. . . Summer 2001
A Jewish Student from New Jersey, Harold Herman Wrote Home Often,
and his Letters Reflect Campus Life in the World War I Era.
Harold as a boy with his father, Abraham Herman.
By Joan Elmouchi
Photos courtesy Joan Elmouchi
In the autumn of 1917 a small group of young men journeyed halfway across the country from Bayonne, New Jersey to Ann Arbor to begin college life at the University of Michigan. They called themselves the "Bayonne Boys." Among them was my grandfather, Harold Herman.
Harold was a prodigious letter-writer, penning detailed letters to his father and stepmother back in New Jersey. He told them everything about his new life, from the cost and menus of his meals to descriptions of the clothes he wore. He was often pleading for money, complaining about the high cost of living in Ann Arbor. His first surviving letter, from October of 1917, is twelve pages long. Harold's revealing letters leave an invaluable and fascinating record of Jewish student life during the early part of the century.
Harold was the son of Abraham Herman, who manufactured and sold cloth caps and hats. His mother, Anna Gold Herman, died when Harold was only three. With his father traveling extensively for business, Harold was raised by his Aunt Bertha and Uncle Henry Schindler, who had no children of their own. When Harold was 13 his father married Clara Loeb; their union produced two daughters.
Aunt Bertha Schindler, who raised Harold from the age of 3 to 12, when Harold's widowed father remarried.
Harold accompanies his father, perhaps on a sales trip. Abraham manufactured and sold cloth caps and hats.
Arriving in Ann Arbor, Harold found lodgings in Mrs. Wilson's boarding house, sharing a room with his Bayonne friend Ripps. Extremely close to his family despite his unusual upbringing, in his first surviving letter home the homesick freshman wrote:
I have a little complaint to make and that is that the letters I receive from home are not near as equal to those I send you. I tell you everything and that takes about two hours. Just as you are anxious to know all about me, I am doubly anxious to know all about you and the family. So far I received only one letter that I call satisfactory. I sent postals to friends and the whole family. Not one answer have I received and I feel pretty sore about it too.
Although his family soon began to correspond in kind, Harold's entreaties for long, newsy letters continued throughout his four years at Michigan.
The original Bayonne Boys. Top (l-r) A. Kenigson, N.H. Lavine, B.M.A. Kline, M. Halperin. Middle: S.P. Epstein, M.L. Ripps. Bottom: H. Herman, J.L. Abramson, S. Swersky, P. Slomovitz (Re: Phil Slomovitz, see 'The Little Giant', by John Woodford, Dec. 1993 issue). By 1921 the club had 26 members.
Harold's initial financial arrangement called for a stipend of $10 a week for room and board, books, clothing and all other incidentals. He quickly found this insufficient, although his friends from Bayonne thought it qualified him as "a rich man's son." Rapidly running out of funds, Harold explained:
The only thing that is different from the other boys and myself is the price of eating. I pay $5.60 for 14 meals and an average of $7.00 for 21 meals a week, while they pay $3.25 to $3.50 a week for 14 meals. The difference is I eat kosher and they eat trief [non-Kosher food]. I am the only Bayonne boy eating "kosher" at the college.
Laundry posed another problem. In his first letter home, an unprepared
Harold wrote, "Write me what to do with my laundry as it is collecting rapidly. Many students send theirs home in special cases which are sold here." Indeed, Harold continued to send some of his dirty laundry all the way to New Jersey for his stepmother to wash!
(Left to right) 'Van' Ripps, Harold Herman and Dave RacoosinBayonne Boys.
In his first semester Harold took 15 hours of class work: a history lecture and recitation, geology excursions and laboratory, and seven and a half hours of military training.
All together I have 27 hours a week of work that I have to report to and can't be absent from. If absent from these hourswell, the idea is that you can't be absent without losing credit and being marked down and losing some work. This is college and not high school. So far I wasn't late nor absent (knock wood). No one tells you to comeno one pushes you or threatens you. But it's peculiar, you come yourself and you hurry about it too.
If the academic discipline of college was a revelation, there was still more to come:
The question is, how much home study is required for these 15 college hours. The general rule that exists in the university among the faculty and students is for every hour of college work there should be at least two hours home study. That makes it thirty hours a week. But how about if you don't get your work completed in thirty hours? Well, the only thing to do is to work until you do get it even if it takes you the whole day and night. The professors expect the work done and if you haven't got it that's your fault. This is the greatest point where high school and college differ.
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