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.
Those houses have been there, like, forever, right?
Forever is a long time, obviously, though on a college campus, 59 years might as well be forever. And that’s how long the current fraternity row has been standing on its current site.
In the spring of 1955, then Dean of Students Robert Brent proposed to the Board of Trustees the construction of seven fraternity lodges at some place on campus. Each house would have a chapter room, a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom for a fraternity member who was acting as the caretaker of the house, two bathrooms, and some closets. One site, on Cleveland Street near Snyder Field, was rejected because it was too far from the main part of the campus and also was not an especially attractive site. The other was along Memorial Drive down the hill from Main Building, though the college recognized that this site might eventually be needed for another academic building.
The trustees approved the project, and in the spring of 1956, the houses were all built simultaneously. That way, no one fraternity would be able to occupy its house before the others. Originally only the chapter room in each house was to have pine paneling, but the college got a good deal on paneling and was able to use it in the living room and chapter room. Construction began in December 1956, with foundation work, and then as the weather improved, the pace of the work increased in April and May. The fraternities took possession of their houses on May 17, 1956.
The paper noted that houses for fraternities had been a sixty-year dream, as in fact, the college had not provided Greek houses before. After fraternities were reinstated in 1915, they mostly met wherever they could find space – including above stores on Spartanburg’s Morgan Square. But since May 1956, Fraternity Row has been the home to Wofford’s Greek organizations.
You know, this is only the third time Wofford has cancelled classes ever – and one of those times was for the Civil War?
Urban legends on college campuses – you do have to love them. It’s not hard to figure out how they get started – after all, the individual student’s direct memory of life on campus rarely exceeds three years.
It’s true, though that cancelling classes at Wofford is pretty rare. For a residential campus, unless the weather is dangerously bad, there’s usually not much reason to suspend classes. The area school districts now cancel classes for a whiff of snow, but even when most of the other colleges in the area have suspended operations, Wofford generally keeps going. Apparently, back in the day, the college would send members of the maintenance staff out in 4-wheel drive trucks to pick up the professors, though to me, that has its own risks!
So it was a little bit of a shock when we cancelled classes on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. And it didn’t take long before people started asking me, via Facebook, how many times we had been forced by snow to cancel classes. Most of the questions came early enough Wednesday that I didn’t really want to think about them too much.
It hasn’t actually been that long since we had a cancellation – we had a similar situation on Jan. 10-11, 2011, when a combination of heavy snow and ice forced the college to close. Before that, we had a cancellation on Friday, Feb. 27, 2004, though personally, I remember coming to work that day even though we didn’t have classes. Those archives don’t process themselves!
Before that, I have to rely on the memories of others. In my time as a student and a faculty member, those are the only three times we’ve had to cancel. However, we have to rely on the hive mind to pick up some other times. And the hive came up with three.
Dean of Students Roberta Bigger remembered suspending classes during Interim 1996 – which would have been her first year as dean of students – because of heavy snow. And I remember having a heavy snowfall in early January 1996.
Dr. Carol Wilson remembered a cancellation in January 1988 – and since we got a foot of snow in Spartanburg on January 7, 1988, it’s hard to imagine that we weren’t out for a few days. She also remembers missing a day when she was a student – which would have been in the late 1970s or early 1980s.
That’s about as exact as I can get right now. That’s six times since 1977, which is more than three times since the place opened.
Oh, and we didn’t close for the Civil War, either. Well, maybe we closed the day the Union Army occupied the campus, but we remained open for most of that particular war.
Let me take a moment of personal privilege to talk about an exhibit that the library has mounted in the Chapman Gallery on the Wofford campus this past month. In February, we put together an exhibit on Wofford’s Desegregation Decade in which we examined the decision to admit African-American students to the college in 1964. The exhibit also looks at the first African-American students and graduates and at some of their activities at the college.
The exhibit will be up until next Thursday, March 28. So, if you haven’t been through the Campus Life Building, stop in and see some of Wofford’s recent history.
The images come from archival collections, including the papers of President Charles F. Marsh, from clipping files, and from copies of the Bohemian. College photographer and graphic designer extraordinare Mark Olencki designed the panels from materials the archives provided. Here are a few of the images from the exhibit.
Last Wednesday, Brad Steinecke, my local history colleague at the Spartanburg County Public Library and I sat down to record a podcast about Spartanburg history for a local blog-website called the Spartanburg Spark. The Spark's publisher, Steve Shanafelt, moderated the discussion and produced the podcast. I don't do a lot of personal promotion here on this blog, but I do invite anyone to click over and have a listen to some or all of the podcast – or you can find the Hub City Podcast on iTunes and download it to your iPod if you so desire.
It's going to start looking like I get new papers, photographs, documents, and other goodies in the mail every week. Would that it were true! This makes two weeks in a row that something arrived on my desk that I immediately thought was worth sharing with a wider audience.
Considering what's going on in our country these days; hard times, unemployment, financial woes, this letter reminds us that these things have happened before. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, "panics" occurred every so often, usually a result of some economic bubble finally bursting, as bubbles always do. One of these panics occurred in 1893. This letter from President James H. Carlisle makes some reference both to the panic and to federal efforts to bail the country out of it.
(Click on the image for a pop-up version)
Roughly, the letter from Dr. Carlisle to H. Z. Nabers, of the class of 1893, says
"Spartanburg, SC, February 9, 1893
"You must not let the hard times and slow-paying patrons depres you unduly. When our Secretary at Washington borrows his fifty millions, some of it will come to you in due time. Be economical, prudent, & hopeful. As to what is due me, let it stand until you can meet it.
"We are moving on as usual with some of the currents and casualties of college life. I write hurriedly. Very truly yours, James H. Carlisle"
Mr. Nabors was an 1893 graduate, though it's not clear if he has already finished college or if he's taking a term away from campus. He must owe Dr. Carlisle or the college some money, perhaps as a tuition payment. We can only guess. He may already be in business for himself, as the letter suggests he's having trouble collecting his accounts.
In any event, Smith Patterson of our development office brought this and several other items to me today from Mr. Zach Nabers, a 1967 Wofford graduate who lives in Greenville We're always glad to have items like this that tell us more about life in long ago times.