Sorting through old boxes of inherited items recently turned into a treasure-hunt for Martin Rosenberg, of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.
Rosenberg, 76, came upon some nearly century-old items that recalled a special time in the life of his long-deceased mother. Little did he know the items he uncovered would be welcomed as rare artifacts at William Woods University, located hundreds of miles to his west, in Fulton.
Rosenberg's mother, Ms. Lorene Meyer, was a 1926 graduate of what was then known as William Woods College. After stumbling upon the discovery of dog-eared copies of her commencement and baccalaureate programs, and other printed booklets describing life at William Woods in the mid-1920's, Rosenberg contacted WWU. He decided to donate the items, providing William Woods with a rare glimpse at life on campus nearly 100 years ago.
"My mother was born in St. Louis in 1907 to Rosa and Max Meyer, and at some point they moved to Fulton where my grandfather owned a men's clothing store," Rosenberg said. "I'm not sure what the circumstances were that led her to William Woods, where she trained in American Sign Language and Art. I'm afraid I do not have much more to offer about her campus life."
Fortunately, the fraying memorabilia donated by Rosenberg does just that it offers a story about life on the William Woods College campus in a bygone era.
The programs for the baccalaureate service and commencement, held during what was then known as commencement week, describe a variety of activities from May 23-26, 1926. The 101 graduates spent their final week on campus attending a senior breakfast, competing in a tennis tournament, having swimming, art and home economics exhibitions and enjoying a recital by the college's music faculty, all sandwiched between Sunday's baccalaureate (held at First Christian Church in Fulton) and Wednesday's commencement (Dulany Auditorium).
The program for commencement — William Woods' 36th — lists the graduates, divided by areas of academic emphasis, including piano, violin, home economics, expression, physical education and teaching certification. Among the honors were one from the Women's Athletic Association, which went to the graduate who was voted the "best all-around college girl."
A Dr. H. O. Pritchard, of Indianapolis, provided the commencement address.
Even more fascinating are two booklets containing college marketing materials. One includes a portrait of the William Woods president at the time, Mr. Henry G. Harmon, and provides a look at life on campus, described as an "85-acre campus adjoining the northern edge of Fulton that combines architectural and natural beauty to a rare degree," with "fine old trees, lakes and bluegrass turf forming a setting with all the character and charm of a country estate."
The publications highlight both the academic and social experiences of attending The Woods ("A Junior College for Women") in the mid-1920's, including life in residence halls, horseback riding, Sunday afternoon tea, evening dinner in the dining hall, plays and music recitals, and formal dances. Images abound of campus staples that are still standing in 2020 (the Academic Building, Woods and Senior Lakes, Jones Hall) and others that are not (Jameson Conservatory of Music, McBride Gymnasium, the Natatorium).
There is also a hand-sized program for a junior dance held on May 15, 1926, with a place to list the names of everyone the program's owner danced with during the evening.
Lorene Meyer was right in the middle of the busy swirl of activities that represented commencement week for William Woods graduates during May of 1926.
Rosenberg doesn't know if she ever returned to her alma mater post-commencement.
"After graduation, she taught at the Oklahoma School for the Deaf," Rosenberg said. "At some point, she moved to Los Angeles where she had old friends from St. Louis. There, she met and married my father in the mid-1930's and they had my older brother and me. She did return to St. Louis once to visit, accompanied by her mother."
In later life, Meyer taught and worked with children with disabilities. She also enjoyed arts and crafts projects, while participating in her synagogue's activities. She passed away in San Pedro, California, in 1974.
Meyer could not have possibly guessed a few souvenirs of some of her life's joyous moments would one day be examined with fascination by individuals at her alma mater nearly a century later.
During the 150th anniversary year of WWU's founding Lorene Meyer's story reminds us that though our own individual existence might be but a moment in time, our very being has significance to the people we befriended, loved or knew during our time on earth. Or, even, to people who do not come along until generations later.
John Fougere is the vice president of strategic communications at William Woods University.