L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e ~ D o s t o ï e v s k i

L a - b e a u t é - s a u v e r a - l e - m o n d e  ~  D o s t o ï e v s k i

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Elizabeth Pennington Foster, Oak Hall School 1929-30, and Carleton College, 1931-32

Circa 1929.

January 1, 1930. Wausau, Wednesday. Horace came down for New Year's. Both Homer and Pete had to leave Thursday morning so I had two dates tonight. Rode around in the car.  /  June 14, 1930. Saturday. Left Marion's house for Chicago early 4:30, arrived in Chicago and went to Mrs. Rockefeller McCormick's garden party. Had one grand spree with Homer Chevrier.

In a small white envelope that I have, on which is written in my grandmother's hand, "Carleton - Univ. Minn. Oak Hall", are twenty-nine small photographs. None over two-and-a-half by four inches, most two by three inches, they are prints made at the end of the Twenties and beginning of the Thirties and saved in this envelope by my grandmother. (My mother's mother, with whom I was always very close; I've written of her here before.) They are random pictures of her, of her beau at the time, and of some roommates/classmates, taken while she attended Oak Hall School, a school for "young ladies" in her hometown of St. Paul, and Carleton College, a private, liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota.

Oak Hall School, 590 Holly Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Outside of Oak Hall.

October 17, 1930. Saturday. Took Ernest Kohlsaat to the Ladies Invitation Dance here at Carleton. Had such fun with him. He's a dear.  /  October 27, 1930. Monday. We're all quarantined in Northfield. Infantile Paralysis has set in here; Bob Nasan just died of it and we're all so scared. 

I also have her diary, sporadically kept, for the years 1930 to 1932. (The first page records her favorite perfumes at the time: "Renaud Paris, Orchidée 1817; Le Dandy d'Orsay; Toujours Moi - Corday, Paris") So wonderful for me to read the thoughts - well, a record of activities, mostly - of my eighteen- to twenty-year-old grandmother, this young girl I never could have known. She mentions her parents - I well knew her mother, my great-grandmother Hazel - her friends, the boys she went out with - particularly an "Ernie" - the movies she saw, the parties.

At Carleton College, on a bridge on the campus' Lower Lyman Lake.
With "Ernie", who would graduate from Carleton.

December 27, 1930. Saturday. The party was quite a success. Pete spiked the punch. We hired a vic[trola] from Wright's elec.[trical] and it was keen. We rolled up the rugs for dancing.  /  January 13, 1931. Tuesday. Ernie and I had a date. Ernie, while pulling up his garter, asked me if he didn't think we ought to be engaged. Told him I'd have to think it over very seriously!  

Evans Hall - only built in 1927 - can be seen in the background.

January 30, 1931. Friday. Had lunch with Phebe. Shopped all day. Bought things for mother. Bought a skirt and top-coat of green and a blue dress with fur on. Had a date with Ernie.  /  February 7, 1931. Saturday. Went to a no-date dance tonight. I had a lot of fun. I'm falling for Ernie. I do like him and maybe I love him.

On the back of this picture, in my grandmother's handwriting, "Ernest Kohlsaat Jr".
(I don't know who the woman is in this photograph; maybe his sister?
I'm actually only including this because of Ernie's terrific plus-fours.)
With friends/classmates at Carleton. My grandmother is in the back, far left.
The same as above. My grandmother is just the sliver at far right.

April 22, 1931. Wednesday. A bunch of us girls went to see "Strangers May Kiss" with Norma Shearer - very good movie.  /  June 4, 1931. Thursday. Studied all morning like the devil for History. It was a devilish one and I was scared stiff.

At Carleton. Two of the girls in the above images.
Ernie, again. (I don't know how or when their relationship ended.)
Handsome, rather than pretty, my grandmother always had a lovely figure.

June 7, 1931. Sunday. Got up early and Ernie and I went in swimming. Boy, it was chill. Left for home about 5:00. Took Ernie home.  /  December 2, 1931. Wednesday. My birthday, twenty. Ernie gave me a lovely black and silver bracelet. It's stunning! Susie, a lovely pair of hose.

What isn't to be found in this diary, is a record of what happened soon after the diary trails off. I'm not sure how long my grandmother was at Carleton because I've never known exactly what year the following occurred. But, as I understand it, her charming, dashing father - whom she adored - had embezzled money from his employer. It was discovered, but he was talked back into his job due to the efforts of his formidable wife, the aforementioned Hazel. But then he did it again. And then one day he just disappeared; to this day, we've never been able to discover what became of him.

She always described her time at Carleton as the happiest of her young life. She was studying art and design - for which she had a brilliant aptitude - was well-off, attractive, and popular; she envisioned a bright, creative future ahead of her. Instead, she was forced to leave school under shameful circumstances - unable to afford the tuition now, anyway - and returned home to her embittered mother. I don't really know what she did after that, in those few years before she married my grandfather in August of 1936. But I know she always mourned the loss of her father - the thought of him and his uncertain, no doubt unhappy fate would bring tears to her eyes, seventy some years later - always felt her creative ambitions had been thwarted, always sadly wondered "what might have been". She always spoke of Carleton almost as one would a lost lover.

My grandmother was born December 2, 1911, one hundred and three years ago, today.


Going through my grandmother's things after her death, I found and kept this small mother-of-pearl brooch. Of a not terribly refined make, I assumed it was one of the items she found when she ran a little import business later in life.

But then, looking at these pictures a while back, I realized that she had worn the brooch back in her Carleton days; it's quite easy to see it in most of the pictures in the group that was taken that day out on Lyman Lake with Ernest Kohlsaat.


Oak Hall School, which was closed in 1940, still stands today, as apartments.
One of the two footbridges on Lower Lyman Lake at Carleton.
This, or an identical bridge nearby, is where my grandmother and Ernie posed for the series of photographs included here.


  1. how lovely to have the photographs and diary together - plus the broach!!
    Such an intriguing story- thanks for sharing it with us. The makings of a great movie there!

  2. Hi! Came across your blog. What fun! My parents currently own the apartment buildings which used to be Oak Hall School in St. Paul, MN.

    We have a few of the yearbooks from the school days -- 1926, 1927, & 1928. Would your grandmother have a different last name than "Foster" if she was at the school any of these years we have books? I could look her up if you'd like.

    Cheers, Alisa

    1. How cool! She only went by Elizabeth Foster, but she wasn't at the school that early, Alisa. Only 1929 and 30 it seems. Too bad.... Thanks so much for asking though. And so good to know the building still survives and is being cared for. : )

  3. He l l o,
    Ernie was my uncle. His Father owned Bullard Brothers Jewelers. The store was located downtown St. Paul. The pin possibly could have been a gift from him. Ernie then took over the store for his Father. I came across your blog while searching for ancestry info. Do you still have relatives in St. Paul? I worked with a lovely woman who was the science teacher at a local preschool. That would be a interesting coincidence.
    I loved these photos! I was so surprised to see my uncle with your beautiful Grandma. I feel like the woman was either Ernie's Grandmother or a relative, because she looks like my Grandmother (his Mother).
    Thank you for sharing these!
    N. B. Kohlsaat

    1. So nice to hear from you, N. B. It's possible I have distant relatives in the St. Paul area, but I don't think so; I think my grandmother's people all moved away from the area, and she was an only child. What more can you tell me about your uncle? Did he have a happy life? I'd love to know more about him. : )

      I think the woman in the photograph with your uncle looks like someone around his age - I think her face is just scrunched up from the sun - did he have a sister?

    2. I just now saw an old newspaper scan online that announced the wedding in January 1920 of Ernest W. Kohlsaat, "Treasurer of Bullard Brothers" to Miss Marjorie Bullard; so he married into the business. These must be Ernie's parents - and your grandparents?