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

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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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“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!

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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.

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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!

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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, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/)

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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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