Cenie Myrtle Seyster Straw
“Class baby” of 1894
"It takes a village to raise a child."
. . . but in 1894, it took the women of Eureka College's graduating class to name a child.
We have all heard the expression "Eureka College is like a family," but today's story is one that puts a different spin on this concept. In addition, it challenges us all to recognize the multiple levels of relationship that connect us all as an extended college family.
Eureka alumnus David Franklin Seyster (Class of 1894) married Emma Wolf in 1885, several years before coming to Eureka College to pursue his studies in hopes of becoming a minister. David’s fellow students accepted Emma as one of their own, and the bonds of sisterhood were extended to her by the women of the Class of 1894: Cenie Allison, Myrtle Lee, Mabel Claire Maxwell, Olive M. Reynolds, and Maude Wodetsky.
As the members of the Class of 1894 approached the date of graduation, so too did Emma approach the birth of her second child. By mutual agreement, the members of the Class of 1894 decided that Emma’s child would be named in honor of the class. When a girl was born, five names were placed into a hat—Cenie, Myrtle, Mabel, Olive, and Maude—and two of these were randomly selected to create the baby’s name. It was in this fashion that Cenie Myrtle Seyster came to be known.
This story is a classic example of the social sensibilities and personal affections of the late-Victorian era. The member of the Class of 1894 formed a unique community—a commonwealth of learners—that remained intact throughout their individual lives beyond Eureka College. Besides the group effort that was taken to name the "class child" in 1894, these students also made a pledge at the time of their graduation to remain in contact with one another throughout the years following their matriculation at Eureka College. It was a promise that would be kept for seven decades.
The seventeen graduating seniors decided on June 21, 1894, to create an annual chain letter that would keep members of the class connected with each other until the Class of 1894 ceased to exist. A routing scheme was created to make sure that this practice would continue through the years. The students agreed that when they received a letter from a fellow member of the class that they would add an additional letter to the packet and send it along to the next (alphabetical) member of the class. In this way, each year classmates would receive a packet containing seventeen letters. Once they had read them all, they would add their new letter and send the package along again to make its rounds. For the first few years, the students even used the same brown...