September is upon us, which means that students and teachers all over the province are in the midst of settling into the school routines. This year, as with each new school year, they will be forging friendships, learning new skills, and making memories. For all the things about school that change drastically from one generation to the next, the making of memories is at least one aspect that the students a century ago have in common with those today. Over time, however, the ways that we have recorded and tangibly preserved our school memories has changed.
An ancestor of sorts to the school yearbook was autograph books. Autograph books, which were books circulated primarily by academics to collect signatures and verses from colleagues, have been around in Europe for centuries. Over the years, autograph books became more elaborate collections of verses, drawings, and messages to the book’s owner. These books, which can now be found sprinkled throughout local historical societies and archives centres, captured the sentiments of close school friends, imprinted the words of special teachers, and recorded events for the owner to reflect back on over the passing of time.
One example at the ETRC is the autograph book of Florence Mead, who attended Macdonald College’s School for Teachers in the fall of 1923. Florence was born in the Townships and grew up in the Sherbrooke and Hatley areas. She attended “Mac” (as she and her friends refer to it) at the still-young age of 16 and by 17 she was teaching at the Goodhue School in Ascot Township. Her autograph book is a captivating combination of mementos, diary entries, poetry, course assignments, song verses, and artwork. In particular, shown here, is Florence’s description of the freshmen’s initiation, involving thirteen pigtails, hot water bottles, molasses, and feathers. Wild times!
Teachers also gave their students souvenirs to commemorate their school year together. Found in the ETRC Archives is the souvenir card E. Pearl Orr had printed and prepared for her students at the South Ham School (district 3) for the 1900-1901 school year. Not only did it include a photograph of Pearl, which – at that time – would not have been cheap to have printed, she included a poem and listed each of her pupils’ names in clear, flowing cursive. The fact that one of these cards was kept through the decades, long enough to make it into an archive, can be considered an indication that it was a meaningful memento to at least one of her students.