Tag Archives: Alexander Gordon Wilson

“This morning I registered at the College”

Gordon Wilson

Before beginning his 44-year teaching career at WKU, student Gordon Wilson (1888-1970) witnessed some of the most significant events in the school’s history.  In February 1911,  he participated in “Moving Day,” when the furniture, books, and equipment of the Western Kentucky State Normal School were carried by hand and wagon from its location on College Street between 11th and 12th streets to its new home on the Hill. 

But in January 1908, Wilson was, like so many others before and since, a new arrival to campus.  In his diary, he recorded the experiences of his first semester at Bowling Green and the State Normal School.  Here are a few annotated excerpts:

January 20:

This morning I registered at the College and secured Room No. 16 Cherry Hall. My roommate is Mr. Corbett McKenney of Logan County.  This afternoon we took a walk to Reservoir Park and other noted places of town. We also visited the Book Store and bought books for the term.

[“Cherry Hall” was not the building we know today.  Located at Twelfth and Center streets, it was rented by school president Henry Hardin Cherry for use as a dormitory.  No campus bookstore existed until 1920, and Wilson is likely referring to a retail outlet in town.]

Reservoir Park, 1908, where Wilson strolled with his classmates

January 21:

School opened today. The chapel was very crowded and after chapel exercises all adjourned to the classrooms.

[A hallowed institution that dated back to the State Normal School’s days as a private institution, chapel gathered students together each day for announcements, speeches, musical performances, and other spirit-building exercises. Wilson’s classes consisted of Rhetoric, Physical Geography, Physiology, Drawing, and “Mental Arithmetic.”]

January 28:

Tonight I attended a musicale at Vanmeter Hall, which was well rendered and very fine. . . . This afternoon Burnett Craig and I took a walk to the old fort on College Hill.

[Rather than the building we know today, “Vanmeter Hall” was the name given to the Normal School’s first home on College Street.  It was named for Captain Charles J. Vanmeter, who had helped capitalize the construction company that built it in 1901.  The remains of the Civil War fort built on the Hill and located behind the current Van Meter Hall are still visible today.]

January 31:

Tonight I attended a debate at the College, the subject being “Resolved, That millionaires are a benefit to our country.” The affirmative side won.

February 15:

I attended a meeting of the Kit Kat Club [where the debate topic was] “Resolved, that ministers should take part in political affairs.” (The affirmative won.)

[One of three literary societies (the others being the Junior Society and Senior Society), the Kit Kat Club came to represent those in the lower academic ranks of the school.]

February 21:

Prof. Cherry returned from Frankfort at midnight and about 300 of the pupils met him at the train. He was carried into the depot amid wild cheers.

[President Henry Hardin Cherry lobbied on behalf of the “Whirlwind Campaign” that culminated in the passage by the General Assembly of several bills in support of public education.  One in particular made an appropriation of $150,000 (about $5 million today) to the Western Kentucky State Normal School for buildings, grounds and equipment, and increased its appropriation for operating expenses.  Arriving at the railroad depot that night, a startled Cherry wielded his umbrella at the mob of students before they explained their good intentions.]

March 13:

Tonight I attended the Junior Society at the College.  The program was well-rendered and was as follows.  Debate, Resolved, That the resources of the south are greater than those of the north. (The negative won.)

March 19:

This morning we received the news that Gov. Willson had signed several of the bills that shall influence education in Kentucky in the future. We soon gathered in the chapel and after cheers for the Governor, Prof. Cherry, the Normal, etc, we formed in line, and led by Prof. Alexander marched to town and around the park. Here we halted for a while, several songs were sung, and after many cheers had again rent the air, we marched back to the College. . . . Lessons were dismissed until afternoon and many of the students played games on the campus.

[Like Wilson, Professor J. R. Alexander’s relationship with the State Normal School began when he was a student.  He taught mathematics until retiring in 1930.]

March 20:

Tonight I attended the regular meeting of the Junior Society. The program was as follows: Debate, Resolved; That a college education is essential to success. . . . . The negative won.

April 13:

This morning at chapel period, Miss Flora Stallard, teacher of the fourth grade in the Model School, received the first Life Certificate given by the Western Kentucky State Normal.

[The State Normal School established “model school rooms,” where its students could receive hands-on training under a supervising teacher.  Stallard’s Life Certificate, which entitled her to teach for life in any county of the state, was the highest academic credential then granted.  After receiving authorization to grant degrees in 1922, the Western Kentucky State Normal School added the phrase “and Teachers College” to its name.]

On April 19, after a period of illness, Wilson left Bowling Green for his home in Murray, Kentucky.  His first semester was now behind him . . . but he would return.

Gordon Wilson’s diaries are housed in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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All the News from Birdland

The Kentucky Warbler, May 1980

The Kentucky Warbler, May 1980

Today (January 5) is National Bird Day, a good time to remind bird lovers that they can access full-text copies of The Kentucky Warbler through TopSCHOLAR, WKU’s digital repository.

First published in 1925, the Warbler is the bulletin of the Kentucky Ornithological Society.  WKU faculty member Gordon Wilson was one of the Society’s founders and an editor of the Warbler.  Its inaugural issue invited contributions of news, member activities, field notes, ornithological papers, and all things “of interest in birdland.”

Click here to access issues from January 1925 through February 2016.  For more on birds and birding, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Gordon Wilson’s Love of Birds

Dr. Wilson's field glasses and some of his bird checklists.

Dr. Wilson’s field glasses and some of his bird checklists.

“Tiny Treasures,” curated by Special Collections Cataloger, Joseph Shankweiler, contains several pieces related to Dr. Gordon Wilson, former professor and head of WKU’s English Department as well as avid bird watcher.  The exhibition features miniature books from the Department of Library Special Collections (DLSC), and one case highlights several bird identification guide books.  To enhance the case, the curator chose a pair of field glasses (loaned by the Kentucky Museum) that Gordon Wilson used on his well-known bird watching expeditions.  Also included in the case are several bird checklist cards, produced by the Kentucky Ornithological Society, on which birders could mark the specific birds they spotted on individual treks.  These two small cards, from a collection of close to 1000 similar cards in Dr. Wilson’s papers, document a trip taken in 1964 to Mammoth Cave National Park.

Alexander Gordon Wilson was born on 14 October 1888 in New Concord (Calloway County), Kentucky. He attended local public schools and Clinton College and afterwards taught in the rural schools of Hickman County.  He entered the Western Kentucky State Normal School, now Western Kentucky University (WKU), Bowling Green, Kentucky, in January 1908 and received a life teaching certificate in 1913.  He then matriculated at Indiana University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in 1915, a master’s degree in 1924 and a Ph.D. in 1930.  The two later degrees he earned while teaching at WKU. Wilson became an English instructor in 1915; he was formally appointed department head in 1928 and held that position until his retirement in 1959.  Besides teaching the classics, Wilson was nationally recognized as a folklore expert.  A finding aid to Dr. Wilson’s collection can be found by clicking here.

A typical bird checklist from the Wilson Papers.

A typical bird checklist from the Wilson Papers.

Wilson was an accomplished amateur ornithologist. He began observing birds around 1909 and recording information about his nature walks and sightings while he was at Indiana University. Upon returning to Bowling Green, he became more serious about the avocation and published his first major article on birds in The Auk (1921).  His fieldwork concentrated on south central Kentucky and he published several articles and pamphlets about the area’s birds.  Wanting to share his information with fellow enthusiasts, Wilson helped found the Kentucky Ornithological Society in 1923 and edited its publication, The Kentucky Warbler, for a number of years. In recent years, DLSC, in cooperation with the Kentucky Ornithological Society, has digitized copies of The Kentucky Warbler. They can be accessed by clicking here.

“Tiny Treasures” will be on exhibit through December 8, 2016, in the Kentucky Building’s Jackson Gallery.

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