Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Each spring rain reminds me of what might have been in the area of campus where the new student center is nearly complete.  The University of Kentucky almost had an attractive body of water and green space that would have become an iconic feature of the campus.

At the June 4, 1890 meeting of the Board of Trustees, Major P. P. Johnston offered the following resolution regarding a low area on the north side of the campus extending from the corner of Winslow (Euclid) and Limestone east to Rose Street that filled with water after heavy rains:

 "Resolved that it is the sense of this Board that the depression in our ground next [to] the city be converted into a lake suitable for boating, bating, and fishing and that the chair appoint a committee with full authority to execute the work, said committee to confer with and secure the cooperation of the authorities of the city [to] promote persons interested in the improvement and if possible induce them to bear a portion of the expense.  The Committee is authorized to expend on behalf of the College in this work such sums as the Executive Committee may prudently allow."

Major Johnston, a Virginia native and confederate veteran, practiced law, farmed and bred horses, and was active in Democratic state and local politics.

Apparently no real improvements were made to the body of water following Major Johnston's resolution.  By 1927, Alfred P. Robertson writing in the March 25, 1927 Kentucky Kernel, called once again for improvements to the "lakelet."  Citing the annual spring flooding of the area of campus he suggested facetiously that UK form a rowing team adding that, "Kentucky might not care for rowing.  Probably not.  It is a great deal of work."  Moreover, he envisioned a body of water that could provide a romantic setting for evening gondola rides.

Eventually, the university drained the water after encouragement from the city due to it being a health hazard.  A new gymnasium rose on the location in 1924.  Apparently all of the water issues had not been resolved as the gym flooded in 1928 and again in 1936.  By the time a new student center opened next to the gym in 1938, an improved storm sewer seemed to alleviate any further major flooding.

Alumni Gym Flood 1928

Alumni Gym Flood 1936

Today's UK students have witnessed the construction of a new student center that incorporates Alumni Gymnasium and the original 1938 student union building.  Even though the lake is gone, the new student center promises to provide many amenities wanted and needed by today college students and will prove to be a wonderful addition to the UK campus.

Congratulations to everyone involved in making the new student center a reality.  Now, if we could only have a lake beside it!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Dean Josephine Price Simrall

As a former dean I understand that some deans are forgettable.  But others deserve remembering.

Josephine Price Simrall was born the oldest of six daughters to Charles Barrington and Isabella Downing Price Simrall July 19, 1869 in Covington, Kentucky.  Simrall's mother attended Daughters College in Harrodsburg, Kentucky prior to the Civil War and her father became a highly regarded attorney for the Cincinnati, New Orleans, and Texas Pacific Railway Company.

Josephine Simrall earned a B.S. degree from Wellesley College in 1893.  She later earned a certificate from the Cincinnati Kindergarten Training School before doing graduate work at the University of Cincinnati, Johns Hopkins, and Columbia.  From 1916 to 1919 Simrall served as Head of Psychology and Instructor in English at Sweet Briar College.

President Frank McVey hired Simrall as Dean of Women and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Kentucky beginning in the fall of 1919.  Writing on her behalf Emilie W. McVea, president of Sweet Briar College, described Simrall as "an excellent teacher" with "unusual executive and administrative ability, and much social accustomness (sic)."

Chancellor Frank W. Chandler of the University of Cincinnati noted that "Miss Simrall is possessed of marked literary talent and was active in this community in the work of women's organizations."  He added that, "She is sympathetic and gentle in manner, but by no means lacking in force."

In addition to her administrative and teaching duties, Dean Simrall was active in campus events and even wrote and performed in campus plays.  But she resigned in the spring of 1921 to become Dean of Women at the University of Cincinnati where she served until 1933.

A Kentucky Kernel editorial noted that Dean Simrall would be returning "home" and stressed that she had been "notably successful in the supervising of the education of women."  Moreover, "Her sympathetic attitude toward women students and her perception of their needs as well as her ability to understand the student point of view are a few of the characteristics that contributed to her success."

Simrall's successor?  Another Seven Sisters graduate (Vassar) and English instructor at UK, Frances Jewell.   The newspaper described Jewell as "one of the outstanding figures in the university faculty."  She "brings to her new position rare knowledge of student life and problems and a personality that begets confidence and elicits admiration and respect.

Two year later Frances Jewell married President Frank McVey and gave up her positions as dean and instructor.  Nevertheless, she would become arguably the best known and most highly regarded woman in UK's long history.  But Frances Jewell McVey would want us to remember and acknowledge her successful and all but forgotten predecessor, Josephine Price Simrall.

Monday, March 19, 2018


Today, March 19, 2018, WUKY marks a new era of broadcasting in its new off-campus facility.

University of Kentucky radio broadcasting began in April, 1929 when Dr. Frank L. McVey announced into a radio microphone in Lexington: "The University is on the air...."  For the broadcast of educational programs from studios on the Lexington campus, WHAS Radio in Louisville (Kentucky's first radio station) agreed to install all necessary equipment and direct telephone lines; the university and the station would share equally the transmission charges.

This agreement began a partnership which attracted national attention.  President McVey's, somewhat apprehensive about the whole idea but willing to take a change with it, expressed his hopes for the medium during the maiden broadcast:

"Life is faster with greater possibilities and subject to disasters as always.  This is the sort of universe we live in.  Now comes the radio, bringing to every part of the world the sound of the human voice from every country of the globe.  No such possibilities of good and no such opportunity for mere bunk, have been offered to the public as through this amazing invention.  The University of Kentucky is not interested in adding to the trivial, so two important forces for constructive effort in our state have agreed to cooperate in giving to the radio audience, what is hoped will be interesting, stimulating and helpful."

From the WHAS studio in Louisville, owner Robert Worth Bingham, who also owned the Louisville Courier-Journal and Louisville Times, reiterated WHAS's noble intentions of reaching the isolated and uneducated -- "it is for those whose need is greatest who fill my mind as I think of what this work of our may mean to them."

The University of Kentucky programs were aired Monday through Friday at noon, initially for fifteen minutes and expanded by 1931 to forty-five.  While primarily offering agricultural information, lectures on a variety of topics, as well as musical presentations, were also offered.  From the beginning, the university appreciated its responsibility, and under the guidance of Elmer G. "Bromo" Sulzer, who began his work at UK in public relations, energetically and successfully lobbied for the expansion of its radio commitment.

For additional information see "WHAS Radio and the Development of Broadcasting in Kentucky, 1922-1942"

Friday, March 9, 2018


As I approach my fifty year high school reunion, I am startled, like so many generations before, how fifty years could pass so quickly.  Spending one's career on a college campus offers the illusion of eternal youth.

But today's college students consider 1968 ancient history.  I remind myself that when I was in college a person celebrating their fiftieth high school reunion would have graduated from high school between 1919 and 1922.  I for sure thought those people were old!

But it is also strange how many topics have remained so consistent over five decades.  While everything around us seems to be changing rapidly in this still relatively new century, in other important ways time moves slowly or seemingly in circles.

As examples I share Kentucky Kernel headlines from fifty year ago, March 11, 1968:

This week we celebrated International Women's Day while the Kentucky General Assembly debated medical marijuana and additional restrictions on a woman's right to choose.   Students focused on spring break and the Big Blue Nation obsessed over a player's injury heading into post-season tournament play. The questions about capital punishment remain unresolved.

The past fifty years have witnessed important changes regarding civil rights, women's rights, LGBTQ rights, as well as other much needed changes within our society.  Medical advances have been astounding and technology has dramatically altered the way we live. 

But I wonder if at my high school reunion we will still debate Beatles or Stones, GTO or SS396, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In or The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, In Cold Blood or The Graduate, or might we simply realize that we have grown older in what seems like an instant and embrace our memories and the positive changes that have occurred while recommitting to the changes still needed with inquisitive and open minds?

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Laura Clay
In 1894 the Kentucky Equal Rights Association petitioned the governor to appoint a woman to the UK Board.  The Association contended that UK’s women students still did not receive equal opportunity.  Two years later the Kentucky General Assembly debated proposed legislation allowing women to serve on the UK Board.  

UK President James K. Patterson, who took credit for the admission of women to the college 14 years earlier, unabashedly appeared before the legislature vigorously opposing the change.  He argued that the education of ninety-nine percent of women did not prepare them to serve on the board.  

Laura Clay, a leading advocate of women's rights who should have been UK's first woman board member, immediately saw the contradiction in Patterson's position.  She noted that most Kentucky women received their college educations at UK so if they were not qualified to serve on the board it must be because their college educations had been inferior!  

Some legislators supported the petition going so far as to stress that since women comprised thirty-five percent of the student body the board should have similar representation.  Nevertheless, a majority of legislators disagreed and the proposed legislation failed.

A woman did not serve on the UK Board of Trustees until 1939 when Governor A. B. "Happy" Chandler appointed Georgia Monroe Blazer.  Upon her appointment Blazer commented that "people feel there is a real place on the board for a woman."  At her first UK Board meeting "Mrs. Blazer was cordially welcomed and she graciously assumed her duties."

UK Board 1958
Ironically, Blazer, an Illinois native had attended the University of Chicago rather than UK.  A resident of Ashland, Kentucky, her husband Paul G. Blazer, ran the Ashland Oil and Refining Company.  Georgia Blazer was active in educational and cultural endeavors statewide.

Blazer served on the UK Board until 1961, many of those years as Secretary of the Board.  Georgia and Paul Blazer endowed the Blazer Lecture at UK in 1947 in memory of their son Stuart.  In 1962 UK named a new student residence Georgia M. Blazer Hall.  UK opened a new Georgia M. Blazer Residence Hall in 2014 as the original building is scheduled for demolition.

Friday, March 2, 2018


Kentucky's Day Law, "An Act to Prohibit White and Colored Persons from Attending the Same School" became law in 1904.  By the 1930's African-Americans began to increase pressure on Kentucky public universities to desegregate.  

The debate involved UK administrators, governors, and citizens.  The first response to the demand for access and equal treatment usually cited the Day Law arguing that it could not be changed.  The second response was usually "southern culture" was not ready for such a change.

White leaders continued to offer inadequate solutions such as paying the tuition for Kentucky's African-Americans to attend out-of-state universities.  They also called for the establishment of regional institutions in the south for African-Americans that could offer programs like engineering and law that were not offered at Kentucky's historically black Kentucky State University.

Governor A.B. "Happy" Chandler would later take credit for the desegregation of Major League Baseball, but in his first term as Governor he failed to provide leadership on the issue when desperately needed for his state.  Likewise, Dean of UK Law Alvin Evans also failed to lead and even displayed a lack of commitment to equality under the law while demonstrating incredible insensitivity to his fellow Kentucky citizens.

Lyman Johnson won a legal battle to enroll at UK as a history graduate student in 1949.  The undergraduate program at UK desegregated in 1954 following the Brown decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Fortunately, we have overcome many of these earlier obstacles.  But as Black History Month has come to a close, let's remember that challenges remain and that it is the responsibility of each generation to eradicate discrimination and inequality in all aspects of American life.

Kentucky Kernel, March 14, 1939