Above: The Ivy Day procession in 1941 – with real ivy! The tradition has continued at East Greenwich High School. Photos from Laura Sullivan.
By Laura Sullivan
“Best of Luck, Marian: Never forget EGA Days.” So wrote Rodney Hanks in my mother’s Crimson Yearbook, 80 years ago this week. Out of a graduating class of 53, it appears my mother collected well over half of their autographs, along with many members of the faculty. Turning the pages, the vernacular of the day appeared to be the popular use of “swell,” as my mother was described as a swell girl, a swell pal, and a participant in a lot of swell times. That yearbook, along with some family photographs, her detailed and descriptive journal, a box of assorted programs, clippings, cards and trinkets – and a very dry pressed flower – indicate that her years at East Greenwich Academy, and life in town, were swell times indeed. It was a time that emerged from the depths of the Depression and, even though there were rumblings and newsreels of what was happening in Europe and the Pacific, our country was still six months away from active involvement in World War II. The memories created over those years were those she treasured over the following decades of her life.
The Class of 1941 was the penultimate class to graduate from the East Greenwich Academy, the town’s only secondary school located on a wonderful campus on the Hill for 141 years*. Like my mother, many of her classmates had been the first to enter kindergarten in September 1928 at the new James H. Eldredge Elementary School. There they attended classes through the ninth grade, entering the Academy in September of 1938, just days before the Great Hurricane.
Being a small town, familiar faces were everywhere, and there was always so much to do. In addition to the wonderful programs and events EGA offered to the community, there were Scouts, Rainbow/DeMolay, church, sports and civic gatherings and other activities. Main Street bustled with shops, markets, Earnshaw’s Drug Store and the Post Office. The East Greenwich Dairy scooped out ice cream, and one could catch a double feature at the Greenwich Theater. The writings in my mother’s journal describe busy days of family, school, church and social occasions, often flavored with some quick commentary typical of a 17-year-old.
For its 139th Commencement, the Academy, true to its long-standing traditions, hosted a number of events and celebrations to honor the graduating seniors, starting in May.
May 21: “In chapel each member of the R.I. Honor Society received a pin,” my mother wrote. “We had to go up to the platform individually to get it. I didn’t like that. But it’s nice to have the pin.”
May 22: “At school. Warm weather. After school “Rudy” [Rudolph Swanson, EGA Class of 1928, Dean of Students] was giving instructions for Ivy Day tomorrow.”
May 23: Ivy Day – an East Greenwich tradition that continues at EGHS today. The ceremonies, on the main campus, commenced with the formation of a double line of ivy garlands, held by girls of the underclasses, through which passed the freshmen, sophomore and junior students followed by the faculty, and then the graduating seniors, in their maroon caps and gowns. The entrance of the Ivy Day Queen and her Court heralded the grand finale of the procession. Gloria D’Attore, elected queen by the class, was assisted by four other girls, the runners-up. Marian, my mother, was in this group, writing that she and the other attendants had single white gardenias in their hair, while the Queen had a floral crown and a beautiful arm bouquet of yellow carnations. Recalling her nervousness at this responsibility, and being involved in the spectacle, she wrote, “I was glad I had the queen’s train to ‘hang on to’ and that I was marching with Janice [Harred].”
The program included a Maypole dance, choreographed by Miss Muriel Smith, the dance instructor, then introductory remarks by Otto Olson, class president, followed by the invocation by the headmaster, Dr. Maurice Barrett. The address, delivered by a professor of botany at R.I. State College (now URI), seemed especially long, according to my mother, probably due to the heat of the day, which caused one of the cap-and-gown-garbed girls to faint. A dogwood tree was planted on the main campus (Miss Julia Gould sang “Trees”), then came the recitation of two original class poems, and finally the recessional. “It was a very beautiful scene on E.G.A. campus,” she recalled, “The best Ivy Day in the school’s history, I guess. Too bad it was so hot.”
That same evening, the Ivy Day Dance was held in Swift Gymnasium, put on by the Senior Class. My mother’s date, who was to escort her to his upcoming Senior Ball at Lockwood School in Warwick (a high school at the time), came down sick, so my mother resolved to go stag, and called up her chum, Jill Miner, to go with her. Jill hadn’t planned on attending, but agreed at my mother’s urging “to go together and have a good time. Thrilling moments! After supper I dressed in my light blue organdie evening gown with silver polka dots and silver ribbons for shoulder straps, ‘Juliette cap,’ and silver evening slippers. That was my favorite evening gown, and I was going to look my best for this evening.”
The hot weather of the day brought on evening thunderstorms, but the dance committee had done a wonderful job transforming the gym inside: “The decorations were super-ultra. A spring setting. Birds and bird-houses on the walls, apple blossoms, little pink sheep jumping over fences … dim-colored lights from each corner, a velvet-covered throne for the Ivy Day Queen. Angelone’s orchestra.” As anticipated, both Marian and Jill had no trouble finding dance partners: “Had fun. Favorite songs were played. I did have a lovely time, in spite of everything.” Taking some of the decorations for souvenirs, they headed home under clearing skies, as the rain and lightning had let up.
“A memorable day this was,” Marian reflected. “The Ivy Day Dance was the last social affair that the Seniors put on.”
Following the last days of classes, exams, and Memorial Day, it was time to prepare for the final events leading up to Commencement Day. What to wear? A trip to downtown Providence was in order to pick up a couple of frocks, especially an evening gown for the Junior/Senior Prom on Saturday evening (three days away!). Interestingly, my mother and grandmother ran into other friends from East Greenwich, who were in the city for the same reason. Their quest took them into the Boston Store and Gladdings, where a pair of white shoes for Commencement (“quite high heels”) was purchased. “I finally got my evening gown in Shepard’s,” Marian reported, “Super ultra. No sleeves – 2 gold cords for shoulder straps. Sort of a burnt orange colored chiffon gown with some gold embroidered in it. Stunning.” After buying gold slippers at Kays-Newport, and a sparkling gold evening bracelet, Marian and her mother lunched at the Downeyflake Donut Shop before heading home.
The next day, June 5, my mother went down to the dressmaker’s on Main Street to have her gown altered, then headed back up to campus for Baccalaureate rehearsal. Despite the windy and rainy day, the Senior Class Picnic at Lake Mishnock went on as scheduled, although Marian opted out of attending, spending the time instead packing away her school papers and doing chores at home.
Class Night, held in the chapel, was June 6, and included the readings of the class history, prophecy, poem and the will. The class motto? “Reached The Top – But Still Climbing.” Most likely the program also included the reading of the Senior Personalities, listed in the back of the yearbook, which included categories probably not found the superlatives of today’s graduating seniors: best looking boy/girl (Andrew Spencer/Janice Harred), most popular boy/girl (Robert Davis/Virginia Lundberg), most dignified (Rodney Hanks/Gladys Bailey), best all-around (Russell Kettelle/Gloria D’Attore), class flirt (Norma Warren), class glamour girl (Rosalind Raab), class playboy (Lloyd Weiner), and so many more. Even a class optimist (Robert Davis) and yes, a class pessimist, Preston Bent, who wrote in my mother’s yearbook, “Where am I? I have been trying to find out all my life.” Many students qualified for more than one category. My mother, being shy, was grateful that she didn’t make the list.
The Alumni Banquet for the seniors was held the next day, June 7, in the Dining Hall, located in the lower level of the Administration Building. Then it was time to head over to Swift Gym for the Junior/Senior Prom, hosted by the Junior Class. Wearing that “stunning” coral-and-gold gown, Marian was accompanied by a fellow who was attending Brown University.
Sunday, June 8: Baccalaureate service, Swedish Lutheran Church. Garbed in their caps and gowns, the class processed north to Division Street, then west up the hill to the church, led by Dean Swanson. Headmaster Barrett preached the sermon.
The Alumni Musicale, drawing on the Academy’s musical traditions, was held that evening in the chapel, with instrumental selections offered by a small orchestra, conducted by Marian’s dad (my grandfather), James Tingley.
Monday, June 9: Commencement Day. From the pictures in the photo album, it appeared to be a beautiful June day, and a long one. Wearing a white dress and those white high-heeled shoes, my mother attended the Senior Class Luncheon, and then returned with family hours later for the commencement exercises, which started at 8 p.m. Essays offered by graduates included, “The Value of Extra Curricular Activities,” and “The Value of the Classical Course.” F. Gerald Ensley, Ph.D, a professor at Boston University Professor, gave the commencement address. Dr. Barrett presided over the awarding of prizes and presentation of diplomas in five categories: Classical, Scientific, Academic, Business Academic and General. Honored cuests included George Hanaford, Town Council president, and Charles Algren, state senator. At the conclusion of the ceremonies, around 10, the graduates and their guests crossed Peirce Street to attend the Headmaster’s Reception at Rose Cottage.
The busyness and significance of those last days at East Greenwich Academy, including Commencement Day, should have filled many pages in my mother’s journal. However, after June 5, there is only “Commencement Program at E.G.A. begins June 6,” written, followed by about 20 blank pages.The next entry is June 14. Knowing my mother, she certainly intended to go back and fill them in. Fortunately, the programs, notes, clippings, and photographs help to compensate for those empty pages, along with the memories she shared with me over the years. “Tidbits,” she’d call the recollections.
Some of the photos in the album, taken by my grandmother, show Marian in our yard, displaying the many flowers she received when she graduated. A few of those bouquets were given to her while on campus during the day. Seeing her holding them, one of her young suitors (not an EGA student himself), disappeared for a short time, and returned to present her with a beautiful bouquet of peonies, which looked suspiciously like the peonies that bloomed on the iron fence in front of the Knowles House just a block away. The charming gesture was never lost on her, as those peonies were included in the photographs. During the war, when letter-writing was so critical to those serving abroad, they corresponded, and he would frequently ask, “How are things in the old Town?”
Things in the old town were indeed “swell” in those days, and still are, eight decades later.
Laura Sullivan lives in East Greenwich, in her mother’s childhood home.
* The East Greenwich Academy was bought by the Town of East Greenwich in 1943 to serve as its high school until the high school was built on Cedar Avenue, now the site of Cole Middle School.