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A pounce of cats.  A crash of rhinos.  A gaze of raccoons. A prudence of vicars.  A strength of Snells.

Whenever I think of the Snell family of Western Massachusetts, I think of collective nouns, especially the entertaining “terms of venery.” The Snells are such a distinct unit that they seem to demand their own term.  There are a lot of them, so there are many lives to follow and stories to be told.  And they’re tight-knit.  Something —  maybe it’s from those early days as a big family in North Brookfield – bound them together, even when some of them ended up on the other side of the country.  So there’s a strength to them as a group, and that suggests their term, a “strength of Snells.” It’s not as colorful as “a murder of crows,” but it certainly describes the Snells.

The Snells are of particular interest to us because of their links to Amherst College.  If you’re even a little familiar with Amherst’s early history, you’re likely to have heard of Professor Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876), known to his family as Strong.  Strong was about 14 when his father, Reverend Thomas Snell, a trustee of Williams College, was meeting with other trustees to discuss whether Williams should move to Hampshire County, and Strong was a student at Williams College during the September 1818 “Convention of the Congregational and Presbyterian Clergy,” when his father participated in discussions about an institution of higher learning in Amherst.  To make a long, complicated story short, a new college was finally formed in Amherst and Reverend Snell’s old friend President Zephaniah Swift Moore of Williams was chosen to lead it.  Shortly thereafter, in September 1821, Strong Snell and a small group of students accompanied Moore from Williams College to Amherst to open the new institution.

Strong’s senior year therefore took place at Amherst College. Many decades later, he reminisced, “I was the first individual ever admitted to Amherst College. For Dr. Moore, having heard my examination at Williams College, received me, without requiring another examination, which was the case with no other.”* Strong was one of two students to graduate in the first class (a third having left before the end of the year). His father, Reverend Snell, continued to support the new college by participating in President Moore’s inauguration ceremony and serving for 33 years on the Board of Overseers of the Charity Fund, 15 of them as Secretary.  Given this history, it would not be surprising if both Strong and his father were deeply attached to the College and if Reverend Snell regarded it as one of his children.

Reverend Snell’s children – the human ones – numbered ten. Thanks to a 2017 gift of 24 daguerreotypes and an accompanying genealogical chart, we can see this founding family of Amherst as they were in the early era of photography. There are even daguerreotypes for the houses occupied by each of the married Snell couples.  The gift was from Susan Burr Snell, a great-great-granddaughter of Reverend Snell’s youngest son, William Ward Snell, who was born in April, 1821, as the first building, South College, was being completed and in the year Amherst College opened its doors. What makes the gift even more extraordinary is the fact the daguerreotypes were taken by William Snell. In the two photographs below the genealogical chart halves are arranged against the corresponding daguerreotypes:

 

A founding family. Note that nos. 9 and 22 are the same daguerreotype (numbered 9); that there is no daguerreotype for one member of the family (Sarah) who died before photography was available; and that #19, the daguerreotype for Lewis Thorpe, is missing. There were also two sons, Samuel and Edward, who died early.

 

A camera obscura. Image from the “American Cyclopaedia” vol. 3 (George Ripley and Charles A. Dana).

So how did young William Snell (visible in daguerreotype number 15) come to be a photographer in an era where photography was still new? His biography has not been written – it exists in pieces here and there — and he has been entirely unknown to historians of photography.**

Several sources (listed below) have brief entries for William, including one or two that quote him. From these sources, we know that William spent time (maybe a year or so) working at Otis Tuft’s machine shop in Boston.  Since Boston had several practicing daguerreotypists who taught others, he most likely learned the art there. The influence of his older brother was probably involved as well – we know from a letter of April, 1829, that Strong had a camera obscura that William had access to.

Strong Snell to his family, April 1829: “One thing more, and I must stop for want of time. I should like much to have at Amherst the principal parts of my “Electrical Machine,” and my “Camera Obscura Box”…The Box (Camera Obscura) is one, and I should be glad of the whole.”

 

An as-yet unpublished “Rushford History of Churches, Schools, and ‘Movers and Shakers’” provides some important details and is the most specific source for the years of William’s travel as an itinerant daguerreotypist:

“At age 22 he learned the newly discovered art of photography, and being in delicate health [this is borne out by the letters in the Snell Family Papers], became an itinerant daguerreotypist.  In this capacity he traveled for three years [1843-46] visiting nearly all the states in the Union, but devoting the greater part of his time to Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Carolinas.”

In an e-mail about the gift of daguerreotypes, Susan Snell, William’s descendant, wrote that William “took photos of southern belles so that they could be shared around the neighborhood in hopes of finding a husband.”  In fact, Susan’s gift contains a daguerreotype of a Southern girl that William retained from among those he took for customers, along with an explanatory note.  The note, from an interview in 1900 between William and his son William Emerson Snell, records that the daguerreotypist was offered ten slaves by the girl’s mother if he would marry her.  “I relinquish my claim when you make yours,” the mother told him.  As an abolitionist, the note says, he was shocked at the offer.   Since he remembered it more than 50 years later, the occasion clearly made an impression.

“A Southern girl.” This daguerreotype shows a backdrop that would be very typical for an itinerant daguerreotypist. The tablecloth shown here appears in a daguerreotype of a family member (not included in this post), suggesting that Snell carried this particular tablecloth with him and that its pattern could be used to identify at least some of his daguerreotypes. Note that there are several different cloths in the daguerreotypes of family members shown above, some specific to a couple and probably from their own homes.

The Rushford History continues: “In 1846 he returned home with improved health taking charge of a garden near Boston for two years [a letter in the collection suggests that it was his sister Tirzah’s in Brookline], then entered into a machine shop at Lawrence, and became a machinist by profession, as he was by the strong bias a mechanical genius. William has been credited with the invention of the principle of the mechanical knotter or twine binder, which he sold to Appleby who made improvements and revolutionized American agriculture.”

A letter from Strong to his sister Tirzah Emerson in spring of 1847 confirms that William was back in Massachusetts but was still trying to determine what he would do for work – by this time he had decided he didn’t want to farm. Working as a machinist seems to have been a temporary solution for him, but he still felt unsettled.

At the same time, the Snell family was approaching the celebration in 1848 of Reverend Snell’s 50th anniversary as pastor of the North Brookfield Congregational Church. There were plans for family members to gather for the occasion, and it seems likely that many of the daguerreotypes above were taken during this period. However, evidence in Strong’s letters suggests that the Porters in Illinois couldn’t attend the celebrations, so the daguerreotypes of the Porters were probably taken toward the end of William’s earlier travels and after March, 1845, when the Porters moved to Hadley, Illinois. One or two others – such as the Rushford cabin — must date from even later since William only moved to Minnesota in 1855. During all the time that he was a daguerreotypist he seems to have used the same camera lens, one more suited to portraits than to landscapes.

In late 1850 William married Jane Fay of Vermont, and in the spring of 1855 he left for Minnesota, where he staked a claim to land in the new town of Rushford.  Jane followed him there a short time later. In Rushford, William found the preacher in himself, no doubt reaching back to what he learned from his father. The family remained in Minnesota until the late 1880s, when they moved to California. William Snell died there in 1901.

The southeastern area (Sioux territory) of Minnesota. William Snell settled in Rushford, located in the lower right section, a bit below the “t” in “Hokalt.” Map detail from “Chapin’s New Ornamental Map of the United States” (1853) from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Knowing that William Snell took the daguerreotypes above also demonstrated that he took several of the daguerreotypes that have long been at Amherst College as part of the Snell Family Papers.  These daguerreotypes were taken at the same sitting as the ones we received from Susan Snell, or very close in time. In each of the comparisons in the slideshow below, the additions from the new gift are on the left and the daguerreotypes that have been at Amherst for several decades are on the right. Notice the subtle differences between the daguerreotypes for each individual.  (Click on any image to see the slideshow.)

One of William’s daguerreotypes of Strong is also curious in that it shows him with equipment (as yet unidentified –if you know, please tell us) and two books, one of which supports a section of the unidentified equipment:

Strong’s books and equipment. Image flipped.

As a dedicated nosey parker (or an undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive), it was important to look at the books Snell has with him. Sometimes the books in daguerreotypes can be identified, sometimes they can’t. In this case a little Photoshop work and subsequent investigation in our library catalogue revealed not only the title of the work – they’re two volumes of a four-volume title — but the fact that we own the exact copies that Strong uses in the photograph. How often does that happen? Probably not that often:

Left to right, the volume in the daguerreotype, flipped; the same volume in the Archives and Special Collections, and interior with Snell’s signature.

When we look at all the Snell family daguerreotypes above (and there are more in the Archives than I’ve included here), we can imagine the scenes: William visiting family members; gathering and setting up the backdrop, the chair, the table, the cloth to cover the table and the books or flowers on it; William suggesting poses (“hold still!”), including where the hands should be, and the silence in the room for those long seconds a daguerreotype required. The Snells come to life in this way – you can feel them bustling around the room, moving the props around, or maybe running to change clothing between shots. You can sense the excitement they must’ve felt as they anticipated how the daguerreotypes would turn out. That these images lasted as a group this long – almost 170 years! – is amazing, and a testament to the strength of Snells.

 

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* Amherst Graduates Quarterly, 1947, but originally from Strong Snell’s diary in the Snell Family Papers.

**A daguerreotypist named William Snell operated in Eastern Massachusetts from 1843-1865, but he is not William Ward Snell.

 

Sources that mention William Ward Snell:

History of North Brookfield, p. 755.

The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong, of Northampton, Mass., p. 62.

Congregational Work of Minnesota, 1832-1920, p. 278.

The Home Missionary, vol. 55, Feb 1883, p. 303.  Snell is also mentioned in several other volumes of this publication.

Minutes of the General Congregational Association of Minnesota, referencing Snell’s “Reminiscences of a Thirty Years’ Pastorate in Minnesota,” [Sept.] 1884, p. 18.

The Christian Union, Vol. 30, No. 21, re “Reminiscences,” p. 502.

“A Tale of Two Valleys,” by Conrad G. Selvig, chapter 2.

Minutes of the Annual Meeting of the Southern California Congregational Conference, 1901, p. 52 (obituary).

“Rushford History of Churches, Schools, and ‘Movers and Shakers’,” unpublished volume; excerpt provided by the Rushford Historical Society.

“History of Fillmore County,” volume 1, 1912.

 

 

 

 

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Morgan Library in “Ballou’s,” 1855

In early 2017 I posted about 25 individual daguerreotypes from the Amherst College Class of 1850 that are part of the Archives and Special Collections. I provided new glass for each daguerreotype, reassembled each unit, and attempted to identify the members of the class. The daguerreotypes were in envelopes, having been removed in the 1980s from a grouping in an old wooden frame, which was apparently discarded. With only two exceptions – Austin Dickinson and George Gould – there were no names attached to the daguerreotypes from a class well known to Emily Dickinson, who often mentioned Austin’s classmates in her letters.  The identifications I proposed in the 2017 post were based in particular on things like a visible fraternity pin in a daguerreotype that could be compared against a list of known fraternity members, or later images of the students that could be compared with their youthful ones. In this way, it was possible to identify everyone at least tentatively. And there the matter rested.

A few months later I needed to write a thank-you note to someone who gave us a collection of daguerreotypes by Professor Ebenezer Snell’s brother William Ward Snell (the subject of a future post). For my thank-you, I looked through a collection of note cards in the department and chose my favorite, a photograph showing the interior of Morgan Library in the late 19th century.  I’ve looked at this photograph many times, but this time – with daguerreotypes on the brain – I noticed something I’d never noticed before. Can you see it?

Look closer:

I knew at once that there was a framed group of daguerreotypes on the wall.  Furthermore, it was reasonable to think it was a group of people somehow connected to each other (faculty or students) rather than a bunch of random daguerreotypes framed together (if anyone ever did that anyway). I went to a good scan of the photograph and examined it. The one on the left in the second row caught my eye — I yelped– surely that was Austin Dickinson…  I wasn’t looking for him — he just stuck out in some way, perhaps because I’ve seen his big, doughy face a million times already and I have its template impressed on my brain.

 

My more levelheaded and therefore initially skeptical colleague Chris examined it – and agreed. It then occurred to me that if this daguerreotype showed Austin, was he where he ought to be if the daguerreotypes were in alphabetical order? I counted. He was. The next thing to do was to place the ones with solid identifications in their proper place and then to work down through the list of students. Chris and I had a lot of fun with this part.

In order to do the work, we looked at the daguerreotypes that had some physical aspect that made them stand out – those that showed solarization in the whites that made them glow (like Faunce in the middle of the second row), or that were especially dark; those in which the direction the sitters were facing was a factor; or those that were framed in ovals, which seemed especially visible. These variables allowed us to put the images in place and recreate the framed group that you can see in the library photograph above. So here’s the Class of 1850 in alphabetical order, from left to right, top to bottom. If you want to be a smarty-pants, you could compare them with the identifications in the previous post and see where I was wrong.

Left to right, top to bottom:
Avery, Beebe, Bishop, Cory, Crosby, Dickinson, Ellery, Faunce, Fenn, Garrette, Gay, Gilbert, Gould, Gregory, Hodge, Howland, Manning, Newton, Nickerson, Packard, Sawyer, Shipley, Stimpson, Thompson, Williston (see list of full names at end of post). Daguerreotypist undocumented but most likely J.D. Wells of Northampton.

 

But  – oh no…!

Are you familiar with the expression “sacrifice your darlings”? I remember exactly when I first heard that expression and who said it to me. It’s usually employed (everywhere…tiresomely) as a helpful reminder to edit your writing (good advice, and I attempt to abide by it–I swear), but I also think of it in broader terms to mean giving up something one treasures.  In this case, it meant that my heart must be broken and a darling sacrificed, for it revealed that the photograph below — the same photograph that is my computer’s background– is not Henry Shipley, known to his mates as “Ship,” the brilliant bad-boy of his class who couldn’t stay out of trouble and whose tragic story (see second half of earlier post) has become linked in my mind with this particular photograph:

Instead, it’s Minott Sherman Crosby, a schoolteacher and principal of two schools, the Hartford Female Seminary and then Waterbury High School, and later superintendent of schools in Waterbury.  He lived to 1897 and had three children with Margaret Maltby Crosby.

 

An inconvenient truth. At right, Minott Crosby in “History of Waterbury”

This identification continues to disorder my mind and send up a bristling resistance. I still associate that face with Ship, though sadly now. Instead, the real Shipley is — according to the group order — this fellow:

So I put this guy – this Shipley – as the background on a second computer, where he duels across the room with his alter-ego (aka Crosby) for my affection. But I continue to struggle to accept the truth, which is a strange lesson in sacrificing a darling, and in how hard it is to give up a cherished belief in the face of better evidence — a lesson for every era.

So for now, at least, this should be it for the Class of 1850. Unless something else comes up….

 

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Full list of the graduates of the Class of 1850:

William Fisher Avery (1826-1903)
Albert Graham Beebe (1826-1899)
Henry Walker Bishop (1829-1913)
John Edwin Cory (1825-1865)
Minott Sherman Crosby (1829-1897)
William Austin Dickinson (1829-1895)
John Graeme Ellery (1824-1855)
Daniel Worcester Faunce (1829-1911)
Thomas Legare Fenn (1830-1912)
Edmund Young Garrette (1823-1902)
Augustine Milton Gay (1827-1876)
Archibald Falconer Gilbert (1825-1866)
George Henry Gould (1827-1899)
James John Howard Gregory (1827-1910)
Leicester Porter Hodge (1828-1851)
George Howland (1824-1892)
Jacob Merrill Manning (1824-1882)
Jeremiah Lemuel Newton (1824-1883)
Joseph Nickerson (1828-1882)
David Temple Packard (1824-1880)
Sylvester John Sawyer (1823-1884)
Henry Shipley (1825-1859)
Thomas Morrill Stimpson (1827-1898)
John Howland Thompson (1827-1891)
Lyman Richards Williston (1830-1897)

There were also 15 non-graduates in the class, all of whom departed Amherst long before the daguerreotypes were made.

 

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I hope everyone had a chance to glimpse the partial – or total – solar eclipse on Monday.  All this talk of our recent “Great American” eclipse got me thinking about previous eclipses and two early eclipse chasers in Amherst history: David Peck Todd (AC 1875) and Mabel Loomis Todd.  David Peck Todd, graduate of Amherst class of 1875, Professor of Astronomy, and Director of the Observatory, made his first solar eclipse expedition with the U.S. Navy to view the eclipse of 1878 in Texas.  This was just the first of many expeditions to view and study solar eclipses.  After their marriage in 1879, Mabel Loomis Todd (most famous for editing Emily Dickinson’s poetry) accompanied David Todd on many of his expeditions, including to Japan, Tripoli, and Russia.

Recent articles have been published about the Todds and their astronomical expeditions, including The Star-Crossed Astronomer by Julie Dobrow and Mabel Loomis Todd’s Poetic 19th-Century Guide to Totality by Maria Popova.  These articles document the Todds’ international travels in pursuit of the study of solar eclipses and other astronomical occurrences.

Mabel Loomis Todd later gave speeches about her experiences on these international expeditions and published several books and articles, including Total Eclipses of the Sun (1894), Corona and Coronet (1898), and A Cycle of Sunsets (1910).

While the papers of David Peck Todd and Mabel Loomis Todd are held at Yale, we do have many publications of the Todds’ astronomical research, professional papers, newsclippings, and speech announcements in their respective biographical files.And do keep these “Directions for Observing the Total Solar Eclipse” handy for the next solar eclipse coming our way in 2024.

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Letter 1Letter 2Letter 3

In addition to developing the library classification scheme that still bears his name — the Dewey Decimal System — Melvil Dewey was a champion of spelling reform. If one didn’t know that this letter to Amherst Trustee George Plimpton was written by Melvil Dewey, one might assume it was the work of a semi-literate crank.

Dewey came to Amherst College in the fall of 1870 and the catalog for his Freshman year shows he had not yet lopped the superfluous letters from his first name: “Melville.”

Freshman catalog

Sometime in his second year at the college he became obsessed with libraries and library classification. He spent much of the next two years working in Morgan Library at Amherst as well as visiting nearby libraries such as Boston Public Library and the Boston Athenaeum in search of the ideal classification system.

Dui CDV

Melvil Dewey, Amherst College Class of 1874.

After graduating in 1874, Dewey was hired by the college to serve as Assistant Librarian, a position he held for two years before moving on. He continued to develop his classification system and in 1876 arranged for it to be published.

Classification TP

The letter at the top of this post is on Lake Placid Club stationery, another of Dewey’s passion projects. Dewey founded the Lake Placid Club in 1895, possibly inspired by the physical fitness program he experienced as an Amherst undergraduate.

Dewey died in 1931, but his efforts to promote Lake Placid and the Adirondacks High Peaks region as a site for winter recreation paid off handsomely when Lake Placid hosted the Third Winter Olympics in 1932. When the Lake Placid Club held a dinner in celebration of Dewey’s 100th birthday, they printed the menu using his “Simpler Speling.”

Menu inside

While the Dewey Decimal Classification system remains popular around the world, and Lake Placid hosted a second Winter Olympics in 1980, little remains of Dewey’s spelling reforms. I wonder how many visitors to the Adirondacks realize that the same guy who developed the Dewey classification system is also responsible for the idiosyncratic spelling of the “Adirondack Loj” at Heart Lake…

Loj

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I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

I have heeded beautiful tempters…*

All 25 graduates of the Class of 1850, in no particular order.

Open the valves of your attention and heed the beautiful tempters of the Class of 1850, William Austin Dickinson’s class. These students were all known to the Dickinsons, some better than others, some mentioned in Emily Dickinson’s surviving correspondence, some not.  The class had 25 graduating members,** and there are daguerreotypes for all of them in the Archives and Special Collections.  Unfortunately, most of them are unidentified.  Even worse, the class members graduated into a world of extreme facial hair, so in trying to put names to the 22 unidentified daguerreotypes one must attempt to match a smooth-shaven 22-year-old with a hirsute 75-year-old who left off shaving upon leaving Amherst and never picked it up again.  Believe me, it hurts:

Daniel Worcester Faunce at his 50th Reunion.

Even so, we know or have good guesses for many of the graduates, in particular those who wear a fraternity pin in their daguerreotype. For example, there were four students known to be in Alpha Delta Phi, Austin’s fraternity. Three of them had been identified earlier, but the fourth remained unidentified until the daguerreotypes were conserved and their details became clear and allowed us to see the fourth student wearing the Alpha Delta Phi pin. By elimination, then, this would be John Howland Thompson, Austin’s roommate in their sophomore and junior years.

Delta Upsilon had three members, Albert Beebe, John Cory, and Daniel Faunce. Beebe had a photograph taken when he became a missionary about five years later, so there’s something to compare against the daguerreotypes showing the Delta Upsilon pin. Faunce had three photographs online, and even though they showed him quite a bit older, they were helpful. Once again, we identified a potential Cory daguerreotype by the third pin.

When all the daguerreotypes were sorted by fraternity pins – or by no pin at all – and sorted against all the identified photographs of class members we found online, we were left with a small group of No Hopers.  For this handful, we couldn’t even guess their identities within two possibilities, the way we could with (for example) the five members of Delta Kappa Epsilon, three of whom were comfortably identified (Avery, Garrette, and Newton) with two that had to be one person or the other (Hodge or Nickerson). Even if we had tentative identification for the No Hopers, it wasn’t comfortable. Three of the five remaining are Augustine Milton Gay, Sylvester John Sawyer, and Thomas Morrill Stimpson.  They may be these three men — but which is which?

Another man we couldn’t identify is the Seed King, James J.H. Gregory. Yes, the charitable, ahead-of-his-time Seed King belongs to Amherst, which suggests that we may have missed the opportunity for a cruciferous mascot.  Although there are three older photographs of Gregory online, he still proved difficult to identify and we remain of mixed opinion about which student he might be.  Unfortunately for our purposes, he doesn’t seem to have belonged to a fraternity, so there was no help available that way either.  If we can agree on a match in the future, he should have his own blog post.

One student identified in a half-proven, half-hopeful way is Henry Shipley, apparently the bad-boy of the class. Shipley spent 1846-47 at Harvard studying medicine (he appears in a catalogue) before he transferred to Amherst in early May of 1847, when he shared a room with Martin Root ’49 in North College (“Shipley is my chum,” wrote Root in his diary).  While at Amherst, Shipley was an editor of the student paper the Indicator, which published Emily Dickinson’s valentine in February, 1850. Shipley commented on the valentine coyly, suggesting that he didn’t know the author when–even if Carlo the dog was the only tip-off–he probably knew perfectly well who it was.  After Dickinson signs off with “C.,” Shipley answers the valentine in the same romping style.

Shipley proves to be quite a character.  William Gardiner Hammond’s “Remembrance of Amherst, 1846-48” describes Shipley and another student sliding into campus drunk after a sleigh ride to and from Northampton:

It would appear from this account that Shipley’s nickname was “Chicken,” and I wish I knew why but I don’t. Now, you know the administration must’ve heard about Chicken’s caper, and sure enough, the Early Presidents Collection contains Henry Shipley’s required “confession,” a document unexamined until now:

Here’s what the letter says:

To the Faculty of Amherst Col.

Gentlemen

In addressing you upon a subject which has weighed heavily upon my mind I shall not attempt any palliation of the fault[.] But wish to express to you as a body, the sincere regret I feel in having thus wounded your feelings by committing such an open violation of your laws.

I know that I have disgraced myself. I feel it deeply. And that alone will I think deter me from the commission of a like offence. But the gratitude, which I owe you for your undeserved clemency in this affair is even a stronger barrier[,] and must not be expressed by me in words, but I shall endeavor to let my actions speak [“for” scratched out] That I may not abuse but repay your kindness is the heartfelt wish of your much obliged & humble sevt’,

H Shipley

Amherst Col’ Feb 29th 1848

The faculty minutes record the request for his confession and the result:

March 1st…A confession from Shipley was read, upon which Voted — that it be accepted.

Shipley got off rather lightly: he wasn’t expelled and his confession seems to have been the end of the matter.  However, John Thornton Wood, his partner in crime, was escorted off the property — the faculty minutes record that “Profs Warner & Snell be a com. [committee] to see that he leaves town tomorrow” — and sent home. The minutes are full of notes detailing which faculty member was assigned to write to the fathers of other students to describe their “deficiencies,” “deliquencies,” and “misdemeanors,” and often to take them home. It may be that Shipley’s talents kept him from being dismissed – Hammond mentions Shipley several times and describes him as “a first-prize man,” and Dickinson biographer Al Habegger pegs him as “a gifted reprobate,” identifying Shipley as the student whom Professor Tyler described as “one of the most hardened & hopeless & at the same time one of the most talented men of the Senior Class.” (Wars, p 237.)

Of course, despite the religious nature of the early college, drinking had always been at least an occasional problem. In “the Seed and the Sowers,” F. Curtis Canfield writes of the fall of 1821, shortly after Zephaniah Swift Moore had arrived in Amherst on a cropped-tail horse to take on the presidency of the new college, when “an [Amherst] Academy pupil, one Charles Jenks, had invited certain college students [including a young Edward Dickinson]***…to his rooms after nine o’clock for an oyster supper and ‘that after supper they had cherry rum and gin, that they drank to excess, and that about twelve o’clock they all of them came to the institution and behaved in a very indecent and riotous manner and made great disturbance until one o’clock or later.’ Which goes to show that the authorities couldn’t be too sure, always, that Old Scratch had been driven off Mt. Zion. ‘Segars’ and cherry rum and oyster suppers were a mighty potent combination – the road to infamy and ruin was paved with them.” (Seed, p. 19.)

Shipley seems to have remained on the straight and narrow enough to graduate, even though in his final months at Amherst he managed to insert a story in the Indicator that quotes Swift on the subject of inebriation — it was as if he couldn’t resist poking a finger in the eyes of the administrators who would read the piece:


“To be continued,” indeed.  Shipley’s subsequent career sounds suitably adventurous.  Initially, he returned to Harvard and briefly studied law (he appears in a catalogue for 1850-51), then he is said in later accounts to have been a druggist in Kentucky (presumably using what he learned at Harvard before he went to Amherst).  Then he headed west and worked as an editor on several newspapers in California and Oregon.  In 1854 we find him as the editor of “the Grass Valley Telegraph,” the newspaper for a gold mining town in Nevada County, California.  It was at this post where he met dancer-actress-adventuress Lola Montez, who, in a respite from her career, also took up residence in Grass Valley.  In November 1854 Lola and Henry Shipley had at least two documented encounters: in the first, she pulled a gun on him, and shortly thereafter she took a horsewhip to him.  The story was recounted in several newspapers — his account and her account were repeated enough to reach Amherst and the eyes and ears of the Dickinsons.  They both left Grass Valley in 1855.   Shipley’s old acquaintances would have heard of him again in November 1859, when he committed suicide almost a year after he fell off a horse, sustained severe injuries, and suffered from depression.  Montez’s earlier taunt, reframed from one Shipley had thrown at her, seemed apt — “Sic transit gloria Shipley.”  To recap his career, then:

In attempting to identify Shipley among our daguerreotypes, we must go by a fraternity pin, the number of students attached to a given fraternity, and one source that refers to him as a blonde. And then there is that flamboyant personality.  All these things lead me to hope with all my heart that the following image is Shipley because no other daguerreotype suits his biography so well.  Note his rings, his manicured fingers, his fancy, patterned neckcloth, and the fraternity pin, gilded by the photographer no doubt at the sitter’s request since no other daguerreotype in this group has this detail.   Is he not a beautiful tempter?

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* Quotations above from Emily Dickinson, excerpts from Johnson Poem 303 and Letter 35 (April 3, 1850).

**The graduating members of the Class of 1850 are: William Fisher Avery, Albert Graham Beebe, Henry Walker Bishop, John Edwin Cory, Minott Sherman Crosby, William Austin Dickinson, John Graeme Ellery, Daniel Worcester Faunce, Thomas Legare Fenn, Edmund Young Garrette, Augustine Milton Gay, Archibald Falconer Gilbert, George Henry Gould, James John Howard Gregory, Leicester Porter Hodge, George Howland, Jacob Merrill Manning, Jeremiah Lemuel Newton, Joseph Nickerson, David Temple Packard, Sylvester John Sawyer, Henry Shipley, Thomas Morrill Stimpson, John Howland Thompson, and Lyman Richards Williston.

***Polly Longsworth reminds me that Edward Dickinson was among the cherry-rum drinkers in this affair and that his friend Osmyn Baker alludes to it in a letter to Dickinson from this period (the letter is at Harvard’s Houghton Library) .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The class of 1877 in Barrett Gymnasium in their class uniforms holding dumbells, February 1875. In physical education classes at this time, students stood in formation and executed synchronized calisthenic routines in time to live piano music.

Archives and Special Collections is pleased to announce the newly available Department of Hygiene and Physical Education Records. This collection documents Amherst’s groundbreaking Physical Education program from its early development in 1861 to the 1930s.

Amherst’s Hygiene and Physical Education department was the first of its kind in the nation. Interest in organized exercise had been growing for decades, along with concern about the perceived ill health of college students, who were presumed to spend all their time hunched over their books. Following the deaths of two Amherst students in 1855, President Stearns began advocating for a formal department of physical education to improve the strength and stamina of the student body. This department was approved by the Trustees in 1860 and, following a brief stint by John Hooker, Edward Hitchcock, Jr. (son of the former president and graduate of the class of 1849) was appointed professor of Hygiene and Physical Education in 1861.

Hitchcock developed a system (later known as the “Amherst Plan”) of mandatory group calisthenics (known as light gymnastics) four days a week for all students, along with voluntary strength training (heavy gymnastics), classes in anatomy and healthy living (“hygiene” courses), and extensive measurements of all students taken throughout their college careers. These measurements were used to demonstrate the progress made by individual students and to prove the efficacy of the program as a whole.

Page of a record volume showing the compiled physical measurements for the class of 1885

Hitchcock’s passion was for the application of scientific methods to the field of strength training and health building. Anthropometry is the study of the human body using detailed measurements; this field was developing when the Amherst program started and came into its heyday in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hitchcock was a notable figure on the national stage, writing articles and presenting at conferences about the anthropometry program at Amherst.

In addition to collecting measurements of individual students physical size and capacity, Hitchcock and his successors also recorded extensive health histories, and gathered statistics on a variety of topics like handedness, tobacco use, and eyesight. Most concerning, from a more modern perspective, they also gathered information on students’ national and ethnic backgrounds. The use of anthropometry for measuring and promoting physical health and development was a positive face of what eventually developed into the eugenics movement and this darker aspect can be seen in places throughout the collection.

 

In the 1890s, additional faculty joined the department, but the format of the courses and philosophy of the department didn’t start changing for a couple more decades. Eventually the mandatory daily classes were dropped along with calisthenics and hygiene courses; the measurement of students ended in the 1940s. By the late 1940s, the Physical Education department more closely resembled its modern counterpart, with courses in team sports and a focus on athletic training and coaching. This collection covers the period to 1933, the year when the department changed its name to drop the “Hygiene”, this symbolic shift was chosen as a cut-off point for the collection. More recent Physical Education records are also available in Archives & Special Collections.

Booklet on using the equipment in Pratt Gymnasium

The records of the Hygiene and Physical Education department contain a wide variety of records, from syllabi for hygiene courses and record books showing gymnasium attendance to student measurements and annual reports presented to the Board of Trustees on the department’s activities. Of particular interest are more than a dozen volumes of bound memorabilia created by Professor Hitchcock to document the history of the department, many of the items in these volumes have Hitchcock’s notes on them. Hitchcock was an avid collector (or, less kindly, a real hoarder) and his collections of college history materials formed the foundation of the current College Archives.

These records are a rich resource in many areas: not just the history of physical education, but also student health and understandings of health, the development and promotion of the study of anthropometry, constructions of masculinity, muscular Christianity, and the student experience at Amherst in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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The interior of Pratt Gymnasium in 1885. Visible in this picture is gymnastic equipment, the piano for accompanying group classes and bleachers on the balcony for public exhibitions.

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The Charles Drew House in a previous form

 

It is always thrilling when a single location on campus can pull together from the archival record multiple threads of Amherst’s history. In preparing for Professor Mary Hicks’s Black Studies class in research methods, we discovered the history of the Charles Drew House, a history which incorporated material from five different collections: the Fraternities Collection, the Biographical Files, The Alfred S. Romer Papers, the Building and Grounds Collection, and the Charles Drew House Photo Albums.

 

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A 1922 article from the Springfield Union on the completion of the Phi Kappa Psi renovations

The history of the Charles Drew House begins with the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter at Amherst College. Founded in 1895, the fraternity first occupied a home on Amity Street in Amherst. It purchased and remodeled in the late 1910s the mansion owned by Julius Seelye, a former president of the College. The Springfield Union touted the home’s “choicest location” in town and the justification of “as pretentious a motive as the circular porch.”

In the midst of World War II, the fraternity came close to losing its home. Amherst College administration considered prohibiting fraternities on campus. Advocates, including many alumni, convinced the trustees to preserve fraternity life with the condition that certain reforms would be made. In 1946, the trustees of Amherst College announced that fraternities would be required to remove any clause in their constitutions that discriminated against pledges based on race, ethnicity, or religion.

This momentous change challenged the national attitudes toward inclusion in fraternities. This became evident when the Amherst chapter of Phi Kappa Psi pledged Thomas Gibbs, an African American freshman, in the spring of 1948. Gibbs was a member of the track team and a class officer. A fellow Phi Kappa Psi brother described him as “quiet but not shy, and all in all, an extra special sort of fellow.” Students and alumni alike were largely in support of Gibbs joining. The Fraternities Collection in the Amherst College archives provides evidence of community opinion. However, the national organization pressured the Amherst chapter into depledging Gibbs until the fraternity had had ample time to consider the affair. In the fall of 1948, the Amherst chapter polled Amherst alumni and the Phi Kappa Psi national community and moved forward with their plan to pledge Gibbs. The story garnered news interest and the national organization – bristling at Amherst’s perceived public defiance – pulled the Amherst chapter’s charter. The chapter pledged Thomas Gibbs and became a local fraternity: Phi Alpha Psi.

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A letter sent by the Amherst chapter asking for the advice and support of its alumni.

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The Phi Alpha Psi entry in the Olio of 1951, the year Thomas Gibbs graduated. In his time with the fraternity he was elected president.

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This March 1948 letter written by a member of the pledging committee seeks Romer’s advice on Thomas Gibbs.

 

 

 

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The chair of the Phi Alpha Psi corporation at the time was Alfred Sherwood Romer (AC 1917), the director of Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. His papers in the Amherst College archives contain correspondence between Romer, the Phi Kappa Psi brothers, and alumni. The correspondence demonstrates a variety of opinion on the matter. Romer wrote an article, “The Color Line in Fraternities,” which was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1949. It garnered attention. A student in Illinois read the article in her “Social Problems class” and wrote to Romer in the early 1950s, curious as to the outcome. This prompted Romer to write a postscript to the article.

 

 

 

This exchange between Romer and Miss D. Frederick in 1951 shed further light on the Gibbs/Phi Alpha Psi story. Click on the images to view them in closer detail, and note the secretary’s shorthand on D. Frederick’s letter to Romer.

 

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Drew’s (r) entry in the Amherst Olio from his fourth year, 1926

Charles Drew was born in Washington, D.C., in 1904. He attended Amherst College and graduated in 1926 – afterwards he received an M.D. and a C.M. from McGill University. Charles Drew was known for his pioneering research into blood banks and the use of blood plasma. During the early years of World War II he spearheaded the collection of blood plasma as part of the “Blood for Britain” program. He also was appointed director of the first American Red Cross Blood Bank. He served for many years on the faculty of the Howard University Medical School. Tragically, Drew’s life was cut short in an automobile accident while driving with colleagues to a conference at the Tuskegee Institute. Many organizations honored Charles Drew by putting his name on elementary schools, a medical university, and residence halls at both Howard University and Amherst College.

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By the mid-1960s, Phi Alpha Psi (also known as Phi Psi) had withdrawn from the fraternity system and were known for their reputation as a counter-cultural institution on campus. In the 1970s Phi Psi pushed for the house to be named after Charles Drew but the organization was denied. For more information on Phi Psi visit Amherst Reacts, a digital humanities project put together by Amherst students in 2016.

 

In 1984 Amherst College banned fraternities, following the resolutions laid out in the  Final Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Campus Life. The houses were transformed into dormitories and were renamed after significant members of the college community. The unofficial Charles Drew House once again pushed for an official dedication and was granted such in 1987.

Today, the Charles Drew House sponsors “events that will celebrate the achievements of black people such as Charles Drew and explore the cultures of Africa and the Diaspora at large. This house was founded as a space where members of the Amherst community can engage in intellectual debate, social activities, artistic expression, and all other endeavors, which highlight Africa and the Diaspora and the accomplishments of its diverse peoples.” (see the full constitution here)

The Charles Drew House also lives in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, where scrapbooks and photograph albums kept by the residents of the Charles Drew House from 1986 to 2010 are held.

 

 

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