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…

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

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.

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.”

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.