Flashback Friday: Off to Business College in 1908

One of the benefits of publishing historical essays is the way they elicit previously unknown materials from readers. Recently Dr. Oliver Pollak forwarded a letter from Frank Sorenson of Corvallis, Oregon, written in response to Pollak’s essay, “Looking for ‘Wide Awake’ Young People: Business Colleges in Nebraska, 1873-1950.” Sorenson writes:

I enjoyed your article on business colleges in Nebraska in the Spring 2009 issue of Nebraska History. My father attended York College, and I thought you might be interested in some of his reminiscences about the experience.

As background, Dad was almost 20 at the time. He was helping his father on the family farm near Creighton, Nebraska, and farming some leased land, which had enabled him to earn and save some money. Previously he had gone to school part time through the fifth grade, so university wasn’t an option. Dad’s comments [from a 1967 manuscript] follow:

“[Possibly] I would have stayed on the farm had I not had a visitor from York Business College. The gentleman who called was Mr. Buckley . . . President of the college. I haven’t the least idea how he got my name. . . . [H]e drove into the yard, introduced himself and told me why he was there. Either he was a good salesman, or I was an easy sell. I signed a contract to go to school in York. . . . Total tuition was $180 with no time limit . . . whether you went to school one year or four . . .

“I arrived in York . . . in December [1908]. The next morning I went directly from the hotel to the office of the school, paid $180 tuition, received the books, etc., and instructions for starting. I was directed to a home where living accommodations were available. Six boys were living there, all students of the college and all from farm homes. Weekly cost for room and board was $2.00. . . . Only one had finished high school.

“York Business College was a private school staffed with five teachers. We attended nine months a year, five days a week and had some homework. While our work was graded [no one flunked], . . . anyone who paid tuition . . . could continue in school.

“What did one study . . . and what did a young man think he was preparing himself for. First, for those of us with little or no schooling, it provided the fundamentals in reading, writing, arithmetic and spelling. I should include ‘grammar.’ . . . I believe we devoted more time to that subject than any other. We could start at any level and proceed as far as their facilities allowed. Second, it provided business courses in shorthand, typing and bookkeeping.

“Primarily, we hoped to prepare ourselves for stenographic, bookkeeping, or any kind of office work that would give us a start in business. Then we would gradually better ourselves by further education and actual experience.

“[With summers off and time out for fall farm work] I attended school for 15 months. . . . As we approached the spring of 1910 I told Mr. Buckley I would not be back in the fall. He told me bluntly I was making a mistake . . . because I was weak in the business course. . . . I soon discovered he was right.

To conclude, Dad went to Omaha and got a job from which he was quickly fired. He just as quickly got another job under another man who provided the further education and on-the-job experience.

What were the benefits of attending business college? One, he met a girl there, who was from a remote Sand Hill ranch and was sent to York to go to high school. She later became my mother. That was sufficient benefit for me. Two, I would say it provided a foundation, or at least a sense of foundation, and opened a door with the result that, when Dad retired, he was managing the Kellogg plant in Omaha and had a small farm.

Black and white photographic print of the York Business College.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

The Story of Richi Ugai:  Making the American Dream Possible for Future Generations of Japanese-Americans

The Story of Richi Ugai: Making the American Dream Possible for Future Generations of Japanese-Americans

Decoration Day

Decoration Day

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

Nebraska’s Japanese American History

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.