Friday, December 7, 2018

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Dr. Katherine Roberts
Among the Kentuckians in Hawaii the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor was 1925 University of Kentucky graduate Dr. Katherine Roberts.  Her father, Professor George Roberts, was an agronomist with the UK College of Agriculture.

While at UK Roberts studied Romance Languages but her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Iowa were in Child Psychology.  In 1941 Dr. Roberts had taken a leave of absence from the Merrill-Palmer School in Detroit, Michigan for a one year special assignment in Hawaii.  She worked with the University of Hawaii to prepare teachers in Hawaii to improve their skills in working with students of the many nationalities enrolled in Hawaii's public schools.

Roberts recalled that following the attack all schools on the islands were closed until the following February 2.  Also, everyone on the islands were required to be fingerprinted and inoculated for smallpox and typhoid.  All nonessential civilian employees were asked to leave the islands and gas masks were issued to those who remained.  Roberts returned to Detroit the following September.

Monday, December 3, 2018


Dr. Frank L. McVey served UK as president from 1918 to 1940.  An economist by training, he and his spouse, Frances Jewell McVey, promoted international activities on the UK campus.

Speaking to a convocation at UK in October, 1943, in the midst of World War II, McVey said that "The people of South America must be received by us on a basis of equality" adding that "we must accept these people with their differences and without condescension if we hope to be good neighbors."

McVey had recently returned from a three month stay in Venezuela during which he represented the United States government in planning for a national university.  He noted that "people of the United States must first learn to understand the peoples and problems of South America" where better hospitals, roads, schools, sanitation, and public health are needed.  He acknowledged that the challenge was great with "75 percent of the population illiterate and with prevalence of tuberculosis, syphilis, and malaria."

But Frank McVey knew if the United States would not help, who would?

Kentucky Kernel, October 8, 1943

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


In 1929 UK President Frank McVey declared November 28 "a day of thanksgiving."  He noted that, "As members of the University we are thankful for health, for opportunities to work, study and play. We are glad we are citizens of this great Republic and reside in Kentucky."

Like other football rivalries across the country, the UK - Tennessee football game was played on Thanksgiving making it an even more special game for players and fans alike.  Looking ahead to the upcoming football game McVey added that, "It is enough to make us celebrate the day with grateful hearts and to carry in our minds the hope and expectation of a fine victory over Tennessee on Thursday."  But the UK president warned that the celebration must not include alcoholic beverages, especially since prohibition was the law of the land."  He asked that "good sportsmanship and good behavior should be the order of the day."

But just in case the president's request was not sufficient, McVey let the students know that ""The University has asked the federal prohibition department to send a large force of agents to see that the law is obeyed" and "persons violating the law will be arrested by prohibition agents."

The game, witnessed by 20,000 fans in an almost blinding snowstorm, ended in a 6-6 tie and no reports of arrests were mentioned.  But like so many Kentucky-Tennessee football games before and since, Kentucky sportswriters and fans tried to make the best of another disappointment.

A Tennessee sportswriter reported that, "It was a heart-breaking scene for the loyal supporters of the courageous Kentucky eleven. With victory in their grasp ]Tennessee players] Bobbie Dowd and Buddy Hackman changed things so quickly that even now they are trying to figure out just how it all happened."

"...Let's pay tribute to a great Kentucky eleven. They deserved to win the football game today. From the start of the game they had outgained and outplayed Tennessee. But, folks, they didn't outfight the Volunteers. Every single Tennessee man left the field wearing the red badge of courage."  But even though Tennessee had won 28 of their last 29 games, "it will be a long, long time before the narrow escape will be forgotten."  And so it goes....

Kentucky Kernel, November 27 and December 6, 1929


Sunday, November 11, 2018



Marion Brooke Sprague, B.S, Lexington, Pre-Medical Society; Philosophian; W.W.C.A.

"Marion has ambition.  All her life she wanted to enter the medical profession as a doctor or nurse.  Now we learn that her ambition will soon be realized, as she will enter Johns Hopkins in the fall.  We wish her success.  Marion was not originally a member of the Class of '20, but during the war she left to enter the Red Cross.  After the Armistice was signed she returned to school and we were glad to welcome her into our ranks." [From the 1920 Kentuckian]

Marion Sprague was one of many UK faculty, staff, and students who left the university to contribute in various ways to the war effort.  While she did not achieve her dream of becoming a physician, she did pursue a career as a public health nurse.  After returning to Lexington from Baltimore, Sprague worked for her father, Dr. George P. Sprague, who owned and operated High Oak Sanatorium on the site of the current St. Joseph Hospital.

Sprague later served as a rural health nurse in Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, and New Jersey.  In 1946 she became Executive Director of the Kentucky State Association of Registered Nurses.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

President Otis Singletary Birthday

Today, October 31 would have been President Otis A. Singletary's 97th birthday.

Otis Singletary led a most interesting life and career.  Fortunately, during the last years of his life we spent hours recording his oral history.  The interviews contains many serious moments as well as some very funny comments from the veteran educator and administrator.  

After winning numerous teaching awards as a professor, Dr. Singletary valued the close relationships he had developed with students over the years.  As UK president during the unrest of the Vietnam era, he had a hard time dealing with the changing student culture that seemed to distance him from the students.

President Singletary with students in 1975.

For example, the following is an excerpt from my interview with him recorded July 7, 1988:

Birdwhistell:  Students sometimes called you inaccessible.  Was there any way, looking back on it now, you could have done differently at that point to try and make the students feel that, as president, you were more accessible to their needs?

SINGLETARY:  Well, I've always had the feeling that that's what you use when you don't have anything else.  Just say somebody's inaccessible.  Matter of fact, I was accessible to anybody who came in there.  I guess, though, what I should've done is what most people do.  Make a public statement.  If I ever took another job, I would have made such a statement, "My door is open!"  I never bothered to say that because I think it's empty and bankrupt because your door isn't always open.  It's closed quite often because you've got work to do!

But, you should say that and then they'll forgive you.  Everybody will go in and say his door is open.  So, yes, I would do that as a matter of pure cynicism next time around.  I would say, yes, my door is open.

If you prepare a manual for new college presidents, tell them to always say to the students, "My door is open."


Sunday, October 21, 2018

Senator Walter Dee Huddleston

Senator Walter Dee Huddleston
Senator Walter Dee Huddleston, who died last Tuesday, had been a great friend and supporter of UK Libraries. A 1949 UK graduate, he served on UK's Board of Trustees and on the UK Libraries National Advisory Board. UK Libraries is the home of his collections of papers and oral histories.

In his last oral history interview with me, I asked the Senator what he was most proud of. He said simply, "I am proud of my family, I am proud of my service in World War Two, and I am proud of the opportunity to represent Kentucky in the United States Senate. That is enough for one man to be proud of." Thank you Senator Huddleston for your service.

Saturday, September 22, 2018


University of Kentucky Libraries officially accepted the collection of Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson at a dedication ceremony in 1977.  Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, featured speaker at the ceremony, described Vinson as a man of deeds whose life and career could be summarized by noting his "dedication, common sense, and perseverance. He was led on by a continuous crusade to find the truth which he believed to be the only absolute."

Fred M. Vinson
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Jean Baker Henrich
Born near Louisa, Kentucky in 1890, Vinson graduated from Centre College in 1911. President Harry Truman appointed him Chief Justice in 1946.  Truman's choice of Vinson came as no big surprise but some still questioned the qualifications of the former city attorney, commonwealth's attorney, Member of Congress, Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals, Secretary of the Treasury, and close friend of President Truman.

At the time of his nomination, the nation's highest court was being harshly criticized for the feuding among the justices and the perception of politics within the court.  In the midst of what many believed to be one of the low points in the court's history The New York Times editorialized:

         "The Supreme Court, like any human institution, has its bad moments.  It has
         lately had a good many such.  It does not stand as high in popular respect as it
         did.  Under Chief Justice Vinson it should have a chance to climb back on
         the high bench--the loftiest and most responsible judicial bench in the
         world--and resume its task of interpreting the Constitution.  Liberals and
         conservatives on the Court there will still be, but we may hope that the clash
         of their philosophies will now be dignified and fruitful.  Mr. Vinson has his     

Vinson Court

The Supreme Court members at the beginning of the Brown case. Front row, left to right: Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Fred Vinson, Stanley Reed, and William O. Douglas. Back row: Tom Clark, Robert Jackson, Harold Burton, and Sherman Minton. 
(Courtesy of Supreme Court of the United States) 

Vinson was unable to end all of the bickering on the court.  Moreover, his death in 1953 makes it impossible to know if Vinson could have led the court through the Brown decision in 1954,  At least one biographer argues that the unanimous decisions of the Vinson Court regarding race made the Brown decision possible.

The Fred Vinson Collection is comprised of over 400 boxes of correspondence and legal papers and over 200 photographs.  Twenty-four oral history interviews regarding Vinson's life and career are also available in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

For further information see:

James E. St. Clair and Linda C Gugin, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography

Kentucky Encyclopedia