Getting Schooled with “The Firebrand” Yearbook of Dominican College, 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Our local schools, from elementary through college, have largely completed their academic year and many have either promoted or graduated to the next level of their education or stage in life, while others move to the next grade in their educational career.

A common keepsake of our schools is the yearbook, which became a common element of campus life by the early 20th century.  As education and society have changed, so have these records of the school year over the decades.  Some of the contents of yearbooks remain, including recaps of athletics, discussions of clubs and their activities, an overview of the classes, and more.  Others, however, are very different, including the appearance and dress of students, the language used in the text, and others.


For the Temple family in the late 1920s, they had the unusual distinction, probably, of having all four surviving children graduate from their respective schools at the same time.  In spring 1929, the eldest, Thomas, finished his grueling course at Harvard Law School, claiming a coveted juris doctorate degree from one of the elite legal institutions in the country.

His younger brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, though twenty-two months apart, were kept at the same grade level and both completed their high school educations at Dummer Academy in South Byfield, Massachusetts.  As noted here before, the school, the oldest continuously operating one in the country, changed its name about fifteen years ago to Governor’s Academy because the name “Dummer,” the surname of Governor William Dummer of colonial Massachusetts, was deemed detrimental to the school and its ability to attract students!


Meanwhile, the sole daughter, Agnes, graduated with her bachelor’s degree from The Dominican College of San Rafael, a Catholic girls’ school in the city across the Golden Gate from San Francisco.  All four children went to Catholic schools for at least part of their education, but she was the only one to attend them for the entirety of hers.

She started at the Ramona Convent school in Alhambra, as soon as the Temples received their early royalty checks from oil extracted from their lease at Montebello in 1917.  Then, she went to St. Mary’s Academy in Los Angeles, from where she received her high school diploma in 1925.



She entered Dominican that fall and remained there, even when the plan was for her to go to New England and attend a school near her brothers starting in fall 1926, but she appears to have resisted the idea and remained in Northern California to pursue her studies in music with a minor in Spanish.

It was a small school and Agnes was one of just fifteen graduates in the class of 1929 and the degrees included Mathematics, French, Art, Music, English, Latin, Physical Education and History, the latter of which included more graduates than the others.  Given the liberal arts bent, it is not surprising that the school’s yearbook, The Firebrand, was heavily oriented towards a literary structure and artistic appearance.


For example, there weren’t photographs of the graduates, but nicely rendered drawings and there were block prints elsewhere for illustrations, though these were fewer than expected in a yearbook.  As for text, it was mainly comprised of essays, editorials and poems.  There weren’t the usual overtly identified sections on clubs, athletics, and other activities, but these are included in different ways.

Even the essays on the lower classes of the school took on a more literary approach, employing narrative and attempts at humor, that are different than found in most yearbooks.  Other essays about student life include a discussion of the school newspaper, The Meadowlark; a visit from Cardinal Cerretti, the papal legate to Australia; one called “A Greek Slave Criticizes the Rome of One Hundred and Thirty-Five, B.C.;” the romances of English writer Thomas Malory; a reprint of an essay from another source on “The Philosophy of Teaching, of St. Thomas Aquinas” and “A Discussion of the Socratic Circle.”  Poetry is also sprinkled among the pages of the yearbook.


As to clubs and activities, material is limited.  There is an essay about “The Current Events Club,” with discussions about the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, affairs in Mexico, and the presidential election of 1928—all of which had some connection to Catholicism.

Two essays deal with dramatic productions offered during the year, including “the great achievement of the year [which] was the presentation of Orpheus and Eurydice [the opera by Glück] by the college.”  It was noted that “Agnes Temple as Eurydice, and Carmel Saunder[s] as Orpheus, pantomimed the movement of the lovers,” while others provided the singing.  A separate piece analyzed the opera and its performance.

As for the portion of the yearbook covering the fifteen graduates, the one for Agnes Temple is striking for its opening paragraph:

Agnes Temple is typically Spanish in her appearance, but in her mind and character, Spanish traits are modified by the Anglo-Saxon part of her heritage.  She has the Spanish incalculableness, dreaminess, artistic ability, tempestuousness, practicality, and cruelty (not the inquisitorial sort of cruelty, but the experimental sort, which delights in figurative pin pricks, where the victims are most vulnerable—or supposed to be so).

This is a strange way to introduce a classmate and stands out from the others, which mostly begins with physical descriptions or analyses of character, but in a more positive vein.  The descriptions, by editor Catherine Wempe, however, are different for the others, because they were all Anglo.  Wempe’s need to immediately identify Agnes as “typically Spanish” is strange, especially because she doesn’t explain how her Iberian (or is it more the less European “Mexican”) traits were “modified by the Anglo-Saxon part of her inheritance.”  Maybe this was assumed by the other fourteen graduates who were mostly “Anglo-Saxon”?


Even the reference to those “Spanish” qualities have something of a ring of otherness to them, as if dreaminess, artistic ability, tempestuousness and others are only to be found in Latinos.  What, moreover, exactly connotes incalculableness?  Even the remark about cruelty, notwithstanding the caveat about what was inquisitorial as opposed to “experimental”, is striking.

Wempe did turn next to something more positive:

Agnes has a really extraordinary talent for the piano—an effortless facility which excites envy in the hearts of many beholders, who have music in their souls (so they say) but not in their fingers.  But facility is not all; there is that in her playing which stirs profound emotions and makes one years to be high and heroic.

Agnes was a regular performer for dignitaries while attending both St. Mary’s Academy and Dominican and played recitals that garnered much attention at both schools.  So, Wempe’s description of her playing is an admission of her significant gift at the keyboard.


Yet, it is stated that “Agnes has a curious tendency to almost regret her gifts; sometimes she expresses a wish that she had chosen to be a scholar.”  If true, this might have some relation to her older brother and his academic prowess and Wempe added “at such times she pores over Spinoza or Kant, in her moments of relaxation” but ends the bizarre description by claiming that, in doing so (and, surely, nobody pores over Immanuel Kant for relaxation!) Agnes was “thereby exciting the derision of all beholders.”

It almost seems that there was some obvious tension between the two young women, but there is no way to know for sure.  In any case, compared to the rest of the descriptions of the graduating class, Agnes’ does stand out for the way Wempe portrayed her.  If there was personal animosity or at least coolness between them, the ethnic analysis is also strange, if not necessarily surprising given the era.

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