August 2010 Edition 65 Jerrems Family Newsletter
Looking Forward to Looking Back
Dear Donald,
When you do a search for "Jerrems" on the Internet, the name Alexander Jerrems pops up frequently. After years of my searching for pictures and relevant information, Ray has finally scooped me.

My father, Donald Edwin Jerrems, II (Hotchkiss 1934 and Princeton 1938) would rather have us focus on feats at his alma mater, which would probably make for a good story some day.

Enjoy the look back.

Ray Jerrems   Let the game begin
Here is more of the story of the most outstanding sportsman in the annals of the Jerrems families. It is about Alexander Nicholl Jerrems, one of the children of William George Jerrems and Mary Jerrems (nee Nicholl). The article takes us through from his childhood and his exciting sporting career to his marriage to Mary Bell.

Readers may recall that Alexander's father (William) was one of the family which migrated from Gainsborough to Australia in the 1850s.

After 4 children (including Alexander, born in 1874) were born in Australia William's family migrated to the United States, then to England and then back to the US in about 1883. The last child in the family, our editor's grandfather, was born in Chicago in 1885.

Alexander was named after his maternal grandfather, Alexander Nicholl, the founder of the "Nicoll the Tailor" tailoring empire, and was (with his 3 brothers) through his father an heir to part of that empire.

Alexander became a prominent gridiron player, as outlined in my earlier article in the October 2007 Journal. He was an interesting person, I think you will enjoy reading more about him.

My sources of information

My main sources of information about Alexander are (a)numerous contemporary newspaper articles which described his sporting exploits and included a sprinkling of other "facts" (some of dubious accuracy) from which we can piece together a general idea of his early life and (b) the more traditional genealogical sources like Census returns and births, deaths and marriages searches. Journal readers Sandra and Leila provided some of the information to me.

Alexander's early life

The problem with having such a plethora of information is to condense it into a readable form. Rather than start from scratch I have selected an article about Alexander which was published in the "St Louis Republic" newspaper in Missouri on November 23rd, 1898. Although it is exaggerated (possibly because the Christian Brothers' School had just committed itself to paying Alexander a substantial fee to be its gridiron coach and needed to justify the expenditure) it provides a summary of his early career. Here is the article:

C.B.C.'s NEW COACH, Alexander Nicol Jerrems
Alexander Nicol Jerrems, coach of the Christian Brothers' Football eleven, was one of the greatest players that ever donned a canvas jacket. He played full back and half back on the Yale 'Varsity for 3 years. Mr Jerrems is 21 years of age and was born in Sydney, Australia. He came to this country when quite young and entered a preparatory school at Pottstown PA where he gained his first experience on the gridiron. He graduated from the Pottstown school in 1893, went to Yale and took the scientific course. He made the 'varsity team as a substitute in his freshman year.

In 1894 he played full back and half back under Captain Hinkey on the regular team. In 1894 he again played under the leadership of Hinkey, and that year he was regarded as one of the best players in the country. In 1896, his third year on the team, his wonderful line buckling ability and his long sensational end runs were responsible for many of the victories of Yale. Mr Jerrems, although he stands 6 feet one inch weighed but 150 pounds during his brilliant career at Yale. Since his graduation in 1896 he coached the Minnesota University eleven for two years.

Last Saturday Mr Jerrems captained an all-star team in a game against the famous Chicago Athletic Club eleven, and the game resulted in a tie. At present Jerrems weighs 152 pounds. He is in excellent condition, and is a splendid specimen of physical manhood. Jerrems makes a valuable coach, as he knows the game thoroughly, is a man of considerable personal magnetism, and has wonderful control of the players. He says there is some excellent material among the candidates for the first team at C.B.C. and is confident that he will be able to select a team that will down Washington on Thanksgiving Day.

Mr Jerrems makes his home in Chicago, where he manages a big tailoring establishment for his father. Playing football is a labour of love with him.

Comments on the article

Alexander was in fact 24 years of age in 1898. His First World War draft Registration Card shows his date of birth as 3rd August 1874.This is not the first time that his age was understated in newspaper articles.

At Pottstown Preparatory School (Pottstown is about 70 km north west of Philadelphia) as a schoolboy he also played baseball, with distinction, and in fact played baseball for Yale as well as gridiron.

The "scientific course" he completed at Yale was a Science /Economics course. No doubt this course was selected with an eye to his future employment with his father's "Nicoll the Tailor" chain of stores.

Although Alexander was a distinguished gridiron player at Yale this did not carry over to any significant degree to his coaching. When he finished his studies at Yale he obtained a full time coaching position for two years at Minnesota University (the first time that the University had employed a full time coach) coaching that University's representative team, the Minnesota Gophers. Alexander obviously drove a hard bargain because he was paid $1200 a year, a huge sum for those days, particularly considering that the US was suffering from the 1894-7 Depression.

Although Alexander threw himself into the job it appears from the match statistics that he did not lift the Gophers' performance as much as might have been hoped. Newspaper articles of the time said that his workload was too high, he needed support staff.

Why did he take up coaching at Minnesota University at the age of about 22 rather than play as a professional? The answer was probably quite simple, that in those days there were no professional players. In any case Alexander would already have had a career in the family tailoring business mapped out and did not need the income from playing (or coaching) the sport.

How long did Alexander coach the Christian Brothers' team?

We do not know, nothing further was published about him. Presumably he coached there for a year and then returned to Chicago.

Regarding the spelling of his middle name, there are variations of "Nicholl", "Nichol", "Nicol" and "Nicoll". He used the latter spelling on his First World War Draft Registration Card, so that was no doubt the spelling he favoured.

Highlights of Alexander's gridiron career

Initially Alexander's gridiron career as a player centred on his time studying at Yale University. The gridiron matches played by Yale University received wide press coverage at the time, including detailed articles in the New York Times which were reproduced in regional newspapers. The teams in the competition included Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell and Pennsylvania Universities.

The matches against Harvard were always a lively affair, dominated (in terms of wins) by Yale. The November 1894 match in Springfield, Massachusetts was watched by an estimated 25,000 spectators, many of whom arrived in 24 special trains. One newspaper reporter described the game as "a disgraceful fight all the way through". Three players from each side (including the hapless Alexander, who suffered a leg strain) were carried off the field on stretchers.

By way of contrast, a year later Yale played Princeton before a crowd of the same size in New York in a game described by one reporter as the best game he had ever seen. Fullback Alexander Jerrems (nicknamed, somewhat predictably, "Jerry") scored a touchdown.

Alexander's last recorded gridiron match was in 1903 when he played with Chestnut Hill Academy, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Alexander's vital statistics Alexander's height (about six foot) and playing weight (about 150 pounds) received a lot of press coverage. He was quite light for a football player even for those days. A photo of him shows that he was quite broad shouldered. Some confusion revolves about the colour of his eyes. A newspaper described him as having a piercing blue gaze, but the army officer who filled out his draft card in 1918 said they were brown. Readers will be pleased to know that Alexander's build in 1918 was still classed as "medium".

Alexander marries Mary Bell, they have children
In 1900 Alexander married Mary Emlen Bell, the daughter of Mifflin E. Bell (born in 1848 in Pennsylvania ) and Susan Bell (born in 1849 in Illinois). Mary was born in September 1875 in Illinois. At the time of their engagement Mary lived in the same street as Alexander's parents (she lived at 36 Aldine Square) so it is quite possible that Alexander and Mary had known each other since their childhood days. Alexander and Mary were married on a Tuesday evening in October 1900 in Chicago's Sixth Presbyterian Church, with the Rev. William P. Merrell performing the ceremony. Like most weddings it was very much a "family" affair. Miss Susie Bell, elder sister of the bride, was the matron of honor, and Mr Alexander Nicholl of New York (Alexander's cousin, also named after their grandfather) was the best man. The bridesmaids included Miss Julia Bell (Mary's younger sister) and Misses Helen and Mae Jerrems (two of Alexander's three sisters). After a month's honeymoon the couple settled in at 159 Forty-seventh Street, Chicago.

It is interesting to see that in that era weddings were held mid-week, not on Saturdays as is now the practice. Mid week weddings would in fact have suited the Jerrems family because their tailoring stores would have been open all Saturday. In due course Alexander and Mary had 3 children, Marabel , Alexander Nicoll Jnr, and Virginia.

Summary of their later lives

Briefly, Alexander helped manage the "Nicoll the Tailor" stores, which he and his brothers took over from their father, until the tailoring empire collapsed during the Great Depression.

Alexander died in 1948 in Los Angeles and Mary died in 1960 in Kenilworth, Chicago.

I have more information for a later article on Mary's ancestors and Alexander and Mary's married life and descendants. I also have an array of newspaper articles about Alexander's gridiron career if anyone wishes to read them.

Some of Mary's ancestors
As mentioned in the June 2008 edition of the Journal, Mary was a descendant of Capt. Gavin McCoy, who served in the American Revolutionary War, as follows:
(a) Gavin McCoy married Susanne Kanian (1740-1807), daughter Susannah McCoy (1773-1821).
(b) Susanna McCoy (1773-1821) married Thomas Lewis (1765-1831) in 1789), daughter Susan Ann Lewis (1814-79).
(c) Susan Ann Lewis married Henry Van Hoff (1804-54) in 1840, daughter Susan Adelaide Van Hoff (1847-1930).
(d) Susan Adelaide Van Hoff married Mifflin Emlen Bell (1847-1904)in 1871, daughter Mary Emlen Bell (1875).

This meant that Mary was recognised by the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, founded in 1890. The Society, whose motto is "God, Home and Country" has 165,000 members and 3,000 chapters in all 50 States. More than 850,000 women have joined the DAR since it was founded. Any woman 18 years or older who can prove lineal descent from a patriot of the American Revolution is eligible to join it.

Our editor's brother has exactly the same name as our hero Alexander.

The game ends

At last I have produced a full article about Alexander, without doubt the most famous sportsman in the Jerrems clan. I will tell you more about him in a later Journal.

"St Louis Republic" newspaper in Missouri on November 23rd, 1898
Yale now; Yale 1909

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