by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In early 1926, Even though Walter P. Temple was in the process of issuing hundreds of thousands of dollars of bonds to finance his Town of Temple (renamed Temple City in 1928) and other building projects, as well as expending large sums in the building of his home La Casa Nueva at the Workman Homestead, while experiencing declining income from his previously lucrative oil wells near Montebello, he decided to follow through with plans to send his four children to expensive private schools in Massachusetts, his father’s home state.
It is proable that the main impetus for doing this for the fall semester of that year was because Temple’s oldest child, Thomas, was completing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Santa Clara and it was the stated goal to send the young man to the prestigious Harvard Law School so he could return and represent his father in business dealings. The only daughter, Agnes, was in her first year at Dominican Convent, a women’s Catholic college in San Rafael just north of San Francisco, so the idea was to transfer her to a women’s college such as Wellesley. As to the younger boys, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, they were in their freshman year together at The Belmont School, a Catholic boys institution in the city of that name south of San Francisco. For the 1925-26 year, and for the first time in seven years, all four Temples were in relatively close proximity in the Bay Area and the goal was to have the continue to be near each other in the east.
While J. Perry Worden was hired by Walter Temple in the earlier part of the decade to write a history of the Workman and Temple families, he was invariably put to work with side projects such as this. Worden, a native of New York, was able to make a trip to New England at the beginning of 1926 to conduct research on the Temple family, whose years in Massachusetts can be traced back to at least 1636, and combine that with visits to schools being considered for the Temple children. He also met with Walter’s cousin, Ellen Temple Bancroft, and her children Edward and Edith, to establish direct contact for their California relatives and to ask for their help as the Temple children came to the Bay State to continue their educations.
There have been several posts here sharing Worden’s personal letters to Walter and Thomas and they are idiosyncratic to say the least, filled with a potent mixture of pandering and grievance, pride in achievement and protestations of a lack of appreciation and support (usually monetary). Not unlike social media posts, Worden filled his missives with capitalizations, spacing, underlining and other tactics to get his not-so-subtle points across, but the situation with tonight’s featured objects from the museum collection is entirely different.
Comprised of a quintet of copies, dated 24 March and sent to Edith Bancroft and four schools attended by the Temple children and forwarded to Walter, these are free of such touches and, in the case of the missives to the schools, very formal, while the one to Bancroft is more personalized. The letters to the schools all hew to a common purpose and general language in that they all begin with:
On behalf of Mr. Walter P. Temple, of the Workman Homestead, Puente, I am writing to ask if you will kindly send me, at your early convenience, the fullest statement and the best recommendation possible, of the work and concerning the character, personality, etc., of [the children].
In the case of the eldest children, Worden added that Thomas and Agnes were “at present doing so well” at their schools and the two were excellent scholars, but when it came to Walter, Jr. and Edgar, who were athletically and musically proficient, if not so attentive to academics, Worden merely stated that they were “at present in your school.”
Feeling apparently that he had to explain more to the University of Santa Clara about why the request was being made, Worden wrote to its president that “I need not tell you, or any of the other Reverend Fathers long associated in the training of the young man in question and known to Mr. Temple, of his full appreciation of Californian institutions generally, and of Santa Clara and her enviable traditions in particular.”
Consequently, Worden continued, “you will easily understand his point of view in believing that a change of scene and experience, such as may be affordd by residence in New England, and proximity to cultural Boston, might be very beneficial to his son, and the logical introduction to his law studies at Harvard.” Any assistance that could be rendered to give Thomas the maximum in transferable units “and in entering Harvard with the highest standing” was appreciated.
When it came to Agnes, the approach was different, as Worden wrote to the mother superior of Dominican that “Mr. Temple feels that a change of scene and social environment . . . might be very beneficial to his daughter, especially as she could also then continue to be near and in frequent touch with her brothers, who are planning to go East for their future schooling.” He added a letter to the mother superior at St. Mary’s Academy in Los Angeles, where Agnes attended for several years ending with her high school graduation in 1925. Nothing was said in that correspondence about Agnes’ proximity to her siblings, though it did refer to an “experiment” in sending her east. A testimonial was likely seen as desirable because she was only in her first year at the college. The missive to the priest in charge at Belmont was worded almost exactly as that to Domincan, though nothing was said about the “social environment.”
The fifth and final piece of correspondence, directed to Edith Bancroft, began with the statement that Worden “had a very interesting interview today with Mr. Walter Temple at his Workman Homestead rancho, (which would interest you very much, if ever you come out here to California, with its many outhouses [?] and extensive plants) and he appreciated, to the fullest extent, your offer of assistance and cooperation.” He added that “I am sure you have done much good in thus encouraging them to look New Englandward for the solution of their educational problem.”
Worden then explained to Bancroft that “it was agreed that I should write the various (R.C.) institutions where the young folks have been studying, ans ask for their exact standing for some years past, in order that we may present such data to the M.E. schools.” The initials were to distinguish the Roman Catholic from the Methodist Episcopal schools, though Harvard never had a religious affiliation and it is not known which other institutions Worden had then contacted.
It was then added that
I may say that Mr. Temple looks forward with pleasure both to meeting you and to having you, as it were, take Miss Agnes under your wing, somewhat, while she is in New England.
He noted that the family planned to transport their own car on their summer trip “to be sufficiently independent not to cause trouble to anyone.” Worden stated “I feel certain that you will enjoy their visit” which was “to leave behind a pleasant memory.
The historian then concluded by wroting “Mr. Temple wishes me to hand you the enclosed slip of paper, as a reasonable means of covering any expenditures you may have in car-fare, postage, the hiring of elephants or mother commodities and sources of locomotion or circumlocation [circumlocution? Perhaps Worden deliberately misstated?] in the pursuit of the laudable effort to land the Temple young folks where they ought to go.” All that was asked for, in return, was a receipt addressed to Temple.
Worden had been asked previously to investigate schools in England, ancestral home to the Workman ancestors of the family, and dutifully wrote to headmasters of schools there to inquire what was required. It being apparent that such an effort required more effort, and perhaps money, than was desired, attention was turned to Massachusetts.
There was precedent for sending Temples to both locales, as Walter’s older brothers Francis, William and John were taken by their father to Massachusetts in the early 1870s, where they attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard Law School, the high school in F.P.F. Temple’s hometown of Reading and then the Bryant and Stratton Business School in Boston, respectively. William also attended what was then called Santa Clara College before making the move east and followed his 1874 graduation at Harvard with post-graduate study at the Inns of Court in London before his work was cut short by the impending failure of the Temple and Workman bank.
Being just six years old when that devastating event took place, Walter, who finished high school at St. Vincent’s College (forerunner to today’s Loyola Marymount University) and then took courses at Woodbury Business College, was determined, once he experienced his astounding rise to wealth through the fortunate discovery of oil on his Montebello-area ranch, to provide his children fine private school educations such as was afforded to his own elder brothers.
Yet, when the family journeyed east, taking a ship from the Port of Los Angeles through the Panama Canal and to New York, Agnes was not to transfer to an eastern college, whether through her own volition or not is not known. Thomas did enroll at Harvard Law School, though it took some testimonials to get him in as his courses at Santa Clara were evidently not sufficient on their own for a transfer. Walter, Jr. and Edgar were accepted at Governor Dummer (yup, Dummer) Academy in South Byfield, north of Boston, and which remains the oldest continuously operating private school in America, albeit known now as Governor’s Academy—the word “Dummer” seen as a hindrance to enrollment even though the institution has existed since 1763!
Edith, her mother Ellen, and her brother Edward did, in fact, take the three Temple boys under their collective wings, hosting them for frequent visits, including the very important Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, for the three years they were in New England. In 1927 and 1928, the brothers did venture north to Montreal to enjoy the coming of the new year (not to mention, the legally purchased alcohol!) Agnes, by contrast, returned to the Homestead for summers, Easter, Thanksgiving and the Christmas/New Year’s breaks.
In late spring 1929, all of the Temple children completed their educations at their respective schools and traveled home, though their father’s faltering finances led to the family leaving the Homestead within a year as it was leased to a military school to try and raise enough money to forestall foreclosure. That still happened in 1932 as the Great Depression worsened significantly and the ranch was lost to the Bank of California. As family letters indicate, there was a trade-off between the often-painful separation of the family and the appreciation the children had for their educations, though the completion of La Casa Nueva in late 1927 while they were away render the building more of a house than a home.