Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
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@ElizaBTweetin: June 25, 1873: Graduates' Tea

Posted on June 24, 2014

Wheaton Seminary Class of 1873

Wheaton Seminary Class of 1873

Eliza has been preparing for the Graduates’ Tea for several days. The hot dry weather sent her to Chilson’s Gardens in Mansfield for additional flowers, but the lack of any purchases in her cashbook indicates that the drought had affected their plants as well. She baked a cake, perhaps her favorite Park Street Cake (pound cake), which used large quantities of the butter she had just lumped. She may have served it with strawberries, as strawberry teas were popular with Wheaton students. Among the seniors was Mrs. Wheaton’s beloved niece Mary Chapin.

Poor Mary was suffering from erysipelas, a painful infection that affects the face and extremities. Symptoms include fever, shaking, chills, fatigue, headaches, vomiting, and general illness within 48 hours of the initial infection. The skin lesions enlarge rapidly, forming a clearly-defined red, swollen, warm, hardened and painful region, similar in consistency to an orange peel. Erysipelas infections are a type of strep, usually entering the skin through minor trauma such as insect bites, and often originate from strep bacteria in the subject's own nasal passages. A small scratch or abrasion causes the infection to spread. We can probably blame the mosquitoes so common on campus until the nearby swamp was excavated to form Peacock Pond in 1929.

Mary was her class valedictorian.  Would she recover in time to appear in public to read her oration?

The annual senior tea with Mrs. Wheaton, at which she presented each graduate with a bouquet prepared with her own hands, would eventually become the basis for our Founder’s Day. In 1889, on Mrs. Wheaton’s 80th birthday, the seniors visited her, each bearing a rose. This became an annual tradition until her death in 1905, after which Founder's Day was celebrated on her birthday with a speaker, and roses placed under Eliza's portrait.

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