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Bemidji High School yearbooks date back to 1912, give glimpses of student life over the years

Two projects currently in the planning stages at the Beltrami County Historical Society are turning to old Bemidji High School yearbooks for information.

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The Chippewa, created in 1912, was the Bemidji High School's first-ever high school annual. Contributed

Editor’s Note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area . For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.beltramihistory.org .

Two projects currently in the planning stages at the Beltrami County Historical Society are turning to old Bemidji High School yearbooks for information.

We, Cecelia McKeig and Sue Bruns, are working on the history of Bemidji High School, and the BCHS is also preparing an exhibit on "Women in Winter Sports" to open this winter.

This story gives a preview of some of the information that has been unearthed so far for one or both of these projects.

First, there was The Chippewa

It was 110 years ago when students at Bemidji High School met to make plans for the very first BHS yearbook. On Oct. 26, 1911, The Bemidji Pioneer reported on the naming of the yearbook’s editors: “At a meeting of the students interested in the publication of a high school annual held last night in the commerce room of the high school, … officers were elected to take charge of such a publication,” and the names of the first yearbook staff were listed.

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Plans were made for “an elaborate” book, and on Nov. 7, 1912, the Pioneer reported that The Chippewa had been selected from several suggested names for the first-ever high school annual. The yearbook would be modeled after the University of Minnesota’s Gopher and would include various illustrations and photos of all classes, students, faculty and organizations. The yearbook staff boasted that “‘the 1912 Chippewa will be the best book of its kind in Minnesota."

In April 1912, the book went off to press and in May, The Bemidji Pioneer reported that The Chippewa, described as “the first of the kind ever attempted in Bemidji” was “off the press and on sale.” Its 10 segments included an overview of the school district and its facilities, high school faculty, classes and photos of students by class, with seniors first.

It also included the “Normal Department,” illustrations and embellishments, and literature written by the students “ranging from sonnets and essays to stories, … orations,… (and) editorials.” In addition, there were sections for music consisting of boys and girls glee clubs and orchestra; drama, including a cast picture of “Red Acre Farm” and a summary of the script; athletics including football, basketball, track and baseball -- all boys only, and a section on the societies and organizations at BHS.

The tenth and final segment of the book -- and one of its largest -- was devoted to the advertisers who supported the publication.

The text was written and supplied by students, and local photographer Nels Hakkerup contributed the pictures. The Pioneer did the printing and binding. Copies were available for sale for just $1 at the Armory, at the Pioneer office, and at Netzer’s Drug Store.

Only 260 copies were printed, and in the May 31, 1912, edition of the Pioneer reported that “of this number over half were sold before the book was off the press.”

A copy of The Chippewa at the Beltrami County History Center gives the viewer a glimpse of high school life in Bemidji in 1911-1912. One page has an early school song that focuses less on sports than today’s fight songs and more on overall school life but reveals the school colors of blue and white.

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One page of The Chippewa has an early school song that focuses less on sports than today’s fight songs and more on overall school life but reveals the school colors of blue and white. Contributed

A note from the editors expressed their pride in this accomplishment of the first-ever Bemidji High School annual with hopes for many more yearbooks to follow. Fundraising was begun in the fall of 1912 for the second annual, but if a 1913 BHS annual followed, the Beltrami County Historical Society has no evidence of it.

The Meddler and Coniferales

No mention of other annual publications has been found until 1919, when a yearbook titled The Meddler was for sale, apparently in a similar format to The Chippewa, but one new addition in the sports section was a girls’ basketball team. A Pioneer story in October 1920 has the next mention of planning for a new high school yearbook in Bemidji, but no information about a new publication for sale appears until 1922.

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The name of the 1921-22 Bemidji High School annual was called The Coniferales, which means "an order of gymnospermous trees and shrubs." Contributed

The BCHS collection contains a copy of that 100-year-old high school yearbook -- similar in content to the 1912 and 1919 annuals with sections on faculty, sports, activities and samples of writing from BHS students.

The name of the 1921-22 annual was The Coniferales. The Pioneer noted its unusual title and, in a short piece in the April 19, 1922, paper defined the term -- with the help of Webster’s Dictionary -- as “an order of gymnospermous trees and shrubs,” and expressed a lack of admiration for the students having selected the title.

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The name of the 1921-22 Bemidji High School annual was The Coniferales. Contributed

Women’s sports

Without a copy of The Meddler in the historical society’s possession, The Coniferales is BCHS’s earliest high school publication to include a photo of the 1921-22 BHS girls basketball team.

The next BHS annual in the BCHS archives is The Bemidji Chief from 1934. By then, girls basketball no longer existed, except in intramural clubs like the G.A.A. (Girls’ Athletic Association) or the G.R.A. (Girls’ Recreational Association).

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The Coniferales is the Beltrami County Historical Society's earliest high school publication to include a photo of the 1921-22 BHS girls basketball team. Contributed

In the 1940s, the BHS annual’s title became Lumberjack. Through the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and into the early 1970s, the girls were mainly relegated to cheerleading for the boys’ sports that continued to expand and grow in popularity.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the status of curling as a sport in yearbooks is unclear with group photos appearing as either a club (including both boys and girls) or a “minor sport” (boys only). In 1956, the “curling team” was included in the sports section with a photo including both boys and girls, but in 1959, the curling photo included only males.

Finally, after the Title IX law was passed in 1972, the sports section of the 1973 BHS Lumberjack included a picture of the girls track team, swim team, and synchronized swimming.

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The sports section of the 1973 BHS Lumberjack included a picture of the girls track team, swim team, and synchronized swimming. Contributed

Readers who have clippings, old yearbooks, scrapbooks, sports programs and memorabilia/objects -- especially regarding women’s winter sports -- that might be lent to the History Center or photos that can be scanned and returned, please contact the BCHS to let us know what you have. Please do not just drop things off at the History Center.

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