KST Cover



Time and Again

Time and Again
Centennial Memories of Keene State College 1909-2009

The 1920s and 1930s

President Mason started summer sessions during World War I as a six-week crash course for high school graduates willing to teach in rural schools. "There is no more patriotic work anywhere," he proclaimed. The summer training sessions were so popular that they continued after the war, helping KNS flood the area with teachers.

By the start of its second decade, Keene Normal School had grown into one of the foremost teacher-training schools in the East. State Superintendent of Education Henry Morrison and KNS President Wallace Mason created a laboratory for John Dewey's progressive ideas on education, uniting academic theory with the common-sense practice of learning by doing. "Oh, a Keene girl could get a job anyplace," wrote Florence Wheeler '17, whose vivid recollections of practice teaching in rural New Hampshire are published in Striving.

Students and staff formed close, meaningful friendships from the start. Alumnae remembered their favorite teachers and best friends forever. "We shall keep in touch with each other," wrote Elinor Gibney Paine, class of 1916, "as long as any of us are able to hold a pencil or pen." Above: The KNS faculty was featured on the Masons' 1917 Christmas card.

Enrollment tripled from 200 in 1920 to 628 by 1931, although it would fall back during the Depression despite the modest cost of tuition (about $100 per year). Mason expanded the curriculum in 1926, adding a four-year program in industrial arts that he figured (correctly) would attract more male students. He also organized the school into academic departments. Keene Normal School began to act like a four-year college.

Pat Palmentor, Evelyn Shaw, and Emily Collier, during the winter of 1923-24.

KNS students began to act like real college students, too. They organized sports teams, glee clubs, theatrical performances, sororities, fraternities, debate teams, tea dances, proms, a mid-year ball, hayrides, literary publications, and student government. The more daring hung out of windows after bed check to smoke cigarettes and sneaked bottles of Padres, a Prohibition-era "blood tonic," into their rooms.

On May 31, 1939, Keene Normal School, now 30 years old, became Keene Teachers College. The dynamic "Daddy" Mason, 78 years old, retired, and Lloyd P. Young was inaugurated as president.

KNS was predominantly female through the 1920s, and all women were expected to take manual arts training to learn practical skills. One young man had enrolled in 1915 but never returned after Christmas break. Two men, Sheldon Barker and Albert Brooks, enrolled in 1921, stayed, and promptly formed a fraternity, Kappa Delta Phi. More men arrived, and Alpha Pi Tau was established in 1925. The first Dean of Men, H. Dwight Carle (below), was appointed in 1932.

The first Dean of Men, H. Dwight Carle.

In the early 1930s, the Women's Athletic Association (WAA) was formed to encourage physical activity and sport. Red and White teams competed in baseball, archery, hockey, bowling, badminton, basketball, volleyball, and swimming. Their slogan was, "A sport for every girl, and every girl in a sport." As soon as men on campus reached a critical mass, they also eagerly formed sports teams, competing against the high schools and prep schools of the region.

Wallace E. Mason

Wallace E. Mason, who presided over KNS from 1911 to 1939, was a confident leader whose bywords were responsibility and morality. He instituted dress codes, curfews, bed checks, daily devotions, and mandatory "health chores" for all students, and ruled with a stern but loving grip. Flappers with bobbed hair? Daddy Mason was horrified, but even he could not hold back the Jazz Age, and by 1929 women's bare knees were seen on campus in broad daylight.

Wallace E. Mason

Mason was KNS's first and best public-relations firm. When taxpayers led a "back to basics" revolt against the way KNS practice teachers had taken over the classrooms of city schools, Mason quickly adapted and worked with a group of citizens to create a better system of supervision. Realizing that federal aid to education was available for vocational programs, he came up with popular industrial arts and home economics training for teachers.

A native of New Hampshire, Mason was born in North Conway in 1861 and studied at Bowdoin College. His approach to education was to "do" it rather than think about it, and if his curriculum lacked intellectual rigor, it excelled in character development and passion. In his speech welcoming the incoming class in 1933, reproduced in the Keene Kronicle, he wrote, "Remember that the finest teachers do not teach arithmetic, geography, Latin, or any other subject, only, but through the medium of these subjects teach their students to have high ideals of Christian citizenship." He added, "You must educate yourselves. We cannot educate you. We can only point the way and assist you over the hard places."

The Campus Expands

Between 1925 and 1930, to keep up with rapid growth, KNS added the Butterfield Vocational Arts building (filled with up-to-date equipment for the T & I – trade and industry – Department); purchased and expanded Blake House for home economics; built Huntress Hall at a cost of $250,000; added a new gymnasium with indoor pool, bowling alley, and pool table, a gift from Governor Huntley Spaulding (below), on the south corner of Appian Way and Main Street; and acquired the Ball mansion across Main Street from Parker Hall, which was used as a library for KNS (its reading room was dedicated to President Mason) and later for classrooms and faculty offices until its sale to the Historical Society of Cheshire County in 1993. No other construction would take place until the 1960s.

Spaulding Gymnasium

The Debating Club, which formed soon after the war, drew enthusiastic crowds to its annual debate with Plymouth Normal School. In 1925, students gathered for a rousing send-off (above) as the debaters left for Plymouth, then a three-hour drive.
Clergymen's Daughters – This portrait, captioned "Clergymen's Daughters, 1922," included Dean Isabelle Esten (fourth from left).
At KNS, the cost of room and board (about $6 per week) was halved if students waited on tables and washed dishes. The 1930-31 kitchen crew gathered for a Kronicle photo.
Archers at the ready, 1935.
Children's reading room in the KNS library in the Ball mansion, c. 1934.
The 1938 varsity field hockey team.
In the late 1930s the campus experienced a series of disasters: two floods (1936), a hurricane (1938), and an epidemic of typhoid fever (1938) that took the life of one student. Damage to the campus from the great New England hurricane was estimated at $7,000. Damage to the city of Keene was estimated at $1 million. People surveyed the destruction at Hale House, which lost part of its roof.
Marion Frost Hudson was a popular English professor who taught at Keene from 1923 until her death in 1958. She loved to regale her classes with stories of her courtship with her husband, Percy, "a most proper and loveable Englishman."
A lawn party and supper on the Quad drew parents and community members to campus in August 1920.
Ray Harwood '31
The Alpha, published sporadically by its fraternity brothers starting in 1926, reported on a musical production of the cantata "Esther" in the spring of 1929. The Home Economics Department sewed costumes, the Art Department built scenery, and legendary music professor Harry Davis directed the whole with Miss Catherine Lane.
By 1933, KNS's alumni association, headed by the indefatigable Ruth Seaver Kirk, held reunions every three years. They celebrated the 25th anniversary of the founding of the school at a dinner in Spaulding Gymnasium, coinciding with commencement. All joined in singing the "Teachers' Prayer," to the tune of "America":

God bless our Granite State,
Help us to make her great,
Aid all our plans.
Bless schools and teachers, too,
Make everything we do
Help to make pupils true
At Rose Night, a revered tradition, the junior class honored the seniors before graduation. As the seniors filed onto the Quad to form a K, the juniors handed each graduate a single red rose while singing a sentimental song. The seniors responded with their own song, set to the tune of a popular melody of the day. This photo captured Rose Night in 1939.
Blake House
Woodworking shop in Butterfield, part of the vocational arts program that drew many male students to campus.

All images are courtesy of the Alumni Office. If you have old photographs or memorabilia that would help tell the history of Keene State, please share them for our Centennial projects. Contact Susan Peery at 603-358-2122 or

We promise to take good care of your treasures.