Virginia Tech’s history is a complicated one that is much more presumed than known due to an early 20th century blaze. In its early years, the institution served as an allegory of the rough, rag-tag, Appalachian spirit we see still embodied through a beaten-up lunch pail at football games and the largely blue-collar valley that envelops us. Tech, unlike its sister institutions William and Mary and the University of Virginia, has never owned any enslaved people by circumstance of its post-antebellum founding in 1872. Even its predecessor institution, the Olin & Preston Institute, has no record of owning any. That is not to say, however, that the grand 2,600-acre Blacksburg campus has never met or benefited from the harsh legacy of slavery.
Prior to last year, you most likely would not see him listed on the Virginia Tech Black History Timeline. He predates Charles “Uncle Sporty” Owens, Floyd Meade, and even Odd Fellows Hall, all well-known black figures in early Virginia Tech history. If you had the privilege of crawling around the campus of Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College about 148 years ago with Addison Caldwell and other “rats,” you’d most likely refer to him as “Uncle Andrew.” He is Andrew Oliver, and he is the first known African-American worker at what is now Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
WHEN: March 2019 (and beyond) WHERE: Wikipedia (see the project page) EXPERIENCE: None, just get started!
We love getting together to collaborate on editing, but we also realize everyone is very busy! Fortunately the highly connected world we live in allows us to bolster the sense of community that we can create through online collaboration.
As the worlds most popular online research tool, serving as the firstand oftenonlystop for many people looking for information on a wide range of topics ranging from general to technical subjects, biographies, and so forth. Frequently touted as an unbiased resource, analysis has shown that there is an alarming gap in content by and about women and other underrepresented groups, falsely suggesting that their contributions to their respective fields are either unimportant or non-existent(read more about that here). Lets help fix this!
Even if you have just five minutes between meetings you can update a resource. Add some images to a page, add a link back to the archival holdings or finding aid from a university, update the citations, proofread a paragraph, or add in-article links to other relevant Wikipedia content.
Have a few more minutes? Add a bio box, create a translation in another language, significantly edit an article, find and upload copyright-free images to Wikimedia Commons, add significant sections such as Career, Early Life, and Seminal Works, or add a completely new article entry.
You dont necessarily need to set up a Wikipedia account to edit! You can get started just by opening an article page and clicking edit at the top of the page. That said, we’re working through the annual Art+Feminism initiative and the important work of tracking statistics is only possible if we all register and use the project dashboard.
To get started. weve created a page with articles to edit, suggestions for areas of enhancement, links to relevant resources for adding content and citations, and links to images in Wikimedia Commons.
Lets spend the remainder of March 2019 updating resources together. Let us know about your progress on the project resource page and make sure to tag @VT_SCUA and #ArtAndFeminism on Twitter or reach out to the IAWA page on Facebook to let us know what youre working on!
Lets make it social and build a community around this important work. Looking forward to seeing the change that we, together, can create!
In the early years of the Great Depression, a team of 15 men and women visited the homes of more than 300 families in Grayson County, Virginia to ask residents dozens of questionssome rather personalabout their homes, their farms, and their lives. The questions solicited data for a survey conducted by the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and the U. S. Dept. of Agricultures Bureau of Home Economics. Conducted over the course of nine weeks in Grayson Countys Elk Creek and Wilson Creek districts, the survey formed part of a larger study of social and economic conditions in the southern Appalachian highlands. The resulting report was to form the basis for the development of effective and much needed home extension work as well as furnish valuable information of use to the departments of education, public health, the state traveling library, and other agencies (Annual Report of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute Agricultural Experiment Station, 1931). The collected data was later used in Faith M. Williams 1935 report, Variations in Farm-Family Living (in United States Dept. of Agriculture Miscellaneous Publication205, Economic and Social Problems and Conditions of the Southern Appalachian Highlands, available online here.)
Here in Special Collections, the original survey records may be found in the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station Farm Family Study (Grayson County) (Ms1940-023). Nearly 90 years after the surveys completion, the responses generated by it remain a rich source of raw, granular data for a sizable chunk of Grayson Countys rural population at that time. Comprising a painstakingly meticulous record of a community in the southern Appalachian highlands, the survey data could today be used in examining any number of social, economic, agricultural, or other trends.
Today, however, were going to look at the collection from a different angle. For Grayson County local and family historians, the survey responses can provide an unintended wealth of information. Here in a single place are detailed records of 300 of the countys families, providing data on their employment, income, educationeven how many pairs of underwear they made or purchased in a year. As an example, Ive chosen a single family at random to see what the survey can tell us about them. All of the information that follows is derived from the survey itself, with no outside sources consulted:
On June 29, 1931, surveyors T. M. Dean and Amelia H. Fuller visited the Birkett F. and Ruth Sutherland Taylor family of the Comers Rock area in Grayson Countys Elk Creek District. The Taylors were asked to provide information for the 12-month period ending on March 31, 1931. Given the number of questions asked, the visit must have taken the greater part of the couples day.
Birkett Taylor, 42 at the time of the study, was the son of Freel and Bell Harrington Taylor. Ruth Sutherland Taylor, his 38-year-old wife, was the daughter of Alex and Eliza Comer Sutherland. Both Birkett and Ruth were natives of Grayson County, as were their parents. Birkett had attended four years of high school, while Ruth had attended 14 years of school, averaging 16 weeks per year.
Birkett and Ruth had been married for 19 years and were distantly related by blood, being fourth cousins. The Taylors had a rather large family, with four daughters (ages 17, 10, 3 years, and 13 months) and five sons (ages 19, 15, 13, eight, and five). Also living in the household was Birketts 62-year-old mother. The family had no boarders or hired help living with them. (They seem to have had frequent guests, however, having provided an estimated 416 meals to guests during the year.)
The Taylors two-story, 1500-square-foot frame house had been built in 1881 and was remodeled in 1901. Valued at $2,222, the mortgaged home had a sound metal roof and a single-layer, unfinished floor. Stretching across the full front of the home was a porch, seven feet deep; a smaller, 30 x 7-foot porch was attached to the back of the house. The weathered home had 12 rooms including a kitchen, dining room, and parlor. Birkett and Ruth shared their bedroom with three of their children. Four sons shared another bedroom, and two daughters were in a third. Birketts mother, Bell Taylor, had use of the fourth bedroom. The surveyors gave the home a poor rating in terms of cleanliness and neatness. Surrounding the house was a picket fence in poor condition. The yard included shade trees, rosebushes, peonies, and lilies. Nearby were the familys cellar and a vented privy. The home sat on The Taylors 210-acre farm, with 102 acres in pasture and another 55 acres devoted to crops.
In addition to two fireplaces, the house was heated by a woodstove and a coal stove. The family cooked on a woodstove, and the home was lit with kerosene lamps. (The Taylors had spent $50 on 50 cords of wood during the previous year and a dollar on five gallons of kerosene.) A handpump at the sink drew clean water from a spring 500 yards from the house. For bathing, the Taylors used one of two galvanized washtubs in the home, and the family had a gasoline-powered washing machine for laundry. Clothing was pressed with one of three stove-heated irons owned by the family.
The Taylor home was furnished with 15 straightback chairs, five rocking chairs, five tables (in addition to any tables in the kitchen), and a desk. For bedding, the family had five feather ticks, nine straw ticks, and two mattresses. The Taylors also owned three clocks, a piano, a foot-powered sewing machine, and a radio (purchased within the previous year for $30).
There had been no deaths in the Taylors immediate family during the previous year. Reporting on serious illnesses in the family, Birkett mentioned that hed had pneumonia, as had the couples 15-year-old son. Ruth reported having had a baby. During the previous year, the Taylors had spent $20 on dental work and $75 for medical services, and they had received free vaccinations.
The Taylors were members of a church and had tithed a total of $10 during the year. Theyd paid $4 in income tax and $4 in poll taxes. Other expenses included $2 on cosmetics, $2.60 on toiletries and barber visits, $13 on tobacco, and $3.60 on photography. The family had spent nothing on gifts throughout the year, except at Christmas, when two dollars worth of food gifts were distributed within the family. Other Christmas food giftsvalued at five dollarswere given from what the family had themselves produced during the year. No gifts were given outside the immediate family. For the year, total expenditures on recreation and leisure amounted to $42.60.
The Taylors children helped significantly with the farm work, the older boys performing the milking, livestock care, field work, and vegetable gardening. The eldest girl, meanwhile, helped to care for the younger children, cleaned, cooked, and did laundry. The children also picked berries during the year (30 gallons total) and gathered nuts (150 pounds total). With the help of her eldest daughter, Ruth canned 194 quarts of fruits and vegetables, 40 quarts of jams and preserves, 120 quarts of fruit butters, four quarts of jelly, and 122 quarts of meat. They dried another 10 pounds of fruits and vegetables and pickled 44 quarts of fruits and vegetables, 10 quarts of sauerkraut, and 25 quarts of cottage cheese. They’d also made 96 pounds of sausage and 122 pounds of lard. The Taylors teenaged sons had assisted in the butchering of four hogs and one steer and had also hunted wild game, bringing home 12 squirrels and 36 rabbits. The boys had also caught four pounds of fish.
The Taylor farm had produced 75 bushels of apples in the previous year, at a value of $75, as well as two gallons of cherries, valued at $2.00. Other harvested produce included 1200 pounds of white potatoes ($20.00); 112 pounds of beets ($2.00), 5 pounds of carrots ($5.00), 5 pounds of onions ($5.00), 40 pounds of turnip greens ($2.00), 400 pounds of cabbage ($8.00), 20 pounds of lettuce ($1.20), 192 pounds of cucumbers ($4.00), 15 pounds of tomatoes ($15.00), 528 pounds of string beans ($22.00), 120 pounds of dry beans ($7.00), 32.1 pounds of peas ($5.00), and 360 pounds of green corn ($6.00), in addition to many other crops omitted here. Theyd also collected 250 pounds of honey, valued at $50.
In addition to farming, Birkett Taylor worked as a miller and carpenter. He earned little as a carpenter during the year (just $50) but made another $410 in lumber and in another unspecified business. The two eldest Taylor boys, meanwhile, had brought in another $100 by working on local roads. The boys earned an additional $284 in hauling, and three of the boys sold some of the rabbits theyd killed, for $7.20. The Taylors daughters had not worked outside the home but sold some of the nuts that theyd gathered, for $7.80. The familys total income for the previous year totaled $1093.00.
The family supplemented their garden harvest with produce purchased with cash or trade, mostly at the Comers Rock store, three miles distant. During the year, the family purchased 120 pounds of watermelons for $1.50. Theyd also purchased 12 pounds of string beans ($1), three pounds of prunes ($.30), 6.56 pounds of raisins ($1.05), two dozen oranges ($.60), 1.59 pounds of peanut butter ($.60). Among the familys other food purchases were 25 loaves of bread ($22.50), 6 boxes of crackers ($.30), 7.5 pounds of oatmeal ($.90), 6 boxes of prepared breakfast foods ($.60), 24 pounds of rice ($2.40), 12 pounds of macaroni ($3.60), 500 pounds of sugar ($30.00), 25 pounds of brown sugar ($1.50), and candy ($10). They bought no tea and only three pounds of coffee ($.60), but consumed 24 pounds of Postum ($6.00) and three pounds of cocoa ($.90).
The Taylors made most of their own clothing. For the year, they reported spending $46.87 for clothing or materials on female members of the family; $188.65 on the males. Many of these items were purchased at Long Gap, in Wytheville, or through mail-order catalogs, these being cheaper alternatives to the store in Comers Rock.
In the interest of brevity, Ive omitted here much of what the survey tells us about the Taylors. Other survey responses reveal, in detail, the number of times each family member journeyed away from home and for what purpose, the quantity and cost of each article of clothing spent on each family member, the number of pillowcases and screens in the home, which newspapers and magazines were read by the family, and, wellthe list just goes on and on. No less interesting is what the survey tells us about what the family didnt have. For example, one blank response tells us that the Taylors, like many of their neighbors, didnt own a car. Other blank table cells tell us which crops the family didnt raise, which products they didnt purchase from the store, which types of plants werent in their yard, etc.
The image of the Taylors that emerges from the survey is remarkably detailed. Without using a single photo or a word of narrative, the survey responses give us a portrait of one southwestern Virginia family, based entirely on objective data provided by the family itself and the observations of the surveyors.
I should perhaps note here that the data is not easily retrievable. The survey records contain hundreds of individuals sheets divided among several volumes, each volume comprised of several sets of questions, all arranged first by question, then by record number, not by family name. Nor is the survey infallible. (In seeking more information on the Taylors, for example, I found this page on findagrave, which revealed that Mr. Taylors name was Birket rather than Birkett.)
Despite the cumbersome arrangement of the records, they would prove an invaluable tool for any genealogist or local historian whos looking for information on an area family and is willing to undertake a little digging. Moreover, the survey continues to hold inestimable value for its original, intended use. Extending this gleaning exercise over the entire survey, an interested researcher could develop any number of projects from the meticulous records created by 15 workers during that summer of 1931.
More on the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station Farm Family Study (Ms1940-023) may be found in the collections finding aid.
Architectural practice is full of moments of quick, insightful sketching. These bits of paper show the need to record an otherwise fleeting design idea or to communicate a thought when words are insufficient. Sketches made during student years show the process of working through architectural design and honing drawing techniques. These drawn remnants turn up in many architectural collections in the form of notes, scribbles, and concept sketches. They offer valuable insights into the career and studies of an architect and they also offer pure visual pleasure and inspiration to other creative individuals.
The sketches, notes, and printed ephemera that follow showcase just a few of the many notations that can be found across architectural collections in the International Archive of Women in Architecture.
School notes and drawings
Ink and graphite on paper
Jean Linden Young Papers (Ms1988-022)
Notes and sketches recorded by Young during her architectural studies at the University of Illinois document her process of learning about different types of classical architecture. Her sets of alternately highly-detailed and quick sketches illustrate the extensively-noted concepts put into practice.
Second Street studies
Graphite on paper
Dorthy Alexander Architectural Collection
This set of concept sketches from an undated project shows the importance of using quick drawings as a way to brainstorm and work out design details.
Why dont you be an architect?
Dorothee Stelzer King Architectural Collection (Ms2013-023)
This brochure promoting the study of architecture was produced by the Alliance of Women in Architecture (AWA). Among other the content, the text asserts that architects have variety in their work.
Nearly all the collections in the IAWA contain loose drawings, fragmentary scribbles, and marginalia. A few more parting images from Susana Torre, Eleanore Petersen, Olive Chadeayne, and Jean Linden Young.
In August, following a 15-month, multi-million dollar project, Virginia Tech re-opened O’Shaughnessy Hall. The renovation of the residence hall, now home to the Leadership and Social Change Residential College, was accompanied by much-deserved fanfare.
With considerably less fanfare, Special Collections recently processed the extant papers of Louis O’Shaughnessy, for whom O’Shaughnessy Hall is named, making the longtime professor’s remaining papers much more accessible and research-relevant.
A native of Ohio, Louis O’Shaughnessy graduated from what was then the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (VPI) in 1903. He taught at the university for two years before leaving to obtain a master’s degree in mathematics at Ohio State University (1907) and a doctorate at University of Pennsylvania (1911). He returned to VPI in 1918 as a professor of applied mechanics and was the first head of the university’s applied mechanics department. O’Shaughnessy also served as the acting dean of engineering and as the director of graduate studies before retiring in 1954.
The papers of Louis O’Shaughnessy focus primarily on his younger years and include schoolwork and grade reports. Perhaps most interestingly, from the standpoint of campus history, O’Shaughnessy’s papers include an account book that meticulously details his daily expenses as an upperclassman, beginning with, presumably, his train ticket to Blacksburg in September, 1900.
As is often the case when delving into an unprocessed archival collection, the O’Shaughnessy papers held a few surprises. The biggest surprise came with the discovery that the papers focused more on O’Shaughnessy’s daughter, Betty Louis O’Shaughnessy Bock, than on him. (In fact, the collection had been originally named the Louis O’Shaughnessy Papers but had to renamed following a closer examination of the contents.)
The only child of Louis and Ida Surface O’Shaughnessy, Betty Louis O’Shaughnessy was born in Philadelphia in 1917. She moved with her parents to Blacksburg the following year.
Betty O’Shaughnessy seems to have been a pretty typical teenager, though her fickle fixation on various boys tended toward the extreme. The collection contains a diary that she maintained during her sophomore year at Blacksburg High School, and while the entries provide some insight into the social life and other activities of a high school student in Blacksburg during the Great Depression, the overwhelming emphasis is on the many boys whom she liked.
In a single, typical diary entry, Betty O’Shaughnessy notes her infatuation with no fewer than six boys. (Click to enlarge.)
Given the tone of Betty O’Shaughnessy’s diary entries, we might be forgiven for dismissing her as a flighty teenager, but in fact she performed exceptionally well in high school and graduated early. She is listed among the 1932/1933 VPI students as a freshman biology major while no more than 16 years old. By her junior year, O’Shaughnessy had switched majors to general science. A great deal of the collection is devoted to her schoolwork and contains her notes, completed exams, and essays. Some of O’Shaughnessy’s essays are of interest for their focus on campus activities or for their views on social issues of the day, such as her essay in defense of eugenics. In January, 1936, she appeared before a student panel to argue for the inclusion of the university’s women students in the pages of The Bugle, the school annual. Though she argued convincingly, it would be several more years before The Bugle would include co-eds.
Betty O’Shaughnessy graduated with honors in 1936 and is listed as a graduate student the following year, though she seems not to have completed her graduate studies. In 1942, she joined the VPI faculty as a mathematics instructor, probably placing her among the first women employed as classroom instructors at Virginia Tech. O’Shaughnessy’s professional papers–exams, handouts, and grade reports–survive in the collection.
In December, 1944, Betty O’Shaughnessy married Arthur Bock. The couple moved to Annapolis, where Arthur Bock worked as a engineering instructor at the U. S. Naval Academy. Betty Bock wrote frequent letters home, and a great deal of the collection is devoted to the chatty letters she wrote to her parents about her social activities, home life, and travel.
Also among the O’Shaughnessy papers are some items from the Surface family–relatives of Ida Surface O’Shaughnessy and longtime residents of Montgomery County. Included within the small collection of materials is a 1917 letter from Betty Surface relaying news from Blacksburg and mentioning the scandalous murder of Stockton Heth Jr. at the hands of Charles Vawter on the VPI campus. Also included is a letter from Vawter’s father, asking for Betty Surface’s prayers for his son.
Given the O’Shaughnessys’ lengthy association with Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, their papers would be a helpful resource for anybody examining local or campus history during the early part of the 20th century, and they are especially relevant to women’s history at Virginia Tech and beyond.
More on the O’Shaughnessy Family Papers (Ms1987-052) may be found in the collection’s finding aid.
Make an animation. Make a gif. Make a collage. Write some microfiction. Write a poem. Get out your digital black-out marker to create some redacted poetry. Make something entirely unique that was inspired by an image or string of text. Remix and stretch your creativity. Archives are here to inspire!
Archives matter. They preserve records of human history and offer glimpses into the past. Historians mine them for the sources that make up their books and artists, musicians, and writers pull inspiration for their creative works. Genealogists seek out threads of family history and alumni find scholastic treasures.
October is American Archives Month and to celebrate special collections departments everywhere we’re holding an Archives Remix event all month long. Take some inspiration from the Virginia Tech Library archives and stretch your creative muscles by producing a visual or written work that uses one or more of the VT Special Collections images that are posted above.
Share your work on social media (Twitter or Instagram), tag #VTArchivesRemix and @VT_SCUA, and let us know which image(s) inspired your work. We’ll be sharing your artwork and written pieces all month long!
Send us your creations:
Crumbling under the weight of words:
Send us a piece of microfiction inspired by one or more of the images. Economy is key, so make sure to exercise efficiency of language. Submissions should be 200 words or less.
Use one or more of the images to create a new visual work. Think beyond boundaries and remix the images with your own work or repeat elements of the same picture to create something entirely new. Stills or animations, collages, videos, photographs, memeswe want to see it all.
Brief and bold:
Poetry is the ultimate in brevity and elegance of prose–no room for stray words or useless turns of phrase. Take inspiration from a fleeting image or line of text. Redact words on an existing page to unveil something entirely new. We can’t wait to read your poems, written or redacted.
Choose from the following images to inspire your own works:
Need a little extra inspiration?
Read this incredibly moving microfiction piece, Sticks,by George Saunders.
The beginning of the fall semester and the nearly overnight return to a bustling and lively campus provides a good opportunity to reflect on the essential thing that we do, which is to educate. Student works are common discoveries in the collections that form the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA) and can tell us either about an architects own practice or their methods of classroom instruction. This post will focus on the former, with an eye to the role that archival collections can play in examining design sensibilities within the context of a developing architectural practice.
One of the most profound ways to understand the progression of the aesthetic sensibilities of a creative professional is to examine their works (including inspirational materials, writing, and sketches) across their career. Looking at materials that span yearsor even decadesoffers a glimpse into how their style evolved, was refined, stayed constant, or in some cases shifted radically. With architects it is possible to trace the development not only of their design considerations, but also the changes in drawing techniques, enhanced observational skills, and a deeper understanding of spaces. It is often possible to see how they refine and expand their understanding of the outer world, visual culture, and the impact of spaces on the people who inhabit them.
The Exhibition HallVariableTransportable project was completed by Dorothee Stelzer King while she was an architecture student at the Hochschule fur Bildende Kunste in Berlin, Germany. Completed the same year that she received her degree, the project was based on a first-year design exercise involving the enlargement of a simple shape to create a complex design without adding extra material to the final structure.
The Dorothee Stelzer King collection also contains works that the architect completed at various points during her professional career, allowing researchers to study the progression of her designs over time. The series of concept drawings and plans for the Bahamas Nursing School in Nassau, Bahamas, shows Kings attention to understanding how educational spaces and their inhabitants interact. While the drawings show a move away from the more experimental design work seen in Exhibition HallVariableTransportable, they showcase a greater understanding of the practical nature of educational facilities and the importance of proper acoustics, seating, structural elements, and paths of movement through interior spaces.
Many other student and professional design projects and records can be accessed in the Special Collections Reading Room at Virginia Tech. The finding aid for the Dorothee Stelzer King Architectural Collection can be viewed online at Virginia Heritage. The collection is currently being digitized with funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) and will be available in full through the Virginia Tech digital library.
Due to Commencement exercises on campus, Special Collections (along with the University Libraries) will be opening LATE on Friday, May, 10, 2018. We will open at 10am and close at our normal time (5pm). We will be CLOSED for a staff event on Monday, May 14, 2018, and we will resume our normal hours on Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
“Taking some good advice, ‘if a woman is going to perform a man’s task, she must be more capable than a man doing the same task.’ I gave it all and have continued to do so ever since.” Anonymous, from Candid Reflections: Letters from Women in Architecture 1972 & 2004
Women matter. They are present and visible, and their voices are central to the way that our communities are shaped. The story of women in the field of architecture can read in a multiplicity of ways, the two most dominant narratives of 20th century practice being ones of exclusion or of triumph. Bemoaning the very real barriers to entry and the loss of talent to attrition based on social pressures is one way to understand architectural practice in the 20th century. We can also flip that narrative and observe the many ways that women overcame, inserting themselves into the conversation, demanding attention and respect, and finding methods to work within existing structures while dismantling them from the inside.
We can understand the diverse ways that women moved through the architectural world while also noticing the trends that emergetypes of work that seem prevalent in their respective careers, stories about being denied interviews, or assumptions that they would be “good with colors” or best-suited to interior design work. These anecdotal recollections, when viewed en masse, begin to tell a story about the barriers to entry and limitations often encountered in a male dominated field. Beyond that, however, we see positive patterns and systems emerge when women began to form organizations to support one another professionally, to cultivate a more active presence in the broader field, and to vocally address inequities through surveys, task forces, and sometimes by outright forcing their way into the old boys clubs of the largest professional organizations.
Spanning the bulk of the 20th century (in a field often defined by the idea of a single, star practitioner) the women, projects, and historical trends presented in the online interactive exhibition Together | We: Troubling the Field in 20th Century Architecture suggest a unity both tangible and intangible between women who held some part in changing the field. Their approaches were varied, but together with their presence, techniques, and persistence they troubled the field and changed our built environment.
The exhibition includes materials from the International Archive of Women in Architecture, held by the Special Collections Department at Virginia Tech. Many of the featured drawings, photographs, and manuscript materials have been digitized as part of a Council on Library Resources (CLIR) Digitizing Hidden Collections grant.
Cato Lee: Pioneer of the Lee-aphon Clan by Gigi Lee-aphon tells the fascinating stories of Cato Lee, one of the early Chinese students at Virginia Tech, and the members of his family. Written by Cato Lees daughter, Gigi, the ninth of his ten children, the book gives insights into the challenges faced by family members as they confronted Chinese, American, and Thai cultures. The author uses family stories to give the reader a better understanding of the life of Cato Lee. The book was published by Lotus Seed Press in 2017.
Cato Lee, who graduated in 1927 in Mechanical Engineering, was one of the first six Chinese students at Virginia Tech. The University Archives’ site, “First International Students at Virginia Tech,” lists the first and early international students by year and country: http://spec.lib.vt.edu/archives/diversity/InternationalVPI/
Born Lee Kee Tow in Bangkok, Thailand in 1904, Cato Lee was the son of Lee Tek Khoeia, a Chinese immigrant and merchant from Canton, and Noei Lamson, the youngest child of one of the most prominent families in Thailand. Because his father was a playboy, Cato was raised in unusual circumstances in Canton, China from the time he was four. When he was fourteen, his father enrolled him in an English/Chinese school in Hong Kong. He became a British subject while he was in Hong Kong, a status that his father already had. The British passport made it easier for him to travel to the United States.
When Cato was 17, his close friend from Hong Kong, Tien-Liang Jeu talked him into going to study in the United States. Tien-Liang already had visited the United States and enrolled at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. The two young men made the arduous journey by ship from Hong Kong to Vancouver and then traveled by train across the United States to New York City. Since he did not have much money, Cato waited on tables at a small restaurant before he enrolled in school. Because he was younger than Tien-Lang Jeu, who entered Virginia Tech (then called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or V.P.I.) in 1921, Cato first attended and graduated from Fork Union Military Academy a military high school for cadets in Fork Union, Virginia.
Tien-Liang, whose nickname at V.P.I. was Ting Ling, earned a degree in electrical engineering. According to his Bugle page, his highest ambition is to turn the wild and destructive forces of the mighty Yangtse and Yellow Rivers into power that will illuminate all China. (1924 Bugle, p. 61)
Cato Lee entered V.P.I. in 1923 and earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1927. He played on the varsity track and tennis teams and belonged to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Lee Literary Society. His Bugle page (1927, p. 183) includes a quote from Kipling:
But there is neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho they have come from the ends of the earth.
The commentary on his Bugle page indicates that Lee was not only a student but also taught his fellow cadets by “showing us that the gentleman of the East is not different from the gentleman of the West.”
Virginia Tech was very important to Cato Lee. Gigi Lee-aphon wrote in an email that she learned to say the word bugle at a very young age, not knowing it was an English word. Her fathers cadet uniform, sword, and sash were neatly hung on a stand in a corner of his bedroom for many years. I could admire it, she said, but better not touch it.
The image on the books cover shows Cato Lee and his bride, Kim Reiw, the daughter of a Chinese businessman. They only met because he stopped off in Thailand to visit his Thai mother on his way back to China. The couple married soon after they met and lived in Bangkok. Kim Reiw is wearing the wedding dress her parents ordered from Hong Kong. The book describes the couple’s glamorous wedding at one of the royal palaces in Bangkok where they both wore traditional Thai garments. They were known as the Romeo and Juliet of Thailand.