The public schools of Cecil County are holding their graduations this week, so it’s a good time to take a peek at the very first public high school commencement held here in the county. Cecil County High School opened in October 1896, and had four pupils in its senior class. The school stood on the south side of Mackall Street, near the intersection with Osage Street in Elkton. Pupils from all over Cecil County attended high school there. Sixty pupils from Earleville, Elkton, Cecilton, Cherry Hill, Leeds, Appleton, Barksdale, Cowantown, Elk Neck, Iron Hill, North East, Aiken, Perryville, Oakwood, and Calvert were taking advantage of the opportunity “for a free high school education”.
The first commencement of the school took place on June 25, 1897. According to the June 26, 1897 edition of the Cecil Whig, a large number of people attended the ceremony, which was held in the school’s assembly hall. The room was decorated with the senior class’s colors – Nile green and pink. Over the rostrum hung a shield with the class motto “Tout bien ou rien” (all or nothing/all good or nothing). Below that sat the principal of the school, George A. Steele. Also present at the event were school commissioners George A. Blake and George R. Ash, as well as School examiner George Biddle. (Yes, they were all named George!)
The four students graduating that day were Miss Effie Husfelt of Earleville, Henry L. Scott of Elkton, Guy Johnson of Elkton, and George Ward of Cherry Hill. Miss Husfelt was the valedictorian and Mr. Scott was the salutatorian. The Cecil Whig reported that “Principal Steele delivered a pleasing address, abounding in good advice to the graduates.”
The ceremony began at ten o’clock with music from the orchestra and an opening prayer from Reverend A.S. Mowbray of Tome M.E. Church. Each graduate then spoke to the assembled crowd, reading essays they had written. The Cecil Whig reported that Salutatorian Henry Scott’s essay was called “Henry of Navarre”. George Ward’s was about “The Merchant of Venice”, and Guy Johnson’s was titled “Cheero for Archias”. Valedictorian Effie Husfelt’s essay was titled “Seven Wonders”. In between the speeches, the orchestra entertained the crowd with musical selections. Molly Perkins performed a solo, ”Blossom Time of the Year” and the junior and middle classes of the school performed a recitation “Poe’s Bells”. Reverend John McElmoyle of Elkton Presbyterian Church gave the benediction.
Before the conferring of the diplomas, several medals were awarded to students in the school. Henry L. Scott received the award for highest honors of the year. Rudulph Tull of Elkton received an award for achievement in Greek. The award for achievement in Physics went to Jennie Matthews of North East. Guy Johnson of Elkton received awards for excellence in Latin and Elocution. The award for Mathematics went to Leah Thomas of North East. Marion Clark of Cecilton was awarded a medal for French. Bertha Harris of Elkton earned the award for doing outstanding work in her first year of high school. A special medal was presented to Effie Husfelt. School Commissioner Ash presented a medal to her in honor of being the first female graduate of Cecil County High School.
The class of 1897 held an evening “entertainment”, similar to what today’s schools call “Class Night”, a few days prior to graduation. The event was held at Odd Fellows Hall on North Street in Elkton. According to the June 26, 1897 issue of the Cecil Whig, “The public was given very qualifying evidence of the excellent work that has been done at the Cecil County High School, Elkton, during its first year.” The show was under the direction of Miss Van Deusen, the assistant principal.
The event included a variety of presentations, including solos, chorus performances, recitations, declamations, a comedietta (a one or two act comedy skit), and an “operetta burlesque” (a short musical/comedy skit).
Chorus selections included “Hunting Song”, “The Bells of Corneville”, and Gondelied”. Recitations were given by Robert Marshbank, who recited “Country Sleighing”, and Rudulph Tull, who presented “Jack Hall’s Boat Race”. Jennie Matthews recited “When Jack Comes Late” and Annie Beatty presented “Wild Zingerella”. The Cecil Whig gave a very favorable review of these presentations. The Whig thought that the recitations were “of a strong dramatic order and were rendered with effect and grace”.
The comedietta that was given was titled “The Broken Heart Club”. It starred George W. Ward and Effie Husfelt. They played the lead in the comedic skit. The “operetta burlesque” that was presented was entitled “Il Jacobi”. Henry L. Scott, Rena Whitaker, and Helen Wright played the lead roles. The Cecil Whig said the singing was “with spirit and freshness” and they described the acting as “of an order creditable to any amateurs”. The audience “laughed and applauded the success “ of the show according to the Cecil Whig.
Another part of the show had students performing calisthenics for the crowd. Physical exercise was new to the curriculum of public schools, and the school wanted to demonstrate what they learned. The school used the Delsarte system, which was a series of gymnastics designed to strengthen and relax every muscle of the body. It was popular in the 1890s in school systems.
Since the first senior class of Cecil County High School graduated in 1897, the 2021 graduations this week would be the 124th class of seniors to graduate in our county. Congratulations to the Class of 2021!
The Historical Society of Cecil County remains closed at this time. We can’t wait until we can open! We miss you!