Getting Schooled While Reading Between the Lines: A Letter from Thomas W. Temple II to Walter P. Temple, 19 August 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

A disciplined weekly letter writer while away from home attending private schools for a dozen years between 1917 and 1929, Thomas W. Temple II, eldest child of Walter P. Temple and Laura Gonzalez, was also a dedicated preserver of family history.  So, many of his missives to his parents and siblings have survived, including a large cache donated by his niece, Ruth Ann Temple Michaelis, to the Homestead three years ago.

Tonight’s highlighted example is a letter by Thomas to his father written on this date in 1925 and addressed to “Rancho de la Puente” as the 20-year old settled in at the University of Santa Clara near San Jose for his senior year at the Roman Catholic institution established nearly three quarters of a century earlier.

Thomas actually began attending the school several years earlier as part of its preparatory high school program, which he completed in spring 1922.  He then enrolled at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where his declared major was chemical engineering, obviously with the thought that he might assist his father in petroleum prospecting.

A circa 1924 portrait of Thomas W. Temple II (1905-1972).

The death of Laura Gonzalez Temple at the end of that year was, of course, devastating to the family and Thomas, who likely found the CalTech curriculum, even if was then composed mainly of general education courses, particularly challenging, was crushed by the loss of his mother.

So, within a short time of Laura’s passing, he made the decision to leave CalTech and return north to Santa Clara.  Perhaps it was the combination of getting away from the tragic environment at home and the familiar and comforting surroundings and people at Santa Clara that led him to make the decision.  In any case, he seems to have thrived pursuing his bachelor’s degree, which was in liberal arts with an emphasis on law.

The missive began with Thomas hoping that “this find you much better and rapidly recovering,” though the specific illness was not mentioned (Thomas noted that his cold was getting better.)  He then turned to his arrival, telling his father “I am here once more ready to tackle what comes” and noting that “most every one of the members of the senior class is back, and it looks promising for a good year.”

The Homestead was in a rural route district near Puente, so it didn’t have a street address and “Rancho de la Puente” sufficed!

Often travel comes with some problem and it can generally involve luggage, so Thomas informed his father that his trunk had not arrived.  He was to register that afternoon “and will soon get settled down to my last year here.”  Meanwhile, he continued, “the school looks fine & they haven’t got any room left for the newcomers who seem to be streaming in from all parts of the country.”  The university, in fact, was undergoing some major expansion and the student body was growing rapidly.

Thomas mentioned to his father that at the train station in Los Angeles he saw “Mama Luz & the girls,” this being his mother’s sister, Luz Gonzalez Vigare and her daughters.  Thomas later lived at the Vigare family’s historic adobe house on Santa Anita Avenue just south of the Mission San Gabriel as he was building his budding career as a genealogist and historian specializing in early California history. 

He added that others stopped by to see him off and he gave Gretta Hauser, a sixteen-year old classmate of Thomas’ sister, Agnes, at St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic girls school in southwest Los Angeles, “a ring of hers that Agnes had been wearing.”  Thomas added that “she [Gretta] had been out the day before to the rancho,” meaning the Homestead, and likely forgot to retrieve the ring.

As for the Homestead, “everything seems to be going splendidly at the ranch & I’m sure that when we return at Christmas time, many more improvements will have been installed.”  It seems obvious that Walter Temple wasn’t present during that time and, knowing that he spent much time in those days at Soboba Hot Springs in San Jacinto adjacent to Hemet, where the hot, dry weather, it seems his frequent lung problems, likely exacerbated by smoking, caused his absence from the ranch.

As for those improvements, it is too bad Thomas did not specify what some of those were, though construction at La Casa Nueva, about three years along, was advancing.  We know that because Thomas, an avid photographer, took care to document, on his summer vacations at home, the development of work on the house and other elements of the ranch.  Some of these photos have been featured in a few installments of the “No Place Like Home” series on this blog.

Thomas then told his father “let me know when Agnes is coming up as we have no school Saturday & I can easily go north with her to school.”  She had just graduated high school from St. Mary’s and was to begin her freshman year at Dominican College, a girls’ school in San Rafael north of San Francisco at the tip of the Marin Peninsula.

Meanwhile, the other Temple children, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, were to join their siblings in the north, as well, and Thomas wrote “we’ll find out about Belmont and let you know when the school opens.  It would be fine if you did bring the boys up then & take a good rest at those springs.”  The younger boys had already attended a year at the Belmont Academy in the town of that name south of San Francisco and enrolled for the 1925-1926 school year.

That reference to the “springs” is another indication that Walter, Sr.’s lung problems were severe enough that, should he have made the trip north, a mineral springs resort in the area was advised for his health and because “you do need a vacation & it would be a great thing for you.”  After expressing the hope that all were well at the Homestead and nothing the fine weather in Santa Clara, Thomas closed.

The following spring of 1926, he completed his studies and graduated with the next step being enrollment in the prestigious law school at Harvard University.  Here, Thomas followed the footsteps of his father’s brother, William, who graduated from Santa Clara College, as it was then known, in 1872 and then read law with a San Francisco firm for a period before going to Harvard.  

There was a family reason for the move east, as well, as Thomas and his brothers, who enrolled at the fabulously named Dummer Academy northeast of Boston to further their high school studies, were sent to school not far from where their Temple ancestors lived since at least the late 17th century.  Agnes, however, declined to join them and stayed at Dominican until she graduated in 1929, the same year her brothers finished their respective studies.

This letter, one of many penned by Thomas in the museum’s holdings, helps give us an idea of what life was like for him and his siblings as they were educated far from home.  Look for more of these in future posts.

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