Virginia Tech Pioneers from China

Cato Lee: Pioneer of the Lee-aphon Clan by Gigi Lee-aphon tells the fascinating stories of Cato Lee, one of the early Chinese students at Virginia Tech, and the members of his family. Written by Cato Lee’s daughter, Gigi, the ninth of his ten children, the book gives insights into the challenges faced by family members as they confronted Chinese, American, and Thai cultures. The author uses family stories to give the reader a better understanding of the life of Cato Lee. The book was published by Lotus Seed Press in 2017.


Cato Lee book cover includes image of Lee and his bridewith
Cover of Cato Lee Pioneer of the Lee-aphon Clan with image of Cato Lee and his bride Kim Reiw
Text about the book and small image of the author on the back cover
Back cover of Cato Lee Pioneer includes image of the author, Gigi Lee-aphon

Cato Lee, who graduated in 1927 in Mechanical Engineering, was one of the first six Chinese students at Virginia Tech. The University Archives’ site, “First International Students at Virginia Tech,” lists the first and early international students by year and country:

Born Lee Kee Tow in Bangkok, Thailand in 1904, Cato Lee was the son of Lee Tek Khoeia, a Chinese immigrant and merchant from Canton, and Noei Lamson, the youngest child of one of the most prominent families in Thailand. Because his father was a playboy, Cato was raised in unusual circumstances in Canton, China from the time he was four. When he was fourteen, his father enrolled him in an English/Chinese school in Hong Kong. He became a “British subject” while he was in Hong Kong, a status that his father already had. The British passport made it easier for him to travel to the United States.

When Cato was 17, his close friend from Hong Kong, Tien-Liang Jeu talked him into going to study in the United States. Tien-Liang already had visited the United States and enrolled at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. The two young men made the arduous journey by ship from Hong Kong to Vancouver and then traveled by train across the United States to New York City. Since he did not have much money, Cato waited on tables at a small restaurant before he enrolled in school. Because he was younger than Tien-Lang Jeu, who entered Virginia Tech (then called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or V.P.I.) in 1921, Cato first attended and graduated from Fork Union Military Academy a military high school for cadets in Fork Union, Virginia.

image of the yearbook page relating to tien-Liang Jeu
Tien-Liang Jeu’s page in the 1924 Bugle (p. 61)

Tien-Liang, whose nickname at V.P.I. was “Ting Ling,” earned a degree in electrical engineering. According to his Bugle page, “his highest ambition is to turn the wild and destructive forces of the mighty Yangtse and Yellow Rivers into power that will illuminate all China.” (1924 Bugle, p. 61)

Page gives information about Lee and his activities as a student at VPI
Cato Lee’s Senior Page in the 1927 Bugle, p. 183.

Cato Lee entered V.P.I. in 1923 and earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1927. He played on the varsity track and tennis teams and belonged to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Lee Literary Society. His Bugle page (1927, p. 183) includes a quote from Kipling:

But there is neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they have come from the ends of the earth.

The commentary on his Bugle page indicates that Lee was not only a student but also taught his fellow cadets by “showing us that the gentleman of the East is not different from the gentleman of the West.”

VPI members of A.S.M.E. with equipment used in theier work
Image of V.P.I. members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. 1927 Bugle, p. 352.
Blown up image of Cato ee from A.S.M.E. group photo.
Detail from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers group photo showing Cato Lee.

Virginia Tech was very important to Cato Lee. Gigi Lee-aphon wrote in an email that she learned to say the word “bugle” at a very young age, not knowing it was an English word. Her father’s cadet uniform, sword, and sash were neatly hung on a stand in a corner of his bedroom for many years. “I could admire it,” she said, “but better not touch it.”

The image on the book’s cover shows Cato Lee and his bride, Kim Reiw, the daughter of a Chinese businessman. They only met because he stopped off in Thailand to visit his Thai mother on his way back to China. The couple married soon after they met and lived in Bangkok. Kim Reiw is wearing the wedding dress her parents ordered from Hong Kong. The book describes the couple’s glamorous wedding at one of the royal palaces in Bangkok where they both wore traditional Thai garments. They were known as the Romeo and Juliet of Thailand.

New in the University Archives: Drum Major’s Mace

image of Virginia Tech mace
Sherman Seelinger’s Mace


Head shot of Robert Hughes in cadet uniform
Robert Edwards Hughes, Class of 1921

Robert L. Hughes from Asheville, North Carolina recently gave the University Archives a drum major’s mace that was among the things his father, Ralph Edwards Hughes, kept from his time at Virginia Tech (then commonly called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or V.P.I.). Ralph Hughes, an Electrical Engineering major, was from Ore Bank (now Arvonia), Virginia. Robert Hughes explained that the mace actually belonged to his father’s roommate and close, lifetime friend, Sherman Edmond Seelinger, who was a cheer leader. Both Hughes and Seelinger, an Animal Husbandry major, graduated in 1921.

Seelinger holding megaphone
Sherman Edward Seelinger, Class of 1921, with Megaphone

The mace appears to be made of wood, with a hand-turned top and four Chicago maroon and burnt orange ribbons wrapped around the shaft making diamond-shaped pattern . It is about three feet long and was probably handmade.

cartoon of man with megaphone
Cartoon from Seelinger’s 1921 Bugle Page

The cartoon on Seelinger’s senior Bugle page indicates how important being a cheer leader was to him. Known for his pep, he took a very active part in the promotion of school spirit and in the advancement of athletics and other college activities. He was a member of the Athletic Council and Monogram Club, and he served as manager of the baseball team. According to the 1921 Bugle, “Manager Seelinger has arranged one of the best schedules ever attempted by any Tech team, and we wish to congratulate him upon his efforts.” W. L. “Monk” Younger coached the baseball team and was assistant coach for the football team.

smiling head shot of Seelinger
Sherman Seelinger, 1921

Seelinger had a reputation for being the best dancer in the school. He served as Leader of the Cotillion Club. The opening figure on both nights of the Cotillion Club’s 1921 Easter set of dances was led by Cadet Seelinger dancing with Miss Geneva Edmundson of Radford. The dances were held at the Field House, which was decorated with a large green and yellow interwoven canopy suspended over the center of the floor, from which was strung alternating green and yellow streamers reaching out to the pillars at the sides of the hall. The All Star Six, of Altoona, Pennsylvania provided the music.

Source: Harry Downing Temple, The Bugle’s Echo, vol. 4, pp. 2506-2507.

From the First Lady’s Table: Dining with Cora Bolton McBryde


Cora Bolton McBryde
Cora Bolton McBryde, image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill

Not much is known about the early first ladies of Virginia Tech, but we can learn more about Cora Bolton McBryde through recent gifts to Special Collections from Janet Watson Barnhill. These gifts include Cora’s silver Tiffany stirring spoon, which, Mrs. Barnhill notes, is “engraved and worn from stirring puddings;” a tin Kreamer Turk’s head or turban pan (similar to a bundt pan) that was used by Cora Bolton McBryde; and the McBrydes’ gold-embossed fiftieth anniversary (1913) cookie plate. These items complement an earlier gift of Cora Bolton McBryde’s cookbook, the subject of a previous blog. The fragile cookbook has returned from Etherington Conservation Services for restoration and now may be viewed in Special Collections.

front view of Cora Bolton McBryde's Stirring Spoonn
Cora Bolton McBryde’s Tiffany stirring spoon, front, image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill
image of back of Cora Bolton McBryde's stirring spoon back view
Cora Bolton McBryde’s Tiffany stirring spoon, back, image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill
close-up of spoon handle with monogram and decoratin
McBryde monogram on Tiffany stirring spoon, image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill
cookie plate with handles and decorated with gold grapes and grape leaves
McBrydes’ 50th anniversary cookie plate (1913), image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill
Kreamer tin turban or Turk's head pan, image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill
Kreamer tin turban or Turk’s head pan, image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill

Born August 4, 1839, Cora Bolton was the first of ten children of Dr. James Bolton and Anna Maria (Harrison). Dr. James Bolton began his practice of medicine and surgery in Richmond, Virginia, but temporarily abandoned it to attend the Episcopal Theological Seminary near Alexandria where he was ordained. He took charge of a church in Richmond, but a year later he resumed his practice of medicine. In 1855 he opened Bellevue, a private hospital in Richmond, and maintained it until 1866. During the Civil War, it was used primarily for medical purposes.

Janet Watson Barnhill wrote in an email of September 24, 2013, that Dr. James Bolton “was one of the doctors for R. E. Lee and worked tirelessly in Richmond during the Civil War. I gather the family took care of many injured patients at home, so I believe she [Cora Bolton] was well suited for the job of being the First Lady of VPI. I think women are much overlooked in history!”

Sepi toned image of McBryde and BOlton family members on front steps of the President's House. Image courtesy of Larry McBryde.
McBryde family on the steps of the President’s Home, Christmas, 1891. Back row, from left, Maria Lawson “Diah” Bolton, Anna Maria McBryde (Davidson), Channing Moore Bolton (1843-1922), Elizabeth Hazelhurst Bolton, Meade Bolton McBryde, Cora Bolton McBryde (1839-1920), President John McLaren McBryde (1841-1923), Dr. Robert James Davidson (1862-1915). Front row, left to right, Susan McLaren McBryde, James Bolton McBryde, Belle Campbell Bolton, Charles Neil “Saint” McBryde. Image courtesy of Larry McBryde.

Cora Bolton married John McLaren McBryde on November 18, 1863. They had eight children. When McBryde became president of Virginia Tech, then Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (V.A.M.C.), in 1891, the family moved into the original President’s Home, which was built in 1876 and is now part of Henderson Hall.

Image of family at dining table in a room with two sideboards and a china cabnet
President’s Home dining room, January 1892. President McBryde at the head of the table and Cora Bolton McBryde is facing him. To her right are Meade Bolton McBryde, and Charles Neil McBryde. To President McBryde’s right are Channing Moore Bolton, Channing’s daughter Belle Campbell Bolton, Susan McLaren McBryde, ?, Channing’s other daughter, Hazel Bolton. Image courtesy of Larry McBryde.

The college lacked adequate facilities for an infirmary for the student body. An outbreak of contagious diseases during the 1898-1899 session forced the college to allow many of the sick to remain in their rooms because there was no space for them in the infirmary. McBryde urged the Board of Visitors to approve funding for a “well planned and thoroughly equipped infirmary.” He also suggested in the president’s report of June 20, 1899 that a “new house for the president could be built for a few thousand dollars and his present house, with a few changes, would make an adequate infirmary.”

Family outside with trees and campus/town in distance.
President and Clara Bolton McBryde and family on the grounds of the President’s Home in the Grove, Top row, from left, Anna Cora Davidson, Maria Lawson Bolton, Maria Bolton Davidson; middle row, Felix Webster McBryde, President McBryde, Carolyn Webster McBryde, Cora Bolton McBryde. Dr. John McLaren McBryde, Jr., John McLaren (Jack) McBryde. Bottom row, Flora Webster McBryde, James Bolton McBryde, Susan McBryde Guignard, Mary Comfort. Image courtesy of Larry McBryde.

The new president’s home was built on a hill overlooking a marshy area, which would be converted into the Duck Pond in 1934, and Solitude, the homeplace of Virginia Tech. The tree-covered hill was known as “the grove.” The McBrydes moved into the newly built Presidents House (Building 274) in April 1902.

To learn more about the history of The Grove, the food that was eaten there, and the people who lived and worked there, see The Grove: Recipes and History of Virginia Tech’s Presidential Residence by Clara Cox. The book includes recipes from seven First Ladies of Virginia Tech: Eleanor Hutcheson (1945-47), Liz Otey Newman (1947-62), Peggy Hahn (1962-74), Peggy Lavery (1975-87), Adele McComas White (1988-94), Dot Torgersen (1994-2000), and Janet Steger (2000-14).

Baby on president's lap with Mrs. McBryde touching his hand.
John W. Watson, Jr. with President and Clara Bolton McBryde. Image courtesy of Janet Watson Barnhill.

Janet Watson Barnhill’s grandfather, Dr. John Wilbur (Quiz) Watson (1888-1962), was professor of Inorganic Chemistry (1913-56) and head of the Chemistry Department at Virginia Tech (1936-1942 and 1956-59). A student at Virginia Tech from 1905-1907, he transferred to the University of Virginia where he earned his doctorate. He returned to Virginia Tech in 1913, and in 1916, he married Anna Cora Davidson (1893-1928), whose father, Robert James Davidson, was professor of Analytic Chemistry and Agricultural Chemistry and was first Dean of the Scientific Department (1904-1913) and then Dean of Applied Science (1913-16). Davidson Hall is named in his honor. Born in Armagh, Ireland, Davidson, like President McBryde, was at South Carolina College before coming to V.A.M.C. He married Anna Maria McBryde, daughter of President and Cora Bolton McBryde, on May 2, 1892. Janet Watson Barnhill’s father, John Wilbur Watson, Jr., was born in 1917 and graduated from Virginia Tech.

As Janet Watson Barnhill wrote in an email, “I wish there were more information about women in our historical accounts! We can be certain they didn’t sit idly by while drama whirled around them!”

Retired Football Numbers

Only four Virginia Tech football players have had their numbers retired: Carroll Dale, Frank Loria, Bruce Smith, and Jim Pyne.

Carroll Dale with coach Frank Moseley
Carroll Dale with coach Frank Moseley, 1960 Bugle, p. 336


No. 84 Carroll Dale’s jersey was the first to be retired. Born in Wise, Virginia, he entered Virginia Tech in 1956 as an offensive and defensive end. After seeing varsity action as a reserve in the first game of the 1956 season, he started in the remaining 39 games of his college career. He became V.P.I.’s first bona fide All-American. As a junior in 1958, he was named the Southern Conference Player of the Year, and for three consecutive years (1957-59), he was voted the Roanoke Touchdown Club’s Lineman of the Year. He was team captain his senior year and earned first team All-American honors. In all four seasons, he led the Hokies in pass receiving. Dale finished his college career with 67 receptions for 1,195 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

Following graduation, Dale played five seasons with the Los Angeles Rams. He scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass in his first NFL game. The highlight of his professional career came with the Green Bay Packers and three straight National Football League championships under coach Vince Lombardi. The 1967 and 1968 games were known retroactively as Super Bowl I and Super Bowl II. After eight seasons in Green Bay, Dale played a season with the Minnesota Vikings when he found himself again in the Super Bowl. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1979. Carroll Dale Stadium, the football stadium of Dale’s high school in Wise, J.J. Kelly High School, was named for him.


Frank Loria
Frank Loria, football All-American

No. 10 Despite his 5-9, 175-pound frame, Frank Loria was one of the most tenacious football players ever to play for Virginia Tech. A native of Clarksburg, West Virginia, he played basketball, baseball, and football at Notre Dame High School. When he came to Virginia Tech, Loria started every game at safety from 1965-67 and rapidly established himself as one of Tech’s all-time greats. He was famous for his uncanny ability to diagnose opposition plays and was called a coach on the field. Loria was the first Virginia Tech football player to gain first-team All-American honors in back-to-back seasons (1966, 1967), and he became the Hokies’ first consensus All-American pick as a senior in 1967, making seven first-team All-American squads. During his Tech career, he had seven interceptions and a number of punt return records. He returned 61 punts, averaging 13.3 yards on each return. He ran four punts back for touchdowns. One was a school record 95 yards.

Loria was assistant coach at Marshall University on Nov. 14, 1970 when all players and coaches died in a plane crash. The tragic accident took 75 lives. Loria was 23 years-old and was married with two children and a third on the way. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1999. In the 1970s Frank Loria Memorial Field opened in Clarksburg City Park. Notre Dame High School plays its home games there.


Photograph; Dates: 1981-1984 (Virginia Tech career dates); football;
Bruce Smith battles Clemson, VT Sports Information photo

No. 78 Known as “The Sack Man” of Virginia Tech football, Bruce Smith capped his sensational college career in 1984 by winning the Outland Trophy as America’s top lineman. The Norfolk, Virginia native graduated from Booker T. Washington High. Following an all-state high school career, Smith accepted an athletic scholarship to Virginia Tech where he had a career total of 71 tackles behind the line of scrimmage for losses totaling 504 yards. Sports columnist Wilt Browning from The Greensboro Daily News noted that in four years Smith accounted for losses totaling more than five times the length of a football field (504 yards). Smith had 46 career quarterback sacks, including 22 during his junior season in 1983 when he was named first-team All-American. In 1984 he was a consensus All-American. His combination of strength, quickness, intelligence, and relentless effort made him the model for a pass rushing defensive lineman.

In the 1985 National Football League draft, Smith was the first selection of the Buffalo Bills. During his pro career, he established himself as one of the greatest defensive players ever to play the game. He was NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996, when he was named to the NFL’s All Decade Teams of the 1980s and 1990s. He was selected to 11 Pro Bowls. He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility on August 8, 2009. He ended his 19-year pro career in 2003 as the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 200. He anchored a defense that reached four straight Super Bowls. The Bills retired his No. 78 jersey in 2016. It joined Jim Kelly’s No. 12 jersey as the only numbers retired by the Bills. No player had worn number 78 since Smith left the team.

Bruce Smith served on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors from 2002 to 2003.


JIm Pyne
Jim Pyne in action against Miami Hurricanes, VT Sports Information photo

No. 73 Center Jim Pyne became Virginia Tech’s first unanimous All-American when he made all five major teams that were selected in 1993. In addition to All-America honors, he was named winner of the Dudley Award as Virginia’s Player of the Year. During his four seasons at Virginia Tech, he established himself as one of the Hokies’ top linemen of all time, leading the charge that rewrote the record books for scoring and total offense. He started 35 consecutive games and 41 of the 42 Tech games in which he played. He allowed just one quarterback sack by the man he was assigned to block during more than 2,700 career snaps. He played on 736 of a possible 770 snaps during his sophomore season. That translated to 96 percent of the Hokies’ plays on offense. He played every offensive down in six games that season and graded higher for his performance on the field than any lineman during Coach Frank Beamer’s first five seasons at Virginia Tech. He earned second-team All-BIG EAST Conference honors his junior year and was named to the league’s first All-Academic team. He played on 92 percent of the team’s offensive snaps and set a school weight room record with a 401-pound hang clean.

He helped clear the way for a record-setting offense in 1993 as Tech earned its bid to the Poulan/Weed Eater Independence Bowl, the first bowl bid of the Beamer era. VT won 45-20 over Indiana. He was named to the Big East Conference All-time team at the turn of the century. The offensive line meeting room at VT was named in his honor.

A native of Mitford, Massachusetts, he attended Milford High School, where he played for the Milford Scarlet Hawks and Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut where he played for the Choate Wild Boars. The Pynes were the first family to play three generations of professional football. Pyne’s father, George Pyne III, played for the Boston Patriots of the American Football League in 1965. His grandfather, George Pyne II, played for the Providence Steam Roller of the NFL in 1931.

Pine was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1994 draft, and he played four of his nine professional seasons with them as a left guard, starting in 38 of his 42 appearances from 1995 to 1997. He played for the Detroit Lions in the 1998 and then became the first overall pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 expansion draft. He was named team MVP by the Akron Browns backers and named top offensive lineman by the touchdown club.

New Policy on Retiring Numbers

In 2002, the Virginia Tech Athletics Department developed a new policy on retiring football jerseys. This special honor is bestowed to acknowledge an individual who has won an established national award in his sport, while allowing the number to continue to be worn by others. Virginia Tech no longer retires numbers.

Visit Special Collections

We have historical sports and other photographs, biographical files, sports programs and media guides in addition to many other treasures in Special Collections. We hope to welcome you.


Thanksgiving Dinner with Pop Owens

In the days before World War II, the Annual Thanksgiving Day Military Classic was played in Roanoke between Virginia Polytechnic Institute (V.P.I.) and Virginia Military Institute (V.M.I.) to determine the state football championship. In addition to the game, there were many festivities, parades, dances at the major Roanoke hotels, dinners, and parties in Roanoke followed by formal dances at the German Club and Cotillion Club when the cadets returned to Blacksburg.

John J. "Pop" Owens, Mess Steward
John J. “Pop” Owens, Mess Steward

In 1917 Pop Owens served his first Thanksgiving dinner for more than 500 hundred on the Sunday after Thanksgiving at the Mess Hall. Young ladies who remained over from the dances were guests in the private dinning hall along with their dates. The Thanksgiving repast became a much anticipated tradition at V.P.I. for as long as Pop Owens lived.

John Joseph Owens (V.A.M.C. class of 1879) was appointed Mess Steward for the 1917-1918 school year to replace the late John H. Shultz. Owens had experience with large dining operations at the University of Chicago and at Johns Hopkins University as well as with the Roanoke Elks Club. Under his stewardship, Mess Hall (soon to become the Dining Hall) took on a new excellence, and he became a favorite of the cadets and earned the affectionate nickname “Pop.” For Christmas 1917, the members of Company B presented him with a $50 gold piece in a handsomely wrapped box.

Pop Owens was legendary as the dining hall steward. Of course, there were a few bumps along the road. Owens introduced soft-boiled eggs for breakfast that first October. The eggs all disappeared up the sleeves of the cadets. None were eaten. After the cadets marched back to barracks and were dismissed, the air was suddenly filled with flying eggs in a brief but fierce battle. Pop never served soft-boiled eggs again.

1921 Thanksgiving Menu
1921 Thanksgiving Menu
1921 Thanksgiving DInner Menu
1921 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

Thanksgiving week of 1921 was an exciting time as the Corps of Cadets was invited to participate in the celebration in Richmond in honor of Ferdinand Foch, Marshall of France and Generalissimo of the Allied Armies during World War I. At the Thanksgiving Day classic the next day, V.P.I. triumphed over V.M.I., 26 – 7.

The 1921 Thanksgiving Dinner menu includes Fatimas, a brand of cigarette marketed as exotic Turkish tobaccos but produced in the United States by the Liggett & Myers tobacco company. Collectible cards of popular actresses of the day were included with each pack.

1929 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
1929 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
Floyd Mead and Turkey at a Football Game
Floyd Mead and Turkey at a Football Game

The outcome of the 1929 Annual Thanksgiving Day Military Classic of the South would once again determine the state football championship. Although Floyd “Hard Times” Mead drove a pair of turkeys instead of the usual one, regaled in orange and maroon ribbons, V.M.I. won the game 14 – 0.

1929 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
1929 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
Back of the 1929 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
Back of the 1929 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
Back of 1930 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
Back of 1930 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

V.P.I. avenged the past three years of losses to V.M.I. with a 24 – 0 win  in the 1930 Thanksgiving Classic. Once again V.P.I. claimed the title of State Champions.

1930 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu
1930 Thanksgiving Dinner Menu

The 1930 Thanksgiving menu indicates a locavore concern with eating local foods with the Montgomery County raised turkey and Virginia salt peanuts and creamery butter.


The Quadrangle from the Air, from the 1931 Bugle
View of the Quadrangle from the Air, from the 1931 Bugle


To learn more about the history of Virginia Tech, visit Special Collections on the first floor of Newman Library.

Source: Harry Downing Temple, The Bugle’s Echo: A Chronology of Cadet Life (Blacksburg, Virginia: Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets, Inc., 1998), vol. III, IV, and V.

Celebrating Virginia Tech LGBTQ History

Invitation to celebration of Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Project
Brian Craig graphics.

Special Collections is collaborating with the Department of History, the Ex Lapide Alumni Society (the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer alumni network at Virginia Tech), HokiePRIDE, and the LGBT Faculty/Staff Caucus in an oral history project that seeks to document the LGBTQ experience at Virginia Tech. The University Archives started the project at the request of the Ex Lapide Society.

Beginning in the fall of 2014, David Cline and the students in his oral history classes studied LGBTQ history and began collecting oral histories to document the history of LGBTQ life in the 20th century American South and specifically at Virginia Tech. Cline is Associate Director, Public History Program in the Virginia Tech Department of History. Megan Lee Myklegard of Ocala, Florida, a junior majoring in marketing management in the Pamplin College of Business, collected additional oral history interviews. Myklegard received an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Creativity and Innovation Grant to collect and transcribe nine interviews. The University Archives also conducted oral history interviews for the project.

A new web archive created in Omeka by Adrienne Serra, technical archivist for Special Collections, features full text and sound of the interviews, along with images, historical documents, and a timeline of significant events in the LGBTQ history of Virginia Tech The new site uses Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) to enhance access to the oral histories, providing a word-level search capability and allowing users to move from the interview index to the corresponding moment of the recorded interview online.

“Sharing Our Voices: A Celebration of the Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Project” will include an exhibit of Special Collections materials and web launch on Saturday, October 10, 2015 on the first floor of Virginia Tech’s Newman Library. The exhibit will be open on Saturday from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm and on Monday, October 12 from noon to 4:00 pm.

The exhibit will have two parts. Each of the eight screens in the multipurpose room will feature different materials related to the project or to the interviewees. The project’s web site and timeline will be on display so that users can explore the site. One screen will show a video of the 1986 AIDS Conference held at Virginia Tech. It’s Reigning Queens in Appalachia, a film by Carol Burch-Brown, Professor, Studio Art and Creative Technology in the School of Visual Arts, will be screened. The film includes audio clips and photographs from the Shamrock Bar, a gay bar in Bluefield, West Virginia. Megan Lee Myklegard prepared a short film to highlight the oral histories she did through her ACC grant.  Luther Brice’s chemical magic show will be shown. Brice, also known as Merlin the Magician, won both the Wine and Sporn awards for excellence in teaching at Virginia Tech. Mark Weber’s (class of 1987) student slide show on transvestites will be on display. Images from campus groups, including HokiePRIDE, o-STEM, QPOC (Queer People of Color), and the LGBT Faculty/Staff Caucus will be highlighted on another screen.

The second part of  exhibit will be in the skylight area of Special Collections and will feature books, art, and archival materials related to the LGBTQ experience or created by individuals who identify as LGBTQ. Laurel Rozema, Processing and Special Projects Archivist, and Anthony Wright, Resident Librarian curated the exhibit.

During the month of October, there will also be a special seating area outside the multipurpose room with screens where one might access the new LGBTQ timeline on the web site and other relevant materials. A selection of books from Newman Library will be available to read or check out. Books include Gregory Edward Allen’s Lambda Horizons Collection and winners of the Stonewall, Lambda Literary, and Rainbow List awards.

Refreshments will be served at the Saturday celebration. The event is free, and the public is welcome.

LGBTA VT: thechangeproject

Special Collections on the Road

Special Collections staff will be traveling to two events on July 17, the 2015 Virginia Cattle & Dairy Expo Field Day at Virginia Tech’s Kentland Farm and the “Women’s Weekend at Virginia Tech: Connect to Self, Others and Virginia Tech” at the Holtzman Alumni Center.

The Virginia Cattlemen’s Association expo will highlight Virginia Tech’s new Dairy Science Complex, a state-of-the-art facility.

image of the front of the house with a large tree near the doorway
Kentland manor house image taken March 1989 by Jimmie L. Price

Visitors will also have the opportunity to tour  the Kentland manor house, which is part of the Kentland Farm Historic and Archaeological District that constitutes the core area of an extensive nineteenth-century holding located on the New River in northwestern Montgomery County. The brick house was built in 1834-35 by Montgomery County’s largest antebellum landholder, James Randal Kent (1792-1867).

black and white image of head of James Kent
Image from oil painting of James Randal Kent. Image by John Nicolay, 1982.

Kent acquired the land, then known as Buchanan’s Bottom, through his wife Mary when her father, Gordon Cloyd, gave the 1,630-acre tract to her in 1818. The house has sophisticated Federal and Greek revival detailing.  The district also includes a hexagonal brick meat house.  A two-story four-room brick kitchen used to stand between the manor house and the smoke house. Bricks used in building the house and outbuildings were handmade by enslaved artisans.

Image showing part of manor side porch, kitchen, and meat housee
Four-room kitchen, on left, and meat house
Rear view of Kentland Manor with Porch
Rear view of Kentland Manor with Porch

At one time James Kent was Montgomery County’s most prosperous planter. In 1860 he owned about 6,000 acres, kept 40 horses and 1,100 other livestock, and owned additional personal property valued at $196,000. However, his fortunes took a turn for the worse during the Civil War.  In his will of 1867, he gave the Buchanan’s Bottom property to his youngest daughter, Margaret. She married Major John T. Cowan (1840-1929) of Clarksburg, now West Virginia, and they lived at Kentland for the remainder of their lives. Cowan was a member of the original Board of Visitors at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. He served with the Confederacy and represented Montgomery County, Virginia in the legislature. He raised shorthorn cattle at Kentland.

Sketch shows the various buildings around the mansion.
Working sketch of Kentland made by Jimmie L. Price per Frank Bannister

Selected materials related to Kentland from the University Libraries’ Special Collections Department will be on display in the manor house, including items from the James R. Kent, John T. Cowan, and Elizabeth Kent Adams collections. If you are unable to visit Kentland on Friday, you are invited to visit the Special Collections reading room on the first floor of Newman Library to learn more about Kentland and those who lived there. The reading room is open Monday through Friday from 8-5.

Women’s Weekend at Virginia Tech

Archivists Sam Winn and Laurel Rozema will be at the Women’s Weekend reception on Friday with a digital exhibit called “Climbing the Water Tower: How Women Went from Intruders to Leaders at Virginia Tech.” The water tower story features the exploit of Ruth Terrett, one of the first five women to enroll as full-time students at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College  and Polytechnic Institute, popularly called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or VPI, in 1921. Another seven part-time coeds also enrolled that year.