Tag Archives: Potter College

History in a Holiday Letter

Beulah Strong

Who wouldn’t have wanted to experience the artistic and cultural treasures of Europe in the company of Beulah Strong?  Born in 1866, the Massachusetts native studied art in Paris, then joined the faculty at Bowling Green’s Potter College for Young Ladies, where she taught art from 1892-1901.  After three years at Nashville’s Belmont College, she moved to Smith College, where she was an associate professor of art from 1907 until her retirement in 1923. 

After retiring, Miss Strong moved to Florence, Italy but still kept in close touch with her friends in Bowling Green.  Her holiday letter of December 2, 1933 showed how eagerly she had taken advantage of her proximity to Europe’s most charming destinations.  “Without taking any very long or distant trips” over the past year, she wrote, “I have had a number of small and pleasant ones.”  Small and pleasant indeed: there was the previous Christmas spent in Rome, “splendid and grand,” its vistas opened up by the cleaning up of the “mean streets.”  There was a tour of northern Italy – Pavia, Brescia, Cremona, Mantua and Parma – which she made sure not to visit at Lent because the altar-pieces in the churches would be covered up.  There was the great Franciscan monastery at La Verna, with its “precious” Della Robbia terracottas and “many picturesque nooks.”  Then, three weeks exploring the museums of Germany, with excursions to the cathedral at Bamberg, the Bavarian resort town of Tegernsee, and other “lovely little cities.”  And at home, there was gardening, concerts, and afternoons entertaining friends from the local expatriate American and English communities.

But as Depression and war loomed, ugliness was intruding upon all of this beauty.  Of immediate concern was the financial squeeze that jeopardized Miss Strong’s desire to make another holiday trip to Rome.  Prime Minister Benito Mussolini’s efforts to prop up the lira were colliding with President Franklin Roosevelt’s devaluation of the dollar as part of his economic recovery plan.  For the time being, however, only FDR – “our dictator-president” – attracted Miss Strong’s ire for undercutting the purchasing power of her savings.

More unsettling were affairs in Germany.  Upon entering, Miss Strong had been required to disclose her money holdings – “just how much I was taking in and it was checked up as I came out.”  Even more ominous was the growing persecution of German Jews after Adolf Hitler’s seizure of dictatorial powers earlier that year.  An elderly Jewish friend had asked Miss Strong to check on her family in Germany “and hear from their own lips how things were, as letters are censored, opened at the frontier.”  Some of the family had begun to experience the effects of laws excluding Jews from professions and civil service positions “and as these Government places were for life with a pension at the end, few of them saved much.”  Emigration, too, was increasingly difficult, given the restrictions on taking money out of Germany.  Still, Miss Strong remained more suspicious of Roosevelt’s fiscal policies, hoping he “won’t try that scheme! We should have to crawl home with our tails between our legs.”

Back in August 1914, while touring Europe with her mother, Beulah Strong had barely managed to secure passage back to the United States at the outbreak of World War I.  History seemed to repeat itself in 1940 when she returned again to the United States, leaving behind both the beauty and ugliness of her Italian sojourn. 

Beulah Strong’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid and scan.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Let Us Serenade You

Making sweet music. . .

They were late-night, improvised musical events that captured the romantic imaginations of nineteenth-century students, particularly those at Southern women’s colleges.  At Bowling Green’s Potter College for Young Ladies (located where WKU’s Cherry Hall now stands), these “midnight serenades,” courtesy of the boys at Ogden College just down the hill, featured a group of admirers sneaking on campus to croon up at the windows such old-time standards as “Swanee River,” “On the Banks of the Wabash,” and “Home Sweet Home.”  Even the rumor of a forthcoming performance would stir excitement among the girls and consternation among their live-in teachers, whose job it was to shoo the interlopers off the grounds.

But at Cumberland Female College in McMinnville, Tennessee, serenades attracted more participants than just the parties to an exaggerated courtship ritual.  While staying with her aunt Josephine and uncle Joseph P. Hamilton, a teacher at the college, young May Hamilton told her grandmother about the previous night’s music.  “Just as I started to bed I thought I heard serenaders up at the college,” she wrote in a letter, “and so I went & sat down on the floor by the window to listen.”  The performers, however, were not ardent young males but “the girls of the college. . . making sweet music” nearby for one of the professors and his family.  His appearance at the door to thank the performers must have emboldened them, for the troupe then marched down to the Hamilton household.  “One of the girls plays the banjo & several had harps,” wrote May, who woke up another boarder at the house so they could both enjoy the “lovely” melodies.

Luckily, the night’s entertainment was not over.  The strains of more music came through the window, but the darkness concealed the identity of the players, who then proceeded up to the college.  May learned the next morning that the group consisted of four or five African-American youths who “go around that way often up here.”  So popular had they become, in fact, that the girl boarding at May’s house knew the group by the sound of their instruments, and even knew the horn player by name.  The local custom, it seemed, was for everyone so inclined to reach out and say goodnight with a song. 

May Hamilton’s letter is part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here to access a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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Potter College Class of 1903

These twenty ladies comprised the Potter College for Young Ladies Class of 1903. To date we have identified Mamie Johnston, Maud Cole, Celeste Cuthbertson and Hallie Brite.  As with many photographs in the WKU University Archives, we need your help to identify the remaining members of the class.  A larger version of this image is available online at:  http://digitalcommons.wku.edu/dlsc_ua_records/293. So take a closer look and let us know if you can identify anyone else. 

Check KenCat for other “unidentified” images and see if you recognize anyone.  It may just be you!

We have also digitized the extant Green & Gold Potter College student magazine published between 1902 and 1909.  We are missing the Vol. 3, No. 3 issue.  Please contact us if you have a copy to donate to the archives.

The Potter College yearbooks called Golden Rod and Talisman are also available online.

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