Reminisce: Lima’s Class of 1888

Members of the 24th graduating class of Lima High School posed for a class photo as they prepared to enter a world already much changed during their school years and made nearly unrecognizable in the 135 years since.

Kenneth Justus, whose grandmother was among those graduates, donated the photo as well as an essay his grandmother delivered at the 1888 graduation ceremony, a copy of her diploma, a graduation program from the Faurot Opera House and other items from his grandmother’s and his mother’s graduations.

The essay was delivered by Lizzie Powell on June 8, 1888. Taking the stage at the Faurot that Friday afternoon, Powell read the essay’s title, which asked the question “What Can a Girl Do?” Over the course of eight neatly handwritten pages, Powell, using examples from history, made the case that, given a chance, there wasn’t much a determined girl could not do.

“There is no reason why she may not master the service of pharmacy and manage a dry goods store, and why her nimble fingers should not acquire sufficient skill to practice dentistry,” Powell told the audience of classmates and family members. “By all means let her learn to do something well, better, if possible, than anyone else can do it, and remember that it is not so much what she does that will bring her honor and pecuniary advantages, as how well she does it.”

Powell, who was born in Wales, came to Lima with her parents while still an infant. The family moved into a home at 125 N. Pine St. Her father, Richard Powell, worked at the Lima Locomotive Works and died at the age of 75 in 1907, six years after his wife passed away at 59 in 1899.

The Lima in which Powell grew up and went to school was a place of dirt streets and kerosene lamps that moved at the speed of a horse or a streetcar (drawn by horse until the 1880s) or maybe a bicycle, a form of transportation which had begun to catch on in the 1880s and would be condemned as dangerous whenever a skittish horse balked at a passing cyclist or a passing cyclist mowed down a pedestrian.

By 1888, the year Powell graduated from Lima High School, the city was booming, thanks mainly to the discovery of oil in 1885. Between 1880 and 1890, Lima would more than double in population from about 7,500 to more than 15,000.

As a young girl, Powell attended school near her home at the East School Building, which stood on the east side of North Pine Street between High and North streets and was home to the city’s high school. Today, it is home to a parking lot for Lima Senior High School.

“The first graduating class, consisting of three girls, were awarded diplomas in 1864, almost 10 years after the establishment of the school,” Charles A. Rusler Jr. wrote in the 1976 history of Allen County. “In 1865, there was one graduate, and then there were no more until 1872.”

Small graduating classes, such as the 14-member class of which Powell was part, were the norm in the school system in the late 1800s. High school students, The Lima News wrote in an October 1984 story, accounted for the lowest percentage of students attending schools.

“Schools had difficulty keeping youngsters from the early grades through high school,” the newspaper wrote. “In fact, in 1897, there were only 21 students graduating from an enrollment of 3,378 students. The smallest graduating class was in 1865, when only one woman completed graduation requirements.”

The district also had a problem with parents not sending students to school regularly. Of the enrollment of 3,378 in 1897, only 2,691 students showed up on a regular basis, according to The Lima News.

Truancy, however, was not a problem for Powell. A story in the Democratic Times in June 1880 listed Powell among the pupils who “were neither absent nor tardy during the past year.” Powell was consistently listed among those with perfect or near-perfect attendance.

Powell’s grandson, Kenneth Justus, in the fall of 2022 described his grandmother as one of the “rare” high school graduates while noting the limited curriculum at the time.

“It was essentially just one course,” he said. “I don’t know if she ever intended to go to college, but it was a college preparatory course. And it involved four years of Latin, four years of Shakespeare, a very complicated kind of a course.”

Although the graduation ceremony was an important occasion for the 14 students who completed the course of studies, it didn’t make much of an impact on the city’s newspapers.

On graduation day, the weekly Allen County Democrat ran a brief story on that day’s ceremony at the bottom of the back page amid such news items as the “eight plain drunks” who were “all put on the stone pile” after a visit to mayor’s court and the “six tramps” who were ordered held in the city jail “on general principles” because they might “be wanted somewhere.”

A week later, again on the back page, the Democrat wrote of the graduation that “the house was crowded by the scholars’ parents and friends, and all expressed the opinion that the exercises were far in advance of any heretofore held in the city.” The class, the newspaper added, “is composed of 14 pupils, 10 ladies and four gentlemen. Rev. Fish delivered the invocation.” The Democrat then described a program comprised of music interspersed with each graduate reading their essay, including Powell.

“Miss Lizzie C. Powell read an essay ‘What Can a Girl Do?’ in which she showed the many branches of life where a girl is almost indispensable,” the newspaper wrote.

A year after graduation, Elizabeth C. “Lizzie” Powell married Charles W. Justus, who worked as a pattern maker. The marriage would last nearly a half-century and produce two sons, Leroy E. Justus and Charles K. Justus. In October 1928, Charles K. Justus married Elsie Meyers, a 1928 graduate of Central High School. Kenneth Justus is their son.

Charles W. Justus died of heart disease at the age of 75 on Sept. 30, 1938. Elizabeth Justus was killed three months later on Christmas Eve when she stepped into the path of a car on the South West Street bridge. Authorities said she was returning to the family home at 628 S. West St. after doing some Christmas shopping in downtown Lima.


This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


See past Reminisce stories at

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].