Trials and tales from the student body of a century ago.
As the start of classes this week begins the new school year at Stanford University, The Six Fifty is continuing its fledgling tradition of taking a quick (long) look back at the some of the faces who walked campus 100 years prior.
We’ve learned that time traveling via the many well-rendered class photos in the school’s archive inevitably renders fascinating details, strange parallels and curious stories that we just didn’t see coming.
For example, last year when we published pics from the Class of ’17, we began by noting how racially homogeneous the student body was at the time. However this year our search immediately turned up this compelling group shot (pictured above) of the school’s Japanese Student’s Association, which existed earlier (1902, by our research) and had been far larger than we expected.
More curious still is the man at the center of the photo—founding Stanford President David Starr Jordan. And yes, if you too are sensing a fish out of water scenario, we should perhaps first point out that—fittingly enough—Jordan was a celebrated ichthyologist (read as: fish scientist). More notably, you may recognize Jordan’s name from last year’s local controversy over the renaming of Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto on account of his hardline views on race and zealous support of eugenics, a batty pseudo-science that advocated for some gruesome race-based social policies. In fact, Jordan was a founding member of our nation’s first formal eugenics organization and their work would ultimately factor heavily into Nazi policy.
With all this in mind, why then is Jordan sitting at the center of the Japanese Student Association at Stanford?
Oddly enough, Jordan was “something of a Japanophile.” In an essay on pioneering Japanese historian Yamato Ichihashi (who was also a Stanford professor for 30 years—see photo above), civil rights activist Yuji Ichioka elaborated on Jordan’s peculiar nuances on race: “Very much a man of his time, [Jordan] believed that human progress had a biological basis. All races were not equal; some were superior to others, and the Nordic people constituted the most superior race of mankind. According to Jordan, the Japanese people also ranked quite high. He believed they were descendants of Ainu, a branch of the Aryan race that had fallen into decadence, but whose blood flowed through the veins of the Japanese.”
Jeez. If only Jordan had just stuck to studying fish.
War, flu and (championship) droughts
When it comes to the events of 1918, the long shadow of World War I looms large on the historical record. The conflict had raged since 1914 and claimed the lives of an entire generation of young men throughout Europe. Although the U.S. had entered the conflict late, in 1917, the nation still suffered 110,000 casualties by the war’s conclusion in November of 1918. (Curiously, Stanford’s photo archive has numerous images of the U.S. military performing drills on campus during these years—see below). And as if the war had not been deadly enough, 1918 also saw the deadly Spanish influenza running rampant around the world.
Of course, the year was notable at home as well. Prohibition took its first step as formal policy after Mississippi was the first state to ratify the 18th Amendment. In a key decision that “history has not looked kindly upon,” the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had overstepped its authority by passing a child labor law two years earlier. On lighter matters, 1918 was also the year when the nation first enacted daylight savings time.
The sports world was marked by the first NHL (National Hockey League) championship with the Toronto Arenas defeating the Vancouver Millionaires. In baseball, the Red Sox bested the Cubs 4 games to 2 in the World Series (and after which the teams went on to endure two of the longest championship droughts in sports—until 2004 and 2016, respectively).
Notable figures born in 1918 include iconic musician Ray Charles, South African leader Nelson Mandela, baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams and cinema siren Rita Hayworth.
Jane & Gender Bias
The photo archive is a bit lean in its depiction of female students during this era, even as it does showcase these two images of the women’s swim team and a group of freshman girls at the start of the semester.
This scarcity is not by accident however, since the number of female students at the university in this era was sharply dwindling. Surprisingly, this policy of reduced enrollment came from none other than Jane Stanford, who grew concerned with the institution’s national reputation when females composed as much as 40% of the student body by 1899. Jane’s cap on female enrollment would actually turn into a notable reduction, reducing the number of females from 463 at the turn of the century to about 140 in 1918 as the university only grew in size.
Upon learning of Jane Stanford’s policy (during a peak period of the women’s suffrage movement in the U.S.), famed women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony wrote to her, saying, “This sends a chill over me—that this limitation should come through a woman.”
The restrictions on women’s enrollment imposed periods of highly unequal enrollment standards for years to come, turning away countless qualified female applicants. Amazingly, the policy wasn’t officially rescinded until 1973.
Notes from Dead Poet’s
Finally, we should acknowledge that we were inclined to dive back into the archive again this year for another “centennial glimpse back for millennials going forward” after re-watching the famous and very poignant “first day of class” scene from Dead Poet’s Society.
Carpe diem, Class of 2018, carpe diem.
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