1925 journal provides insight into high school life a century ago

Ballard graduate’s journal shows how far we’ve come— and how some things haven’t changed

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1925 journal provides insight into high school life a century ago

The cover of the journal.

The cover of the journal.

The cover of the journal.

The cover of the journal.

Annelise Bowser, Copy Editor

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When we think of life 100 years ago, we picture a different world, one totally removed from the way we live now. While we focus on the changes brought by World War II, the Civil Rights movement, and September 11, 2001, very rarely do we consider the similarities between our society and that of the roaring ‘20s.

Gordon Macdougall is an english teacher and a collector of Northwest literature and nonfiction. “I got the idea that you teach from place, what’s happening in a place, the environment, the economy, the sociological factors, the people in it, so I started collecting literature and nonfiction about Seattle and the Northwest,” Macdougall said.

He frequents estate sales looking for books, journals and maps that serve as primary sources of Northwest history, and at an estate sale in a modest mansion in North Queen Anne, he found the journal of James Wood Frazier. Frazier graduated from Ballard in 1925 as senior class president and who worked on the Talisman and Shingle staffs between 1923 and 1925.

The journal features brief profiles of his friends, with cut-out photos and summaries of their schooling and accomplishments from the 1925 Shingle. Student handbooks, class schedules, a driver’s permit and a graduation diploma are also attached to the journal’s pages.

Frazier’s journal provides an amusing look into a teenager’s life 95 years ago.  Sepia-toned film photos show girls with short bobs and boys with shiny, impeccably combed hair snuggled up on wagon rides or posing in front of the old school building. A profile of a smiling girl is captioned in beautiful cursive, “Anne Hill, the sister of Harriet and in 1924-25 the ardently wooed of Alden Byers.” On one page, a scrap of handkerchief is glued in and labeled as “a piece of a handkerchief that nearly caused a disruption among good friends,” leaving us to wonder how a handkerchief could cause such a problem.

“And you know these are just high school students being high school students,” Macdougall said. “I think it is an interesting look at how things aren’t that different in a lot of ways, that kids are kids.”

The students in the journal had endured great hardship. World War I had ended just years before, and an outbreak of Spanish Influenza that followed added another weight to their shoulders. After years of worry and fear, Frazier and his friends are able to cut loose and really relax as the jazz age picks up and America takes a deep breath.

Despite the entertaining entries about Frazier’s life in high school, many pages also allude to greater societal trends. Frazier’s grandfather owned a successful Northwest shipping company and his father was an affluent banker as the president of Washington Mutual Bank, so it’s safe to say he had enrichment opportunities— such as a trip to Atlantic City for an academic convention— that other students may not have had. In addition, there is not a single student of color in the journal, and the 1925 yearbook only shows a slightly higher percentage of non-white students.

“The journal itself speaks to that [affluence] to some degree, you know the enrichment opportunities he had, and frankly you know to look at all angles of it, the wealth available to some groups of people here in Seattle and not to others,” Macdougall said. “You don’t see any non-white people in this book at all.”

Student handbooks, known as “‘B’ Books,” show the prominence of gender inequality in the 1920’s. At the time, there was both a Boys’ Association and a Girls’ Association, and while the published purpose of the Boys’ Association was to promote Ballard spirit and the general welfare of the boys, and “to uphold the honor of the school by maintaining a name for clean sportsmanship, good scholarship and gentlemanly conduct,” the purpose of the Girls’ Club was “to promote the social relations and to care for the general interests of the girls.” The Girls’ Creed shows further disparity, as the girls promise to be “prompt and gracious in obedience” so that they “may become a fine and worthy woman.”

“The girls have been relegated to a subcategory in here, and you note that it’s a category of domesticity, you know the domestic thing, emotion and all that,” said Macdougall. “This was 95 years ago, and you have this really entrenched idea that you know boys should be doing this and acting this way and girls should be doing this and acting that way.”

These inequalities are especially glaring by today’s standards, but it is hard to determine whether the differences in the Boys’ and Girls’ Associations were due to active perpetration of oppression or passive conformity to societal standards of that age. It is inaccurate to judge history by present-day standards because ideas of morality are constantly changing.

Ballard was still a logging and shingle town in the 1920s, and there were very prominent differentiations between income-based classes. The Norwegian immigrants who worked at the shingle mills and fishing organizations were very poor, and there were innumerable differences in available resources between the workers of the lower class and the people occupying higher-paying management and business positions.

Racial covenants prevented many people of color from living in Ballard at this time. “This part of town had a racial covanance on most of the properties, where the deed to the house would say ‘no blacks or no non-whites,’ and many, if not most of the deeds for the properties of the city of Seattle had that on them,” Macdougall said.

Redlining intensified racial separation by making it nearly impossible for black families to buy a house or get a loan from the bank to buy a house in Ballard. Real estate agents would tell black clients that there was nothing available in Ballard, but would show them houses in the Central District. Bankers wouldn’t grant loans to them for anywhere except the Central District.

“There were ways to kind of group people, and that was done here,” said Macdougall, “so you know Ballard has suffered that as well.”

While we’ve come a long way from the intensity of racial oppression and gender inequality, the problems Frazier’s journal hints at still play a part in Seattle life. “We still have wealth differentials that are somewhat impacted by factors such as race, such as generational poverty, such as generational educational levels and enrichment opportunities,” Macdougall said.

Women now occupy high executive positions, but there is still a gender wage gap that is much wider for women of color. Racial covenants and redlining are now illegal, but their long-term presence had lasting effects on the racial divisions in Seattle.

“I think people here at Ballard are relatively inclusive and welcoming of each other, but I think that there’s not a great deal of understanding of various cultures,” Macdougall said. “I think the northwest corner of the city can be kind of insular.”

However, we can’t condemn Ballard as being full of problems. We have work to do, but ignoring how far we have come is an injustice to the hard work people have put in for decades to improve our city and neighborhood. Numerous clubs and programs work towards equality and justice, and everyday students and teachers work to improve our school and our city.

“We’ve made enormous progress just in my lifetime, and yes, we can blame people who are knowingly and consciously racist or trying to maintain these separations because they’re ignorant, and they’re supporting their own ignorance,” Macdougall said. “I tell people as often as I can that diversity is the glory of this country.”

 

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