The Class of 1895

On June 25, 1895, the town of Cohoes, New York was all a-twitter. That evening – at the Cohoes Opera House, no less – the graduating class of Egberts High School was to have its Class Day Exercises. The event warranted three separate items in the June 25th Troy Times Record: one reported the time and place of the exercises, another named three boys from the graduating class who would be entering Williams College in September, and the third consisted of the proposed program for the event. The class consisted of twenty scholars – and fully 18 of them contributed to the program!

Latin Salutatory, Harriet G. Disbrow
Essay, “Books in the Running Brooks,” Florence E. Bliss
Oration, “Office-Seeking. the Source of Political Corruption,” William H. Davison
Class History, Alice Dawson
Declamation, “The Execution of Montrose,” William H. Beattie
Reading, “Mrs Caudle Urging the Need of Spring Clothing,” Mary E. Sammons
Vocal Solo, “My Lady Comes,” Sarah I. Davis
Reading, “The Legend Beautiful,” Mary F. O’Dea
Essay, “A New Aspect of Every Day Science,” Rosene Healey
Reading, “The Pipes at Lucknow,” Margaret J. McLean
Oration, “The High School Graduate in Public Life,” Albert T. Nelson
Class Prophecy, Jessie B. Hermans
Vocal Solo, “The Wayside Seat,” Adelbert S. Watson
Essay, “My Friend,” Lily E. Tubbs
Declamation, “Regulars to the Carthaginians,” William G. Healey
Reading, “A Welsh Classic,” Clara B. Ablett
Class Will, John F. Dillon
Valedictory, Alice A. DeGraff
Vocal Duet, “Maying,” Miss Hermans and Mr. Watson

I’d be remiss in not calling your attention to two names – Jessie B. Hermans and Adelbert S. Watson – the only two given more than a single spot on the bill. Mr. Watson was also one of the three scholars headed for Williams College.

Bert Watson & Jessie Hermans - Graduation - 1895

Jessie and Adelbert would marry about five years after this event (and this portrait, I believe) – and would become my great-grandparents.

Some of the pieces are impossible to trace, of course – the valedictory, salutatory (in Latin, thank you), Class Prophecy, Will, and History… but some of the readings and orations are actually out there lurking in the outer reaches of the internet. And it’s quite a high-toned line-up.

“Books in the Running Brooks” was probably a home-grown affair, but she took her title from the opening scene of the second act of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”.

“The Execution of Montrose” is a ballad/poem by W. E. Aytoun. Eighteen stanzas!

Screen Shot 2015-04-13 at 12.46.48 PM

It was “Mrs. Caudle” that first piqued my researcher’s curiosity, though. And I found her in this amazing collection published in 1871.

Parlor Readings

“Mrs Caudle Urging the Need of Spring Clothing” is a monologue wherein the put-upon wife uses all manner of badgering to wrest twenty pounds from her tight-wad husband so that their children might have new clothes, thus sparing the entire family from certain ridicule and social isolation. At the end, she proclaims twenty pounds won’t be nearly enough.

“The Legend Beautiful” is a Longfellow poem. Emphasis on the “long”.  “‘Hads’t thou stayed, I must have fled!’/That is what the Vision said.” This is definitely where I’d have stuck an Intermission – particularly since “The Pipes of Lucknow” by J.G. Whittier is yet another poetic ballad describing yet another bloody Scottish battle.

So it was definitely time for something lighter. I would love to read Jessie’s piece. The Class Prophecy was a traditional bit of fancy. Everyone did one in the day – commonly included in the class yearbook. The writer envisions the world populated by the grown-up versions of her school chums – nurses, teachers, almost invariably, the President.

Next, Adelbert stepped up for his song, “The Wayside Seat”. I like to think that by the second chorus there wasn’t a dry hankie in the house.

The Wayside SeatNow, I have no idea what the Carthaginians have to do with anything – but I’m certain Mr. Healey gave them the full what-for. And I’m sure everyone loved Alice the valedictorian, and that her speech was truly inspirational – but c’mon, they handed the boffo finale spot to Jessie & Bert.

It’s difficult to know exactly which song they sang. There’s an old English madrigal called “Now Is the Month of Maying” – and it’s possible they performed that. Except it wasn’t May, and the lyric is all about frolic and fa-la-la.  From Wikipedia: “The song delights in bawdy double-entendre. It is apparently about spring dancing, but this is a metaphor for sex. For example, a “barley-break” would have suggested outdoor sexual activity (rather like we might say a “roll in the hay”).”  Not commencement material, I’d wager.

(Interesting point of fact: The times had so a-changed by the mid-1970s, I sang this very same song as a sophomore in my high school choir! Fa-la-la!)

My vote goes to a different song entitled “Oh! That We Two Were Maying”. First, “we two” suggests a duet… and second, the song had been part of a student recital in a Midwestern college the previous year – so it had been recently blessed (by those who performed such blessings) as being appropriate for students to hear and sing.

Oh! that we two were Maying, down the stream of the soft spring breeze;
Like children with violets playing in the shade of the whisp’ring trees.

Oh! that we two sat dreaming on the sward of the sheep-trimm’d down,
Watching the white mist streaming o’er river, and mead, and town.

Oh! that we two lay sleeping, in our nest in the churchyard sod,
With our limbs at rest on the quiet earth’s breast, and our souls at home with God.

So wholesome. I’m going with this one.


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