Centenary University

MARYANN MCFADDEN AND TILLIE SMITH

Maryann McFadden FB

Local author Maryann McFadden is coming to Taylor Memorial Library on Tuesday, April 9th to give a talk on the process of becoming a published author. Her latest book, The Cemetery Keeper’s Wife, tells the tale of Rachel, newly married to the cemetery keeper of the Union Cemetery. Buried in that cemetery is the body of Tillie Smith, employee of Centenary Collegiate Institute (now Centenary University) and the focal point of a news story that gripped the nation. From Maryann McFadden’s website:

Reading the words carved into the stone, “She Died in Defence of Her Honor,” Rachel is overcome by a powerful memory buried deep in her past.A series of uncanny coincidences linked to Tillie Smith follows, setting Rachel on a journey that grows into an obsession: Why did the murder of a poor kitchen maid at the local seminary become a national sensation? Why were people in town trying to keep her from finding the truth? But most disturbing of all, why was Tillie reawakening a past Rachel chose to bury long ago. A past that could threaten her marriage.

Below is the compelling story that draws Rachel further into the past.

TillieApril 8, 1886:

[Matilda ‘Tillie’ Smith was born in Waterloo, NJ, and settled in Hackettstown in 1885. She had recently been hired as a kitchen maid for Centenary Collegiate Institute.] The headstrong Smith left campus alone that night and walked to an entertainment hall on Main Street, where she met with friends and two new acquaintances, Harry Haring and Charles Munnich. After the performance, the group walked through town together.

Once the crowd dispersed, Haring and Smith walked back to the Institute alone. They arrived at the school’s gate around 10:10 pm. The college had a strict curfew of 10:00 pm, and by then the doors were locked. Haring offered to pay for a room at his hotel if Tillie would accompany him back to town but she refused. They said good night and parted ways. As Haring turned to walk back to his accommodation at the American House, he heard Tillie’s footsteps walk around the side of the building. That was the last time anyone saw her alive.

April 9th, 1886:

John White discovered Tillie’s body at 8:40 am as he walked his dog around the campus perimeter. What followed next was a confusing and misguided witch-hunt for justice. Sensational coverage by major newspapers drove a fervent public to the belief that 29-year-old janitor James Titus had “brutally ravaged and murdered” Smith, even though there was no evidence to substantiate the claim. Titus was meek and respectable, an employee of C.C.I. for over 11 years, and had neither the strength nor the stomach to commit such violence. The public demanded justice for Tillie, a virtuous young woman who had been shamefully murdered and then even more shamefully committed to a pauper’s grave.

Tillie an James TitusApril 29th, 1886:

Pressured into solving the case, police arrested James Titus and charged him with rape and murder.

September 28th, 1886:

The trial against James Titus began. The prosecution disregarded several pieces of evidence that lent credence to Titus’ innocence, and painted a picture of a man of bad conduct, whose lewdness was concealed behind an unassuming demeanor. Titus professed his innocence, but the court (and the public) was already convinced of his guilt. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Titus avoided death by quickly confessing to the rape and murder, and instead was sentenced to life in prison. He served 19 years and returned to Hackettstown upon his release. For nearly 50 years, he lived peacefully among the very people who had condemned him to death.

After his death, James Titus was buried in Union Cemetery, the same cemetery where Tillie Smith also rests. The town had her body moved from her pauper’s grave to a prominent spot in the cemetery, beneath a monument that proclaims, “She Died in Defense of her Honor.”

The event was not included in our college history, Through Golden Years, but it is a part of our history, and a part we should not forget. The truth of Tillie’s rape and murder may never be known but we will all do our part to preserve her memory.

Maryann McFadden will talk about her journey from writer to realtor to published author and offer advice for others who want to pursue writing. The presentation will be held in the library on Tuesday, April 9th at 7 pm. We’re excited to learn about her journey, and hopefully she’ll tell us about the process of writing The Cemetery Keeper’s Wife!

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DR WHITNEY, EXIT, STAGE RIGHT

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President Whitney

If the faculty of Centenary Collegiate Institute put their blood, sweat, and tears into the success of the school during its first years, then President Whitney gave the school his whole self – body and soul. For twenty-five years he worked tirelessly for Centenary, even after his health started to fail. It became evident in 1888 that Whitney’s health was being undermined, and in February 1889 came a crisis. In agonizing pain and confined to a reclining chair, the president ran the school with help from his brother, Edward Whitney. This episode lasted 90 days and at the end of April he had a very serious operation. Years of better health broken by short intervals of illness followed. Whitney always worked through the pain, attending events and giving addresses at religious services. An outsider would never have known he was ill.

By March 1895, he made the decision to resign. Commencement that year honored him, and there were meetings, banquets, and receptions where he and his wife were celebrated by friends, students, and townspeople. The Board of Trustees chose Reverend Wilbert P. Ferguson as the next president. President Ferguson would have some big shoes to fill, but, really – how do you follow an act like that?Whitney-Ferguson 2

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;.

THE PRESIDENT’S RIGHT-HAND MAN

The success of any school is due in large part to its faculty and staff. The faculty will teach students what they’ll need to know to succeed, and staff will help them navigate their way through college. Hopefully, in the process they will help students feel comfortable and confident. Centenary employees have always served the school admirably in this way, starting back in 1874, when the school first opened.

Whitney, Edward A

Prof. Edward A. Whitney

Dr Whitney, Centenary Collegiate Institute’s first president, recognized the importance of a strong faculty, and took great care in hiring devoted individuals to help the school flourish. Though there were many faithful employees, the president relied on one person more than anyone else: his younger brother, Edward A. Whitney. Professor Whitney served Centenary for 21 years, from 1874 – 1895, and was not only a member of the faculty, but held many staff positions as well. He was principal and instructor of the Commercial Department and the Institute’s cashier, bookkeeper, and librarian! Additionally, in 1889, with the president in extremely poor health, Professor Whitney took to helping him run the school. He was an invaluable member of the faculty and staff until his death in 1895.

Other original faculty members include:

Miss Stella Waldo, 1874 – 1892

1874 – 1881: Piano and Organ

1881 – 1888: Voice and Piano

1888 – 1892: Vocal Music

Miss Anna Nicholl, 1874 – 1886

1874 – 1882: History, Painting, and Drawing

1882 – 1886: History and Mathematics

L. H. Batchelder, 1874 – 1882

1874 – 1877: Natural Science and Mathematics

1877 – 1882: Chemistry and Mathematics

Fanny Gulick, 1874 – 1882 (left to marry Professor Batchelder!)

1874 – 1878: English Literature and German

1878 – 1882: Belles-Lettres and German

 

The 1892 school publication, “The Hackettstonian”, had this to say about the faculty:

“The marked attainments and high reputation on the world of education maintained by Centenary Collegiate Institute is in no small measure due to the constant endeavor and untiring zeal of its Faculty. Their position is, indeed, an unselfish one, and one that is seldom fully appreciated; and we have deemed it eminently fitting that they should be represented in this number. It is, then, with just pride that we present our readers with a brief summary of the lives which have been helpful to so many in their school career, and for whom we have the highest regard.”

 

 

 

COMMENCEMENT WEEK

 

As each school year draws to a close, we tend to reminisce on the previous few years, when our graduating seniors were freshmen or new transfers. We’re excited to see how much they’ve grown over the years, and we’re especially excited to see them walk at graduation!

The activities of commencement week have become routine for many – Commencement Rehearsal, the President’s Ball, the Baccalaureate Ceremony, Brunch, and finally, Commencement – but Commencement week is also a time for students to enjoy their last week and to reflect on their journey at Centenary. This tradition has been celebrated every year since the school first opened with the exception of one – the Commencement of 1875.

Centenary’s first ever commencement week was very different from any other commencement week the school has ever held. Why? Well, because no one graduated! Several students applied to enter a year of work culminating in graduation, but Centenary’s first president, Dr. Whitney, refused them all. He was setting the highest possible standard for his students’ education, and he didn’t feel one year of work was enough to prepare them for university.

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Dalton’s history of the school is highlighted in Centenary’s special alumni bulletin.

Although there were no graduates, Commencement week 1875 still had the Baccalaureate sermon, the President’s Reception, Commencement, and a meal (in this case, dinner). Prizes were also awarded for outstanding students. In that way, very little has changed about Commencement week practices. According to the 1967 anniversary edition of the Cresset, the school still held a commencement program in 1875 to mark the success of the school’s first year. The following year, there was a real first commencement with 30 graduates from the Women’s College and the Preparatory Department (Dalton, 25).

“For Students, Trustees, all Ministers and their Wives, all strangers from a distance…the ‘Commencement Dinner’ was always a great affair – beautiful to see – delightful to eat. Everybody was satisfied, everybody was happy – the Seniors and their friends – all students and their friends – all felt the charm of the occasion. Ice cream of several kinds, and in very great abundance was always at the close – the dishes were large, very large – and a second one if desired” (Whitney).

Commencement Program 1876

Program, Commencement 1876, the first year students graduated and possibly the first year the school printed a program. Archival staff is unaware of a program for Commencement 1875.

 

 

Custard, L. R. (1947). Through golden years: 1867-1943. New York, NY: Lewis Historical   Publishing Company, Inc.

Dalton, Ernest R. “Centenary – A century of change.” Cresset, vol. 50, no. 1, March 1967,      pp. 21 – 43.

Whitney, George. Autobiography. N.d.

 

 

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!

SENIOR PRIVILEGES

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A group of students from the 1910s

It’s probably very hard for a Centenary student of today to imagine what it was like to be at the school one hundred years ago. Here are a few of the Senior Privileges a student of that time could enjoy:

1. Seniors could study on campus or porches during regular study hours, if quiet.

2. Seniors could sit on the steps of the front porch after dinner and return to their dormitories by the front entrance.

3. Seniors could go to the farm between church and dinner on Sunday.

4. Seniors could walk to the farm with young men guests on any afternoon after three o’clock and on Anniversary Sunday between 1:30 and 3:30, remaining not longer than one hour at any time.

5. Seniors could have senior tables the last four weeks, without chaperone and with privileges of arranging groups of seven at each table, changing groups each week (This privilege could be forfeited by the entire class if any table was unduly noisy).

6. Seniors could, for the next to the last change of the year, choose a table from among those at which the senior had not sat during that year.

7. Seniors could go to the village every day except Saturday and Sunday unchaperoned. This privilege was forfeited for an entire week following any week in which the senior had one unexcused meal absence, a meal tardy, which is the third one, three misdemeanors, or one ‘cut’ on the corridor or elsewhere.

8. Seniors of the Honor Roll were permitted to go to the village on Monday morning between 10:30 and 12:00, and during vacant periods in the afternoon of school days, in place of the regular time.

9. Seniors could cut breakfast on Sunday morning if they followed these conditions:
a) Must be quiet on the corridor
b) Must be ready for church on time
c) Must have room in good order
d) Must not have prohibited things to eat
e) Must do no cooking unless by special permission from Miss. Breckenridge

Austin, Olive10. Seniors could keep their lights on until 10:00 PM on Sunday.

Students residing on Senior Hall were on their honor to respect the privileges given to them and, if they did not, risked losing those privileges for their whole class. It was very important for the students, then, to stay out of trouble! These privileges were signed by Olive L. Austin, Dean of Centenary Collegiate Institute, and teacher in Bible Studies, Ethics, and Psychology from 1911 to 1917.