When I was still a student at Dobyns-Bennett High School, yearbooks were exciting opportunities to look back on the previous year, but they hardly offered a truly personal representation of your high school experience.
When I graduated, I only appeared under a few sections in my senior yearbook. The most notable were probably my senior portrait and the marching band page. That was about it.
The 1924 and 1925 issues of the Wataugan — Science Hill High School’s yearbook back in the day — is a different beast entirely.
In the early 1920s, the class sizes at Science Hill were much smaller than they are now, which probably made it easier to give each graduate their moment in the spotlight. In 1924, 45 seniors appeared in the yearbook and 70 appeared in 1925. For reference, Science Hill recently graduated a class of about 500 students.
Under each graduate’s name in these early issues of the Wataugan, the yearbook staff put the graduate’s nickname, their club and athletic affiliations and a brief blurb about each person. In the 1924 edition, these blurbs are pretty standard descriptions.
This is what the yearbook said about Wileta Gene Mathes, AKA “Bill.”
“Here’s to Bill, one of the most popular Seniors and probably one of the most original girls in the class,” the yearbook reads. “She’s always been a good sport and the high school has certainly lost a strong supporter in Bill.”
The 1925 yearbooks is a bit different. Under each senior’s name the yearbook staff put a poem, presumably written by the person it appears next to.
This is what Archie Sabin had to say about himself:
“I’d like my life in a merry ship; / I’d love to kill wild game / With the Roosevelts in Africa; / This high school life’s too tame.”
It’s unclear whether Archie ever achieved his ambition of hunting wild game in Africa (with the Roosevelts no less), but I think I speak for everyone when I say that I really wish his dreams came true.
Both yearbooks also contained a class prophecy, offering an opportunity for members of the senior class to predict what each graduate would be doing in several years.
In the 1924 and 1925 editions of the Wataugan, this was done in the form of small narratives.
I’ll set the scene: The 1924 edition contains a letter timestamped “July 24, 1950” from Elizabeth, a newspaper reporter, to her friend Bonita. Elizabeth has collected a series of clippings detailing the recent accomplishments of members of the 1924 senior class.
For example, one clipping with the dateline “Wisconsin, Jan. 25, 1941” reveals that Wileta Mathes, who you might remember as “Bill” from earlier in this article, was appointed Editor in Chief of “Snappy Stories” Magazine Company.
Another graduate, who prognosticators in 1924 predicted would eventually become a noted prize fighter, goes by the moniker “Battling Bill Kirkpatrick” in a fictional news clipping in 1944. The blurb details his fight with another fighter, Kid Bonehead, in colorful detail.
“The fight started off with Battling Bill prancing gracefully around the ring,” the clipping reads. “Kid Bonehead missed a left hook but connected with a smashing right to the Battler’s ear. This blow staggered the Battler and he became furious, saying ‘Kid Bonehead, if you strike me another blow, I will never bring you any more of The Francis Weems chewing gum.’ ”
Kid Bonehead then fell to the canvas and started sobbing. He was counted out by the referee.
Although the senior class is given a lot of space in the yearbooks, the tomes also contain short stories, various ads from old local businesses and information about various clubs.
They serve as a fascinating time capsule to the past and a detailed look at how young people in the 1920s, before the Great Depression and World War II, saw their future.