Best known for developing the Dewey Decimal System, Melvil Dewey was also interested in the movement to simplify the spelling of the English language (as evidenced in this letter written to Alfred University president Boothe C. Davis in 1922). Dewey attended Alfred University in 1877 and had been instrumental in convincing Andrew Carnegie to donate money to construct the Carnegie Library on Alfred’s campus (it opened in 1913). Dewey continued his interest in the University with future donations and by recommending students to attend. Carnegie was also interested in spelling reform and in 1906 funded the Simplified Spelling Board of which Dewey was a charter board member. To demonstrate his commitment to the cause, Dewey even shortened the spelling of his first name from Melville to Melvil!
Hannah Simpson Spencer (born in 1838) graduated from Alfred University in 1864 and was recently honored by the Kanisteo Valley chapter of the DAR with a “Women in American History Award.” The University Archives recently received the laser-carved wooden plaque presented at the award ceremony to Hannah’s family. It will join Hannah’s diary already found in the archive collection. Hannah used her diary as both record keeper and confidante, regaling it with daily minutiae and heartfelt emotions alike. It has been transcribed and can be accessed online. Hannah’s writing is an entertaining window into the life of a young college woman finding her way. After first teaching in public schools, she entered Alfred University at age twenty-three. Her obituary gives insight into Hannah’s life after college as she joined other AU alumnae in forging a path into disciplines generally regarded as suitable only for men. “During her college course she broke in health and as the result of an extended course in sanatorium treatment, she became interested in the study of medicine. After a two year medical course and special courses at the eye and ear infirmary in New York City, lectures in surgery at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, she was entitled to a license for the practice of medicine.” As was typical of women of her time, she married and raised a family of six children. “After her children were out of arms she opened a small sanatorium at her home [in Jasper, NY]. She was successful in the use of electricity, baths, rest and carefully regulated habits of living, which are more commonly practiced by the regular medical profession than they were at that time. Her health, however, never allowed her to develop a large practice and after a few years she was obliged to give up this line of work entirely. She was always interested in forward moral and religious movements. She was from girlhood an ardent abolitionist. For twenty-eight years she was the head of the Woman’s Missionary society of the Canisteo River Baptist Association and for over twenty years she was the president of the Jasper Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. When nearly seventy she organized a scout troop in Jasper and it was a success for quite a time.” Hannah Simpson Spencer died in 1929.
As we near yet another end of the academic year, senior art students are busily preparing for their final public exhibitions. This showing of art is heavily attended and looked forward to by many as a “must attend” event. (This year it will be held Saturday, May 7th.)
One hundred years ago, another student was also preparing her senior thesis project. This hexagonal whiteware vase was created by Inez Cook in 1916 under the supervision of Charles Fergus Binns, first director of the New York State College of Ceramics. The ornate art nouveau style is created using an underglaze of pastel colors showing through an elaborate raised fretwork design.
Inez Cook donated her piece to the Alfred University Archives in 1975.
“To Mrs. A.A. Allen — For the Library’s Reading Room of Alfred University — From her sincere friend & admirer — Susan B. Anthony, Rochester — July 9, 1888”
This inscription is found in Anthony’s “History of Woman Suffrage” found in the University’s Rare Book Collection. Anthony lectured on campus in November, 1870 and became friends with Abigail Allen, a staunch advocate for women’s rights (education, suffrage, etc.). Alfred University is the second oldest coeducational college/university in the U.S. — something to celebrate not only during Women’s History Month but each and every day.
This beautiful Seth Thomas clock (patented in 1876) once belonged to the Orophilian Lyceum at Alfred University. Organized in September, 1850, the group was one of four student literary lyceums on campus for over six decades. Each lyceum had a meeting space; the “Oros” met in Alumni Hall and the clock can be seen on the far wall in their room in this 1890s photo. The Orophilian and the Alleghanian lyceums were for male students while the Alfriedian and the Athenean provided a place for female students to learn and practice their oration skills. The University Archives collection contains many of the lyceums’ ledger books documenting their meetings as well as many of their printed programs showing the variety of topics under discussion.
1885 program for the magic lantern show
“The delights of travel without its discomforts” — On a cold night in March, 1885 the students of Alfred University and the local community residents gathered in the auditorium in Alumni Hall (then called Chapel Hall) and were treated to a magic lantern show by Ragan Illuminated Tours. These shows were the 19th-century version of today’s PowerPoint presentations. Ragan lectured on “Paris, the Magnificent” while projecting images he had photographed. Paris – a place those in attendance would have been aware of but few could hope to ever visit themselves.
The University Archives has a collection of lantern slides that represent various scenes and people from Alfred. Presumably many of them were made 100 years ago as a January 18, 1916 Fiat
Lantern slide showing the Fiat Lux newspaper staff in the University library in Kenyon Hall
Lux headline suggests: “Lantern Slides of Alfred to be Made.” The article says they would be for exhibition purposes, chiefly to loan out to high schools, an early Admissions marketing campaign. The Archives also owns a lantern slide projector!
For more information on magic lantern shows, read a nice write up from Victoriana Magazine. An excerpt: “Imagine yourself back in the Victorian period, say in 1895, just before the birth of the movies. Suppose you wanted to go out for an impromptu evening’s entertainment. What would you do? The chances are you’d go to a magic-lantern show, a combination of projected images, live narration, and live music that the movies came from. They were incredibly popular 100 years ago. In 1895 there were between 30,000 and 60,000 lantern showmen in the United States, giving between 75,000 and 150,000 performances a year. What were these shows like? Most were the equivalent of our modern “Nova” or the “Discovery Channel” – illustrated lectures on subjects of popular interest like Travel, Science, and Art, using photographic lantern slides to create interest and excitement. In addition to this “moral entertainment” as the Victorians called it, there were shows that emphasized stories, songs, and comedy — the kind of shows that would soon lead to the movies.”
Arthur H. Crapsey, II was a ceramic design major at Alfred University, graduating in 1942. The University Archives recently received a framed charcoal drawing he completed in 1940. Arthur enjoyed creating original stage settings for the university’s performing arts theater productions, and acted in many of them as well. In addition to the drawing, the archive collection contains hundreds of slide images Arthur took of various AU productions after he graduated as well as some of his set designs. The Performing Arts Division today is the beneficiary of an endowed fund from him.
After graduation, Arthur joined the Air Force, joining the 306th Bomb Group. During a raid on Germany on Dec. 22, 1943, his aircraft was hit and he was injured, eventually losing his right leg due to an infection. He was awarded a silver star “for conspicuous gallantry in action against the enemy.” After leaving the Air Force as a first lieutenant in 1944, Arthur became one of Kodak’s first industrial designers and had a major and lasting influence on the company’s products. In 1972, Arthur was inducted into the “Academy of Fellows” of the Industrial Design Society of America.
(Airlift photo courtesy of Wikipedia)
In response to a Soviet blockade of land routes into West Berlin following World War II, in June 1948 the United States began a massive airlift to assist the citizens of the besieged city. It was a daunting logistical task to provide food, clothing, water, medicine, and other necessities of life for the over 2 million fearful citizens of the city. For nearly a year, American planes landed around the clock. Over 200,000 planes carried in more than one-and-a-half million tons of supplies. [excerpted from the History Channel webpage]
That fall, just months after graduating, alumnus Edwin A. Gere, Jr. was recalled for active duty for the Berlin Airlift (he had flown Seventh Air Force B-24s against Japan during the war). Gere was soon at Fassberg, a Royal Air Force base in northern Germany, flying with the 1420th Air Transport Group. “During the autumn months, I began to think of all the children in Berlin and Christmas coming up,” said Gere. His solution: “I wrote to student friends back in Alfred, asking if they could organize a so-called Operation Santa Claus with Christmas packages for the Berlin children. Their response was overwhelming!” In the end, students assembled 110 packages of Christmas cheer for Berlin children. According to an article in the Alfred University Alumni News of the time, the “only comment from Saint Nick was ‘Mission accomplished successfully.’”
In all, Gere flew 184 missions during the Airlift and in 2006, published the book “The Unheralded: Men and Women of the Berlin Blockade and Airlift” which outlines this amazing time in U.S. history.
In Nov. 1929, Mary Sherman Greene donated this “hair album” to the Steinheim Museum at Alfred University. As described on her website, Joyce Tice says “During the 1850s to 1870s a custom developed to make a small decorative wreath from the hair of a friend or relative. It was considered a good keepsake of love and friendship and was similar in nature to the much older custom of putting a lock of hair in a locket.”
The Victorian Gothic site notes: “As Helen Sheumaker describes in Love Entwined: The Curious History of Hairwork in America, hairwork in its myriad forms had not only established itself as longstanding tradition by the latter half of the 19th century, but had become an active fashion. Husbands went to work wearing watch fobs fashioned of their wives hair. Locks from the dearly departed were mounted into rings and brooches. Ladies filled their autograph books with snippets from their friends. At a time of rising commercialism, sentimental hairwork became a way both to signal one’s sincerity and, paradoxically, to stay in style.”
This booklet seems to have belonged to a young woman (probably Irena) from the Ennis family in Richmond, RI. It dates from the late 1840s – early 1950s. One page has numerous hair clippings from her siblings. Black ribbons signify the person had died, as was the case with two of her younger brothers: John Ennis, less than a year old, and Appleton Ennis, age 4. The hair and ribbon for their sister Sarah, age 7, is missing. The following poem is an ode to her…
On the death of my Sister
Our circle is broken we miss from our number,
That youth we were wont in our converts to meet,
Now low in the grave does she silently slumber,
And the heart once so cheerful now ceases to beat,
Our Sister has parted from earthly enjoyment,
She has fled from a world full of sorrow and care,
She is gone and forever = no more will she cheer us,
Her smiles and rejoicings are now at an end,
And yet methinks I see her now
With death cold sweat upon her brow
The fever flush the palid hue
That speaks the depth of nature due
She fell asleep in the arms of death
On the 28 of July, aged 7 years and 14 days. 
On November 11th we take a moment to thank our veterans for their dedicated service to our country. This photo shows members of the Army Specialized Training Program chatting with some of the women students in the fall, 1943. The military program used The Brick for its barracks in both World War I and World War II. In the second war, there were 711 enlisted men on campus from July 1943 – April 1944.
Found in the archives is a copy of a V-Mail letter sent to the University president on June 5, 1944 by Chester Flaum, Class of 1933. It’s an interesting reflection on his AU education and helps put learning in a useful perspective:
“My dear Dr. Norwood,It is thousands of miles and a long cry from Alfred to New Guinea, but as I read your recent letter, and your less recent Alumni News, my mind wandered back thirteen years, and I found myself under the pines by the banks of the Kanakadea, instead of under the palms by the shores of the Pacific.
Little did I think, as I sat in Kenyon Hall [site of Powell Campus Center], boning away at seemingly unsolvable mathematics problems, or mixing unmeaning fluids in a test tube at the Chem lab, that what I was studying then would some day be applied, to good advantage, to the conduct of jungle warfare. However the learning that I received at Alfred, and in later life has been most helpful in aiding me to perform a job for our country in an efficient way which might help, to a small extent, to get this war over with, with a quick victory, so much sooner.
My best wishes to yourself and old A.U.,
Lt. Chester J. Flaum”