MIT class of 1920: A gift in my email

image This image is a gift, one I received in an email. My cousin sent it to me a couple of weeks back. Subject line: “Grandma Joe* Graduation Photo.” She went to MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology – and graduated in 1920.

I have Grandma’s letters that she received when she was at MIT, and one or two photos from that time, but this unexpected one is a beaut.

click to enlarge

[Welcome, BoingBoingers & followers of @Xeni!
Stats about early MIT below; or maybe you’d be interested in a foto essay of my other, non-techy Grandma and her 1924 climb of Mt Rainier when she was 23 years old.]

Of the 40 people in this photo, Florence, also known as Flossie (upper right)—is the only woman. The photo arrived in email all by itself. The only clues were the file name and the subject line. Other than knowing that Flossie graduated from MIT in 1920, I don’t know much else about this photo. But one good gift leads to another.

I went hunting to see what I could find about the size of the graduating class. MIT Archives to the rescue! The MIT Reports to the President—with reports of student enrollment—extends back nearly 100 years (earliest online version: 1911). To find out about 1920, I looked at the 1921 report (for end of 1920, published at the beginning of 1921).

Is this the entire graduating class of 1920? No. The report of the registrar reveals some—but not all—answers to questions about the photo.

For the 1920 year, the registrar’s report states that there were 480 students registered in the fourth year. Another table listing graduates by years and courses (that is, by major) says that 248 graduated in 1920.

Were the 40 people in this photo classmates in Flossie’s department of Electrochemical engineering? Since only 8 degrees were conferred in 1920, I don’t think so. Maybe it’s a combination of her course of study and another one? I don’t know.

Three other items of note:

Enrollment of women:

Here’s the table showing the enrollment of women at MIT. I’ve highlighted the one woman studying Electrochemical engineering—that’s Flossie. Look at the other areas where women study. More women studying architecture and biology/public health than the other sciences.

MIT enrollment of women

Students from Montana:

The registrar has tables breaking down the student population by location. When Flossie first enrolled at MIT in 1916, she was the only person from thes state of Montana. Montana-based enrollment increased from that point. Did Flossie influence others to apply and attend MIT? Possibly. Of the letters from Great-Grandma to her daughter at MIT, there are admonitions to “be sure to visit so-and-so when they come to Cambridge”—perhaps some of those mention those who came to Massachusetts to attend MIT?.


I look at this photo as a Californian in an area with a sizeable population of Asian descent. I don’t give a second thought to seeing so many asian faces in a group photo at a technical educational institution. Oh, those are Asian-Americans attending school. But this is on the other coast, and 91 years ago. The registrar’s report sets me straight. Mostly.

The number of foreign students continues to increase. The first three countries named in the order of the number of students they sent to the Institute last year are China with 40, and Canada and Norway each sending 38. The total from all the countries is 205 or about seven per cent of the student body. Thirty-two countries are represented by our foreign students.

So there you have it. A gift of a photo that leads to a treasure trove of statistical information about MIT, and some hints and morsels hidden in tables about my grandmother’s career when she attended there.

*What’s with the Joe in Grandma Joe? When my cousins were younger, they’d talk to Grandma, and she’d answer them and say, “Well, Joe, here’s what you do.” (or something to that effect). So they took to calling her Joe, and named that set of grandparents Grandpa Joe and Grandma Joe.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 10, 2009 in • Letters in the AtticPersonal HistoryPhotographs
4 CommentsPermalink

« Previous Dad Memorial Scanfest, part 2: How we used the images | Genealogy Jamboree in Burbank (June 2009) Next »


What a wonderful photograph and post about your grandmother.  I like how you explained the way(s) you found more information about the photograph.  Thank you. —Nancy.

Nancy M.  on 12/24  at  10:16 PM

A special lady of her time. My wife recently identified a cousin who became a lawyer about this time, as well. They were there, and led the way for my daughters and many others. Thanks for sharing the photo and the stats - great story!

You made me SMILE!

Bill wink
Author of “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

Bill Smith  on 12/27  at  07:25 PM

hey susan i just randomly found this this is really interesting and every time i try to look for the kitchens family history photos well i always find a part of us the KITCHEN!!!

sydney kitchens  on 04/06  at  07:01 PM

Hey Sydney, if you want to see some Kitchens family photos, go to this post to see a story about your great-grandmother when she was young. 

thanks for stopping by!


Susan A. Kitchens  on 04/07  at  10:56 AM

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