We Girls and One Boy

I have forgotten what I was searching for on the Internet Archive last week, but somehow I ended up looking at yearbooks of the turn-of-the-century graduating classes of the Salem Normal School, the founding institution of the university where I now teach, Salem State University.  The cover of the 1904 yearbook, entitled The New Mosaic, first caught my attention, then the fanciful illustrations inside, and lastly, the writing. I moved on to the 1905 and 1906 yearbooks, titled The New Mosaic and The Mosaic respectively, which were equally charming, and all the way up to 1914, when the yearbook was published with the rather odd title of Normalities (I get it–Normal School/Normalities, but still). It seems that for a brief time, generally the first decade of the twentieth century, the Salem Normal School seniors published really interesting accounts of their educational experiences—focused on what they learned and what was going on in their world rather than simply who they were. After 1915 or so, the yearbooks became Year Books, with the standard “facebook” format still used today: registries of students rather than their own reflections.

Mosaic 1904 Final Collage

Mosaic 1905

Mosaic 1906 collage


These yearbooks are fascinating and rather poignant—they made me miss my own students! The seniors pay tribute to their teachers, to each other, and to the class behind them. We read all about their activities and clubs and how long it took them to walk down Lafayette Street from the train station. There are lots of whimsical drawings—which will be replaced by more straightforward photographs later. I’m including this post under my #salemsuffragesaturday banner as nearly all the students at the Salem Normal School were women in these days, and the editorial staff of these successive yearbooks were exclusively women. Men were admitted to the school from 1898, but their numbers were extremely low during this first decade of the twentieth century: this makes for some rather amusing class pictures, as we can see from the photograph of the 1906 graduating class below. The same ratio for the 1904 class, as the New Mosaic of that year registers excitement for the upcoming graduation of “We girls and one boy”.

Mosaic 1906 one boy (3)The 1906 graduating class of the Salem Normal School

I kept reading because I wanted to see what the students were saying about all the events of the later teens: war, pandemic, suffrage. The yearbooks became less creative, but they started to include editorials: a popular Geography professor who served in World War I died of pneumonia (brought on by influenza?) right after the Armistice and now there were more male students, so the war was very much on the minds of successive editors. Nothing is said about suffrage, which really surprised me: instead there is an overwhelming focus on reforms, developments, and opportunities in the teaching profession. But everything is much more serious than a decade or more before: when the girls, and one or two boys, lived and learned in a much smaller, less-threatening Salem world.

Mosaic 1904 Collage 2

mosaic1906sale_0019 (3)



Salem Normal School yearbooks before and after World War I: so many Salem witches in the yearbooks from 1904-8; things get much more serious a decade later: the Liberty Club was dedicated to selling liberty bonds in 1918. The Boston Public Library has a vast collection of yearbooks from nearly every Massachusetts town, most of which have been digitized.

3 responses to “We Girls and One Boy

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    What fun to look back on the early days of Salem Normal School through the pages of their yearbook. Speaking of the period, I just finished THE GREAT INFLUENZA by John M. Barry that contains more detail than I needed. One was the connection between the flu and pneumonia which was often fatal as must have been the case with the Geography professor mentioned in the piece.

    The photo of the Liberty Club, dedicated to selling bonds for WWI, shows the girls as au courant. You may recall, it was this desire to meet the city’s quota for bond sales in Philadelphia that led to the ill-fated decision to hold a huge Liberty Parade at the height of the pandemic, September 28, 1918. Thousands died there shortly thereafter.

    I plowed through this tome to see “how it ended.” Guess what? In the end, that plague just “went away.”

    • daseger

      I tried to establish the mortality from the 1918 influenza pandemic in Salem a few months ago and it was really difficult as so many cases were listed as pneumonia rather than influenza: the incidence of the latter leading to the former must have been really common, I think.

  • Dorothy V. Malcolm

    I realize the old cameras took longer to capture an image but I still had to grin while noticing the girls in the SNS Class of 1906. Not one smile; okay, there are a few slightly amused looks on a handful of the graduates, but alas, no smiles.

    However, the ladies in The Liberty Club photo seem a bit more relaxed and animated and a few do indeed smile. So pleasant to see that!

    We see so many old photos of people who didn’t smile for the cameras (as I said due to the length of time to snap a pic) but I love seeing smiles because it reminds me that people still enjoyed life and saw the humor or irony in life back then (despite the smile-less faces in most old pics). Again, it underscores that human nature hasn’t really changed that much! And despite this pandemic, I advocate smiling more, if only for a boost! 🙂

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