Consider why people keep scrapbooks. Are a they a repository for the ephemera of one’s life, souvenirs of things that seemed important at the time? If so, then they can be unique windows into individuals’ lives, in a particular place, at a particular time.
Among the many student scrapbooks and albums held by the Williston Northampton Archives, that of George Wardman, class of 1889, is among the older and more comprehensive.
George Benjamin Wardman entered Williston in the fall of 1885, as a member of the class of 1888. Born in Cheyenne, WY, April 20, 1869, he was a resident of New Orleans, LA, according to the 1886 Annual Catalogue. How he found his way from the deep South to Easthampton is not known. To further confuse matters, his academic transcript, in contradiction to the Catalogue, claims he resided in Pittsburgh. In any event, he arrived in the fall of 1885, bringing with him a leather scrapbook.
The book, now in fragile condition, measures 12 x 9 inches, bound in buckram-covered boards with a leather spine. Inside the front flyleaf is a penciled inscription: “George Wardman. Christmas 1884. Mama.” George appears to have saved the book for something special; he did not begin adding to it until the winter of 1886. The first pages contain a pasted collage of items from the 1886 Annual Catalogue, including a rosters of the faculty and George’s classmates, his first year curriculum in the Scientific Department, and what must have been the major news of the time, the appointment of a new Principal.
Here are the results of George’s entrance exams, assigning him to the Junior Middle class (“J.M.,” equivalent to the 10th grade) and initialed by Acting Principal Joseph Henry Sawyer. Note how items have been sewn into the scrapbook with gold ribbon. George eventually became less fastidious about this; later items were often simply tucked between pages, without sewing or the use of oxidation-prone glue. Ironically, this has aided in their long-term preservation. As was customary in most schools and colleges at the time, students’ physical measurements were recorded. George’s vital statistics indicate that he was smaller than average, standing 5’3″ and weighing 102 pounds.So far from home, and apparently studying without parental support, George had to pay special attention to his finances. He kept a detailed cash account from his first weeks at Williston. Several purchases of drawing supplies may indicate an interest not recorded elsewhere in the scrapbook.Tuition and residence receipts:While many students lived with families in town, often bartering chores for room and board, George lived in a dormitory, South Hall, and was responsible for fueling his own stove. This entailed the purchase of half a ton of coal.South Hall, on the old Main Street campus in downtown Easthampton. George lived and burned coal in room 6. (Those familiar with the area may note that a portion of the distinctive iron fence remains in place.)Other campus-and-environs images in the scrapbook include an engraving of North and Middle Halls, and of a trestle across Nashawannuck pond. This bridge would eventually be replaced by a causeway, and is present-day Williston Avenue.Holidays were important to George, perhaps because he was so far from home and family. He saved the menu from the school’s 1887 Thanksgiving celebration, as well as the program from an evening entertainment and card party at the Principal’s house. George’s brother Ervin Wardman was a freshman at Harvard in 1885-86. It appears that George joined him in Cambridge for the Christmas vacation. He kept the menu from a sumptuous meal Harvard laid on for students unable to travel home.During George’s Cambridge visit, he and Ervin saw the leading American Shakespearean actor of the day perform Hamlet. They also attended Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, an international hit whose London premiere had taken place only the previous January. The many theatrical programs and handbills in the scrapbook suggest George had a passion for the theater.
The following April, George returned to Boston for the premiere of a new comedy by the now mostly-forgotten Archibald Clavering Gunter.Other theatrical performances were closer to home. The novel Ben-Hur, by Gen. Lew Wallace, had been published in 1880 and had quickly become a best-seller, spawning stage adaptations of all kinds. This presentation of scenes was probably by a touring company appearing at the Easthampton Town Hall.There was no school dramatic club, as we would understand it, at this time. Students banded together and produced what amounted to skit comedy, sometimes fairly licentious minstrel shows. George Wardman’s scrapbook indicates little interest in these entertainments. But some members of the community aspired to something loftier. Here is a note from Professor Charles Buffum, inviting George to participate in a reading of Macbeth by faculty, spouses, and students, along with a roster of the cast.This effort met with such success that the same people tackled Hamlet a few weeks later. Other entertainments included performances by musical organizations, and often hotly contested public speaking contests.Although Williston had an active interscholastic sports culture at the time, primarily focused on football and baseball, the only indication of George’s interest is this clipping about cheerleading, from the Willistonian. [One is astounded that anyone took the trouble to write this nonsense down.]He was more interested in the annual intramural field competition, which included swimming and washtub races across Nashawannuck pond.
Could George have been misplaced in a scientific curriculum? His transcript indicates decent enough grades, what we today would consider “B”s, in his mathematics and technical studies, but consistently high 90s in his supplemental history and English courses. He retained a Constitutional history exam, along with a multipage, fastidiously organized study guide for his English history class.What little we know of George’s politics derives from his having saved the document below.At the close of the 1886-87 academic year, George had run out of money, and told his friends he would not be returning for his senior year. Years later, in a May 19, 1917 letter to Alumni Secretary Bayard Snowden, George wrote that he left school “owing to financial difficulties . . . but instead came to California to seek my fortune. I did not find the fortune, but was able to return the year following and took up my work again at Williston but with the class of 1889.”
He missed only the fall 1887 term, and re-enrolled at the Seminary in January, 1888. How long he remained in California is open to question; his presence at the campus Thanksgiving celebration in November, 1887 (see above) confirms that he was already back in town. George spent the 1887 Christmas holiday with a friend in the Hudson Valley of New York. During this break he attended two dances at a club in Stockport, New York, where the Western traveler and sometime Southern gentleman’s dance cards were full. We might speculate that George’s host was Stockport resident Willard James Fisher, class of 1888. Could the Alice Fisher on the dance card below have been Willard’s sister?
Although no longer a member of the class of 1888, George’s former classmates thought enough of him to vote him a piece of the senior class flag, which they had cut up and divided among themselves. This, too, George cherished and saved, along with an invitation to the 1888 Commencement.In due course, George was a legitimate, fire-breathing senior himself. We are not certain what this folded ribbon memento is from – apparently some kind of mathematics competition.
Following George’s graduation, he attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for a year, then took up civil engineering, mostly in construction of the Great Northern Railway from Great Falls, Montana westward to Seattle. From Montana he went to Colorado and Arizona where he worked as a chemist and assayer for the copper mining industry. In 1895 he accepted a position as assayer with the American Smelting and Mining Co. in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Shortly thereafter he opened a custom assay office and chemical laboratory and was active in the operation of mines in Aguascalientes and the State of San Luis Potosi. He was appointed American Commercial Agent and Consul.
In 1906 he removed to Alhambra, CA, and resided in southern California for the rest of his life. He married the former Emily Wringrose, in Deadwood, South Dakota. We have a touching 1915 letter to Headmaster Joseph Sawyer – George’s old history and surveying teacher back in the 1880s – seeking advice about his daughters, for whom he wanted a broad, academically challenging, opportunity-creating education. He’d hoped to send his children to Williston, but “my boys are two girls.”
George Wardman died January 2, 1951, aged 81.