Brushes with History

Living through history

I’m taking a moment to pause from posting old items and stories from the College archives to talk about living through history, how archivists try to collect and document those experiences, and what you might do yourself during these very unusual days.

I’ve said before that history happens on ordinary days, and most of the time, it happens unexpectedly.  Major events can change the world between breakfast and dinner, and historians spend years trying to understand and explain them.  And in some cases, history unfolds over days and weeks and can have just as profound an effect on us.  I think that’s what we’re going through now.  Part of the challenge with living through history is that we don’t know the end of the story because it’s not happened yet.  I’ve pointed this out to students in my Western Civ classes when I talk about the outbreak of World War II in 1939.  We have the advantage of hindsight, I like to point out.  The British didn’t know in the dark days of 1940 how the war was going to turn out, while we know how the story ends.  That affects how we see those events, whereas they had to live with the uncertainty.  So today, we are living with uncertainty. 

Often, people probably think about archivists (and historians) as people who deal with the past.  That’s true – part of what I do is to maintain the records of Wofford’s past so that people today can appreciate where we’ve been, and I help people – students, administrators, faculty, alumni – learn more about the past.  However, archivists have to look forward as well, for if we don’t collect the records of today, then archivists, historians, and other researchers in the future won’t have any way to understand what we are going through right now.  I’ve gotten questions about how Wofford experienced the 1918 influenza epidemic, and I’m trying to research that, but it would be easier if people then had kept better records.  (More about that to come.)

So, I have to be aware that we are making history right now, and make sure that it gets documented.  That might mean keeping track of emails and other messages that go to campus.  It might mean collecting news articles and other types of documents.  It might involve asking others to be sure they are keeping good records of what’s going on.  It might even mean taking a more intentional act, like keeping a journal. 

In addition to the routine things that I do, like keeping announcements and email messages, I decided a few weeks ago, actually at my mom’s suggestion, to start keeping a journal.  I try to take a few minutes each evening to write (or in my case, dictate to my iPad) a few memories of the day.  I don’t know what I’ll do with it in the end, but it might become part of my own file in the archives so that down the line, some future researcher will be able to see a little of what went on in Spartanburg and at Wofford during the spring of 2020.  That’s how historians a century from now will piece together what this experience was like – by reading the words of several people who kept records. 

So, what can you do?  You can keep a journal as well.  Write about what happened today, what your own experience was, how unusual everything seemed.  Even mundane thoughts, added to those of others, might be able to paint a picture of life for someone in the future. 

Beyond writing, take time to think and recognize what an unusual time this is.  I certainly have never worked from home for three weeks before, and I’ve never tried to figure out how to teach a class without seeing my students face to face.  You are certainly doing things differently now, so reflect on that.  I know that clergy are trying to figure out how to do ministry without seeing their congregations.  What’s that like for you? 

Another thing to consider is, how will this change us as individuals, communities, and a nation?  What’s going to be different in the future because of this experience?  Take some time to think, reflect, and maybe write some history of your own. 

Brushes with History Current Affairs

Archiving from home

We are living in unprecedented times, that’s for sure.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, most of us at Wofford are working from home. We’ve taken an extra few weeks of spring break as we figure out how to adjust to some new realities on campus and in our world. And the library is not immune to those new realities.

It’s been quite a few months since I posted anything on the From the Archives blog, partly because of our library’s three-phase renovation, partly because of the press of other duties. We’ve spent much of this semester getting the college and Methodist collection moved to our new location, and I hope to be able to share some information about our brand new archives and special collections suite soon. It’s really an incredible facility and we’re going to enjoy working in there for years to come. But that move is mostly responsible for my blog silence for the past few months.

This spring, we have an exhibit on the centennial of ROTC at Wofford in the library gallery. Since nobody is really going to be able to come see it in person, I am planning to share its contents here on the blog over the next few weeks. So, stay tuned, and I’ll be sharing as much of it as I can/. Also, I’m going to do a little research on how Wofford handled the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, so watch for that as well.

Brushes with History Students

Wofford and the Willie Earle trial

Last spring, Wofford held a conference to commemorate and study the 70th anniversary of what is commonly called South Carolina’s last lynching, the murder of Willie Earle.

As part of the event, I was given a copy of this newspaper clipping, which is a photo of a group of Wofford students marching in downtown Spartanburg in protest of the outcome of the trial (which was held in Greenville).  As I was cleaning up around my desk this week, I found it and realized I’d never shared it here.

Wofford students protesting
Wofford students march to protest the outcome of the Willie Earle trial

Alumni Brushes with History Documents

Remembering Wofford’s World War I fatalities

Today is Armistice Day – the 99th anniversary of the end of World War I.

Seventeen Wofford graduates and students, including three graduates of Wofford’s Fitting School, died during the First World War.  The College’s Alumni Bulletin published their photographs and biographies in 1919, and the College remembered their service and sacrifice at a memorial service during Commencement 1919.

Below are the pictures of those 17 who gave their lives in the war to end all wars.

Brushes with History Documents

Gerald D. Sanders: Wofford’s War Poet

One of Wofford’s 1918 graduates, Gerald D. Sanders had written regularly for the Journal while a student. Shortly before his graduation, he found himself on the way to France as a member of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. He wrote several poems while overseas, and they wound up being published in the Journal the next year.

Sanders later earned his PhD in English and taught at Michigan State Normal College, Cornell, and the University of Arizona. He lived in Spartanburg in retirement, and the archives has a small collection of his papers. He was the author of Chief Modern Poets of Britain and America, and Unified English Composition, among other works. He died in 1983.

Here are a few of his poems. You can see other material that is part of our World War One At Home and Abroad exhibit in the Sandor Teszler Library Gallery this fall.

Brushes with History Documents

World War One: At Home and Abroad

This fall, the Sandor Teszler Library has an exhibit on World War One at Home and Abroad in the library gallery. Most of the items in the exhibit come from the College’s Special Collections and Archives. The exhibit will be in our gallery until December, so if you are here for a football game or for Homecoming, please drop by and see what we have on display.

In addition to recognizing the 17 students and alumni who gave their lives in the war, one of the display cases has a list of all Wofford students and alumni who the college had recorded as serving in the war. The list came from a 1919 College Bulletin, and includes over 400 names. Considering that the college rarely had more than 400 students enrolled at any point before World War I, this is a substantial proportion of the college’s alums. Had American involvement in the war lasted longer than 19 months, this number would doubtless have been higher.

Below are copies of the pages indicating the names, arranged by class, of everyone who served in some capacity in the war.

Brushes with History Methodist

Methodists and World War I

This was my column for the April edition of the SC United Methodist Advocate

This month marks the centennial of American entry into the First World War. On April 2, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a special session to declare war on Germany, and on April 6, Congress passed a declaration of war.

The Great War, as people of that generation called it, had been raging in Europe and elsewhere for nearly three years when the United States entered the conflict. Stories of war had been on American front pages throughout that time, and Americans had been profiting from European countries’ needs to purchase manufactured goods here. South Carolinians were, in the words of Wofford history professor Dr. David Duncan Wallace, “gloating over nineteen cents cotton.”

Wallace had a regular column in the Advocate, and on April 12, 1917, he wrote, “As President Wilson so eloquently expressed it, this is a war between absolutely irreconcilable principles … those of military autocracy and democratic freedom,” and “America does not want to live in a world in which a nation with a submarine soul and with a submarine way of getting what it wants shall be accorded any right to say what the world shall be like.” Wallace, using the word “submarine,” was no doubt playing on the German campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare that was part of America’s reason for entering the war.

The war, for Wallace and for several other academics, was about the question of “whether free democratic communities, organized for peace, can defend themselves against military oligarchies.” Wallace had actually been critical of the United States for standing by for so long, noting, “The sorry spectacle has at last ended of this land of freedom standing ‘neutral’ by drinking its streams of gold, while other free nations defended with their streams of blood our and our children’s freedom against the mightiest and most infamous conspiracy of modern times.”

However, Wallace hastened to separate criticism of the German government from criticism of German people, or of Americans of German descent: “Everyone should use his or her influence to suppress absurd and cruel slanders against our fellow citizens of German blood. It is true that the country is full of German spies, but that is no reason for listening to wild rumors about persons whom you have known for years as good and true men.”

Wallace noted the next week that “the first task of the United States will be to supply the Allies with money and food.” And it was certainly true that the British and French were suffering mightily in the spring of 1917 from shortages of food and arms.

So how did South Carolina Methodists react to the country’s declaration of war? The Advocate said almost nothing editorially about the outbreak of war. Perhaps by April 1917, they had already said all they wanted to say. One guest writer, on April 26, wrote a long opinion piece about the desire for world domination among Germany’s leaders. He cited articles by German military leaders but, like Wallace, hastened to separate the American war against Germany from a war on the German people.

The next two years would be dominated by war, and South Carolina’s Methodists would be focused on family members who were sent to fight in Europe and on mission work in the state and throughout the world.

Brushes with History Documents

Spartanburg’s Centennial Pageant

I recently acquired this program, from the 1931 pageant commemorating the centennial of Spartanburg’s incorporation as a village.  My student assistant digitized it recently and I’ve added it to Wofford’s digital repository.

The program contains lists of all of the area high schools as of 1931 and the names of each individual from each high school that participated in the pageant.

What’s especially interesting is the topics, or historical scenes the author of the pageant chose to feature.  The Dawn of Things Created, In Indian Days, The Hampton Massacre, and In Colonial Days were the first four vignettes.  The Battle of Cowpens, featuring Cowpens High School, appropriately enough, came fifth.  The Good Old Times of 1810 came next, followed by a vision for Wofford College, featuring students, alumni, and friends of Wofford.  After that came Cedar Springs, The Minute Men of 1860, Reconstruction Days, Converse College, and “Over There,” no doubt a tribute to World War I.

We don’t have the script – which might be both instructive and painful to read – but you can download the full program to look at names and some of the songs written for the festivities.  And you can read the menu for the dinner as well.

Spartanburg's Centennial Pageant Program
Spartanburg’s Centennial Pageant Program


Brushes with History

Happy Birthday, Phi Beta Kappa

A long time ago, in a state not far away…..

Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest, and arguably its most prestigious honor society, was founded 238 years ago today, December 5, 1776, by 5 students at the College of William and Mary.  Between then and 1780, when the British army’s approach led William and Mary to close briefly, the Phi Beta Kappa chapter held more than 70 meetings, inducted fifty members, and granted charters to Harvard and Yale.  That act saved the fraternity, which was the first to have Greek letters, a badge, a Latin and Greek motto, a secret handshake, and an oath.

In its first hundred years, Phi Beta Kappa grew slowly, and even 100 years later, in 1883, only 25 chapters existed.  Growth in the second century was much faster, and today, chapters exist at 283 colleges, generally at major research universities and leading liberal arts colleges.

Wofford’s chapter was granted at the 1940 meeting of Phi Beta Kappa’s Triennial Council, which to this day is the body that has the right to grant new charters.  On January 14, 1941, PBK President Marjorie Hope Nicholson visited Wofford to formally install the Beta of South Carolina chapter.  Since that day, a little over 1,000 Wofford students and alumni, along with a few honorary members, have been inducted.  As the chapter’s secretary, I get to sign letters to students each year letting them know they have been elected as well as their membership certificates.

We celebrate today that a small group of friends, meeting in a tavern a few hundred miles from here, created an organization that has evolved into a leading voice for the study and promotion of the liberal arts.

Alumni Brushes with History Documents

Wofford and World War II

Last week, I published a new digital collection of World War II-era newspapers from the Wofford campus.  Today, I have posted a collection of Wofford newsletters sent to alumni who were serving in the armed forces during the war.

WCNLThe World War II alumni newsletter started out as a simple 2-page typed legal-size leaflet, and it went to several hundred alumni.  It solicited comments and news from alums, and they responded that they liked the newsletter.  The February 1943 issue went to some 800 alumni.  By October 1943, the college was publishing a printed newsletter that ranged from 4 to 8 pages.

The college had to follow all of the censorship rules as the newsletter was being sent to alumni all over the world, so they could not mention specific units the alums were serving with, or any other information that had not become public.  Still, the alums appreciated hearing from the college and hearing about what their friends and classmates were doing, where they were, and what they were experiencing.

I found one note in the September 1945 issue from Herbert Hucks, who was my predecessor as college archivist, and who served in North Africa and France.  He wrote,

“Yesterday when your July 5 card arrived I did not know that today I would be a student at the Sorbonne, but such is the case and naturally I’m glad of the opportunity.  The spirit of the whole affair is very fine.  About 800 men and officers are there.  The course will last until September 8 and then nothing could please me more than to get home on my 87 points!”

Mr. Hucks had been a high school French teacher before the war, and on his return would become an associate librarian at Wofford.

Again, technology makes it possible for us to get more items like this out for researchers to use.

You can find the newsletters in our digital repository.