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September 8, 2014 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham Mystery: Schoolhouse German


“Schoolhouse German” c. 1893-94
Courtesy Sarah Forsyth Donnelly and Small Special Collections, University of Virginia

Following the Slate River Ramblings post on August 28th, Buckingham Mystery: Axtell Academy, several readers offered their thoughts about the photo’s caption, “Schoolhouse German.”

In the 1890s, a Cotillion or a “German” was a popular dance.  In Virginia, the term persisted through the 20th century, referring to a party with dancing rather than to a specific style of dance.  Margaret Thomas commented, “Nearby University of Virginia had a German Club dating back to the late 1800’s and sponsored dances which became known as ‘Germans.’ Virginia Tech’s German Club still sponsors a “Midwinter German.”

According to social historian Elizabeth Aldrich, “The dance was introduced in New York about the year 1844.  At the time the quadrille was a fashionable dance, but was known as the cotillion.  To make a distinction between that and this dance, which was called the ‘German Cotillion,’ gradually the word cotillion was dropped, the dance became simply ‘The German.’”

White frocks may have been an integral part of many “Germans.” Slate River Ramblings reader Mary Carolyn Mitton remembers, “In the 1950s, at Radford College, on the Saturday afternoon before the dance, the women dressed in white ball-styled gowns and walked in columns down into a sunken gathering area, west of Madame Russell Hall.”

The young ladies, gathered at Axtell, are appropriately dressed for a summer dance. Are the shadowy figures, inside the building, their eager partners?  Why young Logan Bruns (b. August 20, 1889) was included in the photo is anyone’s guess.  Fortunately, his birth date helps date the image.

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