Getting Schooled While Reading Between the Lines: A Letter from Walter P. Temple to Thomas W. Temple II, Student at Page Military Academy, Los Angeles, 18 April 1918

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As soon as the substantial revenues began to pour into the coffers of the Temple family, beginning in summer 1917, from drilling on the Montebello Oil Field by Standard Oil Company (California) on a lease providing a royalty of one-eighth of the proceeds, Thomas and his siblings Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar were sent to private boarding schools for a dozen or so years.

The inauguration of production at Montebello came just a few months after the United States entered the First World War and it happened that, with rapidly growing patriotism, there was a massive increase in enrollment for young boys and teens at military academies. Thomas was placed at Page Military Academy in Los Angeles for the fall 1917 semester and attended there for a year, completing his grammar school education, before going to the University of Santa Clara the following year to attend the preparatory high school for the Roman Catholic institution. His brothers, Walter, Jr. and Edgar, were soon enrolled at the Pasadena Army and Navy Academy, as well.

The featured artifact from the Homestead’s holdings for this post is a letter (actually a draft and the finished typed version) from 18 April 1918 written by Walter P. Temple to 13-year old Thomas, informing him that Walter received an invitation, almost certainly after having sent inquiries, from Santa Clara for a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) competitive drills and military function program for the end of the month.

Walter wrote his son that

If you care to go and if Prof. Gibbs will grant you leave of two days absence, Monday & Tuesday, following the date of the military review, I would ask you to come along so that you can see for yourself the conditions at Santa Clara, should you attend that school after leaving Page. This trip will also afford you an insight into the beauties and resources of our dear state California.

The leave was, in fact, granted as we have in the collection a letter written on the 26th from Thomas to his mother, Laura González Temple, from San Francisco as they prepared to go to Santa Clara for the exercises. It appears that Thomas kept up his involvement in some form of military activities at Santa Clara as an October 1919 family portrait and negatives and prints of photos at the Pasadena Military Academy, from about the same time, shows him and his brothers in military school uniforms.

Salinas Californian, 21 August 1894.

Moreover, when their father commissioned a memorial to Sgt. Joseph Kauffman, brother of Walter’s business manager, Milton, a brass plaque affixed to the marker when it was dedicated at the oil lease (it was moved in 1930 to Temple City Park, where it remains today), the names and ranks of the Temple sons were on it.

The Museum’s holdings also have a photograph of Thomas in formation during a military drill at Page during the first half of 1918, as well as his diploma and the document’s cover for his graduation from the academy in June of that year and some letters that he wrote to his parents while he was attending the school, but we’ll focus for now on the above letter. As to the history of the campus, it has some interesting background with respect to its founders, Della M. Page and her husband Robert Adams Gibbs, and we’re putting her name first for a reason, because references usually place him in precedence for obvious reasons of gender.

Palo Alto Times, 6 November 1896.

Gibbs, who, as headmaster, was typically identified as the primary figure at the academy, was born in Fort Ann, New York, a village north of the state capital of Albany and located close to the Vermont border. His father, Theron, a Vermont native, was a Union Army surgeon during the Civil War and a physician at Fort Ann for many years. Gibbs received his education locally and then graduated in 1892 from the Vermont Academy, which still operates at Rockingham.

It is not known why, but Gibbs then headed to California where he enrolled at Stanford University and spent two years there. While at Palo Alto, he developed quite a local reputation as a formidable orator and he also had to provide his own funding, as evidenced by a short article in a Salinas newspaper reporting, in summer 1894, that Gibbs was going around town selling the Mystic water filter, used for purifying tap water.

Vermont Record, 25 November 1897.

After his father’s death, two years later, Gibbs, who was involved in citizen militias in Palo Alto and San Francisco and evidently was commissioned as a major, returned home for the funeral and, not long after going back to Stanford, left school to take on the position of business manager for the Family Journal, a magazine set up by Stanford graduates and students in San Francisco. This was in 1897, but his tenure there was short as, by the end of that year, the newspaper in Glens Falls, near his hometown, reported that Gibbs, said to have been a graduate of Stanford, recently became assistant editor of the Fair Haven Record, otherwise known as the Vermont Record, newspaper of that town just over the border in Vermont.

His tenure with the paper appears to have lasted a short time, as well, as Gibbs’ next endeavor was as a traveling lecturer, giving presentations with stereopticon photographs in Vermont and New York in the last years of the 19th and first years of the 20th centuries. These included his “Travel Talks,” with the Montpelier Argus, of 10 November 1899, including a photo of the 28-year old Gibbs, and calling his travelogues “among the great successes of the year.” It added that

Press notices show that Mr. Gibbs is carrying town after town by storm with his eloquence and with the marvelous beauty of his wonderful collection of views. These views, about 1,200 of which will be shown here, have been gathered from the vast collection of the two greatest American manufacturers of lantern transparencies, from the greatest English firms and from the largest French collection; [and] are supplemented with numerous views taken by Mr. Gibbs himself and form altogether the finest collection on exhibition.

Among the presentations were ones on “Picturesque America,” “London, Paris and the Alps,” “A Tour in Italy,” “A Cruise in the Mediterranean,” and “Our Island Possessions.” While it was sometimes stated that Gibbs traveled widely to obtain the views and information regarding his talks, it is not known if he actually went overseas or elsewhere in the country, as having these large collections from manufacturers of photos could well have been supplemented by reading about the subjects on which he spoke.

Montpelier Argus, 10 November 1899.

In any case, Gibbs continuing to give these presentations in New England until at least the end of 1902, but there was a problem in March of that year in Meriden, Connecticut, northeast of New Haven, as the local Journal newspaper reported that a few months earlier Gibbs “gave a picture show in the hall of the Y.M.C.A.,” but added that “in the night he departed for parts unknown, his trunk being addressed for New York city and resting at the depot” when found by the Y.M.C.A.’s secretary.

Gibbs, it turned out, had retained the hall for a $15 rental, clearly hoping to attract enough of an audience paying perhaps 50 cents a head for his presentation, but the paper reported that the Y.M.C.A. official “learned of Gibbs’ wicked purposes to flee without leaving any lucre for the rent of the hall or the proceeds of the entertainment.” As he’d done before, with the quote above from Montpelier involving a talk where he was to share revenue with a local hospital, he apparently was to provide some of the funds for the Y.M.C.A.

Meriden Journal, 7 March 1903.

The piece concluded that the local justice of the peace ruled in the official’s favor and with Gibbs obviously in absentia for the sum of the rental and a deputy sheriff “was entrusted with the necessary papers and he descended on the trunk.” It was in the law enforcement officer’s possession until a sheriff’s sale was to be held in a week-and-a-half with the stereopticon inside it valued at $50.

The next that could be found of Gibbs is in September 1907 when he was in Whittier and contracted to give a series of five talks at the high school auditorium. The Whittier News of the 14th reported that “the lectures will deal with ‘How People Have Lived’ and will be illustrated with stereopticon views.” A photo of the speaker accompanied the article, but it is dark and the mustachioed man there hard to compare with the Vermont newspaper’s portrait of a decade before, as well as a later view found with an obituary, though the latter two are easily correlated.

Santa Ana Register, 2 October 1907.

In October, Gibbs was in Santa Ana and appeared at Spurgeon’s Hall for his “Illustrated Historical Lectures” under the “How People Have Lived” moniker with five dates that month and in early to mid November booked and prices at 50 cents or $1 for the series. Just prior to Christmas, the Los Angeles Express reported that Gibbs was to appear at the First Baptist Church in the Angel City for a “stereopticon lecture on ‘America'” and that the speaker would “discuss life in the slums, the child labor problem, and other matters pertaining to life in the city.”

Notably, there was an “R.A. Gibbs” who ran for the 37th district state senate seat in the election of 1908 (the Gibbs focused on here did graduate from the University of Southern California in June 1908) under the Socialist Party banner and given the subject matter of the previous December’s talk, it might be that the candidate, who polled substantially lower than the other candidates, including Democrat Will D. Gould, who finished second behind the Republican victor, was the wandering lecturer.

The sisters Emma and Della Page as a teacher and matron, respectively, at the State Industrial School for Girls at Denver, Colorado, in the 1900 federal census.

At the end of January 1909, Gibbs gave a talk on “The Minimum Wage,” which seems another left-leaning topic for that age, especially in conservative Los Angeles, for the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Southern California at the hall of the Angel City’s Y.M.C.A. chapter. One wonders if there is where he met Della M. Page, because just a few months later, the two were married.

Della, a native of Mill Creek, Ohio, just north of Cincinnati, had recently moved to Los Angeles with her sister Emma. When the 1900 federal census was conducted, the sisters were enumerated at Denver with the State Industrial School for Girls, where Della was matron and Emma was an instructor. It may be that the siblings then migrated together to the Angel City, where, on the 1st day of 1908, Emma took out an advertisement for the Page School, a private institution for girls, located at the northwest corner of Broadway and Adams Street.

Los Angeles Times,. 2 January 1908.

Later in the year, in time for the fall semester, the sisters opened the Page School for Boys and hired a woman principal. There were some name changed during 1908 and, by mid-September, Della was listed as co-principal with her sister for what was denoted as The Misses’ Page School for Girls, later the Page Seminary. In July 1909, just a few months after Della married Gibbs, the Page Military Academy was opened at the Broadway and Adams location, while the girls’ school, or the Page Seminary, operated just a short distance west at Adams and Grand.

With that, we’ll conclude this post, but will be sure to have future “Getting Schooled” posts featuring other Page-related artifacts, both related to Thomas’ tenure and later objects connected to the school, which still operates in Los Angeles after 115 years.

Leave a Reply