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The past few months have been a challenging time for archivists everywhere as we adjust to doing our work remotely. Fortunately, the materials available in Amherst College Digital Collections enable us to continue doing much of our work.

Back in February, I posted about five Black students from the 1870s and 1880s — Black Men of Amherst, 1877-1883 — and now we’re moving into the early 20th century. A small clue in The Olio has revealed another Black student that was not included in Harold Wade’s Black Men of Amherst. Robert Sinclair Hartgrove (AC 1905) was known to Wade, as was Robert Mattingly (AC 1906), but we did not know about Robert Henry Meriwether. These three appear to be the first Black students to attend Amherst in the twentieth century.

The text next to Hartgrove’s picture in the 1905 yearbook gives us a tiny glimpse into his time at Amherst. The same yearbook shows Hartgrove not just jollying the players, but playing second base for the Freshman baseball team during the 1902 season.

Freshman Baseball Team, 1902

Freshman Baseball Team, 1902

The reference to Meriwether sent me to the Amherst College Biographical Record, where I found Robert Henry Meriwether listed as a member of the Class of 1904. A little digging into the College Catalogs revealed that he belongs with the Class of 1905.

Hartgrove and Meriwether are both listed as members of the Freshman class in the 1901-02 catalog. The catalog also notes that they were both from Washington, DC and the Biographical Record indicates that they both prepped at Howard University before coming to Amherst. We find Meriwether’s name in the catalog for 1902-03, but he did not “pull through” as The Olio hopes Hartgrove will; Meriwether returned to Howard University where he earned his LLB in 1907. Hartgrove also became a lawyer, earning his JB from Boston University in 1908 and spending most of his career in Jersey City, NJ.

Mattingly was born in Louisville, KY in 1884 and prepped for Amherst at The M Street School in Washington, DC, which changed its name in 1916 to The Dunbar School. Matt Randolph (AC 2016) wrote “Remembering Dunbar: Amherst College and African-American Education in Washington, DC” for the book Amherst in the World, which includes more details of Mattingly’s life.


The Amherst College Archives and Special Collections reading room is closed to on-site researchers. However, many of our regular services are available remotely, with some modifications. Please read our Services during COVID-19 page for more information. Contact us at archives@amherst.edu.

On March 6, 2020, not long before the world changed overnight and (among other things) we began to work remotely, I heard Dan Abrams talk about his new book “John Adams Under Fire” on “Morning Joe.”  Abrams recounted how his book uses a 1770 trial transcript from legal proceedings after the Boston Massacre and referred to the transcript as an “under-appreciated document.” Willie Geist, the always-pleasant host, asked him (twice!) in astonishment, “where do you get these documents?!”

I remember that I yelled at the television (yes, I do that all the time), “IN AN ARCHIVES!!!” And I wondered why Geist asked that question because of course (right?) a reporter (or a writer, historian, biographer…) knows to check archives for material relevant to their work. Still, even if you know to check archives, it isn’t always easy to find what you want, or to be lucky enough, or have time enough, to make a serendipitous discovery.

In the Amherst College Archives, we obsess (in the nicest way) about how to make things easier to find, and how to bring them to the public’s attention — how to lead a horse (you) to water (documents). Given a limited staff, there’s only so much we can do, but we always think about ways to improve.

This blog serves that purpose. And in today’s post I want bring the Archives and Special Collections to you and share an “under-appreciated” letter.

The letter came to light as part of our ongoing survey of our holdings. One of the items on my to-do list was a scrapbook album belonging to Cornelius H. Patton, Class of 1883.  I had accessioned this volume into our collection about 15 years ago, but its importance didn’t sink in until the survey allowed me to look at it closely. I expected a scrapbook of ephemera from Patton’s college years; instead, it’s a genealogical/personal scrapbook, containing both family items from three or four generations as well as items important and specific to Cornelius (including a little of the Amherst ephemera I had anticipated). It even contains documentation of how Patton came to be interested in William Wordsworth, thus explaining the origin of a collection now at Amherst College.

Among this material there were items relating to Cornelius’s father’s experience in the Civil War.  And there was that astonishing letter I mentioned above.

The Patton family in 1857. William Weston Patton is seated at left.

The letter is from William Weston Patton (1821-1889) to his wife, Mary Boardman Smith.  Patton writes from Richmond, Virginia on April 12, 1865, ten days after Robert E. Lee evacuated his troops from the city. Patton, a confirmed abolitionist, describes the city after Confederate troops left it, and shares his joy about the Union’s victory.   Here are photographs of his letter and my transcription (please pardon the quality of the photographs, taken quickly before we evacuated our offices in mid-March).

Envelope and first page, folded, of letter. Additional photographs of letter below.

[Note that the first line, beginning with “N.B.” is in the hand of son Cornelius H. Patton].

N.B. Richmond was evacuated by Lee April 2-3

Richmond, Va. April 12th 1865.

My Dear Wife,

You notice a new style of paper, such as I have never before used for my letters, sermons, or other purposes. I picked it up amid a heap of waste Confederate material in the Custom House yesterday, and thought I would put it to good use. The lettering at the head may help you to realize (as I can scarcely do myself) where I am. I write in a room in the Powhattan House near the public square. We reached Richmond yesterday at noon. I wrote a hasty line on the [river] and sent it back by the boat. I took dinner at a restaurant kept by a colored man in the office of what was a large hotel, which is occupied now by soldiers & families. During the P.M. I walked the city till completely tired out, having first seen Asst Secy. of War Dana, and persuaded him to telegraph an order to City Point for Dr. Davies to come up, who will reach here today noon.

Richmond in its best portions is a very pleasant city, on elevated ground, with good streets, tasteful but not very costly dwellings, some shrubbery, and a fine public square with admirable statuary.

Documents found on a Richmond street by W. W. Patton.

Confederate documents cover the ground and line the ditches around the square. The business part of the city is burnt (equivalent to S. Water & Lake Sts in Chicago) and presents a sad sight. The Negroes are here in immense numbers and are overjoyed at the state of things. Negro troops are on every hand, and are greatly admired by the black inhabitants. The poor whites are very acquiescent in the change of rulers, but the upper class is sour and sullen, gloomy and subjugated.

I have picked up sundry very amusing letters on the streets written to Rebel soldiers by their sisters and sweethearts–genuine articles. I shall try today to see what can be found for the [N.W.?] Fair. Offices have been opened in various quarters of the city to supply food to the poor. Large numbers are taking the oath of allegiance.

 I went and looked at the outside of Libby Prison yesterday — an old fashioned brick building of three low stories, now crowded with Rebels, who were laughing and joking from the windows where our men were shot if they showed themselves!

Patton’s lyrics to the John Brown song.

My plans are indefinite as yet, as to my stay here. I am full of praise to God as I walk about, and sing the John Brown song perpetually.

Kiss the baby for me. Love to all the big and the little.

Your loving husband
Wm. W. Patton

The title of this post, “Red Hot Abolitionist,” comes from another letter in the scrapbook, one to William W. Patton from his brother Ludlow (standing at back in family photograph above). Ludlow refers approvingly to a mutual acquaintance (probably Rev. Charles H.A. Bulkley) as a “red hot abolitionist,” but there’s no doubt that William W. Patton was also fiery on the topic, as his “John Brown” lyrics prove.  He preached and wrote about slavery and abolitionism extensively, as I learned when researching Patton for this post, an exercise that led to multiple websites. Rather than rewriting what others have covered before, here are links to some of the sites with information about Patton:

  • Diaries of W. W. Patton at the Connecticut Historical Society:  https://chs.org/2010/02/rev-william-weston-patton/
  • “President Lincoln and the Chicago memorial of emancipation” (1887), Patton recollecting a September 1862 visit to President Lincoln to urge him to emancipate the slaves:

Finally, here are more images (poorly photographed — apologies) from the album.  Click on any image to enter the gallery.

 

 

 

 

As the crew in the Archives and all of Frost Library has shifted gears to work remotely, we want to offer more information about how to use the resources we have put online over the past 5+ years. One of the most frequently used resources in the Archives is the collection of past college catalogs, all of which can be found in Amherst College Digital Collections. Here are some examples of how we use these in our daily work. Continue Reading »

We can all use a good laugh these days, so here is a post from April 1, 2019 that should do the trick.

Every so often there seems to be a rush of interest in bringing back old Amherst traditions. Perhaps alumni wish that students of today could experience gathering as a class to sing at the senior fence. Or students wonder if they are missing out on quirky old traditions that could build school spirit.

Well, today I’d like to share with you some of the lesser known student traditions and activities from the past, all candidates for reintroduction into the Amherst traditions of today!

A photograph of four students in white full-body pajamas or body suits, posed in a photography studio.

Amherst College Competitive Napping Team, 1882

Let’s start with athletics – while competitive napping was only a recognized intercollegiate sport for 7 years, Amherst had 5 champion teams during that time. This is the team from 1882; Alfred Humbrey, at left, won the final tournament round with a record breaking nap of 6 hours and 43 minutes.

A photograph of eight students in formal wear in front of a painted backdrop of Johnson Chapel. The students appear to be holding invisible flutes.

Amherst Air Flute Octet, 1886

In the musical realm, Amherst’s well known Air Flute Octet charmed campus and area concert goers for decades before dissolving during the economic depression of 1893 when air flute prices became exorbitant.

Photograph of a group of students with canes and top hats sitting on a large rock, probably from the 1880s.

Amherst On-Campus Rock Climbing Society, date unknown

The short-lived On-Campus Rock Climbing Society was dedicated to finding and climbing every rock on the Amherst campus.

The Puritan Cosplay Club, 1952

The Puritan Cosplay Club was a wildly popular student activity in the early 1950s. The group attended both Puritan Con and Colonizers Con annually along with groups from Williams, Wesleyan, Yale and many other New England colleges.

Photograph of a groups of students formally dressed holding very, very long pipes, posed around a table in a photography studio

Amherst Extreme Pipe Club, 1883

Amherst’s Extreme Pipe Club was a selective group that existed from 1882-1885. Members of the club competed fiercely to have the longest pipe, by 1885 the pipes were observed to be nearing 8 feet long. The club was disbanded by the faculty after numerous custodian complaints of puncture marks in the hallways caused by students struggling to navigate their pipes around corners and through doorways.

Photograph of a large group of young men in a variety of fashions. Most of the men are looking off the side of the picture with sultry expressions.

Summer School for Fashion Modeling, 1888

Amherst also hosted a number of summer schools in the late 1800s. In a addition to the better know Summer School for Library Economy and Sauveur Language School, there was also the Amherst Summer School for Fashion Modeling which graduated dozens of young men who went on to renown in the Paris fashion plate scene. Appearing in this image (second from left in the back row) is Ellery Huntington, Class of 1888, who was later pictured in hundreds of fashion plates out of New York.

Photograph of a large group of students fighting, surrounded at a distance by a crown of observers

Annual Student Brawl, 1925

Photograph of clusters of students rolling on the ground in fisticuffs, behind them is a crown of onlookers behind a rope.

Annual Student Brawl, 1928

The Annual Student Brawl was a beloved tradition that began in 1899 and extended into the early 1930s. On a fine spring Saturday, the president would declare it “Brawl Day” and the student body would gather on the quad or the playing fields. The president would shoot a ceremonial pistol to start the brawl; after 30 minutes, any student left standing would be declared a superior specimen of Amherst manhood and given a purple striped ribbon to be worn on his hat for the remainder of the year. The faculty and citizens of the town of Amherst would bring their families and picnic on the lawn after the brawl.

Photograph of a group of students holding a variety of implements including, an ax, paddles, boards, rope, brooms, and sticks. Students are posed in front of a house.

The Ax, Rope, Club, Paddle, and Broom Society, 1893

The Ax, Rope, Club, Paddle and Broom Society was a secret society that rivaled the many fraternities at Amherst in the 1890s. Each of the implements in the society name was central to one of the society’s rituals. Unfortunately, the details of their rituals have been lost to time so modern researchers are left guessing. We do know that the club was kicked out of seven rooming housing in the span of three years between 1892 and 1894.

Photograph of three men in top hats with guinea pig images on them, presenting a guinea pig on a tray to a fourth man in front of Johnson Chapel.

Amherst Varsity Guinea Pig Breeding Team presenting their winning guinea pig, 1951.

Last, but not least, is the Amherst Varsity Guinea Pig Breeding Team. The team competed in division 3 guinea pig breeding from 1949 to 1957. Pictured here is the guinea pig that took the team to the national championship in 1951. Numerous alumni guinea pig breeders hoped that the school’s mascot would be officially changed to the guinea pig in 2016, but were, alas, disappointed.

Happy April Fools Day!

(All of the photographs in this post are, in fact, real photographs of Amherst College students, the interpretations however… are not. For more information about Brawl Day, please see the Chapel Rush and the Flag Rush. All the other photographs are unidentified.)

 

Effective March 11, only current students, staff, and faculty with Amherst IDs are permitted entrance to buildings on campus, including Frost Library. We appreciate your understanding.

We are closed to the general public. On-site services and research hours will be limited to the Amherst College community. We will be open regular hours March 12-13 for Amherst College students, faculty, and staff. Reading room access for Amherst College students, faculty, and staff will be by appointment only beginning March 16. Please contact us at 413-542-2299 or archives@amherst.edu to schedule an appointment.

For those no longer able to conduct research on site, Archives and Special Collections staff will work with you to determine the best course of action. If you are concerned about access to archival material, please email us at archives@amherst.edu

A number of archival collections are digitized and available through Amherst College Digital Collections.

For faculty concerned about class visits to the Archives, we will be in touch with all faculty who have currently scheduled classes to determine how plans can be adapted. If you would like to request a class session, please use this form. We are unable to host class visits from outside the Amherst College community.

In the first edition of Black Men of Amherst, Harold Wade says this about the list of black graduates in Appendix I:

The list below is of those students attending Amherst who were clearly identifiable (from either yearbook photos or written references) as black Americans. The list is of course incomplete. Whenever in doubt, the author has chosen to eliminate names; those blacks, known in the black community as blacks but passing for white, have not been included. Students in the 19th century are identified from written reference only. Thus, only blacks of some accomplishment would be known. For example, there were blacks at Amherst in the 1870s, but their names are now unknown. Their existence, though, is certain.

As we prepare for the Amherst College Bicentennial celebrations in 2020-2021, the Archives is working closely with Digital Programs to make more college history material available online than ever before. You can read about the various projects under way on their blog: https://digitalcollections.wordpress.amherst.edu/ 

The Amherst College Class Album Collection is a previously untapped resource that is part of our digitization program for the Bicentennial. You can read more about class albums here, but the short version is that they were a way for classes to collect and share photographs of their professors and classmates before the age of modern yearbooks. Our goal is to digitize one album for each class year between 1853 and the end of the collection in 1909.

One result of working with the Class Albums is turning up evidence of those black men of Amherst that Wade knew existed. While the class albums are not yet available in Amherst College Digital Collections, here we offer a preview: five black men of Amherst whose names were not included in Harold Wade, Jr.’s book.

Class of 1877

Madison Smith x1877

Proceeding chronologically, the first black student of the 1870s appears to be Madison Smith, about whom we know very little. According to our alumni records, Smith was born in Scotland Neck, North Carolina on December 8, 1850. He prepped for Amherst at Phillips Academy Andover and attended Amherst College from 1873 until 1875. Our records indicate that he died on August 15, 1875; fortunately, The Amherst Student published a memorial to Smith in the October 9, 1875 issue:

Madison Smith in Amherst Student 1875

Less is known of his classmate, Charles Sumner Wilson:

Charles Sumner Wilson x1877

Wilson was born in Salem, Massachusetts on November 17, 1853; he prepped at Salem High School then attended Amherst College from 1873 until 1875. Our records say he then attended Tufts in Boston from 1876-1877. Apart from a note in the alumni directory that says “In law office, Salem 1877-(?). d. Danvers Jan 17 1904.” we know nothing of Wilson’s life after Amherst.

Class of 1878

The life of Charles Henry Moore is more thoroughly documented; he was born in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 6, 1855. He prepped at the Preparatory Department of Howard University and spent some time at Smith Academy in Hatfield, Massachusetts before spending four years at Amherst.

Charles Henry Moore 1878

Moore returned to the south after graduation and was instrumental in advancing the cause of black education in the region. This earlier blog post gives a much fuller description of his life and accomplishments.

Class of 1879

Similar to Moore, Wiley Lane also pursued a career in education after graduation from Amherst College in 1879.

Wiley Lane 1879

Lane was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina in 1852 and, like Moore, prepped for Amherst at the Howard University Preparatory Department. He spent 1873-1877 at Howard and 1877-79 at Amherst where he became a scholar of classical literature and culture. Immediately after graduation he returned to Howard University where he served first as Assistant Principal, then Principal of the Normal Department (1880-1883) then Professor of Greek from 1883-1885. Lane’s death from pneumonia in February 1885 is reported in The Amherst Student for February 28, 1885:

Wiley Lane in Amherst Student 1885

Class of 1883

Wilbert Lew was born in Gardner, Massachusetts on May 6, 1881; he attended Gardner High School before coming to Amherst. He graduated with the class of 1883 and studied veterinary medicine at Battle Creek, Michigan. After a brief time with the J. N. Leonard silk factory in Florence, Massachusetts (1888-89), he established himself as a veterinary surgeon there from 1889. He died in Amherst in September 1923.

Wilbert Lew 1883

Lew provided a biographical sketch and an up-to-date portrait for the class of 1883’s 25th Reunion book:

Wilbert Lew 25th Reunion

There may be other nineteenth-century black students that we have yet to identify, but we are pleased to update Wade’s assertion: there definitely were black students at Amherst in the 1870s and (some of) their names are now known.

No Comment

I’m emotionally exhausted.  Probably you are too.  In particular, the news overwhelms me.  I absorb it all day.  There’s so much of it, and “good news is no news,” so there’s “a lot of awful” to go around.  It makes me blue.
 
When I want to remind myself that there’s more to “news” than U.S. news (our navel-gazing national programs barely acknowledge it), I turn to Euronews.  One of their regular segments is titled “No Comment,” in which they show a video with no sound other than what might be part of the event shown in the video — no reporter or host interprets what you’re seeing.  The viewer makes of it what they will. It can be oddly peaceful.
 
I was reminded of that segment when I found an album of cyanotypes on a shelf in our department.  It was lying on top of a collection that (as far as I can tell) had nothing at all to do with it.  I suspect it was inadvertently put there while someone was shelving something else.  The album itself has no clues to the collection it belongs to or what it is — who put it together, who the photographer is, or how it came to be here.  It has no comment about itself.
 
I also haven’t found the album digitized anywhere (yet), but the closest thing to it might be the cyanotypes of wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge. Muybridge was a photographer who was interested in (among other things) capturing separate instances of motion.  He made several studies of motion, including one of wrestlers.  Muybridge’s wrestlers, though, are nude and ours are clothed, as I suspect Amherst College administrators would’ve preferred back when these cyanotypes were made.  Our cyanotypes have numbers in the original image (suggesting a set of commercial photographs) as well as different numbers penciled in later by someone — maybe Doc Hitchcock? — who rearranged the order of the originals, probably to use it as a teaching tool.
 
The album has a patent date, “Pat Apr 4 82,” printed in the gutter of some of the pages, so that gives us an approximate date (after April 1882) for the album.  Otherwise, the album remains a mystery.  It’s likely that one of my colleagues has seen it and knows something about it, but I haven’t asked anyone yet — it would  break the spell.
 
So I looked at it without any information about its provenance or intended use.  I looked at it just as it is, and sank into the blue — like the blue of a quiet, late afternoon snow.
 
No further comment.

 

Alcatraz: November 1969

Indians of All Tribes 1

November 20 of this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Native takeover and occupation of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. Native activists took advantage of a clause in the 1868 Treaty of Fort Laramie that all retired, abandoned or out-of-use federal land should be returned to the Native people who once occupied it. Alcatraz closed as a federal prison in March 1963 and was abandoned by the government by 1964. On November 20, the first boat full of Native activists arrived to take possession of the island; they would remain on Alcatraz until forced out by the federal government on June 11, 1971.

Solidarity Rally

The Archives & Special Collections holds a wide range of materials both from the time of the occupation and retrospectives and other later publications. A selection of these items is on display on Frost Library A-Level through the end of the semester to mark this important anniversary.

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Today the news reached us in the Archives & Special Collections that Jack W. C. Hagstrom MD (AC 1955) passed away late last week. We will offer a fuller tribute to Jack’s memory in the weeks ahead, but this post from 2012 gives some sense of how much he shaped the collections at Amherst College. Without Jack and his devotion to the poetry of Robert Frost, we would not have the world-class collection we hold today. We are all richer thanks to Jack’s efforts.

He will be missed.

Continue Reading »

Looking for some last minute Halloween costume inspiration? Ever wondered what Halloween looked like at Amherst nearly 100 years ago? While we don’t know what the students were up to, we do know that the faculty loved to dress up and held an annual Halloween party in the Pratt Gymnasium in the early 1930s. President Stanley King also held annual costume parties for the faculty on various themes, including the “Gay 90s” (which would be like a 1980s themed party now) and historical characters. Please enjoy some highlights pictured below and for many more pictures come in to look at the Amherst College Photograph Collection!

Click on images to view larger