Huntington, like the rest of Long Island and the world, was a very different place in the 1930’s. It was the era of the Great Depression, of legions of unemployed, of storm clouds forming over Europe and of bread lines even on Main Street. It was also a simpler time when the local high school was the center of the universe for many teenagers and their families. It was a time of Friday night bonfires in Heckscher Park, social events in the school cafeteria and auditorium and an annual five-day senior trip to Washington, D.C.
Remarkably, it was also in the 1930’s that Huntington High School boasted an equestrienne (yes, the spelling is correct) club. The 1936 edition of The Huntingtonian, the school’s annual yearbook, documents the existence of the club, complete with a black-and-white photo of ten girls mounted on horseback.
“Once a week this group enjoys the exceptionally pleasant sport of riding at Bennert’s Academy in Northport,” states the yearbook. “The bridle paths there are excellent for an afternoon jaunt. All girls are given an opportunity to join at a reduced rate of fifty cents a lesson and to learn to ride in a special beginner’s class.”
The fee can only be considered slightly staggering for the Great Depression, but the fact there were a solid group of students involved, shows that even in those difficult years Huntington parents were willing to sacrifice for their children.
“The more advanced section, composed of only skilled equestriennes, rides weekly all through the school term,” the yearbook proclaimed. “In the winter the girls are able to enjoy their riding in the indoor ring at the academy.” Northport was a bucolic place then and the riding academy had plenty of acreage to allow for such activity.
The equestrienne club manager in 1936 was Huntington senior Leona O’Reilly. Nicknamed Lee, she played both basketball and field hockey (which was then known simply as hockey) all four years during high school and captained each team. She participated with the equestrienne club from her sophomore year on and also played golf as a junior and senior. She was a member of the Athletic Council as a senior, on the staff of The Huntingtonian, was on the Prom Committee as a junior, vice-president of the sophomore class and a member of Masque (drama club) for three years, acting in “Seventeen,” “Growing Pains,” and “Three’s a Crowd.”
Miss O’Reilly was also a swimmer as a junior and senior, winner of a Major “H” athletic award and a three-time Squad leader. As equestrienne club manager, she met regularly with other sport managers and physical education teacher Miss Theodora Cornell, a graduate of New York University. A photo of the group shows Miss O’Reilly wearing her riding boots.
As a senior, Miss O’Rielly was also a member of Arista, “an honorary society upheld by junior-senior girls of high scholarship standing,” according to the 1936 edition of The Huntingtonian. “Although membership is desired by many, its organization permits only the existence of a small exclusive group. While a large part of its activities is purely social, the Artista’s influence is felt throughout the school not only in upholding a standard as a goal for all girls but also by work done in actual contact with the student body. We justly pride ourselves in having such a shining example of modern womanhood and look forward in hope for the perpetuation of this society.” Needless to say, the society was eventually discontinued for reasons not known.
The equestrienne club also disappeared from the Huntington scene, but it remains part of the high school’s storied history and fits in nicely with the other legends from a very special time.