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U.Va. keepsakes evoke stories of Hoos past

By Nancy Hurrelbrinck

Some things you might find if you could rummage through U.Va.'s collective attic -- a basketball signed by Dawn Staley, a fragment of a Corinthian capital from the Rotunda before the 1895 fire and a metal crown with feet on it worn by members of the Hot Foot Society (later renamed IMP), as well as old photographs, letters, jewelry and military paraphernalia -- are currently on display in Alderman Library's Special Collections department.

"All the Hoos in Hooville: 175 Years of Life at the University of Virginia" focuses on six themes: the University's founding, its faculty, its involvement in various wars, its traditions, its sports history and its famous figures.

Alderman Library/Special Collections
Before there were mud baths, there were tennis courts in Madison Bowl, ca. 1895.

The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 31, represents "a rare opportunity to see objects that are normally stored in cardboard boxes and are only available if you know what to ask for," said Ann Southwell, manuscripts cataloger in Special Collections.

There are 6 million manuscripts in the archives, so the most challenging aspect of putting together the exhibit was deciding what to include, said Jeanne Pardee, assistant University archivist. "U.Va. has had 25 newspapers, but we only had space to display two of them," she said. "Each category of the exhibit could've been an exhibit unto itself."

Alderman Library/Special Collections
Fredson Bowers came to the English department in 1936 and ended up as chairman, building the department into one of the country's best. He also became a pre-eminent authority on bibliographical analysis, founding and editing Studies in Bibliography for more than 40 years. At the same time he pursued several hobbies, such as writing weekly music reviews for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and judging Irish wolfhound shows, like this one in 1954.

The section on "Fabled Faculty" includes English professor Fredson Bowers' copy of Shakespeare, its margins covered with pencilled notes, and an 1832 party invitation from student Socrates Maupin, who returned in 1853 to become a chemistry professor and who was chair of the faculty during the difficult years of war and reconstruction.

In the section on U.Va. student, faculty and staff participation in various wars, memorabilia from the students who fought in the Civil War include a diary open to a description of the battle of Cold Harbor, and a locket filled with pressed verbena blossoms that Alice Ray of Lexington, Miss., gave to William C. Holmes before he went off to fight. Holmes later gave the locket to the University so that "the generations to come on viewing it will know that in that cruel age of war, there was a star, brighter than any in the galaxy -- 'woman's tenderness.'"

Having lost the use of his right arm in the war, Holmes teamed up with George L. Christian, who had lost one foot and half of another, when they resumed their studies at U.Va. Holmes helped Christian walk to classes and Christian helped Holmes with note taking. Holmes later became a physician in Texas; Christian, a judge in Virginia.

Representing this century's wars are a bugle used for military training on Grounds in 1917 and a bullet-pocked Japanese field radio brought back from World War II by John Cook Wyllie, a U.Va. curator of rare books and manuscripts who drove ambulances for the British in the Middle East.

Participating in early football games wasn't that different from going to war, according to a letter in the sports section of the exhibit.

After Archer Christian, a first-year halfback, died of a concussion he suffered while playing Nov. 13, 1909, John Mosby wrote to the University arguing that football should be removed from the curriculum, noting that, "The very fact that a university surgeon went with the team shows that they knew they were going to war." President Edwin A. Alderman didn't follow Mosby's advice, but he did institute reforms in the game in the next year.

Though football was tamed, spirited drinking seems to have been a U.Va. tradition from the start. In an 1838 letter in the exhibit, Richard Gooch tells his father that Christmas was a "frolicsome" season, a time of "unrivalled dissipation, like a sea in a storm after long calm."

Gooch might have altered his notion of "unrivalled," had he been able to see a 1976 photograph of mud-covered students wrestling in Mad Bowl during one of the University's last Easters celebrations, also on display in the section on traditions. Accompanying the photo are an Easters T-shirt on loan from recently retired Dean of Students Robert T. Canevari, along with a letter written to Canevari after he banned Easters in 1982, chastising him for trying "to eliminate all fun for students."

Not even Prohibition had managed to do that: the exhibit features a copy of Karl Shapirošs book, The Younger Son, where he writes of moonshiners coming to the door of his brotheršs Lawn room selling whiskey in Mason jars in the early 1930s.

Excessive drinking is only one of many traditions the University has tried to transform over the years. Others include the gender and color barriers to admission, changed with much more successful results.

The exhibit includes a letter from Alice Jackson, a black woman who applied to U.Va. in 1935. Having heard from the rector that she had been rejected because she was "a Negro, and for other good and sufficient reasons,"Jackson wrote back requesting that he "itemize" those reasons.

"There's a great weight of tradition that sometimes became almost a burden and prevented the University from moving forward," Southwell said. "It took lawsuits for blacks and women to be admitted here.˛

"There was a long struggle to democratize the University," she added, pointing to a photograph of Walter Ridley, the first African-American graduate to walk down the Lawn in 1953, when he earned a doctorate in education.

Ridley's photo represents only one of many tradition-changing triumphs on display. Another shows Mary Slaughter in tennis whites a year later, the first woman to participate officially on a U.Va. athletic team in 1954. Even a brief tour of the exhibit can give viewers a sense of how the University has changed and grown -- not just in size -- over the years.


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