Tag Archives: George DeWitt Harris

“Permit Safely and Freely to Pass”

George Crawford's 1807 passport

George Crawford’s 1807 passport

For most of us, our most-deplored photo (next to our driver’s license) is the one on our passport.  But it wasn’t until late 1914 that Americans were required to include a photographic likeness with their passport applications.

Earlier passports might simply state the holder’s name, as did the 1807 passport of George Crawford, signed by New York mayor DeWitt Clinton.  Or the document might give notice of the age and physical attributes of its bearer.  For example, the 1863 diplomatic passport of Bowling Green lawyer Warner L. Underwood described his high forehead, blue eyes, prominent nose, “ordinary” mouth and chin, round face, and “florid” complexion.  George Harris’s August 1914 passport was for a man with a medium forehead, large nose, dark complexion, and dimpled chin.  Although it included her photo, the 1919 passport of WKU teacher Elizabeth Woods also noted her medium nose and mouth, round chin, and oval face.  Like Underwood’s, her passport was not the pocket-sized book we use today, although at 8X12 inches it could be folded in quarters and kept in a cardboard cover, like that of Grayson County merchant Willis Green.

Willis Green's 1923 passport

Willis Green’s 1923 passport

What gives modern passport photos their charm, of course, is that mug-shot quality (a “neutral facial expression and both eyes open” is the rule).  But earlier specimens weren’t quite so uniformly dreadful.  From the flapper-era glory of Ruth Hines Temple’s 1926 photo, to the Cold War-era gaze on Congressman Frank Chelf’s 1959 passport (“not valid” for travel in Hungary, Cuba, etc.), these photos allowed a little of the bearer’s personality to shine through.

Click on the links to access finding aids for the collections containing the passports of these traveling Kentuckians, part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  For more, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

Ruth Hines Temple; Frank Chelf

Ruth Hines Temple; Frank Chelf

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The Great War Centennial

John Pleasant Potter, and a flower he picked near French soldiers' graves at Chateau-Thierry

John Pleasant Potter, and a flower he picked near French soldiers’ graves at Chateau-Thierry

A recent biography calls him “the trigger”: 19-year-old south Slav nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who, in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, fired his pistol at Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and (though he claimed it was unintentional) at the Archduke’s wife Sophie.  Both died almost instantly.  A month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the rest of Europe, for various geo-political reasons, followed them into the abyss of World War I.

Here in Kentucky, Bowling Green lawyer Clarence McElroy learned of the widening conflict from clients living abroad.  In letters from Surrey, England, Margaret Whitehead Robertson’s reactions ranged from uncertainty to defiance to resignation.  Having recently sold a house, she asked McElroy in August 1914 to invest the proceeds at home rather than overseas, “as no one is sure about the war.  Of course, we all hope England & her allies will win but the war may last 2 or 3 years.”  A few weeks later: “This war is such a dreadful calamity, and everybody I know thinks Kaiser Wilhelm II will have a great deal to answer for, for bringing about a European war.  The Allies are doing splendidly, and we are all disgusted with German atrocities and their terrible military system, which wants to rule the world.”

By October, Margaret was recovering from the initial upheaval.  Vacationing in Eastbourne with her sister Charlotte, who was knitting socks for the soldiers, she noted that the area was enjoying a prosperous autumn “to make up for the bad summer season when people were afraid to come to the seaside at the beginning of the war.”  But after Christmas, rumor had again unsettled her.  She wanted to escape wet and snowy England for Switzerland, but had heard that if Italy entered the war, the food supply to Switzerland might be cut off.  “These are horrible times,” she observed, “and I do wish the war were over.”

The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Special Collections Library holds many other World War I-era collections, especially relating to the period after the United States entered the war in 1917.  For example: a scrapbook chronicling the military service of Bowling Green’s John Pleasant Potter, lovingly kept by his mother; letters from Victor Strahm, the son of WKU music director Franz Strahm and a much-decorated air ace; letters of Simpson County native George DeWitt Harris, who died of battle wounds suffered in France; as well as patriotic speeches, poems and postcards.  For other collections about World War I, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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