Old BYU Yearbooks

Happy Father’s Day.  Today is a good day for a tour of Grandpa Joe’s young adulthood.  I’ve had the privilege of looking through some of my Grandfather’s college yearbooks.  We have two of them, from his Sophomore and Junior years down at the BYU – 1936 and 1937.  The books are called “The Banyan”.


Here’s Grandpa’s yearbook photos for all four years (including his freshman and senior years, found online).


I think of yearbooks as a High School gig, where you got a thick high-gloss book and went around on the last day writing insincerities to marginal acquaintances (“Let’s hang out this summer!”).  Back then they did the same thing in college, too, and what you saw in High School matches the college paradigm pretty well.

Well, there are some differences.  The yearbooks show a surprising amount of wear for tomes that were handled briefly and then put on some neglected shelf for decades.  The 1936 one, in particular, has the look that paper and cardboard get when they’ve absorbed a lot of oil from human skin.  They apparently didn’t have an official “yearbook” day, or maybe they did but the books were distributed some time before the last school day, so people had a long time to go around collecting signatures. Grandpa Joe carried his with him from class to class over a couple weeks, looking for friends to write in it.

The Yearbooks are foolishness – an incongruous pastiche of goofy humor and pretentiously profound pronouncements by kids who haven’t experienced a lot of life yet.  Along with all the regular yearbooky stuff you find things unfamiliar, unexpected, out of place – kind of like finding a giant squid on the hood of your car.  Culture has changed in some funny ways.  Some attitudes and practices at BYU are much altered after three generations.  Beards were allowed, if you can imagine anything so shocking:


The Honor Code did not adopt its more stringent requirements until the 1970’s.  However, back then the dress standard for women was much more rigorous than it is now.  It’s an interesting twist that over the decades grooming standards have grown more liberal for the ladies and stricter for the fellas.

Interestingly, I could not find a single guy who wore a beard for their yearbook photo.  No girls either, I suppose.

Then as now, mustaches were allowed, though people did not always exercise good judgment.  The 1936 Banyan takes just fifteen pages to Godwin itself:


There’s Keifer Sauls, aide to the University President.  Hitler was in power but his crimes and plans were not fully appreciated in 1936-37.  Anyway I doubt Mr. Sauls was consciously emulating the contemporary German dictator.

The thirties were inter-war years.  Though college times are typically carefree, there are a few indications, in the yearbook and the notes written, of the bloody past and a possible bloody future.  Indeed, most of these kids were born during the time where Europe was convulsed by “The War to End All Wars”, and in just a few years many would bleed out their lives on battlefields thousands of miles away.  One Y boy, from Kanosh, was born a few weeks after the end of a particularly ugly World War I battle (“ugly” meaning one million dead with no strategic accomplishment).  He was named after it: Verdun Watts.

Athletics weren’t the big deal they are today, but there was a certain amount of wounded pride from the struggles of their floundering football program.  The yearbook staff approached it with a startling degree of irreverence and levity.  After a 32-0 loss to the Utes, the event was memorialized thus in the Banyan:


Wow.  Hard to imagine that flying nowadays.  On the left you see the scowling visage of football coach Ott Romney, demonstrating that the dour look was in vogue long before  Lavell Edwards was stomping the sidelines – though Romney certainly had a lot more to be unhappy about.

The editing style of the yearbooks tended towards the experimental.  On one page they cropped athletic performances out of photos, and assembled them into a sporty montage.  Freed from their context, Joe’s classmates felt free to invent new ones.  Here’s the long jumper:


Finally, the yearbooks show some interesting slice-of-life photos.  Here’s one from a room that is probably familiar to most alums:


That’s the old library, which nowadays is used as a testing center.  Interesting that the room where students once crammed knowledge into their heads is now where they regurgitate it.

Oh, and blackface was okay back then.  Here’s the cast of a theatrical production.  Oy:


Leave a Reply