26 January 2013

Noel's Account of Crossing Canada in 1931 - Audio

When I first wrote about Noel's crossing through Canada on his way to the YMCA conferences in Toronto and Cleveland, I didn't remember that I had more first-person information about the trip to share.

In 1982, when I was only 12, I made an audio tape of my grandfather, Noel, recounting some family history, including a story about his trip through Canada with the Hawaiian delegation on the way to the YMCA conferences.

It's been a learning process for me to get the recording off the cassette tape and into a digitized format that I can share, but I'm finally finished with it.

So, below is a YouTube video link of Noel telling the story, plus a transcript of the recording. I hope you find it interesting.

Noel: "In 1931 when I came over to America, when we arrived in Honolulu, about 30 young Hawaiian boys got on the boat. They were going to the World Conferences of YMCAs in Toronto and Cleveland. And so, I being by myself, I joined them. And, they were singing Hawaiian songs and everything on the boat from Hawaii to Vancouver.

"And, when we got to Vancouver, I stayed at the same hotels they stayed at. We were invited to a basket-- a baseball game and we sang at intermission -- at half time we sang Hawaiian songs in the stands.

"And then, we traveled on the same train, the Canadian Pacific into the Rockies, and I traveled with them. And we sang in the First Class section to amuse the First Class people on the train. And we got into the observation cars, you know, with the glass roofs.

"And then, when we got to the station for Lake Louise, we got off there as guests of the management, and we stayed one night at the Chalet at Lake Louise. In return for that, we sang on the terrace at sunset."

Haley: "And by then, you knew all the Hawaiian songs."

Noel: "That's right. And then the next day, we all piled into a bus, and they took us the 40 miles to the Banff Springs Hotel. And we stayed overnight there and in return for that we sang on the terrace of the Banff Springs Hotel.

"And when we continued, then, we had a special car on the train for us all the way to Toronto."

22 January 2013

No. 29 -- 2 March 1932

Mr. N.A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A. College,
5315 Drexel Avenue,

My dear Noel,

Your letter of January 26th with its supplementary material dated 30th January, came to hand by the last mail. It was read with a great deal of interest. We were all delighted to know that you are still managing to pull along quite satisfactorily.

I was interested in your acknowledgment of my letters!!! I have not checked back the list, but I imagine it must be fairly correct.

This long paragraph devoted to Noel's
involvement in the "playground movement"
had me intrigued, so I did more research.
I don't know Noel's specific involvement,
but the movement to create playgrounds
to keep kids off the street started
in the 1890s and seems to have
still been going in the 1930s in Chicago.
It was a movement championed by
progressives and social reformers,
and with Noel attending a social-
service centered college and his
involvement in the YMCA, it seems a
natural fit for him. My interpretation of
this paragraph is that Noel might have
had a job running some of the
playground programs, and George is worried
about the loss of income, so is urging
Noel to keep in contact with the parent
members so they don't drop the program.
For more about the playground
movement in Chicago, see this article.
Do you know anything about the Playground
Movement in Chicago during the 1930s?
Or the YMCA's involvement in it?
I'd love to hear about it.
I am sorry to hear that your playground movement is not being maintained at the old levels. I quite imagined that there would be a dropping off as unemployment increased and conditions became harder. It is unfortunate that you are not able to make more definite contacts with the parents, so that you may be able to keep your members. While you may have sufficient coming in to carry your incidental expenses, you must not forget the fact that you have a long period of vacation when your living expenses will be required. I know it is difficult to maintain your college schedule and do everything that is necessary to maintain your grades, and at the same time do interviewing work of this type, but it seems to me if it is at all possible for you to squeeze in occasional visits to the parents, it would pay you in the long run. I know that immediately the vacation period comes round, and the college closes, you will be faced with the problem of maintaining yourself, and I would urge that you give very careful thought to this matter well ahead of the time so that your plans may be in hand for your maintenance during that long period.

In my last letter I mentioned how necessary it would be to think in terms of the amount you will require to start your next year's College work, with text books and other incidental expenses. Quite a few pounds must be in hand to start the year with.

I hope you will satisfactorily carry out all the tests required when "hell week" comes round, so that your initiation into the Fraternity may be in order.

All this talk about money had me curious
so I did some searching. I thought
about inserting images of currency from
the 1930s, but instead opted for this video.
It's very catchy, plus explains the system
of pounds, shillings and pence used in
Australia at this time. Enjoy!

The dollar bill you sent, came safely to hand, although it was quite unnecessary for you to send it. We are only too happy to forward the material you asked for. I will retain the bill as it may be of some value in paying accounts a little later on when I shall require to send money to America. I will give the kids 1/- a piece so that they will feel that we have not taken something from them about which you wrote.

I am greatly encouraged by the fact that you are getting into your stride in your studies and that you are able to cover the work. Don't forget that it doesn't pay to do without sleep for too long. You can maintain that for awhile, but nature after a time asserts itself and when the testing time comes, such as examinations, etc., the mind refuses to work in the normal way.

We note your request for a snap of the family. We will endeavour to send something along, better than the one forwarded in the last mail.

Too bad the diary has been lost over the years,
but this did remind me that I have other
treasure related to Noel's crossing of
Canada. This post was my initial piece
about that crossing
, but there is also an
updated post with an audio recording I made in
1982of Noel recounting his Canadian crossing.

It was originally recorded to cassette tape,
but I've digitized it.
We were very glad also to get a further consignment of your diary. It helped us to understand just exactly what you have done on the trip across Canada. You certainly had a wonderfully good time. We shall look forward to receiving the balance of the diary.

Ruth is keeping quite well apart from a cold which has now practically gone. No ill effects came from the accident, worth talking about. Edith is getting along quite well at school and also in her music and elocution. She is expecting  to have a test in music shortly, so as to find out whether she will be fit to take her first examination in May. Joyce has started music again. We felt it wise to leave her to make her own decision in this matter. Whether she will continue it or not remains to be seen.

I am rather amused at your reference to "make them study". I wish to goodness I could have drummed the same thing into your head when you were here! I tried hard to get you to realise that you were taking things far to easily, and trusting to pot luck to get through on the American end. Now you realise how essential it is to have adequate preparation so as to get advanced standing.

All the family read the letter and I also passed on your regards to those mentioned in your letter. Joy is enclosing a letter with this.

Mother is keeping in excellent health and so is Keith. He had a good deal of trouble with his teeth, but that seems to have straightened out alright. Rex Baker left on Sunday for Sydney, where  he expects to remain for about three weeks installing some talkie apparatus.

Under separate cover I am sending you a letter which arrived here just about the time the last mail left, and which unfortunately, I forgot to forward at that time. It is from one of your friends, a Czechoslovakian who met you at the conferences. I will acknowledge the letter and will send him a little material on Australia. You should answer it at your first opportunity and thank him for the snapshots, etc. It will be a good thing for you to maintain your contact with him.

You will be glad to learn that we had a very successful weekend for our Business Men's classes at Camp Manyung. Forty-five of them attended and they had a thoroughly happy time. We plan to hold a weekend camp every month during the year. This month we shall have one on the weekend 12th, 13th and 14th March and then the Easter Camp, 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th March. Ivor is featuring this in his Physical Department programme throughout the year. Incidentally he is making money which will be turned into new equipment at the camp.

We had a Rotary weekend at Camp Somers last Saturday and Sunday. About 50 Rotarians attended the camp and we had a really happy time together. Next Saturday I am organising a picnic for 40 of the Montague Club boys who will be motored to Eltham by the Rotarians, given refreshments and a good time. This is part of our policy in connection with the Boys' Work Committee of which I am Chairman.

I am enclosing a copy of the Educational Department folder, which will help you to see the new classes we are organising this year. There are others we have in mind for later in the year.

Y.M.C.A. (1932, February 27).
The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.: 1848-1956), p. 25.
Retrieved January 22, 2013, from
The Annual Meeting was held on Feb. 25th and went off quite well. A copy of the Annual Report has been sent to you. Three new Directors, Messrs. F.W. Bond (Magistrate), A.E. Pascoe and Fred. Walker, both Rotarians, have been added to the Board. They will strengthen us a good deal.

Matron is away on holiday in Sydney. Miss Ray is carrying on. The Boys' Department programme commences this week, and we are now getting into our stride for the winter's work.

I have not heard a great deal from America recently, apart from a letter or two from Harry Holmes and Ned Brownell. Mrs. John W. Cook wrote to Mother and gave news concerning Mr. Cook and herself.

For more about Noel's grades, there will
be a future post looking at Noel's
transcript from the YMCA College
in Chicago. I'll put a link here when I have one.
By the time this letter reaches you you will know the results of your second term's work. We shall all be delighted to hear how you got on.

Alf. Hines goes on holiday immediately after the Board meeting. Most of the others have had their holiday, so that we shall soon be settling down for the year's work. There will be considerable addition to our Boys' Department membership, especially from the Working Men's college. If we could take them they would be able to send us 300 boys, but on account of the difficulties of fitting that number in on the same day as we have the high school boys present, we cannot take more than half that number.

I must close now. We all unite in warmest love. Kind regards to Clive and his wife.

Yours affectionately,

10 January 2013

Noel's College Journey

In pursuing this letters project, I’m constantly trying to unearth the back story that makes the letters more interesting. And because the letters are only one side of a conversation, I sometimes have to search a little to make sense of the conversation.

In several of the recent letters, George has commented on Noel’s school work and grades. Luckily, Noel left us some clues on those subjects in some of the papers he saved.

Some of those papers help paint the picture of the steps Noel took to attend college in the United States. More of those papers show how he did when he actually got to college. In the next two posts I will try to paint some of this back story, and then fill in the other side of the conversation.


If I were writing Noel's story as a novel, there are a couple moments that strike me as being a great place to start the book.

Noel identified one of those moments himself when he wrote, later in his life, about his relationship with his former girlfriend, Kath Lilford:
“On June 19, 1931 the Hughes Family together with Kathleen gathered at Spencer Street Railroad Station to bid Noel ‘God Speed’ and a successful college future. Even now in 1986, I can still visualize the group, and Kath in particular, standing there as the train pulled out of the station.”
Another place to start the story would be only six days prior to that departure, 13 June 1931, when Noel received word that he had officially been accepted into the YMCA Training College in Chicago.

It's the telegram that seemingly set everything in motion: "HUGHES ADMITTED UNCLASSIFIED STUDENT".

The time up to that event must have been filled with tremendous uncertainty. A letter from the YMCA acknowledging Noel's resignation from his position there is dated 10 June 1931, before the confirmation telegram even arrives, so there might have been an indication that the acceptance was coming. Or the letter is dated wrong.

Regardless, his immigration visa in his passport is dated 15 June 1931, and George's first letter is dated 19 June 1931, the same day Noel boarded a train for Sydney.

All this paints a picture of a very stressful and hasty time planning a life-changing decision to travel half way around the world to attend college.  What would Noel have done if he hadn’t been accepted? Would he have made the journey to attend the World YMCA conferences in Toronto and Cleveland anyway, and then returned home? Would he have attended university in Melbourne and pursued a career in the YMCA? Would he have married Kath Lilford?


Why did Noel choose to go to school in Chicago?

From the letters, it’s apparent that some Australians who were serious about a career in the YMCA sought training in the United States.

As best as I can tell from the letters and a little online research, there were two YMCA training colleges in the United States that the YMCAs in Australia tended to use. One was in Chicago (The Young Men’s Christian Association College, later George Williams College, and today part of Aurora University) and the other in Springfield, Mass. (Springfield College). 

According to a History of George Williams College on the website of the Kautz Family YMCA Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries:
"In 1890, when full-time YMCA work was becoming professional, requiring more intensive training, a year-round 'Training School' was established under the same leadership. The new school was located in Chicago, Illinois and was greatly influenced in its human service mission by the social and educational changes going on in that rapidly growing, industrial city.

"While evangelism and 'Christian work' was clearly at the heart of both the YMCA and the training school, the work of the association was never dissociated from a social service purpose. The service mission was one of sensitivity to problematic social situations young men faced as they migrated from the rural families and communities to an urban industrial environment."

If Noel was intent on pursuing a career as a YMCA secretary, like his father, the two training colleges in the United States seemed like good options. But the Melbourne YMCA experience with Springfield College seems much stronger.

Ivor Burge, a colleague of Noel's at the YMCA of Melbourne, had just returned from Springfield a few years prior.

More tellingly, George writes in Letter No. 12:
“We have had good word from Dr. Doggett, concerning the four Australians at Springfield. He writes in the highest terms of the four men -- Evans, McRae, Jones and Laing, and of course asks for more. I think you have got to do your share in building up a tradition in connection with the Chicago Y College. Now that Glover and yourself are in the student body, it is up to you to endeavor to secure the interest of other men so that the number at Chicago may be increased.”
With such a strong existing relationship between the YMCAs in Australia and Springfield College, I’m not sure why Noel chose to attend school in Chicago. Perhaps it was because of Clive and May Glover and the fact that Clive was studying in Chicago. I haven’t determined the relationship the Hughes family had with the Glover family, but based on passing references in the letters, there seems to be a family friendship, and the Glovers were a tremendous help to Noel on his arrival.

So, that’s the best I can determine at the moment as to why Noel chose Chicago.


Noel also left us some clues as to what he had to do to get accepted into the college.

A copy of a letter from Melbourne High School
that Noel used in his admission packet to college.
Noel was not an exceptional student in high school. According to a letter of reference from Melbourne High School, he achieved a Sub-Intermediate rating on his completion of school. 

In the unsigned copy of a letter from someone at Melbourne High School, that person explains, “The standards are – Sub-Intermediate, Intermediate, and Leaving Certificate, in that order, a pass at Leaving qualifying for entrance to the University.”

The Australian high school tradition and the U.S. college admissions didn’t even seem to speak a common language when it came to evaluating students and their academic achievements, and translation had to be done.

“This is the nearest approximation I can make to your system of ‘credits’,” writes the Melbourne High School contact.

It appears that Noel only had 2 years of high school, which may have been fairly normal at that time. I’m not sure. But it seems short, especially for someone who was college bound. The family moved from New Zealand to Melbourne in March 1924. Noel would have been 14 years old. He attended Melbourne High School in 1924 and 1925, which means he would have been 16 at his completion.

According to his recommendations from the Melbourne YMCA, he worked with the YMCA for over four years before he left for the United States in 1931. So he started that affiliation probably in 1926.  

Letter No. 1 from Stott's Business College
He attended Stott’s Business College in Melbourne 1926-27, where he studied bookkeeping, shorthand and typing. According to his reference letter from CH Holmes, the principal of the college: “I might mention that we always found Hughes to be a well conducted boy, and well liked by both his fellow students and teachers.” 

In 1931 he started studying with George Taylor & Staff. According to the letter from Geo. Taylor: Noel “has been doing revisionary work with us during the current year in Arithmetic, Algebra, History, Geography, and English with a view to attaining the Intermediate standard of the Melbourne University in these subjects.”

Letter No. 2 from Stott's Business College
The letter from Stott’s Business College is dated 5 Feb 1931 and addressed specifically to the Chicago Y College. The letters from Melbourne High School and George Taylor & Staff are both dated in April 1931. 

It’s clear Noel started exploring the decision to go to Chicago by early 1931, but he also might have had an alternate plan to pursue admission to Melbourne University. 

Letter from George Taylor & Associates
But even though Noel was accepted to the Chicago YMCA Training College, there was still a lot of uncertainty about his education when he left for the United States. On his arrival he had to take an entrance exam. In George’s letters to Noel as Noel is making his journey to Chicago, George frequently reminds Noel to study for that exam.

And despite all of George’s connections with the YMCA, he did want Noel to succeed on his own. In Letter No. 15 --  29 Sep 1931, he writes: 
“I have not written to the College authorities regarding yourself, because I felt that it was not right for me to use my position in any way to secure additional recognition for you. I will, however, write them shortly. By now you will have had your entrance status determined, and your plans laid out for your school work.”
Chicago Y College Certificate of Admission
How did Noel do with his entrance exam? It was determined that he lacked one year of high school credit, so his scholarship was conditional on him completing four units of high school work within two years.

In Letter No. 29, George makes a very telling remark in response to Noel’s advice to his little sisters: 
“I am rather amused at your reference to ‘make them study’. I wish to goodness I could have drummed the same thing into your head when you were here! I tried hard to get you to realise that you were taking things far too easily, and trusting to pot luck to get through on the American end. Now you realise how essential it is to have adequate preparation so as to get advanced standing.”

All this leaves me wondering:

Can anyone offer insight into how the high school certification program in Melbourne might have worked when Noel attended in 1925? What does it mean to be Sub-Intermediate? To finish when you are 16?

How does one apply to a college half way around the world when mail moves at the speed of a ship?

And do I have to go through the University of Minnesota Libraries to view a Chicago Y College Catalog from 1931?

Coming soon: Noel's coursework and grades