Stockings to Song Lyrics

Senior-year scrapbooks speak to their times

by Robyn Rime

“All resident students will wear stockings from the time of rising in the morning to retiring at night,” instructs a letter to students from Sister Teresa Marie, dean of the College, back in August 1944. “Cotton or lisle thread will answer as well as silk or rayon and are less expensive.”

The letter is just one memento preserved in a scrapbook of her senior year created by Mary-Jeanne Meyer Barry ’45 and now housed in the Nazareth College archives. Like all scrapbooks, Barry’s records the people, places, and activities that mattered most to her—but what was collected and how it was saved in 1945 emphasize considerable differences between now and then.

The Class of 1945 was small—it graduated a mere 41 students—and was one of the few classes to attend both the old campus on Augustine Street as well as the new one on East Avenue. Despite the fact that most students were not “boarders” but rather lived at home and took the bus to campus, Barry says the young women formed a close group.

That closeness is reflected in the contents of Barry’s scrapbook, which is filled primarily with yellowed newspaper clippings as well as a few theater programs, an invitation to the College’s 20th anniversary celebration, and Sister Teresa Marie’s letter. Of all the items Barry saved, only her engagement announcement is personal; everything else notes the activities of her classmates. Formal, organized occasions such as dances, fetes, and money-raising events had a large enough impact on the community to appear in the newspaper, and Barry felt proud enough of Nazareth and close enough to her classmates to keep a record of every one.

In addition to recording events in 1944-45, the scrapbook also reveals a class affected by World War II: Monies raised by the Alumni Association were presented to the College in war bonds. All engagements—and there were many—were to servicemen, including Barry’s to an Air Force sergeant who flew 50 missions in Europe. And the commencement speaker told graduates they could “best serve the peacetime world by exerting such womanly qualities as moral strength and sympathetic understanding.”

Since that commencement day, Nazareth’s graduating classes have grown into the hundreds. Newspapers are far less relevant to today’s students, and campus events like dances no longer appear in the local edition. Scrapbooks, too, look very different from Barry’s. In an age of Google, social media, and ubiquitous photography, scrapbooks as record-keepers might have become obsolete if scrapbooking hadn’t become an activity in itself.

The senior-year scrapbooks of Jolie Dahlstrom Bourgeois ’06 and Elizabeth Heller ’12 are keepsakes in their own right. Bourgeois’ black-and-white photographs, highlighted with splashes of color, are saved in an heirloom-quality book handmade by an artist relative. Heller’s one-of-a-kind pages are adorned with colorful images, background papers, and snatches of song lyrics such as “let’s set the world on fire”—which in itself strikes a very different tone from the sister’s stocking admonition.

Both books are also primarily photograph collections, brimming with images of the young women with their friends. They don’t just depict formal events, as in Barry’s day, although dances, fundraisers, and graduations make their appearances, too. What both Bourgeois and Heller’s scrapbooks capture more than anything is the daily life of Nazareth students: the birthday parties, the Halloween costumes, the casual Friday nights hanging out with roommates. Taking photographs with your phone makes depicting informal, everyday life far easier than it was 60 years ago.

Was the world simpler in the 1940s? Was Rochester a smaller place, or the role of media different? Whatever changes the decades have brought, these scrapbooks prove one thing hasn’t changed: Nazareth still brings students together and forms friendships worthy of lasting remembrance. “Flowers are like friends,” Heller says in her book. “I picked the best.”

Robyn Rime is the editor of Connections.