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Rodney Kelley
Reflections On the Class of 1923: The Tome School For Boys, Port Deposit, Maryland

"Reflections on the Class of 1923" presents an evocative collective biography celebrating the centennial of this class at the Tome School for Boys in Port Deposit, Maryland. This masterful tome paints a rich tapestry of the lives of 29 graduates as they journey from boyhood, traversing the hallowed halls of their esteemed institution and maturing into the complex world that awaited them. Delving into the school's origins, the author explores the educational landscape of early 20th-century America and the enduring legacy of Jacob Tome, the school's visionary founder. The narrative weaves an intricate tale of individual triumphs and tribulations set against a bygone era of American prep schools, ultimately honoring the indelible spirit of the class of 1923 and the generation that shaped them.

This up-close historical tribute from Kelley (author of America's National Treasures: Biographical Sketches of the United States Military Personnel Killed in Action on the Deadliest Day of the Vietnam War) celebrates Maryland’s Jacob Tome School for Boys through the story of its founder, who opened its doors in 1894, and through its class of 1923, on the occasion of the 100-year anniversary of their graduation. Tome, a childless, self-made man, worked diligently to move from modest circumstances to wealthy philanthropist. His lack of education pushed him to build an outstanding preparatory school. Despite his death just before the first class graduated, Tome’s vision for an exemplary school survived. Kelley charts that vision’s reach by chronicling the lives of the 29 young men of the class of 1923 from birth to enrolling to their legacies in the world.

Writing with an informative bent about the history of American education, and a sense of reverence for Tome and the school itself, Kelley transports readers into those “hallowed halls” but also the students’ hearts and minds, as he examines the mixed emotions—nervousness, excitement, uncertainty—they must have felt upon arrival and also their need for an education and to flourish and build community with fellow classmates. Their preparatory work was essential for university admission, though Kelley also emphasizes the other rewards of the Tome experience: “the bonds of friendship forged, the personal growth experienced, and the self-identity realized.”

Kelley writes movingly of each student’s life after Tome, as adolescence churns quickly to adulthood, higher education, a wide range of professions, and family responsibilities. A concluding tour of the now-abandoned original campus is touching, though Kelley leaves the question of how he connects to the school unanswered. Instead, with humility and a touch of awe, he traces the school and Tome’s legacy through the reach and sweep of the class’s impact on the world, making the case that Tome’s “most enduring legacy is the students who benefited from his generosity.”

Takeaway: Touching, informative study of the legacy of the Jacob Tome School’s class of 1923.

Comparable Titles: James McLachlan’s American Boarding Schools William M. Hogue’s The Jacob Tome Institute and its Schools.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A