This Memorial Day, I found myself thinking about those who came before, and the ways in which they gave their lives to protect our country. As I went through my archives, one name that came out from the pages of a 1918 issue of the Alumni News was Eugene Russell Wheatley.
“Bus” Wheatley had the misfortune to be the first UVA engineering student to die in the First World War. Like his more well known predecessor James Rogers McConnell, he was an aviator. Unlike McConnell, who flew for the Lafayette Escadrille, Wheatley was a cadet in the Royal Flying Corps, the predecessor to the RAF. Both died for the war effort before the United States officially entered, in April 1917. In fact, Wheatley perished nine days short of a year after McConnell, on March 10, 1918, in the most ironic of accidents: while flying a training mission, his plane caught fire. T.J. Michie Jr. relays what happened next: “Rus managed to sideslip the machine down safely, but landed on a railroad track and was run over by a train, which I think is the worst luck I have heard of in the war.”
But where McConnell is famously memorialized in the Gutzon Borglum statue The Aviator, little save the plaque above brings Wheatley to our remembrance. Perhaps it is a difference in their respective statures at the University; where McConnell was King of the Hot Feet (and, apparently, a Seven), Wheatley was an engineering student, a member of Theta Delta Chi, who otherwise apparently kept to himself. That we remember McConnell is inevitable; we should spare a thought for Wheatley and others like him, who though less sweeping in their heroic gestures still made the ultimate sacrifice.
UVA Today: Renovated Rotunda returns as element of UVA graduation. As promised, the University’s yearslong renovation of the Rotunda is wrapping up in time for students to begin using the new spaces in the fall. I’m excited by the progress and eager to see an old friend renewed, but I’m also a little wistful.
The picture above is from the tour of the Rotunda that I took Reunions weekend 2014. The tour allowed alums an unusual amount of access to the building, even including normally off limits rooms like the north clock room. That was because the interior had already been emptied in preparation for the second phase of the Rotunda’s renovation, which included major overhauls of many interior spaces… including the dome room.
I’m not especially nostalgic for the acoustic tile shown on the Rotunda ceiling in the photograph above, but it makes me somewhat melancholic that it’s gone—along with some other familiar features of the interior, like the double-curved ground floor staircase (introduced in a post-Jefferson renovation, and a copy of the ones Jefferson did design on the second floor). The Rotunda will still be there—but it will be changed in a thousand small ways.
But… that’s the passage of time, and the story of the University of Virginia as a whole. We want to hold onto the familiar, not recognizing that doing so may hold back progress. I’m really looking forward to students using the space again, and only a little melancholic about the loss of aspects of the space that will now only exist in my memory.
Following up on Don Loach’s comment on my post about Edwin S. Williams, the Virginia Glee Club‘s first black member, I dug into some of the back story. It turns out the Glee Club wasn’t the only organization helped through the pains of integration by UVA president Edgar F. Shannon’s assistant Paul Saunier.
An article in UVA Today about Saunier from 2014 gives the highlights of his career. Arriving at the University to advise Shannon about public relations, his first advice was that race was, in the early 1960s as the Civil Rights movement unfolded, the biggest single public relations issue that the University faced—and it couldn’t be fixed by PR alone.
One of the first targets was life on the Corner, almost entirely segregated in 1962—until Saunier visited merchants one by one and pointed out that, given the international enrollment at UVA, they might unwittingly be refusing service to a prince, resulting in a PR nightmare. The Corner, with the shameful exception of the White Spot, was duly integrated two years before required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. One imagines that the conversation with the Route 29 truck stops went similarly, only backed up by the force of the newly passed act.
There’s plenty more in the article about the real, pragmatic work done by Saunier to ensure that black students not only matriculated but graduated. It’s well worth a read, and a realization that the transition from the UVA of minstrels and blackface didn’t become the diverse place it is today without considerable work. We owe a debt of thanks to Saunier for helping the University enter the modern era.
On Saturday afternoon, we were wrapping up a tour of Virginia Glee Club archives in the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. I had just taken about 50 alums, friends, conductors and family through the items, which I knew quite well having reviewed all of them—and donated some of them myself. We had also just ceremonially donated former Glee Club director Donald Loach‘s collection of concert programs to the library, and I was feeling pretty good about myself as a historian.
Then an alum asked a question that stopped me in my tracks. “Do you know who the first African-American member of Club was?”
After a pause, I replied, “No, but we should.”
The Virginia Glee Club is part of the larger story of the University of Virginia, and that story includes discrimination against African-Americans. It wasn’t until 1950 that Gregory Swanson, a graduate of Howard Law School, applied to take graduate courses at the University of Virginia, was denied admission, sued and won, becoming the first black student at the University—only to drop out in the summer of 1951. The University’s president, Colgate Darden, said he “was not well prepared for the work.” In the early 1950s two other African Americans followed in Swanson’s footsteps, and Walter N. Ridley became the first black student not only to gain a degree at the University but also the first black student to receive a doctorate from any Southern university.
It took the undergraduate schools a few more years, but in September 1955, following on the heels of the 1954 Brown vs. Board decision, three black students matriculated in the engineering school. Theodore Thomas and George Harris dropped out by the following spring, but Robert Bland continued on and was the first African-American undergraduate to graduate from the University in 1959, nine full years after the struggle for integration started. Also at the end of the fifties, Edgar F. Shannon took over as University president, and that’s when things started to get rolling.
I knew that the first black Glee Club member had to have joined sometime after 1959. I knew the story of David L. Temple, Jr., class of 1969, who was a member of Club from 1967 to 1969 and desegregated the fraternity system at the University, but I believed the first African-American member of Glee Club came earlier.
My second thought was that he would have joined during Don Loach’s first season as conductor, 1964-65. There’s a story in our archives that the Glee Club went on tour that fall, only to have their bus refused service in a truck stop on Route 29. After the tour, Loach raised the issue with President Shannon, and subsequently the truck stops got integrated. It’s a great story, and I assumed that this young man (whose name I’m still working on identifying; I have a bunch more candidates to work through with yearbook pictures) was the first student. (Update: I was closer than I thought. See below.) But as I was flipping through the 1965 yearbook, I found a picture of one of the graduating students of the Class of 1965 and knew we had found our candidate.
In 1961-1962, the group picture of the Glee Club for the first time has a black face. (That’s the picture up above.) The young man standing on the second row to the left side of the stage of Old Cabell Hall is Edwin S. Williams, of Smithfield. He stayed in the Glee Club for two seasons—as did most members, since it could only be taken as a graded course for two years—and completed his BA in chemistry, graduating with the class of 1965. And I believe, based on the evidence I have so far, that he was the first African-American member of the Virginia Glee Club.
There’s certainly more of his story to be told, and I will continue to look for more information. But one of my first questions is: if the truck stops on Rt 29 were first integrated in 1964-65, what did Williams do when the Glee Club got on a bus in 1961-62? I think we have a lot more to learn, but I’m glad we’ve taken the first step.
Update April 28: Donald Loach filled in the missing pieces by confirming that Edwin S. Williams was still in Glee Club in 1964-1965—was the baritone section leader, in fact—and was the Club man not served at the truck stop. So the stories are connected! And we need to fix our roster information.
This is one of two issues of the University of Virginia’s magazine (variously titled the Spectator, the Virginia University Magazine, etc.) for which I would pay a high high price. The other, of course, would be a copy of the January 1871 edition that gives us the founding date for the Virginia Glee Club.
As I celebrate the appointment of a fellow Glee Club alum to the bench of the fifth judicial district in Virginia, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the company he joins of fossils who’ve been judges.
John W.G. Blackstone (1879–1880 season). Blackstone (1858–1911) was one of the more notable politicians of the 1879–1880 class (Wilson aside), serving in the Virginia State Senate from 1884 to 1896 when he was appointed the county judge for Accomac and serving as a judge on the Eighth and Eleventh Judicial Circuits until his retirement in 1908.
Oliver Whitehead Catchings (1891–1892 season). At Virginia, he was a law student, captain and quarterback of the football team, member of Phi Kappa Psi, the Z Society and Eli Banana, and editor of both Corks and Curls and College Topics. He completed law school at Virginia and practiced law in Washington, DC while his father, Thomas Clendinen Catchings, was in Congress, then returned with his father to Vicksburg to establish the practice of Catchings & Catchings. He was appointed judge of the 9th Mississippi District in 1905, and died unexpectedly of heart disease in 1916.
Duncan Lawrence Groner (between 1894 and 1896). As Wikipedia records, Groner served as a judge of the Eastern District of Virginia and as chief justice for the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, as well as serving six years in the United States Senate for Virginia.
George Latham Fletcher(seasons between 1895 and 1898, music director 1897–1898). A member of the Z Society and Eli Banana, he practiced law, served as judge of the 28th Judicial Circuit of Virginia in Warrenton, and served two terms as a state senator. Possibly the most memorable case over which he presided as judge was the divorce of future Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson from her first husband, in 1927.
Frederick Garner Duval (1905–1906 season). A member of T.I.L.K.A. and the dramatic troupe the Arcadians while at Virginia, Duval was an attorney in Alexandria and later became civil police justice there.
Sheffey Lewis Devier (1917–1918 season). Devier practiced law in Harrisonburg, and served as both a justice of the peace and judge of the juvenile and domestic relations court for Rockingham County. He later served a term as mayor of Harrisonburg.
Absalom Nelson Waller (from 1922 to 1925). Vice president of the Glee Club, he served as a county judge in Spotsylvania County for 32 years.
Robert Fitzgerald (1939–1940 season). An engineering student at Virginia, he served in the US Marine Corps during World War II at the Pacific front and and was discharged a second lieutenant. He practiced law in Falls Church, was appointed a trial judge in Fairfax County, and was later elected to the Virginia Senate.
Charles Stevens Russell(from 1945 to 1948). A Raven, he was appointed to the Seventeenth Judicial Court of Virginia in 1962, and served there until he joined the Virginia Supreme Court in 1982, retiring in 1991.
Edward Earle Zehmer (from 1949 to 1951). Another Marine, Zehmer practiced law for 23 years before his appointment to the First District Court of Appeal in Florida in 1983.
There are probably other still-living Glee Club fossils who sit on the bench, but those are the ones we know of for now. So my friend is in very good company!
Members and alumni of the Virginia Glee Club have contributed many things to the University, from musical theater to classical performances to “The Good Old Song.” But until this weekend I didn’t know that they had also contributed a piece of the University’s facilities.
I read through the 1905 edition of Corks and Curls in the San Francisco airport Friday morning. (I know, I know: the high life.) I found a page on the 1904-1905 Glee Club that I had previously missed. It listed two Humes, Howard and John, as among the officers of the combined Glee and Mandolin Clubs. Over the weekend I did some research on them.
Howard Hume, it turns out, was quite the adventurer. A physician, he got an officers’ commission in the Army Reserves in 1913 and went to Europe as a surgeon attached to the British Army during World War I. He was head of surgery and later head of the hospital at a series of camps, forts and other army posts for the next few years, even spending a few years on Corregidor in the 1930s. He continued to serve in Army hospitals across the American south in his early 60s during World War II.
John and Howard were the sons of Frank Hume, Civil War veteran and noted producer of whiskey in Alexandria at the turn of the century. And apparently John was the major donor for the fountain and wall—the Hume Memorial Fountain, with its whispering wall—that once sat in front of Monroe Hall and now is at the end of Newcomb Plaza.
So Glee Club alumni have contributed not only song, but also physical monuments to the University.
On an airplane flight yesterday that had (extremely slow) WiFi, I did a little research and came across some more information about Lewis D. Crenshaw, the UVa alum who co-authored the football song “Hike, Virginia” and put together the first modern UVa reunions in 1914.
I remain awed by his tireless energy as UVA Alumni Association Secretary, particularly by his work as the director of the University’s European Bureau during World War I. But I hadn’t fully appreciated his student involvement. In a career that included a law degree, he was at one time or another a member of Delta Tau Delta, Phi Delta Phi, Lambda Pi, the O.W.L., P.K., the Raven Society, vice-president of the Arcadians, on the board of the Athletic Association, and King of the Hot Feet.
If that last one doesn’t resonate with you, the Hot Feet were the predecessor group of the University’s IMP Society, given to elaborate rituals and a certain degree of hooliganism. According to University historian Virginius Dabney, they were apparently disbanded after a 1911 prank:
One of their more raucous nighttime performances consisted of removing the stuffed animals, snakes, and other varmints from the Cabell Hall basement, where they were stored, and stationing them behind the professors’ classroom desks and in front of their residences on the Lawn. This assemblage, which included a kangaroo, a tiger, an ostrich, a moose, boa constrictor, threetoed emu, and other animals, fowls, and reptiles, greeted the dumbfounded citizenry on Easter Sunday morning. On top of this, some well-lubricated Hot Feet bulled their way into a student’s room, roughed him up, and carried off a beer stein.
But at the time of Crenshaw’s Kingship, the Hot Feet were known mostly for their elaborate public coronations, costumes, and their public singing. Bringing it back to the Glee Club, the tune of their “Hot Feet Song” is the tune to the football song “Hike, Virginia”—unsurprising, given that both Crenshaw and his co-author Charles S. McVeigh were Hot Feet!
Craighill graduated in 1895 from the Academic Department and finished his law degree in 1896, gaining employment as a writer for a law encyclopedia before joining the firm of Fletcher, McCutcheon and Brown in New York. He died in 1948.
I think there’s something touching about Craighill’s insistence, 30 years after the debut of the song, that he deserved no credit for the “Good Old Song.” It’s not clear that, after the 1922 article, he was included in alumni outreach. He’s not mentioned in a 1935 “Alumni Advisory Board” that included other past presidents and luminaries of the group, for instance. But his name remains one of the most cited in Glee Club programs, and I believe he deserves more credit than he gave himself for the song. After all, in the drunken crowd that came up with “it cheers our hearts and warms our blood to hear them shout and roar,” someone had to remember the words well enough to write them down.
Every now and then, in the course of researching the Virginia Glee Club’s history, I find myself following up loose threads that take me to some unusual places. This week I paged through old issues of the Madison Hall Notes, the weekly journal of the University of Virginia YMCA. The journal was published from around 1905 through about the start of the first World War, at the height of the Y’s influence over the student body, and contain a wealth of information about student life—including the Glee Club.
During this period, the Glee Club ebbed and flowed, but during three of its most active years (1905-06, 1910-11, and 1915-16) it was closely associated with the YMCA, and actually rehearsed in Madison Hall. As a result, its rehearsals and performances were listed in the Madison Hall Notes. I learned about a few concerts in Lynchburg and at Sweet Briar and Hollins… and about the Grass-Hopper Cantata.
It was a busy fall. I gave my first public speech about the history of the Virginia Glee Club at last fall’s Glee Club banquet, and in the process did a little new research. I wanted to share a few notes from the background of that talk (slides here), which focused on the Glee Club’s tours beginning with its first off-Grounds concerts in the 1890s.
To do that, I’m including a short excerpt from a book I’ve been writing off and on on the history of the Glee Club. I’d love any feedback on the content below. The question I tried to answer was: given the Club’s spotty history for the first 20 years of its existence, why did it come roaring back in the late 1880s and early 1890s, going from virtual quiescence to mounting extensive tours? Here’s an excerpt that gives some of the background.
That the Glee Club’s early history should be bound to the Grounds of the University is unsurprising, if one considers both the fragile civil life and convalescing infrastructure of post-Reconstruction Virginia. That just 22 years after its founding it would be touring major Southern cities in four states staggers the mind until one thinks about one aspect of that badly injured infrastructure: the railroad.
Prior to the Civil War, the railroad did not enjoy the same rise to prominence in the South as in the North. In Virginia particularly, the spread of the railroad was hampered by the political power of the planters, who were suspicious of transportation initiatives that did not directly help get their goods to market faster, and of the elite in Richmond, who, starting with George Washington, had championed river transportation for goods, with an eye to keeping commerce in Virginia ports rather than sending it down the Mississippi to the port of New Orleans (under Spanish control until the Louisiana Purchase). In this spirit, the canal building enterprise that created the still-visible Chesapeake and Ohio Canal between Georgetown and Cumberland, MD and the James River and Kanawha Canal in Richmond sought to create water links from major plantations to ports. When railroads first started to be built in a significant way in Virginia, they were likewise viewed as ways to market for the planters; there was no vision of a network of rails that could assist with transit of goods over land and across state lines, much less comparable carriage of passengers.
After the Civil War, this began to change. The railroad company eventually known as the Chesapeake and Ohio bought smaller rail companies and began to connect the lines to out of state networks, beginning in the Reconstruction years. Following Reconstruction, the C&O was purchased by Northern rail barons and expanded still further.
And passenger trains became more widely available. In 1885, the Charlottesville Union Station, a passenger depot serving the C&O, the Virginia Midland Railway, and the Charlottesville and Rapidan Railroad opened on West Main Street in Charlottesville, where it still sits (serving Amtrak) today. Before this point, distance travel relied on horse power; afterwards, students could – and did – ride the rails.
So it was that the Glee Clubs of 1889–90, 1891–92 and 1892–93 mounted their first performances outside Charlottesville – albeit in the relatively close-to-hand locales of Staunton, Norfolk, Richmond and Petersburg. As we have seen, the Glee Club of 1889–90 had held a concert in the Public Hall in the Rotunda Annex, on April 11, 1890, and followed it that same weekend with performances in Lynchburg and Staunton. Two years later the Glee Club returned to the Public Hall on December 17, 1891, with a program that featured song in less than half the performance’s 15 numbers, the balance being devoted to banjo, guitar and mandolin works; the following night found them in Staunton, and a performance in Norfolk followed on April 20. The 1892–93 Club broadened its horizons still further, with a performance in “town” in the Levy Opera House in January, and a three city tour with appearances in the Richmond Theatre, the Norfolk Opera House, and the Academy of Music in Petersburg in February.…
After 1892–93, the group decided to travel much more ambitiously. Led by Bernard W. Moore and with help from a few graduating alumni, including George Ainslie, the group mounted its first major tour outside the state of Virginia. The 1894 Corks and Curls dramatically illustrates the growth of the group’s accomplishments, with the modest touring of 1891 through 1893 together taking up less than the space allotted to 1894.
Even before the tour proper, the Glee Club held performances in the Levy Opera House and the Staunton Opera House in mid-January 1894. The tour proper kicked off with a performance in Fayerweather Gymnasium on Tuesday, January 30, and was off to the Mozart Academy in Richmond the next day. Thursday saw the group in the Lexington (Kentucky) Opera House, and they continued in Kentucky with an engagement in the Louisville Masonic Temple on Friday. Saturday was the Grand Opera House in Nashville. The group took a day off for travel (and the Sabbath) but performed in DeGive’s Grand Opera House in Atlanta on Monday, February 5. Turning north again, they were in Chattanooga’s New Opera House Tuesday to conclude the tour on February 6. A performance in the Lynchburg Opera House on March 29 concluded the season.
How was such an elaborate and lengthy tour possible? Again, the railroad not only facilitated but was the only conceivable way to travel the miles from state to state so rapidly. Here the group had the assistance of the general passenger agent of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, John D. Potts. Apparently having no UVa connection, Potts nevertheless worked closely with the group through the 1890s, to the point of being named business manager of the group in 1895–96.
As a fourth year undergrad student, I entered Julian Bond’s course on the history of the Civil Rights movement in the fall of 1993 not knowing what was going to happen to me. I didn’t really realize how much the class was changing me until I worked on my class project, which ended up being a paper on Virginia’s Massive Resistance laws.
In that context, it’s easy to understand why university students would want to remove the name of slaveowners from buildings. And why there have been calls to tear down monuments to Confederate soldiers. I find myself looking on such calls with mixed emotions, however.
As the historian of the Virginia Glee Club, I’ve had to grapple with the University’s mixed legacy on slavery and race. I learned about the Movement there, and the Glee Club was integrating truck stops on tours during the 1960s, but many of the Lawn buildings were probably built with slave labor, and as late as Faulkner’s first year as writer in residence, his proposal (in “A Word to Virginians“) of going along with integration met with an outcry there.
One cannot change history by removing names, and one cannot remove the stain of slavery’s original sin from the United States by removing monuments. Until one understands that one’s parents or grandparents felt no shame in putting out an issue of the student magazine with a triumphant Lee standing over Grant in front of the stars and bars (see above), one can’t understand the forces that shaped the culture that exists today.
It’s literally a peek backwards in time. The infirmary (now Varsity Hall) is on the map where it was built and stood until its move in 2005 to make way for the expansion of Rouss Hall for the McIntire School of Commerce (and Rouss, Cocke, and Cabell are not on the map at all). The original Dawson’s Row buildings dot the map in an arc leading away from Monroe Hill. The lost Jefferson Anatomical Building, here labeled “Biological Laboratory,” stands on the map alongside a pair of more modern buildings for Anatomy and Chemistry, both now lost to time. Memorial Gym is still the skating pond. Carr’s Hill is a set of wooden dwellings, with no sign of the president’s home that Stanford White built — of course, this was before the University had a president. Madison Bowl, and the original Madison House building, are just the “YMCA Campus.”
And of course, the Rotunda only has one set of east-west wings, and it has a big Annex.
It’s all poised on the brink of a monumental event: the destruction of the Rotunda Annex and the burning out of Jefferson’s Rotunda on October 27, 1895. In a day the University was turned upside down. Two years later the Rotunda would be rebuilt in a grand style, three academic buildings would close off Mr. Jefferson’s Lawn, and the unprecedented fundraising challenge would prove the last straw for the old faculty government model. Within ten years the University’s first president would take office. It’s a fascinating look back into a lost world.
The best part of any reunion is the people, and I’ve learned an important lesson this time: get here early. I was never rushed, had enough time to spend with everyone, and lowered my blood pressure probably 20 or so points.
The shenanigans of our group of friends shall mostly be lost to the mists of time (or behind private walls on Facebook), but a few things stand out:
Closing down Millers on Thursday night listening to John D’Earth
After Saturday’s banquet, I had reached my quota of extroversion, and my claustrophobia kicked in. So I took my leave of my friends and walked up East Lawn, then cut across to West. As I passed Pavilion V, I was hailed by strangers sitting outside one of the Lawn Rooms, who pointed out my absence of beverage and rectified same; we exchanged pleasantries and University personal histories. Walking back down East Lawn again, I was stopped by alumni of the class of 1974, sitting outside another Lawn room drinking bourbon and smoking cigars. They pointed to my orange and blue bow tie and said, “Now that’s how it’s supposed to be done!”