Shades of 1912!

Remember when 14 year old freshman, Lorraine Clark was rushed to the hospital after drinking kerosene and ingesting macaroni boiled in soap during her Alpha Alpha initiation?

Irving Countryman did, and Act IV presents Hillhouse’s response.

An ubiquitous presence at Hillhouse during this study’s time frame was Irving Countryman. A 1901 Hillhouse graduate, Countryman served as principal from 1938 to 1951. A scholarly man, he graduated from Yale with a Bachelors in 1905. He eventually earned an MA and updated Morey’s Ancient Peoples in 1933 and again in 1943. He enjoyed a positive review of this work in the Journal of Education in 1933. Countryman’s scholarly pedigree was no anomaly. Several teachers during this period held advanced degrees: English teacher, Dr. Marion Sheridan, who donated her entire Elm Tree collection to the New Haven Archives, (thank you Dr. Sheridan), and Latin teacher, Dr. Zimmerman. 

Countryman’s service as honorary faculty advisor of Alpha Delta Sigma Fraternity, an Anglo Fraternity established in 1892, indicates that he was probably a member during his high school years. I have not been able to confirm this, but the archival record suggests that he supported Greek life on campus, despite criticism such organizations endured in the 1910s. The Lorraine Clark case provides evidence of former members’ support of secret societies despite community criticism.  Lorraine Clark was the daughter of state representative F. C. Clark, who rushed her to the hospital upon her arrival home. Her condition, once admitted, was grave. Outraged, Clark pressured the Bridgeport school board to outlaw Greek letter societies on their campuses. The measure passed, with three holdouts who were former members. 

The New Haven High School administration monitored these events and made a different decision. They decided to make the secret societies official school clubs, with a faculty advisor who oversees initiations and meetings. They feared that a ban would drive them underground and they would obtain support from their regional networks. Rather, they wanted school personnel to “exert a positive influence on young people.” Given the pictorial data I found in the yearbooks, I will leave you to judge how “positive” they actually were.  Pay attention when I come to that part of the play.

After the war, though, the Board rethought their formal commitment to secret societies.  However, their concerns had nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with a post-war zietgiest, one that became a pervasive school ideology in the late 1940s.  Stay tuned!  These new, modern, ideas will be introduced in Acts V and VI!

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