A framed family heirloom in the home of Erma Hosmer's central Modesto home approaches a significant milestone next month. It is the Ceres Grammar School diploma earned by Hosmer's mother, Mattie Ethel Graham Streeter, handed to her 100 years ago on June 28, 1913.
In those days before Ceres High School was created, high school students graduated from Ceres Grammar School.
"My mother was a good woman," said Erma Hosmer, "who worked hard all of her life."
Mrs. Streeter passed away Sept. 27, 1995 at the age of 97.
Below the framed diploma is the graduation portrait of Mattie who was just 15. In the photo Mattie is wearing an ornate period dress and white dress shoes and holding the scrolled-up diploma in her left hand. She has a faint smile and pleasant look on her face - despite all the bad that happened in her personal life up to that point, including the death of a brother.
Native of Nebraska
Mattie was born in Nebraska on May 16, 1898 to Harvey Marion Graham and LeMira Lucinda Hopkins who would have a total of 22 children. When Mattie Graham and her siblings first arrived in Ceres they were educated at the old wooden two-story schoolhouse that was once located on ground south of the present-day restroom of Whitmore Park in downtown Ceres. White Brick School, built in 1909, opened across on North Street on what is now the site of Ceres Fire Station #1.
The Grahams came to Stanislaus County in 1906 after packing all of their belongings into a rail boxcar in Arnold, Neb. An old friend of her grandfather's kept sending letters from the Modesto area "telling them how wonderful it was here and to bring his family," said Erma.
At first the Grahams lived on Scenic Road near Dry Creek in Modesto for two years on ground that is now the Bethel Church east of Oakdale Road. The family lost the mortgage but was offered a place to live and work on a farm and dairy own by a Mr. A.B. Pike on Keyes Road near Morgan Road. They moved in September 1907.
Schooling in Ceres
Mattie Graham and her eight siblings - Merl, Wade, Spud, Stella, Robbie, Ivan and Erma - traveled into Ceres by horse-drawn surrey to attend school in what is now Whitmore Park. "It really swelled their enrollment," Mattie would later write.
She was in the third grade at the time and Emma Greeley was the teacher.
An autobiography written by Mattie reveals a harrowing experience involving Principal John A. Wagener, who incidentally built the Castle next to her future husband's residence. Mattie's four brothers played hooky one day so one week later they were all summoned to see Wagener. He produced a hickory stick and began summarily whipping each boy for their misdeed. The beating got so out of hand for her brother Robbie that Merl "rushed in and grabbed the stick." The story is that Robbie became so ill by the experience that he developed mumps that took him out of school all winter.
Mattie also wrote that school was housed in the Baptist Church as the White Brick School was being constructed. She reported about the older boys who "were always into mischief, such as putting red pepper in the furnace, tipping over the garbage barrel, writing obscene sayings on the walls and especially not lining up to march in. Our teacher, Miss Thayer, a very musical, red-headed young lady, certainly had her hands full and would go to extreme before she would report the boys to the principal, John Wagener, as he was a stern man with whom to deal.
"One day the boys brought a large bag of fresh manure and threw it all over the floor just before we marched into the room. Miss Thayer eyed up the situation, her face becoming as red as her hair. She sent Milton Helsley home, next door, which was the Reverend Helsley's parsonage, to get a broom and dustpan. She proceeded to clean up the mess herself. She said, ‘I never did sweep a barn before but I guess I can do it now!' The room was very quiet, and I'm sure the culprits felt badly and were embarrassed at the way she handled it."
Disease & brother's death
In December 1910, Mattie came down with a serious throat condition, her mother telling her "If we had a doctor he would say you had diphtheria." Brothers Wade and Robbie came down with the disease and the children were quarantined. On Dec. 13, 1910, Robbie Graham died. Mattie, then 12, said "it was a terrible thing for me to handle." Special permission was given for her to attend the graveside service at Ceres Cemetery. The disease and the loss of a brother caused Mattie to miss a month of school and she was weakened when she returned. "Sometimes I couldn't see at all for a moment but Miss Besler, my sixth grade teacher, was so helpful and kind that I soon caught up with the other students." Later her tonsils were removed in a doctor's office that proved to be a "painful and frightening experience for me."
Mattie recalled how the young people of Ceres would gather for dances with a piano, violin and occasional saxophone for music. The gatherings between 1911 and 1918 were held in Jennings Hall and Yori Hall in the Westport area. "When war was declared, most of our young men were inducted and that brought an end to these wonderful get-togethers."
After her graduation in the summer of 1913, Mattie worked in food service at the Tynan Hotel on H Street in Modesto for $5 per week, sometimes working six and a half days each week. In September she attended Modesto Business College to learn bookkeeping and stenography.
Mattie met Claude Streeter whom she married at age 16. The Streeters came to Turner Road in the Westport area from Tulare County. Her grandfather Sheldon Streeter helped to carve out the Ceres Main Canal with his horses dragging what was called a "Fresno scraper," a type of dirt scoop.
Erma was born in Modesto and attended Modesto High School. Erma was mostly a Modesto gal, but remembers taking dance lessons from Betty Belle Anderson Smith and performing at the White Brick School in Ceres. She met and married Loren Hosmer in December 1945. They are still married although Loren suffers from dementia and is living at a Modesto convalescent hospital.
In 1953 the Hosmers moved to Central Avenue in Ceres where they lived 27 years. In 1975 Loren started Capital Door Sales, which is still operating in south Modesto.
Whatever became of Mattie? She was a cafeteria manager for Modesto City Schools and for 18 years managed the cafeteria of Modesto High School. She became the mother of nine children besides Erma. At the time of her death she had 40 grandchildren, 77 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren.