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

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


Clyde Lilly, Chairman of the University Safety and Emergency Subcommittee
Recent international events remind anyone who lived through the height of the cold war tensions and the Cuban Missile Crisis that threat of a nuclear war were very real.  Newspapers regularly showed huge maps on their front pages of how far the damage would spread across the countryside if specific cities or military installations were struck.  Nuclear radiation from the blast would permeate even more of the nation.

Schools held regular bomb drills during which students were told to duck and cover under their little school desks.  Buildings that might provide the most shelter, usually in a basement, during an attack were marked with large signs so the public would know where to go.  One might even come across a display for a home fallout shelter for sale in the parking lot of a local shopping center.

By the spring of 1962 fourteen buildings had been designated by the UK Campus Safety and Emergency Subcommittee as fallout shelter areas.  The committee reported that 4,196 people could be sheltered safely on the main campus while the Medical Center Complex could accommodate another 2,000.  Yellow signs measuring 12 by 20 inches with black lettering were placed outside of each designated building.

Among the UK buildings chosen were:

Taylor Education Building
Holmes Hall
Keeneland Hall
Barker Hall
Lafferty Hall
Fine Arts Building
Funkhouser Building
Home Economics Building
Memorial Hall

Students Playing cards in a fallout shelter in Taylor Education Building
during a shelter manager instruction class. 
Three years earlier a "family fallout shelter" had been constructed in Maxwell Place, the home of President Frank Dickey and his young family.  President Dickey reported to the UK Board of Trustees at their November 20, 1959 meeting that "he had been requested" to allow the shelter to be constructed in Maxwell Place by the Office of Civilian Defense Mobilization.  The $1,500 shelter "could be used as a sample and viewed by the public" to "encourage private citizens to construct their own fallout shelters."

Governor Bert Combs and President Frank Dickey
inspecting the Maxwell Place Fallout Shelter
President Dickey noted that "his first reaction" to the proposed shelter "was negative but it seemed desirable "even though it would cause some trouble" to cooperate with the federal officials.  He recommended approval by the board and following "a few questions" the board approved the proposal.

Fortunately, the shelters were never needed.

Monday, August 20, 2018


As the academic year opened fifty years ago in the fall of 1968, University of Kentucky leadership was transitioning.  President John Oswald resigned the previous spring following political sparring with Kentucky's new governor, Louie B. Nunn who also served as Chair of the UK Board of Trustees.  During his five year tenure as president, Oswald oversaw major changes in UK's academic program and faculty culture as well as a physical transformation of the campus.

Albert D. Kirwan
Albert D. Kirwan, a soft-spoken, scholarly, former football coach now led UK as president on an interim basis.  He faced a local community which felt alienated from the growing university, a student culture becoming more vocal about their needs both academically and socially, and high expectations left behind by his predecessor.  He and Betty Kirwan brought much needed stability, if only temporary, to the campus as they opened up Maxwell Place, the president's home, to the community.

Kirwan assured the press that, "My goal is to keep the impetus going.  There will be no slacking off.  I intend to give students and faculty confidence that the show will still go on."  Speaking to a convocation of new students and their parents Kirwan estimated that he would be president for only several more months as a committee was already hard at work to select a permanent president. 

Kirwan spoke proudly of his predecessor accomplishments to grow the university and the community college system adding that, "Most notable of all we have recruited many new faculty who are young, vibrant, and dynamic."  Kirwan counseled the first year students that "they would have a major role in the shaping of their university, especially today in a time of increasing trends to violence and instability.

Kirwan served until August, 1969, guiding the university firmly and steadily through a difficult and unsettled time at UK.  At its September, 1969 meeting, the UK Board of Trustees retroactively named Albert D. "Ab" Kirwan the "Seventh President of the University of Kentucky."  Kirwan returned to his teaching and research and witnessed his successor's efforts to deal with growing student unrest including demonstrations following the Kent State shootings that closed the university.

Kirwan died November 30, 1971

Additional information can be found at:

Kentucky Kernel, August 27, 1968

Frank Mathias, Albert D. Kirwan (University Press of Kentucky, 1975)

Kirwan bio:

Monday, July 23, 2018

Frank G. Dickey Hall

Dickey Hall opened on campus in 1964 as the Frank G. Dickey Education Annex.  Frank Dickey served as UK's fifth president after serving as Dean of the College of Education.

Dickey Hall construction

The building cost, which cost $200,000, contained two graduate classrooms, 12 regular classrooms, an observation room for education classes, 49 offices, and several reception areas.  The building also housed the Education Library and the Bureau of School Services.

Dickey Hall was officially dedicated March 11, 1965.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


Veterans enrolling at the University of Kentucky following World War II created a housing shortage on campus.  The July 19, 1946 Kentucky Kernel reported that barracks were being constructed around the campus for up to 48 women and 50 men but they would not be ready in time for the beginning of the semester.  Also, planning and construction for Shawneetown, a new housing project on the agricultural farm, was just getting underway.

Dean of Women Sarah Holmes warned UK officials that the university should not house returning male veterans at the expense of the women students.  However, 69 women students, including Chi Omega and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority members and former women residents of the Shelby House, still did not have housing for the fall semesters.

Dean Holmes negotiated for the university to rent the former Odd Fellows Home on Sixth Street for 200 women students.  She was also using scholastic standing to determine which women students had first access to the 694 beds available.  Women students with the lowest grades would be forced to find living accommodations off campus.

Dean Sarah Holmes

Writing in 1946 Dean Homles noted:

"I cannot help but wonder if the doors are closing for women students at our co-educational institutions.  It is a short-sighted policy to provide educational benefits for veterans at the expense of women.  More women than ever are applying for entrance to institutions of higher learning.  Some people are saying let women wait their turn.  There is no turn in higher education for women.  The veterans' pressure will be felt perhaps five or ten years.  Women cannot wait until this pressure is reduced.  Though discrimination against women students is not actually designed, many of our present policies actually have that result.  It is the responsibility of not only Deans of Women but other college officials to see that women as well as men have their chance for higher education."

Friday, June 29, 2018


Sixty-two years ago this week Frank G. Dickey became the University of Kentucky's sixth president at the age of 38.  The previous six years he had served as Dean of the College of Education.

The Board of Trustees set the new president's salary at $21,000 or $1,000 more than the Dean of the new Medical School was making.  Dickey's predecessor, Herman Lee Donovan, earned only $12,000 annually, but since the university had no retirement program at that time the Board voted to award Donovan $15,000 each year of his retirement. 

President Dickey and family
Dickey beat out formidable competition for the presidency including Elvis Stahr, Dean of the College of Law and UK Provost, Frank Welch, Dean of the UK College of Agriculture, and Louis Pardue, Vice-President of Virginia Tech.  Stahr would go on to serve as president of both West Virginia University, Indiana University, and the Audubon Society.

Frank Dickey resigned in 1963.