Finding faces from 84 years ago

“Glee Club,” 1930s, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library

My latest exercise in madness has been an effort to index all the images on the Virginia Glee Club History Wiki. In doing so, I took the opportunity to link images to their sources where I could and to find some more context, including trying to identify individuals in photos. Which brings me to the photo above.

There might be no more momentous photo from the early years of the Glee Club. It’s one of the better photos of legendary Club conductor Harry Rogers Pratt (conductor from 1933 to 1943), a showman who took the group to New York City, got them their first radio gigs, and instituted the Concert on the Lawn, among other achievements. And just over his left shoulder, eyes closed, is one of the more famous Glee Club alums, at least to UVA graduates, Ernest Mead. The two professors together had about 80 years of teaching UVA students between them.

But who were the other students with them? I decided to find out. Thankfully Corks and Curls came to the rescue.

The man on the left is the easiest guess. Since Mead was only in the Glee Club in 1936-1937, that narrowed the field, and my first guess proved correct. Say hello to Mac—or McDonald Wellford, president during that year. The only reason I was able to make the identification was thanks to a fraternity brother, Mr. Bosher, who donated photographs to the UVA online exhibit “100 Years on the Lawn” (sadly, the exhibit is no longer available and was not archived. Boo!) Wellford, like many a Glee Club alum, went on to practice law, and was the commissioner of accounts for the chancery court and the circuit court of the City of Richmond from 1963 to 1994.

After that it gets a little squirrelly, but thanks to Corks and Curls I was finally able to identify the other two men. Next to Mac stands Chester Harris Robbins, of Worcester, Massachusetts, who sang in the Glee Club from 1933 to 1937.

And at the end is the distinctive visage of Kenneth Seaman Giniger, who had the most colorful career of any of the alums. While a student, he instituted the Jefferson Society’s Woodrow Wilson Memorial Banquet, with guests including five US senators, the University’s president, a Supreme Court justice, and the governor of Virginia, to say nothing of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson (Edith Bolling Wilson), who was elected as an honorary member of the Society by the end of the evening, the first woman to be so honored. After serving in World War II, Giniger became the assistant to the director of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency in 1951-1952. And then he went into publishing, forming the K.S. Giniger Company and writing inspirational books. He might be the only person to receive both the French Legion of Honor and the Norman Vincent Peale Award for Positive Thinking.

So, quite a gathering in one unassuming photo!

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