Monday, September 28, 2009

The Best of fM - Hidden Sources - Alumni Records

I went to visit my favorite, out-of-the-way, dusty, creaky, quirky used bookstore in early January. I was looking for a book on the history of chairs to help me in dating old photographs.

I always hit the reference section of the store just in case a dictionary I don't own pops up. While looking through the reference books I came across a genealogical treasure trove. Four privately printed volumes containing information of the Harvard College Class of 1894. The volumes are: The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Report - 1919, the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary - 1929, the Fortieth Anniversary - 1935, and the Harvard Alumni Directory of 1926. Each volume cost $2.50, so I had to buy them all. (Now you see why I love this bookstore.)

This view of Harvard College, drawn by Joseph Chadwick -
engraved by Paul Revere. It shows the College in about 1767.
From left are Holden Chapel, Hollis Hall, Harvard Hall, Stoughton Hall,
and Massachusetts Hall.

Excellent records are available for Harvard, as Harvard University is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, having been founded 16 years after the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth. (I have included some links to online historical information for Harvard at the end of this article.)

We are all connected to the past through our family relationships. But so often proof of that relationship or an understanding of the place and time in which our ancestors lived is difficult to find. These alumni reports are some of those hard to find records, as they were privately published and distributed to the members of the graduating class. I have often thought of yearbooks and the official records held by the schools and colleges, but I had no idea how much information was compiled by an alumni association.

These books contained photographs of every graduate, a biography written by the graduate himself (there are no women), lists of graduates and their degrees, works published, addresses and so much more. Some of the group photographs are absolutely priceless. They also have photographs of the first child and grandchild of the Class of 1894. As I said, a treasure trove.

The books I purchased were stamped; Alex Dickinson, Lowman Building, Seattle, Washington. Alex and his classmate Macy Millmore Skinner were the only members of the Class of 1894 to make their home in Seattle.

The Freshman Crew
ca. 1890

The Hasty Pudding Club
ca. 1894

A typical biographical entry in the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Report is the following entry for the book's original owner Alexander Dickinson including his senior portrait.


at Cambridge, Mass., March 29, 1871. Son of Alexander and Elizabeth (Taggart) Dickinson. PREPARED at Cambridge Latin School, Cambridge, Mass.
IN COLLEGE, 1890-94;
LAW SCHOOL, 1894-96. DEGREE: A.B. 1894.
to Juliet Agnes Wylie at Seabright, N.J., Sept. 3, 1910.
*(home) 911 Summit Ave., Seattle, Wash.; (business) 1211 Hoge Bldg., Seattle, Wash.
AFTER graduation, practised law in Boston nine years. For the past thirteen years I have resided in the Puget Sound country, most of the time at Seattle, where I am now practising law, specializing in liability insurance. Among my clients are the Ocean Accident and Guarantee Corporation, Royal Indemnity Company, London and Kancashire Indemnity Company, and Queen Insurance Company. Seattle, to me, is an ideal place in which to live. It is beautiful from a scenic standpoint, has wonderful commercial possibilities, and is possessed of a fine climate. It also contains within its borders an unusual number of congenial college men, who manage to extract considerable enjoyment of life. My chief recreation is golf, playable, by the way, all year round. My war work was confined mainly to the draft as associate member local legal advisory board, and assisting in the various Liberty Loan campaigns.
XXXCLUBS AND SOCIETIES: Harvard Varsity Club, Seattle Harvard Club, (Trustee) University Club of Seattle, Seattle Gold Club.

Dickinson attended the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary in 1929 at Harvard. He was photographed and distinguished for his mileage.

Sundry members of the Class honored the celebration by making substantial pilgrimages to attend, ALLIE DICKINSON, journeying from far Seattle, having the best mileage to his credit.

According to the report, Alex's home address had changed to 128 Harvard Ave. N., Seattle, Wash.

For the Fortieth Anniversary Report
- 1934, Alex is listed in the section for obituaries, having died in Seattle, May 5, 1933. The following was a more recent photograph and his obituary.

ALEXANDER DICKINSON was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 29, 1871, and died at Seattle, Washington, May 5, 1933. After graduating from college in 1894 he attended the Harvard Law School, and thereafter practiced law for a time with his brother, David Dickinson, in Boston.

Like many another enterprising New Englander, however, he finally determined to try his fortune in the newer and less congested regions of the Western United States.

Early in the present century he took up his abode and re-began the practice of his profession in Seattle. He liked his new residence from the start and never regretted the change. He joined the University Club at Seattle soon after settling there and built up a circle of congenial friends, among whom he soon found himself very much at home. His only entry into public life -- if such it may be called -- was during the year of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition there (1909) when he had charge of the Forestry Building, a splendid exhibit of one of the fundamental industries of the rapidly developing region.

Shorly after this he married Mrs. Juliet Wylie Leech, a young widow, daughter of the well-known physician, Dr. W. Gill Wylie of New York City, whom he had known since his college days. This proved to be another fortunate "experiment," and resulted in realizing that apparently not-too-frequent outcome referred to in the story-books of our early youth as "living happily ever after."

"Allie," as he was affectionately known to most of his early and later friends, was always a devoted follower of out-door sports, and his four successful years as first baseman on the Harvard nine will be happily, not to say enthusiastically, remembered by most members of '94. While he continued an addict of baseball for some years after moving to Seattle, he later abandoned it in favor of the less strenuous recreation of golf, of which, also, he became a skillful and ardent follower. He was naturally easy and graceful at such things and never seemed to be hurried or worried in the least, whatever the situation. Indeed, he has a far finer coordination between brain and body than the average man; of a quality akin to that of the sleight-of-hand- artist. He was always attracted by the exhibition of such skills in others, and frequently essayed imitating various tricks which he witnessed on the vaudeville stage or elsewhere, with considerable success. He also took part occasionally in amateur theatrical productions; especially in the Christmas plays put on yearly at the Seattle University Club, of which he wrote several himself.

Of a quiet, sociable disposition, however, he never cared greatly for the "spotlight." As he was also eminently a reasonable human being, and very appreciative of humor and good stories, of which he had a large fund himself, his undying popularity with those who knew him well is easily understood. He was one of those "good-fellows" who do not exceed the limits of temperance and good taste in the pursuit of the fun of living: nor did it ever occur to him to abandon his innately strong predilection for the standard decencies of human existence.

He died as the result of an embolism after a surgical operation for the removal of the gall bladder, at the moment when he was headed for a normal recovery. His widow, but no children, survives him.

Although his career had nothing of the spectacular in it, the members of '94, among whom he had a wide acquaintance, can feel nothing but an unfeigned and deep regret at his untimely departure. For he was a most likely, kindly spirit -- a mens sana in corpore sano -- with keen appreciation of the beauties of nature and a distinctive love of those minor charms of human existence which do so much to soften its asperities and ameliorate its sterner realities; a fundamental type of human wisdom that is all too rare in this over-practical, modern American life of ours.

So I propose as a last toast to one we loved:

Sapientem A. D. te mortuum salutamus!
R. S. K.

My Latin isn't good but the toast appears to be "Wise A.D. (Alex Dickinson) in death we salute you! This is very crude so if your Latin is good please feel free to correct me.

I would like to offer to scan and email photos, biographies or obituaries to any interested family historian with an ancestor in the Harvard College Class of 1894. Please email me with your request. I hope I can do a good turn for my fellow historians out there searching for information.

Links to Harvard Historical Information:

The Harvard Guide - History, Lore and More

The Harvard University Archives

Harvard University. Quinquennial Catalogue of the officers and graduates 1636-1930. Cambridge : The University, 1930.

Sources - Photographs, Illustrations, Text:

Committee Of The Harvard College Class of 1894,
Twentieth Anniversary Report 1894 - 1919 (Number VII). Norwood, Massachusetts: Plimpton Press, 1919.

Committee Of The Harvard College Class of 1894,
Thirty-fifth Anniversary Report 1894 - 1929 (Number X). Norwood, Massachusetts: Plimpton Press, 1928.

Committee Of The Harvard College Class of 1894,
Fortieth Anniversary Report 1894 - 1934 (Number XI). Norwood, Massachusetts: Plimpton Press, 1934.


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