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

I smell a RAT

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  Anna is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one in a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

In February of 1970 a terrorist group took over a prominent underground newspaper in New York.

The Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.), a direct-action political group, along with several other women’s groups and female “RAT” staffers took over the newspaper for what was supposed to be a single, token issue of the paper. The headline on this issue read, “Women Seize RAT! Sabotage Tales!”

This comic, published in the women’s issue of RAT illustrates the takeover which was enabled by numerous women’s groups including W.I.T.C.H.

The women’s issue featured an essay by Robin Morgan, an American writer and noted feminist activist, titled “Goodbye to All That.” The essay sharply criticizes the advertisements using photos of women that bordered on pornographic and the continual exclusion of a feminist viewpoint from the paper.

“We have met the enemy and he’s our friend. And dangerous,” Morgan wrote.

Morgan’s article rallied against the white, male domination of the radical anti-war/anti-establishment movement. She said, “Goodbye, goodbye. To hell with the simplistic notion that automatic freedom for women – or nonwhite peoples – will come about zap! with the advent of a socialist revolution. Bullshit.”

Grievances against male radicals were common among feminist writers during this period. A pamphlet written by Andrea Dworkin in 1973 titled “Marx and Gandhi Were Liberals” stated that men permitted women to take part in their vision of the revolution so long as they kept their own demands moderated and subsumed within the male-dominated agenda.

“Liberal gestures of good will are made when we are shrill enough or when we are fashionable enough as long as we do not interfere with the ‘real revolution.’ Increasingly we understood that we are the real revolution,” Dworkin wrote.

The January 25-February 9, 1970 issue of “RAT,” the last one published by the male editorial staff, included numerous articles on pornography and masturbation. An article by Uncle Leon Gussow argued that pornography gives young men unrealistic views of sex and creates a separation between him and the act of sex. The women who worked at “RAT” took issue with how this topic was approached by the male staff; they believed this article, and the paper in general for quite some time, promoted pornography. Many women saw pornography as problematic as it often portrayed violence against women and this became a major issue in the women’s liberation movement.

The women also disliked the fact that the tongue-in-cheek titles that appeared on the masthead of each issue were often demeaning and stereotypical to women, referring to them as “princess” or “muffin purchaser.”

The Feedback Page of “Vortex” following the Women’s Lib issue

After the women of “RAT” published their issue they were loath to return control to the men who had been running the paper since its inception in 1968. So they didn’t.

In the next issue, the women still made up the entirety of the editorial staff, but some men came back temporarily as production staffers to ease the transition. In a letter to the readers, the editors said they were trying to “work it out” with the men. All male staff members were eventually asked to leave the paper and control remained in exclusively female hands.

A letter to the readers from former editor Paul Simon explained that after a “stormy” meeting between the men and women of the paper, it was decided that the paper would continue to be published by the women.

The takeover at “RAT” inspired women working at other papers across the country to follow suit. In the April 4, 1970 issue of “Vortex,” an underground paper published out of Lawrence, Kansas, W.I.T.C.H. wrote a letter to the paper saying, “you are a counterfeit left male-dominated cracked-glass-mirror reflection of the American nightmare.” The letter said the group was preparing to organize a boycott of the paper.

This letter was published in the issue of the paper following issue on the women’s liberation similar to the one that initiated the permanent takeover of “RAT.” In September of that same year, “Vortex” moved to a collective model of publication. This altered the existing editorial structure at the paper and gave women a larger say in its production beyond their single issue which, unfortunately is not available at the Dodd Center Archives.

“RAT” continued its coverage of issues like the Vietnam War and the trial of the 21 members of the Black Panther Party who were charged with coordinating attacks on a series of New York City buildings. However, the new editors made sure to make women’s issues and the accomplishments of female activists more prominent.

The cover of the January 12, 1971 issue celebrated the anniversary of the women’s takeover of “RAT”

They featured letters from Mary Moylan, one of the Cantonsville Nine, a group of activists who burned draft files to protest the war. Moylan went underground, hiding from the authorities for a period and her letters about her time underground were published in “RAT” and other publications like the women-run “Off Our Backs.” “RAT” also featured articles about women’s role in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

In March of 1971, the paper changed its name to the Women’s LibeRATion.

One thing the women sought to dissemble with their takeover was the hierarchical structure that had allowed men to squelch their voices for so long. This led them to establish a newsroom that was much more free-flowing and less rigidly structured. In a letter to the readers, the editors describe the RAT work collective’s meetings as “un-chaired and chaotic.”

The paper continued publishing with relative consistency through 1972 and then stopped abruptly for several months. Then, in April of that year, a newsletter came out.

The single printed sheet explained to readers that the fate of “RAT” was in limbo due to internal fractionalization. A group of six black gay women had seized control of the paper after airing their grievances against the white feminist viewpoint that had been almost exclusively featured by the paper.

The black women writing the article said there were too many fundamental misunderstandings between the white and third-world women in the movement to be reconciled into a cohesive vision in which all voices could be heard.

 

The letter published on the back cover of the single-sheet issue asked readers to respond with feedback and monetary donations to support the continuation of the publication

The newsletter closed with a request for feedback from readers, “Your responses will determine the outcome of the almost defunded ‘RAT;”. The paper also asked for monetary donations to help keep the presses running.

Unfortunately, it appears these women were unable to keep the paper afloat either due to a lack of interest or lack of funds.

The downfall of “RAT” showcases the lack of an understanding of the idea of intersectional feminism during this time. Perhaps it also demonstrates a lack of will on the part of white feminists to create connections with minority women and engage in meaningful dialogue to understand their issues. Minority voices were not generally included in the more-prominent feminist outlets, or if they were given a space, it was still through the good graces of white editorial staffs. This is an unfortunate truth that the feminist movement continues to grapple with today.

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

Edwin Way Teale’s Photographs of American Nature

Photographs of nature may be many things. Some may be primarily artistic; some may be primarily scientific. In their simplest, most matter-of-fact forms, they are merely “catalogue” pictures of objects or creatures. The best nature photography, however, records both the object and the setting. It arrests, in its normal surroundings, some form of life, portraying it in a characteristic moment of its existence. Such pictures possess emotional as well as intellectual impact [and] carry us on an adventure of discovery. …

– Edwin Way Teale, Photographs of American Nature (NY: Dodd, Mead, 1972)

 

During his sixty-year career as an author and naturalist that began around 1930 with regular submissions to Popular Science magazine, Edwin Way Teale produced over fifty thousand pictures documenting his travels, nature observations, and personal discoveries. A self-taught (and self-financed) photographer, Teale worked with the utmost economy — careful in framing his shots, utilizing consumer-grade cameras and equipment, writing letters seeking advice from other photographers, and processing prints in his household dark room. By 1966, when Teale was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, and nearly a million copies of Teale’s books had been sold, the artistic value of his photographs was recognized throughout the world.

For his book Photographs of American Nature, published when the Connecticut-based author was 73 years of age, Teale hoped to showcase the “strange and beautiful” creatures he had encountered in his lifetime. Teale selected two hundred and eighty-nine pictures from his archive of photographs to be included in the book. Half of those pictures selected appeared in print for the first time. As Teale’s choice of images for Photographs of American Nature reveal, depicting the beauty and fragility of the natural world is simple and “matter-of-fact.” Ultimately, the best nature photographs are ordinary and spontaneous, a consequence of our human instincts not only to observe the world around us, but to recognize and to bear witness.

The exhibition “Edwin Way Teale’s Photographs of American Nature” explores Teale’s skill and creativity as a photographer and the role of photography in his writing and storytelling. The exhibition features Teale’s photographs and cameras alongside a selection of notebooks, manuscripts, letters, and drafts from the Edwin Way Teale Papers preserved in UConn’s Archives & Special Collections. A highlight of the exhibition is a collection of original photographic prints on loan from the Connecticut Audubon Society Trail Wood Sanctuary, the former home of Edwin Way Teale located in Hampton, Connecticut.

Edwin Way Teale’s Photographs of American Nature
On view: February 12 through May 4, 2018
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Gallery
University of Connecticut

Exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm
Presented by: Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library

Contact: Melissa Watterworth Batt, Curator

 

Aphradisiac

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  She is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one in a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

During the 1960s and 1970s feminist writers established themselves with a distinct and demanding voice. In order to accomplish the feat of integrating a prominent female presence into the literary world, women created and utilized exclusively female publishing mediums. Women took to using alternative methods that allowed them to cultivate this unique literary culture outside the realm of the traditionally male-dominated publishing world.

In 1985, noted librarian and author Celeste West published a book titled “Words in Our Pockets: The Feminist Writers’ Guild handbook on how to gain power, get published & get paid.” The book provided an in-depth look at the publishing world through a feminist lens and provided women with resources and options for alternative paths to publication.

The cover of the book depicts a woman’s portrait composed of the words of a poem by Denise Levertov’s from which the book gets its title. It reads: “But for us the road/ unfurls itself, we count the/words in our pockets.”

The introduction of the book states that, “The present wave of feminism is…creating a women’s cultural renaissance, the first since matrifocal times. At last, we are building, in large numbers, our own literary tradition, finding our own audience, and from these, shaping a world view.”

This book emphasizes the fact that many of the most influential members of the movement have been writers who use the power of the written word to express the urgency and necessity of the changes they demanded.

West’s book begs the question: “Who among us can afford silence?” West wanted to encourage women to make their voices heard through the literary mire that was oversaturated with male perspectives.

The book goes through a basic how to process for practical elements of publication including writing proposals, making sense of the legal jargon in contracts and financing options. The book also deals with the sexism of the industry. The book provides advice on how to deal with people, namely powerful men, who refuse to take women writers seriously and list feminist publishers and a guide on self-publishing as a means to circumvent discouraging male publishers.

“You are a writer, not a wallflower. Why wait for some gentleman publisher to sweep you into his arms and carry you off to the Big House?” West proposes.

In an article published in the summer 1979 issue of “Chrysalis” magazine, West wrote “Book publishing, like all industries, is controlled by rich, white, heterosexual men. To retain this power, their books naturally reinstate status quo attitudes of privilege and discrimination.”

The article cites the figure that 70 percent of books published were produced by 3.3 percent of the over 6000 publishing houses that existed at the time. West calls independent, alternative press outlets “the slice of tomorrow.”

The book’s engagement with the challenges female writers faced showed that even as women encouraged each other to write, the established system often operated to keep them excluded. This created a space for female-run literary publications that provided a platform for women writers who were not welcomed into traditional literary circles.

“Aphra” was an feminist literary magazine published quarterly from 1969 to 1976 out of New York City. The magazine got its namesake from the pioneering English poet, playwright and author Aphra Behn (1640-1689) who was the first woman known to have earned her living by writing.

“Aphra’s” mission statement was “Free women thinking, doing, being.” In the preamble to their first edition, the editors state that the purpose of the magazine is to provide women with an outlet to express themselves: “We submit that one reason for the form of the current upsurge in feminism…is that the mass media provides such biased and commercially oriented material. The literary and entertainment scene are dominated by male stereotypes, male fantasies, male wish fulfillment, a male power structure,” echoing West’s complaints.

The magazine was a clear response to the male domination of the literary field in contemporary American society and historically. Each issue contained a collection of “Aphra-isms” which were quotes from feminist figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth and more modern feminists like Kate Millet. The section also featured historical and modern examples of sexism from literature and the news.

“Aphra” published work from a variety of authors, including Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker, who each provided a unique take on feminist issues of the day yet they all had an underlying tone that was unapologetic and focused on confronting the problems they observed in society.

In a short story by one of the magazine’s editors, Elizabeth Fisher, titled “My Wife,” she explores the downside of the sexual revolution which allowed and encouraged women to enjoy the sensual pleasures of sex. The story is told from the perspective of a man who believes he has the honor of sexually awakening his future wife. The man becomes disenchanted with his wife soon after they are married and her body changes as a result of her pregnancies and their sex life naturally dwindles. The kicker of the story is the conclusion when the husband overhears his wife admitting to a friend that she faked every single orgasm he thought she had had with him. This sends the narrator into a devastating existential crisis as his fragile male sexual ego is absolutely destroyed.

“I look at the children. They’re my daughters, but they’re hers too. Will they, too, grow up to betray me and their husbands, a man’s whole raison d’etre?…There’s nothing left. How can I live now, how can I go on?”

This desperate conclusion to the story shows how a female writer revealed the negative side of the sexual revolution. Since women were now allowed to admit they enjoy sex, they were expected to. Despite this revolution in sexual philosophy and the growing availability of a variety of birth control methods, male views of sex remained chauvinistic and self-centered. The narrator displays a kind of toxic masculinity that created a culture in which women felt obligated to fake orgasms and feign pleasure. These women felt they had to play the role of the sexually liberated woman even when reality remained stalled in antiquated sexual attitudes that prioritized male sexuality and pleasure.

An unsigned editorial in the second issue of the magazine addresses the difficulties the second-wave feminist movement faces in terms of measurable accomplishments. The first iteration of the women’s movement in the early 20th century was focused primarily on women’s suffrage. The passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 was a clear victory for the movement and led to its dormancy for the next forty years. The goals of feminists in the 1960s, aside from fighting to achieve the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, were geared toward largescale social change. The author of the editorial astutely observes that, “It is an aim which all too often proves illusory since you can’t legislate orgasm — produce it by fiat, despite all the promises which seem to say, ‘Let there be orgasm!’”

In the spring of 1971, “Aphra” had a special “Whore Issue”. This issue dealt with problems of women being condemned for sexual promiscuity as well as the exploitation of women as sex workers.

An editorial by Fisher argues that the problem with sex is that it has been made into a commodity. Women are defined by their sexual relationship with men as a wife, a mother, a mistress or a whore. Fisher writes that by viewing sex in these terms, female pleasure is devalued and the woman is transformed into a dehumanized sex object.

While “Aphra” was primarily a literary journal, through Fisher’s editorial leadership it engaged questions of the sexist nature of sex. Fisher also wrote repeatedly on the role of men in procreation, which had recently become optional given advancements in invitro fertilization.

A similarly satirical take on issues of sexual freedom can be found in a 1973 issue of another feminist literary magazine, “Velvet Glove.” A story by Susan Watkins follows a woman working in a pharmacy who is required to inquire if a customer is married before she is allowed to sell them contraception. The female protagonist asks her condescending male manager if people could not just easily lie and he tells her she must ask anyway in compliance with the law. The protagonist’s retort is to wonder if she should also be required to ask young women buying menstrual products if they’re 12-years old. This story is another example of satirical writing which was clearly a way feminists saw fit to combat the social ills they observed.

Feminist have long been thought of as humorless and in modern times many even refer to them as “feminazis.” While much of the work published in literary journals like “Aphra” and “Velvet Glove” is of a serious nature, it also provides women with a platform to express a brand of humor that would not have been well-received by a male audience.

Even “Words in our Pockets” participates in this emergence of a female comedic culture as the copyright information on the inside of their front cover warns readers that “a Surveillance MicroblastchipTM embedded in this spine will blow you to bits in the event of unauthorized copying.”

When women were writing to and for other women, they embraced the satirical and humorous side of the movement. Women could rarely do this publicly for fear of being dismissed as frivolous; but women’s publications provided women with an outlet for their special brand of ingroup feminist humor.

Women began working their way into the literary world earnestly and consciously during the 1960s and have not turned back since. In 1960 only 24 percent of the books that landed on the New York Times Bestseller List were written by women. That number fluctuated each year but never rose above 40 percent until 1992. Since then, the gender divide has been roughly equal, though never exceeding 50 percent. It is not a stretch to say that publications like the ones described here have helped establish the feminist literary tradition that has allowed modern female writers to have much more proportional representation in the field.

“Words in our Pockets” ends on a poignant and unmistakably optimistic note. The second to last page contains the words “The End.” When the reader turns the page, she reads: “The statement on the other side of this page is false.” And clearly, that latter statement was correct.

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

The Proper Sculpture: A Week with the Charles Olson Papers

 

The following guest post is by Stefanie Heine who was was awarded a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant in 2017 to conduct research in Archives and Special Collections. Dr. Heine studied English, Philosophy and Comparative Literature at the University of Zürich. She was a Research and Teaching Assistant at the Department of Comparative Literature in Zurich. After completing her PhD (cf. Visible Words and Chromatic Pulse. Virginia Woolf’s Writing, Impressionist Painting, Maurice Blanchot’s Image. Wien: Turia + Kant, 2014), she started working on a post-doc project on the poetics of breathing and she is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto (Centre for Comparative Literature).

 

“we are ourselves both the instrument of discovery and the instrument of definition”

“this instant, […] you on this instant, […] you, figuring it out, and acting, so”

– Charles Olson, Human Universe

 

Without my knowledge, the GPS of the car I rented at Boston Logan airport was set to “discovery route”. I drove for over three hours, red maple, black oak, sweet birch and white ash making me indifferent to the fact that map turned to maze.

I arrived at the University of Connecticut on the day of the solar eclipse. Caught in those first moments of archive fever, I probably would have forgotten about it, if my partner hadn’t texted me: “You should go out now.” When I did, I couldn’t see. Only for a few seconds the blaze yielded to a clear-cut sickle through the glasses a woman lent me in front of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

These two scenes composing the mood of my arrival at the Charles Olson Research Collection kept determining my exploration of the archive, and they turned out to be instances where Olson’s paths crossed mine. On the one hand, they were points where my own research met Olson’ methods. “methodos […] turns out to be meta hodos […] the principle of—PATH”, “the way the path is known”, Olson explicates in a letter to Robert Creeley in June 1952 (152). The way the path is known involves the person on it and for Olson, research is inextricably linked to the experience of the individual who conducts it, in the very moment it is conducted. On the other hand, there are more specific correlations between what I encountered on the way to and through the archive and Olson’s methodological and poetological approaches. The title of a section of the Maximus Poems, “Each Night is No Loss, It is a daily eclipse, / by the Earth, of the Sun” (448) can be read in line with these approaches. The phenomenon of eclipse could be considered as something that happens on a continual basis when we do research and write: instances of blindness and sudden illumination reoccur, again and again. In an unpublished essay I came across in the archive, Olson explicitly comments on the overlaps of “blindness” and “recognition” in the process of literary production, the creation of poetic form: “A form does only disclose itself if a man does go blind.” (Form, no more than means, is caused) With his emphasis on the writer’s or researcher’s sensation of blindness (literary writing and scientific discovery are inextricably linked for him), Olson counteracts what he considers as the most dominate way in which knowledge is achieved, the ‘Western logos’, in which the rational mind at clear daylight engages in classification and abstraction. This method is what for Olson prevents an immediate involvement of the writer or researcher with their objects of discovery and destroys the “kinetics of the thing” focused on (“Projective Verse” 16). In the archive, the proximity to the new material as such prevented any critical distance for me. The massive amount of writing held in the Charles Olson Research Collection offers too much input to process straightaway; most of the time, I was in a haze, reading and copying as much as I could, assembling material to be ‘investigated’ later. But maybe the point where I was closest to ‘knowledge-bringing event[s]’ in Olson’s sense (he borrows that term from Maurice Merleau-Ponty, for example in A man’s life is a continual allegory) was in the archive itself.

One of these events particularly stands out: in one of Olson’s early notebooks from 1945, a passage on syntax caught my attention. Being aware that this must be one of Olson’s the very first written reflections on literary composition and one of the first attempts to formulate principles for his own writing, I was excited. But my enthusiasm was soon overshadowed by a banal fact: Olson’s handwriting, which needs some time to get used to in general, is specifically hard to decipher on these two pages of the tiny notebook covered densely with words in pencil. I was entering a domain where language becomes utterly private and is almost impenetrable because of its singularity. “Syntax is a key”, Olson writes – and it seemed to me at first sight that it would be denied to me to unlock the gate presented by Olson. “I have a hunch I allow too much of … into my syntax.” I was too curious about what he thought he allows too much of in his syntax to turn away from the passage. When I met Melissa Watterworth Batt on the next day, knowing her experience with Olson’s manuscripts, I asked her to help me with the passage. The collaborative effort turned out to be fruitful – in the process of thoroughly scrutinizing the text, one word after the other came to light. We turned the notebook around in our hands to change the angle so that a fresh perspective might change curves into letters and a magnifying glass helped to make visible what our eyes failed to see. We zoomed in and out digital images of the page on laptop and iPhone – lines turning into pixelated patches and then to a “b”, an “l”, an “o”. The last hitherto obscure word became legible when I was back in my hotel room in Vernon, and there it was:

I tend to think that I need to maintain a more natural syntax than the process of my thinking + feeling sometimes accomplishes. I have a hunch I allow too much of the complication of both to intrude into my syntax. Yet how to arrive at an objective language without changing the syntax? Nouns, verbs, and images are the answer (see Yeats or Pound for this). Actually, of course, all this is technical + the thing will come out of me as a poem. Otherwise, no. So I must continue + be led by my nose, willy-nilly. I have no choices. Hammer each step of the way. You have rid yourself of the orphic, a little. Continue to beat with the hammer to get the proper sculpture.

The proper sculpture – the image Olson uses to describe a poem in process ceased to be a metaphor when I had the deciphered passage in front of me. In fact, the whole process of deciphering echoed the activity of a stonecarver. Or, rather, the archeological experience with Mayan glyphs Olson describes in his letters to Robert Creeley in 1951. Tracking the shape of penciled lines was a sensual experience of words as things, graphite on paper, it was a physical engagement with Olson’s written material that may come close to what Olson perceived in Lerma while digging out the stones on which the glyphs are engraved, holding words in his hand as solid objects. The transformation of curves into letters and words I observed while deciphering allowed me to partake in a “kinetics of the thing”. I was involved in an act of paying attention to “what happens BETWEEN things”, which, according to Olson is one of the last “acts of liberation science has to offer” (“The Gate and the Center” 169). Between things: between the words on the page, between my eyes on the page and the digital image, between my eyes and Melissa’s.

Washington Fall 1945 I. Charles Olson Research Collection. No. 55. October 25, 1945 – December 19, 1945

The process of deciphering is not the only way in which I experienced the archival material in its physicality. A preoccupation with Olson’s papers does not only involve investigating the contents of his thought. The writings archived in Storrs do not only occupy the mind, they are things to be experienced with all senses. The material dimension of his texts does not only become perceptible through the resistance caused by Olson’s handwriting – when the words’ meaning is interrupted by their particular shape. It is primarily the things Olson used to write on that strike the eye: besides notebooks, notepads and sheets of different size, colour and texture, and objects he found in front of him like a paper placemat, he scribbled notes between the printed words of flyers and booklets, even his passport.

The principle extrications and new coordinates now called for. Charles Olson Research Collection. Prose No. 40. Holograph/typescript. 8p. ca. September – December 1951

Olson’s passport. Charles Olson Research Collection. Annotated. No. 64. 1957.

You can’t use words as ideas. Charles Olson Research Collection. Holograph. October 1964.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After this personal account of my “discovery route” through the Olson archive, a few words on the research project that led me to Storrs: In the first chapter of my planned book titled “Poetics of Breathing” I investigate how breath is discussed as a compositional principle in the context of the Black Mountain School and the Beat Generation. The focus is on concrete attempts to establish an embodied poetics of breathing. In this context, I explore how Olson sketches compositional principles based on breath in essays, poetological manifestoes, notes and letters about his own writing practice. The unpublished material I found at the Charles Olson Research Collection gives me further insights in the development of Olson’s poetics of breathing and the Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Grant I was awarded enabled me to make important steps on the path towards my book.

 

 -Stefanie Heine

  

Works Cited

Archival Material

Olson, Charles. A man’s life is a continual allegory. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Prose No. 136. Typescript. 4p. December 26-27, 1963.

Olson, Charles. Olson’s passport. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Annotated. No. 64. 1957.

Olson, Charles. The principle extrications and new coordinates now called for. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Prose No. 40. Holograph/typescript. 8p. ca. September – December 1951.

Olson, Charles. Washington Fall 1945 I. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. No. 55. October 25, 1945 – December 19, 1945.

Olson, Charles. You can’t use words as ideas. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Holograph. October 1964.

 

Published Material

Olson, Charles and Robert Creeley. Charles Olson & Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence. Volume 10. Ed. Richard Blevins. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1996.

Olson, Charles. “Human Universe”. Collected Prose. Ed. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1997, 155-166.

Olson, Charles. “Projective Verse”. Selected Writings. Ed. Robert Creeley. New York: New Directions, 1966.

Olson, Charles. The Gate and the Center. Collected Prose. Ed. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1997. 168-173.

Olson, Charles. The Maximus Poems. Ed. George F. Butterick. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

 

 

 

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.

 

A Tale Of Two Art Journals

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  She is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one of a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

The second advent of the feminist movement that washed over American society in the 1960s and 1970s like a tidal wave emphasized a pervasive message of empowerment which manifested in a variety of periodicals during this period, including art journals.

Women had largely been excluded from the world of fine art for centuries as geniuses like Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and Monet were celebrated and revered while their female contemporaries, such as Georgia O’Keefe or Frida Kahlo, were few and far between as their talent went largely unencouraged and unrewarded.

“The Feminist Art Journal” was published quarterly from 1972 to 1977 out of Brooklyn, New York by Feminist Art Journal Inc. One of the early editions of the journal from 1973 addresses the idea that women have created art for the centuries during which they were strictly confined to the home. An article titled: “Quilts: The Great American Art,” discusses how quilts, tapestries and other home décor have acted as mediums of female artistic expression that have historically been disregarded by men as mere frivolous decorations. The article states that, “Women have always made art. But for most women, the arts highest valued by male society have been closed to them for just that reason.”

An editorial from the same issue emphasizes the need of women to “rediscover their own history.” One of the primary aims of “The Feminist Art Journal” was to reclaim women’s place in art history through articles such as the one on quilts and by discussing issues of female representation in classical art. An intriguing article on Marie De Medici from the Summer 1977 issue explores how the powerful Florentine heir-turned-French-monarch commissioned portraits of herself and her life accomplishments like those that were traditionally done for prominent males of the period. Medici also pointedly decorated her palace with statues of great women like Saint Bathilde and George Sand. The article emphasizes how Marie de Medici understood the power of art as a political statement, underscoring another one of the journal’s core messages: art is political.

Interestingly, a short-lived lesbian feminist journal published from 1973 to 1975, the “Amazon Quarterly: A Lesbian-Feminist Art Journal” expressed a much different viewpoint from “The Feminist Art Journal”. “Amazon Quarterly” was published from the other side of the country, in Oakland, California by Amazon Press. It should be noted that both of these journals were published independently, sustained by revenue from subscriptions, single issue sales and advertisements. Both journals also had exclusively female editors.

The “Amazon Quarterly” commended women’s lack of participation in the male-dominated art world, in which they were routinely objectified in the works of male artists, rather than seeking to place women’s accomplishments within this patriarchal frame work.

Both “The Feminist Art Journal” and “Amazon Quarterly” promoted and provided a platform for female artists to share their literature, poetry, drawings, photography. However, “Amazon Quarterly” made promoting the art of women, specifically lesbians, its primary artistic goal, rather than engaging in discussions of history.

The division in purpose and ideology of these two journals which served, broadly, the same role, reflected a deeper division in the feminist movement between lesbians and straight women. Some lesbians believed women could not fully participate in the true revolution of the feminist movement so long as they were still sexually involved with their male oppressors, a radical idea that is discussed in articles published in the journal.

In an article, “Distinctions: The Circle Game” from the February 1973 issue of
“Amazon Quarterly” written by one of the editors, Laurel Galana, whose byline is simply a familiar: Laurel, explores these divisions within the movement.

Laurel breaks down the group of women who are feminists into increasingly small subcultures from lesbians to “new lesbians” to dykes. The “new lesbians” Laurel describes had several verboten relations including those with men and straight women, whom they viewed as “men’s women.”

Laurel herself abides by these taboos, she explains, “My energy, my time, my sisterly love was indirectly useful to the male for keeping his woman content. And secondly, I decided not to relate to straight women because they already had made a choice which did not include me – that is all of me.”

The piece goes on to criticize lesbians who distinguish themselves based on class, believing that such internal divisions will only cause the movement to fracture and be less effective. She seems to miss the irony of the fact that she believes lesbians should not associate with straight feminists and form a united front of all feminist women.

Much of the art and especially the literature published in the journal reflected the fact that “Amazon Quarterly” branded itself as a periodical that intended to cater specifically to lesbian women. Many of the pieces published in the journal deal with tales and the feelings associated with homosexual awakenings and attraction. The publication had an entire issue dedicated to the topic of sexuality as their swan song before shutting down in 1977.

While the journal ceased publication in 1977, the editors went on to run Bluestocking Books, a publishing house which published a few novels including “The Violent Sex” by Laurel Holliday. Holliday’s book confronted the evolution of masculine sexuality and behavior that has led to the sexual and social oppression of women.

Despite their differences, both these journals considered art in an expansive sense, including all forms of visual and literary art, and stressed the importance of the inclusion of the female perspective in them.

While these two journals had different audiences and somewhat different goals, they both served to underscore the important idea that art is political, and that women had to understand how they could use any and all forms of art to express their ideas and achieve their objectives.

The art of many female artists of the period, during which feminist art truly began to flourish and find its foothold, was clearly in line with this philosophy. Some notable works include Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” which portrays a dinner party of 39 notable historical women, and Hannah Wilke’s avant garde “Starification Object Series,” a series of photographs for which she covered her body with wads of gum folded to resemble female genitalia.

These two journals and the art they supported show how women utilized the arts to promote the feminist agenda as they worked toward achieving social and political equality despite divisions within the movement.

In a 1977 interview published in “Chrysalis” magazine, Chicago commented on the value of art to the feminist movement.

“Art is particularly important for women and can catapult women into a different realm of consciousness by symbolizing and objectifying our experience. That expression, that impulse, has such potential power, and it is that power that society tries to contain by trivializing, by repressing, by suppressing the art impulse,” Chicago said. “As long as women participate in that process, we will never be able to realize our full creative potential. We must bust out of that, just absolutely bust out of that and reclaim art as the basic outpouring of the human spirit and pour out our songs and all our feelings and all our beliefs and all our visions in a way that everyone can hear.”

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

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.

UConn Archives to House Maurice Sendak Artwork

Jo Lincoln Photo, courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, UConn LibraryOn behalf of the University of Connecticut, we are thrilled to announce that Archives and Special Collections will preserve and make available the artwork of Maurice Sendak.

The finished artwork for his published books, and certain manuscripts, sketches, and other related materials created by Maurice Sendak, considered the leading artist of children’s books in the 20th century, will be hosted and maintained at the University of Connecticut under an agreement approved today by UConn’s Board of Trustees.   Read more…

 

 

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.