Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Student Activism’ Category

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).

Read Full Post »

Amherst College and Western Massachusetts have experienced below-average rainfall amounts for a seventh straight month this year and as a result, water levels in town reservoirs are the lowest they have been in recent history. In mid-August, the state of Massachusetts issued a drought watch for the Connecticut River Region and the Town of Amherst has imposed mandatory water conservation measures for the town, including Amherst College campus.

If you’re on campus, you’ve likely noticed these signs around encouraging conscious consumption and water conservation.

Amherst College 2016 Drought Response poster

In the fall of 1980, Amherst experienced a severe water shortage due to a very dry summer, several hot days in September, an unusually light snowfall the preceding winter, and the yearly influx of many thousands of students to the area.

The Amherst Student, Sept. 11, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 11, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 11, 1980

In early September, University of Massachusetts, the largest of the three colleges in Amherst, closed campus for several days as an emergency response to lessen demands on the town’s water supply.

The Amherst Student Sept 15, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept 15, 1980

By mid-September 1980, Amherst College director of land conservation and assistant to the director, along with a newly established Amherst College conservation program, met with all first year students to educate about wasteful habits and to promote on-campus awareness about water and energy conservation.  The conservation program offered suggestions to students about ways to reduce their water use:

  1. “Turn off the water when brushing teeth, washing face, and shaving.
  2. Use plugs in sink–fill the sink with hot water instead of letting the faucet run.
  3. Use full loads in washing machines and
  4. For those living off-campus, purchase the low-flow shower heads that all Amherst dorms already use.”
The Amherst Student, Sept. 29, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 29, 1980

The Amherst Student, Sept. 29, 1980By October 1980, the water supply emergency had abated and the Town of Amherst completed the construction of a new well in South Amherst.  Student members of the Amherst Water Conservation Project, a state-funded study, established goals for water conservation in Amherst:

  • “To allow the town to remain self-sufficient in its water supply;
  • To extend the life of the town’s new sewage treatment plant;
  • To postpone or eliminate the need to develop new water sources;
  • To improve water quality by allowing the town to use its higher quality water sources;
  • To avoid future water shortages.”

The Amherst Student reported that members of the Conservation Project were meeting with the Physical Plants at University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College, and Amherst College to ensure that each institution was doing its best to conserve water.

The Amherst Student, Oct. 16, 1980

The Amherst Student, Oct. 16, 1980

The Amherst Student, Oct. 16, 1980The Amherst Student gives an interesting glimpse of the 1980 town water shortage and campus-wide response.  A full run of the newspaper is available to read in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

For more information on Amherst College’s ongoing efforts to conserve water and for ideas on how to do your part, visit the Amherst Conserves website.

Read Full Post »

On May 5, 1970, students and faculty of Amherst College joined more than 1,250 other colleges and universities in a nationwide student strike.

00000005The May 5 strike followed on the heels of a May Day demonstration at Yale protesting the trial of the New Haven Black Panthers and the surveillance of the Black Panthers by the FBI.  As the protest grew into a national movement, the motivation for the strike expanded to include President Nixon’s recent expansion of the Vietnam War and the death of four students at a demonstration at Kent State. (more…)

Read Full Post »

In honor of the upcoming Global Divestment Day urging institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies and the work being done on the Amherst Campus in support of divestment from coal, I thought we should take a moment to look back at an earlier time that Amherst divested its investment holdings on ethical grounds. I’m referring, of course, to the international campaign to pressure the South African government to dismantle its apartheid system in the 1970s and 80s (although Amherst also divested from Sudan in 2006 on ethical grounds).

Picketers outside the fall Board of Trustees meeting, 1977

Picketers outside the fall Board of Trustees meeting, 1977

(more…)

Read Full Post »