Legacy of a Bulldog
the silver lining
When sorting through an inherited family collection of silverware, one small teaspoon stood out. It was engraved with Adrian College and 1904. oger D. Williams knew his great aunt, Elizabeth Marie Patrick, was a college graduate. Though she died when he was only 10 years old, his early years of knowing “Aunt Bess” left an impression on him. This small yet intricate spoon represented an accomplishment few women achieved in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Roger connected with Adrian College, donated the spoon in her memory and learned it was the only memorabilia of its type in the College’s archives. Bess was born in 1879 and raised in a simple farmhouse near the small town of Lewiston, Ohio. There were no automobiles, paved roads, telephones or electrical service. Indoor plumbing and adequate heat were rare. To have aspirations to graduate from high school, let alone college, was uncommon for young women. But Bess loved books and literature and perhaps through the Lewiston Methodist Church, learned of Adrian College. As an undergraduate student and member of the College’s Star Literary Society, Bess was invited to present at its 44th anniversary. She shared her essay on renowned 19th century Swiss educational reformer, Henry Pestalozzi, which was printed in the June 1904 College World and is still available today. Her interest in education and literature served her well as she studied to become a teacher. During her senior year, Bess shared in several events leading to graduation, including the Class Day Exercises featuring student talent and the passing of the Shepherd’s Crook to the junior class, a tradition that remains today. On Thursday morning, June 23, 1904, Elizabeth “Bess” Marie Patrick achieved her dream. The College World indicates she was among the 16 graduates who participated in the commencement exercises in Downs Hall, receiving her Bachelor of Letters. The class wore its chosen colors of maroon and light blue, several musical numbers were interspersed throughout the program and the “orations were delivered in a praiseworthy manner.” There is no mention of a graduation spoon and its benefactor, or whether all the graduates were recipients of this small treasure.
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After discovering the unique spoon among the silver, Roger Williams reflected upon his own knowledge and memories of Aunt Bess. “She was an English teacher who spent many years in the Detroit Public Schools until her death in 1948. I remember that Aunt Bess lived in an apartment in Detroit during the school year. Each summer she would drive her 1941 Plymouth back to her hometown in Lewiston. Although she never married, she lived her own life and was the center of our family. She was a quiet, independent person who influenced the lives of many students. Aunt Bess would have been pleased to share her graduation spoon with her alma mater.”
The Souvenir Spoon In the late 1800s, this European fad swept the nation to commemorate special occasions, locations and events. It became an obsession that lasted until World War I. The first souvenir silver spoon was produced in the U.S. in 1889 by Galt & Bros. of Washington, D.C., and marked the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s presidency, featuring his profile. In 1893, the Chicago World Fair, with 27 million visitors, lifted the collection of souvenir spoons to a new level. Some reports say more spoons were produced for this fair than any other event in history. About the same time, the silver market collapsed. This made silver more affordable for ordinary Americans to possess, but it retained its image of being for the privileged and wealthy. “History of Souvenir Spoons” History Detectives, pbs.org/Oregon Public Broadcasting 2003-2014.