offers its own section “Parliament of Fools” with funny poems written by students about life at Wellesley.

Another item in the capsule is a train schedule, showing 23 trains running daily between Wellesley and Boston, along with a scrap of fabric which represents a piece of student lore. According to Rebecca Goldman, college archivist, the story goes that a student jumped out of a window after class in order to run and catch the train. Legend has it that a piece of her dress got caught on the window frame and tore as she leapt.

A dance card, or programme du bal, from the Sophomore Prom of 1919 is also among the items found in the capsule. The prom was held in the fall to welcome the first-year students, and at this event, each student kept a dance card to document which people they agreed to dance with throughout the evening.

This event had students dancing the One Step, the Waltz, and the Fox Trot, and was held at the end of November in the Barn, located where Dower stands now. According to a Wellesley News article from a few days after the dance was held, the Sophomore Prom, “was distinguished not only as an unusually successful dance, but also as marking the final completion of the farm work that had to be done in the Barn, and the beginning of the use of the building for other college activities.” The Barn would go on to be used for dances, theater, and musical performances.

A part of the 1919 graduation outfit is also preserved in the display. The high collar, which would be worn by graduates along with caps, gowns, and gloves, was a staple of the graduation get-up at the time. The collars, however, were widely hated by the students because they were extremely uncomfortable.

In a 1935 article in the Wellesley News, a student advocated to her classmates for a change to low collars before their graduation. She wrote, “They are uncomfortable in the extreme as well as unbecoming. A person is forced to hold her chin high or have the bones, however small, push into her chin.”

These items, along with many others, can be found on the first floor of Clapp Library in the display cases in the Clapp Reference Room. Can’t make it to the archives? Follow along on social media throughout the semester for more information about the Class of 1919 time capsule.

With reporting from Maggie Olmsted ’21.

Photo: Rebecca Goldman, college archivist, demonstrates on Maggie Olmsted ’21 how a high collar would be worn by students during graduation exercises.