Thursday, December 6, 2012

We've had some of our books for a really long time...

BCI bookplate ca1850One of the books in our rare books collection is The Greek Reader, by Frederic Jacobs, "Professor of the Gymnasium at Gotha," in an American edition produced by David Patterson, "Teacher of Languages in New York." This 1827 title was a reader used here at Brockport in the old Collegiate Institute days in the classical Greek classes. Featured here is the bookplate from this title, still here after all these years!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

1906 Girls Basketball Team

An early photograph and account of women's athletics at Brockport. The account of a game is taken from the January 1906 Normalia, predecessor to the Stylus. (Note: in this era games between the Normal School students and local high school teams were not uncommon.)

"The girls' team played their first public game January 18, with the girls of the Middleport High School. It was an easy victory for the Normal girls, winning by the score of 27 to 2. The game was played under boys' rules and was very exciting, although the Brockport girls outclassed the visitors in every department... As the game was the first that the girls had played this season there was much interest and a large crowd was in attendance. Miss Lawton played the star game for the locals, making seven goals. The team work of Miss Baily and Miss Maney was one of the features of the game."

The girls were Caton, Lawton, Snyder, Bailey and Maney. Unfortunately there was no yearbook at this point and the photograph does not indicate the player's names. The woman standing with them is most likely Ermina Tucker, a recent graduate of Oberlin College and teacher of "Elocution and Physical Culture."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Seymour Union & William Seymour

Our student union is named after two men, William and James Seymour. James, the elder brother, was a co-founder of Brockport with Hiel Brockway, but James moved on from Brockport in the early years after its founding. William however remained, and lived an extraordinarily long and successful life here in the village.

He had started in the mercantile business with his brother James, and then in the 1840s became involved in a foundry business in town (Brockport, like many canal towns of that era, was quite a hub of industry compared to the college town and commercial center of today.

This foundry produced the first batch of Cyrus McCormick's recently patented reaper (a major advance in agricultural machinery) in 1846. Subsequent disagreements over fees led to McCormick moving his operations elsewhere, and Seymour collaborated with local businessman Dayton Morgan (of the Morgan Manning House)to launch their own reaper business, based on Seymour's "New York Reaper." This business move, while successful, also brought on a long patent battle with McCormick.

In addition to his business career, William Seymour was active in civic affairs, especially in education, perhaps in part because his wife, Nancy, was one of the first school teachers in Brockport. He served on the board of the Brockport Collegiate Institute for a number of years, and played a crucial role in the "Normal School Wars" of the late 1860s.

In brief, there came an opportunity to reposition the private collegiate institute as a state Normal School, a move which would ensure the continued presence of higher education in the village, where otherwise the institute was facing closure due to financial circumstances. This opportunity created tremendous controversy over the financing required of the local community to refurbish and expand the local building to meet state requirements. The move to raise the money via a tax on residents of Brockport and Sweden was naturally a matter of great debate, and William Seymour was a leading figure among the supporters of the tax, as the only way to maintain a school of this level in the community. Without the efforts of Seymour and others the old collegiate institute would have closed, and there would be no comprehensive college here today.

Born in Litchfield Connecticut in 1802, Seymour lived to see the early 20th century, dying at the age of 101 in 1903. Retiring in his 70s, he remained active until the end of his life, making several trips to Europe in his 80s with his daughter and son in law, and visiting the Chicago Exposition in 1893. He loved to read, and could quote from memory long passages from Shakespeare. He also enjoyed playing billards with his friends in his billiards room on the top floor of his house, the building that today houses the village offices and the Brockport Museum. The painting shown here is of William Seymour in his old age, done by his niece Helen Hastings, who was later the founder of the Brockport Museum in what had been the family home. This painting hangs today in the Seymour Public Library, and was photographed by retired Brockport graphic designer Norm Frisch, who is active in local history these days.

There are some documents online in the Digital Commons local history collection about Seymour and the reaper industry, and a book was written in recent years by a scholar of agricultural history, Gordon Winder, based in part on his research at Brockport where we have materials from the Seymour & Morgan Company. (The American reaper : harvesting networks and technology, 1830-1910.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Old Neighborhood: the campus in 1902

This platmap shows the campus and its neighbors in 1902. The wing jutting out at the north end of the building was the campus school wing added in 1900, the cornerstone of which was recently discovered buried by Hartwell Hall. Notice all the homes around the school, many of which were acquired by the state in the 1950s and 1960s as the school expanded post WWII. (As another point of reference, note today's Alumni House, at the bottom end of the image, the south end of campus. By 1902 this formerly private residence had become the offical home for the principals, later presidents, of the school. Dr. Donald Tower was the last president to live in the house. After he left in 1964 the new president, Albert Brown, lived in a private home, and then the college purchased the current president's house on Holley Street.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

1900 Cornerstone Discovered!

This past week, construction workers made a fascinating discovery at Hartwell Hall. They were digging by the center steps and found a cornerstone of a previous building placed carefully in the ground against Hartwell's foundation! The stone is marked "1900" on two sides, and it is the cornerstone from the last major addition to the old building complex. That older complex was demolished in sections and replaced by today's Hartwell Hall in the years between 1938-1941.

This cornerstone is from a wing that was on the north (Monroe Avenue) side of the old campus. The wing was built circa 1900 and housed both the "Training School," as the Campus School was then called, and a new auditorium for the school. There is a 1902 special report on the dedication of the building in our Digital Commons. Also in the Digital Commons are some historic photos of the old building, including a color postcard view clearing showing the "new" addition.

The addition joined a complex whose center portion was the original building of 1835, rebuilt after a fire in the 1850s, and two wings added in the 1860s. In addition to this long-gone complex, there were a number of private homes on what is now the lawn of Hartwell, along Utica and Monroe.

The workers the archivist spoke to said that, in the course of their work this year, they have run across a number of former building sites and parts buried in the ground, Medina sandstone window lintels, concrete steps, house foundations and so forth. They said that while digging a trench parallel to Hartwell, about 10' or so out, they found the line of the foundation of the old building complex, which at its base was 5' thick of cut stone.

Plans are not yet decided for the rediscovered cornerstone, but it will be preserved for the future, as part of Brockport's ongoing story.

Friday, September 14, 2012

"Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette"

The headline here is the title of an old country classic, written by Merle Travis and Tex Willams, and captures well that era not so long ago when cigarette smoking was virtually omnipresent, including in college. While preparing for this week's 50th reunion of the Class of 1962, the archivist was struck by how common smoking was in that era. There were ads, like the one here, in the Stylus; photos of the campus bookstore showed cartons of cigarettes prominently displayed and so on. At the reunion itself, the subject came up, and among other memories several attendees recalled faculty smoking in class. It would be impossible to Imagine any of this taking place today of course. Yet, we can only wonder what elements of our day will seem startling to those who come after us!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Campus School on the Digital Commons!

For all of you who may have attended the Campus School, or did your student teaching there, or worked there, you'll be interested to know that our Digital Commons now has a collection devoted to the Campus School. It was only launched this past week, but there is some material in there already, and more will be added. If you aren't familiar with what the "campus school" was, the brief explanation is as follows.

Brockport's campus school ran from 1867-1981. It served several purposes, including offering hands on training for students learning to be teachers, and as an experimental school in which to try out new teaching techniques and technologies. It was an actual school; it varied over the years, but always included at least grades 1-8. Usually there were two sections of each grade, and the students were children from the local area for most of its history, although in the last years the school was a pioneer in urban suburban integration efforts. The children had full time teachers who both taught the classes, and oversaw the rotation of student teachers through the class. For many years the school was housed in a wing of the main building, then in 1965 Cooper Hall opened, which was built expressly to house the Campus School. (Pictured here are campus school children running around a Maypole on the lawn of Hartwell in the early 1950s.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Balopticoms & lantern slides

Pictured here is a Bausch & Lomb "Balopticom," ca1930. This antique looking device is a type often referred to as a "magic lantern" and was used to project lantern slides. If you aren't familiar with these things, the story goes as follows. Before Kodak came out with its 35mm color slide film in the late 1930s, and long before Powerpoint, if you wanted to do a slideshow, you did it with something like this Balopticom. You loaded one glass slide at a time into the projector, displaying the images for a class, a civic group etc. The slides were typically made up of two pieces of glass, one with the image on it, the other sitting on top of the image, and the two sealed round with a paper tape. One major sector of the glass slide business was educational. Companies hired photographers to shoot scenes of nature, localities and people across the world, and then produced and sold the images to educational institutions. The NY State Department of Education used to distribute slides to schools, including Normal schools like Brockport. In the college archives we have a large set of wooden cabinets with hundreds of slides, covering a tremendous range of topics, life in Hawaii or Norway, animals of North America, works of art etc. This set of equipment was a key part of audiovisual equipment here from the 1920s up through, well, perhaps the 1950s; do any readers recall using or viewing the glass slides as students or staff here?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Historical Information on the College at Brockport

The college archives has records, photographs and other materials going back almost to the founding of the school in 1835. Although visitors are welcome, and the archivist is glad to research information as time permits, a growing amount of history of the college is available online. For years we have had the archive web pages, but now in the new Digital Commons we have a whole section for the archives! Visit the site sometime and browse through yearbooks from the WWI era, or look for a relative or ancestor in one of the old Normal School alumni directories, or read one of the many excellent student papers on various aspects of the college's history.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Genial, smiling and friendly...

That's how Beryl Roberts '45 described Dr. Donald Tower in a piece in the Stylus in February 1945, when he had been here just about a year as president of the college, having taken over from Ernest Hartwell in February 1944. Tower was a native New Yorker, having grown up in Dundee NY in the Finger Lakes. He was educated in the local schools there, and then attended Albany State Teachers College and New York University. His first job after graduating Albany in 1919 was as a high school teacher in Olean NY, for $1,100 per year!  

After receiving advanced degrees he was head of the training school department at Oswego before coming to Brockport.  When he became president of this college in 1944 it was quite small, just 325 students, and the whole campus was what we now call Hartwell Hall and Alumni House (at the time, Alumni House was the president's home; Dr. Tower was the last president to live there.)

In here "Personality Plus" column, Beryl Roberts described Dr. Tower as saying that as far as hobbies went, he loved hiking, and also swimming and reading, His real hobby he said was his job, that he immensely enjoyed working with people and teaching. She noted that "Steak and French fries are Dr. Tower's favorite dish - though he admits that like most of us he hasn't partaken of them in a long time." (This was during WWII, and food rationing was in effect...) She also noted that Dr. Tower's academic interests were in English and dramatics. (Dr. Tower wrote an early book on dramatics for the college level, Educational Dramatics, 1930.)

In a Stylus article a few years later, in 1953, the writer noted that "Dr. Tower's theory of administration is one of close contact between the administrator and the administrated. At no time is the door to Dr. Tower's office closed... Dr. Tower said, 'Please don't make your story an obituary, I want the student body to know me as a person, not merely as an office holder."

When Dr. Tower retired from Brockport in 1964 he had helped establish the SUNY system in the late 1940s, and seen Brockport grow as a campus and a school much beyond what it had been in 1944. He didn't completely retire though, as he taught for several years more as an adjunct at St. John Fisher. Dr. Tower died in 1977, but is fondly remembered by many Brockport alum and emeriti to this day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cherishing This Heritage

Cherishing This Heritage is the history of the college published in 1969 as part of the observation of our centennial anniversary of becoming a state school in 1867. Wayne Dedman, a history professor at the college,was given a year sabbatical to research and write the book. It is an excellent work of scholarship that relates the personalities of the people who made the school what it was, the culture of the school and its students, and something of the history of education and teacher training as well; what were those academies anyway, or what exactly was a "Normal" school? There is also some in depth treatment of the history of the village of Brockport.

There are several copies in our circulating collection: LD571.B782 D42. Check one out soon - something a little different to read at the beach this summer!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A great sports story!

The story of the 1955 Brockport soccer team that is. They were National Co-Champions along with Penn State that year. It's a great sports story of a truly amateur team from a small teachers college defeating all comers. You can read Daniel Cody's paper on the team in our Digital Commons. Shown here is a team photo from that year.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"Our little untried craft"

Thus the first editorial staff of the Stylus described it in their inaugural issue of May 1914: "We are starting our little untried craft, 'The Stylus' upon its first voyage, which is always a more or less perilous one simply because of the very newness and unproven seaworthiness of the vessel. In the case of 'The Stylus' even the crew, the editiors, are as new and untested as the craft itself."

It is almost a century later now, and certainly the Stylus has proven "seaworthy," perhaps more so than the editors who launched it could ever have imagined! Pictured here are two of the original Stylus staff, Gertrude Cook '17 and Loyd Coleman '14.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Greek Letter Societies of Yesteryear

The room shown here may look a little sparsely furnished to us, but it was one of several rooms in the old Normal School building set aside for the fraternities and sororities of the day, and undoubtedly was the setting for many lively events. (This room was for the Philalethean fraternity.) These societies were also known as "literary societies" back in the 19th century and were a part of Brockport student life from the 1860s through the 1930s. Especially in the earlier years, when there was no student government, a limited number of clubs and so on, the societies were important sources of social, intellectual and entertainment opportunities. They sponsored debates on topics of the day, held oratorical contests, hosted dances, brought noted contemporary speakers to the school and held athletic contests as well.

By the 1930s the student government had begun, and many of the functions the societies had played were picked up by other bodies or groups, and they became more purely social. Ernest Hartwell came as head of the school in the late 1930s, and planning was launched for the "new" building (today's Hartwell Hall.) Hartwell was apparently unsympathetic to the role of the societies, and did not include rooms for them in the new building, effectively ending a long standing tradition.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Camp Totem

In 1951 the college bought a camp just north of the Adirondacks near Harrisville NY, on the Oswegatchie River. It was a wonderful camp, comprised of nine log style buildings, on fourteen acres of land, and adjacent to a fifteen thousand acre forest preserve. It was used by a variety of college groups, from the campus school to to student and other groups, but its main purpose was to support a camping experience for the Health and Physical Education majors who were concentrating on recreation. As fine a facility as it was, the distance was considerable, and in the 1960s the college sold the camp and bought the property at Fancher, just a few miles away in Orleans County. Pictured here are some Camp Totem student staff in the 1950s.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rak, kak, key, wack!

The "Class Yell" for the class of 1899:

"Rak, kak, key, wack,

Rim, ram, rine,

B.S.N.S. '99!"

It does have rather a ring to it, doesn't it? ;-) Their class motto might be a little more edifying: "Non sibi, sed aliis," or, "Not for ourselves, but for others." Pictured here is the cover of their 1899 class yearbook. It was a one time effort; in 1914 the Stylus started publication, and its June issue was for some years a commencement issue. Then the Saga yearbook began in 1929, and ran until 1996. You can find quite a bit of the college's history online by the way, at the College Archives site,  and in the new Digital Commons  where the college archives section is being built up, including this 1899 yearbook in digital form. Visit soon!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Far flung Brockport alumni of yesteryear

The college has a new "Digital Commons" site, an online page where the college is presenting articles by various faculty and much more. There is an archives section to the site, with a number of collections present already. In adding a document to the site, a list of alumni from 1867-1922, showing where they were living at that time, the archivist was struck by how far some alumni had traveled. Many of course were in the local region, or in NY, but many were living out west and other parts of the country. Some had made it even further, serving as missionaries, working for the government or business. Here are their listings in the register:

  • Changsha, China: Carl D. Meinhardt '07, American Counsulate.

  • Maubin, Burma: Mrs. Elsie Northrup Chaney (Rev. C.E.) '05, American Baptist Mission.

  • Shidzuoka City, Japan: Mrs. Leora Britton Lobdell (N.L.) '99, 32 Nichome Hegashi, Kasabuka Cho. (Pictured here from the 1899 yearbook, a one time production; it wasn't till some years later that a yearbook was regularly published.)

  • Tokyo, Japan: Mrs. Minnie Jackson Ayres (S.G.) '88, care of Universalist Church.

  • Tokyo, Japan: Rev. Charles B. Tenny '91, 29 Sauai Cho, Ushigome.

Monday, March 5, 2012

It was starting to get a little crowded...

As enrollments skyrocketed in the 1950s, the campus was increasingly overcrowded. The classroom space in what is now Hartwell Hall had been supplemented by some temporary classrooms buildings along the railroad tracks ("Quonset" huts, that shook when the trains went by!) but that additional space was hardly enough to alleviate the space issues, as shown in this photograph. Pictured here is instructor Rosie LaSorte teaching a sex education class to a group of men - back then they divided the sexes up for these classes. Note by the way the "beanies," or caps many of the students are wearing. These were worn by all freshman, men and women, the first month or so of school, as part of the longstanding tradition of hazing of freshmen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Wireless telegraphy at Brockport

In doing some research on William Lennon, a science professor here for many years, and the man for whom Lennon Hall is named, the archivist ran across a piece in the local Brockport Republic from 1901 which mentioned that Professor Lennon had apparatus for wireless telegraphy equipment and was conducting some "interesting experiments." Wireless telegraphy was a forerunner in a way to radio; it involved sending Morse code wirelessly over the airwaves. Pictured here is Italian radio pioneer Marconi with some wireless telegraphy equipment of the same era as Professor Lennon.

Professor Lennon also ran a weather station at Brockport for many years, a precursor to the meteorology program of today!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Miss Schroeder

Miss Lee (Leonora) Schroeder was a long time health and physical education faculty member here at Brockport. She started in 1928 as "Director of Athletics Training for Girls," at a time when recently imposed restrictions made intramural sports for women the norm as opposed to play between schools. She served the college until 1956, continuing to coach women's sports, and teaching health and physical education. A graduate of Mont Clair Normal School in New Jersey, she continued her education at Rutgers and Columbia. Miss Schroeder was an instrumental part of establishing a major in physical education at the college with other physical educators here like Ernest Tuttle. At the time of her retirement she commented that "It is a tremendous satisfaction to think someone is a little better because of me." The photo here is from a scrapbook of Marian Schleede '42.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Am I understood?"

At the time of his death in 1904 several writers who had known Malcolm MacVicar recalled how he would ask, in his distinctive Scottish burr, "Am I understood?" The archivist would like to share some of his biography to make him understood by the Brockport of today, where a building is named after him.

Born in 1829 in Scotland, his family emigrated to Canada when he was a boy. As a young adult he worked as a carpenter in a shipyard in Cleveland, and then he went to Knox College in Toronto to become a Baptist minister. Instead of going to a church however, he came back to the U.S., and received a mathematics degree from the University of Rochester in 1859. After receiving his degree, he came to teach at the Brockport Collegiate Institute, as our school was known then.

In the 1860s he became principal of the school, which though successful academically was struggling financially. As a keen proponent of state support for teacher training MacVicar urged the state to set up a system of "Normal" schools, or teacher training schools, to better serve the educational needs of the state by providing professionally trained teachers, suggesting Brockport for this purpose. After a long and often difficult campaign MacVicar was successful, and the state set up not just one Normal school at Brockport, but several across the state, a forerunner of today's SUNY system.

After the struggle to see through the Normal school reform, MacVicar took a year off, and then became principal of the Potsdam Normal School. Having seen that school well on its way he returned to Canada where he taught at Toronto Baptist College. He so impressed the wealthy McMaster family there who were interested in the college with his integrity and abilities that when they put their fortune to work building McMaster University they insisted that MacVicar be the first chancellor.

He then in latter years moved on to become head of the missionary and educational efforts in the Reconstruction era South for the American Baptist Society , and oversaw the building of Virginia Union University (a historically black college in Richmond) during a part of its early development.

According to the reminiscences published at the time of his death and later, MacVicar could be something of the sterotypical stern, dour Scotsman. He did not suffer cheating or dishonesty of any sort, and held students accountable to strict rules. One former student wrote however of MacVicar's reproofs that "While such things sound severe to those who are dealt with so gently, we all found in Dr. MacVicar the kindest and gentlest of friends when we were in need of help or sympathy." Another student recalled that "Often did he converse with me on the question of my personal example and show me what I ought to be."

In 1905 the college received an oil portrait of Dr. MacVicar, which hangs today in a conference room in the Allen building. In the student publication "The Normalia" a writer observed of MacVicar that "He never was content to slide along and leave things as he found them... He was in perpetual conflict with human ignorance and prejudice, selfish interests and sodden conservatism."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"How to store a grass skirt"

In order to keep up with things your archivist, like many people nowadays, subscribes to an email list relevant to his profession, in this case the email list for the Society of American Archivists. These sorts of lists can be great resources for asking questions, learning about how to manage items, use new tools etc. This week one of the questions raised was just too fun to not share: how should one store a grass skirt? The answer, in case anyone is interested, is as follows :-)

Store horizontally in a flat box, gently wrapped in acid-free tissue (lay tissue in the bottom overhanging the sides, then place the skirt in, and fold tissue over the top).  Try to ensure the box fits properly so the skirt isn't crushed, but also doesn't slide around inside the box when transporting or handling.  Use spacers or a custom box if necessary.  Environmentally, your general storage conditions should suffice - dark, cool, stable humidity 40%ish, etc.  I could look it up for you, but it doesn't matter unless you're providing a special storage area for this one item.  Keep in mind, a grass skirt makes great mouse nesting material...  ;-)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Unknown student, c.1867

This young woman was a student here, at the time the Brockport Collegiate Institute was becoming a state "Normal School," in the transition period of 1867. This much is known because her photo is featured along with those of several other students, circled around a center photo of Malcolm MacVicar, who was the head of the school at this time. The photos normally reside in a large wooden frame, hanging on a wall of the Alumni House over by Hartwell Hall. Recently however the archivist was given permission to bring the framed set of photos back to the library for scanning. When he took off the back of the frame he discovered that the individual pictures are glued to a larger sheet of stock and that unfortunately there are no names by them, making identification of the students virtually impossible, given that there was no yearbook at the time, no student newspaper, where one might find another picture of her with her name...

One of those little mysteries one encounters in archival work and using primary documents, where one wonders; who was she? Did she go on to teach school, perhaps marry? How did her life run after her schooling here...?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Gay Freedom League"

Your archivist was looking for an article in the 1975 Stylus for a patron, and happened to run across an article titled "Gay Freedom League: What it's about," from the March 6, 1975 Stylus. The article describes how that spring the Gay Freedom League had "...finally gotten it together." Apparently they had a weekly radio show on WBSU, and they were planning a dance for the following Saturday. The group was getting good attendance, averaging fifteen people per weekly meeting; the meetings were described as social, not political, "...a time for gays to get together with other gays." They also had an office, in Lathrop, open 2-4 Tuesday-Friday.

This is the earliest mention of such a group the archivist has seen. If any reader who participated in this group wished to share any memories of the time that would be wonderful, or if anyone thought they might like to try research LGBT history at Brockport, please contact Charlie Cowling,

Friday, January 13, 2012

Alfred Thompson

Was principal of the Normal School from  1910-1936. A popular and effective administrator by all accounts, today's Thompson Hall is named after him. From a student tribute to him at his death we may: 

picture him striding up the campus walk, his black derby square on his head and his eyes intently considering the next turn of the weather or facing the Assembly, shoulders erect,  and his hands now toying with his glasses, now clasped tight behind his back as he advises, scolds, teases or entertains

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Quonset hut, other Brockport memories?

Happy New Year to all our alumni! Your archivist would like to make a suggestion: if you have memories of something from your Brockport years, for example attending classes in the old Quonset huts that were used as temporary classrooms on the north side of Hartwell in the '50s, or any one of a hundred other things, please share them! Not only would your reminiscences be welcome,  but photographs, scrapbooks and other memorabilia would be welcome as well. The archives can keep these items for posterity, or if you'd like we can scan things like photographs and return the original to you. You can contact the archivist, Charlie Cowling, by posting a comment here, emailing him at, or phoning him at 585-395-5667. The mail address is: College Archives, Drake Memorial Library, 350 New Campus Drive, Brockport NY 14420.