Volume XXXXI · 1989-1990
The History Class: 1890-1990
Part II: The History Class—1890-1947
--MARGARET P. C. WICKES
(Excerpted from an address delivered in 1947.)
In the first years of the Class there were changes in office, but in time it became a precedent that the tenure of office should be indefinite. We have had practically only three to act as Secretary and Treasurer, Miss Francis Griffith, Miss Louise Little, and now Mrs. Harris, who conscientiously fulfills her duties. As Presidents, after Miss Whittlesey, came Miss Edith Hopkins, Mrs. John Hopkins, and Miss Clara Curtis. Then in 1897 I was elected to the honorable office, which I continued to hold until four years ago, when it passed into the efficient hands of Mrs. MacLean. For eleven years we followed the course of American History, bringing our studies down to the Election of 1860 and "The Birth of the Confederacy," that being the title of the last paper given in that course.
Why we did not continue the study further, I do not know, perhaps because most of the members at that time having been born during the period of the Civil War, or before, did not consider the time far enough away to come under the heading of History. However, in the year 1901 we deserted our native land and changing our name to that of the "History Class" we crossed the ocean and took up the study of our Mother Country, beginning with the Norman Conquest. Eleven years we devoted to England, bestowing the last three to authors of the Victorian period. In 1914-15, with war raging on the continent, we studied different aspects of European History which had led up to World War I. Then came three years given to the pleasant land of France while what was taking place on French soil was anything but pleasant. When we ourselves cast in our lot with France and her allies the time of everyone was so occupied with activities connected with the war that there was no time for writing on history of the past while history of the most dramatic kind was in the making. There was some talk of giving up the meetings, but the general sentiment of the Class was that it would be a pity to do so, and we compromised by listening to the reading of "The Century of the Renaissance in France" by Batteford while we plied the knitting needles for our soliders who were fighting the cause of France.
After two years of this easy way of the pursuit of knowledge, we resumed the writing of papers, devoting three years to the study of English men of letters, after which we took up the unfinished history of France bringing it down to the time of the Revolution. Five years were then given to pioneers in various lines of thought and reform, with the interval of one year in which we carried France down to the second Republic. By that time we seem to have become lazy, as for two years we sat back and instead of delving into chronicles of the past we contented ourselves by reading extracts from current literature, each member making the choice of the book from which she read. France seems to have been very alluring for again our interest led us to her shores, but in a frivolous vein, for the program notes that our papers were on the "Gossip of the French Court during the Reigns of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI" when, without doubt, there was plenty of gossip to record. Next came Italy for four years, after which Russia claimed our attention as she does in such an absorbing way today. Back to England, coming down to recent days, through Spain. In my sketch of the years between 1915-1930, I concluded by saying that when the Class celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, we would probably have covered all the countries of Europe. This was nearly the case, for besides the countries I have mentioned we had had papers on the Balkans and Greece in connection with the study leading up to the World War. In 1942, which was fifty-two years after the beginning of the History Class, we abandoned Europe and the United States and adopting the good neighbor policy, passed to Latin America, giving three years to the study of eleven countries. Now we are setting out to learn all about Asia, beginning with China.
Four years ago, either because we had become lazy or because as individuals our cares had multiplied, the Class abandoned its rule of meeting every other week—which had continued for forty-nine years—and decided to meet only once a month. It may be that this change is due to the alteration in the personnel of the Class which parallels the change in the life of the city itself. When the Class was formed, all of its members belonged to old Rochester families. They knew one another intimately, had the same traditions and interests and lived practically in the same neighborhood. Now the interests and occupations of its members are varied and they may not have as keen a desire to meet and pursue the same course of study as did those of earlier days. Many of our numbers have been connected with the University. We have been privileged to have with us the wife of the late President;1 the first Dean of the Women's College, Miss Munro; two of its Librarians, Miss Zachert and Miss Withington; and the head of the men's department of literature, Miss Koller.2 Also our membership comprises, and has done so in the past, the wives of a number of its professors. At different times we have had the privilege of listening to some of the professors themselves. When the Class was studying Spain, Mr. Hersey3 gave us an illustrated lecture at the home and request of Mrs. Hofheinz on Spanish Baroque Sculpture and another at the Art Gallery on Spain and her Cultural Heritage, and Mr. Van Deusen, 4 at the home and request of Mrs. Dodge, read a paper on Catalonia. The Reverend Mr. Talbot, who was an authority on Ribera, read a paper at the home of Miss Withington on that subject and at the beginning of our study of China in 1946, Mr. Kuchler 5 told us of the geography of China.
Besides the regular meetings, we have had occasional treats. For several years an annual meeting with luncheon served was held at the summer home of the President, Mrs. Wickes, at the Lake. A delightful party was given by Mrs. Dodge in honor of the Misses Griffith when they left Rochester, another given by Mrs. Oliver and still another given by Mrs. Fitch as a farewell to Miss Munro, when she resigned her position as Dean and left town. A charming supper party was given by Mrs. Rogers one May only a few years before her death, when each member was presented with a May basket of pansies, a sweet and gracious act. We have had two anniversary celebrations; that of twenty-five years, held on December seventh, 1914, was a gala affair with luncheon at the Century Club, invitations to which were written on silver-edged correspondence cards; the place cards were also silver edged. Mrs. McKown read a paper, telling of the formation of the Class and giving its history for the quarter of a century. Fifteen years later, when the Class had attained forty years of age, Mrs. Dodge, with her customary generous hospitality invited us to a delicious luncheon at her home to celebrate. Invitations had been sent to former members and Mrs. John Strong came from Syracuse to be with us and notes were read from Miss Hart and Mrs. Budd, who, as Mrs. Ely, had been for years one of our number. The history of our first years was read by Mrs. McKown, after which I brought the account down to date. I have now told the story of the pleasant meetings and uneventful doings of a group of congenial women who have gathered for a period of fifty-eight years for unassuming study; the companionship has been pleasant; the study stimulating. The tradition is now passed on to the present members with the hope that the History Class has yet many years of life before it.
- Mrs. Rush Rhees.
- Professor Kathrine Koller (later Kathrine Koller Diez), who chaired the Department of English at this period.
- Carl Hersey, professor of art history at the University, 1933-1969.
- Glyndon Van Deusen, professor of history at the University, 1930-1962.
- A. William Kuchler, professor of geography at the University, 1945-1950.