Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 1)

Among the many reasons I love working on this blog is the rush of excitement that comes when I discover a hidden “gem” that I know will enrich the treasure box that is Ursula’s story.

Ursula Cheshire at Chateau Cabrieres

Ursula on the Grand Front Terrace at Château Cabrières, France (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

I experienced such a moment after finishing my May 19 post on Ursula’s time studying at opera star Emma Calvé’s castle in southern France.

At that time, I decided to cast one more line of inquiry into the “intergoogle,” not expecting much in return. I was curious to see if there were any written accounts by one of Madame Calvé’s other “young songbirds” of that period—perhaps in the memoirs of someone who found later fame.

Lo and behold, my search returned a result that indicated Ursula, herself, had written a report of studying with Madame Calvé and traveling abroad! It was published in her sorority’s quarterly journal, Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I clicked on the link, but was frustrated to find that I couldn’t access the journal online. I dug around a little more and found that there was one available copy of the journal—in a library storage facility located at the University of Michigan. So, I contacted my local public library and arranged to receive a digital copy of the report via interlibrary loan.

A couple days later and voilà!—a digital scan of the article appeared in my e-mail inbox. My heartbeat quickened as I clicked on the PDF. And then there they were: Ursula’s own words, painting a vivid portrait of her glorious time in France and beyond. I was elated, and felt almost like I was being reunited with a long-lost friend.

Studying and Traveling Abroad, By Ursula Cheshire

Ursula’s account of her European travels appeared in the March 1925 issue of “Themis,” Zeta Tau Alpha’s quarterly journal

I will post Ursula’s story in three parts, with part one (below) covering her departure from the United States and arrival in France, and her experience of Paris before journeying south; part two (next Tuesday—special edition of Mystery Dancer!) describing her time studying at Château Cabrières; and part three (another special edition, on June 30), covering her European travels with Mme. Calvé and the other “songbirds.” Enjoy!

[Part one]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

 “Last May, after the closing of college at Berkeley, I left California, accompanied by my mother, to study with Mme. Emma Calvé in her castle in France.

Zeta sisters and friends bid us bon voyage as our train left the Oakland station and after a very enjoyable trip across the continent and a two weeks visit in New York, we found ourselves sailing out of New York harbor. As our steamer passed the Statue of Liberty my thoughts began to wander, and I wondered what my new life in the old world held for me.

Cherbourg, where we disembarked, was the first little French city to come before my eyes, and I remember how quaint I thought it was. There is a high stone wall at the waterfront with a straight line of French shops rising behind it, while the harbor was filled with small sailboats. Sitting on the wall or leaning over it were any number of French lads watching our steamer come in, and the streets were filled with two-wheeled carts, pulled by the horse, the oxen or the peasant.

After a long ride on the small French train with its many compartments, through the beautiful open country of Normandy with its fields of wheat and red poppies, we arrived at Paris to the ‘toots’ of taxi horns—and I thought ‘so this is Paris,’ as many others have thought before me. The buildings are not high like our American skyscrapers but what they lack in height they make up for in beauty, for they are all decorated.

The Parisian life is very gay and the shops and cafés hold much interest for the visitor, while even more alluring are such places as the Louvre with its galleries of art, Notre Dame with its rose windows, Eiffel Tower, the Triumphal Arch, and the Champ Elyseés. I loved Paris, its beauty and its life, and I hated to leave it, but it was necessary to go to Cabrières to study.”

To be continued…

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European Adventure, First Stop: France

In addition to many photographs, the surprise discovery of a second Cheshire photo album yielded a gem of information in the form of a news clipping pasted onto the book’s suede interior back cover. The newsprint is a little worse for wear, but clearly legible, and features a photo of a beautiful and elegant Ursula.

Newspaper article on Ursula going to France in 1924

An article published in an April 1924 issue of the “San Francisco Chronicle” reports on exciting news for Ursula

“U.C. Girl to Visit With Mme. Calve; Invitation to Spend Summer With Singer Accepted,” announced the headline, revealing a major reason Ursula decided to travel to Europe two weeks after graduating from UC Berkeley in 1924. Noting that Ursula would set sail for France on May 31 with her mother, the article tells us:

A poster for Massenet's comic opera "Sapho," featuring French singer Emma Calve, Ursula's teacher

A poster for Massenet’s comic opera “Sapho,” featuring French singer Emma Calve, Ursula’s teacher

“So impressed was Madame Emma Calve, famous singer, with the voice of Miss Ursula Cheshire, University of California senior, when she heard her sing three years ago, that yesterday she sent the girl an invitation to come to her chateau in Southern France and study voice culture there during the summer.”

According to the article, in addition to “voice culture,” Ursula’s studies in France would include dramatics and dancing.

Naturally, I was curious to find out more about Mme. Calvé. Described by Wikipedia as “probably the most famous French female opera singer of the Belle Époque,” Emma Calvé (né Rosa Emma Calvet, b. 1858-d. 1942) was an operatic soprano who enjoyed international acclaim, particularly for her performances in the title role of Georges Bizet’s Carmen. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, her interpretation of Carmen was noted for its dramatic realism and was long considered the model. She sang regularly at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera and London’s Royal Opera House. Her friend Swami Vivekananda wrote of her, “The rare combination of beauty, youth, talents, and ‘divine’ voice has assigned Calvé the highest place among the singers of the West.”

Emma Calve in ad for Victor

Operatic star Emma Calve in an advertisement for the Victor phonograph and records

To be invited to study with the eminent opera singer was high praise, indeed, for Miss Ursula Cheshire. At the time, Calvé would have been 65 years old, just three years older than when she made this recording (music starts at 15 seconds in), and one year before she retired from the stage to focus solely on teaching.

In my research, I discovered that Calve penned an autobiography in 1922. In the book, titled My Life, she wrote about the summers during which she “filled my castle on the hilltop with different groups of young girls who have come to study with me.” It offers a rare glimpse of what Ursula’s time there would have been like, about which I will share in the next Mystery Dancer post. Until then, adieu!

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Ursula Completes Her College Career

Since I posted “The Graduate…Or the Graduate Student?” I have found yet another reference to Ursula’s being a “senior” in 1924, so I am going to take a leap and assume she graduated from UC Berkeley that year, and not in 1923.

Commencement took place on May 14, 1924 in the new Memorial Stadium, which was dedicated the previous November. This was the first time in 21 years that graduation exercises were not held in the Greek Theater, the striking scene of some of the dramas in which Ursula acted, sang and danced.

UC-Berkeley-Commencement-1924

University of California, Berkeley commencement May 14, 1924, held in the new Memorial Stadium. Ursula was one of 1,227 graduating seniors.

According to the Oakland Tribune (May 14, 1924), a record-breaking crowd estimated at more than 20,000 people witnessed the conferring of degrees upon the 1,227 members of the graduating class of 1924, and 923 candidates for higher degrees.

Ursula-Cheshire-and-Friends

Ursula (far right) and friends (sorority sisters?). This photograph and the next were obviously taken on a special occasion. I like to think they were taken during a celebration of Ursula’s graduation from UC Berkeley. Judging by their clothes, it’s the right season, and Ursula’s hairstyle, appearance and demeanor seem fitting for a 22-year-old woman just finishing her college career.

The ceremony kicked off with the processional march of the university orchestra, which then played the national anthem. The audience and candidates bowed their heads for the invocation, and then sang “America” (“My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”). During the song’s last strains, the first student speaker, Marion Janet Harron, stepped to the podium.

Ms. Harron told her classmates that ideals should count more than monetary values, saying “False gods of the market place lower the moral currency of the nation…They make democratic government despisable with undemocratic graft.” (Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, eh?!)

Ursula-Cheshire-family-and-friends

Back row: left to right, I believe these are Ursula’s Aunt Jeannette, Mother Clara, Grandmother Matilda, and Aunt Mathilde
Middle row: three of Ursula’s friends (possibly sorority sisters?) and Ursula
Front row: possibly Aunt Jeannette’s son, Randall Temby, who looks to be about the right age (13 or 14)

Her fellow speaker, Jack Lisgar Merrill, communicated a more upbeat message, urging the graduating seniors to take up the goal of using “such talents and such skill as we have for the betterment of those about us and to exemplify by our conduct and in our ambitions the ideal of service.”

What will Ursula do after graduation? Where will she go? How will she use her talents? Stay tuned—we’ll find out in the next “Mystery Dancer” post…

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Fire! From Wildcat Canyon to Zeta Tau Alpha

The Zeta Tau Alpha house where Ursula lived with her sorority sisters

The Zeta Tau Alpha house where Ursula lived with her sorority sisters on Euclid Avenue in Berkeley, California

Monday, September 17, 1923 began like any other day. In her last year at UC Berkeley, Ursula Cheshire likely had breakfast with her sorority sisters at Zeta Tau Alpha house at 1700 Euclid Avenue before walking to classes on campus. But little did she know she would never step foot inside that house again.

As the hours passed, the day grew hot and windy, with low humidity. At noon-time, about three miles north of Berkeley, a gale blew down a high-voltage wire in Wildcat Canyon, starting a grass fire that steadily spread to a grove of eucalyptus trees.

“[Then,] sweeping over the grassy dry hills, fanned to a tremendous speed, the flame soon devoured the obstacles in its path, and hurled itself over the brow of Hangman’s peak to the top-most houses on Shasta street…” (From The Daily Californian, September 19, 1923)

The September 17, 1923 fire that swept down the hills to Berkeley was big news in the bay area. According to The Daily Californian, "Beautiful homes, spacious fraternity houses, apartment blocks, and business structures were razed, leaving thousands of University students and townspeople homeless and destitute.”

The September 17, 1923 fire that swept down the hills to Berkeley was big news in the bay area. According to The Daily Californian, “Beautiful homes, spacious fraternity houses, apartment blocks, and business structures were razed, leaving thousands of University students and townspeople homeless and destitute.”

Between 2 pm and 6 pm, the fire swept down the hillside toward the bay and the university, laying waste to residential districts in the northern section of Berkeley, including Cragmont and Euclid Avenues. Described in the San Francisco Chronicle as the worst fire the east bay had ever known, the conflagration raged for hours despite the efforts of 7,500 fire fighters from Berkeley and surrounding communities (including San Francisco) to distinguish it. (Below is a video from the Prelinger Archives with incredible footage of the fire and people trying to save their possessions.)

Thousands of UC Berkeley students and other Berkeley townspeople had also “thrown their force into the battle.” A row of homes at the edge of the fire zone had even been dynamited to stay the spread of flames. While male students helped fight the fire, the women of the university banded together to form relief units, providing the men with sandwiches, coffee, cigarettes and first aid.

The Daily Californian (September 19, 1923) attributed the speed of the fire to a fierce north wind that “carried sparks and blazing embers for blocks,” and a lack of water pressure in the hillside districts. Around 4:30 pm, a sudden change of wind slowed the blaze and helped the fire fighters wrestle it under control.

The remains of an apartment building at Euclid Avenue and Ridge Road, just a couple blocks from Zeta Tau Alpha house. (September 1923. Photo courtesy of Berkeley Public Library.)

The remains of an apartment building at Euclid Avenue and Ridge Road, just a couple blocks from Zeta Tau Alpha house. (September 1923. Photo courtesy of Berkeley Public Library.)

While the flames spared the university campus, they devoured nearly 500 homes north of it—including some of the city’s finest—rendering 3,000 people temporarily homeless. Among the residences destroyed were those of Benjamin Ide Wheeler, president emeritus of the university, and architect John Galen Howard. More importantly to Ursula, Zeta Tau Alpha house was one of 18 fraternity, sorority and club houses burned to the ground that day.

According to the Berkeley Daily Gazette (September 20, 1923):

“Personal losses of clothes and furnishings were felt by all members of the various houses. Some students barely escaped with enough clothing to enable them to make an appearance on the campus. Many are now wearing borrowed clothes.”

A reporter for The Daily Californian offered this description of the streets that evening:

“…consuming flames showed some mercy to goods stored in the open streets…[The] streets and vacant lots are littered. Phonographs, chairs, dressing tables, pictures, a baby’s crib, a handsomely carved teakwood cabinet, a washing machine, three cups and saucers set along a cement retaining wall, bed clothes…On the street below, a grand piano stands in isolated grandeur…”

Picking through the rubble in north Berkeley. (September 1923. Photo courtesy of Berkeley Public Library.)

Residents pick through the rubble in north Berkeley. (September 1923. Photo courtesy of Berkeley Public Library.)

Perhaps that piano was the one belonging to the sisters of Zeta Tau Alpha, the one they saved, as Ursula notes in this story that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle two days after the fire:

“One of the first Greek-letter sorority houses to be rebuilt in Berkeley will be the Zeta Tau Alpha house. There at the scene of wreckage yesterday the girls of the sorority poked about in the ruins, bringing to light pieces of broken china bearing the crest of the national sorority and twisted, melted pieces of silver upon some of which could be still traced the shield and crest. According to…Miss Ursula Cheshire, senior, the girls of the house saved the greater part of their clothing and the piano. The rest of the house furnishings were burned. The building did not belong to the Berkeley organization. The chapter plans to rebuild immediately upon a new lot already owned by it next door to the present Theta Chi house on Le Conte avenue.”

Or, perhaps the piano Ursula played and sang along to with her sisters at ZTA was the salvaged upright piano spiritedly played by a young woman at the 4:37 mark in this rare footage of scenes during and after the fire:

Ursula was lucky: her mother still lived in their family home in San Francisco. I imagine Ursula inviting some of her sisters to stay with her there until they could find alternative living arrangements. Thankfully, few students were hurt and nobody died that day, but it sure was a dramatic start to Ursula’s last year as a college coed!

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The Graduate…Or the Graduate Student?

Ursula's Zeta Tau Alpha portrait that appeared in the UC Berkeley yearbook covering the 1923-24 school year.

Ursula’s Zeta Tau Alpha portrait that appeared in the UC Berkeley yearbook covering the 1923-24 school year.

When we left Ursula’s story, she was a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, class of 1923. She had helped plan “Senior Week” festivities, and starred as “Ellen” in the Senior Extravaganza “But it Wasn’t.”

In looking through the university’s yearbook covering the college year after she was supposed to have graduated, I was puzzled to discover Ursula appearing again and listed as a senior on the Treble Clef Society’s membership page. When I flipped to the “Dramatics” section in that same yearbook, I found that a write-up of the “Matchmakers LTD” musical comedy presented by The Treble Clef Society referred to Ursula as a member of the class of ’24. (She played “Roddy’s aunt” and was deemed “delightful” in her part.)

Hmm. Why was Ursula at Berkeley for an extra year? Did something prevent her from graduating in 1923? I scrolled through the 1924 senior portraits, but Ursula’s photo was not among them. Then I turned to the “Sororities” section and did find Ursula’s portrait among the Zeta Tau Alpha sisters. However, the membership page listed her as a “Graduate.”

Ursula is listed as a "Graduate" on the Zeta Tau Alpha page of the 1925 "Blue and Gold" yearbook, which covered the 1923-24 academic year.

Ursula is listed as a “Graduate” on the Zeta Tau Alpha page of the 1925 “Blue and Gold” yearbook, which covered the 1923-24 academic year.

That finding, coupled with information I found in the 1922 University of California Register, led me to believe it’s possible she graduated in 1923, but that she stayed on to take further courses, and was misidentified as a senior in the yearbook. The Register noted that:

“Graduate students are such graduates of the University of California…as may be authorized to pursue advanced or special studies under the direction of a faculty. Such students may or may not be candidates for degrees.”

But then I found another document online suggesting she did not graduate in 1923. It was a program for the class of 1923’s “Senior Week” events, including the Senior Extravaganza, baccalaureate sermon, senior “pilgrimage,” senior ball and commencement. While Ursula was named as a principal in the Extravaganza and a committee member of the event (which we already knew), her name was absent from the “Roll Call” list of graduating seniors. Then again, this was not the original document—it had been transcribed in 2013. Perhaps the transcriptionist mistakenly omitted her name. Who knows?

With this conflicting evidence, I can’t say for certain when Ursula graduated from UC Berkeley, just that she was there for an extra year: 1923-1924. And I do know that the fall semester of her final year there got off to a blazing start. But that’s a story for next time…

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Senior Week “Extravaganza” Features Ursula in Original Farce

On February 13, 1923, the Oakland Tribune announced that 200 members of UC Berkeley’s 1923 graduating class were named to committees preparing for “Senior Week” festivities, to be held in May. The article not only mentioned Ursula as one of 12 “co-eds” assisting with the plans, but it also featured a prominent portrait of her in the dramatic headdress she wore for her “Nero” costume the previous year.

A large photo of Ursula accompanied an article on Senior Week in the "Oakland Tribune," February 13, 1923.

A large photo of Ursula accompanied an article on Senior Week in the “Oakland Tribune,” February 13, 1923.

During Senior Week, a tradition begun in 1874, the graduating class held a series of farewell activities, including an event called the “Extravaganza.” This was an original farce written and performed by members of the senior class. According to the UC Berkeley website, certain Senior Week functions are still observed and others, like the Extravaganza are not.

In the 1923 Extravaganza, entitled “But it Wasn’t,” Ursula played “Ellen,” one of the play’s main characters. According to the Blue and Gold yearbook, the plot centered on the question, “Does a man win a girl through strength, poetry, or by being a practical business man?” The answer was given in three stages. As the Oakland Tribune reported on May 7 that year:

“Business men, poets, and athletes from the stone age, the age of romance and the present-day strive for the hand of the same fair maiden, Mary.”

Ursula played “Ellen,” one of three fair co-eds in “But it Wasn’t,” the 1923 senior Extravaganza. I’m sure that Ursula, as one of the principal characters, is pictured in front as part of the three couples. It’s difficult to tell if she is the first or second woman from the left (definitely not the third.) What do you think? (Click on photo to see enlarged image.)

Ursula played “Ellen,” one of three fair co-eds in “But it Wasn’t,” the 1923 senior Extravaganza. I’m sure that Ursula, as one of the principal characters, is pictured in front as part of the three couples. It’s difficult to tell if she is the first or second woman from the left (definitely not the third.) What do you think? (Click on photo to see enlarged image.)

You can read more about the plot by clicking on the the newspaper and yearbook images posted below. I love this: the name of one of the characters from the stone age, Mary’s father, was J. Stonehatchet von Clubem.

Ursula plays "Ellen" in the UC Berkeley Senior Extravaganza (from the "Oakland Tribune," May 7, 1923).

Ursula plays “Ellen” in the UC Berkeley Senior Extravaganza (from the “Oakland Tribune,” May 7, 1923).

The farce was held in the Greek Theater and featured “novel costuming,” which Ursula also helped with. The author of the yearbook article offered this appraisal of the show:

“Seeing the Senior Extravaganza “But it Wasn’t” is a fine way to conclude my record for the Year’s dramatics. I rather expected much amusement and I must say my expectations were more than fulfilled…The whole performance seemed to depend upon co-operation and unity for even the leading parts were many and equally important.”

"Blue and Gold" yearbook write-up of the 1923 Senior Extravaganza

“Blue and Gold” yearbook write-up of the 1923 Senior Extravaganza

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Ursula Murders a Roman Emperor

Ursula poses in costume for a photographer ostensibly taking publicity pictures for  "Nero," a Roman tragedy produced by the English Club at UC Berkeley around 1922

Ursula poses in costume for a photographer ostensibly taking publicity pictures for “Nero,” a Roman tragedy produced by the English Club at UC Berkeley around 1922

As a junior at UC Berkeley, Ursula danced and played the poisoner Locusta in the English Club's play "Nero,"  a tragedy by Stephen Phillips

As a junior at UC Berkeley, Ursula danced and played the poisoner Locusta in the English Club’s play “Nero,” a tragedy by Stephen Phillips

In an earlier post I mistakenly noted that Ursula played the wife of the Roman emperor Nero in a college production of the English dramatist Stephen Phillips’s tragedy, “Nero.” In reality, she was cast in the small role of Locusta, the infamous poisoner who, according to ancient historians, supplied the toxin to murder the fourth Roman Emperor, Claudius, at the behest of his wife, Agrippina. (Agrippina wanted Nero, her son from a previous marriage, to become emperor of Rome.)

From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 28, 1922

From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 28, 1922

In addition to that role, Ursula, our “Mystery Dancer,” danced with other young women in a scene featuring a great banquet held during the burning of Rome — “the most spectacular part of the play,” according to the Blue and Gold yearbook. Produced by the English Club during Ursula’s junior year and performed in the Greek theater, the play “set a new standard for campus drama, and added another achievement to [the club’s] splendid record.”

At some point during the play’s production, a photographer took pictures of Ursula and the other dancers in costume under the pretext that the photos were to be used for publicity. The women, who had given their consent for this use, were upset upon learning that the photographs actually were intended for publication in the Blue and Gold yearbook.

According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Ursula headed the group in protest and demanded that the photos not be printed. She and the other dancers felt that the poses arranged by the photographer, while apparently acceptable for publicity shots, “were such that they were not proper for the formal yearbook.” As a result, Dean of Women Lucy Stebbins called a meeting between Ursula and the yearbook publishers, and it was agreed that the pictures would be kept out of the yearbook.

I am thankful that, while not deemed suitable for the yearbook, the photograph of Ursula in Roman dress did make it into the antique photo album! It is one of my favorite pictures, and contributed to my desire to buy the album and discover and share Ursula’s story.

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Ursula Plays Leading Lady (and Leading Man?)

Blue-and-Gold-Cover-1921The University of California, Berkeley’s yearbook, called “Blue and Gold” for the university’s official colors, has been a gold mine of information about Ursula’s college years. Through online digital scans of each year’s edition, I have learned of all Ursula’s official college activities (would that I had letters or diaries to discover more personal details!). Among them were:

  • Participating in (and living with) the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority
  • Singing in the Treble Clef Society, the women’s choral organization
  • Serving on the Sophomore Informal (dance) and Junior Prom committees
  • Taking part in the Woman’s Council
  • Singing in the A.W. S. (Associated Women Students) Quartet
  • Serving as a member of the Spanish Fete Committee
  • Helping with the costumes and acting in the “Senior Extravaganza”
  • Acting, singing and dancing in numerous campus dramatic productions

Membership in the Treble Clef Society figured prominently throughout Ursula’s college career as she honed her singing, acting and dancing chops. She also acquired leadership skills as Vice President of the Society during her junior year (1921-1922). Among other choral offerings, the club, which was founded in the 1870s, produced an annual opera or musical comedy. By her junior year, Ursula was starring in leading roles.

Here are group photos of the Treble Clef Society from Ursula’s junior and senior years. I love seeing the fashions she and her classmates wore.

In her junior year, Ursula (pictured kneeling at far right) served as vice president of the Treble Clef Society, a women's choral group that produced an annual musical comedy

In her junior year, Ursula (pictured kneeling at far right) served as vice president of the Treble Clef Society, a women’s choral group that produced an annual musical comedy

The Treble Clef Society — senior Ursula is in the front row, third from left

The Treble Clef Society — senior Ursula is in the front row, third from left

On October 6, 1921, under the headline “Bizarre Dance Numbers to Be Feature of Treble Clef Play,” the Oakland Tribune announced:

“Miss Ursula Cheshire, well known college singer, will play [a] leading role in the opera, while in other parts will be seen a group of the best known Thespians at the University.”

The opera was Polly Put the Kettle On, a two-act musical comedy that takes place in a Greenwich Village artist’s studio. In it, a young woman named, you guessed it, Polly (played by one of Ursula’s classmates), tries to become a successful sculptor to prove to her wealthy aunt that she is fit to make her own way in the world. The yearbook noted that Polly “would have been a credit to a professional company, and was indeed one of the best productions of the year.”

TrebleClefOpera_Polly1923-yrbkI’m not sure what role Ursula played, but judging from a yearbook photo of one of the scenes, I think it may have been a male character named Cyril. Look at the figure in black below. Doesn’t that look like Ursula in drag with a goatee? A national report of Zeta Tau Alpha announced that “ Ursula Cheshire played second lead and certainly won many laurels.”

Is that Ursula on the right? She played a leading role in the musical production "Polly Put the Kettle On" during her junior year in 1921

Is that Ursula on the right? She played a leading role in the musical production “Polly Put the Kettle On” during her junior year in 1921

The following year, a photograph of Ursula appeared in the Oakland Tribune (October 29, 1922) with the caption “Miss Ursula Cheshire, cast for a part in University of California Treble Clef opera, The Campus.” (I do not include the photo here, as it is of terrible quality in the newspaper facsimile.) It seems that by her senior year, Ursula had truly made a name for herself on campus. The article announced:

Ursula in the lead role of "The Campus." Do you recognize her dress? (See the post, "A Big Move.)

Ursula in the lead role of “The Campus.” Do you recognize her dress? (See the post, “A Big Move.)

“Ursula Cheshire, prominent in campus dramatic circles and a popular member of Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority, has been chosen as the prima donna of the production.”

Presented on campus in the Greek Theatre, The Campus portrayed college life, with its football heroes and romantic co-eds. Ursula played opposite Robert S. Stanton, who takes the part of a football hero who, according to the Tribune article, “is a practical and matter-of-fact college man with no romance in his makeup, much to the disgust of the heroine whose ideal is a romantic cave man.”

A not-so-favorable review of the production in that year’s Blue and Gold nevertheless singled Ursula out for praise:

“…if it hadn’t been for the excellent cast my interest would have faltered completely. I have to hand it to Ethel Stone; and, Ursula Cheshire, of course, was good.”

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Ursula Joins a Cast of Hundreds

“Miss Maurine Bell, who will sustain a character symbolizing Sight in the Partheneia.” – "Oakland Tribune," April 6, 1920

“Miss Maurine Bell, who will sustain a character symbolizing Sight in the Partheneia.” – “Oakland Tribune,” April 6, 1920

As I noted in the last post, the excitement of recent world events had wound down by the time Ursula entered UC Berkeley, but the drama – literally – for her was just beginning. I learned from the activities listed in her senior yearbook entry that freshman Ursula was a member of the cast of the Partheneia, an original, open-air pageant or masque presented each spring term. It was the first of many dramatic productions in which she would participate during her time at UC Berkeley.

While the specific story of the Partheneia was determined each year by the results of a student-written script competition held in the previous fall term, the general theme was the transition from girlhood to womanhood. More than 300 women took part in the 1920 production, entitled “The Poets Answer,” which was based on the idea of Dante as the inspiration of the poet, and prominently featured dancing choruses. A two-day festival in April, it was the most elaborate Partheneia yet produced at the university, reported the Oakland Tribune, which also described it as “a charmingly colorful play of the Italian Renaissance period.”

According to Who’s Who Among the Women of California, the Partheneia pageant was considered representative of the best talent among the students of the current year.

“Women authors, women composers, women artists, women managers, women directors, women in the entire cast, in the male roles as well as the feminine roles; in fact women, exclusively, present the masque. They dye the cloth for their costumes, they design and make the costumes, they design the settings for the scenery-parts, they direct the orchestra.”

procession from the 1920 Partheneia

Photo of the procession from the 1920 Partheneia

The women presented the Partheneia outdoors among the natural scenery in the Faculty Glade. Again, from Who’s Who:

“Overhanging oak trees, a background of tall brush edging the creek over which are built practical bridges, form the wings of the stage where the students play their parts and register anew their appreciation of literature and the cannels for original expression.”

An Oakland Tribune news brief announcing the postponement of the second day’s show due to rain also noted, “This festival is regarded as one of the most successful yet staged by college girls.”

Not everyone was pleased, however. Perhaps emblematic of the time’s ingrained sexism women students had to contend with at the co-ed school, a male reporter writing in the UC Berkeley student newspaper panned the production in “most ungentlemanly” (and, I must say, funny) terms, drawing protests from the university’s female students. One thing he complained about was the lack of skin revealed by the fair young ladies! Here is a report of the controversy by the Oakland Tribune on April 9, 1920:

 From the "Oakland Tribune," April 9, 1920

From the “Oakland Tribune,” April 9, 1920

According to the University of California, the first Partheneia was presented on April 6, 1912. It was produced regularly until interest in pageantry declined generally and was discontinued in 1931.

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A New Chapter

Sather Gate

Sather Gate: The entrance to UC Berkeley, as it appeared around 1921.

What was Ursula’s freshman year of college like at the University of California, Berkeley? I was in the middle of trying to answer that question by paging through an online version of that year’s UC Berkeley “Blue and Gold” yearbook when my Internet service went down. That will have to wait until my next post. In the meantime…

Before the outage, I was able to glean the following general information about the university from around that period from the Register, which was the university’s information and course catalog:

  • The Berkeley campus covered about 530 acres, rising at first in gentle and then in bolder slopes from a height of about 200 feet above sea level to about 1,300 feet. It provided a majestic view of the bay and city of San Francisco, the neighboring plains and mountains, the ocean and Golden Gate. (Golden Gate is the North American strait that connects San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Golden Gate Bridge was not opened until 1937.)
  • According to the Register, the average Berkeley temperatures were about 59 degrees in summer and 48 in winter. I’m not sure how reliable the publication’s information was, but today, average summer temperatures range into the low 70s!
  • When Ursula enrolled at UC Berkeley, tuition was free to residents of the state. Non-residents were charged a tuition fee of $75 each half-year. (Boy, have times changed!)
  • There were no dormitories maintained by the University. The cost of board and lodging in boarding houses in or near Berkeley was $40 to $55 a month; and in fraternities and students’ clubs from $30 to $50 a month. Students also commuted from Oakland and San Francisco, which Ursula may well have done her first year.
  • UC Berkeley freshman class

    At more than 3,000 students, Ursula’s freshman class was the largest ever to enter UC Berkeley. At the time, an estimated 8,500 students were registered at the university; today, more than 36,000 attend.

    Berkeley was a 35-minute ride by train and ferry from San Francisco.

  • The ordinary yearly expenses of a student in the academic departments, including personal expenses, was at least $750.

By a very unscientific method (counting and averaging the number of men and women listed on just 12 pages of the senior class portraits from the 1924 yearbook), I’ve guesstimated the ratio of female to male students to be about 8.4 to 10. This surprised me, as less than 8 percent of the American female population at that time attended college. I’ll bet Ursula, with her curly hair, big eyes and dramatic talent, attracted her fair share of would-be beaus!

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