Lost Butte, Montana, a book by Richard I. Gibson, is in stores and museum gift shops around Butte. Or order from the publisher. It's also in E-book formats at all the usual places. And read an interview with Gibson, here, and on KXLF here. The Facebook page has many historic photos of Butte, and the Butte-Anaconda NHLD project showcases many historic buildings. Location-oriented posts can be found on HistoryPin. On Mondays beginning in January 2016, look for Gibson's "Mining City History" column in the Montana Standard.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Better English

Lower photo is at Park and Main looking west on Park. Yegen Brothers Bank (Clark Hotel) in middle distance;
American Theater at middle right; Metals Bank at left.

By Richard I. Gibson

In November 1919 students from Butte High took to the streets. It wasn’t Homecoming, it wasn’t a protest march, it wasn’t even the first anniversary of Armistice Day yet. It was a parade – actually two parades – marking the successful end to Better English Week.

Butte High at Park & Idaho
In passing they also boasted that they would “grind up” Great Falls in the football game that Saturday, but the entire student body – 1,000 students – took part in a march from the high school (then at Park and Idaho) down Park to Main, up to Broadway, and west on Broadway back to the school. In the photo above (by photographer Clara Schoettner, whose studio was at 37½ N. Main) the Butte High School banner, lettered in purple, is carried by the four class presidents, Charles Stone, Bob Southcomb, Walter Adams, and Charles Gavin. The drummer is Dave Rosenberg. The second parade was a little more of a send-off for the team as they boarded the train for Great Falls, but the enthusiasm there “literally took the lid off Butte.”

As part of Better English Week students also performed a play, “Nevertheless,” written by student Stuart Walser and starring Lucille Staebler, Salome Torrence, Fred Sutherland, and John Egan. 

A second play, performed by the junior class, was a parody of “Red Riding Hood” written by teacher Miss Ella Spafford, who lived at 1419 West Granite. Leonard Renick, son of Dr. William Renick (727 W. Park Street), played Red Riding Hood.

The Better English campaign began as an effort to correct grammatical errors in speech, but before it was over, it had expanded to include “enunciation, moderation of the voice, giggling, gum chewing, spelling, punctuation, and manners.” There was evidently considerable semi-serious banter between teachers and students. Teachers who claimed students used “inelegant English” were pilloried by students who accused them of giggling, smirking, and “trying to be smart.”

Students interviewed businessmen across Butte, some of whom claimed they would not employ clerks who used slang and some attributed their success to “correct use of English.” Newsmen told the students that teachers were among the worst offenders for submitting manuscripts with every noun capitalized. They blamed it on study of German.

The campaign included street car advertising, posters created by the Butte High art department, printed articles, and speeches. The Standard reported that “such words and expressions as ‘ain’t,’ ‘swell,’ ‘ain’t he a dear,’ ‘now, ain’t that just too lovely for anything,’ are doomed.”

Sources: Anaconda Standard, Nov. 8, Nov. 9, 1919; City Directories; Sanborn Maps. Post card view of Butte High from Gibson's collection.

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