Mother Strong

Hattie M. Strong (1864-1950)

“Hattie Strong had no idea how her life would turn out . . . but what a ride she took.” This statement from the website of the Hattie M. Strong Foundation introduces visitors to the eventful life of a philanthropist once known as “Mother Strong” at Rollins. From the early 1930s until her death in 1950, she was a great friend to the college, visiting often and donating funds for scholarships and many other purposes. Strong Hall and Corrin Hall are among her many gifts to Rollins.

The college’s commemorative booklet, “Strong Hall:  A Living Memorial,” describes Mrs. Strong’s early years, a time when she exhibited the courage and determination she would show all her life. She was thirteen years old when her father “lost his wealth in the crash of 1877,” and the family moved to the Michigan frontier. Her father found it hard to adapt to this environment, however, and after his death the family moved to Connecticut, where Hattie helped support the family by giving piano lessons.

The Strong Hall commemorative booklet, 1939

In 1888, she married Lester B. Lockwood and moved to Tacoma, Washington. However, her marriage did not last, and in 1897, Hattie was on her own with few financial resources and a five-year-old child to support. Instead of returning to her family, she decided to make a complete break with the past. The Klondike Gold Rush offered an opportunity for a fresh start, so she and her son, Corrin, headed to Alaska, where Hattie and a friend planned to establish a hospital/hotel for miners.

The women purchased lumber and other supplies for their new business, and boarded a ship for Skagway. Near there they suddenly found themselves in a life-or-death situation when a blizzard struck, and the ship was lost. The dramatic story of the shipwreck is told in the book Argonaut, a 1933 novel based on Mrs. Strong’s early life:  “The noise was indescribable! The howling of the wind, the crash of the waves! It was frightful . . . She could hear Captain Ellman issuing frantic orders, though what could there be left to do now but pray for daylight and an improbable rescue,” it reads. Rescue came the following day, when a tugboat managed to reach the ship through the winds. Its crew caught survivors (including Hattie’s little boy) as they jumped from the ship’s deck, and took them to shore.

The accounts we have of this event do not mention the name of the ship, but the details fit the story of The Canada, which was shipwrecked near Skagway in February 1898.

The remains of The Canada in Nakhu Bay, circa 1900 (Photo:  Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Curtis Shattuck Photo Collection, ASL-P511-04)

None of the ship’s cargo could be saved, so Hattie lost nearly everything she owned. Hattie’s friend warned her that Skagway was not a good place for a mother with a small child, as its housing consisted mostly of tents (while temperatures could fall to -20°) and the city was full of “dance halls, saloons, and millions of dogs.” But Hattie decided to “get up and sally forth” in this gold rush town. She stayed on with her young son in Alaska, finding work as a nurse and holding various other jobs.

Skagway, Alaska, in May 1898 (Photo:  Hegg, Eric A., 1867-1948 (Library University Washington) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

As the Strong Hall booklet put it, “Hattie’s life in Alaska was anything but a bed of roses.” After three years, “somewhat broken in health,” she and her son returned to Tacoma, where Hattie found work supervising a men’s club. Either in Tacoma, or while in Southern California trying to regain her health (sources vary), she met Henry Alvah Strong, the president and co-founder of the Eastman Kodak Company. According to the booklet, “Mr. Strong was a widower, twenty-five years her senior, but what has age to do with love!” Hattie’s life once again changed dramatically after their marriage in 1905. She now had a husband she loved and a father for her son. She had also become a wealthy woman.

The highly successful Eastman Kodak company sold a variety of cameras and photographic supplies. This ad was published in The Independent on March 5, 1917.

Mr. Strong was already known for his charitable giving, and for the rest of her life, Hattie was a generous philanthropist. After her husband’s death in 1919, she found “her chief and indeed only happiness in helping others.” She not only gave to colleges and universities in the United States, but supported many international causes as well, establishing a hospital for wounded veterans in France, funding a President’s Residence at Peking University, and building a girls’ dormitory at the Suehn Industrial Mission in Liberia. The Hattie M. Strong Foundation, incorporated in the District of Columbia in 1928, has helped thousands of students obtain a college education.

Mrs. Strong had already met President Hamilton Holt when she first came to Rollins in 1930, according to an account given by the college’s treasurer, Ervin T. Brown, who noted that she stayed on campus during her visit (as she would always prefer to do), becoming the first woman to stay in Rollins Hall. Mr. Brown wrote that on this visit, two students borrowed a roadster (an open car) to take Mrs. Strong on a picnic. “A very heavy downpour” ended up soaking everyone, but true to form, it “did not dampen Mrs. Strong’s enthusiasm in the slightest. She entered into the adventure with as much spirit as the girls.” He continued, “Following this visit Mrs. Strong returned to Rollins a number of times and became so familiar with its ideals that she has often humorously remarked:  ‘If anything happens to President Holt, I could assume the lecture platform and tell the world about Rollins because I know his story from memory.'”

Mr. Brown also wrote of his surprise when he spoke to Mrs. Strong after she received the Rollins Decoration of Honor in 1939. As he remembered, she told him, “When the Trustees offered me this Decoration of Honor which I prize so highly, you know there was never any promise, implied or otherwise, that I would ever do anything significant for Rollins. . . The surest way for me NOT to give to a cause is to be asked. No one at Rollins has ever asked me for anything,–so what is your greatest need?”

Mrs. Strong, wearing the Rollins Decoration of Honor, next to President Hamilton Holt, February 1939

The college very much needed a new women’s dormitory at that time, and Strong Hall was dedicated in 1939. Mrs. Strong was unable to attend the dedication ceremony, but in a message to the students, she wrote of the symbolism of the building’s name and expressed her hope that the young women who lived there would be “STRONG for everything which makes for Happy, Healthful, and Efficient Womanhood.” She also expressed her wish for them to “go forth to face life and its problems, better prepared for lives of useful service for having lived here,” signing herself, “Mother Strong.”

An early image of Strong Hall, circa 1940

From 1950 to 1968, Strong Hall was the site of Shakespeareana, open-air performances led by Professor Nina Dean

Mrs. Strong also gave the college a second women’s residence, Corrin Hall (named for her son, L. Corrin Strong ’46H, who served as a Rollins trustee for many years). This time she was able to attend the groundbreaking, where she stated, “I decided to give Corrin Hall to Rollins because civilization rests on the shoulders of you young people, who should be educated for the great responsibilities of today.”

Mrs. Strong (wearing a white hat) at the groundbreaking for Corrin Hall, 1947. President Holt is pictured holding a shovel, and Ervin T. Brown is second from the right.

Mrs. Strong (seated) with members of the Order of the Libra, an honorary society to which she was elected in 1940. Behind her, wearing a white dress, is Rollins trustee Frances Knowles Warren ’35H, donor of the Knowles Memorial Chapel.

Mrs. Strong visited and corresponded regularly with the college until her death in 1950. The following year, Corrin Strong sent the college a scrapbook his mother had kept about Rollins. This is now held in the Olin Library’s Rollins Collection.

Pages from Mrs. Strong’s scrapbook

In 1954, LIFE magazine wrote that Henry Strong had helped George Eastman start the Eastman Kodak Company because “he admired the young man’s guts.” He may have been drawn to the same quality in Hattie–a courageous, independent, and generous woman who was aptly named “Mother Strong.”

Strong Hall in 2017. The building was renovated in 2014 and has provided a home for Rollins students for almost 80 years. (Photo by Scott Cook.)

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

 

 

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Linking Academic Freedom and Shared Governance: The Rollins College Inquiry, 1933

                                                               Jack C. Lane                                                             Alexander W. Weddell Professor Emeritus of American History and College Historian (Photo:  David Noe)

The Archives is happy to share this guest blog post from Dr. Jack Lane ’06H, who taught history at Rollins for more than thirty years. Dr. Lane’s latest book is Rollins College Centennial History:  A Story of Perseverance, 1885-1985.

When I arrived at Rollins College in 1963, I found in place a democratic governance system where the entire community shared academic decision making. After researching the history of the college, I learned shared governance was the result of a long and contentious process. Today, mounting pressures from multiple sources have led to serious criticism of the system of shared academic governance. Many argue a corporate model is better suited to meet future challenges. More businesslike methods, it is argued, are necessary so that academic institutions can be more “flexible” and “nimble.”

If not now, then sooner or later the Rollins College community will be forced to face the issue of what kind of governance best meets these emerging challenges. In the meantime, it would reward the community to ponder a moment in its history when a crisis first forced the college to come to grips with the meaning and extent of a shared governance system. Comprehending this moment allows the community to reflect instructively on how and why a previous generation prepared the way for the college’s present system of shared governance and why knowledge of that effort is important today.  —Jack C. Lane

From the founding of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in 1915, its officers have understood that fulfillment of principle of academic freedom depended on faculty participation in institutional governance. Although the association did not determine the parameters of faculty participation in governance until 1966, throughout the AAUP’s early years  it worked to lay the groundwork for the principle of shared governance. Because most of the association’s time and funds were spent investigating individual cases of freedom of speech abuses, the officers were on the lookout for violations that would allow the association to highlight its goal of academic shared governance.

One such opportunity materialized in April 1933 when the office received a letter from President Frank Aydelotte of Swarthmore College stating that his son-in-law, Professor John Rice, Rollins College Winter Park, Florida, had been abruptly fired without prior notice. At Rice’s request and with the approval of the college president, the association decided to send representatives to conduct an inquiry into the issues involving the dismissal. As evidence of how significant the AAUP regarded this case at a small college in provincial Winter Park, it dispatched its most prestigious officer, Arthur Lovejoy, to head the investigation. Lovejoy of Johns Hopkins University, a distinguished philosopher/scholar and a founder of the AAUP, was a determined proponent of establishing a link between academic freedom and faculty participation in college governance.

Arthur Lovejoy (Photo:  Courtesy of the Ferdinand Hamburger Archives, Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University)

Small colleges such as Rollins presented the AAUP with a major obstacle: most boards of trustees and presidents at these colleges were guided by a governing system that had changed little since the early 19th century and therefore they were resistant to the concept of shared governance. Authority and responsibility for most college policy rested solely in the hands of trustees who then delegated that authority to the president. Although college teaching was proclaimed a calling rather than a job, in terms of college governance, most administrations treated the faculty as employees. The idea of employer/employee college relations expanded after the turn of the century when businessmen began to replace church leaders on the boards of trustees. Afterwards, a management, autocratic style of governance emerged that further consolidated authority in the hands of the boards and the presidents. Any inference from an outside organization such as the AAUP was viewed in the same light as a labor union intrusion.

No administration held more staunchly to this corporate view of small college governance than the board of trustees and the president of Rollins College. Hamilton Holt’s prior experiences as owner and editor of an influential magazine predisposed him to a business-like governing style. In his ten years as president, he had developed a strong personal attachment to the institution. Appointed president in 1926, he almost singlehandedly saved the college from academic and financial demise, gave it a new identity, increased the size of the student body and built a new physical plant. He alone was responsible for the gathering of a talented group of faculty. A nationally known and influential figure, he accepted the presidency of the little college because he wanted to experiment with pedagogical ideas he had accumulated over the years as editor of The Independent. Within weeks of his appointment and without participation of the faculty, he introduced a new system of teaching he called the “Two-Hour Conference Plan.”  Drawing on his experience as an editorial office apprentice, Holt’s plan stressed mutual cooperation and interaction between professor and students where the professors would serve as facilitators rather than lecturers. He then used his publicity talents to advertise Rollins nationally as on the cutting edge of national collegiate educational reform. From that point, he viewed his leadership in academic matters as a major part of his role as president.

This photo of President Hamilton Holt hosting students at his home appeared in a college publication called An Experiment That Has Proved Itself (1939), captioned as “an example of the spirit of Rollins.”

A photo of a math class in 1939, illustrating the way students and professors worked  together under the college’s Conference Plan.

In 1931, Holt persuaded John Dewey, the guru of progressive education theory, to head a five-day conference comprised of major leaders in non-traditional education. Principles of progressive liberal education from the meetings were integrated into a new Rollins curriculum called “Individualization in Education.” Afterward, Rollins was regarded as one of the leading innovative colleges in the nation. Given his dominant role in these academic innovations, not surprisingly Holt had assumed a strong proprietary attitude toward an institution in which he had invested so much effort. He had completely internalized an oft quoted catchphrase, “Rollins is Holt and Holt is Rollins.” He was universally praised and extolled as “Mr. Rollins College.” Any faculty disagreement with college policy would be considered an act of personal disloyalty.

John Dewey and the Report of the 1931 Curriculum Conference (Photo of John Dewey by Underwood & Underwood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

For the first few years Holt managed to steer a harmonious ship but by 1933 all was not well in the Rollins vessel. When Lovejoy and a colleague arrived in Winter Park, they found the Rollins campus in turmoil. Holt’s abrupt dismissal of John Rice was the culmination of a growing disagreement between the faculty and the president over the prerogatives of faculty in those areas affecting academic affairs. Assuming the academic reforms embraced a more democratic community, the faculty steadily began asserting its role in academic policy. Trouble began when the Curriculum Committee proposed to abolish or to severely restrict the Greek system as disruptive of academic life and incompatible with the academic progressive reforms sweeping the campus. Holt bristled at and then rejected the attempt to dismantle a social system he himself had helped establish.

A few weeks later the faculty challenged the president’s authority in other areas.  “The Curriculum Committee and as individuals,” protested the administration’s practice of holding chapel convocations that extended beyond the 10:30 class period. A “convocation of doubtful value,” the committee charged, “disrupted and in fact led some faculty to disband classes.” Additionally, the committee chided the administration for permitting students to miss classes to listen to tennis professional Bill Tilden, whose sole purpose was “to advertise an exhibition of tennis professionals.” Holt, taken aback by the sharp and condemning tone of these protests, admitted the administration’s mistake in infringing on class time but added a pointed retort: “The slur of your phrase concerning tennis professionals implies a motive on the part of the administration that I am sure on reflection you will wish to withdraw.”

A more serious confrontation followed. The curriculum committee proposed abolishing the two-hour classes and the eight-hour day, arguing that the schedule was “incompatible with the new Rollins plans.” If the new curriculum was based on achievement rather than time and if it was designed to “enable the individual to develop in his own way and along the lines of his own interests as fast as his ability will admit,” then, the committee argued, the college needed class periods elastic enough to “permit more hours in class, less hours in class or no hours in class.” Holt vehemently rejected not only the attempt to abolish his treasured “Two-Hour Plan” but also to faculty entitlement to make such a change. Efforts to make basic alterations in the curriculum without his approval, he declared, in effect usurped his authority. Holt warned that if the curriculum revisions passed either he would resign or a certain group of faculty would have to go. “If there is as much as fifty percent disagreement between me and any member of the faculty on fundamental matters,’ he warned, “either he or I should go.” Following Holt’s warning, a majority of the faculty voted to table indefinitely the Curriculum Committee’s resolution.

President Holt (front row, center) and Rollins faculty members in 1932. Prof. Rice is standing behind the President.

For the Rollins community these were uncharted waters. Were these faculty efforts simply a logical extension of the academic reform that foretold a democratic community and therefore a way of making a transition from a traditional to a participatory governance system? Or was this faculty assertiveness a kind of revolt against authority and therefore a challenge to Holt’s presidential leadership? Holt’s response to these questions came on February 23, 1933 when he fired Professor John Rice, leader of what the president called the “rebel faction.”

Prof. John Andrew Rice, from the 1931 Tomokan yearbook

Shortly after arrival in May 1933, Lovejoy discovered what the AAUP office had suspected: that traditional academic freedom in terms of tolerating social and political views of faculty members was not an issue at Rollins College. President Holt gave virtually unlimited scope to faculty in this realm and often provided support and protection to professors whatever their political views. Lovejoy admitted Rice’s behavior was disruptive but he believed that was not the main reason for dismissal. Holt fired him, Lovejoy concluded, because of Rice’s leadership in faculty demands for participation in college academic policy. Rollins faculty, it seemed, were allowed to enjoy academic freedom in all aspects of college life except in college governance.

Thus, to Lovejoy, Holt’s imperious governing style was a prime example of why faculty participation in academic governance needed to be linked to the principle of academic freedom. Holt exemplified, Lovejoy wrote, the unwillingness of college presidents to accept the “prerogative of faculty members to exercise professional responsibilities in educational matters” and to have the freedom from repercussions when expressing their views on academic college policy. As Lovejoy’s inquiry revealed, several faculty members had made a similar argument. They explained that their opposition to the president’s firing of Rice came not from admiration for the iconoclastic professor, but from the peremptory method the president employed in firing Rice. As Professor Ralph Lounsbury, a former Holt classmate at Yale, explained: ”I have gone and shall doubtless continue to go upon the supposition that loyalty does not call for mere subserviency or for clothing an honest expression of opinion. College professors who are willing to surrender lightly the thing which is very fundamental to their profession–namely their professional integrity–are not apt to be of any value to the college.” One trustee made the same plea. She begged Holt to elect a faculty committee to consider the discipline and even dismissal of Rice. Wasn’t such an effort simply an extension of “your own liberal policies?” she asked Holt.

Prof. Ralph Lounsbury, who was not re-appointed to the Rollins faculty for the 1933-1934 academic year

All these pleas fell on deaf ears because Holt and the trustees refused to abandon the traditional practice of sole and complete authority over all college affairs, including academic policy; they interpreted the Rice case as a power struggle between the president and a group of rebellious faculty. They advised Holt to stand firm in his authority, or else he would lose complete control of the college governance. They demanded Holt to “go at this Rice matter firmly, decisively, and without hesitation” and counseled Holt “to clean the decks just as quickly as possible of all disloyalty and of all disintegrating influences personal or otherwise that have surrounded this Rice probe.” The president needed no encouragement. Holt had candidly disclosed his attitude toward governance in a letter to the Southern Association of Colleges: “It is fundamental of [the] employee’s duty that he should yield obedience to all reasonable rules, orders or instructions of the employer.” More to the point, when asked why he would not sanction a faculty committee to review Rice’s behavior, Holt replied, “When you fire a cook you don’t go out and get a committee of neighbors to tell you what to do.” In Holt’s mind, cooks and professors were on the same level when it came to the presidential authority.

After ten days of hearings, Lovejoy and his colleague had failed to bring Holt around to the AAUP’s concept of share governance. Later, while considering his report on the investigation, Lovejoy learned that the eleven professors considered part of the John Rice “rebellion” had been either fired or forced to resign. This purge of faculty members for simply opposing administration policy reinforced Lovejoy’s earlier conclusions. In a 14-page account, Lovejoy admitted Rice had “disturbed the harmony of the community,” but went on to criticize the professor’s firing as a blatant violation of the principle of due process. He especially condemned the dismissal of eleven faculty members who had been fired “because of their expression in faculty gatherings and in conversation with President Holt . . . of disagreement with certain views of the president on college policy . . . and their intention of continuing to advocate for AAUP principles on academic freedom.” The autocratic behavior of the Rollins administration, Lovejoy noted, proved even more egregious because it flagrantly contradicted “the spirit of cooperation in an educational experiment ostensibly characteristic of the College.” The AAUP published Lovejoy’s report in its December 1933 Bulletin and placed Rollins on its censured list.

Holt responded aggressively. He published and distributed to all “sister” colleges a 27-page pamphlet where he characterized the AAUP report as biased, prejudiced and replete with errors. “The experiences of Rollins College,” the response begins, should be a concern of “all Colleges and Universities of the country” because that episode showed how an investigation could disrupt the “amicable relations which should exist between College and professors.” Most of the report re-litigated the Rice dismissal. However, the thrust of the response questioned the AAUP’s legitimacy to impose its view of shared governance on any institution of higher learning. According to Holt, the AAUP had no legitimate power “to interfere with the government of the college as the college may deem fit for its own interests.” Nor did it have the authority to “punish by publication a college that does not adopt forms of government advocated by the Association.” Thus, he warned, the association and its methods were a serious threat to all college administrations.

Hamilton Holt’s pamphlet

Replies from other liberal arts colleges mostly agreeing with Holt poured into the president’s office. These supportive responses from liberal arts college presidents reflected a similar position taken by the Association of American Colleges. This recently formed organization of small college administrators issued communication critical of AAUP principles, contending that colleges were governed as “businesses where the president and trustees functioned as heads and directors like any other corporation.” There is no evidence two decades later the AAC had changed its position. Thus, as late as the mid-1930s, the AAUP’s objective of shared governance as a foundation for academic freedom and tenure seemed a distant dream.

Still, in the years immediately following the Rollins inquiry, the AAUP did make progress. After months of negotiation, the AAUP announced in October 1938 it had developed a revised statement on principles of academic freedom and tenure jointly with the American Council on Education, a major higher education consortium, and the former critic the  Association of American Colleges. For the first time, the AAUP made explicit the interconnection between shared governance and academic freedom. The revised statement required colleges that approved AAUP criterion for academic freedom and tenure to agree to a governing system of “shared responsibility among the different components of institutional government [with] specific areas of primary responsibility for governing boards, administrations, and faculties.”

Within a few months of this declaration, the AAUP executive secretary received a letter from President Hamilton Holt. “Having considered the proposed rules concerning Academic Freedom and Tenure set forth by the representatives of the Association of American Colleges and the American Association of University Professors in October, 1938,” Holt wrote, “I am happy to inform you that on December 2, at a meeting of the Board of Trustees the following resolution was adopted: “BE IT RESOLVED that we agree to the rules, principles and practices therein set forth and will accept the revised AAUP guidelines.” Holt had thus committed Rollins to a governing principle even more rigorous than the one he had vehemently rejected five years earlier. At its 1939 annual meeting, the AAUP issued the following statement: “On the recommendation of the Council, following careful consideration of the new principles recently adopted by the Board of Trustees at Rollins, it voted to remove the administration from the Association’s censured list.”

An announcement of the college’s removal from the AAUP’s censured list in The Sandspur, January 18, 1939

Thus, by 1938 the self-proclaimed progressive, liberal president seemed to be having second thoughts. What he had described five years earlier as an association directed by a “small body of willful men,” who had tried to impose its own views of governance on the college, was now an organization with which he was “in full agreement.” He wrote the AAUP executive secretary that there had always been little difference between the college administration and the association. It was, he said, probably “due to what Stuart Chase has called the tyranny of words.” Perhaps, but most likely the president’s obstinate resistance in 1933 to shared governance was much deeper than language differences. It would be interesting to know if Holt recalled a letter he had received from a Duke University professor shortly after Lovejoy’s report and Holt’s response appeared in print. The professor observed Holt deserved “the thanks of all interested in education for so clearly demonstrating the great value of the AAUP as an upholder of right standards in academic life.” If Holt remembered this letter (I suspect he never forgot it), the former editor surely would not have missed the suggested irony that his behavior in 1933 actually strengthened the association he made every effort to discredit.

It is not clear how many others echoed the Duke professor’s sentiment, but conceivably it is no coincidence that shortly after the Rollins case in 1933 the association began to find acceptance of its principles. By the end of the 20th century, the AAUP had achieved almost universal success in its efforts to establish shared governance in most colleges and universities in the nation. But there is no guarantee this situation will last. In the second decade of the 21st century, mounting pressures on liberal arts colleges from multiple directions have led to growing criticism of this system of governance. Critics claim it is too messy and unresponsive to change. Many argue that a corporate model is better suited to meet present challenges, “that more businesslike methods are necessary [so that institutions] can be more “flexible” and “nimble” in the face of disruptive changes. A recent communication from the AAUP president indicates the association was still “campaigning for the rights of faculty members to participate in faculty governance.” Thus, what many assumed was a settled system of academic governance is once again a debatable issue. Today more than ever we are learning an ancient lesson:  democratic systems can never feel completely secure. Likewise, colleges and universities can never take democratic participatory academic governance for granted.

A view of the Rollins campus, circa 1933

SOURCES CONSULTED

Gerber, Larry. 2014. The Rise and Decline of Faculty Governance:  Professionalization and the Modern American University. Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hofstadter, Richard, and Walter Metzger. 1956. The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States. New York:  Columbia University Press.

Lane, Jack C. 2017. Rollins College Centennial History:  A Story of Perseverance, 1885-1985. Winter Park, FL:  Story Farm.

Reynolds, Katherine Chaddock. 1998. Visions and Vanities:  John Andrew Rice of Black Mountain College.  Baton Rouge, LA:  Louisiana State University Press.

Tiede, Hans-Joerg. 2015. University Reform:  The Founding of the American Association of University Professors. Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wilson, Daniel. 1980. Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Quest for Intelligibility. Chapel Hill, N.C.:  The University of North Carolina Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Life Is For Service”: The Words That Inspired Mister Rogers

The plaque that inspired Fred Rogers, displayed on a walkway near Strong Quad

This marble tablet is well known on the Rollins campus for its association with one of our most famous graduates, Fred Rogers ’51 ’74H (better known to most as television’s “Mister Rogers”). After seeing these words as a student, he carried a copy of them in his wallet for many years, until he received a framed version for his desk. We know that this inscription was meaningful to him, but how did it come to be here?

As sometimes happens, finding the answer required quite a bit of research, since there were no clues in our online finding aids (descriptive guides to archival collections). Finally, a review of a folder labeled “New Buildings” in President Hamilton Holt’s correspondence files provided an answer:  several letters and memos referring to the installation of two marble tablets, engraved with mottoes, given to the College by Robert J. Caldwell and installed in 1936.

The companion plaque, currently displayed at Gale Hall

Mr. Caldwell (1875-1951), known to Hamilton Holt as “R.J.,” was a New York banker and industrialist who founded the R.J. Caldwell Company and several other manufacturing concerns. He was, like President Holt, a supporter of the League of Nations and an advocate for world peace. The citation for his honorary degree, awarded at Holt’s inauguration in 1927, recognizes his “untiring efforts to arrive at just solutions of the problems that confront both capital and labor,” and his “humanitarian efforts to relieve human distress and to promote international understanding and good will.” It also describes him as “one of that constantly increasing group of American business men who have the vision to see that success is more than the accumulation of dollars and service the only sure road to happiness.”

Mr. Caldwell at Rollins in 1927 (seventh from the left). Author Rex Beach, who also received an honorary degree that year, is on the far left, and President Holt is second from the right.

Though we found no record of why Mr. Caldwell chose these mottoes, his correspondence with the College mentions the Scarborough School, then a private K-12 institution in Briarcliff Manor, NY. The school was founded in 1913 by Frank and Narcissa Vanderlip, both advocates of Montessori education. The mottoes “Manners Maketh Man” and “Life Is For Service” were displayed on engraved marble tablets over the entrances to the Scarborough School’s Beechwood Theater, which opened in 1917. The building was rededicated as The Julie Harris Theater in 1984, but the plaques remain in place and can still be seen today.

Mr. and Mrs. Vanderlip, pictured in the July 1919 issue of The American Review of Reviews (via Google Books, ). Mr. Vanderlip was a banker and a former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury; Narcissa Vanderlip was a well-known suffragist who served as President of the New York Infirmary of Women and Children for many years.  

Marble plaque at what is now The Clear View School’s Julie Harris Theater in Briarcliff Manor, NY (Photo:  Courtesy of Priscilla A. White, The Clear View School)

We don’t know how the Scarborough School came to adopt these mottoes, but we have a clue about the origins of the plaques. In an online forum, an alumnus of the Class of 1948 reported that they had been given for the school’s new theater by one of Mrs. Vanderlip’s close friends:  Eleanor Roosevelt. Two of Mrs. Roosevelt’s grandchildren attended the school, and she herself lectured at the Beechwood Theater.

When Eleanor Roosevelt first came to Rollins in March 1936, our plaques had not yet been installed. She returned to the campus in 1956 to speak at the Annie Russell Theatre, but we have no record of her having seen them during her visit. She most likely could not have guessed the impact of these words on a young man who had graduated five years earlier.

The book The World According to Mr. Rogers includes this quote: “If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of.” Mrs. Roosevelt and Mr. Caldwell were both gone by 1968, when Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was first broadcast on PBS. We can only imagine how pleased they would have been to know that the words “Life Is For Service” were taken to heart by a college student they never knew, who would go on to exemplify them throughout his life and for millions of television viewers.

Fred Rogers’ senior yearbook photo, from the 1951 Tomokan

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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Does This Man Look Like a Grouch to You? An Alumna Remembers Hamilton Holt

While attending a reception in the Galloway Room recently, I was startled to hear someone point out this portrait of Pres. Hamilton Holt and say, “That guy looks like such a grouch!” Others at our table agreed.

I spoke up, saying that despite the stern expression in the painting, almost everything I’ve ever read about Pres. Holt has emphasized his charm, friendliness, and sense of humor.  The following memories, shared by Marita Stueve Stone Vandyck ’38, an alumna who became Director of Admissions, reflect some of the qualities that endeared “Prexy” to so many at Rollins. I hope that she would have enjoyed the images and descriptions I’ve added to her text.

~ D. Moore, Archival Specialist

*****

Hamilton Holt was a collector. For Rollins he col­lected stones from the birthplace or home of distinguished persons which he placed in a Walk of Fame on the campus.

Pres. Holt with the millstone heading the Rollins Walk of Fame. Mary Seymour ’80 wrote about the stone’s journey to the campus from Holt’s home in Connecticut: “Allen Stoddard ’36 and Franklin Wetherill ’34, two Rollins students heading to Florida to pick up citrus fruit, loaded the 3,325-pound stone on their truck—a feat that required four men, a tractor, and a team of horses. For their efforts, the students received a whopping $40 from Rollins.”

He collected antiques for himself and had a large number of Currier and Ives prints in his home in Woodstock, Conn. He loved to prowl through antique shops. When driving through New England on an admissions trip with him, it became quite a game to try to distract him so that he would not see an antique shop and demand to take time to visit it.  Once he seemed to be asleep riding along a back road going from one school to another.  Suddenly he said, “Stop! Stop! You’ve missed one!” Frightened, I stopped the car only to learn that he had noticed that I had passed an antique store. We went back.

If it was old, he loved it. Somewhere someone in­troduced him to childlike, formless figurines which were made of Pennsylvania chalk and were the product of early settlers for their primitive homes. He was enchanted and bought two or three to begin a new collection. They were stored for the winter in my parents’ home in New York until he could take them to Woodstock in the summer. He placed them on the mantle in their home with the remark, “Aren’t they ugly, and aren’t they wonderful.”

Hamilton Holt in the President’s Office, with figurines from his collections

Rituals and ceremonies delighted him.  He particularly enjoyed Convocations with the array of flags and the colorfully gowned procession moving sedately into the Chapel to POMP AND CIRCUMSTANCE. It never occurred to him that the students grew tired of long citations and responses for honorary degrees or that they thought six in one day were about four too many.

Pres. Holt at Convocation, 1945

In keeping with his love of rituals and ceremonies was his delight in taking part in the wedding of one of his academic children. He invented a “Rollins blessing” which he pronounced at some point during the ceremony.  He loved standing beside the minister watching the bridal procession come down the aisle. . . I do not remember what the Rollins blessing con­sisted of nor at what point it came in the marriage ceremony. I wonder if it was ever written down.

Hamilton Holt’s wedding blessing, from the College Archives

One of my earliest experiences as an employee at Rollins came when a special meeting of all faculty and staff employees was called. It was late spring, right after college closed, and we gathered in the Annie Russell Theatre. Dr. Holt addressed the group somberly and directly. He admitted that he had failed to raise sufficient funds to balance the budget  and, for reasons I have forgotten, the College could not bor­row money. So he came to the faculty and staff for help. He asked us each to take a “retainer” in our salaries, which the College would repay when student tuitions were paid, or when he was successful in bringing in new money. The amount we each allowed the College to withhold from our salaries was determined by individual needs. I believe his appeal was successful and his fund raising effort the following year also successful.

Marita Stueve, pictured here in 1944, served as Director of Admissions from 1942 to 1945. Faculty and staff agreed to reductions in their salaries in the spring of 1942. Ten years earlier, during the Depression, faculty had 50 percent of their salaries withheld during the summer and then agreed to a 30 percent “donation” of their pay to the College for the academic year.

Dinners at the President’s home were formally served and the guests sat at a long table.  Dinner was interminable. No matter how many guests, there was only one servant to pass the platters of food. Consequently there could be no waiting for all to be served before you ate, else the food would be cold. So you ate what you had served and waited for the next.     Many times we ate meat, waited for the potato, ate potato and waited for vegetables.            At any one time some of the guests would be eating and the others waiting. It made for good conversation.

Pres. Holt’s dining room chairs, now used in the College Archives. Others have written of memorable meals with the President; Prof. Charles Mendell described a picnic at which “there were problems,” such as no beverages or flatware. Student Milford Davis ’35 wrote to his family, “I had lunch at Prexy’s yesterday and I am still hungry,” after dining on a small piece of “ice-cold meat,” “three stalks of very sickly asparagus, and a slice of tomato.”

After dinner there were parlor games. His favorite was, I think, a form of baseball. I am sure he himself had made up the questions for the game. It consisted of the Pitcher (always Hamilton Holt) who sat opposite the batter (a guest) and asked the batter a question from a typewritten card. According to the difficulty of the question, a correct answer earned the batter one, two or three bases (and even sometimes a home run). The questions ranged from sports to the arts, music, literature, people and places. Since Hamilton Holt knew all the questions, there was no doubt that he chose questions to fit the batter, and his eyes would crinkle with delight when he struck out [Metropolitan Opera star] Louise Homer with a question on operas or [Dean] Wendell Stone with an abstruse one in philosophy . . .

One of his private projects while President was to learn the secret grip of each fraternity and sorority. Whether he learned them all I never knew, but he did know a number. When he attended initiation banquets for those organ­izations he delighted in greeting each new initiate with the very secret handshake.

Hosting students at the President’s House

Raising money for the College did not come as easily for Hamilton Holt as most people seemed to think. He found  it grueling and depressing to ask friends for donations. He had many classmates at Yale whom he would repeatedly ask for contributions. I remember thinking once when I was making appointments for him in New York that Rollins might have had serious financial problems had it not been for the Yale Class of 1894.

Hamilton Holt (back row, right) with friends at Yale in 1894. Sitting in front of Holt is Howard Fox ’31H, who established The Fox Literary Prize at Rollins.

Once I drove him to Sarasota, Florida where he had an appointment with, if I remember correctly, Mrs. Mabel Ringling at her home. As we pulled up in front of her villa, Dr. Holt said, “We are too early. Drive around the block a time or two–we can’t be early.”

Later on our way home he confessed that we had not been early but that he had stalled because “I was nervous. I hated to go in.”

When I describe Hamilton Holt’s idiosyncrasies, I do not intend to picture him as a silly man — or that he  took these foibles seriously. They added fun and color to life. The same held for the atrocious verse and bad puns which he composed.

Below:  One of Pres. Holt’s “pomes” (as he called them) inviting the Rollins        community to a reunion at his summer home in Woodstock, CT.

His attitude was paternal  to students, yet he listened to them and respected their opinions. He treated employees, whether faculty  or staff, as colleagues and solicited their advice. When I was a very new and inexperienced Admissions Counselor in New York, I received a directive from him concerning the approach to take with preparatory schools. I disagreed with the approach and wrote him stating my reasons. By return mail I had a letter which said simply, “You are right. I am wrong.”

Pres. Holt in saddle shoes at the Student Center, 1946. As he left Rollins three years later, he told the students, “I shall miss you, my sons and daughters, in the coming days . . . I shall miss the quiet talks I have had in my home with you, whether singly or in groups. Write me sometimes and tell me of your trials and triumphs. May the latter far exceed the former.”

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Student Life in the 1930s: Rollins Memorabilia from Milford J. Davis ’35

The Freshman’s Don’t Book, by Milford J. Davis

A popular Rollins 360 story a few years ago featured the Freshman’s Don’t Book, a booklet offering new students “a few helpful hints on what not to do at Rollins.” At the time of its publication in 1935, the distinctive style and voice of the author would have been familiar to Sandspur readers, as Milford Davis was a regular contributor to the paper and the author of its “Rollinsania” column on campus life. He also participated in a number of other activities at Rollins:  singing in choral groups, performing in theater productions, managing the tennis team, and taking part in several clubs and other student organizations.

Milford Davis, from the 1935 Tomokan yearbook

The first “Rollinsania” column

Mr. Davis saved many mementos of his college days, including his letterman’s sweater and freshman beanie. He collected his Sandspur columns in a scrapbook and filled others with invitations, clippings, cards, and snapshots. In keeping with his advice to freshmen (“Don’t forget to write home once in a while”), he wrote often to his parents and saved the letters. All of these items help bring his student years back to life, and the Archives is grateful to Mr. Davis’s nephews, Andrew and Michael A. Wartell, for donating this collection to the College.

Some of Mr. Davis’s Rollins memorabilia

What was student life at Rollins like in those days? When Mr. Davis arrived on campus in the fall of 1931, Hamilton Holt was president, and the Conference Plan of education had been underway for five years. During his second semester at Rollins, Knowles Memorial Chapel and the Annie Russell Theatre were dedicated (Miss Russell herself served as its director). Tuition, room, and board cost $815-$870 per year (approximately $13,609- $14,528 in today’s currency), the charges depending on whether a student lived in one of the “new dormitories.”  Football and baseball were popular sports, and the Animated Magazine was an annual highlight of campus life.

Snapshots from Milford Davis’s Rollins scrapbook

A program for a local concert by pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, attended by Mr. Davis and fellow students (“The whole gang went to hear him. I shook hands with him backstage!!”)

Milford Davis (second from left), pictured in the Tomokan yearbook with faculty members and fellow students in Pi Kappa Delta, the honorary debating fraternity

Milford Davis (standing, second from the right), with the Rollins Octette, a choral group, in 1935

An event that came to be known as “The Rice Affair” occurred during these years, resulting in Prof. John Andrew Rice and several other faculty members leaving Rollins in 1933 to found Black Mountain College, an experimental school in North Carolina. Mr. Davis’s correspondence includes an undated letter from former Rollins professor Theodore Dreier, inviting him to attend “a new liberal, coeducational college” that was being “contemplated,” but could become a reality if 50 students could be found to enroll.

Portion of the letter introducing the future Black Mountain College

Milford Davis stayed at Rollins, graduating in 1935. He went on to become a cartoonist whose work appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, and other publications. After working for the War Department during World War II, he moved to Albuquerque, where he illustrated several books about New Mexico and worked as a writer and editor for the Atomic Energy Commission’s Sandia Corporation. He kept in touch with the College over the years, sending lively letters to the Alumni Office. Sadly, he was unable to attend his 25th Reunion in 1960 and died suddenly the following summer. Just a few months earlier, he had sent a cartoon of himself setting out for the campus from Albuquerque.

His sister, Betty Davis Wartell ’39, wrote that “Rollins can well be proud of an alumnus such as he, for his achievements were many and his contributions to his community unlimited. He gave unselfishly of his time and his talents for the benefit of others.” She continued, “M. J. often spoke fondly of Rollins, of the four wonderful years spent there and of his many good friends.” How pleased he would be that his Freshman’s Don’t Book and memorabilia from his student days will be enjoyed by visitors to the College Archives.

~ by D. Moore, Archival Specialist

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