The Man, the Myth, the Mascot: Floyd H. Meade, Virginia Tech’s First Mascot Performer

Floyd "Hardtimes" Meade, 1921
Floyd “Hardtimes” Meade with his trained turkey at a 1921 football game

Floyd “Hardtimes” Meade. Many of you Hokie fans may know that name. We’ve mentioned him on this blog before in “Thanksgiving traditions at Virginia Tech” and When Orange Became The New Black (and Maroon the New Gray). He’s best remembered as the university’s first mascot performer, who dressed up as a clown in orange and maroon, and as the man who introduced the turkey to football games, influencing the HokieBird mascot.

But of course, Floyd Meade was more than that. People who knew the man recalled his activities at Virginia Tech to Col. Harry Temple, who wrote the epic history of Virginia Tech, The Bugle’s Echo (see also Harry Downing Temple Papers, Ms1988-039). But little about Meade’s family life has been discussed until now, thanks to the proliferation of genealogy websites, a search through digitized census, military, and vital records online reveals some important details about him and his family.

Floyd Hobson Meade (also Mead) was born October 2, 1882, in Blacksburg to Denie (also Dina) Meade. His father may have been either William Meade (on his marriage certificate) or Joe Dill (on his death certificate). Floyd also had a brother Emmett (b. 1880), sister Octavia (b. May 1885), and probably another brother named Alex (1887-1896). Emmett also worked at Virginia Tech, in the Mess Hall as a waiter and later the Machine Shop as a machinist.

According to Temple, Meade briefly lived with the family of Cadet N. W. Thomas, who brought him to campus in 1889. The students loved him, and after that, Meade started advertising the school’s athletic games. By 1896, he traveled with the football team on their trips as a mascot in the orange and maroon clown costume. (pp. 254-255) At this time, he also began working at the college in the Mess Hall (p. 448).

In 1913, Floyd started bringing live turkeys to football games, inspired by the team’s informal nickname the “Gobblers.” He trained the birds to pull carts, walk on a leash, and flap their wings and gobble on command. Temple even recounts after a victorious Thanksgiving Day game against V.M.I., that the rotund turkey was cooked and served in the Mess Hall! He also played music for himself and for the cadets – Temple states he was a regular one-man-band playing a guitar, bass drum, and harmonica all at once (p. 3115-3116).

Floyd Meade, 1921
Floyd Meade, 1921. Notice carefully the two-toned color of his outfit – probably maroon on the left and orange on the right!

On August 25, 1913,  Floyd married Lucy M. Turner, daughter of Giles Turner and a cook in private service. Floyd and Lucy were both involved in the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows in America. In 1905, he joined Tadmore Light Lodge #6184, the Blacksburg chapter of the fraternal organization. We have the Blacksburg Odd Fellows Records, Ms1988-009, which includes a membership book with an entry for Meade. Minutes and attendance records list him as Past Noble Father (the highest degree or rank in the organization), and a number of other documents refer to Meade’s service as secretary of the organization. Lucy Meade was a member of the Household of Ruth, the female auxiliary of the Odd Fellows. (Floyd’s membership entry and other Odd Fellows items are on display through the end of February in our exhibit on the first floor of Newman!)

Floyd’s life wasn’t always good though, and on April 24, 1929, Meade’s mother Denie died at around the age of 72. In December, Floyd lost his job at Virginia Tech, according to Temple. So students took up a collection to help with his family’s living expenses, and alumni wrote letters to try and change administrators’ minds – to no avail. (p. 3846-3847) Then, tragedy struck once more, when Lucy died on June 28, 1931, around age 45 of heart disease.

Floyd continued to work as a cook or waiter in restaurants around town and even served as head waiter at the Lake Hotel in Mountain Lake. By 1940, he was working as a janitor in private service. The next year, Meade died on February 8, after a car accident.

Floyd Meade (seated) and unidentified man (possibly nephew Emmett Meade, Jr.)
Floyd Meade (seated) and unidentified man (possibly nephew Emmett Meade, Jr.)

In 2003, Meade’s life provided the inspiration for Lucy Sweeney’s musical Hard Times Blues, which was performed in Roanoke and at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg. After researching him myself, I hope hope HOPE there’s a revival one day soon!

Sources:

 

Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute: 1915

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is, geographically speaking, a large entity. We have campuses in multiple locations, research centers throughout the state, and Virginia Cooperative Extension (which includes 107 county and city offices, 11 agricultural research and Extension centers, and six 4-H educational centers). Here in Blacksburg, there are more than 135 buildings, an airport, acres of land, and a LOT of people. But, of course, it didn’t always used to be this way. In 1872, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College started with one building (the former Preston and Olin Institute) and around 250 acres of land purchased from “Solitude” owner, Robert Taylor Preston. By March of 1915, a little over 100 years ago, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute had grown…

Map of Virginia Polytechnic Institute, 1915
Map of Main Campus of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, March 5, 1915 (click on the image for a larger version)

By then, it had 5 dormitories, 2 generic “academic” buildings and several identified academic buildings (Mining Hall, Science Hall, and Agricultural Hall), a library, a mess hall, machine and wood shops, a hot house, an administration building, a field house/track, and several utility buildings. This map, however, is also dotted with 19 private residences of faculty members, employees, and administrators. [Joseph Eggleston, then president of the university, lived in the Grove, which was completed in 1902, but it doesn’t appear on this map. It would be just off the south/south-east edge.] Most of these houses were on either side of the current Drillfield and this area was called “faculty row.”

If you look at this map in the modern age, some things may seem a little familiar: the old dormitory buildings are pretty much in the same location as the current Upper Quad (which has some neat history of its own); the current library building is on the site of the old one (#35 on the map); and the Agricultural Hall is the approximate site of the current Ag Quad. At the same time, there have certainly been some major changes: “Faculty row” houses have been replaced by academic buildings on one side of the Drillfield and dorms on the other; Miles Field is gone, replaced by a much larger athletics region a little further out; and the old Infirmary (#34) would be somewhere under Squires today. It’s all a matter of give and take over time, as our campus has continued to make way for what’s new.

Given the change of the last 100 years (and in the 43 years before that), it’s hard not to ask: What will happen in the next 100 years at Virginia Tech? Whatever happens, it’s bound to be exciting!

Climbing the Water Tower: How Women Went from Intruders to Leaders at Virginia Tech

In the early 1920s, the first female students at Virginia Tech were not quite welcome. They had special rules to follow, there were no dormitories for women, and male students would throw water on them as they passed by the dorms. But one day, Ruth Terrett, a civil engineering student, decided to show the men she could do just as well as them. She donned a cadet uniform and climbed the university’s water tower, a tradition the male cadets undertook to prove their strength and ability. That day, Ruth proved that women, when given the chance, could do what men could.

Women throughout Virginia Tech’s history have encountered many obstacles, and have consistently overcome them. Sam Winn and I (Laurel Rozema) recently searched through Special Collections’ holdings to document these women and their achievements in the university’s history. Our work culminated in an exhibit at the Alumni Association’s Women’s Weekend and a slideshow, entitled “Climbing the Water Tower: How Women Went from Intruders to Leaders at Virginia Tech.” Let me share with you a few of those milestones now, or you can view the PDF of our slideshow here.

Women join the student population

Many people know the story of the first female students: twelve women, including five full-time students, enrolled in 1921. Two years later, transfer student Mary Brumfield received a bachelor’s in applied biology, earning her master’s from VPI in 1925, the first woman to achieve either degree. But, did you know women began attending VPI several years earlier? They were allowed to sit in courses during the fall and spring for no credit and were admitted to summer classes, starting in 1916. 1921 was still a milestone year as it was the first all courses were open to women seeking a college degree, because there was “no good reason for not doing so” as the university bulletin states.

First female graduates: Mary Ella Carr Brumfield (‘23; ‘25); Ruth Louise Terrett (‘25); Lucy Lee Lancaster (‘25); Lousie Jacobs (‘25); Carrie Taylor Sibold (‘25)
First female graduates: Mary Ella Carr Brumfield (‘23; ‘25); Ruth Louise Terrett (‘25); Lucy Lee Lancaster (‘25); Lousie Jacobs (‘25); Carrie Taylor Sibold (‘25)

The first coeds, it must be admitted, were more than likely all white, given that segregation was legal due to Jim Crow laws and the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) upholding “separate but equal” racial segregation in the public sphere. It’s not clear when women of color were first admitted to the university, but international students from Mexico, China, Puerto Rico, and other places were already attending VPI by the 1920s. We believe the first woman from India to attend VPI was Kamini Mohan Patwary, who earned a master’s in statistics in 1955. However, it wasn’t until 1966 that the first six African American women matriculated, thirteen years after the first African American man and 55 years after the first women. In 1968, Linda Adams became the first African American woman to graduate from Virginia Tech. (Read more about her on our previously blog post.)

There wasn’t much for women to do athletically in the early years, so Ruth Terrett, mentioned above, started an informal women’s basketball team before graduating in 1925. Women joined the cheerleading team in 1941, but were not officially recognized as members until the 1955-1956 school year. The first intramural women’s sport was basketball in 1967. Three years later, swimming became the first intercollegiate sport for women, and women were allowed to compete on the gymnastics team.

Because the Corps of Cadets did not admit women, Patricia Ann Miller was denied permission to enroll in Corps classes. Despite this, in 1959, she became the first woman commissioned during graduation when she successfully applied for a commission from the Army Women’s Medical Specialist Corps. Finally, in 1973, the Corps formed the L Squadron, exclusively for female cadets. Deborah J. Noss became the first female squadron commander and Cheryl A. Butler the first female African American cadet (and squadron leader the next year). In 1975, women were admitted to join the cadet band, and four years later, the L Squadron was disbanded to order to integrate women into the formerly all-male companies. In 1987, Denise Shuster became the first female regimental commander and in 2005, Christina Royal the first African American female regimental commander.

Female students who were not athletes or cadets had other ways of “breaking the glass ceiling”. In 1953, Betty Delores Stough became the first woman to receive a doctorate, in parasitology. Jean Harshbarger was the first woman elected class president for the Class of 1974. In 1968, Jaqueline D. Dandridge was the first woman of color in the homecoming court, and Marva L. Felder became the first African American homecoming queen in 1983.

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Women join the workforce

What about the women working at VPI? Ella Agnew is often remembered as the first female home demonstration agent in the nation in 1910. When the university became headquarters for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, Agnew and the other agents became staff of the university. Agnew was also the first woman to receive VPI’s Certificate of Merit in 1926, and Agnew Hall was the first campus building named after a woman in 1949. However, few realize she was not the first woman to work at Tech. In 1902, Frances Brockenbrough became Superintendent of the Infirmary, and the next year Mary G. Lacy became the first female Librarian and Margaret Spencer the President’s Secretary.

Other female agents worked for the Extension during its early years at the university. In fact, although the African American division was headquartered at Hampton Institute, the agents were considered non-resident staff of VPI, first listed in the 1917 university catalog. One of these women was Lizzie Jenkins, who became the first African American female home demonstration agent in Virginia in 1913.

Women faculty members are first listed in the university catalog for 1921-1922. Mary Moore Davis ranked as a professor and worked as a state home demonstration agent in the Extension Division. She also established the home economics degree program at VPI. The first Dean of Women was Mildred Tate, who served from 1937 to 1947, and the first female academic dean was Laura Jean Harper, who in 1960 became the first Dean of the School of Home Economics. (Read more about her on our previously blog post.) Heidi Ford in 1970, Ella L. Bates in 1974, and Johnnie Miles in 1974 became the first female African American faculty members at Virginia Tech.

Women began achieving executive positions in the 1980s and 1990s. Sandra Sullivan was named Vice President for Student Affairs in 1982, and Peggy S. Meszaros served as the first (and currently only) female Provost from 1995 to 2000. Women started serving on the Board of Visitors in 1944, when VPI and Radford College merged. However in 2014, Deborah L. Petrine became the first female Rector in the university’s then 142-year history.

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Women by the numbers

Virginia Tech has gone through enormous changes since its founding in 1872, especially in the growth of opportunities for women. Women on the staff have grown from one female administrative officer in 1902 to five women faculty members (only 4.7% of the faculty) in 1921 to 1,525 or 39.5% of the faculty in 2014. The student population has grown from 12 women or 1.3% of the students in 1921 to 13,241 women or 42.4% of the student population in 2014.

According to the Digest of Education Statistics, in Fall 2013, women accounted for 54.6% of enrolled students, 48.8% of faculty, and 54.5% of total employees (including faculty) in degree-granting public institutions in the U.S. However, the Digest also shows that women received only 30.8% of the degrees conferred by STEM schools in 2012-2013. So, as far as women have come, there’s still more to do.

Ringing in the Junior Year

As a relatively new employee at Virginia Tech, I’ve been learning about the university by working occasionally on records in the University Archives. Currently, I am working on memorabilia and documents regarding the Ring Design Committee and the annual Ring Dance. You may already be aware of the tradition of the Virginia Tech class rings, but if not, then let me share what I’ve learned from our materials!

Class of 2005 Example Ring Mold
One of several ring molds for the Class of 2005

Each class at Virginia Tech designs their own class ring, rather than having one school ring for multiple classes. The tradition began in 1911, when the classes of 1911 through 1914 designed the first class rings at Virginia Tech. Each class since then designs and premieres their rings in the fall of their Junior year. A committee of class officers and student body appointees works with the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and a vendor to design a ring unique for that class but with traditional elements, such as eagles, the American flag, campus buildings, and a chain symbolizing class unity surrounding the school name and stone. Each ring collection since 1991 is named in honor of a distinguished alum or important associate of the university. (On a related note, the Class of 2011’s class gift to the university is a statue of a class ring merging the designs from the 1911 and 2011 class rings, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the tradition.)

In addition to ring proposals and committee planning documents, the University Archives has many wax molds like in the picture above and ring brochures, exemplified below.

One of the ring brochures discusses a a new tradition started in 2012 by alums of the Class of 1964. The Hokie Gold Legacy Program allows alumni to donate or bequeath their class rings to be either displayed or melted down for reuse in new class rings. The Class of 2014 received the first class rings made with the donations. This is a really neat initiative to bring together the past, present, and future students at Virginia Tech and to promote sustainability through reuse.

Another part of the Virginia Tech class ring tradition started in 1934. Each class holds a Ring Dance in the spring of the Junior year to symbolize the transition from junior to senior. At the dance, each student wears their date’s ring on a ribbon of one of the class colors. The Corps of Cadets form the shape of the class year and perform a sabre arch. Then, couples exchange their rings, during the song “Moonlight and VPI”, written by Fred Waring and Charles Gaynor for Virginia Tech. Over 30 years ago, one company of the Corps of Cadets released a small pig onto the dance floor after the ring exchange as a prank, and the Virginia Tech Swine Club continues the tradition to this today! At the end of the night, attendees go to the Drillfield to watch fireworks, hear the playing of “Silver Taps”, and witness the firing of the Corps cannon, Skipper. The students also receive gifts with the class logo and ring dance theme, such as t-shirts, drink glasses, and koozies.

The University Archives receives some memorabilia as well as invitations and tickets to the Ring Dance and Ring Week:

If you want to see some of the class rings, check out the Virginia Tech Alumni Association’s website. Also, visit the History of Virginia Tech (2010) website to learn more about university traditions.

John Redd Hutcheson, 9th President of Virginia Tech

Dr. John Redd Hutcheson
Portrait of Dr. John Redd Hutcheson, circa 1940s, from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001

Recently, Special Collections received a new collection, the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, containing letters, newspaper clippings, photographs, and more documenting the life of Virginia Tech president John R. Hutcheson.

Although only president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI, as Virginia Tech was then known) for two years from 1945 to 1947, John Redd Hutcheson (1886-1962) devoted himself to serving his alma mater and the people of Virginia. He enrolled at VPI in 1903 at the behest of his brother Tom. In order to pay for college, the brothers lived in the dairy barn on the college farm, where they milked 17 cows a night for 8 cents an hour each (roughly $2.15 an hour in 2015!) After saving his earnings, Hutcheson moved into the barracks and then waited tables in the school dining hall. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1907 and master’s in 1909.

Following several years teaching high school in Virginia and Mississippi, Hutcheson received a letter from Joseph D. Eggleston, VPI president and director of the Virginia Agricultural Extension Service (now Virginia Cooperative Extension), urging Hutcheson to join his staff. He accepted, becoming an animal husbandry specialist in 1914. In 1917, Hutcheson was appointed assistant director and two years later succeeded Eggleston as director of the Extension. Over the next 25 years, Hutcheson helped to organize the Virginia Farm Bureau and Virginia Agricultural Conference Board, to reestablish the Virginia State Grange, and to develop a long-range program for developing the state’s agriculture. All of his work developing the farm and home demonstration program in Virginia earned Hutcheson an honorary doctorate from Clemson University in 1937, along with his brother Tom – VPI professor T.B. Hutcheson.

"Clemson's First Honorary Degrees Go to Hutcheson Brothers of V.P.I."
Article entitled “Clemson’s First Honorary Degrees Go to Hutcheson Brothers of V.P.I.”, about John R. and T.B. Hutcheson, May 12, 1937, from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001

In 1944,  the Board of Visitors appointed Dr. Jack – as Hutcheson was affectionately known – acting president of VPI, and the next year he succeeded Dr. Julian A. Burruss as the ninth president. During his tenure, the student population swelled following the end of World War II, and he was responsible for making accommodations for the new civilian population (made up almost entirely of veterans), who outnumbered the cadet students for the first time in VPI’s history. Temporary trailer courts were established on campus to house the veterans, and Dr. Jack would personally visit them to ensure they had fuel for their homes.

"Dr. John R. Hutcheson Named President of Virginia [Polytechnic Institute]"
Article discusses the nomination of John R. Hutcheson as V.P.I. president, Roanoke Times, August 15, 1945, from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001

The enormity of his duties necessitated the creation new executive positions during Dr. Hutcheson’s presidency. He created the office of admissions, director of student affairs, director of buildings and grounds, and a university business manager position. The Board of Visitors, at Dr. Jack’s suggestion, appointed Walter S. Newman as the university’s first vice president – all within two years!

Page 2 of obituary for John R. Hutcheson, [January 1962], from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001
Page 2 of obituary for John R. Hutcheson, [January 1962], from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001
"Former VPI President Diest at 76"
Page 1 of obituary for John R. Hutcheson, [January 1962], from the John R. Hutcheson Family Collection, Ms2015-001
Unfortunately, just 16 months into his presidency, Hutcheson entered the hospital and had to take sick leave. Newman became acting president until Sept. 1947, when he succeeded Hutcheson. Simultaneously, the Board of Visitor’s elected Dr. Jack as the first chancellor of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the next year named him the first president of the newly formed VPI Educational Foundation, Inc. (now the Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc.) Dr. Jack remained chancellor until 1956 and president of the foundation until his death in 1962.

The legacy of Dr. Hutcheson’s tenure at Virginia Tech is still visible today – from the continuing work of the Virginia Cooperative Extension to the numerous offices he created still operating. And of course, you can visit Hutcheson Hall on the Blacksburg Campus, dedicated to John R. and T. B. Hutcheson in 1956.

Look for the completed finding aid in the next week for the John R. Hutcheson Family Papers, Ms2015-001. In the meantime, you can find out more about Dr. Jack in the John Redd Hutcheson Papers, RG 2/9 and Edgemont Farm Papers, Ms2003-022, documenting the administration of the Hutcheson family farm.

LGBTQ History at Virginia Tech Part 1: The Struggle for Recognition

Going off to college is when many students discover who they really are for the first time, and for some this can be a very scary thing. This is especially true if the real you is someone that your university and society at large refuses to recognize or accept. This was the reality for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and Queer communities at Virginia Tech for many years, and it continues to be in many places around the world even today. From an archival and historical perspective, this presents a big challenge. If a group is marginalized and denied acceptance, then they won’t show up in the mainstream. If they’re forced to live in secret, their history won’t be in the written record, at least not accurately. So basically, how do you document the undocumented?

One option is to record the histories that were never written down, but still remembered by those who lived them with oral histories. This was the inspiration for the Virginia Tech LGBTQ Oral History Project, which had its beginnings in 2013 in the Ex Lapide Society, a Virginia Tech LGBTQ alumni group. Since then, Special Collections and members of various organizations and departments around campus have gotten involved, including graduate and undergraduate-level oral history classes, in which students conducted a series of oral history interviews in Fall 2014. Those interviews will be online in the coming months as part of an interactive exhibit, and the project will undoubtedly grow beyond oral histories to include many other collections, materials and exhibits documenting the history of the LGBTQ communities at Virginia Tech.

Constitution for the Gay Alliance of Virginia Tech, the first openly-gay student organization.

As an early part of this project, I started digging around in some of our university archives collections from the late 1960s and early 1970s, looking for some of the earliest documentation we have of the LGBTQ community at Virginia Tech. This documentation involves the Gay Alliance, the first openly gay student group on campus, and their struggles with university administration to be recognized as an official Virginia Tech student organization. In the records of Vice President William McKeefery, I found a file with documentation regarding the decision to accept or reject the Gay Alliance as an official student group. Included was a copy of the group’s constitution, a report on homosexuality from the Department of Health, a memorandum to President T. Marshall Hahn regarding the commission’s decision, and correspondence between Gay Alliance President Robert Frye and Virginia Tech Vice President William McKeefery. In the Office of Academic Affairs Records 1961-1977, I found a letter from the Dean for Student Programs to the Vice President for Student Affairs, discussing the Student Constitutional Affairs Board’s vote to recognize the Gay Alliance as an official student organization on May 12, 1971. Although the board had voted four to one to approve the Gay Alliance, there was a major point of contention over the fact that the organization’s purpose and objectives were in violation of Virginia state law (Virginia’s laws against same-sex sexual relations were not officially repealed until 2014).

A statement written by Executive Assistant to the President and General Council Walter H. Ryland to University President Dr. T. Marshall Hahn, Jr. regarding the Gay Student Alliance.

Ultimately, the decision was appealed and struck down by the Commission on Student Affairs. But the struggle continued. In the papers of Alfred H. Krebs, Vice President for Special Projects, I found a written statement from May 5, 1976, on the rationale for rejecting the approval of the Gay Student Alliance as an official Virginia Tech student group.

The Gay Student Alliance did not gain official status at Virginia Tech until Fall 1976, but then fell inactive for several years in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to lack of leadership. It would not be until 1985, when the next LGBTQ organization, Lambda Horizon, officially formed that the LGBTQ communities would begin to play an active role on campus. That will be in the next part of this story, so stay tuned!

You’re Accepted!

We seem to be on a roll lately with posts about Virginia Tech history. While that isn’t all we’re about, I’m not one to ruin a good thing. Plus, as I was looking for this item the other day, I thought it might be fun to post. It’s an acceptance letter to Virginia Agriculture and Mechanical College, dated September 23, 1873. (For those of you keeping track, that’s only the second year VAMC was accepting students!) In some ways, this item is a sneak peek. It’s part of a collection that has yet to be processed (more on that in a moment), but it’s one of those tidbits that was begging to be shared.

Acceptance letter to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, to "G. D. Showacre, Esq.," dated September 23, 1873.
Acceptance letter to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, to “G. D. Showacre, Esq.,” dated September 23, 1873.

The handwriting is a bit squashed in places, but this letter reads:

G. D. Showacre, Esq.

Dr Sir, I have the pleasure of informing you that the Faculty has appointed you a State student in this College. You will please report in person as soon as practicable, and a failure to do so within thirty days will forfeit the appointment.

Very respectfully yrs

V. E. Shepherd

Secretary Faculty

Actually, it’s less a letter and more of a note. Formal, to be sure, but still only two sentences: You’re accepted. Show up in the next month or don’t show up at all. Quite direct and to the point.  In any case, “G. D. Showacre” is actually George D. Showacre from Greene County, Virginia. He attended VAMC for three years, from 1873 to 1876–clearly, he showed up! This is an exciting piece of university history for us and we’re lucky it survived this long.

This item is part of a donation received by Special Collections last year. The collection hasn’t been processed yet, but once it is, it will be available as the Showacre Family Collection. In addition to the letter, it includes a handwritten copy of a funeral sermon for Charles Showacre delivered by William Runyan on May 22, 1864. That being said, just because a collection isn’t processed, doesn’t mean it’s off limits! If you’d like to see the letter in person, you’re welcome to visit us. We’ll be here.

I. J. (Jack) Good: Virginia Tech’s Own Bletchley Park Connection


Enigma, Ultra, Alan Turing, Bletchley Park, the British efforts to break German codes in World War II. Maybe you’ve seen or are waiting to see the 2014 movie, The Imitation Game, which tells part of this story with Turing, quite rightly, as its central character. Perhaps you became aware of this highly classified historical episode when the secrecy surrounding it gave way to public sensation in the early 1970s, almost thirty years after the end of the war . . . or in the many books and movies that have followed. An interest in wartime history, cryptography, or the early development of computers provide only a few of the possible avenues into the story. But did you know that one of the primary characters in that story, a mathematician who earned a Ph.D from Cambridge in 1941 with a paper on topological dimension, was a professor of statistics at Virginia Tech from 1967 until his retirement in 1994, and lived in Blacksburg until his death just a few years ago at the age of 92? Maybe you did, but I didn’t. His name was I. J. Good, known as Jack.

He was born Isidore Jacob Gudak in London in 1916, the son of Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants. Later changing his name to Irving John Good, he was a mathematical prodigy and a chess player of note. In a interview published in the January 1979 issue of Omni, Good says of the claim that he rediscovered irrational numbers at age 9 and mathematical induction and integration at 13, “I cannot prove either of these statements, but they are true.”

In 1941, Good joined the code-breakers at Bletchley Park, specifically, to work on the German Naval Enigma code in Hut 8 under the direction of Alan Turing and Hugh Alexander, the mathematician and chess champion who had recruited him. This is the story that is told in The Imitation Game, in which Jack Good is played by actor James Northcote. Along with Turing’s story, it is the story of the development of the machines that would break the German Enigma codes. The Enigma machine was an electromechanical device that would allow the substitution of letters–and thus production of a coded message–through the use of three (later four) rotors that would accomplish the substitutions. If you knew which rotors were being used and their settings, (changed every day or every second day), one could decode a message sent from another Enigma. If you didn’t know the rotors and the settings, as James Barrat writes in Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era, “For an alphabet of twenty-six letters, 403,291,461,126,605,635,584,000,000 such substitutions were possible.”

This is the world Jack Good entered on 27 May 1941, that and the world of war and the urgent need to defeat the Axis. Turing had already built some of the first Bombes, electromechanical machines–among the earliest computers, really–and had achieved initial and significant success. Good belonged to a team that would make improvements to the process from an approach based in a Bayesian statistical method that Good described in 1998 speech as “invented mainly by Turing.” He also called it “the first example of sequential analysis, at least the first notable example.” For the duration of the war, Good would work to further the British code-breaking technologies, adding his knowledge and understanding of statistics to the development of machines known as the “Robinsons” and “Colossus.” The program was remarkably successful. In its early days, it is credited with helping in the effort to sink the German battleship Bismarck; then helping to win the Battle of the Atlantic, directing the disruption of German supply lines to North Africa, and having an impact on the invasion of Europe in June 1944. What came to be known as “Ultra,” the intelligence obtained by the work of the Bletchley Park code-breakers, is, generally, thought to have shortened the war by two to four years. Jack Good, who worked with Alan Turing both during and after the war, said, “I won’t say that what Turing did made us win the war, but I daresay we might have lost it without him.”

After the war, Good was asked by Max Newman, a mathematician and another Bletchley Park alum, to join him at Manchester University, where they, later joined by Turing, worked to create the first computer to run on an internally stored program. A few years later, he returned to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) for another decade of classified work for the British government. A three-year stint teaching at Oxford led to a decision in 1967 to move to the United States, but not before he served as a consultant to Stanley Kubrick, who was then making 2001: A Space Odyssey. The HAL (Heuristically-programmed ALgorithmic computer) 9000–the computer with a mind of its own–presumably owed much to the mind of Jack Good.

The camera eye of the HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick's 2001 : A Space Odyssey
The camera eye of the HAL 9000 from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 : A Space Odyssey
Jack Good (right) at Hawk Films Ltd., 1966, as adviser on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey
Jack Good (right) at Hawk Films Ltd., 1966, as adviser on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

At Virginia Tech, Good arrived as a professor of statistics. Always a fellow for numbers, he noted:

I arrived in Blacksburg in the seventh hour of the seventh day of the seventh month of year seven of the seventh decade, and I was put in apartment seven of block seven of Terrace View Apartments, all by chance.

Later, he would be University Distinguished Professor and, in 1994, Professor Emeritus. In 1998, he received the Computer Pioneer Award given by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society, one of a long list of honors. Good’s published work spanned statistics, computation, number theory, physics, mathematics and philosophy. A 1979 Omni article and interview reports that two years earlier a list of his published papers, articles, books, and reviews numbered over 1000. In June 2003, his list of “shorter publications” alone included 2278 items. He published influential books on probability and Bayesian method.

In that Omni interview, the conversation ranges over such topics as scientific speculation, precognition, human psychology, chess-playing computers, climate control, extraterrestrials, and more before settling in on the consequence of intelligent and ultraintelligent machines. On the latter topic, in 1965, Good wrote:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion,” and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”

Special Collections at Virginia Tech has a collection of the papers of Irving J. Good that includes 36 volumes of bound articles, reviews, etc. along with a videotape of him and Donald Michie that commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the work they both did at Bletchley Park. Among the rest of the material is some correspondence and a group of papers described as “PBIs,” which I now know to be “partly baked ideas,” some his own, many sent to him by others, but for which he appears to have had a fondness.

In the end, however, and as his 2009 obituaries suggest, it will be his code-breaking and other intelligence work, particularly from the days at Bletchley Park that I. J. Good will be most remembered. Even though he and all the participants were prevented from talking about that work for years, one guesses that Jack Good wanted to leave others with a sense of it, particularly once in Virginia, as he drove away, with his customized license plate:

Photograph of Jack Good's Virginia license plate (from Collegiate Times, 10 Feb. 1989)
Photograph of Jack Good’s Virginia license plate (from Collegiate Times, 10 Feb. 1989)

Alice- Virginia Tech’s 1960s Underground Newspaper

One of the most recent digital collections to go up on Virginia Tech Special Collections Online is Alice, an underground student newspaper published by The Blacksburg Free Press between 1968 and 1970. The 26 issues of the newspaper available here are a fascinating look at the progressive movement of the late 1960s and how those sweeping social changes played out on Virginia Tech’s campus and in the views and activities of Virginia Tech students.

The idea of a free press newspaper serving the Virginia Tech community came about during the 1968 Spring Break by a group of liberal-religious students headed by Everett Hogg. Alice’s creation was spurred by several events that had taken place recently on campus, the most notable of which was a scandal surrounding the disciplinary action taken against four students in January 1968 after they attempted to conduct a student opinion poll on the university’s dress regulations, which included prohibiting women from wearing pants. The official student newspaper, the Virginia Tech (now known as the Collegiate Times) had been publishing front page news articles on the developing scandal, but when a petition was created to be presented to the student government senate to reverse the disciplinary decision of the dean’s office, all mention of the scandal and the petition suddenly disappeared from the newspaper’s next issues.

A spread in Alice, Volume 5, No. 1, April, 1969
A spread in Alice, Volume 5, No. 1, April, 1969

The sudden, suspicious absence of a story so important to the student population caused many to worry that the university administration was pressuring the newspaper to suppress information that put them in a bad light. Because the University Publications Board controlled the Virginia Tech’s funds, the administration effectively controlled what they could and could not publish. As Bryan Ackler, one of Alice’s founding editors, wrote in a 1969 essay about Alice: “The Virginia Tech as it was structured in the Spring of ‘68 was not suited for the liberal communities’ needs nor was it open to the type of news that needed to be presented.”

The actual physical work of setting up the paper began in a secretive atmosphere. As Ackler writes: “If the university could bust four students for taking a dress poll we didn’t know what it would do about an unapproved newspaper.” Surprisingly, the administration’s reaction to the paper was quiet, and the Alice staff were able to publish with only minimal harassment from the administration for the entirety of the paper’s run. The first issue of Alice was published on May 18, 1968. A justification and kind of manifesto for the underground newspaper was written by Everett Hogg in the front page editorial in the first edition: “V.P.I. is undergoing the metamorphosis from small college to large university….the fact that this campus is beginning, and must fully face the issues on our campus has demonstrated that there is a definite need for a focal point of free expression and presentation of ideas at V.P.I. Thus, the conception and birth of Alice.”

The first two issues of Alice in the Spring of 1968 were immensely popular with the student body and quickly sold out. Despite this popularity, Alice did not garner the kind of responsive involvement from the student body that the staff had been hoping for, and the focus quickly shifted from creating a forum for dialogue between students and the administration to an open-ended presentation of various political issues and opinion pieces. As Ackler writes: “we promised to print anything as long as it was well written and was of short enough length to make it printable in a newspaper.”

Over the course of the next year, the small staff of Alice began to struggle with the realities of running an underground newspaper. As Ackler writes: “shop keepers throw you out of their shops while you are soliciting ads, hate notes are nailed to your door… and a lot of people call you a communist, even though they don’t know what one is, they know what he looks like.”

“In other large schools there are other groups that do all of the organizing in the community. Here in Blacksburg until just last month there has been only one agency for any liberal action at all, that has been Alice. Where the general rule is that there is an organizing group and no media, here we had media and no organizing.Any action that the liberal community felt had to be taken, fell on the shoulders of the paper staff.”

By the Fall of 1969, the frequency of Alice publications started to dwindle, and in early 1970, the paper went defunct. Despite its short run, Alice gives us an interesting snapshot of an important time in our history, a time when many things were in transition both on Virginia Tech’s campus and around the world. Check it out!

Grief and Remembrance

It is often true that in our experience of sorrow we discover ourselves to be part of larger communities than we had first realized. Our grief resonates with others and our shared humanity becomes manifest in expressions of common feeling and support—first as condolence, and later as remembrance.

In the days and weeks following the events of April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech received over 89,000 cards and letters of support, posters, banners, art, poetry, wreaths, memory books, and other unique items from around the world. Campus visitors often left items at the Drillfield memorial.  These were displayed on the Virginia Tech campus for several months before being gathered and inventoried to create the “Virginia Tech April 16, 2007, Archives of the University Libraries.” The collection consists of over 500 cubic feet of materials available to researchers through University Libraries’ Special Collections.  (The finding aid for the collection is available here.)

This year, as part of Virginia Tech’s remembrance of the April 16, 2007 shootings, an art exhibit of items from the Condolence Archive will be installed in the Special Collections reading room on the first floor of Newman Library from April 13 – 16.

The exhibit, Never Forgotten: A Remembrance Art Exhibit from the April 16 Condolence Archives, is curated by Robin Scully Boucher, art director of Squires Perspective Gallery, and includes some works that have not been publicly shown before.

Hours of the exhibit:

  • April 13: 9:00am – 4:00pm
  • April 14: 1:00pm – 4:00pm
  • April 15: 8:00am – 5:00pm
  • April 16: 8:00am – 5:00pm

A reception will be held April 16 from 2:00pm to 3:00pm

The exhibition and reception are free and open to the public. For more information, please contact Tamara Kennelly at 540-231-9214.

We hope you will come by Special Collections to see this selection of the tremendous outpouring of support and love extended to the Virginia Tech community in its time of grief.

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