Harold William Griffis – College Years 1921-1925

Wesleyan University 1922-1923
Young Harold, click for larger view.

Harold William Griffis (June 29, 1903 – June 30, 1961) was the patriarch of the Griffis family that resided in the Albany-Troy-Schenectady (tri-city), New York area for four of the most recent generations of our family in the 1930’s through the 1950’s. Many of the living members of our current family unfortunately did not get the chance to know Harold Griffis given his untimely death a day after his 58th birthday.

He had a great sense of humor. He would be the first to laugh about himself and would provide stories to any audience to produce laughter and remind everyone of what it is to be human. He had great patience with his family. Harold accepted everyone regardless of limitations or faults and his tacit aim was getting the best out of each individual he came into contact with.

An only child, Harold was born on June 29, 1903 in Gloversville, New York. His parents were Charles Arthur Griffis and Ida May Sperber. Harold’s father Charles, passed away at the age of 49 after Harold graduated from college in 1926.

High School Graduation

Cover of Commencement Exercise Pamphlet: Source: Evelyn Dutcher 1920 Scrapbook. Click to enlarge.

William graduated from Gloversville High School with a commercial diploma and initially worked in the Gloversville YMCA after high school graduation. The following are photos of the original Gloversville commencement exercises program that Evelyn Dutcher Griffis saved and had in a scrapbook. The commencement took place a week before Harold’s birthday. Harold Griffis gave the “Class Oration”. Harold was the senior class treasurer. Harold and Evelyn Dutcher, Harold’s high school sweetheart were part of the five member Class Day Committee. Evelyn was listed as “Ever Dutiful” and Harold was deemed as a “Handy Gentleman”. Kenneth Dutcher, a distant cousin of Evelyn’s, evidently did not enjoy academics as much and graduated in the lower half of the 52 member 1920 graduating class. His senior year moniker was “Knof Done’!

  • Page 1 of Graduation Exercises June 22, 1920

Evelyn Dutcher saved local Gloversville newspaper articles on the high school graduation. Although the Commencement exercises program listed 52 students of the graduating class, the newspaper clipping indicate 56 graduated in 1920 and 25 students had a grade point average over 80. Both Harold and Evelyn were on the honor list of graduates. Evelyn received a ‘Classical’ degree and had a grade average of 87.4 while Harold received a Commercial degree and had a grade average of 84.7. Evelyn was the top in the class in terms of the number of ‘academic counts’ of courses taken in her four years of her high school career. She also received honors providing the best senior recitation.

Newspaper clippings from a scrapbook of Evelyn Dutcher, 1920. Click to Enlarge.

Evelyn was the top in the class in terms of the number of ‘academic counts’ of courses taken in her four years of her high school career with 97 and Harold was top among the commercial degree graduates with 87.

Gloversville High School 120 Graduates, Source: Scrapbook of Evelyn Dutcher Griffis, click for larger view.
Harold Griffis, High School Graduation, Source: Scrapbook of Evelyn Dutcher Griffis, 1920, click for larger view.
Evelyn Dutcher, 1920 High School graduation photograph. Click for larger view.
Evelyn Dutcher, high school senior photograph 1925. Source: Personal scrapbook of Evelyn Dutcher Griffis. Click for enlarged view.

The photo below captured 21 of the 24 young men that graduated in 1920. Harold is the fifth person from the left.

The boys of 1920 Gloversville graduation class, 21 of the 24 young men that graduated. Source: Evelyn Dutcher personal scrapbook. Click for larger view.
Evelyn Dutcher second on the left, 1925. Source: Evelyn Dutcher personal scrapbook. Click for larger view.
Class of 1920 Gloversville High School Class Photograph. Harold is left center of the photograph in the center; Evelyn Dutcher is in the lower right hand corner of the female graduates. Click for enlarged view.

Having decided to become a minister while he was in high school, he realized the need to obtain a college degree. In his post high school graduate year he was tutored by his high school sweetheart, Evelyn Theresa Dutcher, to take the required college entrance exams to enter college. While Harold was working, Evelyn went on to teacher’s college immediately after they both graduated from high school.

The following are three postcards of the Gloversville YMCA circa 1920 where harold worked for a year before he went to college.

  • Gloversville YMCA Postcard 1920s
    Gloversville YMCA Postcard 1920s

Freshman Year

With Evelyn’s help, Harold passed the college entrance exams. Harold applied and was accepted to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Wesleyan Student Body 1921-1922. Click for enlarged view.

To see where Harold Griffis is in this panoramic photo click for the enlarged view of this photo:

Harold as a freshman with the Wesleyan University ‘frosh’ hat 1921. Click for larger view.
Harold sleeping at Sigma Nu Fraternity House, source: Evelyn Dutcher Griffis personal scrapbook. Click for larger view.
Harold Griffis, Madison, Connecticut April 22-23, 1922. Source: Evelyn Dutcher Griffis scrapbook. Click for enlarged viewed.

Sophomore Year

All the college students – Wesleyan University 1922 – 1923 Click for larger view.

It is challenging to figure out where Harold Griffis is in this photo, here is a copy of the photo which identifies where Harold is in the photo.

Also a section of the photo provides a glimpse of Harold in the group photo.

Letter from Charles Griffis to Harold Griffis while at college. Click for larger view.
Sophomore Class Wesleyan University. Harold is in the top row fifth from the left. Source: 1923 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1923, Page 97. Click for enlarged view.
Oxford Club 1922-23
Oxford Club, Wesleyan University 1922-1923. Harold is in the first row on the right. Click for enlarged view. Source: Scrapbook of Evelyn Dutcher Griffis

Junior Year

The annual panorama photograph of the entire student body of Wesleyan University for the 1923-1924 school year, Harold’s Junior year. The three photographs scan the student body from left, middle and right. Harold is in the right portion of the panorama, second top row on the extreme left, partially cut on the left hand frame of the photo.

Source: 1924 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1924, Page 51. Click for enlarged view.
Source: 1924 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1924, Page 52. Click for enlarged view.
Source: 1924 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1924, Page 53. Click for enlarged view.
There’s Harold! Click for larger view.
The Junior class of 1923-192, Harold is in middle next to the gentleman with the “W” sweater. Source: 1924 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1924, Page 100. Click for larger view.

The following is a postcard that Harold sent at the beginning of his Junior year in college on September 19, 1923 to his Aunt Kate Sperber. Kate Sperber was a sister of Ida Sperber, Harold’s mother.

Post Card of Sigma Nu Wesleyan University 1923
Postcard Harold Griffis sent to his Aunt Kate. The arrow indicates where his room his in the frat house. Click for enlarged view.
Post Card of Sigma Nu Backside Wesleyan University 1923
Backside of postcard with short note Aunt Kate. Click for enlarged view.
Harold Griffis is in the middle of the middle row. Source: 1924 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1924, Page 228.. Click for enlarged view.
Harold Griffis is in the bottom row, second to the right. Source: 1924 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1924, Page 242. Click for enlarged view.

Senior Year

Alas, the student body panorama photograph was not documented in the yearbook when Harold graduated.

The following are photographs of a hiking trip with Evelyn and friends to Mountain Lake on July 4th, 1924, in between Harold’s junior and senior year.

  • Hike to Mountain Lake July 4, 1924
    Hike to Mountain Lake July 4, 1924
Senior class photograph and yearbook senior class photograph, source: 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925, Page 75 Click for enlarged view.
1925 Senior Class, Wesleyan University. Harold Griffis is in the last row second from the left with his graduation cap on. 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925, Page . Click for enlarged view.

Harold was President of the Oxford Club in his senior year. He was also a cabinet member of the Christian Association.

1925 Oxford Club, Source: 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925 Click for enlarged view.

In the early 1900’s, Typhoid Fever was still a formidable disease. Its presence in the United States was reflected in Harold’s senior year yearbook in a poem (below). Typhoid fever is no longer a household word in America. However, during Harold’s school years, the disease frequently broke out in epidemic form. [1] The disease is characterized by a persistently high fever, rash, generalized pains, headache and severe abdominal discomfort that can lead to intestinal bleeding and even death. Ten percent of those who got the disease a century ago died.

Source: Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, Healthy Water, Incidence of Ty[hoid Fever, by Year – United States 1920 – 1960, Page updated 24 Aug 2012, page accessed 20 Mar 2021. 
1925 Senior Class, Wesleyan University. Harold Griffis is in the last row second from the left with his graduation cap on. 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925, Page 280 . Click for enlarged view.
Senior Class Wesleyan University 1925, Harold is in the middle of the second top row with glasses. Senior Class Photo 1925, Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, photo was cropped in PDF version of the yearbook. 1925 Olla Podrida, Wesleyan University, Middletown, 1925, Page 60 Click for larger view.

Sigma Nu Fraternity

Harold Griffis’ Sigma Nu Fraternity Card, Click for enlarged view.

Harold, as with many of the Wesleyan University students joined a Fraternity during his four year stay at college. He joined the Sigma Nu Fraternity which had recently established a local chapter at Wesleyan in 1920. Each fraternity had their group personality: some were party goers, others were the athletes of the college, and others were scholars.

Sigma Nu (ΣΝ) is an undergraduate college fraternity founded at the Virginia Military Institute on January 1, 1869. The fraternity’s values are summarized as an adherence to the principles of love, honor, and truth. [2]

Harold’s Fraternity Paddle. Original object 20 inches by 4 inches with signature of Fraternity brothers. Click for larger view.
“Gaylord”: A charcoal caricature of Harold’s son James D. Griffis while he was a college student at Wesleyan University. Click for enlarged view.

The Sigma Nu fraternity’s collective identity was captured in a poem, entitled De Fraternitatibus, in the 1925 Wesleyan University yearbook, Harold’s senior year. Evidently, the Sigma Nu boys were known to be tee totalers yet a happy bunch and stuck to college rules and received good grades.

It is interesting to note that the third last stanza of the poem describes the character of another fraternity DKE, Delta Kappa Epsilon. One of Harold’s sons, James Dutcher Griffis, also went to Wesleyan University. Given his personality as a gregarious, athletic, party-loving individual, much different than his father Harold, young James entered the DKE fraternity in the early 1950’s. It appears that the DKE house did not change since the early 1920’s. “They loved to dance, were broad minded in their views, and had a cool disdain on temperance”.

Source: 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925, Page 262 Click for larger view.
Source: 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925, Page 263 Click for larger view.

Below are photographs of Sigma Nu that were in a personal scrapbook compiled by Evelyn Dutcher, the photographs were taken around 1922.

  • This aint natural
    This aint natural
Sigma Nu Fraternity 1923, Harold was a sophomore. Source: 1923 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1923 Click for larger view.
Weslyan Sigma Nu Fraternity House 1922
Sigma Nu Boys Reading the Paper – Harold on the left 1925; Source: Evelyn Dutcher Griffis, Scrapbook. Click for enlarged view.
Sigma Nu 1923-1924, Wesleyan University. Source: Evelyn Dutcher Griffis personal scrapbook. Harold is in the third row, fourth from the right. Click for enlarged view.
Sigma Nu Fraternity in front of their house, freshman year for Harold Griffis 1921-1922, Source: 1922 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1922, page 151  Click for larger view.
On the steps of Sigma Nu Feb 1925
Harold Griffis on the steps of the Sigma Nu Fraternity House, February 1925. Click for enlarged view.
Sigma Nu Boys Wesleyan University
Sigma Nu Boys 1925, Harold Griffis is in the middle of the third row. Click for enlarged view.
1925 Sigma Nu Members, Source 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925 Click for enlarged view.
Harold Griffis in the top row with friends in 1925. Click for larger view.

College and Beyond

Harold and Evelyn began dating the last two years at Gloversville High School. Evelyn Dutch graduated from the New York State college for Teachers, Albany , New York in 1924. She went back to Gloversville and taught Latin at Johnstown High School for one year. [3]

During his sophomore year at college, Harold applied to the Troy Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church to be accepted and ordained as a Deacon. He obtained a Local Preacher’s License, signed by the Fremont Quarterly Conference of Troy Annual Conference, held in Gloversville March 11, 1920.

March 11, 1920, Local Preacher’s License for Harold Griffis, click for larger view.

After Harold’s graduation, they were married on Harold’s birthday June 29, 1926. After their wedding, they immediately left for Harold’s pastoral duties initially at a church in Jonesville, New York. He then began his career as a pastor for the Methodist Episcopal Churches in Jonesville and Grooms, New York. His father Charles Griffis passed away on September 21, 1926.

1926 was a year of many milestones for young Harold and Evelyn: marriage, Harold starting his career as a pastor and the loss of his father’; for Evelyn, ending a brief teaching career after graduating from college and devoting her attention to her role as a pastor’s wife.

Evelyn and Harold 1925
Evelyn and Harold in 1925. The photograph was taken at Evelyn Dutcher’s house in Gloversville. Source: Evelyn Dutcher Griffis personal scrapbook. Click for larger view.

Photographs on their Wedding Day

This is a photo of Harold and Evelyn’s wedding day. Harold and Evelyn are peeking out of the window behind their parents and Aunt Kate Sperber. Left to right: Aunt Kate, Ida Sperber Griffis, Charles Griffis Mary Jane Platts Dutcher, Squire Dutcher, click for larger view.
Evelyn and Harold on their wedding day, Charles Griffis is on the porch looking on, June 29, 1926, click for larger view.
Bernice Dutcher, Evelyn’s cousin, Evelyn, Harold, Russell Lane, Bernice’s future husband, Charles Griffis is on the porch on the right.. Click for larger view.

Sources

The featured image is a panorama of all the students at Wesleyan University for the school year 1922-1923, from 1923 Olla Podrida, Annual College Yearbook, Wesleyan University, Middletown CT, 1923 , page 43. Harold Griffis was a sophomore. To view the entire photo click here.

[1] DiBacco, Thomas, When Typhoid was Dreaded, Washington Post, January 25, 1994

[2] Sigma Nu (ΣΝ) , Wikipedia, Page paced on 12 Feb 2021, was last updated 27 Nov 2020

[3] Letter of Recommendation from E. L Ackley, Superintendent, Johnstown Public schools, Johnstown, New York, March 3, 1930

Letter of Recommendation from E.L. Ackley. Click for larger view.

Photograph sources:

  • Dutcher, Evelyn, Personal scrapbooks
  • Family photgraphs
  • 1922 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1922
  • 1923 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1923
  • 1924 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1924
  • 1925 Yearbook, Olla Podrida, Middletown: Wesleyan University, 1925

How I Began My Journey

While I often wondered where various branches of my family were from, pondered who a given individual was, my attention to family research did not start until I was drawn to a piece of paper that my father had placed into a simple frame.

Photograph of Civil War Discharge Paper of William Griffis
William J Griffis – Civil War Discharge Paper

The piece of paper was the Civil War discharge paper of my great-great-grandfather William Griffis. (Click on image to the right to see larger view.) My father had the one page discharge document in a simple wooden frame. He had the frame prominently displayed over the fireplace mantle along with William’s civil war musket. The musket still functions mechanically and has the ramrod and bayonet.

None of my living relatives knew anything about William Griffis. One of his sons, Charles Arthur Griffis, died when my grandfather was in his twenties. While details of William and Charles may have been known by my grandfather Harold Griffis, the stories and historical detail of William’s life dissolved in our family’s collective memory. My father’s generation and my generation knew little of William.

After completing college, starting a family and working, I came back to this simple framed document one day while visiting my parents and decided it needed to be professionally framed. As a gift to my father, I got the document framed to ensure its preservation. It was then that I started to think about what actually was contained on this one piece of paper.

The document contained a wealth of information about William and provided a starting point to isolate additional information about his life and family. William J. Griffis enlisted in the Union infantry at the age of 16. After three years and a little over a month of Civil War duty he was discharged in Savannah, Georgia as a First Sergeant at the age of 19. He was an infantryman of Company ‘A’ of the 153rd Regiment of the New York State volunteers. There is an October 16, 1865 stamp for bounty paid and a June 28, 1866 stamp for an additional bounty of $10.00.

The discharge paper also states that William was born in Mayfield, New York. He was five foot eight inches tall of light complexion with blue eyes and dark hair. He was a laborer when he enrolled in the service.

This whetted my appetite for more information and set the wheels in motion. This one piece of paper provided an initial glimpse of William James Griffis as a person. I knew where he was born. It gave me an approximate birth date. It gave me a glimpse of what he did for a living. It gave hints of his experience in the Civil War. The discharge paper provided an open door for future research on William and his family.

In the early 1990’s, many of the records now conveniently found on the internet were still not scanned and catalogued by many of the ancestry internet companies. You had to physically visit county, state and Federal buildings to access and view documents.

There are two moments that I vividly remember when I started to focus my efforts with family research that capture the thrill of doing historical research. 

The first moment involved a trip to the Adirondack region of New York.  I was in route to attend one of my cousin’s weddings in the summer. I decided to stop at Johnstown, the county seat of Fulton county where I knew William was born.  Johnstown still has a small town feel with wide main streets and store front shops.  I entered the county office and asked if they had historical records.  With a smile the clerk said ‘step through the swing gate and follow me’. She led me to a room that had open windows that let the summer breeze into the room. She pointed to these huge racks that housed hard bound books three inches thick with two foot by three foot pages.  These were the original New York census books.  Each page contained handwritten lines that detailed how the census taker walked down country farm land streets and recorded each name in a household, their respective ages, and roles.  In addition, a tally was made on how many pigs, cows, and horses might be on a given farm.  At the beginning of each section for a town, it was noted what the weather was like for that particular year.  Turning pages this large and then discovering a Griffis family was utterly amazing to me.  I discovered William’s family when he was a child.  I now had leads on who his father and siblings were.  I also discovered a few pages later, which implied a few farm houses down the road for the census taker,  an older Daniel Griffis and a William Griffis an age close to William’s father’s age, with other family members.  I could only surmise in such a small town of Mayfield that these two households were related.   I made copies of a few of these huge pages and took notes and left for the wedding.  I thought it was amazing that these huge ledgers were merely residing in this back room in Johnstown, New York and anyone had access to them.

The second moment involved my visiting the National Archives. Based on my job, I was spending a lot of time working in our nation’s capital.  Oftentimes I was taking the metro to the National Archive metro stop to attend meetings in office buildings in the area.  It dawned on me that the National Archives housed the records of civil war veterans.  So one day at lunch I went into the National Archives to locate William Griffis’ military and pension records.  The main area of the archives is cavernous, a secular version of a church. Everyone is quiet, speaking in hushed tones and viewing documents.   Sunlight is coming in through high windows and casting light on card file cabinets and desks.  Sounds echoed in the main area. 

I looked up William’s pension record numbers and wrote the information down on a record request form and presented it to a records clerk.  I was told to come back the next day to view the files.  The next day I came in and presented my request document.  The clerk left and then came back with a brown envelope that contained a folder that was more than an inch thick, with legal sized papers along with smaller sized files. The folder had William Griffis’ name on it. This folder has been sitting in the archives for over a 100 years. I sat at an examining table and went through and turned each of the pages of original documents.  There were military pay records, written affidavits by William and his wife (after he passed away) on issues regarding  requests for pension assistance. There were medical examinations to prove disability.  I held and read hand written letters from William on his military experiences.  Words were often spelled phonetically in the letters, reflecting the few years of education he had growing up in Mayfield, New York. I was beginning to ‘see’ or envision a person reflected in these pages.  I was just awestruck by the amount information I had access to as well as the fact that all of these documents have been preserved. I ended up getting his file copied. On subsequent trips I was able to obtain pension files for other relatives who served in the civil war, the war of 1812 and the revolutionary war.  

Research room at the National Archives

Today, many of these records have been digitalized and accessible through commercial companies that provide subscriptions to access records through the internet. In some ways it is easier to access information. In other ways, the visceral experience of unearthing these documents in their element is missing. The process of discovery is the same whether you find new information on the internet or by unearthing a file or physical record. But the vividness of physical place and time, the tactile nature of touching old documents … that is something different.

In subsequent stories I will provide information from his military pension records that I was able to review at the National Archives and information gleaned from various U.S. and New York state census.

For more information on the Civil War musket, see this page.