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Archive for the ‘Amherst College’ Category

This week’s blog post comes from our Bicentennial Metadata Librarian, Amanda Pizzollo:

As avid readers of this blog will know, Amherst College was conceived out of the previously existing Amherst Academy. As Frederick Tuckerman points out in his book on the academy, the founders of Amherst Academy are also the founders of Amherst College. Yet the school’s connection to the foundation of Amherst College is not the only reason that Amherst Academy is worthy of attention. Nor are the school’s connections to Emily Dickinson and Mary Lyon the only highlights of its existence. Though I’m as big a fan as any of Amherst College, Emily Dickinson, and Mary Lyon, I have also thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Amherst Academy for entirely unrelated reasons.

I work at Amherst College as a metadata creator. You know all that information like title, dates, a brief description, and subjects that you see when you look at a digital item in ACDC? That’s supplied by folks like me who get to look at these things and describe them in hopes that it helps you find them. Right now, I’m working on metadata for the Amherst College Early History Collection that we mentioned previously on the blog. It includes items about the history of Amherst Academy as well, and last week I stumbled upon two particular treasures: notebooks of minutes from the Franklin and Platonic Societies of Amherst Academy.

Platonic Cover

The cover of the Platonic Society administrative notebook looks rather unassuming doesn’t it? Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Both the Franklin Society and the Platonic Society were student literary societies, and they both may have been secret societies (though that’s not entirely clear). In March of 1836 these two societies would merge into one and be renamed as the Washington Society. The notebooks I’m describing include minutes, names of members, and other administrative records from 1833-1835 (in the case of the Franklin Society) and from 1834-1836 (in the case of the Platonic Society). Taking a look at the minutes, I’ve gotten a feel for what their weekly meetings were like. Of course there were variations, but mostly it went like this:

  • Review what happened at the last meeting
  • Vote on officers (if it was time for that)
  • Debate on the question posed at the last meeting
  • Decide on the consensus for the question debated (or have the Society President decide)
  • Pose a question for the next meeting’s debate and assign members to lead the debate
  • Address other society business like proposing new members

There have been lots of interesting things about looking through these notebooks, for instance the first entry in the Platonic Society’s notebook reads:

“And it came to pass in the fourth year of the rain of Alva, A whose sirname is Hurd, the rules of the notoriously courageous family of Plato, that the discrete and scientific disciples of Uncle Plato collected themselves together in the usual place at the sounding of the academical invariable and thunder resounding alarm….”

It goes on to describe the start of the meeting: “soon all arose, and instantly Each by the stealth and fierceness of a Lion, took and guarded the posts of their duty well.”

Later in the same entry, it discusses the meeting’s debate and the leaders of it, society members Stone and Thayer: “..eminently courageous children of the Brother Plato and both remarkably well skilled in fight—These fought well for a season till at length by the stealth and cunningness of a fox, the venerable Sapis which is Stone surrounded Thayer and by the force of Situation and art pulled down by his house and sitt fire to and burned up his riches.”

Alva A. Hurd, mentioned in the first line, was an Amherst Academy student and society member. Sapis, noted later, signs this entry E.J. Sapis as he was acting as secretary and scribe for this meeting.  It seems likely that Sapis and Stone (Elijah J. Stone) are the same person since he states “Sapis which is Stone” and since both are E.J. Why he used Sapis in his signature is unclear. Thayer was likely James S. Thayer based on the Amherst Academy catalogs, and of course he and Stone were the society members debating in this meeting. Now, the handwriting can be a bit tough to decipher at times, so I’m not sure of that last word in the “sitt fire to and burned up his riches” sentence. It could be riches, or it could be ricks perhaps, or something else entirely. Most meeting minutes don’t read like this, and it seems likely that Sapis/Stone was exercising his writing muscles and ability for tongue-in-cheek prose with this first notebook entry. It was certainly an enjoyable read for me.

I also enjoyed looking at the officer positions in these societies. There’s the standard President, Vice President, and Secretary roles, and there were also Critics, a Librarian, Prudential Committee members, and Questioning Committee members at many meetings. My favorite position title, though? Definitely the Bell Ringer.

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The officer names and positions chosen at the October 15, 1835 Franklin Society meeting

What I’ve found most interesting with these notebooks, however, are the weekly questions debated. Many are a glimpse at history, and some are still debated today. Below is a sampling of questions debated in one or both of the societies. I’ve kept spelling, capitalization, and most punctuation (or lack thereof) the same, but I have added some question marks since these were often omitted in the notebooks. There’s plenty more questions than these in the notebooks, too.

“Ought the man who kills another in a duel to be subject to our criminal laws?”

“Is memory more dependent upon nature than upon habit and Education?”

“Ought ladies and gentlemen to obtain their education in separate academies and seminaries?”

“Which is the more powerful, Education or wealth?”

“Ought Emigration to be encouraged?”

“Ought Foreign Emegration to be encouraged prohibited?”

“Which is the greater Evil, Intemperance or Slavery?”

“Is the manufacturing interest of our Country more important than agriculture?”

“Was De Witt Clinton possessed of greater talents than Alexander Hamilton?”

“Was the revolution of 1830 in France a benefit to that nation?”

“Ought any government to interfere in any religion?”

“Which has the greatest influence in this our country, fashion or Education?”

“Which has the most influence on society, wealth or talent?”

“Which has caused the greater loss of lives war or intemperance?”

“Is celibacy a violation of moral duty?”

“Which enjoys most happiness him who is called a poor man or him who is called rich?”

“Had the conduct of General Andrew Jackson during his administration been commendable?”

“Ought the liberty of the press to be restricted?”

“Which has the greatest claim to our benevolence the Indian or the Slave?”

“Ought capital punishment to be inflicted on convicts?”

“Is phrenology on the whole beneficial to science?”

“Ought the Colonization Society to be supported in preference to the Anti Slavery Society?”

“Should appointments be given in Colleges as rewards of Scholarship?”

“Ought Menageries to receive publick patronage?”

“Ought any person after arriving at the age of discretion to be prohibited from attending any religious meeting they choose?”

“Is deception justifiable in any case?”

“Which ought most to be encouraged, Commerce or Manufacture?”

“Have military heroes been beneficial to the world?”

“Were our forefathers justifiable in their treatment to the Indians?”

“Who was worthy of the more Honor, Columbus or Washington?”

“Which is the most beneficial to community Man or Woman?”

“Ought imprisonment for debt to be abolished from the United States?”

“Which is the most unhappy the Slave or the Drunkard?”

“Which has been the cause of the most Good the Magnet Needle or the Printing Press?”

“Is the influence of females in the affairs of the world greater than that of males?”

“From present appearances is it probable the Roman Catholics will gain the ascendency in this country?”

“Is married life more conducive to happiness than single life?”

“Are rail-roads beneficial to the country?”

“Which is more injurious to the public novel reading or gambling?”

“Ought the poor to be supported by tax on the community?”

“Ought Quakers to be compelled to do military duty?”

“Does fashion exert a greater influence in society than education?”

“Which is the most beneficial to the country Academies or common Schools?”

If you want to read more questions, see how members voted on them, delve more deeply into the life of the Amherst Academy student society Bell Ringer, or hear more of the thrilling prose of secretaries like Sapis/Stone, then never-fear, friends. You can see these notebooks now in Archives & Special Collections as part of the Early College History Collection, and not too long from now you’ll also be able to browse these pages on ACDC.

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Over the River

We have written about Amherst’s missionaries who traveled the world, but some missionary work was done much closer to home. For just over forty years, Amherst students worked with Holyoke’s Rev. Dr. Edwin B. Robinson (class of 1896) at Grace Church. Holyoke was a busy manufacturing city; Grace Church was a working-class congregation located in the Flats, where tens of thousands of immigrant families worked in the paper and textile factories and lived in crowded tenements (often company-owned).

A large brick factory wreathed in smoke from its four chimneys sits along a flowing canal.

Parsons Paper Mill, in Holyoke (1909), with coal smoke billowing from its chimneys.
Image from the Library of Congress [1]

Starting in 1910, when Arthur Boynton (class of 1910) asked Rev. Robinson about running a summer program at the church, a partnership developed. A handful of students would spend six weeks each summer running a ‘Vacation School’ for local children, teaching classes, doing recreational activities, and holding services. A number of well-connected Amherst students took part early on, including Professor Olds’ (later, president of the College, 1924-1927) two sons, Leland and George D. (Jr.), for the summers of 1911 and 1912. About sixty students would take part over the 42 years the program ran; it ended in 1952, the year after Rev. Dr. Robinson’s death.

Several years ago, my granddad volunteered to sort through the archives at his church (United Congregational Church) in Holyoke. While doing the work, he found mentions of an Amherst College summer program in the city with Grace United Church (in 1995, it merged with the Second Congregational Church to form the present United Congregational Church). At the time, it was just an interesting tidbit of local history.

Unexpected Connections

Now that I’m part of the team here in the Archives, I’ve had the chance to do a bit of digging as I’ve learned my way around. While researching the program, I found this gem in George D. Olds, Jr.’s biographical file. The writing on the back of the picture only notes that Olds is in the shot, with no details about the origin of the image.

However, I immediately recognized that it was from the summer program, and that Olds (on the far right) is posing with the children from the Vacation School in front of the church, as a nearly identical photograph is in a 1933 article in the Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly. [2] One of the best things about working in libraries is the way little fragments connect unexpectedly.

Several dozen children pose together on a staircase. An adult man in a suit stands to the right. A wooden door behind the group stands open.

George D. Olds Jr., and the Amherst College Vacation School in Holyoke, MA. Summer 1912. [3]

What did the students think about their work?

Some students, like George’s older brother, Leland Olds, were deeply affected by their work in Holyoke. Thirty-seven years later, Olds referred to his time in Holyoke during a difficult confirmation hearing. Up for his third term as chair of the Federal Power Commission, Olds stated, “During two summers while I was at college I helped to run the vacation school of Grace Church in the neighboring industrial city of Holyoke, Mass… There I learned at first hand the impact of the industrialism of that period on the lives of the children of wage earners.”
[4]
Olds continued on to describe how his time in Holyoke (and later in Boston and New York) informed his early work for labor unions and workers’ organizations.

Grace Church proved a real trial heat. We taught and preached, led square dances and sang songs; we shared the gloom of unopened mills and the joy of an extra day’s work; we visited, listened and learned.

–J. Herbert Brautigam (class of 1939) [5]

Fun in the sun…

Amherst students handled the lighter side of things: they were in charge of entertainments (one student would write a play, often about Amherst-related topics, like Doshisha University, or the College in Wartime, while another was responsible for a circus fair), and daily services.

Before the summer was over passers-by on Race or Cabot Streets became accustomed to hearing any one of a number of songs rendered with great enthusiasm, the most popular of all being “Lord Jeffrey Amherst”. Once a week the whole school went on an outing to Hampden Pond, where there was a ball game and swimming, to say nothing of a trolley ride both ways and a lunch in the picnic grounds.

–Amherst College Christian Association annual report (1916) [6]

What don’t we know?

What’s missing from the story in our collections are the voices and experiences of the children and families participating in the vacation school. The published work (short pieces in the Holyoke Transcript and the Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly) on the program is silent about the children attending, except in general statements about keeping the children occupied and out of trouble; children under seven attended kindergarten, girls older than seven learned sewing, and boys learned chair caning and carpentry. Some boys were also trained in printing.

A boy stands at a small galley press, while a young man stands behind him at a full printing press. Two cabinets of loose type stand against the right wall of the small room.

Holyoke Vacation School Printing Room. This was started in 1915, when Julius Seelye Bixler (class of 1915) obtained the second-hand press. [6]

We do have a typed manuscript written by Charles G. McCormick (class of 1937), describing his summer at Grace Church. McCormick’s piece is more open about the daily struggles of life he witnesses among the families he visits with; there may be further recollections in other participants’ files here in the Archives.

Diving Deeper

Anyone interested in digging further into Holyoke workers’ lives will also find interesting material over at Holyoke’s history collections at Wistariahurst Museum and Holyoke Public Library.

Sources

[1] Haines Photo Co., Parsons Paper Co., Holyoke, Mass, 1 photographic print : gelatin silver (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, 1909), https://www.loc.gov/item/2007661042/

[2] Clark, William W., “Amherst in Holyoke,” Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly 23 (1933): 104–10.

[3] George D. Olds Jr., 1913,” George D. Olds Jr. Alumni Biographical File, Class of 1913, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst, MA.

[4] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Nomination of Leland Olds., “Reappointment of Leland Olds to Federal Power Commission” (81st Cong., 1st sess., Sep 27-29, Oct 3, 1949), https://hdl.handle.net/2027umn.31951d03588500w

[5] Brautigam Jr., J. Herbert, “Church and College Work Together,” Pilgrim Highroad, 1939, General Files: Religion: Amherst-in-Holyoke, Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA.

[6] Amherst College Alumni Council, Annual Report of the Committee on Religious Work, 1916 (Amherst, MA: Amherst College, 1916).

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birds come back

The art handlers just delivered this crate filled with Emily Dickinson manuscripts and books and ephemera. ED Crate

This crate is filled with several smaller boxes, all wrapped in plastic and safe in their particle board and Styrofoam chambers. After the years of work that went into mounting the Emily Dickinson exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York, it will take me just a couple of hours to unpack and restore each item to its Amherst home.

Once again I want to thank everyone who helped make the Morgan Library exhibition possible, with a special shout out to the amazing Carolyn Vega, my co-conspirator in what turned out to be a very special exhibition that came at exactly the right historical moment.

TNRCoverweb But this exhibition will live on in the form of the catalog published by Amherst College Press. Although I have a personal preference for the print edition of this volume, it is freely available for download from our all-open-access press:

https://acpress.amherst.edu/the-networked-recluse/

 

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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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PhysEdRecords-b5-70

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.

PhysEdRecords-b5-f155

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.

 

 

 

DOC712

 

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.

20170317_105138.jpg

 

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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Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Tamesin Brooks, October 18, 1837, second page top: “The room which I occupy in College is rather a dismal looking place, as the freshmen are put into the poorest rooms. It made me think of the rooms in Barnstable jail, but this is College Style.”

 

Born in Harwich, in Barnstable County on Cape Cod, Sidney Brooks attended Amherst College after preparation at Chatham Academy and at Phillips Academy in Andover. After graduating and teaching for a few years at Chatham, he went on to build Pine Grove Seminary, the first secondary school in Harwich. The building was the future site of Harwich High School, and today it houses the Harwich Historical Society.

The Sidney Brooks (AC 1841) Papers, comprised largely of correspondence and other writing from his school days, provides an intimate portrait of a middling student from the nation’s nascent middle class. Sidney wrote to his siblings of his daily routines and to his father about money, and he kept a detailed ledger of his expenses in Amherst. Financially dependent on his father, the merchant Obed Brooks of Harwich, Sidney wrote home in a tone perhaps recognizable to indigent college students throughout the ages.

In a painstaking account in a letter to his father of June 28, 1838, Sidney writes of his expenses at Philips Academy and Amherst College, underlined section page 2 bottom: “if I had, of my own, money or property enough to give me a liberal education and no more, I should not hesitate at all to spend it in this way.”

 

The letter above was likely compiled from a detailed ledger kept by Brooks during his time at Andover and Amherst. In the ledger, he records his expenses for each term. Tuition, boarding and school related fees make up the bulk of his expenses.

Sidney Brooks' school expenses ledger, 1837-1841

Sidney Brooks’ school expenses ledger, 1837-1841.

 

A member of the Athenian Society, one of Amherst’s rival literary clubs, Sidney records the group’s initiation fee in 1838 as $3.00, with subsequent taxes ranging from $1.00 to $3.00 every term or so. Sidney was not the only member for whom the literary society fees might have posed some challenge, in this last decade before their dissolution and waning in the face of new campus societies and fraternities. In Student Life at Amherst College: Its Organizations, their Membership and History (1871), page 29, we find that,

As early as August, 1838, the societies began to be embarrassed financially, so that the members could with difficulty meet the current expenses and pay existing debts. Moneys received from initiation fees, which heretofore had been annually appropriated for libraries, were used to liquidate standing debts. Extensive repairs, etc., upon their Athenaeums increased their liabilities.

In addition to Sidney’s expense ledger and correspondence, the collection includes several prepared speeches on diverse subjects, presumably conducted for the various societies of which he was a part. During the reign of the Alexandrian and Athenian Societies at Amherst, weekly sessions were held for declamation and debate.

Twenty-eight years old when he graduated Amherst, Sidney arrived at the College already practiced in these activities from his time at Phillips Academy in Andover. Sidney was an enthusiastic participant in the Rhetorical Society at the Andover Theological Seminary. In 1834, at the same time Henry Ward Beecher was busy making phrenology the hot topic of Amherst’s Natural History Society, Sidney argued his case for the “science” in the less welcoming atmosphere of the Theological Seminary. (There is no evidence that Sidney was ever invited to become a member of the Natural History Society, or any secret societies, while at Amherst.)

Phrenology, a pseudoscience concerned with measurements of the surface of the head to diagnose traits of character and personality, was hugely popular in the nineteenth century and persisted through the beginning of the twentieth. In 1847, it was popular enough that Edward Hitchcock got his head examined by the professional phrenologists and Amherst alumni, brothers Orson Squire Fowler and Lorenzo Niles Fowler. In 1834, however, Orson Squire Fowler was still a senior at Amherst, along with Henry Ward Beecher, then president of the Natural History Society in its third year of operation.

Perhaps the word hadn’t yet spread to Andover: the impression given by Sidney’s speech is not one of faddish acceptance on the part of his audience. Over several drafts on the subject, Sidney hones his argument, which amounts to a plea for reasoned debate based on empirical facts over the inclination to reject the field on moralistic grounds as a danger to religion. From a rough draft of his speech at Andover:

How much the decisions of this society above mentioned have influenced your minds – or the minds of this community – I cannot tell, but certain it is all investigation and enquiry upon the subject seem to be put to sleep for the present, and ma[n]y no doubt think that it has received its death blow. But I have not introduced the subject to lament its downfall or to sing its requiem nor to renounce the belief which I have so long entertained – nor shall I until I have more efficient arguments to prove that it is dangerous to religion or it is not true.

Sidney’s writing ranges widely across subjects, but always returns to the glory of God the Creator. He records subscription fees to missionary and Bible societies, including an initiation fee and tax (only $0.37) for the Society of Inquiry, the religious society at Amherst. In one speech, his theme is, “Can a Christian consistently accept an appointment at Amherst College?” At the same time, he expounds on such subjects as the astrophysical causes of the aurora borealis and of meteors with apparent enthusiasm, if not expertise. Sidney records $1.56 as the cost of going on a geological excursion with Professor Hitchcock, and $2.00 for subscription to the student literary periodical, Horae Colleginae – the short run of which coincided with his enrollment.

If Sidney’s account ledger provides a glimpse into the spending habits of one among the “indigent young men of piety and talent” educated in the early years of Amherst College, his letters are likewise a window on the melancholic mind of a student far from home. In the spring term of 1838 Sidney switched rooms, a decision he defended in a letter to his brother of July 19:

My reasons for making this moove are several. First I believe I can study more rooming alone. Again I wanted to enjoy the sweets of solitude and I enjoy it much. I know I hurt myself rooming alone at Andover when in that state of mind I was then, but I have not been troubled at all with the melancholia since I have been alone this term. Another consideration of some importance induced me to come down into a lower room — I have always been given somewhat to somnambulism. It has grown upon me much of late, for several weekes, nearly every night, I find myself in the middle of the night, in some part of my bedroom. Sometimes in bed + sometimes out of it pawing around to find out where I was. I thought I might find myself sometime in the act of jumping out of the window–

Rooming alone may have hurt Sidney at Amherst as much as it did at Andover, as he fell ill in the fall of his sophomore year. In a letter to his father of December 20, 1838, Sidney writes of his recovery from illness, “I ought to be very thankful and trust I am that I am restored to health again at any cost. (It would become me better perhaps to say this though if the money which is to defray this cost were my own.)” His sister Harriet visited and tended to him, inflating his bills for room and board considerably. Writing to his father the next spring (April 23, 1839), Sidney reports that Squire Dickinson has declined to deduct any of his college bill for the period of his illness. “If this is the custom,” he writes, “I suppose there is no getting off from it though like many other customs it seems rather hard.”

Sidney Brooks to his father Obed Brooks, April 23, 1839, first page middle: “If this is the custom I suppose there is no getting off from it though like many other customs it seems rather hard.”

 

In the recessed economic climate of New England following the Panic of 1837, it is little wonder Sidney found himself justifying his various expenses to his father. In a letter to his father of March 21, 1840, he grapples with trying to live frugally while taking advantage of the social opportunities of the college. After acknowledging the forty dollars he has received from home, Sidney implores his father to understand the necessity, for a young man of reputation, of indulging in a certain amount of “liberality,” a concept his father does not seem readily to understand. Describing his own place in the campus society, Sidney writes,

By no means do I rank myself among the highest class here, that class called the aristocracy. If I did I should have to do far different than I do – to carry an ivory or a silver headed cane, never to soil my hands with labor, ride about etc, etc, though among them are some no better able to do it than myself. This class is pretty numerous and popular in College, though I do not know as anyone thinks any the less of me for the plain manner in which I generally go.

Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, March 21, 1840, fourth page top: “It is another kind of liberality that I had principally in view- liberal towards ourselves.”

 

On leaving Amherst, Sidney taught for three years at Chatham Academy before returning home to Harwich and founding Pine Grove Seminary. Pine Grove, a one room schoolhouse whose columned Doric façade seems to suggest that Amherst left its mark, was notable for its nautical as well as classical curriculum. Navigation and surveying were included in its advanced mathematics class.

Sidney became an enlisting officer in 1863 for the towns of Harwich, Chatham, and Orleans, and served as a delegate of the Christian Commission during the war. While ministering to wounded Union soldiers in this role, Sidney wrote a series of letters to his sisters and his wife Susan about his experiences at military hospitals and battlegrounds. These were later edited and marked up considerably, presumably on Sidney’s suggestion to his correspondents that they get his accounts published in the local paper. In one letter dated July 21, 1864, Sidney describes to his sister Sarah the arrival of a delegation from Amherst College: one student, Professor Seelye, Professor Hitchcock (“son of my old Professor”), and Professor Tyler’s son.

Sidney Brooks to his sister Sarah, July 21, 1864, second page middle: “Among our members are three who came last night from Amherst College — one student, Prof. Selee and Prof. Hitchcock (son of my old Professor), also Prof. Tyler’s son. Prof. H. is not to commence hospital work to-day and, wanting something to do, he is now nailing up boxes of papers to go to the Front.”

 

After the war, Sidney sold his school to the town of Harwich in 1869, and in 1880 it became Harwich High School, the first public secondary educational facility there. Later it was called Brooks Academy, and today it houses the Harwich Historical Society. Sidney went on to work for the state, teaching aboard the ship George M Barnard in the short-lived Nautical Branch of the Massachusetts Reform School. Afterwards, he became Shipping Commissioner in Boston, where he lived until his death in 1887.

The Sidney Brooks (AC 1841) Papers are available to researchers in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

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