From the Archives: Dola's School Days

Jenny Seeman

Dola was the youngest of James and Laura Dunsmuir’s children. Born in 1903, she was 7 when the family moved to Hatley Park and with the next youngest child 9 years her senior, she was the only child to grow up on the estate. More on Dola’s biography can be read in a previous Crossroads post.

In the museum at Royal Roads, we have a small collection of Dunsmuir family artifacts. Among them are three letters from Miss Ransom and Miss Bridges’ School in Piedmont, California. This is the school that Dola Dunsmuir attended when she was 17.

Miss Ransom and Miss Bridges School, Piedmont, California

The letters don’t look very exciting, just two typed pages each, one addressed to Mr. Dunsmuir, dated April 15, 1920 and two for Mrs. Dunsmuir, dated February 20, 1920 and October 27, 1920. While the letters are somewhat routine in nature, they do give some interesting glimpses of life in the Dunsmuir family. In the letter of February 20, school principal Marion Ransom assures Mrs. Dunsmuir that Dola is courteous and considerate and is working hard at her studies. She writes, “Contrary to your fears we see no signs of the “spoiled child,” a type to which we are so accustomed.” The family may have had unlimited funds to lavish upon their children, but it’s nice to think that Laura remained concerned that Dola would be above all, a nice person!

The April 15 letter, written to Mr. Dunsmuir, is a little more formal. Apparently, when Dola returned to the school after the Easter vacation, her priority was to buy herself a new suit and hat from the “superior” stores of San Francisco. The school had covered the cost of her excursion but asked Mr. Dunsmuir to kindly reimburse them and to supply Dola with enough cash for any future extravagances.

Miss Ransom and Miss Bridges’ School for girls existed from 1908 to 1932. Low enrollments during the Depression years forced the school to close. However, when Dola attended in 1920, the school was thriving. More than a finishing school for young ladies, the school offered a challenging curriculum for university preparation as well as a day school for younger girls. The school had accommodation for 50 girls and offered frequent outings to concerts and plays as well as riding and hiking clubs. Students also performed an annual Shakespeare play, which is referred to in one of the letters: “Dola in the tryouts for our annual Shakespeare play won the part of the Friar in “Much Ado about Nothing”… It is always considered an honor to have even a small part in this play and I think Dola is really pleased.”

What makes these letters particularly fascinating is some associated material in the archives here at Royal Roads. Dola had a camera with her when she attended the school and took many candid photos of her friends on various school excursions and even when rehearsing the Shakespeare play. Dola playing the part of the Friar is pictured above. Here are some more of her snaps.

A riding club excursion. Dola is second from the right.

You can see the letters and some more of Dola’s photographs on display in the museum in the basement of the castle.