Rollins students from Cuba, 1902
The Archives is pleased to share this guest blog post from Susan Montgomery, Public Services Librarian at Olin Library. Prof. Montgomery’s recent scholarship includes research on the first international students to attend Rollins, who came from Cuba in the late 1890s. Thank you, Susan!
* * * * *
From September 15 to October 15, the United States celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. During this time, we recognize the contributions Hispanics have made to our history and culture. More than food or dance, it is about people. People who have either recently moved to the U.S. from Spanish speaking nations or those raised here in Spanish-speaking households. As the library liaison to Latin American and Caribbean Studies program, I am passionate about learning more about the countries of the region and the relations between the U.S. and these countries.
This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba with 11 colleagues. Before leaving, I wanted to explore the connection between Rollins and the island country. During my research I learned that the first internationals students to study at Rollins were in fact from Cuba. Members of the Gonzalez family, Eulogio and Jacinto, arrived in the 1896-97 academic year. Subsequently their sisters, Trinidad and Francisca, joined them. Of course, questions followed. Why did they come to Rollins? How did they learn about Rollins? Do we know anything about their experience?
Francisca Gonzalez studied at Rollins from 1897 to 1899 and 1900-1902. She also taught Spanish at the College for two years (1916-1918).
I uncovered some of the answers but am still looking for more. George Morgan Ward first served as President of Rollins from 1896 to 1902. Rollins was a young institution then and looking for new ways to attract students. The island of Cuba was in the midst of war, the Spanish-American war or the Cuban War for Independence, depending on whose perspective. Nonetheless, violence was rampant across the island. The young Gonzalez children traveled to Rollins to continue their education. Others followed. It is still unclear how these students learned about Rollins. President Ward hired Dean Elijah C. Hills, who had traveled and lived in Cuba prior to joining the Rollins faculty. According to Ward’s papers, he was involved in recruiting Cuban students to Rollins, but to what extent is not clear. There are notes from a man named B.L. Gonzalez, presumably the Gonzalez family patriarch, who also recruited Cuban students. Among the documents I found newspaper advertisements about Rollins translated into Spanish.
Rollins advertisement from an unnamed Cuban newspaper, September 1897
For these Cuban students, Rollins College provided an escape from the violence in their home country and an opportunity to continue their learning. They became immersed in U.S. culture and received instruction only in English. These students came from successful Cuban families whose financial security was compromised due to the war. Not surprisingly, serious emphasis was placed on their appearance. One note from B.L. Gonzalez to Dr. Ward dated May 29, 1902, describes a young man who is traveling with him from Cuba to Rollins. In it, Gonzalez describes the student: “The boy is 17 years old, white boy and his name is Jose Manuel.” I am exploring more in-depth their experience in Winter Park while they studied at Rollins.
Students at Pinehurst in 1899. Their average age was 14; most of the boys pictured here were enrolled in the College’s preparatory division and came to Rollins from Cuba, under the Latin American Program created by Pres. Ward.
So as my research continues, I find it inspiring that Rollins has maintained some of the values that began in the first years of the college. Our commitment to global citizenship and responsible leadership was probably not at the forefront in the minds of the first college presidents. However, Dr. Ward’s willingness to enroll students from another country without strong English comprehension skills demonstrates Rollins as a place of inclusion and acceptance. The recent resettlement of a refugee family from Colombia, another Spanish speaking country, further demonstrates that commitment. Thus during this month when we celebrate Hispanic culture in the U.S., it is important to remember that it is more than food and music. It is about people, what we can share and learn from each other and how that relationship is central not only to the past but also to the future.
Miguel Bretos (front row, left) from Mantanzas, Cuba, played on the Rollins baseball and basketball teams in 1908. In 1925, he wrote fondly of his student days at Rollins and of “Winter Park itself with its beautiful sites,” adding, “I can emphatically say that Rollins is well engraved on my soul.”
~by Prof. Susan Montgomery
Note: To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month activities at Rollins, please visit Chase Hall. To read more about Rollins’ connection to Cuba, please see Rollins360.