About Laura Smith

Archivist

Albert Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts

 

When Albert Nels Jorgensen (1899-1978) came to the Connecticut State College as its seventh President in 1935, at the age of 36, enrollment numbered a mere 800 students and consisted of one campus, in Storrs. By the time he retired, 27 years later in 1962 at the age of 63, the school was known as the University of Connecticut, enrollment had grown to 13,000 students, and there were four regional campuses around the state plus plans to build a medical school in Farmington. Jorgensen led the university through trying times that included the Great Depression, the Hurricane of 1938, World War II, and the McCarthy era where academics were targeted as Communists.

On November 12, 1960, at the Silver Convocation honoring Dr. Jorgensen as President in his 25th year, he was heralded for his leadership in building the University of Connecticut from a small, rural college into a major university. Professor of Zoology Dr. Hugh Clark said that “from the beginning President Jorgensen’s tenure has been characterized by vision, by wisdom, by understanding and by courage….It is a result of recognition of the intellectual needs of Connecticut’s citizens; it is the realization of a further purpose of a University to expand the sum of knowledge and to extend its influence into the future.”

Upon notifying members of the University community of Jorgensen’s death in February 1978. then UConn President Glenn W. Ferguson wrote that “Dr. Jorgensen was a…champion of academic freedom…a person who recognized that excellence is the critical quest for a university, and who built an institution that cared about its future and cared about that quest for excellence.”

The Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts was established in 1955, named in honor of the university’s president. Its first performance was the Boston Symphony Orchestra on December 6, 1955.

 

 

Brien McMahon Hall

 

The Brien McMahon Residence Hall opened as a dormitory at the University of Connecticut in the fall of 1964. It was one of the first buildings constructed during the presidency of Homer D. Babbidge. From the outset, the building was named after Brien McMahon, the prominent lawyer and politician from Connecticut.

McMahon was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1903. He attended Fordham University and Yale Law School. He briefly became a judge for Norwalk’s City Court before serving as special assistant to the Attorney General of the United States. McMahon was elected as United States Senator for Connecticut in 1945 and served until his death in 1952. During his time in office, he became an expert in nuclear energy, authoring the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 and promoting the civilian control of nuclear development.

In the Senate, McMahon served alongside William Benton, who later became a member of UConn’s Board of Trustees. In 1958, Senator Benton inaugurated a successful lecture series at UConn, the Brien McMahon Lecture Series, in honor of his late friend and fellow senator from Connecticut. The lecture series ran for a number of years, bringing prominent politicians and scholars to campus, such as Hans Morgenthau, J. William Fulbright, and Romulo Betancourt.

Today, the building is easily recognized by its recently renovated dining hall with a striking glass façade that faces onto Hillside Road.

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

Augustus Storrs Hall

 

It will surprise no one with even a remote connection to the University of Connecticut that Augustus Storrs was an important person in the history of our state university. Born on June 4, 1817, in Mansfield, Connecticut, to a family that came to America six generations earlier, Augustus Storrs was the son of farmer Royal Storrs. Augustus started a store in the Gurleyville section of Mansfield when he was just 22 years old. He moved to Hartford in 1841 and by the time he moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1851 he was a well-established businessman.

In 1875 Augustus bought the family home in Mansfield and developed a stock farm of nearly 1000 acres where he raised thoroughbred cattle and horses. That same year an orphanage that had been established in 1866 for the children of Civil War soldiers was closed down, and Augustus brought that property, which had been situated next to the farm.

In December 1880 Augustus offered 170 acres of land — the former orphanage property — with buildings to establish an agricultural college in Mansfield. Augustus’s brother Charles made a generous offer of $5000, and with these two gifts the Connecticut General Assembly, under the authority of the federal Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, established the Storrs Agricultural School to train boys in farming. The school opened its doors to twelve students on September 28, 1881. In 1888 a post-office was placed near campus, thus establishing the section of town of and near the campus as Storrs.

Augustus Storrs died on March 3, 1892. He and many other members of the Storrs family are buried in the cemetery on campus off of North Eagleville Road.

Augustus Storrs Hall was built in 1906 and was the first brick building on campus. It was initially a men’s dormitory with 66 two-man rooms but within two years each room held three students. In 1952 it was renovated for offices and classrooms. It is now home to the School of Nursing.

Wilfred B. Young Building

 

Since its founding in 1881, the University of Connecticut has undergone many changes, and the Wilfred B. Young Building perfectly embodies this dynamic history. In the years after World War II, a surging student population spurred a raft of new construction under the tenure of President Albert N. Jorgensen. The building that later became known as the Young Building appeared during this period, officially opening in the fall of 1953.

Along with the growing student population, the building also reflects the changing academic climate at UConn. When it first opened, the building housed the College of Agriculture. In the 1960s, it became home to the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Now it holds the College of Agriculture, Medicine, and Natural Resources. The multiplying specialties illustrate how the university’s educational mission has developed over the years, shifting to meet the needs and interests of students and the wider society.

The building’s namesake, Wilfred B. Young, also played an important role in UConn’s history. Born in Indiana in 1903, Young spent his early life learning agriculture and animal husbandry, as well as working in the famed Chicago stockyards. He came to Connecticut in 1931, recruited by Professor Harry L. Garrigus to teach and conduct research through the Agricultural Experiment Station. He served as Dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources from 1945 to 1966. Young retired in 1966 and died in 1978. The building was named in his honor the following year in recognition of his many contributions to the university.

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

J. Louis von der Mehden Hall

 

J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr., was born July 20, 1873, in San Francisco, California. A musician and composer, von der Mehden held several positions in San Francisco before moving east to New York City after the 1906 earthquake. He was steadily employed as a cellist or conductor with theatrical or commercial bands and worked for a year as the musical director of Herald Square Theater before becoming involved full time in the recording industry, working at different times for five different phonograph studios: U.S. Phonograph, Pathé Frère, Columbia, Lyraphone and the Victor Talking Machine Company. On some recordings he played cello in the orchestra; more regularly he would conduct performances, often arranging the music the night before the recording sessions. In 1926, von der Mehden and his wife Susan moved to Old Saybrook, Connecticut, full-time, having purchased a house in 1911.

J. Louis von der Mehden, Jr. died on August 27, 1954, in Middlesex Memorial Hospital and was buried in Cypress Cemetery at Saybrook Point.

In 1956, UConn President Albert N. Jorgensen reported to the Board of Trustees that under the provisions of the will of the late Susan Evelyn von der Mehden, who died less than one year after her husband, the University was to receive a considerable sum from the estate. There were three provisions: first, the University was to receive all of the original compositions of the late J. Louis von der Mehden; second, the University was to erect a building to be used as a concert hall in which this music could be performed; and third, the University was to provide a vault for the safekeeping of the music. The von der Mehden’s had no obvious connection to the University of Connecticut so it is unknown why Mrs. von der Mehden chose to make such a large donation to the university.

The J. Louis von der Mehden Recital Hall was completed in 1961 and has been in regular use as a recital and performance hall.

Archives & Special Collections holds Mr. von der Mehden’s papers, which consist of diaries, newspaper clippings, correspondence, notes, financial records, photographs, musical manuscripts, scores, publications, and celluloid cylinders. The finding aid to the collection can be found here: http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/object/20002%3A860140533

 

Homer Babbidge Library

Homer Daniels Babbidge, Jr., was born in West Newton, Massachusetts, on May 18, 1925. His father was a captain of merchant ships and the family soon moved to New Haven, Connecticut; in 1935 the family moved again, this time to Amherst, Massachusetts. Babbidge graduated with his undergraduate and doctoral degrees from Yale University, and taught at Yale’s Department of American Studies before taking positions with the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare and acting as the Vice-President of the American Council on Education.

In 1962, at the age of 37, Babbidge became the 8th President of the University of Connecticut. In his Inaugural Address on October 20, 1962, he said “The task of a public university is to wed the new spirit of democracy to the old values of learning.”

In 1962 total enrollment at the University of Connecticut was 12,000 at the main campus in Storrs and across the regional campuses; by 1971 enrollment had grown to over 23,500. During Babbidge’s tenure he oversaw the development of a Junior Year Abroad program, the elimination of the rule that women students be forbidden to wear slacks in the Student Union, and the formation of the Benton Museum of Art on the Storrs campus, the School of Social Work on the Torrington campus, and the UConn medical and dental schools, including the UConn Health Center in Farmington. While serving as President he also taught classes in the Department of History on the History of American Higher Education.

Babbidge led the university at a challenging time. As it was on almost every campus in the country, UConn students demonstrated against the war in Vietnam and on racial discrimination. On November 26, 1968, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) demonstrated against the recruitment on campus of students for the chemical company Olin-Mathieson. Sixty-seven students were arrested for demonstrating and Babbidge called it “the saddest day of my life.”

For what he stated was a promise he made to himself to not hold the job for more than ten years, in October 1971 Babbidge announced that he would resign from the Presidency of UConn on October 1, 1972. More than 7000 students, staff and faculty petitioned his resignation, asking him to reconsider, but to no avail.

After his time at UConn Babbidge returned to Yale as Master of the university’s Timothy Dwight College; in 1976 he became the Hartford Graduate School’s first president. He even briefly dabbled in politics, running for Governor in 1974. Babbidge died on March 27, 1984, from cancer.

During Babbidge’s tenure the UConn library gained its 1,000,000th book. Even before Babbidge left office plans were drawn up to build a new library, given that the space in the Wilbur Cross Library had exceeded the limits of the collection and library services. A study done after 1972 determined that the Wilbur Cross Library had space for just 753 students, less than 5% of the student population.

Groundbreaking for a new library costing $19 million was on July 10, 1975. The library had seven floors with a total 385,000 square feet and shelf space for 1.6 million volumes.

The building opened in 1978, known then as simply the University of Connecticut Library. After Babbidge’s death in 1984 the name was changed to honor the university’s 8th president.

UConn’s Black Students Protest in Wilbur Cross Library, April 22-23, 1974

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

The students filed into the building, one after the other. They made their way to the east wing, where they fanned out among the tables and chairs. Some pulled pen and paper from bags, others opened books carried under arms. “Right on, this gives me a chance to tighten up on my studyin’,” someone said. Most stayed silent.

For the staff on duty, nothing seemed amiss. It was April 22, 1974, an ordinary day at the Wilbur Cross Library on the University of Connecticut campus. Masses of students moved in and out of the building, and the staff served them as usual. The trouble came at closing time.

Just before midnight, an employee asked the 200 or so black students gathered in the library to leave. The students stayed put. They had come to study—in part.

But they had also come to protest.

The early 1970s were a turbulent time for the University of Connecticut. The social awakenings of the 1960s had taken their toll on the university and its beloved president, Homer D. Babbidge.

Toward the end of his term, Babbidge had to contend with a series of high-profile protests against the U.S. war in Vietnam.

In 1967-68, demonstrators led by the local chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) disrupted on-campus interviews held by recruiters for Dow Chemical Company and the Olin-Mathieson Corporation. At the time, both companies produced munitions and chemical weapons for the U.S. government.

UConn President Homer Babbidge in “Diary of a Student Revolution,” 1969.

During the demonstration against Olin-Mathieson in November 1968, President Babbidge sent in 200 local police to disperse crowds and arrest protesting students and faculty. These events were later chronicled in a television documentary, Diary of a Student Revolution.

In 1970, Babbidge faced continued actions on the part of SDS and other student groups. During the spring semester, students continued to protest the U.S. involvement in Vietnam with an occupation of the ROTC hangar and a general strike against the war. In need of a respite, President Babbidge retired from his position in early 1972.

After a long and torturous search for a replacement, Glenn W. Ferguson became university president in May 1973. His tenure would at times be just as rocky as his predecessor’s.

Demands made by UConn’s Black Students, April 22, 1974.

Ferguson faced a tangle of difficult issues from his first day in office: the coming of collective bargaining for faculty and staff, discontent over the campus bookstore, upheavals in the Anthropology Department, and the rising demands of women and minority students.

The latter concern pushed the group of black students to occupy the library. It also brought them into sharp conflict with their new president.

On April 11, a few weeks before the library sit-in, 300 black students marched to Gulley Hall, home of the university president’s office, to deliver Ferguson a list of demands.

Among other things, the students demanded that the university reunite the recently divided Anthropology Department; conduct an investigation into two professors the students accused of producing racist research; support the construction of an Afro-American Cultural Center; and provide greater recruitment and support for black and other minority students.

President Ferguson responded to the list of demands in a letter to Rodney Bass, Chairman of the Organization of Afro-American Students, on April 16, 1974, five days after the initial protest.

Local police enter Wilbur Cross Library to remove protesters, April 23, 1974.

Ferguson wrote that “the demands are timely, well-presented, and deserve a definitive answer.” After an introductory note, he spent three pages answering each point in detail. He finished the letter by thanking Bass for bringing the issues to his attention and affirming that the University of Connecticut had an obligation to support its minority students.

Yet the coalition of black students deemed the president’s response anodyne and evasive.

In a reply delivered to Ferguson the following day, the students characterized his letter as “middle of the road.” It signified what the students had come to expect from administrators on campus—“vague and ambiguous procrastination.”

Absent any real commitment from the president, the students felt compelled to take their message beyond the confines of Gulley Hall. Ferguson’s lackluster response had pushed the students to further protest.

Studying together in the library after hours on the night of April 22-23, the coalition of black students sought to increase the pressure on administrators to meet their demands.

Not long after the sit-in began, campus police and other university officials gathered outside the building. Someone informed the students that the library was closed and they would have to leave.

The students refused, instead reading a prepared statement. They planned to occupy the library until President Ferguson and other administrators met with them at 6:00 am to discuss their demands. If the administrators failed to show up, the students would remain in the library until they did.

A tense stand-off ensued. Around 3:00 am, the students received a notice from Ferguson instructing them to leave in fifteen minutes or be in violation of university regulations and state laws. If they stayed, they would be subject to sanction and arrest. The students held firm, leaving the university administrators struggling to find a solution.

By 6:00 am, it had become clear that the students had no intentions of leaving the library, and President Ferguson and the other administrators had no intentions of meeting with them. By that time, around forty-five police officers had also amassed outside the library. After about an hour, the administration sent in the police to forcibly remove the students.

Police officers, sometimes four at a time, pulled and dragged the protesting students out of the library and then packed them onto waiting buses. They were brought to police stations in Mansfield and Stafford Springs, where they were charged with criminal trespassing and other offenses.

The protesting students reported being physically and verbally abused by police. One student was even admitted to the infirmary because of his injuries.

Ferguson’s decision to call in the police provoked an immediate uproar on campus and throughout the state. Praise and condemnation for both the students and Ferguson came from many quarters.

A number of individuals and groups offered their support for the students.

An editorial in Contact, the newspaper produced by the Afro-American Cultural Center on campus, described Ferguson’s decision to send in the police “an act of monumental stupidity and arrogance.” A student group at Trinity College went further, calling it “savage racism.” A letter from the parents of one UConn student wondered if Ferguson had considered how his “rash and callous action” would hurt the students’ future prospects.

Most notably, a group of about seventy mostly white students and a few faculty members held an identical protest in the library the following evening. The solidarity protest was again broken up by university staff and local police.

Ferguson also received his fair share of support. One letter sent to the president’s office praised the “hard line” he had taken against the students. Another letter commended his “prompt and decisive action.”

Contact, a UConn Student Publication, May 1974

Although some of the supporting letters acknowledged that the students had a legitimate grievance, some reflected condescension or outright racism. One letter writer not only praised Ferguson’s decision to call in the police but offered his own assessment on the issue of an Afro-American Cultural Center: “I have been to Africa, and if what I saw there represents black culture, I think the world is just as well off without it.”

After intervention by local chapters of the ACLU and NAACP, among others, the president’s office helped get a nolle verdict for the arrested students. Instead, they faced internal discipline from the dean’s office.

April 24, 1974, issue of the Connecticut Daily Campus

The library sit-ins illustrate the dramatic changes underway at the University of Connecticut in the early 1970s. On the Storrs campus, students and staff strained under many of the same pressures felt throughout the United States at this time.

The letters in support of Ferguson’s actions signaled a growing backlash against radical protest, while the students’ actions highlighted the increased militancy of the movements for black and women’s liberation. The university, in short, had become one battleground in a wider conflict threatening to tear the nation asunder.

Many more photographs of this event are available in our digital repository, at http://archives.lib.uconn.edu/islandora/search/black%20student%20protests%20in%20Wilbur%20Cross%20Library?type=dismax

Instilling Catholic teaching into the Labor Movement: Reverend Joseph Donnelly and the Diocesan Labor Institute

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

Front cover of Social Action Bulletin (1948)

In June 1951, the Reverend Joseph Francis Donnelly sat before his typewriter, polishing the latest report on the Diocesan Labor Institute. As head of the organization, Donnelly had the job of documenting the institute’s work over the previous year. He covered everything from local chapter reports to national news to social events. The tone ranged from dull to depressing, punctuated only by Donnelly’s fierce passion for his work and a deep frustration with the lack of progress.

“Great segments of the working class know

Photo of an unidentified priest leading local educational program (date unknown)

nothing of the Church, and what may be more dangerous are wholly indifferent,” Donnelly lamented. The institute’s “puny efforts,” he feared, had only reached the fringes of organized labor in the state. “A vast neglected area,” he went on, “needs many hands, much effort, and much zeal.” After almost ten years, it felt like the institute’s work had barely begun.

In the early 1940s, Donnelly, then a parish priest in Waterbury, Connecticut, sought to organize an influential program of Catholic social teaching. Among the state’s workers, he found a paucity of knowledge about the Church’s teachings. In particular, he wanted to raise awareness about the papal encyclicals on organized labor and social justice. With support from the Most Reverend Maurice F. McAuliffe, Bishop of the Hartford Archdiocese, Donnelly organized the Diocesan Labor Institute to carry out his plans.

Essay contest brochure (1953)

The institute soon established chapters in Connecticut’s major industrial towns, where local priests offered classes in Catholic social teachings and the rudiments of labor unions. It also sought to foster cooperation between workers and management as well as root out Communist influence in local unions.

The institute’s educational

Essay contest brochure (1953)

programs initially proved successful. The director of each local chapter was free to organize programming as they saw fit. Most often this meant persuading a group of ten to fifteen workers to spend nights studying the encyclicals. At times, activities expanded to include presentations, forums, and radio programs. In the early years, chapter directors reported strong attendance, the number of local chapters grew, and the work gave Donnelly a sense of cautious optimism.

But there were challenges too. Overall attendance was low. Invitations to management were rebuffed. And local directors often could not find the time or resources to organize activities. As the years wore on, the greatest difficulty was the simple fact that many of the state’s labor leaders had already moved through the program. Donnelly and others involved in the institute responded by broadening their approach.

Worker survey from Naugatuck Valley chapter (1955)

Beyond regular educational programs, the institute published the Social Action Bulletin. This small publication circulated among the priests and convents of the Hartford Archdiocese. It aimed to highlight the social philosophy of the Church and was well received, though it ceased publication in 1956.

Worker survey from New Haven chapter (1954)

In addition, the institute held an annual Social Action Sunday beginning in 1949. A special day of observance, the event featured sermons emphasizing the Church’s social teachings and the institute provided a special pamphlet for church members. The number of pamphlets handed out could reach almost a quarter million.

The institute also took steps to reach Connecticut’s working community outside of the church. One method was an annual essay contest held in local parochial schools. The institute convinced labor unions to provide a cash prize for the best essays on topics like the “Duties of a Worker,” “The Obligations of Ownership,” and “Profits and the Moral Law.” Around 2,000 high school and college students submitted essays each year.

Front cover of The Caldron, another Diocesan Labor Institute publication (1954)

In 1949, the institute began to give out the McAuliffe Medal Award to local labor and industry representatives who conducted industrial relations with a high moral standard. Named after Bishop McAuliffe, who died in 1944, the ceremony usually attracted around 500 people.

These various projects yielded modest victories, though not enough to temper doubts about the institute’s performance. In his annual reports, Donnelly did not hide his concerns. He warned local directors that they “must be reconciled to much energy and effort with scanty immediate results.” Their work could not be measured in quick returns, for as Donnelly had to admit, “an untroubled lack of interest makes our soil a stoney [sic] ground indeed.”

In 1954, the institute took a major step to revive its efforts. It conducted an extensive program of worker surveys in an attempt to connect with an ever-more aloof working-class. Over 1954-1955 and again in 1955-1956, local directors held a series of ten meetings with local labor representatives. At each meeting, the chapter director raised one of the survey questions and then held a general discussion on the topic. The discussions lasted for an hour or more, though most attendees felt they barely scratched the surface in that time. As usual, attendance was erratic. But the discussions themselves proved revealing.

Pamphlet prepared by the Diocesan Labor Institute and handed out during their Social Action Sunday event (1956)

The questions could be narrow, such as “What do employees think of their jobs?” or “Are wage levels adequate?” Other times they were broad, like “What do workers think of religion?” or “What’s ahead for unions?” The responses usually left local priests equal parts troubled and confused.

In their survey reports, local directors complained that workers still knew little about Catholic social teaching. More disturbing, they showed no interest in learning. Chapter directors also bemoaned “a widespread ignorance” about union rights. Most workers, they noted, rarely attended meetings, cared only about good contracts, and preferred to let the union leadership take charge.

Pamphlet prepared by the Diocesan Labor Institute and handed out during their Social Action Sunday event (1956)

The directors were also surprised by what they heard. They learned, for instance, about the changing roles of women. “Strange as it may seem,” a priest from Naugatuck Valley wrote, “some women claim they have benefited from working outside the home.” The priests also registered a growing resentment over automation. The Bristol-area director quoted one worker as saying, “The pride in doing a thing well, in watching something take shape through our own efforts is going.”

The surveys generated a wealth of information about local workers. But it was not enough to shore up the institute’s faltering mission. Donnelly and the other parish priests soldiered on into the mid-1960s, often taking up other social issues such as civil rights. Still, their work became desultory, sustained only by the members’ commitment to Catholic social thought. Donnelly resigned himself to a community of workers “dulled by years of industrial prosperity and now with little concern for socio-economic problems.” In 1965, the Hartford Archdiocese made him Auxiliary Bishop, where he served until his death in 1977.

 

Celebrating the 150th Birthday of a UConn Legend — Edwina Whitney

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

International House (originally the Whitney House), 1964

Walking around the Storrs campus, you might notice the name “Whitney” in places. It rests on a street sign here; sits in stone above an entrance there.

But who is this Whitney? And how do they fit into the University of Connecticut’s long history?

The Whitney family made a lasting impression on the University of Connecticut, though that impression has faded with time.

Edwin Whitney, a local school teacher, built the first building and provided the first land for the school when it was founded in 1881 as Storrs Agricultural College.

Edwina Whitney, ca. 1900

Edwin completed the structure in 1864 with the plan to open a private school for boys. But he offered it to the state a year later as a home for Civil War orphans. It served this purpose until 1875 when all the children had aged out of the program.

The building and its fifty-acres of land were then sold in 1878 to Charles and Augustus Storrs, who handed the parcel back to the state a few years later to help found the institution that became the University of Connecticut.

Edwina Whitney, named after her father who died shortly before she was born on February 26, 1868, also played an important role in the early history of the school.

Edwina grew up in Storrs and spent most of her life there. Her mother even operated the post office out of their home for a time.

Edwina Whitney, ca. 1930s

Edwina left Storrs to attend Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1894. She then taught for a year in Wisconsin before returning to Connecticut. After completing a summer library science course at Amherst College, she took the position as College Librarian in 1900. She would hold it for the next thirty-four years.

Edwina’s career as college librarian began in spartan circumstances. The library at what was then known as the Connecticut Agricultural College was kept to two rooms in the main building, lighted only by dim kerosene lamps.

Over the years, library accommodations (as well as her salary) improved, though student behavior stayed a perennial problem. She noted in her diary that she felt at times “like throwing the books at students,” but she soldiered on nonetheless.

Along with her library duties, Edwina also taught courses at the college, usually in German or American literature. Occasionally, though, she was pressed into teaching a subject outside her expertise.

Whitney Hall

During the First World War, she was tasked with leading 100 students in a course on Connecticut geography. When she protested that she knew nothing about the subject, Charles Beach, President at the time, told her: “Well, nobody else does. So do it. It’s up to you.” Mercifully, she only had to deliver a few lectures before most of the students were drawn into the war effort.

When Edwina became librarian in 1900, the CAC faculty numbered only nineteen and the population of Storrs was a paltry 1,800 persons. Thirty-two and single, she found the social life around campus stifling.

In particular, she resented having to sit out social events due to her unmarried status. Some of the sharpest barbs in her diary were reserved for these occasions.

Writing about one celebration on campus, she sardonically recorded: “Unmarried couples made goo goo eyes and finally anchored by each other’s side, while the few old maids like myself wandered around disconsolately counting the minutes until we could decently leave.”

Edwina Whitney, ca. 1930s

In later years, Whitney’s social circle widened and she became a fixture in the town, taking on prominent roles in her church, community organizations, and even serving as local historian.

In 1934, Edwina was forced to retire from her position as college librarian, a fact she accepted with bitterness at first. Some of her supporters around campus urged her to challenge the decision, but she declined.

A faculty committee was drawn up to recognize her achievements, and she received an honorary degree at commencement that year. An issue of the school newspaper was also largely dedicated to her legacy.

In 1968, on her centennial birthday, the University threw a celebration in her honor, and she passed away two years later in 1970.

Edwina Whitney on her 100th birthday, February 26, 1968, with UConn President Homer Babbidge

Edwina Whitney Residence Hall, named after the former librarian in 1938, still stands on the Storrs campus today, as does her original family home.

The family home became known as International House in 1964, a gathering place for international students on campus. Later, it held the Division of International Affairs. Now it sits unoccupied, only adding to the picturesque landscape around Mirror Lake.

In 1928, the original building Edwin Whitney built became faculty housing until it was condemned by the state and razed in 1932. Only a stone marking the front-step remains.

Edwina Whitney on her 100th birthday, February 26, 1968

A portrait of Edwina Whitney can be found in the Wilbur Cross building, which was constructed in 1938-1939, specifically to be the University’s library.

In a speech, Walter Stemmons, one of UConn’s great chroniclers, said that a university is really just an idea. But surely the books and buildings count for something too. The Whitney family’s story, at least, shows how central they were to the University’s early years.

Connecticut Women’s Land Army

 

This post was written by Shaine Scarminach, a UConn History Ph.D candidate who is a student assistant in Archives & Special Collections. 

The Second World War upended domestic agriculture. Across the United States, farms faced an acute labor shortage as workers left the land for military service and industrial jobs in the defense industry. The federal government responded with a nationwide plan to put high school students, immigrants, and even convicts into agricultural service. Founded as an agricultural school in 1881, the University of Connecticut was primed to support the government’s efforts.

A notable example of UConn’s support for this plan came through the Connecticut Women’s Land Army (CWLA). The CWLA sought to train young women in agricultural work and place them on local farms in desperate need of labor. By serving in the land army, young women would receive training in modern agricultural practices and fulfill their patriotic duty by providing food for Americans at home and abroad.

The Connecticut program began in the summer of 1942 under the direction of Corinne R. Alsop. Alsop had served as a Republican in the Connecticut House of Representatives, and was a cousin and close confidant of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Alsop recruited thirteen women to take part in a two-week course taught by faculty from UConn’s Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture. Training covered everything from cleaning barns and washing milk bottles to driving tractors and applying pesticides. With their training complete, seven of the women were then placed on local farms.

The initial program was deemed a success, though some revisions were in order. Judith Churchill, one of the trainees, wrote to Alsop after working on a farm in Litchfield County. Churchill described the job as “most interesting and successful.” But she felt the program would benefit from more specialized training. Alsop and the head of the program at UConn, Wilfred B. Young, agreed and changes were made as the program entered its second year.

The new program, which began in February 1943, reflected a more ambitious vision. The course would still last two weeks, but trainees would specialize in either poultry or dairy work. Also, the course would no longer be a one-time affair. Alsop and Young aimed to have about twenty students trained and placed on farms every two weeks. The expanded program was made possible with increased support from the Farm Security Administration (FSA) and other federal agencies.

In the revamped program, all costs would be paid by the FSA as long as the trainees agreed to serve on a local farm for at least three months. This new offer succeeded in attracting a range of applicants. Women of all ages and occupations, and living as far away as Virginia and Missouri, wrote to Alsop and Young for more information about the program.

Even with the diversity of applicants, most trainees were young white women in their late teens and early twenties. The majority came from within Connecticut and almost all admitted to having little to no experience with farm work.

The rare exception was a Chinese exchange student named King Sze Tsung, who was in the country learning to teach braille to blind children. Sze Tsung, or Jane as she was known, even received coverage in the local newspaper.

When the first group of trainees arrived on the Storrs campus in February, they faced the daunting prospect of beginning their training in the middle of winter. But the school newspaper, the Connecticut Campus, reported that “despite the biting winds, freezing temperatures, and the snow covered ground,” the women were “cheerful, eager and full of spirit.”

The trainee’s day began around 5:30am. The women milked cows, fed chickens, cleaned utensils, and tried their hand at other farm tasks. Along the way they received instruction on more challenging jobs like cooling and bottling milk or grading eggs. The day ended around twelve hours later with dinner and socializing in campus facilities.

Despite the positive response from trainees, high hopes for the program were soon dashed. In particular, attendance fell well short of the initial goal. Meanwhile, the state’s labor shortage continued to hinder agricultural production. But the program received a publicity boost in March 1943 when Eleanor Roosevelt paid a surprise visit to the Storrs campus.

Accompanied by CWLA director Alsop, Roosevelt spent her time at UConn visiting with President Albert N. Jorgensen, delivering a lecture on the importance of youth involvement during the war, and taking a tour of the poultry houses, dairy barns, and dormitories used to train and house the CWLA members.

After finishing the two-week course, CWLA trainees were placed on farms around Connecticut. The women were guaranteed room and board and a salary that ranged from $45.00 to $75.00 a month.

Once on the farm, the women found themselves faced with a wide range of tasks.  They might take on work for which they had been trained or be pressed into jobs that fell well outside their instruction. For example, one trainee recounted her dismay at having to face off with a troublesome tractor engine.

Nevertheless, local farmers generally responded positively to the CWLA recruits.

In job surveys sent to Wilfred Young, farmers praised the instruction offered by UConn and commended the work done by their new employees. Some even planned to rely on CWLA labor in the future.

CWLA recruits also spoke well of the program. Marie Sullivan, a trainee who worked on a farm in Middletown, reported that she “enjoyed the work immensely.” Another named Polly Brooke said she “liked every minute of the work and would do it again.”

For some though, the adjustment to farm life was not always easy. Recruits often complained about poor housing, a lack of proper training, and the dearth of social life on the farm. Farmers too grumbled about the women’s lack of skill, charged them with laziness, and pressed Young to instruct future recruits on how to better integrate into farm life.

One farmer, for instance, lamented that his trainee never left him and his wife alone. “While we want her to feel at home,” he wrote, “we feel she is taking some advantage of this.”

By the end of 1943, several waves of recruits had passed through the program and been put to work on Connecticut farms. In the end, though, both Alsop and Young offered a gloomy assessment of the program.

Young wrote that despite large numbers of applicants, many women failed to show up for one reason or another. In an interview with the Connecticut Campus, he noted a number of challenges to recruitment. The CWLA had a small publicity budget, hours and wages for factory work were better than in agriculture, and, Young feared, many interested women may have been scared off by the thought of hard labor on the farm.

Alsop echoed Young’s view, though she added that prejudice toward hiring women for farm work also impeded the program. But she argued that the CWLA should not be judged by the number of placements.

In her estimation, the Connecticut Women’s Land Army had come a long way. “There is still more pioneering to be done,” she wrote, “but the first roads are cleared.” The program continued to run for the remainder of the war, though it never proved as successful as some had hoped.

The Blizzard of 1978 “Stops State Cold”!

It started snowing in the early morning of February 6, 1978, in Connecticut and across the entire area from New York City up through New England. Thirty hours later there were over two feet of snow in some places, including on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs. The famous Blizzard of 1978 is still one for the record books, with the cost for damage over $25 million statewide and the deaths of six people including four men who had heart attacks from shoveling snow. Governor Ella Grasso shut down the state for three days, hundreds of cars were abandoned on state roads and thousands of people sought refuge in emergency shelters. President Jimmy Carter declared Connecticut and the other New England states a disaster area and federal troops were called in to help the state recover from shoulder high snow drifts and blocked roadways.
On the UConn campus it was more of a party atmosphere, with students having snowball fights, sledding down Horsebarn Hill, and enjoying a couple of days of no classes. Twenty students were treated at the University Health Services for snow related injuries, including one who broke his foot jumping from the upper story of a dormitory into a pile of snow below. There were reports of other students doing the same thing, except they did so with no clothes on (see the article “‘Skin’ Diving Becomes Winter Sport,” from the Connecticut Daily Campus of February 8, 1978). University Facilities was busy with round-the-clock plowing and shoveling, and classes finally resumed on February 9.

Car meets Duck Pond, 1972

We recently came across a folder of photographs in the University Photograph Collection that we just had to bring to the attention of our blog viewers. Luckily the photographs were accompanied by a note written by Doug Cutchins, a UConn History graduate student who worked as a student assistant in the 1994-1995 school year at what was then the Archives Department of the UConn Library. Doug found the photographs in the Archives and interviewed the professor whose car is the subject of the photographs over 20 years earlier. With Doug’s permission we are using his writing (below) although we have made a few minor changes.

Here’s the story of the photographs:

On January 17, 1972, UConn Professor Bob Asher parked his car on the road above the Duck Pond, the body of water now better known as Swan Lake, as he did every morning. While he had remembered to set the parking brake he had neglected, he later assumed, to put the car into “Park.” The cold of the day froze and snapped the parking brake cable, and the wind blew the car down a hill, where it hit a rock or stump, swerved at a ninety degree angle, and skidded out onto the frozen pond.

Professor Asher received a call at his office from the University police, who told him his car was out on the ice. Rather incredulous, he waited until they came to his office to get the full story. The police walked into his office, and apparently glared at his print of Andy Warhol’s “Pigs” painting on the professor’s wall. Prof. Asher then decided to move the meeting out to the pond.

A tow truck was called, but refused to go out onto the ice. As everyone watched, the wind picked up again, blowing the car further out onto far thinner ice, which the car soon started to break through. Eventually, someone was able to get to the back bumper of the car with a cable, and it was pulled out of its partially-submerged state onto the hard ground.

The car was then towed to a local garage, where it was left out overnight. Unfortunately, since it had been under water, the engine block froze during the night, killing the car. The garage offered Prof. Asher $1100 for the car as scrap. Prof. Asher agreed immediately since he had bought the car used only a year earlier for $1000.

Asked if he was sure that the car hadn’t been pushed by students, he said he was sure that was not the case since the incident occurred during Winter Break and the doors were locked and there was no indication that the car had been tampered with when it was brought up from the water.