Bessie Smith, Class of 1923

Here’s yet another demonstration of how twisty things can be in the archives. As I was searching the photographic record of the early commencements, intent on understanding exactly how the processions worked, I had a nice laugh over this picture of the 1921 ceremony:

For one wild moment I dared hope that the figure in the plaid skirt right where the procession is turning the corner might be a bagpiper. (That would totally rule!) Zoom in on it, though, and you’ll see something much more mundane–a young woman taking pictures.

Moments later I found her again, on the balcony overlooking the ceremony, still holding her camera:

As I continued through the file, I found a piece of paper on which someone had attempted to identify everyone on the platform that day. It’s incomplete, but still a pretty good try. And at the bottom in parenthesis is added “Bessie Smith on the balcony.”

So now I know her name! After vowing to do more research on her later, I went about my next task–searching for a picture of Rice girls playing golf that I absolutely know is in one of the early scrapbooks. I didn’t know which one, of course, so I wound up spending a couple of afternoons scouring a half dozen of them. I found it eventually, but I also unexpectedly ran into Bessie Smith again. Here she is (on the left) with friends in the quad:

And here’s the one that sent me scrambling for the yearbooks:

By now I’ve seen her in four photos and in three of them she’s taking pictures. So I wondered if there might be some kind of reference to this in her yearbook entries and there certainly was. It turns out that she was photo editor of the Campanile every year she was at Rice. Her married name was MacLaughlin, but I know nothing else about her.

Bonus: Odd doings over by the new art installation today–a guy was putting pointy hats on all the light posts.

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7 Responses to Bessie Smith, Class of 1923

  1. joni says:

    Sure you know something else about her! She also likes plaid skirts when she’s taking pictures!

  2. Melissa Kean says:

    That’s true!

  3. effegee says:

    Hmmm… I wonder if the lights are going to start assuming various semi-reclining positions like the Italian cypresses?

  4. Joseph Lockett ('91) says:

    Obviously those lights have been very naughty and foolish, if they needed to be fitted with dunce caps.

    Or maybe they’re being kind to the astronomy students up atop the new Brockman Hall for Physics, by trying to do away with light scattering skyward?

  5. Leoguy says:

    I understand the new James Turrell Skyspace installation is not functioning as intended because of too much ambient “light” at night in that area of the campus. The temporary hats on the street lights may be part of an initial attempt to fine tune the ambient light levels around the Skyspace. Or, it could be the new “Hogwarts” look!

  6. mattnoall says:

    I see that silly things continue on. Perhaps it is a bit less silly than the time Russ Pitman decided that the one road on the campus needed street signs and street names. I always liked the ones the students came up with in response….

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