Trouble in Paradise?!

Oakland Tribune article

June 13, 1925: The “Oakland Tribune” stokes rumors of the demise of Ursula’s marriage

Uh, oh. Right between “Stone Laid for $61,000 Baby Home” and “Court Lifts Citizen Ban for Ex-Foes,” the headline of a prominently placed article in the June 13, 1925 issue of the Oakland Tribune trumpeted “Summer Tour or Divorce?…U.C. Co-Ed Singer Returning Minus Artist Husband.” A big photo of Ursula in her “Nero” headdress accompanied the article, and the newspaper identified her as the “University of California girl, who took leading feminine role in international courtship.”

Just a few months after saying “I do,” it appears the couple may have been saying “I don’t.” The paper reported that Ursula and her mother were en route back to California—without Sidney.

The article muses, “Is Mrs. Sidney Bartlett enjoying a belated and solitary honeymoon? Or have dreams of a career reawakened to displace the fireside?” It goes on to say:

The "Oakland Tribune," June 13, 1925

“What the plans of the young woman may be, will not be learned until after her arrival…

“Now it has become known that Bartlett is continuing his work in the Paris university. Rumors of incompatibility of temperament are preceding the young bride to the coast…”

Poor Ursula! I feel for the heartbreak she must have felt over the failed relationship, and embarrassment over her personal life being exposed for all to read in the city paper.

Of course, that’s assuming the paper got the story right. But did Ursula and Sidney really split up, or was this article mere speculation? Tune in next time to find out!

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.

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!