School Archives

September 2019 - Buried Treasure at Magnificat Part II: The Yearbook Cache

Buried Treasure at Magnificat Part I: The Yearbook Cache

By Mary Cay Doherty

Please click here to view the digital poster.

There’s something exciting about unearthing a buried treasure. So when Maxine Kantor from Magnificat’s Counseling Office tipped me off that the third floor might be home to some “Archives-worthy treasures,” I jumped at the chance to join her on a visit to this part of the building. Of course, we aren’t talking about buried pirate treasure here, but treasures from Magnificat’s past. Let’s dig in and explore together.

Stepping Back in Time -- Architecturally

Visiting the third floor is a journey back in time to the days when the west wing of the building was a convent for the Sisters of the Humility of Mary who taught at Magnificat. The first and second floors that were once the Chaplain’s residence and Sisters’ convent are now home to offices and classroom spaces for the Art and Math academic departments as well as Finance, Marketing, and Mission. These spaces were converted as part of the 1985 capital campaign.

But the third floor was not part of these renovations. Separate, single rooms for each of the Sisters who taught and worked at Magnificat High School still line the halls. Since Sisters of the Humility of Mary are no longer in residence at Magnificat, these rooms have been appropriated by different departments for storage.

Unearthing the Treasure

And so on a sunny June morning, Mrs. Kantor and I trekked up to Room 308 in search of treasure.

Guidance shares this space with Student Life so almost every square inch of floor space was covered with stacks of boxes. The long wall adjacent to the doorway was lined with shelves holding more boxes. And on the opposite wall, I saw the closet – our treasure hunt destination.

So what did we find? Scrapbooks, a few artifacts, and yearbooks. But not just a few yearbooks -- it was a yearbook cache! Multiple years, multiple copies stacked 3, 4, or 5 high. The books were not organized. We would come across a pile with a few yearbooks from the 1960s, then another pile from the 1970s. Some years had several copies; others, only a couple of copies.

At this point, Mrs. Kantor and I did not evaluate the whole collection. I grabbed many items that I thought were not already fully represented in our collection, and we transported them via a cart back to the first floor and ultimately over the Archives. Once I fully evaluated this first load, I could return to the third floor to better assess the closet’s contents.

But for our purposes here, let’s dig into the yearbooks from the initial sweep. We will look at the history of yearbooks and their historical significance overall. Then we will evaluate some of the newly found yearbooks and their place in our collection and in our institutional history.

Yearbook History

The earliest yearbooks date to the 1600s and were more like scrapbooks than yearbooks as we know them. Students would write or draw in the books, or even place mementos like flowers or locks of hair between the pages. The invention of the daguerreotype in the late 1830s and later film photography in 1888 brought yearbooks to life with pictures of students, faculty, and staff.

The first college yearbook was published by Yale University in 1806. The first high school yearbook, The Evergreen, was published in 1845 by Waterville High School in Waterville, New York. Improvements in printing and photography made yearbooks more popular by the 1880s, and the yearbook tradition was commonplace by the 1920s.

Magnificat’s Yearbook Collection and Reference Library

In the Archives, we attempt to obtain three copies of each yearbook. Copies two and three are insurance policies that allow us to confidently loan out one copy for educational use. If the first copy becomes damaged, we know that we have additional copies for the historic record.

Before our treasure hunt, the Archives yearbook collection was sizable, but not complete. From 1979-2018, we were in good shape with three copies for each yearbook. From 1959-1971, we had at least one copy for each year. And for most of those years, we were lucky enough to have a second copy, or maybe even a third. But the period from 1972-1978, our collection needed some help.

Yearbooks from 1972-1977 were issued in two softcover volumes rather than as a single hardcover edition. This presents us with three challenges. First, we must track down two yearbook volumes for each year. Second, softcover books are more fragile than hardcover books. This is not an ideal spot to be in: To need more of something that is less likely to survive the rough and tumble ravages of time. The yearbook cache was particularly helpful in addressing these first two challenges as we will discuss in the next section.

The third challenge is more technical. Two-volume yearbooks represent a six year anomaly nestled amid single edition spans from 1959-1971 (13 yearbooks) and 1978-2019 (41 yearbooks). Our yearbook catalogue code was initially designed for single editions so we needed to expand the codes in order to account for two unique volumes, rather than one, within a single academic year.

We use DACS (Describing Archives: A Content Standard) as the organizing guide for cataloguing our collections. So for example, our first copy of the 2019 yearbook is coded SL.06/03.2019-13#1. A second copy would be coded SL.06/03.2019-13#2. But in 1972, we have two distinct issues of the yearbook, and ideally, three copies of each volume. To code both volumes as SL.06/03.1972-13#_ does not allow us to differentiate between the two volumes. Nor can we rely on the item number (#_) to differentiate the volumes because a researcher would have no way of knowing the SL.06/03.1972-13#1 was a completely different work than SL.06/03.1972-13#4. In fact, a researcher would assume the exact opposite. Item numbers indicate multiple copies of the same work. To solve this dilemma, we created a sub subseries under the year. So our first copy of volume 1 of the 1972 yearbook is SL.06/03.1972.01-13#1. Meanwhile, our first copy of volume II of the 1972 yearbook is SL.06/03.1972.02-13#1. The beauty of the DACS system is that it can easily expand to be more inclusive and that expansion can take place at any time.

In addition to our archival yearbook collection, we are also building a yearbook reference library on the first floor of the Founders House of Hospitality for the enjoyment of visitors. Once we have procured three copies of a yearbook for the Archives, the fourth copy is allocated for the reference library. Before our treasure hunt, our reference library was complete from 1980 to 2018, but we had only two volumes from the 1960s and only one from the 1970s. This means that our reference library lacked the inaugural 1959 volume, eight volumes from the 1960s and 15 volumes from the 1970s (three hardcover yearbooks for 1970, 1971, and 1978, and 12 soft cover yearbooks for the 2-volume editions issued from 1972-1977).

Evaluating the Treasure: What Have We Gained?

Let’s return to the closet in the tiny room on the third floor with yearbooks aplenty. Like a kid in a candy store, I was giddy as I loaded volume after volume onto my cart to take back to the Archives. In the Archives, I checked my new finds against our inventory to determine which volumes we needed. Ultimately, seven volumes from the 1970s and five volumes from the 1960s were added to our collection. Additionally, we added eleven volumes to our yearbook reference library: Nine 1970s volumes and two 1960s volumes. Finally, we also unearthed two additional copies of Magnificat’s very first yearbook published in 1959. It was an exciting morning! And subsequent visits to the closet may yield more additions.

Yearbooks are valuable for a high school archives for the very same reason that students treasure them. They document the students, faculty, and events of a school for a particular year and often include information about the world at large as well.

Additionally, for Magnificat, the 1972-1977 yearbooks mark a distinctive, yet temporary, shift that has not yet been fully explored. These yearbooks changed in title and content in addition to splitting the volumes and adopting a soft cover. Prior to 1972, the yearbook was known as The Magnifier. From 1972 on, the yearbook has been called Dawning. According to the February 19, 1974 Magnificat school paper, prior to 1972, Dawning was a school literary paper. Thus, the period 1972-1977 marked a merging of the yearbook and literary paper.

The February 1974 article then explained content changes in the yearbook that resulted from this merger. The yearbook was split into 2 volumes. The first issue each year showcased literary contributions made by students and faculty and the second issue featured school pictures and candid shots of the students. Notably, this article quoted our very own Sister Helen Jean Novy who, in 1974, was the faculty advisor for the Dawning’s editorial board.

Then four and half years later, the December 14, 1978 Magnificat noted on page one that the 1979 Dawning would be published as a single volume hardbound edition. The article announced that student surveys indicated a preference for this as well as the inclusion of more candid photos.

At this time, we do not fully understand all the factors that led to yearbook changes from 1972-1977. And regrettably, we do not have the issues of the school newspaper for 1971 or 1972 that may have introduced the alterations. But the answers may be elsewhere in our collection, or we may one day be able to acquire the information from alumnae or from other institutions that may have adopted similar changes during those years. Just as our third floor buried treasure surprised and delighted this summer, more “treasures” and information are sure to surface.

In the Archives, we accrue items to preserve our history and educate students. But yearbooks (and archival collections) are also valuable for broader research. We can mine yearbooks for information about hair and clothing styles, trends in courses and co-curriculars, and even socio-cultural patterns. This work is often done by archivists and historians, but is also undertaken by those in other disciplines as well.

In 2015, University of California Berkeley Ph.D. student Shiry Ginosar and a team of researchers studied senior pictures from high school yearbooks in 27 states from 1905-2013. These researchers used computers and composites to identify trends and variances across thousands of photographs. For example, they analyzed lip curvature to identify trends in smiles. Their findings confirmed Christina Kotchemidova’s 2005 research that smiling in portraits increased from 1900-1950. In fact, Kotchemidova reports that for portraits and early photographs, smiling was not the norm. As noted above, one London studio instructed people to say “prunes, “not “cheese.” Kotchemidova acknowledges in her research that quick snapping shutters, the influence of movie stars, and dental advances all contributed to Americans’ adopting broader smiles when having their pictures taken. But her study also focuses on the effect of Kodak’s marketing strategies that encourage picture taking as fun celebrations and reasons to smile.

Thus we see that our buried treasure yearbooks are not just “cool finds,” but also invaluable resources. They chronicle the history for individual students, institutions, and cultures at large.


We began this journey with a trip to the third floor of the Sisters’ Residences and buried yearbook treasure in a closet. In the process of adding new volumes to our collection, we add to our institutional knowledge. We find answers to some questions: When did the 2 volume yearbook split begin and end? But new questions arise. Why did this shift occur when it did? And was it part of a larger cultural pattern at other high schools in Cleveland or nationally, or something unique to Magnificat? We keep our eyes and ears open, knowing this information will come our way.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. We will leave yearbooks for now, but please check back in next month for Part II of our Buried Treasure series: The Package.

Please click here to view the digital poster


_____. Dawning I. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. 1972.

_____. Dawning II. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. 1972.

_____. “’Dawning’ Shines Again.” The Magnificat, Vol 15, No 2. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. February 19, 1974.

_____. “Dawning Bound in Overwhelming Vote.” The Magnificat, Vol 20, No 2. Rocky River: Magnificat High School. December 14, 1978.

_____. Describing Archives: A Content Standard. Society of American Archivists. Chicago. 2013. http://files.archivists.org/pubs/DACS2E-2013_v0315.pdf.

_____. “The History of Yearbooks.” Balfour Ohio Yearbooks. October 8, 2013. https://balfourohioyearbooks.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/the-history-of-yearbooks/.

_____. “Yearbooks: A lifetime of memories.” Sherburne History Center. Becker, Minnesota. http://www.sherburnehistorycenter.org/yearbooksexhibit.pdf.

Billock, Jennifer. “Why do People Sign Yearbooks?” The Atlantic. June 3, 2018. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/06/why-do-people-sign-yearbooks/561851/.

Conroy, Pat. “A Yearbook Is…” HJ Yearbook. May 6, 2015. Video (3:23). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLqjMHVjd68.

Fessenden, Marissa. “ Yearbook Photos Show How Smiles Have Widened Over the Decades.” Smithsonian.com. December 2015. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/yearbook-photos-show-how-smiles-have-widened-over-decades-180957437/.

Ginosar, Shiry et al. “A Century of Portraits: A Visual Historical Record of American High School Yearbooks.” University of California Berkeley. 2015. https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~shiry/publications/Ginosar15_Yearbooks.pdf.

Kotchemidova, Christina. “Why We Say ‘Cheese’: Producing the Smile in Snapshot Photography.” Critical Studies in Media Communication, Vol. 22, No. 1. March 2005. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/f0c3/c3109bef1b3c5a9a6936b6783bb8f8e492dc.pdf.

Onion, Rebecca and Ismail, Aymann. “Watch American Yearbook Photos Evolve Over 108 Years.” Slate. December 7, 2015. Article and Video (1:11). https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/12/history-of-the-american-yearbook-photo.html.

Perich, Shannon Thomas. “For All You Graduates: A History of Yearbooks.” NPR. June 3, 2010. https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/06/03/127412786/yearbooks.

Magnificat High School, a girls' Catholic college-preparatory high school, founded and sponsored by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary, educates young women holistically to learn, lead, and serve in the spirit of Mary’s Magnificat.