It was a time of suspenders and spats, a time when one moved to the back of the bus without thinking. At student parties, a young unknown named Duke Ellington would play half the night for $1.50. Downtown, a president named Wilson was declaring something called a World War.
The movies were only a nickel. Becoming a teacher was about as high as one could aspire. And a hot date consisted of a chaperoned walk around McMillan Reservoir-with the chaperone always walking in the middle. That was Howard University in 1919. Last week, in a way, those days lived again.
The occasion was the 60th reunion of the Howard class of 1919. It drew seven class members, two ment and five women, two from as far away as Massachusetts and Alabama, back to the 110-year-old campus on a Georgia Avenue hillside.
The "Nineteeners" brought along not only their memories, but a unanimous promise, as Jessie Parkhurst Guzman, the class-historian, put it, to "keep coming to these as long as we can move."
Part of that determination is the simple joy of still being alive at 81 or 82. "There were 19 of us at the 50th reunion ten years ago, out of class of 57," said Arnett Lindsay, a retired Washington real estate broker and the Nineteener's reunion chairman. "I think you can guess what happened to the rest."
But some of the Nineteeners' school spirit was born of an oversight.
"Back in March, at Charter Day, they left us out," said an obviously unhappy Jennie Mustapha, the class valedictorian and a former vice principal at Cardozo High School. "I guess they thought we were all dead and gone. So we wanted to show them we weren't, I suspect."
Suspicion confirmed. The dining room of Howard's Baldwin Hall was crammed last Friday afternoon with 250 alumni from the classes of 1969, '59 and so on, backward by decades ending in the numeral nine. But the most noise was coming from the seventh table of the middle row. There, giggling like school girls, Jennie Mustapha and Jessie Guzman were remembering 1919's "bean nights."
"Yes, every Thursday and Sunday in Miner Hall; I remember it like yesterday. They would serve us those good Boston baked beans," Guzman recalled.
"Sunday night supper we could have our boyfriends eat with us. That's what I remember," said Mustapha.
Even though it was a relatively prosperous time (the Depression was still a decade away), many of the Nineteeners worked their way through school.
Arnett Lindsay worked as a bartender, in the LeDroit Park neighborhood around Howard and in clubs downtown. "I learned this right here at Howard," he said with a cackle. "If you drink what I prepare, you belong to me."
Jessie Hailstalk Roy learned something entirely different at Howard; how to write a story.
A shy girl, she was coaxed into trying out for Stylus, the literary society and magazine, as a sophomore. Roy's story ended happily: She is the author of more than a dozen histories written especially for black children and is at work on several others at her home in Northeast Washington.
Ethel Parnell Wheaton, Mustapha's roommatewhen both were seniors, spent more than half a century as a teacher and social worker in her hometown of Philadelphia before retiring. But her memories of Howard are tinged with bitterness.
"I was majoring in German. I really loved it, and I was hoping to go to Germany after graduation," Wheaton recalled. "Then the war started, and just to be patriotic, the university said they wouldn't offer German any more. I was very upset.
Percy Steele's plans were upset by the war, too. The class president when the Nineteeners were sophomores, Steele enlisted in the Army after his junior year at Howard and never graduated.
"But they let me come back (to the reunions). All my friends are here. It would have been my class," said Steele, a retired Cambridge, Mass., post office employe.
Jessie Guzman had one of the most prominent careers of all the Nineteeners. She was a professor of history and dean of women at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for more than 40 years until her retirement.
"In terms of structures and styles, Howard is all new and different," she said. "The only building I recognize is the library-and that was added on to. An the clothes! You see these students today in tee-shirts and jeans. In our day, we wore long dresses everywhere. When they let us wear shorts in gym, that was a big concession.
"But when the young men went away to war, that changed the picture completely.Not only was our class much smaller (by nearly 50 percent), but we all had a sense of hope. It was war for democracy; that's what Wilson said.
"We felt there'd be more openings for blacks afterward. We were disappointed, too. It was not until 1954 that we really knew change had come."
Jennie Mustapha remembers life at Howard as "very, very close. We were like brothers and sisters. There was no radio and TV, and that was fine. We took long walks everywhere. Went to the Howard Theater on Saturday nights, two by two. With chaperones, of course.
"The only time there was any ferment was when we got behind the movement for the Army to start a place for colored officers to train. (It did so, in 1919, at Des Moines, Iowa.) Women's suffrage was in the air-but it wasn't in the law . . . No, I didn't think I was aware of the White House and Congress. We were like an island up here.
"It was a lovely life. It was just a serene, placid existence, among your friends." She waved her arm at the table, where the rest of the Nineteeners were noisily reminiscing. "And it still is." CAPTION: Picture, Class of 1919: Jessie Roy, Jessie Guzman, Arnett Lindsay, Jennie Mustapha, Julia Craft DeCosta, Percy Steele and Ethel Wheaton. By Craig Herndon-The Washington Post