from the archives

THE ACCIDENTAL MISS AMERICA (REPOST)

[Originally posted in September 2015]

It might surprise you to know that Centenary University had its own Miss America! Her name was Bette Cooper, and she was Miss America in 1937. The story of her reign is an interesting one.

BETTE COOPER

Bette Cooper in costume while performing at Centenary Junior College.

Bette Cooper and three fellow students in a nativity scene at Centenary Junior College

Bette Cooper and three fellow students in a nativity scene at Centenary Junior College.

Life was uncomplicated for this girl from Hackettstown, New Jersey. She attended Centenary University when it was called Centenary Junior College1. She excelled in school, loved to play sports, and enjoyed participating in theater productions. In the summer of 1937, she went to Lake Hopatcong’s Bertrand Island Amusement Park with some friends. As a joke, the girls dared Cooper to enter the park’s beauty pageant. She entered for fun but got the shock of her life when she won! Winning this title also guaranteed her a place as a contestant at the Miss America Pageant.

This is where the story starts to get complicated. Cooper had entered that first pageant on a lark. She didn’t expect to win, and she certainly didn’t want to compete for Miss America. Her family was humble and religious; they didn’t approve of beauty pageants. Although her family was reluctant to support something they considered distasteful, they chose to travel to Atlantic City for the pageant, expecting nothing more than a nice vacation.

BETTE COOPER 3

Bette Cooper with all the adornments of a proper Miss America.

Upon arrival, Bette Cooper met Louis Off, a young man who had signed up to be a bachelor escort. Each Miss America contestant had been paired with a gentleman who would accompany her to and from pageant festivities. When the contestants were given an afternoon off, Cooper and her escort took a drive. Cooper confided in Off, telling him that she hadn’t anticipated winning the first pageant, and didn’t want to compete for Miss America. Off, who had already seen the other contestants, accurately guessed that she stood a good chance of winning.

Bette Cooper won Miss America that night. She sang a song (A Star-Ledger article states that she sang “So There”, but internet sources state that the song was called “When The Poppies Bloom Again”) while wearing an evening gown purchased for her by a female chaperone. The excitement of winning wore off very quickly, and by the next day Cooper and Off had disappeared, leading many to believe the two had run away and eloped.

Bette Cooper and Louis Off walk the boardwalk in a publicity shot. Cooper's fur coat was one of the prizes from the Miss America Pageant. She refused the coat and the other prizes when she decided to return to school

Bette Cooper and Louis Off on the boardwalk in a publicity shot. Cooper’s fur coat was one of the prizes from the Miss America Pageant. She refused the coat and the other prizes when she decided to return to school.

In truth, Bette Cooper was only a 17-year-old high school student and panicked at the thought of leaving school to perform her Miss America duties. Photo shoots, public appearances, screen tests, and interviews held no appeal for her. Cooper called Off in the middle of the night distraught over winning, and he and a friend hid her on a boat until after pageant crowds scattered.  She slept while the gentlemen fished, and after returning to shore, the men drove Cooper back to Hackettstown.

Bette Cooper decided to remain in school, and was able to strike a deal with red-faced pageant officials that entitled her to “all of the benefits, none of the negatives” of being Miss America, according to Louis Off. She kept her title and stayed in school, participating in only a fraction of the expected duties. Off escorted her to appearances and guarded her from the press. The events of the 1937 Miss America Pageant prompted officials to institute new rules: They created a hostess program and prohibited contestants from spending time alone with any man during pageant week. They also started requiring contestants to sign agreements acknowledging their understanding of the duties of Miss America.

After Bette Cooper’s reign ended, she distanced herself from the pageant and focused on her schooling. She graduated from Centenary Junior College’s Academy in 1938 and then from C.J.C. in 1940. She was a dedicated student, participating in several school activities.

From the 1940 Hack Yearbook:

Bette Cooper's senior year photo. [note: The Kin Klub is mentioned on a later page of the yearbook as the Kin Club. The club was comprised of members of the student body who were relatives of former students.]

Bette Cooper’s senior year photo. [note: The Kin Klub is mentioned on a later page of the yearbook as the Kin Club. The club was comprised of members of the student body who were relatives of former students.]

After graduation, she married and moved to Connecticut, where lived until her death in 2017. In 1953, she attended Hackettstown’s Centennial Celebration to crown the Centennial Queen, but that was the closest she ever got to acknowledging her involvement in beauty pageants. She never publicly discussed her time as Miss America.

The story of Bette Cooper’s reign as Miss America was recently featured in a segment of the Travel Channel show Mysteries at the Museum. We were so excited to have the crew come film, and we think they did a great job telling her story.

Bette Cooper at the Hackettstown Centennial Celebration

Bette Cooper at the Hackettstown Centennial Celebration in 1953.


1 At this time in Centenary’s history, the college educated two distinct student populations: the Academy, which was the equivalent of the latter years of high school, and the College, which provided more traditional college instruction. Both ‘schools’ were two-year programs. Freshmen and Sophomore classes attended the Academy and Juniors and Seniors attended the College. You’ll see two graduation dates for Bette Cooper, one for each school.

Braun, Jenifer. “The night Miss America ran away from the throne.”
Star-Ledger [Newark] Sept. 1997: 1+. Print.

“On Campus.” The Bulletin of Centenary Junior College Winter 1953: 5. Print.

Pageant Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Sept. 2014. <http://pageantcenter.com/pageant%20results/Miss_America_Pageant/1937_miss_america_pageant.html#.VA3v9YKJ3E8&gt;.

SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN

Commencement speeches should be thought-provoking and inspiring. The graduating students, thinking their days of education are now behind them, hopefully realize there are a myriad of opportunities to learn, teach, and grow ahead of them.

Biden.jpg

Centenary has had many commencement speakers over the years that have talked about the future, self-reflection, and the quest for knowledge. Although the Library Archives don’t have the text of the speech given on May 17th, 1975, we can expect that it was inspiring and funny, especially with a title like “You Can Bet Your Sweet Life!”

That speech was given by The Honorable Senator Joseph R. Biden, who went on to become the 47th Vice President of the United States under Barack Obama. At the time of his commencement speech, he was a senator from Delaware serving his first term. Here is his biography from the student newspaper, Spilled Ink:

“Senator Biden, who was elected to the United States Senate in 1972 for a six-year term, is a member of the Senate Democratic Steering Committee. His senatorial activities include membership on the committees of Foreign Relations, Budget, National Ocean Study Policy Group for the Senate and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs as well as the subcommittees on Consumer Credit, International Finance, Securities, Production and Stabilization. In 1974 he was selected as one of ten ”Outstanding Young Men of the Year” by the U.S.

Joe Biden 1

Senator Biden with President Seay

National Jaycees and was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal for Outstanding Achievement by Syracuse University, New York. Since 1973 he has been honorary chairman of the Leukemia Society of Delaware. A native of Scranton, Pa., Senator Biden is an alumnus of Archmere Academy in Delaware, graduated from the University of Delaware at Newark with a B.A. degree in 1965 and three years later received a J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law. Before his election to the Senate he practiced as a trial lawyer for four years and served as a member of the New Castle (Del.) County Council from 1970-72.”

Senator Biden is scheduled for 100th commencement. (1975, April 30). Spilled Ink. p. 1.

 

THE DRESS CODE

Everyone has had to follow the rules of a dress code at one time or another – maybe you’ve dressed up for a religious service, worn athletic gear for gym class, or gone to a school where students wore uniforms. Centenary Collegiate Institute was no different. Some of the rules of attire were for practical reasons, but many rules were in place so that students would look presentable, respectful, and appropriate. Here are examples how students dressed throughout the years:

Centenary Collegiate Institute Catalog, 1894-1895:

June 14 1899

June 14, 1899: Students in their simple and neat clothes.

“All articles of wearing must be distinctly marked in a conspicuous place with the owner’s full name. Ladies attire should be simple and neat, not elegant and expensive.”

[It is interesting to note that no attention was given to gentlemen’s attire. In later years, the latter line was changed to “An expensive or extensive wardrobe is unnecessary.”]

 

“The Ways and Customs of C.C.I.”, 1917:

“Care should be taken that you always appear clean and neat…On all school days, wear simple, plain dresses/wash dresses/plain waists and skirts. When cold weather comes, a one piece or sailor suit of serge should be worn. Simple white dresses without colored trimmings are required for dinner and the evening. For cold days, a Liberty cape of light color will be found useful. Wear sensible shoes with sensible heels. High heels required from Thanksgiving to Easter. Slippers or pumps may be worn in the evening only. On Sundays, wear a suit and nice waist or a separate dress and coat. White is not required on Sundays. For athletics, wear plain white middy, dark blue bloomers, black stockings and black sneakers. No bare knees.”

1913 girls in white middies

1913: A group of students in their required athletic gear.

“Handbook of the Student Government Association”, Centenary Junior College (some time from 1939 – 1956, likely the 1940s):

“…Include in your wardrobe such basic things as a good tailor suit, several skirts…for dinner, simple dress will do the trick (white sports dresses and white blouses and a skirt). Bring anklets, blouses, several date dresses for informal week-ends, an evening dress that will be at home at any occasion, a strictly formal dream dress for…special occasions, an odd jacket or two, and slacks to study in.

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1940s: These girls seem to be holding their own going bicycling in skirts!

“…Don’t forget that we wear white dresses to dinner from Monday thru Thursday, and for appearance sake we wear heels and street dresses for Sunday dinner and Vespers. We are allowed to wear slacks downtown only in bad weather. [Slacks are] only allowed at the breakfast and noon meals on Saturday…No raincoats in the dining room…P.J.’s may never, never be worn to meals. Bathrobes are worn only in the dorms, but trench coasts with P.J.’s rolled up are O.K. in the grill and library.”

Student Handbook of Centenary College for Women, 1957-8

Moving the books

1954: Students wearing campus clothes as they move books to the new library with President Seay’s young son.

“Centenary girls dress simply. Use as much as possible of your present wardrobe…Remember that good taste, cleanliness, neatness, and simplicity are the foundation of that well-dressed look.”

Students were encouraged to bring items for specific purposes:

In Class: Socks – knee high or anklet, Loafers or some type of campus flat, Cottons – simple dresses, skirts, and blouses, Woolens – skirts and sweaters

On Campus: Bermuda shorts, Dungarees, Slacks, Casual coat and jacket

Dating: Hose, Dress shoes, Evening slippers, Woolen dress, Dressy dress, Suit, 1 or 2 formals, Dressy coat, Accessories – hat, gloves, etc.

Dinner: A simple dress or a skirt and sweater or blouse will do the trick.

For Special Occasions: A white dress or a white skirt and sweater or blouse

At that time, the college felt that the students were representing the school as much as they were representing themselves when they were off campus, and they were always expected to look respectable. Suggestions and/or requirements on what to bring were for their benefit and the benefit of the school.

The 2018 Student Handbook does not include wardrobe restrictions or requirements, and students have the freedom to dress how it suits them (pun absolutely intended). Of course, some aspects of a dress code remain in place, as our sports teams still have their uniforms, students bring business attire for important academic events, and there will always be dances to get dressed up for!

WINTER AT CENTENARY UNIVERSITY [updated repost]

Trying to think of something to do in the short time before the next semester begins? Here are some activities students at Centenary enjoyed throughout the years.

SLEIGH RIDES:

A 1923 student included in Leila Custard’s history Through Golden Years writes:

One of my pleasant recollections is a sleigh ride we went on – horses, bells and all. It was beautiful. The country was glistening with snow and made a lovely sight.

ICE SKATING, SLEDDING, TOBOGGANING:

There was plenty for students to do on campus and off. During the Winter Carnival of days past, students would go ice skating, sledding, and tobogganing. The school would also host ski trips to nearby resorts.

 

ICE SCULPTURES:

Forget about snowmen, follow in the footsteps of Centenary students and personalize your artwork. One of the highlights of the Winter Carnival was the Ice Sculpture Contest, where dorms would create something unique out of snow.

Make the most of your time before the semester begins! We’ll see you soon!

 

IRENE CASTLE

A letter from the Archives:

“Dr. Cummings [sic] said:

Back in 1902 one of our students at C.C.I. was Irene Foote who was and is a splendid athletic girl fond of sports including swimming. She liked to take a plunge in the finest swimming pool at C.C.I. The only trouble she had was to take a swim and get her hair dry for the next recitation. One day she said “I am going to fix that!” So she took a big pair of shears and cut off her beautiful long hair, then took her swim and when she came out she shook her head a couple of times and was ready for recitations – all but dressing. And if the styles of 1902 had been like those of 1927 her bathing suit would have been just about the right thing without any change at all, although the skirt might have been longer.

The next day six other girls who liked to swim cut off their hair, and the vogue of bobbed hair was started and has been going ever since. It spread in this way.

The next year Miss Foote married Mr. Castle and became Irene Castle Foote (that you have all heard about). These two, Mr. and Mrs. Castle, danced their ways into the hearts of every body here and abroad.”

This letter was dictated by Mrs. Annie Blair (Titman) Cummins in May 1950, regarding a story from her late husband, Dr. George Wyckoff Cummins. To learn more about them, click here.

There are some discrepancies about dates in the letter; Irene Foote was a student here in 1906, not 1902. Born in 1893, she was thirteen when she attended Centenary Collegiate Institute. At that age, she was probably a member of the high school academy and also a member of the Diokosophian Society. The other discrepancy is that Miss Foote married Mr. Castle the following year – they actually met in 1910.

These slight variations in time bring into question the validity of the letter; a recollection told by a husband to his wife and written down almost a decade after his death may contain some errors. We still enjoy the mystery this item brings and are very pleased to have found it.

KAY & ME

This year for Centenary University’s Alumni and Family Weekend, the library will have a presentation on Katharine Brush, a student from Centenary who graduated in 1917!

Katharine Ingham Brush was born Katharine Ingham in Connecticut in 1902 and attended Centenary Collegiate Institute between 1913 and 1917. Casey, as she was known at Centenary, was very active in student activities.

katharine brush 6She was on several athletic teams and held positions in literary clubs and organizations. As an editor for the Hack Yearbook, she contributed jokes, articles, and essays to the 1917 yearbook.

katharine brush 1

Excerpt, Prophecy of the Class of 1917, 1917 Yearbook:

I know that I am soon to depart this earthly life, slain in an arduous battle with the Natural Enemy, college entrance exams, and I feel that this will be my last appearance on this terrestrial ball. So, on this thirteenth day of June, nineteen seventeen, I inscribe these facts for publication, that the consciousness of the greatness of my prophetic talents may not bloom alone within my own self but that, like the genius of the Cassandra that I once was, it may live on after my decease, to all eternity.

KATHARINE INGHAM, 1917

katharine brush 4She also performed in the Glee Club and in plays put on by her literary society, The Diokosophians.

VICTIM OF AMERICAN HISTORY

What time it was, I do not know, what place I do not care
But in American History class sat Casey, sad and fair.
Her turn was fast approaching, she was consumed with fright
Her one thought was, “Oh! how I hope I won’t have to recite.”
At last the one beside her had stood and had her say,
And then for poor dear Casey ’twas night instead of day.
A name was called, she, trembling rose, and started to”expound”-
But why this mighty laughter that shakes the whole room round ?
The class was in an uproar! Casey began to fumble
For instead of Katharine Ingham, the name was Kathryn Rumble.

E.B. (Edna Bigelow, associate editor of the Hack Board)

After graduating, Katharine Ingham began working as a columnist for the Boston Traveler. She published multiple short stories and novels under her married name, Brush. Later in life, she went by the nickname Kay.

katharine brush 5

Among her many published works are Glitter, Little Sins, Night Club, The Boy from Maine, and When She Was Bad. Several of her novels have been made into movies. Red Headed Woman was made into a film in 1932. It is considered a pre-code classic due to its racy comedy.

katharine brush 2

She passed away in New York City in 1952, just shy of her 50th birthday.

The Library is excited to host Kay & Me, a chance encounter in a lecture hall that lead to a decade-long love affair between a middle-aged scholar and the host of a long forgotten Jazz Age novelist, presented by Jonathan Matthews on October 7th at 1 pm. Come hear how the wise-cracking daughter of a prim New England headmaster became a leading luminary in the literary and motion picture worlds, one whose dazzling light burned alongside that of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jean Harlow, and, like theirs, was extinguished too soon.

THE CUMMINS FAMILY

 

The Archives holds a wealth of information about Centenary University, and any trip into the Archives storage produces fascinating pieces of historical value. Several of these pieces were donated by prominent New Jersey family, the Cummins.

cummins030Dr. George Wyckoff Cummins was born in Vienna, New Jersey and graduated from Centenary Collegiate Institute’s college prep course in 1881. From there he attended the Yale School of Medicine and later, the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. He practiced medicine in Belvidere and specialized in the treatment of hay fever, asthma, and allergic diseases. A physician, surgeon, inventor, and research scientist, he authored many books on history, chemistry, and archaeology. Some of his works are in the library’s Special Collections Room.

cummins028Mrs. Annie Blair Titman Cummins attended Centenary Collegiate Institute in the academic program between 1881 – 1882, and in a special studies program for music from 1888 – 1891. She studied pipe organ, piano, and harmony. She was a member of several organist associations and served as organist for many years in local churches. She was also very devoted to the study of history and genealogy, compiling 423 volumes of 41,000 tombstone records from local cemeteries. She was the Organizing Regent of the General William Maxwell Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and was one of the greatest authorities of local history.

cummins029

Mrs. Cummins at the organ

Dr. and Mrs. Cummins were married in 1890, and lived in Belvidere, New Jersey. After the death of her husband in 1942, Mrs Cummins donated an organ to Centenary in his memory.  Mrs. Cummins donated several items to Centenary during the last decade of her life, and in her will left many possessions, buildings, and plots of land to the school. Some of the items were displayed in The Cummins Museum Room in the newly built Taylor Memorial Library. The collection was dissolved in 1980 and some of the items sold, but many still remain in the library’s archives.

A list of titles by and about the Cummins Family:

Cummins, George Wyckoff. History of Warren County New Jersey. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911. Print.

– – -. History of Warren County New Jersey. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1911. Print.

Records of the Cummins, Addis, and Carhart Families of Warren County, NJ. N.p.: n.p., 1942. Print.

* Titman Cummins, Annie Blair. Bible Records, Warren County, N.J. Vol. 1 N.p.: n.p., 1941. Print. 2 copies.

– – -. Cummins-Titman and Allied Families: Genealogical and Biographical. Hartford: States Historical Company, Inc., 1946. Print.

– – -. Diary of a trip to Europe in 1909 by Margaret E. Roseberry Titman and Annie Blair Titman Cummins.

* Wycoff Cummins, G. Churches of Warren County, N.J. Vol. 3. N.p.: n.p., 1944. Print. 3 copies.

* – – -. Historical Articles of Warren County N.J. Vol. 2. N.p.: n.p., 1943. Print. 2 copies.

* – – -. Organization of General William Maxwell Chapter D.A.R and Markers Placed. Vol. 31. N.p.: n.p., 1945. Print. 3 copies.

* – – -. Post Offices in the United States in 1819. Comp. Annie Blair Titman Cummins. N.p.: n.p., 1945.  Print. 2 copies.