Centenary University

THE DORM ROOM BEAUTIES

[This guest post has been brought to you by Jillian Pullis and Dr. Lisa Mastrangelo’s Advanced Composition Class. Students in this class work closely with archival staff and items, allowing them to practice their writing and research skills, as well as learning more about their university. It’s a wonderful partnership that we look forward to and occasionally we ask one or two students to share their work on our blog. This paper in particular was impressive because we, the Archives staff, see this photograph often and wonder about the students in the picture. Pullis’ research has identified these girls and we now know a little more about this dorm room candid. We are grateful she accepted our offer of being included in the blog, and hope you enjoy learning how she investigated the visual clues this picture held to deduce its content. No edits have been made to this document, and the student’s work is shown in its entirety.]

img001The picture that I am investigating is two young ladies laying on their dorm room beds at Centenary College. Investigating this photo allowed me to turn into an archivist for a few weeks. I had to depend on my historical sources to find information, describe my findings, and provide accurate sources to allow others to find this information. As an archivist, I had to analyze my photo and find any clues that could help me date it. I also had to try and organize the information I found and communicate it in a way that would make sense. Although, in this case I was just following the steps of what an archivist would do, I was able to put my evidence together to find the year the photo was taken. By following the steps of an archivist and investigating the image, I found my photo is from the year 1957.

In the photo, the two girls laying on their dorm room beds are similar in which they both have short hair, long white socks, and plaid skirts. The way the beds are positioned directly up against each other is either trying to portray that the girls must be extremely close, and they sleep that way each night, or the photo is posed and trying to give off a  “come here and find your best friend” vibe.  On the walls, the girls have a poster and a sorority paddle hanging on the wall. These two things play a huge part in helping me date this photo. The girls also have a book – shelf with multiple copies of the same books, perfectly placed. I found this to be further evidence that this photo could be staged. The room also has two windows with matching curtains.

Centenary College was a junior college for women from 1940 to 1976. In the dorm room the girls have a Dartmouth Winter Carnival Poster hanging on the wall. On the corner of the poster it is dated February 3-5, 1956. I was able to find the exact poster on the Dartmouth Archive site. I contacted Morgan Swan, Ph.D., M.L.I.S. who is the Special Collection Education and Outreach Librarian at Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth College. Morgan said, “During the early to mid 20th century, Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival was a nationally prominent event that required an invitation to attend if you weren’t already a student there. Many college students at women’s colleges all over New England (and NY and NJ) would often be invited to come as the dates of Dartmouth men.” He additionally added that it was popular for Centenary college girls to travel to Dartmouth on the train and enjoy the fun weekend in the snow. Before this email, I  had to keep in mind that just because the poster was dated and on the wall was not enough to convince me the girls were there. It could have just been a decoration or a gift to the girls.  I was very excited when I read this email because it proved to me that I was on the right track with the year.

In the dorm room the girls have a sorority paddle hanging from the wall. The paddle  was dated 1958. This led me to look at the yearbook sorority pictures from the years around 1958. This finding played a huge part in helping me identify these girls in the yearbook. I was able to find the sorority picture in the Hack yearbook of 1957. By looking at the Hack yearbook, I was able to name these two girls as Gail Zabriskie and Leslie VanNess Bush. I examined every single picture in the Hack yearbook 1957. I was able to reassure myself of a few things by looking at these pictures. In my dorm room photo and the yearbook photo of the girls, they have the same windows and curtains. I did not think this was enough to be 100% sure, as maybe Centenary provided each room with the same curtains. By looking at every picture in the yearbook I was able to find that almost every single bedroom shot with the windows in the back had different curtains. Not one of the photos had the same curtains that my two girls had. I also believed that this photo was staged by how the beds were positioned and how neatly the room was set. By looking at the other yearbook pictures I found that almost every room had tables and chairs in between the beds. No matter how close you are with someone I did not find one other photo with beds positioned that closely. It was a huge find being able to find these girls names and find information about them.

Screen Shot 2020-04-07 at 11.37.04 AMGail Zabriskie and Leslie VanNess Bush were both on the Orientation Committee, Guild, Student Activity, Psychology Club, and Theta Epsilon Nu. Gail Zabriskie was the President and Leslie VanNess Bush was the Vice President of student activities. They were next to each other in the yearbook and it had a picture of the two girls together. The girls were standing next to each other smiling in front of a window. The picture in the yearbook had the same windows and curtains as the picture I was examining. This was all found in the Hack yearbook in the year 1957. It could be possible that every room had the same curtains and window set up, but I found the similarities to be significant. The girls were also in a lot of the same clubs and very involved on campus so it would make sense that they would be asked to stage a photo to promote Centenary and portray it as finding your best friend.

Leslie VanNess Bush was sporting short and curly hair in her yearbook picture as well as the dorm room picture. This was very popular in the 1950s that was inspired by some prominent women. Beauty Launchpad explained,  “Many actresses and female singers of the 1950s, including Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Eartha Kitt, favored this shorter, slightly less voluminous version of the classic bouffant. Perfectly curled and coiffed hair was the signature of this look, though great care was taken to make hair appear to be naturally curly.” Gail Zabriskie can be found in both photos with her short brown Pixie Cut. The pixie cut started becoming popular in the late 1950s and really took off in the 1960s. Beauty Launchpad added, “Audrey Hepburn’s closely-cropped hair in the popular film Roman Holiday began a trend of super short hair coupled with soft, wispy bangs that remains popular today.” I was very reluctant to find out that the hairstyles of the two girls matched up well with what was popular during the year that I found.

In todays’ world of social media, specifically Facebook and Instagram, it is so easy to just swipe by a photo in seconds. We often will not even look at most pictures that pop up on our feeds, and if we are it is followed by a quick “like”. Examining archived photos requires the person to really look at every detail. When you think you have found all the clues, you should look again. By doing this I was able to find the key component on the sorority paddle to identify the women in my picture. If I did not room in on the paddle, I would have never seen the date and most likely would not have found the girls names.

 

Works Cited

 

“Dorm Room ; 1957” Photo. Archives and Special Collections,

Taylor Memorial Library. Centenary University

 

The Hack. 1957. The Taylor Memorial Library,

Centenary University

 

“Hair Through History: 9 Memorable Hairstyles of the 1950s.” Beauty Launchpad, 24 Oct. 2019, www.beautylaunchpad.com/hair-through-history-9-memorable-hairstyles-1950s.

Swan, Morgan. “Feb 3-5, 1956 Dartmouth Winter Carnival .” Feb 3-5, 1956 Dartmouth Winter Carnival , 25 Feb. 2020.

FERGUSON’S FIVE YEAR FRENZY

After Centenary’s first president, the Rev. Dr. G. H. Whitney retired, the Board of Trustees selected Wilbert P. Ferguson as his successor. Whereas Dr. Whitney was a Centenary institution for over a quarter of a century,  unfortunately Dr. Ferguson would only remain at the school until 1900, a mere five years.

Ferguson 3

Ferguson became Centenary’s second president in 1895. He seemed well suited for the position, having earned  “a reputation as a ‘hustler’ ” during his time as a member of the New York East Methodist Conference (Custard, 71). Centenary’s Trustees thought he would be the perfect man to take the reins and steer Centenary Collegiate Institute towards even greater heights, and he entered this new role with bold ideas.

President Ferguson was eager to boost the school’s enrollment. He closed the Ladies’ College and rearranged the school’s main courses, expanding the Commercial Department and introducing the Department of English Literature. Students with fewer than 7 cuts from class and a final grade above 75 no longer had to sit for final exams.

Athletics became a major feature of student life, starting with the addition of an Athletics Director in 1896 (see Athletics). The grounds behind the Main Building were transformed into a running track, baseball diamond, football field, tennis courts, and croquet and quoit grounds.

Athletic Fields, view from Main Building 3

Very small and unfortunately pixelated views of Athletic Fields as seen from the old Main Building. From the 1896 Course Catalog of C.C.I.

 

The Hackettstonian April 1899

Cover of the April 1899 Hackettstonian

Another new addition for Centenary Collegiate Institute was a student publication called The Hackettstonian. This magazine, published monthly, included original stories, essays, and poems by students and faculty, editorials, news and joke items, and information about alumni.

 

Dr. Ferguson’s five year term was coming to a close when the Main Building was razed by fire on October 31, 1899. The timing of his resignation was unfortunate. While it implied he was abandoning the school in its greatest time of need, this was far from the truth. He had always planned to move on after his single term and followed through, submitting his resignation in January of 1900. Ferguson split his remaining time at C.C.I between his presidency and a new position in Newark until a new president could be found. On June 1, 1900, the position of Centenary Collegiate Institute President was passed on to Charles Wesley McCormick, who had arrived at the institution the year before as a teacher of English and History.

The momentum the school had gained in Dr. Ferguson’s five years as president was dimmed by the fire but was not lost. The Hackettstonian and the school’s enthusiasm for Athletics were both back in full force once the institution was rebuilt, and Ferguson’s early ambition to boost enrollment had been an invigorating force that continued to move the school forward, long after Ferguson’s departure.

 

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 (also spelled Munich). After the performance, the group walked through town together.

Once the crowd dispersed, Munnich 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. Munnich 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 Munnich 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!

DR WHITNEY, EXIT, STAGE RIGHT

IMAG0110

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.

Cresset_1967.03

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.