PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Kent State pioneers made history 100 years ago

By Roger J. Di Paolo | Record-Courier Editor Published:

For 34 young people -- all but three of them women -- it was a day to celebrate a personal achievement, an affirmation of academic accomplishment.

For Kent State Normal School, it was a moment in history.

The young college was hosting its first commencement, little more than a year after welcoming its first students. And the entire student body -- as well as the governor of the state of Ohio -- turned out for the celebration.

"The weather was faultless, the attendance very large, the appointments perfect, the enthusiasm high and the enjoyment boundless," the Ravenna Republican reported in its account of the ceremonies, which took place on Wednesday, July 29, 1914, in an open-air pavilion on the front lawn of the campus.

The guest of honor was Gov. James M. Cox, who received a royal welcome.

The student body and faculty lined Main Street to cheer the governor, who rode in an automobile with Kent State President John McGilvrey at the wheel. Post's Band, decked out in new blue uniforms, led the way along the newly paved street. "It was an imposing procession, and an impressive one," according to the Republican.

A crowd estimated at 3,000 was on hand for the commencement program, which began with a choral rendition of "Oh, My Love's Like a Red, Red Rose."

President McGilvrey introduced Cox, who delivered the commencement address -- speaking "at length," the Kent Courier observed, after prefacing his remarks with the observation that he did not know he was to be the speaker for the event until his arrival on the campus.

Speaking from a rostrum decorated in blue and gold, the colors chosen by the Class of 1914, Cox praised the new normal school as "a model, an example, an inspiration to the other institutions in Ohio," noting that just two years earlier "not much had been done" other than choosing the site for Kent State.

While saluting the pioneer graduating class for its accomplishments, Cox also looked to the future of the new school. "Within the next year, we hope that a much larger student body than this will not only be in attendance, but will be accommodated better than you have been this year."

The 34 graduates who earned teaching degrees were all from Ohio, except for Mable Walworth, who hailed from Florida. Of the three men on the roster, one was from Portage County -- Emmitt R. Wise of Rootstown.

Two of the women graduates were from Portage County: Leah Marsh and Mrs. Anna M. Eby, who both were from Kent.

Leah Marsh's listing in the Chestnut Burr yearbook described her as "a shy little miss, very domestic in her tastes ... We are not sure whether she intends to teach Domestic Science or practice it." (She opted to practice it. The same edition of the Kent Courier that reported on the commencement included an item that she had been hired by the Kent Board of Education to teach two days each week, at an annual salary of $300.)

Mrs. Eby's listing noted simply that she was "the married one of our number."

President McGilvery took pride in noting that the graduates included many who had completed one to three years of study at other colleges or universities, and that practically all had positions with schools. "They are not here under compulsion, but come voluntarily that they may better fit themselves for work."

Dean of Faculty John T. Johnson presented diplomas to the graduates following "several very pretty numbers ... sung by the school choruses." The commencement program concluded with the "Kent Normal School Song" with the student body waving the colors as they sang.

Governor Cox, who was seeking re-election, remained in Kent to meet with 100 Democratic Party workers from throughout the county who had traveled there to meet him. Mayor Martin L. Davey, who was running for Congress, joined the political gathering.

The new graduates returned home to communities such as Ashland, Lorain, Warren, Hudson, Mount Gilead and Mineral City, where many had teaching jobs waiting.

Thousands of Kent State alumni have followed in their footsteps in the 100 years since the July 1914 commencement, but only 34 can claim the first diplomas from Kent.

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