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Jerry Ballard and the Class of '08

Oct. 21st, 2012 | 12:05 pm

That's Harvard's Class of 1908, to which Jerry Ballard belongs. Their Class Report is available online - this is a survey taken a year after graduation, with the intention of "bring[ing] you closer together by putting you in touch with the Class as a whole" - and it's fascinating to try to place Jerry in this snapshot of his contemporaries.

Jerry would have have gotten his AB right between George Gill Ball and Edward Stoddard Barber - or, since Barber didn't get his degree until 1909, between Ball and Harold Bryant Barney.  He'd have been listed among the scholarship men every year - which at the time was a statement of academic merit more than financial need, but Jerry could not have stayed in school without that help.

The vast majority of the class proclaimed themselves Episcopalians, followed by Unitarians, Congregationalists, Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians, and Baptists.  There are 5 agnostics, 2 atheists, 2 Buddhists, 2 freethinkers, 2 theists, and 1liberal.  41 didn't answer the question, and 9 had no preference.  However, the vast majority said they attended prayers only "occasionally."  Jerry was probably still calling himself a Catholic at this point, but he's definitely with the majority on frequency of attendance.

Politically, they're overwhelmingly Republicans - 309 of them. There were 40 Democrats, 13 Independents, 2 Mugwumps, 2 Socialists, 18 with no preference, and 24 who didn't answer the question.  147 were engaged in philanthropic work (177 said no, 84 didn't answer), and most of those were involved with some kind of support club or settlement house.

They're smokers (247 said yes, 39 occasionally, 115 said no) and drinkers (177 said yes, 80 said occasionally, and 132 said no). Most of them (183) had annual expenses of over $1000.00.  46 managed on less than $500 a year (Jerry almost certainly was in that category); 77 on $500-700, and 73 on $700-$1000.  12 lived at home. About half of them worked over summer vacation, 187 as opposed to 174.  Economics and English were their favorite courses, though I'm betting Jerry would be the  guy who said his favorite was Classical Philology.

When you get to the addresses and occupations section, Jerry would have been listed between G.G. Ball of Boston, "traveling round the world" and L.W. Bangs of Chicago, a draughtsman with the Commonwealth Edison Company. ("J. Ballard, Chicago, Ill., is in the University of Chicago.")  The job he really wanted - "student and field assistant of the School of American Archeology" - went to Alfred V. Kidder, who went on to develop the first systematic approach to North American archeology.  It's no wonder that Jerry feels his career has been lacking.

The class was asked "What advantages to you think you ought to have found at Harvard which you have failed to find?"  The answers ranged widely, but the most common answer was "More social life and friendships," closely followed by "Closer association with the faculty."  (This is pretty much what the class of 1981 said, too….)  I am, however, amused by some of the other answers:

Quiet from street cars.  
A good restaurant.  (Dorm food remains the same, apparently.)
Athletics adapted to mediocre men.  
Advantages in organ playing.  (I don't even.)
Victory in football. (Plus ça change!)
Decent instruction in English A. (Ditto.)

The Commencement speeches are reprinted in full, and include an essay on Fellowship, a defense of literature as the core of a considered life, and the usual comic speech that holds up pretty well to a modern reader.  Ironically, given that these are the men who are going to be increasingly in charge of large businesses during the 1920s and heading into the Depression - most of them will be in their forties in 1930, solidly established in their lives and professions - the Class Dissertation, given by Harold Birdsall Platt, was titled "The Responsibility of the Business Man of the Future."  I quote from the conclusion:

"The great and crying need in America to-day is for men in all ranks of life who will recognize the fact that modern industry demands co-operation on a grand scale — that individual self interest has ceased to be an all-sufficient regulator of industry — men who will recognize it, act upon it and help adapt our commercial life to meet it — but to the business men especially, to the men who are building up our vast industrial system — who assemble the capital and the laborers — to them especially comes the responsibility of meeting the changed conditions it involves.

To our medical and legal professions responsibility is the keynote; responsibility to the fellow-members of their craft; responsibility to their clients; to the state by whose right and protection they practice.  In the same way the business man of the future must realize that his calling is one of responsibility; responsibility to his fellow business men; to his employees; to the public.

Unrestrained competition must give way to co-operation.  An effort to drive a small competitor out of business or crush him must be regarded as dishonorable as is the taking of a patient from one physician by another.

To the laboring men too the business men owe a direct responsibility. These men have literally invested themselves in the industry; they have given their lives to building it up and can do but little else. Have they no claims to consideration — beyond merely receiving market wages when it is convenient to hire them? True through their unions they sometimes make unreasonable demands, but is often only an answer to similar treatment received. The business man, by reason of his broader education and training should certainly be the first to show the responsibility to his fellow workers.

To the general public, to, deprived of the benefits of free competition, there must be a feeling of responsibility — for is it not by their right alone that corporations exist and are protected?

To reconcile all of these conflicting interests in our modern complicated industrial system is a task to challenge the energy, the patriotism; the justice of any American.  When our business men realize their responsibility to all concerned in our co-operative industrial civilization, then may we say, and not till then, that they have kept pace with the growth of applied science."

This is the world that produced Jerry, the first place he thought he might find himself at home, and the place to which he thinks he'd like to return.  It's lovely to have this snapshot to work from.

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