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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Rollins’ Historical Markers

Founded in 1885, Rollins College is home to a number of historical markers commemorating its past. (Photo by Scott Cook)

A historical marker commemorates an event or person from the past at a specific geographic locale in a way that visitors can easily interact with. Over the past 131 years, as one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Florida, Rollins has put up multiple historical markers to recognize its rich cultural, historical, and architectural heritage in the American South.

A marker that honors the college benefactor is actually not located on campus, but on the Rollins family farm 1,400 miles away. Growing up in Lebanon, Maine, Alonzo W. Rollins (1832-1887) developed at a young age a strong faith in Christian education. He later became a successful merchant in Chicago, but by the early 1880s his failing health forced him to seek shelter in Florida during winter time. When the idea of a Christian institution of higher education was first proposed by the General Congregational Church Association of Florida, Rollins seized the opportunity to make a leadership gift of $50,000 to the cause, swaying the choice of the campus site to Winter Park over other possible locations in Daytona Beach, Jacksonville, Mt. Dora, or Orange City. Alonzo Rollins has since been honored as a founder and leading benefactor of the College, and “His name is deservedly associated with all that Winter Park shall become and with the best interests of this Southern portion of our country.”[1]

Located in Lebanon of York County in Maine, this marker was erected by the Rollins family on August 18, 1935, to recognize Alonzo and his older brother George’s contributions to the founding and early development of the College.

Rollins Hall was built in 1929 with funds from Edward W. Rollins ’29H, a cousin of Alonzo Rollins, and featured a boulder from the farm of James Rollins, ancestor of the Rollins family, who settled at Newington, New Hampshire in 1644.

The founding of the College has been recognized by multiple historical markers in Central Florida. On January 29, 1885, the General Congregational Association of Florida held its annual meeting of thirteen churches in Orange City and approved a committee report that eventually led to the establishment of Rollins College in Winter Park. The study recommended that the General Congregational Association “take initiatory steps toward the founding of an institution for higher education in the state of Florida.”[2] Then on April 17, 1885, at a special meeting in the Congregational Church of Orange City, after the delegates from Winter Park made a convincing argument, the General Congregational Association of Florida unanimously declared Winter Park as the location of the new college. Decades later, both historic meetings have been commemorated by a marker sponsored by the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

On January 29, 1935, on behalf of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Mrs. T. C. Maguire presented the Rollins College historical marker to Mayor Webb of Orange City, Florida.

Besides Orange City, Sanford was also closely linked to the founding of Rollins College. Located at the intersection of the St. John’s River Passenger and Freight Lines to Jacksonville, and the South Florida Railroad to Tampa, Sanford in the late nineteenth century was regarded as a leading town in Central Florida and the “gateway city to South Florida.”[3] On April 17, 1885, when the decision by the Florida Congregational Association was reached about the location of the proposed college, the Winter Park delegates hastened down the St. John’s River by boat from Orange City to Sanford in order to telegraph the good news to the waiting community. However, before taking the afternoon wagon ride home, an incorporating announcement was written and posted in Sanford. Signed by F. W. Lyman, E. P. Hooker, and three others, the call announced a meeting of the incorporators to be held in the Directors’ Room of the Lyman Bank in Sanford on the morning of April 28, 1885. It was at this meeting that the Constitution and Bylaws of Rollins College were adopted, and twenty-one trustees were elected.[4]  To celebrate the semi-centennial of the College, on April 28, 1935, a special gathering was held in Sanford, and a historical marker was presented by T. W. Lawton (1874-1959), a Rollins graduate, trustee, and Seminole County Superintendent of Education, and accepted by Sanford Mayor T. L. Dumas.[5]

Located by the shore of Lake Monroe on the southwest corner of Park and First Streets in Sanford, this marker was erected by the Sallie Harrison Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and other citizens of Sanford and Seminole County.

On April 28, 1954, a dedication ceremony was held for another plaque commemorating the founding of Rollins College in 1885. The plaque was placed in Florida State Bank in Sanford, Fla. Pictured from left to right: George Touhey (Master-of-Ceremonies), Alfred J. Hanna (Vice-President of Rollins College), R.T. Milwee (Seminole County Supt. of Public Instruction), C.H. McNulty (Chairman of the Board of Directors of Florida State Bank), Hugh F. McKean (President of Rollins College), Dr. Frederick L. Lewton (Student at Rollins before 1890, Archivist at Rollins), T.E. Tucker (President of Florida State Bank), Dr. Fred P. Ensminger (Rollins, 1897), Mrs. Thomas Harry (Daytona Beach, granddaughter of Rev. C.M. Bingham, one of the founders of Rollins College), Dr. J. Bernard Root (Pastor of the Congretional Church).

The key role played by the Congregational Church in the founding of Rollins College is also recognized by several historical markers. At the incorporation meeting in 1885, Frederick Lyman (1849-1931) was appointed president of Rollins Corporation and chairman of the Board of Trustees. As a founder and primary supporter of the Congregational Church of Winter Park, Lyman helped plan the construction of the first four buildings on campus. The Lyman Hall at Rollins and Lyman Avenue in Winter Park are named in his honor. Edward Hooker (1834-1904) was another strong leader in the Congregational community of Florida. As the pastor of the Winter Park church, he was named President of the Faculty and the charter trustee of the new college. In six months he was able to design a curriculum and recruit faculty and students, as the campus began to take shape by Lake Virginia. On November 4, 1885, Rollins College opened its doors to welcome its first class, and the first official event for all charter students was to assemble in the Congregational Church of Winter Park to hear addresses by President Hooker and Superintendent S. F. Gale of the General Congregational Association of Florida. Since then, November 4 has been celebrated as Founder’s Day at Rollins College.

This marker was erected at its current site by members of the Congregational Church of Winter Park, “in special recognition of the noteworthy services rendered by Dr. Hooker as the first minister of this church and as the first president of Rollins College.”

Located at the intersection of Chase and Fairbanks, this marker commemorates the first faculty meeting of Rollins College on November 2, 1885. Charter faculty members in attendance included Edward Hooker, Louise M. Abbott, Nathan Barrows, William W. Lloyd, and Annie W. Morton.

Erected in the lobby of the Knowles Memorial Chapel by the Board of Trustees of the College on January 1, 1940, this marker serves “as a visible and permanent recognition of the spiritual, intellectual and material indebtedness which Rollins College owes and gratefully acknowledges to its Congregational heritage.”

In 1925, Hamilton Holt (1872-1951) was appointed the eighth president of Rollins College. An accomplished journalist, social activist, and internationalist, Holt had no pedagogical training in higher education. However, based on his own frustrating experience at Yale and Columbia, he boldly abandoned the traditional lecture and recitation method at Rollins. Instead, Holt launched the Conference Plan that centered the College curriculum on individual learning experiences. Emphasizing one-on-one interaction between professor and student, “The characteristic feature of the plan is the free exchange of thought between pupil and teacher in personal conference during which the student is helped over difficulties, shown how to study, given an illustration of the scholarly attitude towards knowledge and so forth.”[6] Besides curricular reform, Holt founded the Animated Magazine, and brought many great personalities to Rollins, including Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and the American philosopher John Dewey. He also established the Spanish Mediterranean architectural style of the campus and fostered a great legacy of expansion and growth for the College. It was during the Holt era that Rollins achieved national prominence as one of the outstanding experimental colleges of the time. On November 3, 1935, “in recognition of the distinguished service rendered the city of Winter Park by Hamilton Holt, and to mark the tenth anniversary of his presidency of Rollins College,” Kentucky Avenue across campus was renamed Holt Avenue by the City Commission of Winter Park.

On April 17, 1935, this bronze tablet was erected at the corner of Interlachen Avenue and Morse Boulevard by the residents of Winter Park to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Rollins College. Pictured from left to right: Mayor Raymond C. Baker, George C. Cartwright, Alfred J. Hanna, Mrs. Philip T. Stillman, Jessie Rittenhouse Scollard, Sara C. Cullen (granddaughter of David Mizell), and a group of Boy Scouts of Winter Park.

Since its founding, Rollins College has been at the heart of learning, culture, and architectural beauty in Central Florida. The establishment of Rollins on Lake Virginia provided the perfect location for a truly picturesque campus to unfold. Over the years, the College’s planners have succeeded in combining the man-made beauty of campus buildings with the natural beauty of the lakeside setting. Since the Holt era the consistent use of Spanish Mediterranean architecture has infused a sense of harmony and unity into the essence of the campus.[7] The crowning achievement of Holt’s master plan was the Chapel-Theatre complex; both buildings are currently listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They are in many ways the heart of the Rollins community, as they represent Rollins’ long-standing tradition of a holistic education that incorporates artistic, intellectual, and spiritual pursuits.

Built in 1932, the Annie Russell Theatre was constructed with funds from Mrs. Edward Bok in honor of her actress friend Annie Russell (1864-1936). It was designed by Richard Kiehnel of Miami, who was also known as the chief architect responsible for the campus master plan envisioned by Holt. The Knowles Memorial Chapel was designed by world renowned architect Ralph A. Cram and modeled after the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain. It was a generous gift of Mrs. Warren in memory of her father, Frances B. Knowles (1823-1890). The original marble marker, which is still on display in the lobby of the Chapel, reads: “To the glory of God and in loving memory of Frances Bangs Knowles, founder, trustee and benefactor of Rollins College. His Christian character and public spirit ennobled the unfolding life of this community and left the world better for his having passed through it. This Sanctuary, a symbol of strength and beauty, is given in grateful remembrance by his daughter Frances Knowles Warren. A.D.1932.”

Designed by Kiehnel, Pugsley Hall also followed the Spanish Mediterranean architectural style that began to dominate all campus buildings. This beautiful marker recognizes Cornelius Amory Pugsley of Peekskill, New York, a banker, congressman and philanthropist, who made the lead donation to the construction of the student dormitory.

Arguably the most beautiful historical marker still existing on campus is the garden seat made of coquina with a bronze plaque of Francis Philip Fatio (1724-1811) and Lina L’Engle Barnett (1859-1934). Fatio was a pioneer and strong advocate for conservation in Florida; following in his footsteps, his great-great-granddaughter Lina Barnett dedicated her life to the conservation of forests in Florida. Designed by Leno Lazzari, the memorial marker was presented by Mrs. W. S. Manning, President of Colonial Dames in Florida, and accepted by President Hamilton Holt on December 14, 1935. Originally located next to the Annie Russell Theatre, it was moved closer to a student dormitory before being relocated at the back of the Mills Memorial Center. The artistic garden seat has since become a popular spot for generations of students to gather.

The caption of the bronze plaque reads: “Francis Philip Fatio (1724-1811), first advocate of conservation of Florida’s forests, and Lina L’Engle Barnett (1859-1934), a colonial dame who kept alive the doctrine of conservation in Florida and the ideals of her distinguished ancestor. Erected by the National Society, Colonial Dames of America in Florida, December 14, 1935.”

Veterans have been a part of campus life at Rollins in the 20th century. During World War II, the Army’s STAR (Specialized Training and Reassignment) Unit was stationed in Pinehurst Cottage, and many students and even some faculty members were dispatched to fight in both the European and the Pacific theaters. To honor the military services made by Rollins personnel, President Hamilton Holt erected a Roll of Honor marker in 1943. Then the U.S. Congress passed the G.I. Bill to provide educational assistance to service members and their dependents, which enabled many veterans to pursue college education after the war. In the 1945-1946 academic year alone, 122 of the 534 students enrolled at the College were ex-servicemen, making them almost 25 percent of the student population.[8] Although the Rollins Roll of Honor is no longer on our campus, a new Veterans Memorial was given to the College by Rollins veteran William F. Koch, Jr. ’49 and his wife, Mary Lou Sommer Koch ’48, in honor of all those Rollins alumni who made the ultimate sacrifice during their time in the armed services from World War I to the Vietnam War.

President Hamilton Holt at the Rollins College Roll of Honor, erected in 1943, listing the names of all Rollins men and women serving in the Armed Forces.

The Veterans Memorial was dedicated on March 24, 2000, during the Reunion Weekend. It was given to the College by Rollins veteran William F. Koch, Jr. ’49 and his wife, Mary Lou Sommer Koch ’48, and bears the inscription: “In grateful remembrance of Rollins alumni who gave their lives in service to their country.” 

As a small, independent liberal arts college, Rollins’ funds for campus construction have largely come from generous gifts from benefactors made through private donations, grant support, and capital campaigns such as the Victory Expansion Program after WWII. Orlando Hall is one such building, which was mainly supported by donations from citizens of Orlando. In a letter dated October 10, 1946, President Holt wrote: “Dear Orlando Friends: It gave us all a real thrill to learn that the people of Orlando were undertaking to provide for an ORLANDO HALL on the Rollins campus. Nothing could be more timely, appropriate, and heartening… We shall be proud and happy to have Orlando Hall added to our growing cluster of beautiful buildings and we want each one of you to know how grateful we are to you. We shall always do our utmost to deserve your continued confidence and friendship.”[9] Home to the English Department from beginning, the two-story building in Spanish Mediterranean style is connected by a loggia to Sullivan House and Woolson House, with multiple faculty offices and classrooms that contain the original conference tables.

Dedicated on April 6, 1949, this wood marker inside Orlando Hall recognizes all individuals from the local community who donated to the building’s construction.

Visitors walking through campus may notice two stone tablets on the loggia wall connecting multiple dorm buildings at Rollins: “Life Is for Service” and “Manners Maketh Man.” Those plaques were donated in 1936 by Robert J. Caldwell of New York, who received an honorary degree from Rollins a few years earlier. Both phrases are the mottoes of the Scarborough Country Day School, whose tablets are said to have been donated by Eleanor Roosevelt when the preparatory school’s Beechwood Theater was dedicated in 1917. Those inspirational markers have had profound impacts on generations of Rollins students, among them Fred Rogers ’51 ‘74H (1928-2003). After growing up in Latrobe, Pa., Rogers spent a year at Dartmouth before transferring to Rollins in 1948. A music composition major, Rogers found a quiet, peaceful place to hone his music and intellect at Rollins, and became inspired by the adage “Life is for Service,” when he saw the marble tablet on the wall of the loggia near Strong Hall. He wrote it down on a small piece of paper and carried it in his wallet throughout his life as a reminder.[10] He intended to become a minister after graduation; however, after seeing a television show during the Easter break of his senior year, he decided to also dedicate his life to educational programming for children. His first television show, The Children’s Corner in Pittsburgh eventually grew into Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the longest-running show in PBS history.

Mounted on the wall of the loggia near Strong Hall, for decades this marble tablet has inspired Fred Rogers and many other Rollins students in civic engagement and community services. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Among all building markers on campus, a unique stone tablet is located in the courtyard of the Cornell Social Science Building. Dedicated on November 4, 1988, the Cornell Hall for Social Sciences was funded by George Cornell ’35 ’85H (1910-2003), a long-serving member of the Rollins Board of Trustees (1981-2003), and his wife Harriet W. Cornell ’35HAL ’90H. In line with the Spanish Mediterranean style that defines the rest of campus, Cornell Hall features an open courtyard and the Schoolhouse Stone as its central piece, a slab of Hematite Silurian from the Central Valley School founded by Cornell’s grandparents in 1865. The marker reads: “This piece of Hematite Silurian stone was hewn from the Longwood Quarry near Central Valley, New York, on the farm originally owned by Samuel Cornell, the great-great-grandfather of George Davison Cornell. Two subsequent generations farmed there, and this stone has become an important part of the Cornell family tradition. For decades it served as a mounting block at the Central Valley School established two generations later by George’s grandparents, Susan and David Cornell. The stone was a favorite spot for students, and on nice days they gathered there for lessons and recreations… The original school operated from 1865 to about 1890. The stone was moved to make way for cement sidewalks in the 1920s, and the Cornell family preserved it. This piece was shipped from New York to Florida to provide gathering place for future generations of students engaged in learning in Cornell Hall.”

A more recent addition to the historical markers on campus is Rollins’ 9/11 Memorial, which  is believed to be the first and only memorial to feature authentic touchstones from all three sites—the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.[11] This marker was donated by Rollins alum Tony Wilner ’82, who in 2001 worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon, where he obtained a salvaged piece of the Pentagon limestone. He then worked to obtain a stone from the crash site of United Airlines Flight 93. Meanwhile Rollins alum Manny Papir ’89, who served as Mayor Giuliani’s Deputy Chief of Staff during the 9/11 attacks, donated a piece of stone from the wreckage of the World Trade Center for the College’s Walk of Fame, which was originally dedicated by President Rita Bornstein along with the mayor, police and fire chiefs of Winter Park on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on America. Papir eventually agreed with Wilner’s vision of a memorial incorporating all three sites, and the new marker was dedicated in 2008 next to the Veterans Memorial.

An engraved quotation from President George W. Bush reads: “We will not waiver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.” (Photo by Scott Cook)

Building on a tradition of excellence, innovation, and community, Rollins College holds a distinctive place in American higher education. Historical markers help us preserve the rich cultural legacy of the College. Glancing through signs and plaques designating the significant places, personages, and events associated with Rollins, visitors and interested citizens can develop a more concrete understanding of the College’s history. Students and faculty can also gain a great sense of pride in our longstanding liberal arts heritage. By looking back at the path traveled by our forebears, we can look forward to the future of the College. This spirit is perhaps best reflected in a statement from the January 28, 1885, committee report authored by Edward P. Hooker, first president of Rollins College: “The outlook is grand and glorious… We rejoice in the privilege of laying the foundations for the future.”[12]

Students interact with historical markers on campus.

by Wenxian Zhang, Head of Archives and Special Collections

A version of this article was published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Independent.

[1] The Winter Park Company, Alonzo W. Rollins (1832-1887), 3. Box 10B, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[2] Jack C. Lane, “Chapter 1: The Founding, 1885” Rollins College: A Centennial History (Winter Park, Florida: Rollins College, 2016),

[3] Wenxian Zhang, “Sanford’s Historical Connections with Winter Park and Rollins College,” Sanford Historical Society Newsletter 14:6 (November-December 2007), 1-4.

[4] “Minutes of the Board of Trustees, Rollins College, April 28, 1885,” Box 10B, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[5] “1885-1935 Semi-centennial Program of Rollins College, 28 April, 1935,” Box 25D, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[6] “Two-Hour Conference Plan: How the Lecture and Recitation System Has Been Abolished at Rollins College,” Rollins College, January 1927,

[7] A Walker’s Guide to Rollins College, edited by Catharine Rogers, Rollins College, n.d.

[8] D. M. Moore, “Words from Rollins Veterans, 1945,” Rollins College Archives, November 17, 2014,

[9] Orlando Hall, Box 05C, Building & Grounds, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Olin Library, Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida.

[10] Bobby Davis, “Farewell to Our Favorite Neighbor: In Honor of Fred Rogers ’51, March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003,” Rollins Alumni Record (Summer 2003), 20-23.

[11] Meredith V. Wellmeier, “Rollins Remembers 9/11: On the 14th anniversary, Rollins College Observed a Moment of Silence during the College’s 9/11 Memorial Service,” Rollins360, September 11, 2015,

[12] Jack C. Lane, “Chapter 1: The Founding, 1885” Rollins College: A Centennial History (Winter Park, Florida: Rollins College, 2016),

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“Sandspur Tactics”: Lucy Blackman and the Women of Florida

Lucy Worthington Blackman, circa 1902-1915

As we observe Women’s History Month, the Archives is pleased to share this guest blog post by Dr. Leslie Poole, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies. Prof. Poole’s subject, Lucy Blackman, came to Winter Park in 1902, when her husband, William, was appointed president of Rollins. In addition to her work in the clubwomen movement, Mrs. Blackman was also an early member of the Florida Audubon Society, serving as its vice president for many years and publishing a book on its history in 1935.

Thank you, Dr. Poole, for sharing your research with us!


For the past decade I have been researching the role of environmental women in Florida, which led to my Ph.D. and to my book, Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century. Early in my research I learned about the terrific work of Lucy Worthington Blackman (1860-1942), who has been a muse of sorts as I have uncovered the largely untold stories of these activist women.

Blackman, it turns out, was heavily involved in early conservation efforts in the state—as well as other Progressive Era fights of the early 1900s that included education and social reform. And, like me, she was frustrated that Florida historians had largely left women out of state narratives.

She set out to right that wrong with her two-volume history The Women of Florida, published in 1940. “It is high time that this were done,” Blackman wrote, noting many local and state histories “deal in the main with men only; their authors seem to have been oblivious to the fact that in all these years there have been women in Florida…” The history, which she touted as the first of its kind in the South, offered accounts of women in Florida since its earliest times and provided biographies of middle- and upper-class white women active in different state organizations. It is notable that Blackman’s volumes did not include any women of color, reflecting the segregationist era of its publication.

The title page of Lucy Blackman’s book, The Women of Florida, published in 1940

Still, her observations about women’s actions to improve Florida have value. Long before women could vote, they were organizing in female-only clubs—notably the Florida Federation of Women’s Clubs (FFWC). They raised money, signed petitions, and lobbied state legislators to do their bidding. Blackman wrote that in Tallahassee women faced the “old Adam war-cry, ‘Woman’s place is in the home’” which “reverberated through the pines and over the rivers and lakes and ocean from Pensacola to Key West.” Women were “reviled” for getting involved in the movement, Blackman wrote, adding “Thanks be, there were enough women with spinal cords starched stiff, who raised their undaunted eyebrows and said, ‘Ah! indeed!’ to this masculine mandate – and then went forth and did as they saw fit.”  Blackman recalled the “annoying habit of the women of talking aback at the legislators after they had been told politely to go home and tend the babies – this pesky, unreasonable, feminine pertinacity.” By 1940, the FFWC no longer came to the legislature with a large package of proposals; the list was shorter “because, as a result of their sandspur tactics, the lawmakers finally succumbed and cleared the women’s calendar by passing the legislation so persistently demanded of them.”

Lucy Blackman (standing, center, wearing a light-colored necklace), President of the State Federation of Women’s Clubs, with fellow Board members in 1925 (from The Women of Florida)

Clubwomen across Florida and the nation made their voices heard and achieved many of their goals, despite their inability to vote. Through grassroots organizing they found and claimed power. Florida clubwomen in 1916 created, financed, and maintained the first state park—Royal Palm State Park. Three decades later it would become the nucleus of Everglades National Park, an internationally recognized gem. They also demanded better forestry practices, argued for protection of birds, pressed cities for tree ordinances, and fought the “uglification” of Florida that came through billboards, roaming cattle, and garbage in the streets.

As the century progressed, women turned their attention to the ills of air and water pollution and championed saving species on the brink of extinction. By the end of the 1900s, Florida women, reflecting changing roles in society, began to head conservation groups, lead environmental bureaucracies, and join the legislature—no longer an all-boys club.

These conservation-minded women are an inspiration and example in today’s world and I remind my students regularly of the lessons they offer: Never give up. Find power in numbers. Utilize your connections. Change public opinion. Use facts. Make yourself heard.

In today’s world that likely means using social media and platforms that these women never imagined. But I’m sure that, given the opportunity, Lucy Blackman would have employed Twitter, Instagram, online petitions, and any other means to save Florida’s natural beauty. Blackman and her “sisters” were pushing the boundaries then and we should do the same today.


Prof. Poole’s book, Saving Florida: Women’s Fight for the Environment in the Twentieth Century, is available at the Olin Library and the Winter Park Public Library. Copies may also be purchased at .

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Theodore Mead – The Man Behind the Mead Botanical Legacy Garden in Winter Park

theowithboatercTheodore L. Mead (Photo:  Courtesy of the Willis family)

The Archives is pleased to share this guest blog post by Dr. Paul Butler, the author of Orchids & Butterflies – the Life & Times of Theodore Mead. In this new biography, he gives readers a view of the personal life of Theodore Luqueer Mead, the scientist who inspired Mead Botanical Garden. Dr. Butler was recently awarded the Rhea Marsh and Dorothy Lockhart Smith Winter Park History Research Grant in recognition of this work.

Thank you, Dr. Butler, for sharing your research and insights with us!


One of the major collections in the Rollins Archives concerns letters, orchid memorabilia and other papers relating to the life of Theodore L. Mead, whose legacy garden is here in Winter Park. Mead was one of the most distinguished entomologists and horticulturists of his day (1852-1936) and his achievements in establishing a world-class butterfly collection and a host of horticultural breakthroughs that fundamentally changed the floriculture of Florida have been well documented – see for example his Wikipedia page. In my new book, Orchids & Butterflies – the Life & Times of Theodore Mead, I’ve offered for the first time insights into Mead the person–how he lived and what made him tick, using as a basis much of the Rollins archival material.

meadbook             Dr. Butler holding a copy of his new biography of Theodore Mead                               (Photo:  Courtesy of Paul Butler)

The incentive in writing the story of Mead came from my interest in horticulture, the discovery of Mead’s letters in the archives, and a chance encounter with a well-known Winter Park resident, Ken Murrah, performing a captivating historical reenactment of Theodore Mead. The historically accurate biography paints a vivid picture of what life was like as a Central Florida pioneer and citrus grower in the late 19th century. The documentation of most of Mead’s life is still in Central Florida but an important later component resides at Coalburg in the Kanawha Valley of West Virginia, the ancestral home of his wife, Edith Edwards Mead. This was a treasure trove of photographs and letters that allowed documentation of the last twenty years of his life.

mrstheodorelmead37wpplEdith Edwards Mead at Wait-A-Bit,  the Meads’ home in Oviedo, circa 1902. (Photo:  Courtesy of Winter Park History Center and Archives)

For Mead’s story, a “life and times” narrative seemed particularly appropriate. His lifetime achievements in entomology and horticulture were substantial and significant. As were his generosity of spirit and concern for others less fortunate than himself that endeared him to the communities in which he lived. The times in which he lived—the environmental, technological and cultural changes that took place during his eighty-year life—provided a fascinating backdrop to the narrative. He experienced the birth of photography and became an enthusiastic early adopter; he witnessed the harrowing death of his only child from scarlet fever, the scourge of juvenile mortality with at that time no known cure; and he became embroiled in the heated religious arguments that followed the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this debate, from his own studies of environmentally-induced changes in butterfly variants, he took the side of Darwin and that brought him head-to-head in conflict with his evangelical mother.

Orchids & Butterflies is the story of the man who kept Florida a “Land of Flowers” – a hybridizer of plants more skillful than Luther Burbank. Edwin Grover, Professor of Books at Rollins College for many years, was of the opinion that there wasn’t a garden or public park anywhere in Florida that didn’t bear his mark in some form or another.

meadholdingallamandawatermarkedTheodore Mead holding an allamanda (Photo:  Rollins College Archives)

Mead’s horticultural legacy garden opened to the public in 1940, proclaiming itself as “Florida’s Finest Garden Spot.” Among the things to see and enjoy in this paradise of tropical plants were 5,000 orchids, rare plants, ferns, club mosses, cycads and palms. The garden had large plantings of azaleas, gardenias, camellias, daylilies, caladiums and roses, clumps of candy-striped ‘Mead-strain’ amaryllis, and a winding half mile trail bordering a creek complete with miniature waterfalls. Highway maps at the time, given out free to tourists, showed the Garden as the only sight worth seeing in the Greater Orlando area, together with Sanlando Springs.

entrancetomeadc               Entrance sign for the future home of Mead Botanical Garden                        (Photo: Courtesy of Paul Butler)

floridamap1940A tourist map showing area attractions, from Scenic Florida (Tallahassee, FL:  Florida State Department of Agriculture, circa 1940)

Today it is a peaceful, natural oasis of calm that has largely returned to nature, but in some of the quiet corners of the Garden, near the main entrance, the curious-minded can stumble across some of the plants that Mead was famous for.

monarchiiibykarenklelsA Monarch butterfly at Mead Botanical Garden (Photo by Karen Klels, via Creative Commons,


Dr. Butler’s book is available at Olin Library (call number QH31 .B88 O73 2016) and the Winter Park Public Library. It will also be available for purchase from local retailers.


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