A centennial glimpse back for millennials going forward

by Charles Russo

The gentlemen of Phi Kappa Psi, circa 1917. (Courtesy of the Stanford Historical Photograph Collection)

The 2017 school year begins today at Stanford University, and The Six Fifty sees it as an opportune launching point for our new visual history column — The Time Lapse, which will showcase a wide range of historical photography from many areas and eras of the Peninsula over the years.

For this first installment, we’d like to welcome today’s student body with a quick glimpse of….the student body, from 100 years prior — in 1917.

Time traveling with the class photos of 1917, our foremost observation was the glaringly homogeneous makeup of the scholars, a light-years-away contrast to the current student population of the Stanford campus, which not only celebrates an amazingly diverse cross section of America, but really — the entire globe.

Then, in a ridiculously superficial context, we also caught notice of how dapper everyone appears in these images…and looking down at our hoodie, jeans and Adidas, realized that our notion of “looking sharp” is horribly inferior to those who came before us.

Female Stanford students of 1917. (Courtesy of the Stanford Historical Photograph Collection)

In many ways, the nation that the students of 1917 inhabited can indeed seem like a distant universe away, though with some hints of familiarity between the lines.

1917 had been notable for seeing the first woman — Jeannette Rankin of Montana — to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, even as a women’s right to vote was still a couple years in the future. It can be hard to fathom, until perhaps considering that in 2017 the nation has still not had a female president (something that the class of 2117 will likely marvel at).

Speaking of presidents, Woodrow Wilson began his second term in early 1917 and the United States soon entered into World War I, bolstering its otherwise small army through passage of the Selective Service Act, which would eventually draft close to 3 million Americans.

On the domestic front, 1917 saw one of the worst race riots in U.S. history, when labor disputes in southern Illinois turned violent and resulted in more than 200 deaths.

In the Bay Area, the city of San Francisco had a final reckoning on the issue of prostitution, involving huge public debates, before resulting in the closure of more than 200 brothels.

The first Pulitzer Prize awards were given in 1917, and the third annual Rose Bowl game saw the University of Oregon defeat the University of Pennsylvania, 14–0.

Notable births that year include future president John F. Kennedy, architect I.M. Pei, and trailblazing Marvel Comics illustrator Jack Kirby, as well as a bunch of great jazz musicians, including Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.

In this regard, the many noteworthy characteristics of 1917 seem to presage the American century to come — lively and cultured, conflict-ridden and violent.

The very successful Stanford track team of 1917. (Courtesy of the Stanford Historical Photograph Collection)

The further you go back into most photo archives, the less informative details are attached to the imagery. At best, some handwritten notes were scrawled on the back of any given photo, hopefully giving a time and place for context. It is a haphazard dynamic, and can often result in an impersonal glimpse of the subjects, a distance of both time and intimacy.

But this image of the Stanford tack team of 1917 comes with a few unique details. Coached by R.R. “Rick” Templeton (top row, third from left), the boys were a winning squad, beating-up on USC twice, and taking the Big Meet by a wide margin. The coaches brother Rober “Dink” Templeton (top row, third from right) was a high jumper at the time, but would later go on to coach the Stanford track team from 1921–1929. Notable on the squad was shot putter George ‘Herc’ Bihlman (second seated from left), whose toss of 47 feet — 8 3/4 inches broke the Big Meet record by more than a foot.

And that is all merely a scratching-of-the-surface into the lives present in these photos, a scant few details in the face of entire lifetimes. Still, they are tied to the student’s who will begin class this semester, a century later in the same place, along the same halls.

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