90 years ago at FHS

Published 9:37 am Saturday, November 6, 2010

History buffs would love working at our newspaper.

Readers who stumble across historical gems while cleaning out an attic or settling the affairs of a deceased loved one are quick to bring us their discoveries. We’re thrilled to receive them.

A recent jewel was the Franklin High School yearbook of 1920-21. A note to advertisers suggests that it was the school’s first-ever yearbook: “You have made possible for the first time in the history of our institution something that is a credit to our school and something that we have greatly desired for many years.”

We think of today’s Franklin High as a small school. Its enrollment puts it in the Virginia High School League’s smallest classification, Group A.

But the Class of 1921 — at 17 members strong — couldn’t have imagined the size of the graduating class 90 years later. A faculty of six, led by Principal A.L. Garland, served the entire student body.

The surnames of many of the students endure generations later in Western Tidewater. Evelyn B. Pretlow was vice president of the senior class, whose motto was “We build for Character, not for Fame.” Annie V. Council was salutatorian — and Doris C. Beale the class prophet. Class President J.C. Williams Jr. went by the nickname of “Charlie Horse” — “a fellow full of infinite jest.” Cotton Rawls was vice president of the sophomore class.

The student writers’ grammar is impeccable throughout — much better than my own generation’s and light years ahead of the text-messaging generation of today.

Of senior Louise Virginia Matthews, a classmate wrote: “Fair as a June day is Virginia, the historian of our class. Virginia is a dependable sort of person who is trusted with great responsibilities and who invariably lives up to her trusts. Dignity, diligence, and studiousness are some of Virginia’s striking characteristics. With her ever ready smile she has won a large circle of friends.”

The bespectacled James Louis “Booker” Morel looks the part of a nerd in his senior portrait, but looks can be deceiving. “Booker, our foot-ball star, is mechanically inclined, being able to take apart anything from his trombone (with which he makes a terrible noise) to a steam engine,” a classmate wrote. At defensive tackle on the gridiron, Booker was “a terror at breaking up plays.”

Virginia Matthews, in her “History of the Class of 1921,” recalled one of the “greatest events of our school life” — the end of World War I.

November 11, 1918, will always stand out as one of the most memorable days of our lives. Never had any of us experienced such complete joy and such patriotic rapture as on that occasion. We marched down town exultantly, we listened to patriotic speeches and we sang at the top of our voices, excited and thrilled beyond expression.

Another exciting event was when the first “aeroplane” landed in Franklin.

“Never before had some of us seen such a wonderful sight,” Virginia wrote. “And when five planes came here at one time, we all went wild.”

The Literary Society was a popular extracurricular group. Mary Lee Williams was president of the 10-member school orchestra, featuring four violinists, two saxophonists, a trombonist, a cornet player, a pianist and a drummer. D.T. Lawrence captained and quarterbacked the football team, which posted a 5-3 record.

The class prophecy contemplated what the members of the Class of ’21 would be up to on June 15, 1940 — as captured in the headlines of The Tidewater News (yes, we existed then). A singing evangelist, a missionary to India and a romance novelist were among the predicted vocations.

Only one of the many local businesses that purchased advertising in the Franklin High yearbook of 1920-21 is still around today, and you might be surprised which one: Rose’s 5, 10 and 25 Cent Store.

Steve Stewart is publisher of The Tidewater News. His e-mail address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.