A Mystery Banjo and the Racism in Our Past

Recently, I’ve been working on identifying artifacts and university memorabilia in our collections, and I came across a beautiful, four-stringed tenor banjo and its case. I did not anticipate that an item so innocuous as a musical instrument would lead down a path into learning about the university’s racist past, including minstrelsy and blackface.

To start, I could find no information about the banjo’s former owner, so I investigated the banjo and case themselves for clues. Handwritten on the banjo head is “The Collegians, VPI, Blacksburg, VA.”, and the peghead identifies it as a Bruno banjo. Handwritten on the banjo’s case are the initials, “L.A.H.”

Searching through names related to our collections, I found the Lewis A. Hall Papers, Ms1983-009, very promising given his initials and his connection to Virginia Tech. Looking thru the collection, my excitement rose almost immediately when I found a reference to the Collegians – the band the banjo is advertising – in the printed items. Then I opened the folders of photographs and found a beautiful picture of the Collegians themselves, with one man holding this very banjo! A portrait in the collection is of Hall, and it’s clear he’s the same man holding the banjo.

Interested in finding out who else is in the photo, I pulled the Collegians folder in the Historical Photographs Collection. I found a copy of the same photo, dated 1923-1924, identifying the musicians from left: Robert B. Skinner (drummer); J.B. “Yash” Cole (trombone); Arthur Scrivenor Jr. (piano); Lewis A. Hall (banjo, manager, and director); H. Gaines Goodwin (saxophone); Bill Harmon (saxophone); and S.C. Wilson (trumpet, not pictured). This picture is also used in the 1924 Bugle yearbook.

There were two other pictures in the folder of Hall and the Collegians, dated 1922-1923, from left: L.A. “Lukie” Hall (tenor banjo); J.B. Cole (trumbone); R.S. “Bob” Skinner (traps); W. “Bass” Perkins (clarinet, violin, leader); Tom S. Rice (piano); W.D. “Willie” Harmon (saxophone); F.R. “Piggy” Hogg (saxophone, traps, manager); and S.C. “Stanley” Wilson (trumpet, not pictured).

After discovering the owner’s name, I wanted to know a bit more about both Hall and the Collegians. To the latter first – A dance orchestra at VPI formed in 1918 as the Southern Syncopating Saxophone Six. They were later renamed Virginia Tech Jazz Orchestra and known as the College Six. In 1922, they became the Collegians, and in 1931, they finally became the Southern Colonels. Today, the jazz band continues to perform, as part of the Corps of Cadets Regimental Band, the Highty-Tighties.

Second, Lewis Augustus Hall was born Lewis Augustus Hall in 1903 in Norfolk, Virginia. He attended VPI from 1920 to 1924. In addition to playing for the Collegians (also called the Tech Orchestra), he was a member of the Norfolk Club, Cotillion Club, Tennis Squad, the American Society of Mechanical Engineering, and the Virginia Tech Minstrels (more on this below). He also served as athletic editor for The Virginia Tech, the predecessor oftheCollegiate Times, assistant manager of basketball, and manager of the freshman basketball team. Finally, he rose thru the ranks of the Corps of Cadets, graduating as Lieutenant of Company F. In 1924, he graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Upon graduation, Hall joined the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company, retiring as assistant vice-president in 1968. He married and with his wife Virginia had two sons. Hall maintained a connection to Virginia Tech, serving on the board of directors for the Virginia Tech Alumni Association for 15 years and earning the Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1977. He died in 1982.

As mentioned above, Hall performed in the student club, the Virginia Tech Minstrels. I’ve heard of minstrel shows before and knew that students at Virginia Tech had held them. But this was my first time coming across them inadvertently, so it was a shock to learn that the owner of this banjo was a member of a minstrelsy.

If you aren’t aware, minstrel shows in the United States were a performance typically including skits, jokes, and music – predominantly performed by white people in blackface as a spoof, full of stereotypes and racist depictions, of Black people and their cultures. The 1924 Bugle (pp. 346-347) discusses the group and even depicts members in blackface. The Collegians are also listed as the group’s orchestra and a photo of the group includes Hall holding the banjo.

Hall’s and the Collegian’s involvement in minstrelsy shows that even an item as seemingly innocuous as a musical instrument can shed light on a part of our history that we – especially those of us in positions of privilege – do not always acknowledge. Yet, minstrel shows at Virginia Tech continued well into the 1960s, and this form of racism (and others) continues in America into the present day.

After Hollins College recently addressed controversy of blackface depictions in their yearbooks, Virginia Tech released the University Statement on Offensive Photographs to address the racist imagery in our past, and the University Libraries prepared a statement for our digital yearbook repositories to affirm our commitment to the Principles of Community and providing historical documentation to researchers.

My research about a mystery banjo took me down a path I could not imagine. I was at first excited to discover the owner’s identity, then horrified to learn about his and the instrument’s connection to racist entertainment. But in the end, the journey led me to learn more about this form of racism and how its legacy continues to impact American society. As the University statement says, “The history of our nation and the Commonwealth of Virginia has a common storyline starting with slavery and segregation, and moving toward our ultimate goal of treating everyone with respect and cherishing the strength that comes from diversity of identities and lived experiences. We, as a society, are somewhere in the middle of this process.”

For more information about blackface and minstrelsy, please read “Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype” from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture blog, A People’s Journey, A Nation’s Story, as well as Vox’s interview with author John Strausbaugh, “The complicated, always racist history of blackface” by Sean Illing.

(This post was edited May 22, 2019, with additional information about blackface and minstrelsy, the statements on offensive imagery in the Bugle yearbooks, and a revised title.)

Presidential Inaugurations and Virginia Tech

Well, tomorrowis the inauguration of the45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, so I decided to scour our collections for items pertaining to presidents.At Special Collections you can find all sorts of material related to presidents – presidents of the U.S., presidents of organizations and businesses, and, of course, presidents of Virginia Tech. If you search our blogand our finding aids, you’ll find all sorts of posts and collections referencingall these presidential types. But I’d like to highlight items related to the presidential inaugurations of the U.S. and VT presidents that we maintain.

United States Presidential Inaugurations

The Highty-Tighties, Virginia Tech’s very own Corps of Cadets band,has performed for numerous U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt at an exposition in 1902 and in the pre-inauguration celebrations for Barack Obama’s first term in 2009.They have also gain national recognition through their performances at twelve inaugural parades, starting with Woodrow Wilson’s second inauguration in 1917 and ending withGeorge W. Bush’s second in 2005. The band was also invited to play at William Howard Taft’s inauguration in 1909, which they were unable to attend, according to letters inPres. Paul B. Barringer’s records, RG 2/6. During the mid-20th century, theseparades doubled as bandcompetitions, and the Highty Tighties won first prize three years consecutively in 1953, 1957, and 1961, the last year of the inaugural parade competition. Special Collections has photographs and other items related tothe Highty Tighties at a few of the parades in the Historical Photograph Collection.

Special Collections also holds invitations to several U.S. presidential inaugurations in our manuscript collections. We also have materials related tothe 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugurationand atintypefrom Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 re-election campaign.Below are inaugural invitations and programs for Zachary Taylor in 1849 from the Robert Taylor Preston Papers, Ms1992-003;Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 in the John Henry Johnson Scrapbook, Ms2009-053; and Richard M. Nixon in 1969 in the Earl D. Gregory Collection, Ms1972-004.

Here are items fromthe press packet for the inauguration of Harry S Truman in 1949 inthe Evert B. Clark Papers, Ms1989-022:

Virginia Tech Presidential Installations

Being the repository for the University Archives, Special Collections, of course, maintains items related to the inaugurations or installations of the university presidents. For example, we have a video of James D. McComas’ inauguration in 1988as 13th president of Virginia Tech. Several of therecords of the presidents have files related to their inauguration ceremonies, including Walter Newmanin RG 2/10, Boxes 2-3; T. Marshall Hahn in RG 2/11, Box 97; and William E. Lavery in RG 2/12, Boxes 1-2.Additionally,items related to the installation ceremonies are located in the Record Group Vertical Files and the University Libraries library catalog.

The Man, the Myth, the Mascot: Floyd H. Meade, Virginia Tech’s First Mascot Performer

Floyd "Hardtimes" Meade, 1921
Floyd “Hardtimes” Meade with his trained turkey at a 1921 football game

Floyd “Hardtimes” Meade. Many of you Hokie fans may know that name. We’ve mentioned him on this blog before in “Thanksgiving traditions at Virginia Tech” and “When Orange Became The New Black (and Maroon the New Gray)”. He’s best remembered as the university’s first mascot performer, who dressed up as a clown in orange and maroon, and as the man who introduced the turkey to football games, influencing the HokieBird mascot.

But of course, Floyd Meade was more than that. People who knew the man recalled his activities at Virginia Tech to Col. Harry Temple, who wrote the epic history of Virginia Tech, The Bugles Echo (see also Harry Downing Temple Papers, Ms1988-039). But little about Meade’s family life has been discussed until now, thanks to the proliferation of genealogy websites, a search through digitized census, military, and vital records online reveals some important details about him and his family.

Floyd Hobson Meade (also Mead) was born October 2, 1882, in Blacksburg to Denie (also Dina) Meade. His father may have been either William Meade (on his marriage certificate) or Joe Dill (on his death certificate). Floyd also had a brother Emmett (b. 1880), sister Octavia (b. May 1885), and probably another brother named Alex (1887-1896). Emmett also worked at Virginia Tech, in the Mess Hall as a waiter and later the Machine Shop as a machinist.

According to Temple, Meade briefly lived with the family of Cadet N. W. Thomas, who brought him to campus in 1889. The students loved him, and after that, Meade started advertising the school’s athletic games. By 1896, he traveled with the football team on their trips as a mascot in the orange and maroon clown costume. (Temple, pp. 254-255) At this time, he also began working at the college in the Mess Hall (Temple, p. 448).

In 1913, Floyd started bringing live turkeys to football games, inspired by the team’s informal nickname the Gobblers. He trained the birds to pull carts, walk on a leash, and flap their wings and gobble on command. Temple even recounts after a victorious Thanksgiving Day game against V.M.I., that the rotund turkey was cooked and served in the Mess Hall! Meade also played music for himself and for the cadets – Temple states he was a regular one-man-band playing a guitar, bass drum, and harmonica all at once (p. 3115-3116).

Floyd Meade, 1921
Floyd Meade, 1921. Notice carefully the two-toned color of his outfit – probably maroon on the left and orange on the right!

On August 25, 1913, Floyd married Lucy M. Turner, daughter of Giles Turner and a cook in private service. Floyd and Lucy were both involved in the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America. In 1905, he joined Tadmore Light Lodge #6184, the Blacksburg chapter of the fraternal organization. We have the Blacksburg Odd Fellows Records, Ms1988-009, which includes a membership book with an entry for Meade. Minutes and attendance records list him as Past Noble Father (the highest degree or rank in the organization), and a number of other documents refer to Meade’s service as secretary of the organization. Lucy Meade was a member of the Household of Ruth, the female auxiliary of the Odd Fellows. (Floyd’s membership entry and other Odd Fellows items are on display through the end of February in our exhibit on the first floor of Newman!)

Floyd’s life wasn’t always good though, and on April 24, 1929, Meade’s mother Denie died at around the age of 72. In December, Floyd lost his job at Virginia Tech, according to Temple. So students took up a collection to help with his family’s living expenses, and alumni wrote letters to try and change administrators’ minds – to no avail. (Temple, p. 3846-3847) Then, tragedy struck once more, when Lucy died on June 28, 1931, around age 45 of heart disease.

Floyd continued to work as a cook or waiter in restaurants around town and even served as head waiter at the Lake Hotel in Mountain Lake. By 1940, he was working as a janitor in private service. The next year, Meade died on February 8, after a car accident.

Floyd Meade (seated) and unidentified man (possibly nephew Emmett Meade, Jr.)
Floyd Meade (seated) and unidentified man (possibly nephew Emmett Meade, Jr.)

In 2003, Meade’s life provided the inspiration for Lucy Sweeney’s musical Hard Times Blues, which was performed in Roanoke and at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. After researching him myself, I hope hope HOPE there’s a revival one day soon!

Update, 8/31/2020: In 2019, Lucy Sweeney donated a copy of her play Hard Times Blues and files related to her research and the 2003 production. These are available in the Hard Times Blues Collection, Ms2019-038.

Sources:

The Life and Art of G. Preston Frazer

G. Preston Frazer in 1969
G. Preston Frazer, 1969 (Walter Gropius/G. Preston Frazer Papers, Ms1992-052)

Recently, we were relocating some large paintings for an exhibit in Special Collections, and as I researched the artist, I felt he deserved a spotlight here. The artists is G. Preston Frazer (1908-2003), an Associate Professor of Art at Virginia Tech from 1939 until 1974. Frazer graduated from Virginia Military Institute with a B.A. in Liberal Arts in 1929, before earning a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Hawaii in 1935. Two years later, Frazer received a masters degree in Architecture from Harvard University.

Cover of Frazer's Six Pencil Drawings of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.
Cover of Frazer’s Six Pencil Drawings of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.,1939 (G. Preston Frazer Collection, Ms2009-098)

Frazer began focusing his career on art, following work at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and the Megiddo Expedition in Palestine. In 1939, he published Sixteen Pencil Impressions of Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A., inspired by his time in the then-territory. That year, he also began teaching in the architectural engineering department at Virginia Tech, but left to serve with the Second Armored Division of the U.S. Army during World War II, participating in the Normandy landings on D-Day. Upon leaving the military in 1946, Frazer had reached Major in the General Staff Corps and earned the Belgium Fourragere (twice), the French Medal of Liberty, and a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster. He served in the Army Reserves until retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1968.

Returning to Virginia Tech in 1946, Frazer taught art in today’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies until his retirement in 1974. The university established the G. Preston Frazer Prize, awarded annually to art graduates, and the College continues to award students for their work in the G. Preston Frazer Architecture Fund/Architecture 2nd Year Competition.

One of the paintings by Frazer that Special Collections displayed is Hercules Shooting the Stymphalian Birds (photograph from exhibit below). A letter in the G. Preston Frazer Collection (Ms2009-098) explains where the idea came from: “One of my favorite sculptures is an archer shooting a bow – The large life size one by Bourdelle is in the Metropolitan, NY. I went to see it every time I was in NY, and I named it ‘Hercules Shooting the Stymphalian Birds.'” (You can see this sculpture online on the museum’s website.) He continues, “I painted (oil on canvas) a figure (life size [-] Mike Sr, was the model) – of ‘Hercules Shooting the Stymphalian Birds’ (a canvas about 5 ft. by 8 ft.)”

Frazer worked on the painting from his studio overlooking Virginia Tech, where students would visit to see his projects. He recounts a funny incident during his painting, “One of the students who came in saw the buildings and said ‘Oh, that is Burress Hall, V.P.I. I hope Hercules shoots it & burns it down! (saidjokingly of course.) It was in the Joan [sic] Fonda anti-establishment, anti-war period, etc. I explained that Hercules was shooting the Stymphalian Birds. Hercules’s labors were good deeds. Hence instead of just shooting the Bow, he was destroying Birds which were enemies of Humans!!”

In addition to Hercules and the aforementioned G. Preston Frazer Collection (Ms2009-098), Special Collections has a painting Frazer made of Icarus and the Walter Gropius/G. Preston Frazer Papers (Ms1992-052), with photographs and correspondence between Frazer and Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School. The G. Preston Frazer Artwork (Ms1992-055) contains a beautiful sketchbook of scenes in Spain in 1953 and several artworks. For your viewing pleasure, I end this post with a few of those pieces, including scenes from Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech campus. More can be seen on online at ImageBase.

When Orange Became The New Black (and Maroon the New Gray)

1896, a Formative Year for Virginia Tech Football

With a new school year about to start, and Lane Stadium soon to be filled with cheering fans, we cant resist offering a little lesson from Hokie History 101. Well, this piece may belong in a 200-level course, since weve included a few obscure facts that the average fan isnt likely to know.

In recognition of its broadening curriculum in science and technology, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1896 became the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute. The new name being more than a mouthful, it was shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or VPI.

The schools fledgling football program underwent changes of its own that year. Early on, the college had adopted school colors of black and cadet gray, but when worn on a striped football jersey, the colors resembled a prison convicts uniforma similarity that undoubtedly became a source of ridicule from opposing teams.

Norbon R. Patrick, a guard on the 1893 team, poses in the jersey that necessitated a change of school colors.
Norbon R. Patrick, a guard on the 1893 team, poses in the jersey
that necessitated a change of school colors.

A committee reviewed the colors used by other colleges and decided that burnt orange and Chicago maroon would provide a unique color combination (as indeed it did and continues to do). The new colors debuted not in the opening game of 1896, but in the second game, at home against Roanoke College, on October 20.

The black jersey sported by the 1895 team, just prior to the schools name change, featured the letters AMC encircled by a large C in white.
The black jersey sported by the 1895 team, just prior to the schools name change,
featured the letters AMC encircled by a large C in white.
The first orange-and-maroon jersey featured an oversized V under a smaller P, reflecting a de-emphasis of the word Institute in popular usage of the schools name.
The first orange-and-maroon jersey featured an oversized V under a smaller P, reflecting
a de-emphasis of the word Institute in popular usage of the schools name.

Changes came to fan support, as well. By the 1890s, the college cheer, or yell, had become a popular means of boosting enthusiasm at campus athletic events. As long as they incorporated the name of the college and / or team, the words in these yells werent as important as the rhythm and tone. Cheers relied on creative, invented words–words that were easy and fun to yell–as is evident in the first yell adopted by VAMC:

Rip, Rah, Ree,
Vah, Vah, Vee,
Vir-gin-i-a
A. M. C.
Vir-gin-i-a
Virg-gin-i-a
Ree, Ree,
A. M. C.

An abridged, peppier version of the longer yell seems to have been used more frequently by fans at games:

Rip, Rah, Ree!
Va, Va, Vee!
Virginia, Virginia!
A-M-C!

By the 1895 season, the students had adopted a new, somewhat more complex college yell, published in the 1896 Bugle:

Hicki! Hicki! Hicki!
Sis! Bom! Bar!
A. and M. College,
Wah! Who! Wah!
Vivla! Vivla! Vivla! Vee!
Virginia! Virginia! A. M. C.!

The “Wah! Who! Wah!” bit may have been a little too reminiscent of the “Wah-hoo-wah!” yell of University of Virginia fans, and the 1896 Bugle records a separate yell that was used to cheer the 1895 football squad :

Do! Do! Ha! Ha! Dom-i-di-i-dee;
Wah! Wah!
A. M. C.
Hip Hip, Hip, Hurrah!
Virgin-u-a!, Virgini-u-ah,
Wee! Wee!
A. M. C.-c-c-c-c-c-boom!!!! Football

The schools new name rendered these yells obsolete, but rather than simply incorporate the new name into existing yells, the Athletic Association sponsored a contest for a new yell (which, as things turned out, is fortunate, or we might otherwise all be cheering Lets go, Hickies! or be members of the Do Do Nation today). The composer of the winning entry would receive a five-dollar prize.

Oscar Meade Stull (1874-1964), a senior majoring in applied chemistry and serving as cadet first lieutenant and adjutant, put his imagination to work in composing a cheer that used fun, invented words and incorporated the schools new name:

Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy!
Techs, Techs, VPI!
Sola-Rex, Sola-Rah.
Polytechs Vir-gin-i-a!
Rae, Ri, VPI!

Oscar Meade Stull, '96, the first person to ever hear the What is a Hokie? question.
Oscar Meade Stull, ’96, the first person to ever hear
the What is a Hokie? question.

Stulls submission became the winning entry and is said to have made its debut when the cadets traveled to Richmond and participated in the laying of the cornerstone for the citys Jefferson Davis monument on July 2, 1896. As Stull recalled some 60 years later, I was surprised when my yell was accepted, but I needed the five spot. In addition to the fiver, Stull earned a lasting place in Virginia Tech history. The legacy was an unexpected one. In a 1956 letter to Virginia Tech library director Seymour Robb, Stull wrote, I am more surprised in recent years that [the Hokie yell] has endured for 60 years!

According to various histories, 1896 also marked the year in which Floyd Hard Times Meade (1882-1941) came to be associated with the football team. Just 14 years old at the time, Meade worked part-time in the campus mess hall and was adopted as an unofficial mascot by the team. As mascot, Meade frequently performed at games dressed as a clown in orange and maroon, his antics probably not so dissimilar to mascots of later years. Meade would later figure prominently in the evolution of the teams mascot and traditions. But his is a story for a future blog post.

Floyd Hard Times Meade, from the 1899 Bugle.
Floyd Hard Times Meade, from the 1899 Bugle.

The traditions begun in 1896 served the team well. The VPI gridders won that first orange-and-maroon game over Roanoke College 12-0, and the team eventually went 5-2-1, ending the season with a 24-0 rout of then-archrival VMI. The eight-game season was the longest played since the teams founding, and though it would be nearly a decade before VPI regularly played that many games a year, the success of that season proved the feasibility of scheduling more games.

It would take some time for an e to be added to Stulls hoki, and though his cheer incorporated the names Techs and Polytechs, the school seems to have made little effort in promoting the use of these names. The Cohee, an 1897-1898 publication of the Athletic Association, makes no mention of the names; the press most often referred to the team simply as V.P.I. or by generic terms such as the Blacksburg eleven. It would be several years before VPI teams came to be known more commonly as Techs, Polytechs, or Techmen; more than a decade to be known as The Gobblers; and still longer to be called The Hokies, but the seeds for all that has followed were sown in 1896.

Climbing the Water Tower: How Women Went from Intruders to Leaders at Virginia Tech

In the early 1920s, the first female students at Virginia Tech were not quite welcome. They had special rules to follow, there were no dormitories for women, and male students would throw water on them as they passed by the dorms. But one day, Ruth Terrett, a civil engineering student, decided to show the men she could do just as well as them. She donned a cadet uniform and climbed the universitys water tower, a tradition the male cadets undertook to prove their strength and ability. That day, Ruth proved that women, when given the chance, could do what men could.

Women throughout Virginia Techs history have encountered many obstacles, and have consistently overcome them. Sam Winn and I (Laurel Rozema) recently searched through Special Collections holdings to document these women and their achievements in the universitys history. Our work culminated in an exhibit at the Alumni Associations Womens Weekend and a slideshow, entitled Climbing the Water Tower: How Women Went from Intruders to Leaders at Virginia Tech. Let me share with you a few of those milestones now, or you can view the PDF of our slideshow here.

Women join the student population

Many people know the story of the first female students: twelve women, including five full-time students, enrolled in 1921. Two years later, transfer student Mary Brumfield received a bachelors in applied biology, earning her masters from VPI in 1925, the first woman to achieve either degree. But, did you know women began attending VPI several years earlier? They were allowed to sit in courses during the fall and spring for no credit and were admitted to summer classes, starting in 1916. 1921 was still a milestone year as it was the first all courses were open to women seeking a college degree, because there was no good reason for not doing so” as the university bulletin states.

First female graduates: Mary Ella Carr Brumfield (23; 25); Ruth Louise Terrett (25); Lucy Lee Lancaster (25); Lousie Jacobs (25); Carrie Taylor Sibold (25)
First female graduates: Mary Ella Carr Brumfield (23; 25); Ruth Louise Terrett (25); Lucy Lee Lancaster (25); Lousie Jacobs (25); Carrie Taylor Sibold (25)

The first coeds, it must be admitted, were more than likely all white, given that segregation was legal due to Jim Crow laws and the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) upholding separate but equal racial segregation in the public sphere. Its not clear when women of color were first admitted to the university, but international students from Mexico, China, Puerto Rico, and other places were already attending VPI by the 1920s. We believe the first woman from India to attend VPI was Kamini Mohan Patwary, who earned a masters in statistics in 1955. However, it wasnt until 1966 that the first six African American women matriculated, thirteen years after the first African American man and 55 years after the first women. In 1968, Linda Adams became the first African American woman to graduate from Virginia Tech. (Read more about her on our previously blog post.)

There wasnt much for women to do athletically in the early years, so Ruth Terrett, mentioned above, started an informal womens basketball team before graduating in 1925. Women joined the cheerleading team in 1941, but were not officially recognized as members until the 1955-1956 school year. The first intramural womens sport was basketball in 1967. Three years later, swimming became the first intercollegiate sport for women, and women were allowed to compete on the gymnastics team.

Because the Corps of Cadets did not admit women, Patricia Ann Miller was denied permission to enroll in Corps classes. Despite this, in 1959, she became the first woman commissioned during graduation when she successfully applied for a commission from the Army Womens Medical Specialist Corps. Finally, in 1973, the Corps formed the L Squadron, exclusively for female cadets. Deborah J. Noss became the first female squadron commander and Cheryl A. Butler the first female African American cadet (and squadron leader the next year). In 1975, women were admitted to join the cadet band, and four years later, the L Squadron was disbanded to order to integrate women into the formerly all-male companies. In 1987, Denise Shuster became the first female regimental commander and in 2005, Christina Royal the first African American female regimental commander.

Female students who were not athletes or cadets had other ways of breaking the glass ceiling. In 1953, Betty Delores Stough became the first woman to receive a doctorate, in parasitology. Jean Harshbarger was the first woman elected class president for the Class of 1974. In 1968, Jaqueline D. Dandridge was the first woman of color in the homecoming court, and Marva L. Felder became the first African American homecoming queen in 1983.

Women join the workforce

What about the women working at VPI? Ella Agnew is often remembered as the first female home demonstration agent in the nation in 1910. When the university became headquarters for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Agnew and the other agents became staff of the university. Agnew was also the first woman to receive VPIs Certificate of Merit in 1926, and Agnew Hall was the first campus building named after a woman in 1949. However, few realize she was not the first woman to work at Tech. In 1902, Frances Brockenbrough became Superintendent of the Infirmary, and the next year Mary G. Lacy became the first female Librarian and Margaret Spencer the Presidents Secretary.

Other female agents worked for the Extension during its early years at the university. In fact, although the African American division was headquartered at Hampton Institute, the agents were considered non-resident staff of VPI, first listed in the 1917 university catalog. One of these women was Lizzie Jenkins, who became the first African American female home demonstration agent in Virginia in 1913.

Women faculty members are first listed in the university catalog for 1921-1922. Mary Moore Davis ranked as a professor and worked as a state home demonstration agent in the Extension Division. She also established the home economics degree program at VPI. The first Dean of Women was Mildred Tate, who served from 1937 to 1947, and the first female academic dean was Laura Jean Harper, who in 1960 became the first Dean of the School of Home Economics. (Read more about her on our previously blog post.) Heidi Ford in 1970, Ella L. Bates in 1974, and Johnnie Miles in 1974 became the first female African American faculty members at Virginia Tech.

Women began achieving executive positions in the 1980s and 1990s. Sandra Sullivan was named Vice President for Student Affairs in 1982, and Peggy S. Meszaros served as the first (and currently only) female Provost from 1995 to 2000. Women started serving on the Board of Visitors in 1944, when VPI and Radford College merged. However in 2014, Deborah L. Petrine became the first female Rector in the universitys then 142-year history.

Women by the numbers

Virginia Tech has gone through enormous changes since its founding in 1872, especially in the growth of opportunities for women. Women on the staff have grown from one female administrative officer in 1902 to five women faculty members (only 4.7% of the faculty) in 1921 to 1,525 or 39.5% of the faculty in 2014. The student population has grown from 12 women or 1.3% of the students in 1921 to 13,241 women or 42.4% of the student population in 2014.

According to the Digest of Education Statistics, in Fall 2013, women accounted for 54.6% of enrolled students, 48.8% of faculty, and 54.5% of total employees (including faculty) in degree-granting public institutions in the U.S. However, the Digest also shows that women received only 30.8% of the degrees conferred by STEM schools in 2012-2013. So, as far as women have come, theres still more to do.

Ringing in the Junior Year

As a relatively new employee at Virginia Tech, Ive been learning about the university by working occasionally on records in the University Archives. Currently, I am working on memorabilia and documents regarding the Ring Design Committee and the annual Ring Dance. You may already be aware of the tradition of the Virginia Tech class rings, but if not, then let me share what Ive learned from our materials!

Class of 2005 Example Ring Mold
One of several ring molds for the Class of 2005

Each class at Virginia Tech designs their own class ring, rather than having one school ring for multiple classes. The tradition began in 1911, when the classes of 1911 through 1914 designed the first class rings at Virginia Tech. Each class since then designs and premieres their rings in the fall of their Junior year. A committee of class officers and student body appointees works with the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and a vendor to design a ring unique for that class but with traditional elements, such as eagles, the American flag, campus buildings, and a chain symbolizing class unity surrounding the school name and stone. Each ring collection since 1991 is named in honor of a distinguished alum or important associate of the university. (On a related note, the Class of 2011s class gift to the university is a statue of a class ring merging the designs from the 1911 and 2011 class rings, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the tradition.)

In addition to ring proposals and committee planning documents, the University Archives has many wax molds like in the picture above and ring brochures, exemplified below.

One of the ring brochures discusses a a new tradition started in 2012 by alums of the Class of 1964. The Hokie Gold Legacy Program allows alumni to donate or bequeath their class rings to be either displayed or melted down for reuse in new class rings. The Class of 2014 received the first class rings made with the donations. This is a really neat initiative to bring together the past, present, and future students at Virginia Tech and to promote sustainability through reuse.

Another part of the Virginia Tech class ring tradition started in 1934. Each class holds a Ring Dance in the spring of the Junior year to symbolize the transition from junior to senior. At the dance, each student wears their dates ring on a ribbon of one of the class colors. The Corps of Cadets form the shape of the class year and perform a sabre arch. Then, couples exchange their rings, during the song Moonlight and VPI, written by Fred Waring and Charles Gaynor for Virginia Tech. Over 30 years ago, one company of the Corps of Cadets released a small pig onto the dance floor after the ring exchange as a prank, and the Virginia Tech Swine Club continues the tradition to this today! At the end of the night, attendees go to the Drillfield to watch fireworks, hear the playing of Silver Taps, and witness the firing of the Corps cannon, Skipper. The students also receive gifts with the class logo and ring dance theme, such as t-shirts, drink glasses, and koozies.

The University Archives receives some memorabilia as well as invitations and tickets to the Ring Dance and Ring Week:

If you want to see some of the class rings, check out the Virginia Tech Alumni Associations website. Also, visit the History of Virginia Tech (2010) website to learn more about university traditions.

John Redd Hutcheson, 9th President of Virginia Tech

Dr. John Redd Hutcheson
Portrait of Dr. John Redd Hutcheson, circa 1940s, from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001

Recently, Special Collections received a new collection, the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, containing letters, newspaper clippings, photographs, and more documenting the life of Virginia Tech president John R. Hutcheson.

Although only president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, as Virginia Tech was then known) for two years from 1945 to 1947, John Redd Hutcheson (1886-1962) devoted himself to serving his alma mater and the people of Virginia. He enrolled at VPI in 1903 at the behest of his brother Tom. In order to pay for college, the brothers lived in the dairy barn on the college farm, where they milked 17 cows a night for 8 cents an hour each (roughly $2.15 an hour in 2015!) After saving his earnings, Hutcheson moved into the barracks and then waited tables in the school dining hall. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1907 and master’s in 1909.

Following several years teaching high school in Virginia and Mississippi, Hutcheson received a letter from Joseph D. Eggleston, VPI president and director of the Virginia Agricultural Extension Service (now Virginia Cooperative Extension), urging Hutcheson to join his staff. He accepted, becoming an animal husbandry specialist in 1914. In 1917, Hutcheson was appointed assistant director and two years later succeeded Eggleston as director of the Extension. Over the next 25 years, Hutcheson helped to organize the Virginia Farm Bureau and Virginia Agricultural Conference Board, to reestablish the Virginia State Grange, and to develop a long-range program for developing the states agriculture. All of his work developing the farm and home demonstration program in Virginia earned Hutcheson an honorary doctorate from Clemson University in 1937, along with his brother Tom VPI professor T.B. Hutcheson.

"Clemson's First Honorary Degrees Go to Hutcheson Brothers of V.P.I."
Article entitled “Clemson’s First Honorary Degrees Go to Hutcheson Brothers of V.P.I.”, about John R. and T.B. Hutcheson, May 12, 1937, from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001

In 1944, the Board of Visitors appointed Dr. Jack as Hutcheson was affectionately known acting president of VPI, and the next year he succeeded Dr. Julian A. Burruss as the ninth president. During his tenure, the student population swelled following the end of World War II, and he was responsible for making accommodations for the new civilian population (made up almost entirely of veterans), who outnumbered the cadet students for the first time in VPIs history. Temporary trailer courts were established on campus to house the veterans, and Dr. Jack would personally visit them to ensure they had fuel for their homes.

"Dr. John R. Hutcheson Named President of Virginia [Polytechnic Institute]"
Article discusses the nomination of John R. Hutcheson as V.P.I. president, Roanoke Times, August 15, 1945, from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001

The enormity of his duties necessitated the creation new executive positions during Dr. Hutchesons presidency. He created the office of admissions, director of student affairs, director of buildings and grounds, and a university business manager position. The Board of Visitors, at Dr. Jacks suggestion, appointed Walter S. Newman as the universitys first vice president – all within two years!

Page 2 of obituary for John R. Hutcheson, [January 1962], from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001
Page 2 of obituary for John R. Hutcheson, [January 1962], from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001
"Former VPI President Diest at 76"
Page 1 of obituary for John R. Hutcheson, [January 1962], from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001
Unfortunately, just 16 months into his presidency, Hutcheson entered the hospital and had to take sick leave. Newman became acting president until Sept. 1947, when he succeeded Hutcheson. Simultaneously, the Board of Visitors elected Dr. Jack as the first chancellor of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the next year named him the first president of the newly formed VPI Educational Foundation, Inc. (now the Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc.) Dr. Jack remained chancellor until 1956 and president of the foundation until his death in 1962.

The legacy of Dr. Hutchesons tenure at Virginia Tech is still visible today from the continuing work of the Virginia Cooperative Extension to the numerous offices he created still operating. And of course, you can visit Hutcheson Hall on the Blacksburg Campus, dedicated to John R. and T. B. Hutcheson in 1956.

Look for the completed finding aid in the next week for the John R. Hutcheson Family Papers, Ms2015-001. In the meantime, you can find out more about Dr. Jack in the John Redd Hutcheson Papers, RG 2/9 and Edgemont Farm Papers, Ms2003-022, documenting the administration of the Hutcheson family farm.

A Moment of “Solitude”

Last week, I was over at Solitude for a meeting, so I have the building on my mind. In the four and a half years since I came to Virginia Tech, it’s found little ways to pop up every once in a while through reference questions, outreach opportunities, and occasional visits. And every time, I learn something new.

Solitude, 1890s, then a private residence.
Solitude, 1890s, then a private residence.
Solitude, 1931
Solitude, 1931
Solitude, 1967
Solitude, 1967

You can see many more pictures of the building online, as well as interiors from when the building was a private residence. The original house, part of which is still part of the modern structure, was built in the early 19th century by the Preston family of Smithfield. The first known expansion was in 1851, when the house belonged to Robert Taylor Preston, son of Virginia Governor and Colonel James P. Preston. Robert, who lived in the house until his death, wrote a locally famous call to arms from the house in 1863.

Robert Taylor Preston "Call to Arms," 1863, pg. 1
Robert Taylor Preston “Call to Arms,” 1863, pg. 1
Robert Taylor Preston "Call to Arms," 1863, pg.
Robert Taylor Preston “Call to Arms,” 1863, pg. 2. His note finishes with “Come therefore men of Roanoke & join us of the mountain & drive back the invader of our homes & firesides or die in the attempt…Shall we march without our neighbours I trust not”

Following the Civil War, the property remained in Robert’s hand. However, in 1871, he sold it to the state to be the basis for the new land grant institution, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, with the condition that he and his wife could remain in the house. Preston died in 1880 and his wife. Mary, in 1882.

After Mary’s death, Solitude was the campus infirmary. By the 1890s, the house was private residence for faculty and it continued to be so well into the 20th century. After World War II, when the need for married student housing was on the rise, there were trailers on the surrounding land. The house itself was used as a club for students. It later reverted to a private residence and then, in the 1970s, was used by various departments on campus. In the 1990s, the building was closed while funds were raised for renovations. And in 2011, Solitude was reopened and is currently used by the Appalachian Studies Program.

This, by the way, is the VERY short history of the house. We have many, many resources in Special Collections on everything from renovations to photographs, newspapers stories to documents created in the house, and the complex history of the Preston family. If you’re curious, you should pay us a visit, But the real treat is visiting Solitude. Renovations may have hidden much of the older building, but it is still there underneath, overlooking the Duck Pond. The oldest building on campus is still with us today, as a gentle reminder of Virginia Tech’s long history.

Blacksburg, A Century Ago (Give or Take)

It’s the start of a new school year here in Blacksburg. The library, like the rest of campus, is seeing plenty of students, both new and seasoned. Our post this week is for those of you still learning your way AND those of you who think you know all the secrets. We’re taking a trip back in time and sharing some photographs of Blacksburg from about 1895-1925. As you’ll see, things have come a LONG way!

Before 1900, Main St. saw its fair share of horse traffic. This photograph was taken from the road, looking at the old Preston and Olin Building/then VAMC machine shop.
Before 1900, Main St. saw its fair share of horse traffic. This photograph was taken from the road, looking at the old Preston and Olin Building/then VPI machine shop.
Far int he distance at the center of the frame is the VAMC machine shop. This photograph was taken on Main St. looking west, possibly near the Post Office.
Far in the distance at the center of the frame is the VPI machine shop. This photograph was taken on Main St. looking west, possibly near the Post Office.
C. 1900, the Post Office and Hack Depot shared a building on Main St., several blocks away from campus.
C. 1900, the Post Office and Hack Depot shared a building on Main St., several blocks away from campus.
If you stood smack in the middle of Main St., right past the College Ave. intersection (think: right in front of Moe's--please don't try it!) and looked up hill, this is what you'd see in 1900. No Main St. or Alumni Mall entrance to campus. The building, which had been the original Preston and Olin Institute, was then being used as the machine shop.
If you stood smack in the middle of Main St., right past the College Ave. intersection (think: right in front of Moe’s–please don’t try it!) and looked up hill, this is what you’d see before 1900. No Main St. or Alumni Mall entrance to campus.
Ellett's Drugstore was on the corner of Main St. and College Ave, in the current Sharkey's space.
Ellett’s Drugstore was on the corner of Main St. and College Ave., in the current Sharkey’s space.
Blacksburg, c.1904. In those days, Main Street ended at College Ave. The brick building on the left is where you'll see Sharkey's today.
Blacksburg, c.1904. In those days, Main Street ended at College Ave. At the bottom center of the frame are a set of metal gates–essentially the entrance to campus! The brick building on the left is where you’ll see Sharkey’s today. The building on the right is the current Moe’s. And hey, at least VPI won the game!
This image is actually the front of a postcard, sent in 1917. By then, the metal gates from the 1904 photograph were actually brick structures with a sign and Main St. was no longer a dead-end, but an entrance to campus!
This image is actually the front of a postcard, sent in 1917, but taken before then. By then, the metal gates from the 1904 photograph were actually brick structures with a sign and Main St. was no longer a dead-end, but open to traffic!
By 1930, some more familiar surroundings were build in Blacksburg. The 5-10-25 Cent store is at the current site of Moe's. To the right of it, on College Ave., you can see The Lyric Theatre in current home.
By 1930, some more familiar surroundings were build in Blacksburg. The 5-10-25 Cent store is at the current site of Moe’s. To the right of it, on College Ave., you can see The Lyric Theatre in current home.

Our historical photograph collection in Special Collections covers a wide variety of University and local history places and spaces. It can show you a lot about how Blacksburg and Virginia Tech have changed. And even if you can’t visit us, you can check out a large selection of images online:http://imagebase.lib.vt.edu/index.php. There’s plenty of history to discover!