Looking Back: Pomp and Circumstance, 124 years ago

Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 18, 2018


BIRMINGHAM — The Hill School Class of 1894 wasn’t much different from the graduating classes at Groves and Seaholm high schools today, except in size. The Class of 1894 was composed of only 10 graduates: six women and four men.

In the 1890s, access to a high school education was changing across the United States. Broadly speaking, only those from wealthy families destined for academic or white-collar careers went on to high school in the 1800s. But by 1894, education was increasingly seen as a means to “Americanize” individuals and to alleviate social ills, such as poverty.

High school attendance grew across the nation as these ideas took hold. The village of Birmingham was growing during that period as well, leading to ever-larger graduating classes in the late 19th century.

Bert N. Blakeslee was the class valedictorian. The other graduates were Frances Quick, Ella Adams, Estella Ward, Emma Allen, Ella Johnston, Clara Niles, Annie Adams, Fred Quarton and Calvin McCarroll.

The Birmingham Museum has the commencement program, pictured; senior photos; the class prophecy, written by Quick; and several other items relating to the class.

A series of diary entries written in 1914 by an unidentified classmate give a look at what several members of the Class of 1894 were up to. Adams was single and the head nurse in a Detroit hospital. Quarton was a farmer and had written several histories of the area. Blakeslee was serving under the governor general of the Philippines and had become something of an expert on the people and culture there. Ward and Quick had both become published authors.

The last entry ends with the author rushing off to prepare a dinner for his/her classmates, who were coming over for an unofficial reunion. Who was this mystery diarist? Historians aren’t 100 percent sure, but Johnston isn’t mentioned by name, and the handwriting is similar to samples of her writing in the collection. By this point, Ella Johnston would have become Ella Parks, and she would have been making a name for herself in the world of painting.

— Caitlin Donnelly, museum assistant at the Birmingham Museum