When No Roads Lead Home: WCTE’s “Wilder-Davidson Project” 

 by August Pitcher, Archive Intern

Painting of Wilder-Davidson. Painting of a small town; focuses on company store building and road.

From 1909 to 1939, Fentress County was home to a sprawling coal-mining community. Wilder-Davidson, as the region was known, encompassed the towns of Wilder, Davidson, Crawford, Twinton, and Highland. The Fentress County Coal and Coke Company’s owner, John T. Wilder, established the town in 1902, and its population increased dramatically as the railroad system made its way across the United States. By 1909, over two thousand people lived in Wilder alone. Now, the town is nearly deserted. What happened to Wilder-Davidson? 

Wilder-Davidson operated as a company town during the “Coal Boom” of the early twentieth century. Though Fentress County Coal and Coke Co. owned nearly everything in the town, workers were compensated well in the early years. Miners could afford luxuries like radios and cars, and their families enjoyed a strong school system, religious community, and social activities. Former miner and Wilder resident Tom Lowery described the town as safe and close-knit, saying “women were respected a great deal” and “people slept with the doors unlocked.”   

Group of miners in mine. (Back: Robert Alexander, Sam Alexander, unknown, unknown, Venoble Woody, Tom Watson, Charlie Alexander; Laying in Front: Bob Hodge, Charlie Arms)

Yet, the friendly Appalachian town was not perfect. Miners faced dangerous working conditions daily as they labored in mines filled with coal dust, methane gas, and explosives. Several lost their lives or limbs in accidents, and many suffered long-term health effects (like ‘black lung disease’) long after their time in the mines. As the nation’s economy suffered during the Great Depression, workers saw dramatic pay cuts and began to organize in protest. The union’s first strike occurred in 1924 and lasted a few months before the company agreed to worker demands, though pay was still not back to pre-Depression rates. Company/worker relations stabilized until February 13th, 1928, when a powder keg was struck and killed four miners. After the tragedy, workers began to discuss organizing again, as they believed they were not fairly compensated for putting their lives on the line daily. 

 In 1931, miner Byron “Barney” Graham was elected union president just before the company would issue three major pay cuts. The union was outraged and went on strike on July 9, 1932. Out-of-town, non-union miners (Called “scabs” by union workers) worked until the mines were officially reopened on October 19. Strikebreakers and National Guard units accompanied miners, but workers on strike sought to rid the mines of these groups. They blew up stretches of railroad, destroyed a tipple (structure to load coal onto transportation) worth $20,000, and shot at strikebreakers and mine guards. One Davidson mine superintendent was killed, and the company realized it had little control over its employees. 

Wilder-Davidson local labor union. A large group of miners stands in front of a building.

On April 30, 1933, union president Barney Graham was killed on the steps of the company store by Jack “Shorty” Green, a mine guard. Though a few witnesses were present, the exact events and motives of the murder have been muddled after decades of speculation. Despite the disagreement in details by many former residents, most agree that Graham’s death signified the end of the strike. For a few months after, many miners hoped that conditions would improve but left Wilder-Davidson when they did not. Many “blacklisted” miners were able to find government jobs after the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was passed, granting union members protection from anti-union policies from employers. The company never fully recovered from the destruction caused by the strike and worker shortage, causing the town to dissolve slowly. Some mining activity continued until the 1950s when Fentress Coal and Coke Company abandoned Wilder-Davidson and moved its headquarters to Monterey, Tennessee. By the 1970s, much of what had once been an active and vibrant community had been destroyed. 

“The stories of former residents of Wilder-Davidson are an incredibly powerful reminder that history is built on lived experiences–not just words on a page.”

On March 1st, 1984, Dr. Homer Kemp and a research team from the Upper Cumberland Humanities and Social Sciences Institute at Tennessee Technological University submitted a proposal to the Tennessee Committee for the Humanities. The proposed project would research the history of Wilder primarily through the collection of former residents’ oral histories. The Wilder-Davidson project sought to preserve the town’s legacy and those who lived in it using primary sources and scholarly writings on coal mining. The Committee approved the project, which ran from July 20, 1984, to February 28, 1986. The project made the Wilder-Davidson Project records possible through the work of a large team of interviewers, historical experts, camera operators, and the Cookeville PBS station (WCTE). The result of the project was The Wilder-Davidson Story: The End of An Era, a four-part documentary broadcast by WCTE on June 17, 1987. 

Charlie and Madge Alexander. A smiling man with an arm wrapped around a smiling woman.

My role in this project was to organize and catalog all materials, research the region’s history and the WCTE project, and prepare the collection for public access. Though all the records contain historical value, one story stuck out. Madge Alexander was born and raised in Wilder and had an active social life as a young woman. She went on to marry her neighborhood sweetheart, Charlie, and they enjoyed a happy life together. However, Charlie was working in the mines on the night of February 13, 1928, and was seriously injured in the blast. The injured were taken by train to Nashville, but it was too late. Charlie died a few days later. His last words to Madge were, “Oh woman, don’t you worry about me, I’ll be alright.” As Madge said in her 1985 interview, “It was horrible. I thought it would kill me; I really did. I was just 23 years old, and he was just 31. But you have to make a life and go on… I thought I would die, really, I did. You get over that terrible horror after a while, but you never really get over it.” 

The stories of former residents of Wilder-Davidson are an incredibly powerful reminder that history is built on lived experiences–not just words on a page. Though the people who shared their experiences for the documentary have since passed away, their interviews have been digitized. They are available in Tennessee Tech’s digital collections by following this link. All four parts of the documentary, The Wilder Davidson Story: The End of an Era, can be found on the American Archive of Public Broadcasting website using this link. The finding aid for this collection is available at the following link.  

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Sally Crain-Jager: A Legacy of Art, Education, and Community Engagement

by Lucinda Morabito

Edited on March 21, 2024.

Sally Crain-Jager was an influential educator and arts advocate in the Upper Cumberland. Sally Lucile Bonham was born on October 7, 1938, to Mabel Lucile Rodgers and George Raymond Bonham in Enid, Garfield County, Oklahoma. In high school, she was a division one flutist in band and orchestra, earned a chair in the all-state band, and was invited to join the National Art Honor Society for scholarship in the visual arts.

Crain-Jager graduated from high school in 1956 and stayed in Enid for college, attending Phillips University. She was a member of the university band and orchestra, secretary to both, and was president of the Eta Chapter of the Tau Beta Sigma band sorority. 1960 was an eventful year for Crain-Jager. She was elected Phillipian Queen. She also received her bachelor’s in Fine Arts in Painting and married Robert Crain, who graduated from Phillips University in 1959.

After spending two years as a commercial artist in Bloomington, Indiana, Crain-Jager moved to Chattanooga and took a position as an art teacher. In addition to teaching art in Chattanooga and Hamilton County elementary and high schools, she became a coordinator of the art program and Hamilton County’s first educational television art teacher.

Promotional photograph of Sally Crain with students in Art Class. From Tennessee Tech Archives, Record Group 112 Photo Services photographs, Box 46, Folder 11, October 12, 1977.

In 1967, Crain-Jager began working as an instructor for the Tennessee Tech Department of Elementary Education, and she transitioned to the Art and Music Department in the mid-1980s. Crain-Jager taught at Tech for over 30 years, progressing from instructor to eventually full professor and, when she retired in 2001, professor emeritus. During her time at Tennessee Tech, she taught elementary school art, design, art history, art appreciation, introduction to painting, and introduction to drawing. 

Crain-Jager took an active role on campus. She was a driving force in creating Tech’s art education and painting degree programs. She chaired the University Art Committee for several years and was a key factor in establishing the Joan Derryberry Art Gallery. Crain-Jager co-founded the annual Bacchanal, which funds a scholarship endowment for Tennessee Tech art students, and created a tradition of summer art workshops for children and teens at the Appalachian Center for Crafts.

In addition to being an educator and academic advisor, she had the following responsibilities at different times during her tenure, including Director of the Appalachian Center for Crafts, the Program Coordinator for art education and painting degree programs, and the Director of Art Education.

One of the most notable accomplishments of her career is the TV program “Young at Art.” In 1975, Crain-Jager created videotaped art lessons to air over local CATV for grades three through six. Teachers in the schools were given lesson plans to accompany the telecasts. Over the years, this program reached at least 1,300 students. The success of the local “Young at Art” series was a stepping stone to national syndication. In 1980, Crain-Jager filmed 30 programs for third and fourth graders for the East Tennessee public television station WSJK. She was the creator, writer, co-producer, director, and teacher of the series. “Young at Art” was syndicated in up to 25 states.

Not only was Crain-Jager continuously involved in art education projects and consultations for local schools and organizations, but she also participated in many professional and state-wide organizations, such as a Muser for Tennesse Arts Academy Musings in 1994, the President of the Tennessee Art Education Association, a faculty member of the Tennessee Governor’s Schools, and the Chair of the Tennessee Arts Commission Exhibition.

Turbulence by Sally Crain-Jager. Photograph by John Bell. The painting is located at the Cookeville Regional Medical Center.

Crain-Jager regularly worked with arts and cultural activities and programs in the community. For example, she worked with local organizations and venues to arrange exhibitions of student artwork, create workshops and lectures for the public, and organize auctions for fundraising. Highlights from her community involvement include being President of the Cookeville Arts Council, set designer for the Cookeville Summer Theater, Chair of the Cookeville Regional Medical Center Foundation Art for Healing acquisition committee, and President of Friends of the Appalachian Center for Crafts following her retirement. Additionally, she wrote a bi-weekly question-and-answer column called “Art to Art” in the Putnam County Herald-Citizen and helped establish the annual Art Prowl in Cookeville, Tenn.

Crazy with Heat by Sally Crain-Jager. Photograph by John Bell. The painting is located at the Cookeville Regional Medical Center.

Crain-Jager received numerous honors and awards for her involvement and passion for art education and community arts. Some of the awards and honors she received were Outstanding Woman of the Year from Lambda Theta (1976), the School Bell Award from the Tennessee Education Association (1976), Outstanding University Professor from Phi Delta Kappa (1978), Tennessee Art Education Association’s Higher Education Art Educator of the Year (1993), the Joe W. Giles Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tennessee Arts Academy (2005),

After developing an interest in painting, Crain-Jager was a prolific painter for the rest of her life. She participated in numerous exhibits, exhibiting locally, regionally, and nationally. She worked in various styles but may be most known for her large, abstract, nature-based acrylic paintings. Landscapes often inspired her in Tennessee, the Southwest, and the Midwest.

Sally Crain-Jager had two children who shared her artistic talent: Barry Crain, an artist, and Brooke Martin, a Tech Alumnus and pianist. In 1992, Crain-Jager married Dr. Robert E. Jager, a composer and Tech music professor. Jager composed “The Sally Garden” as a wedding present and played it at their wedding. Crain-Jager retired in 2001. In 2009, Crain-Jager and Jager moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

They returned to Cookeville in 2011, and Crain-Jager taught at Nashville State Community College. At this time, she helped develop the art collection for the Art for Healing program at the Cookeville Regional Medical Center. Art for Healing created a permanent and growing art collection to comfort patients, visitors, and hospital personnel.

Sally Crain-Jager died in 2014. Crain-Jager interacted with and influenced numerous organizations and countless students. She has undoubtedly left a legacy. In 2015, Tennessee Tech hosted a commemorative exhibition to generate funding for a scholarship endowment, the Sally Crain-Jager Memorial Art Scholarship. In 2015, the community organized an exhibit, “Sally Forth … in Layers,” which provided additional funding for the scholarship endowment. She was posthumously awarded the first Cookeville Regional Charitable Foundation Champion Award (2015). Her work was also celebrated annually through numerous events that collaborated to create, including Cookeville’s Art Prowl and the Art for Healing program, the annual Bacchanal celebration, and the Sally Crain-Jager Student Art Exhibition at the Cookeville Performing Arts Center.

Primary Sources:

Art Round Tennessee. About Art Round Tennessee. https://www.artroundtennessee.com/about

Cookeville Performing Arts Center (Facebook post). The 19th annual Sally Crain-Jager student art exhibition. April 25, 2023. https://fb.watch/k9vuih2yt2/

Cookeville Regional Medical Center (via YouTube). Art for Healing (video). November 5, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pIGv_Vaz08

Cookeville Regional Medical Center Charitable Foundation. About Us, Foundation Champion Award. https://cookevilleregionalcharity.org/about-us/

Cookeville Regional Medical Center Charitable Foundation. Art for Healing. https://cookevilleregionalcharity.org/foundation-program/

Cookeville Regional Medical Center Foundation. John Bell, Executive Director. Email communications, Sally Crain-Jager paintings at CRMC. April 20, 2023.

Cookeville Regional Medical Center. Crazy with the Heat (photo of painting). Courtesy of John Bell.

Cookeville Regional Medical Center. Turbulence (photo of painting). Courtesy of John Bell.

Kingsport Times. T-N Staffer Wins ‘School Bell’ Prize. April 9, 1976, pp. 1, 10A.

Oklahoma City Times. Concert Set by Phillips. March 17, 1958, p. 7.

Oklahoma City Times. Enid Band Festival’s First Winners Chosen. Vol. 61, No. 83, Ed. 1. May 12, 1950, p. 31. https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc1837554/m1/7/zoom/?q=%20%22sally%20bonham%22%20date%3A1938-1965&resolution=1.5&lat=6086.559545755386&lon=4519.360122680664

Oklahoma City Times. Enidites Win High Honors. March 6, 1956, p. 5. https://gateway.okhistory.org/ark:/67531/metadc2000162/m1/5/?q=%20%22sally%20bonham%22%20date:1938-1965

Phillips University. Phillipian Yearbook, 1957-58, p. 146. https://online.fliphtml5.com/moawu/rsfj/#p=1

Phillips University. Phillipian Yearbook, 1959-60, pp. 51, 135, 179. https://online.fliphtml5.com/moawu/hbvm/#p=1

Tennessee Arts Academy. Academy Awards. https://www.tnartsacademy.org/taa-year/academy-awards

Tennessee Arts Academy. TAA Musings (general information). https://www.tnartsacademy.org/taa-year/musers

Tennessee Arts Academy. Tennessee Arts Academy Archive Musers. https://uploads-ssl.webflow.com/601b7b4be501e3a142b5012f/6201f714db5eb233258cf1da_2021_TAAArchives_Musers.pdf

Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame (via YouTube). Lin Folk interview with Sally Crain, President, Cookeville Arts Council (audio). Lin Folk’s Tennessee Kaleidoscope (Group X). Recording date unknown (between 1983–1987). Uploaded to YouTube December 12, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3an-yl02fvM

Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. Lin Folk Audio – Video Inventory. https://tennesseeradiohalloffame.wildapricot.org/resources/Documents/Lin_Folk_You_Tube_Index.pdf

Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. Lin Folk, Tennessee Kaleidoscope Programs Broadcast, 1983–1987. https://tennesseeradiohalloffame.wildapricot.org/resources/Documents/Lin%20Folk’s%20Tennessee%20Kaleidoscope%20Index.pdf

Tennessee Tech press release announcing Sally Crain-Jager’s exhibit on display at the Appalachian Center for Craft. From Tennessee Tech Archives, Record Group 52 Office of Communications and Marketing records, Box 89, Folder 9, February 27, 2001.

Tennessee Tech press release describing community involvement in providing art scholarships to Tech students. From Tennessee Tech Archives, Record Group 52 Office of Communications and Marketing records, Box 89, Folder 9, September 20, 1995.

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. Third annual crafts auction set for May 8. Tech Times Faculty/Staff Newsletter, Volume 21, Number 32, May 13, 1983, p. 1. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_7bfb568e-e464-4467-aa12-e39006a6d212/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. Sally Crain promoted to director of crafts center. Tech Times Faculty/Staff Newsletter, Volume 22, Number 1, September 9, 1983, pp. 1-2. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_ae7ab99d-5268-44f3-be20-6de6ef3a3d90/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. Auction nets $11,400. Tech Times Faculty/Staff Newsletter, Volume 21, Number 29, April 22, 1983, p. 2. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_7bfb568e-e464-4467-aa12-e39006a6d212/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. The Oracle. The Art of Painting. October 9, 1998, p. 5. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_43b94a9d-3e28-4964-b324-943bedd30f19/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. Tech Notes. Sally Crain presented art workshop at International Reading Association Conference. Tech Times Faculty/Staff Newsletter, Volume 27, Number 3. September 30, 1988, p. 2. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_c25b2d31-247e-47e6-a750-4d2933937865/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. 1986–1988 Bulletin. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_302a94bb-2e76-45fa-a4c3-e3c25b236ecf/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. 1967–1968 Bulletin. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_81df6ddd-3f65-4237-ab43-9f1ec23c6f26/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. 1980–1982 Bulletin. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_ea850ddc-58f7-4cda-9ae3-8a7ea7aa43a7/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. 1975–1976 Bulletin. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_716ca513-6c5c-44f0-be5c-343b74f3adde/

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections, Digital Collections. Outstanding Educators. Photo clipped from 5-30-1978 Herald-Citizen. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records, May 17–31, 1978. Folder: Newspaper clippings. https://tntech.access.preservica.com/uncategorized/IO_e680178a-ebf9-4491-a1d2-e9f1c46ea372/

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [“Creative clay” for students of all ages.] Press Release, October 10, 1977. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [“Young at Art” airs across Tennessee.] Press Release, September 29, 1980. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Large decorative posterboard eggs.] Press Release, April 6, 1977. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Old-time mountain crafts lecture and exhibit by Sally Crain.] Press Release, September 15, 1978. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Sally Crain receives Outstanding Woman of the Year award.] Press Release, April 28, 1976. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Sally Crain nominated for 1980 Outstanding Faculty Awards.] Press Release, March 26, 1980. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Seven public lectures and discussions on the heritage of the Upper Cumberland.] Press Release, November 13, 1975. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Tennessee Tech once again is sponsoring a special videotape program for the “Young at Art.”] Press Release, January 16, 1975. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Tennessee Tech students give art lessons at Jere Whitson Elementary School.] Press Release November 7, 1979. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. [Videotaped art lessons aired over CATV.] Press Release, November 13, 1975. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 14, Folder 5.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. Community Joins University to Provide Art Scholarships. Press Release, September 20, 1995. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 89, Folder 9.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. Crain Receives Grant for Art Education Workshop. Press Release, February 2, 1989. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 89, Folder 9.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. Manuscript, The Sally Garden, played at his wedding to Sally Lucile Bonham Crain (copy), 1992. Record Group 131, Robert E. Jager papers. Box 6, Folders 11.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. Professor leads arts program in area schools. Press Release, February 27, 2001. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 89, Folder 9.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. Tennessee Tech Professor Named Tennessee Art Association Art Education of the Year. Press Release, September 20, 1995. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 89, Folder 9.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. TTU Professor Sally Crain-Jager’s Installation Exhibit on Display at Craft Center Until March 22. Press Release, February 27, 2001. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 89, Folder 9.

Tennessee Tech University, Archives and Special Collections. TTU Art Professor Named President of State Art Education Association. Press Release, April 1, 1992. Record Group 52, Communications and Marketing, Office of records. Box 89, Folder 9.

Tennessee Tech University. 2022-2023 Sally Crain-Jager Painting Scholarship Application. https://www.tntech.edu/fine-arts/pdf/art/scholarships/Sally-Crain-Jager-Painting-Scholarship.pdf

Tennessee Tech University. Art show, reception to honor area artist, Tennessee Tech professor Sally Crain-Jager. April 21, 2015. https://www.tntech.edu/news/releases/art-show-reception-to-honor-area-artist-ttu-professor-sally-crain-jager.php

Tennessee Tech University. Bacchanal 2022 is Sunday. October 18, 2022. https://www.tntech.edu/news/releases/22-23/bacchanal-2022-is-sunday.php

Tennessee Tech University. Crain-Jager honored with exhibition in Joan Derryberry Art Gallery. October 25, 2016. https://www.tntech.edu/news/releases/crain-jager-honored-with-exhibition-in-joan-derryberry-art-gallery.php

Tennessee Tech University. Recently Spotted Donors. Robert Jager, Professor Emeritus, School of Music. https://www.tntech.edu/univadv/giving/donor_spotlight.php

Tennessee Tech University. Women’s History Month: Celebrating Women at Tennessee Tech. 1967, Sally Crain-Jager. https://www.tntech.edu/women/womens-history.php#the-2010s

The Leaf-Chronicle. Mixed media exhibit to open Jan. 16 at Trahern Gallery. January 12, 1996, p. B9.

The Tennesseean. The art of teachers who teach art. July 31, 1998.

Upper Cumberland Business Journal. CRMC ‘Art for Healing’ program adds new works, funding sought for special display. https://www.ucbjournal.com/crmc-ae%cb%9cart-for-healingae-program-adds-new-works-funding-sought-for-special-display/

WCTE TV. “Sally Forth … in Layers” exhibit. Discover the Upper Cumberland. Episode 104. http://wcte.lunchbox.pbs.org/discover/

WCTE TV. The Upper Cumberland Camera. Interview with Sally Crain-Jager about David Campbell exhibit at Tennessee Tech University Art Gallery. Episode 1130, June 17, 1994. https://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_23-032280zr

WCTE TV. Thirty years ago, the Upper Cumberland was abuzz about the first Great WCTE TV Auction. Close-Up: Public Television from the Upper Cumberland. May/June 2012. Volume 27, Number 3, p. 4. https://bento.cdn.pbs.org/hostedbento-prod/filer_public/WCTE/Documents/Close-Up/May%3AJune%202012%20CU.pdf

Secondary Sources:

1stDibs.com. Silent Energy of Nature Mixed-Media by Sally Crain-Jager, 2010. https://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/wall-decorations/paintings/silent-energy-nature-mixed-media-sally-crain-jager-2010/id-f_19499762/

Find a Grave. Sally Lucile Bonham Jager. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/139109185/sally-lucile-jager.

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Exploring Yuletide Treasures: A Glimpse into the Upper Cumberland’s Historic Christmas Celebrations

by Megan Atkinson

If celebrated, regions and cultures vary greatly when they celebrate Christmas, and these traditions also differ throughout history. The Upper Cumberland celebrated Christmas differently than some in Tennessee’s and the United States’ more prosperous and populous areas, due to local traditions, resources, transportation, or financial means. Early Christmas was unlike the Christmas holiday of the late 20th century in all parts of the United States, but the Upper Cumberland adapted these changing traditions to fit with the region’s unique set of circumstances. Christmas focused on community, small presents, and homemade decorations. With few or no radios or televisions, shopping centers, Christmas lights, Christmas catalogs, internet, and Christmas television specials, the Christmas season in the Upper Cumberland was much simpler than in the 21st century.

Thomas Nast’s “Santa at Camp” from Harper’s Weekly,” January 3, 1863 from The Met Collection https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/427526.

Christmas customs we are familiar with are mostly derived from Victorian times, but the idea of a Christmas celebration began long before. In the fourth century, the Catholic Church made a holiday from the birth of Jesus. Pope Julius I selected December 25 and the custom, called Feast of the Nativity, grew. Christmas celebrations did not follow the original settlers to America due to Puritan beliefs, but instead, they came into favor beginning in the 1800s. The 1800s saw the appearance of Washington Irving’s publications and actions promoting the holiday, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843), Clement Clark Moore’s T’was the Night Before Christmas (1822), and Thomas Nast’s Santa lithograph in Harper’s Weekly (1862) – all which influenced modern Christmas traditions, including Santa, stockings, and gift giving. Santa Claus began public appearances around the 1890s. Although a long tradition in some cultures, the Christmas tree only gained wide acceptance after an illustration circulated in 1846’s Illustrated London News depicting Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with the royal family around a Christmas tree. The trend moved to the Eastern United States and with it came ornaments from German immigrants, who celebrated the tradition as early as the 1830s. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States until 1870. Many people in the Upper Cumberland, due to their remoteness and income, did not participate in some modern holiday traditions until later. Still, they created traditions that were unique to the region. 

Without television and few radios, newspapers took the forefront in spreading news and information regarding the Christmas holiday. Gift-giving began in the early 19th century and papers in the Upper Cumberland began advertising business’s holiday wares. Local newspapers, such as the Putnam County Herald, ran ads for gifts including a “box of fine chocolate” from Hickey Grocery Company, photographs from Harding Studio, and silverware and jewelry from Jere Whitson Hardware or Borden’s. Much like television programming features Christmas programming throughout the season in the 21st century, newspapers such as the Putnam County Herald published Christmas stories throughout the holiday. Authors and poets such as Clara Cox Epperson contributed stories of Christmas and the paper ran Christmas-related content from local and national publications, including songs, sermons, parables, poems, and stories about the origins of Christmas. The local newspaper was a major source of information and entertainment regarding the Christmas holiday in 19th and early 20th century Cookeville. 

The local newspapers’ “society pages” acted as a Facebook “check-in” and an events page, allowing people to promote various social and cultural events in the area but also allowing for gossip. Announcements appeared in the Putnam County Herald such as “There will be entertainment and also a Christmas tree at Free Union, Dec. 24 Everybody invited -Santa,” “Miss Marie White is here to spend the holidays with her family,” and “Buck Ligon and family are spending Christmas with friends in Double Springs.” Announcements for events, gatherings, and visitation would come from across the Upper Cumberland including Hilham, Pleasant Hill, Monterey, Gainesboro, and Mayland, and were published for all readers of the newspaper. The society pages allowed the community to learn about neighbors and events. 

Early records indicated that much of what happened during Christmas in the Upper Cumberland in the 19th and early 20th century included visiting and gathering with friends and families and dancing, playing music (including fiddle playing), and singing—sometimes until the late hours. Parties were especially popular for the young. Locals tell of dancing by candlelight and oil lamps each night of the week starting at dark. Some sang around the fire from gospel songbooks. In Algood in 1919, “The young folks had a real nice time at the singing given by Harry and Molly Stamps Christmas Night, in Three Springs,” and “Peyton Phy gave the young folks a singing Saturday night.” By one local account, these dances were referred to as “breakdowns.” These events took place throughout the season and brought together – in celebration of the holiday – friends, family, and the community. 

During times of conflict, celebrating the Christmas holiday was often done with war looming in the background of most traditions. During the Civil War, parties were mostly women. A Confederate soldier named Thomas R. Hooper described a party with 25-30 ladies on Christmas night, with only a few soldiers and men. Some soldiers fought during the Civil War while others were furloughed at Christmas. Some families even played host to regiments. During World War I, many children wrote to Santa, and letters were published in the paper. These letters asked for help from the soldiers instead of gifts. Mina Opal Jared asked for only fruit and candy, but to “help the Soldier Boys” instead of her in 1918. Newspaper pages included questions such as “How can the world sing with joy…this Christmas time when there is so much horror?” 

Spirits were not unusual in an Upper Cumberland Christmas celebration but appeared more common in the 19th century. In a description by Mrs. J. H. Carlen regarding Christmas in late 19th century Cookeville, all five saloons on Cookeville’s square were bustling. Many purchased spirits for the holiday, such as William B. Stokes of Smith Fork who bought two gallons of French Brandy for Christmas. In Smith Fork, James Tubb Jr. was reported to have sold three times the normal amount of liquor during Christmas (1816). Locals also complained of boys hitting the “mountain dew” for Christmas a little early in the season. The consumption of spirits changed after prohibition.

Christmas Pageant at Baxter Seminary in 1935 from Harding Studio photographs H_2_24_0007.

Many local churches, communities, and schools offered Christmas programs including songs, service, dinner, and sometimes even presents. Some churches distributed presents and families brought baskets to pack goods for home. Shipley United Methodist Church in Cookeville hosted Christmas Day with service, Sunday School, addresses, presents, and dinners in 1911. The annual Christmas program at the Cookeville Methodist Church on Cookeville’s square drew in over 200 people from the town and countryside and was declared the biggest celebration of the year in late 19th century Cookeville. One year it was so big it caused the church’s foundation to crack and settle. Poplar Grove had a community Christmas tree “trimmed in various colored confetti and tiny candles” and provided “gifts for all” in 1913. In Jackson County, the Woodrow School planned entertainment and a Christmas tree, and in Brotherton, Putnam County, the Christmas program was at the school; it had entertainment, a Christmas tree, several presents, speaking, and singing in 1917.

While there were fewer enslavers in the Upper Cumberland than in some of the South, slavery was in practice in the area. For instance, the White Plains home during the mid-19th century had approximately 100 enslaved people. Some enslavers would give gifts including goods, clothing, and shoes, usually from materials produced by enslaved people. The enslaved themselves could be gifts, as in the case of Louis Hughes, who wrote about being a gift for a purchaser’s wife for Christmas Eve in his autobiography Thirty Years a Slave. Some enslavers gave enslaved people time off for Christmas. Time off during the holidays was a tradition that Southern plantation owners followed, and it was derived from older European and colonial customs. When time off was given during the holiday, it was not necessarily from the kindness of the enslavers’ hearts, but rather from tradition and to prevent uprisings and hope of having the enslaved people conform to the European ideal of culture and religion. For instance, James Tubb of Smithville, the distiller, had 25 enslaved people and he allowed them time with their families. Many enslavers would “rent” enslaved people for the year and these contracts would be completed by the end of the year, meaning many returned to enslavers at Christmas.

RG 82 Tennessee Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, 1937-1976. Mr. Tate of Altamont, Tenn. making holly wreaths, November 7, 1941, from Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Christmas trees appeared in the southern United States after the Civil War. According to historian William Lynwood Montell, Christmas trees were in most living rooms by the 1920s, but uncommon before that. Before Christmas trees made it into living rooms, the Upper Cumberland had community Christmas trees, many offered by local churches and communities. Smithville’s first Christmas tree was in 1875 at the Smithville Methodist Church. Katy Lorena Angel Emery remembered going to see community Christmas trees at Ravens Croft and Glade Creek Church in the early 20th century. There was also a community tree in Union Grove in 1913. Popular Christmas trees were spruce and fir, but in the Upper Cumberland, the Eastern red cedar was popular due to its size, shape, aroma, and distribution. Trees were decorated with popcorn, paper ornaments, and paper chains. Other decorations include magnolia leaves, pinecones, natural berries, and evergreen branches on the mantle. Katy Lorena Angel Emery also remembered picking mistletoe and holly with red berries to decorate and for stringing night, where she was taunted by the fresh popcorn they were stringing for the tree. 

Cookeville Produce Company commonly solicited the public for turkeys, meats, and furs. December 7, 1916, Putnam County Herald.

Limited on Christmas fixings due to a lack of supermarkets and transportation infrastructures, produce and food goods were more limited in types, although many stores got in delicacies for the season. For dinner, a traditional meal included deer or turkey that was hunted prior. At the turn of the 20th century, chicken replaced wild turkey for a short while due to wild game scarcity from hunting and habitat destruction. In 1917, Cookeville Produce Company sought turkeys from hunters for Christmas and would pay the “highest price.” Turkey appeared again after commercialization of the meat (early 1900s). Sorghum molasses was popular and readily available in the Upper Cumberland (1850). It was baked into gingerbread and cookies. Sorghum, imported from Africa in 1857, was grown locally instead of sugar due to its shorter growing season and price. Other accounts of Christmas feasts include opening canned goods from the summer and uncovering apples holed up for the winter in pits or apple houses. According to newspaper ads, specialty food items for sale on Christmas in various Upper Cumberland stores included oysters, prunes, dates, citrons, currants, mince meats, pickles, nuts, pepper sauce, jellies, raisins, and sardines. 

Around the turn of the 20th century, gift-giving became more common throughout the United States. Stores would advertise numerous toys and sweets. Most children in the Upper Cumberland did not receive a substantial number of gifts – if any – until the 1940s, according to Lynwood Montell, though stockings were in the Upper Cumberland by the 1860s. According to Emily Spivack writing for Smithsonian Magazine, stockings were a custom derived in approximately 1823 with the publication of “The Night Before Christmas (Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas)” by Clement Clark Moore which read that Santa “fill’d all the stockings; then turn’d with a jerk.” Early gifts included marbles, riding stick horses, bladders of butchered hogs that were popped for noise, and shoes in lye soap for sledding. 

M.H. Borden ad from December 19, 1912, Putnam County Herald.

The children asked for a few toys and candies. A small toy, called by some locally a “grimcrack,” was often put in the stockings or gifted. Boys may get knives, and girls may get dolls and doll accessories, including the sleeping doll with eyes that closed, which was developed in the late 19th century. Candies and confectionaries were popular including peppermint sticks, twisted candy, and jawbreakers. Sugar was expensive and a regular diet of candy every day was uncommon due to cost and availability. Children did not ask for many gifts in the early 20th century. Ovanlie Myers only asked for “lots of candy and oranges” for Christmas and Evelyn Blank asked for “a nice new doll, candy, oranges, apples, and bananas.” These requests for presents from Santa were often published in the local newspaper. At the beginning of the 20th century, advertising for Christmas wares began in early November in the Putnam County Herald. Wares such as bicycles, toilet sets, books, toy stoves, balls, and pistols were advertised by Phillips and Buttorff Manufacturing in Nashville. Finer gifts, such as silverware and tableware, were advertised by M. H. Borden. Gift-giving gradually expanded by the late 20th century and became more common as the holiday traditions expanded, due to Christmas retail marketing strategies and promotion increasing the commercial empire that Christmas is in the 21st century. 

For Christmas, many children asked for and received oranges because they were special despite their common appearance in the grocery store today. When the railroad came to Tennessee, Upper Cumberland residents could take shopping trains to Nashville on the Tennessee Central Railway but also receive goods from other states, such as Florida. With the availability to move items easier, children received more exotic items such as oranges and stalks of banana, and later at the turn of the century, there are even accounts of coconuts. Oranges were extremely popular and considered rare and expensive. The orange was popularized in the 19th Century with hanging stockings. It was the most popular memory and present according to many accounts. On Christmas day in 1849, the White Plains general store in Algood, Tenn. made 25 sales, mostly including sugar and coffee. One sale to Stephen Decatur Burton included three dozen oranges at $2.90. In 1920, Willie T. Scott asked Santa for “all the candy, nuts, apples, and oranges you can carry.” A letter published on December 19, 1912, from Umatilla, Florida to the Putnam County Herald shared that “Orange picking and packing is the order of the day…” and that, “Twelve carloads left here this morning, so look out for Christmas.” Transportation infrastructure increased the availability of goods for the holidays in the Upper Cumberland. 

White Plains general store ledger page 143 from December 25, 1849.

Fireworks and firecrackers of all sizes were incredibly popular in the whole South at Christmas time, including Roman candles, sparklers, skyrockets, split devils, and torpedoes (circa 1900). Many accounts in Southern history could not separate fireworks as part of the Christmas holiday, more so than the Fourth of July. Firecrackers might seem like an odd present for children, but this request appeared as early as the Victorian era. In McMinnville in 1890, the Southern Standard reports that “The small boy’s stock of fireworks…played out early on Christmas eve. Our streets were as quiet as usual by nine o’clock.” According to A. L. Stone, “Christmas was observed here [in Baxter] in the usual [sic] style, exploding fireworks, Christmas tree, and Santa Claus” (1911). Walter Hays Greenwood specifically asked for “some sparklers and some soldiers that stand up” for his Christmas gift (1921). Some announcements in the paper regarding fireworks were a little more ominous including this message from an unnamed Putnam County expat to Taylor Dunavan asking “…have you forgot last Christmas day? Is old Red afraid of firecrackers now?” If fireworks were not available, firearms could be discharged, leaving some to claim that the South had “the loudest Christmas in the world.” Creatures were stirring at Christmas in the Upper Cumberland. 

The Christmas holiday also brought the community together to help those in need through charitable works. In 1918, the First Presbyterian Church offered a Christmas program with gift packages to be brought to everyone — “anything that would help any poor woman or child have a happy Christmas.” Gainesboro Telephone Company held “bundle day” to hang stockings for the collection of goods for needy children. On November 23, 1916, United Charities hosted a Charity Bundle Day and the boxes delivered filled with clothing and provisions. In 1916, the Ladies Aid Society gave away presents and food baskets to children whose parents could not afford them. Numerous groups and churches came together to ensure children and families had a proper holiday – so much so that in the Putnam County Herald on December 13, 1917, one citizen complained that there were, “too many charities, too many begging committees, too many different ways of getting glory by spending other People’s money.” Fortunately for some children, it appears from the newspaper that more people were participating in the charities than there were cynics. 

The Red Cross solicited each holiday season for members and assistance, Putnam County Herald, December 7, 1916.

One event that happened at Christmas that is much less common now, is the act of getting married at Christmas. This was an earlier Victorian tradition from the 18th and 19th centuries that the Upper Cumberland participated in until the early 20th Century for the same reasons. Many people worked six days a week with one day off and possibly December 25 and 26 would be days that most people had off. There were no paid vacation days, making the holiday the best time to convene for a marriage celebration, and the service cost less on Christmas day. Mitchell Jackson and Jennie Young married on Christmas in 1913, Dr. H. E. Sidwell and Hettie Windle of Celina, John Nash and Ova Chaffin, and Hiram Lee and Almeda Thomas were all married on Christmas in 1912. In 1919, Fanalue Whitson and William Benton Carlen married on Christmas Eve at 9:30 pm. Before the 20th century, enslaved people, when they did receive time off for the holidays, also took advantage of the Christmas season to marry. Weddings before the late 20th century were mostly simpler affairs and less expensive.

Christmases in the Upper Cumberland followed newer Christmas practices, but some customs were more slowly adapted and other customs were unique to the region due to the resources available. The rural nature of the Upper Cumberland, limited transportation and roads, and income differences separated the Upper Cumberland from other areas of the United States.  However, the region adapted these traditions to fit their needs or adopted them later as it became more feasible due to regional developments.  Despite these differences, the Upper Cumberland created a meaningful holiday for the region that left a positive impression on the many children who grew up in the area.

Due to the vast coverage of the local community, Upper Cumberland newspapers preserved these memories for individuals to learn of the experiences of Christmases past. The bulk of this article resulted from research using the Putnam County Herald newspaper.  The Herald-Citizen has chosen Tennessee Tech as a repository for their bound volumes and they are open for research M-F, 8-4:30. Early issues of the Putnam County Herald (1903-1922) are available online through the Library of Congress’s “Chronicling America” newspaper project. As a result of this research, the bulk of this information mostly represents the Cookeville area of the Upper Cumberland.  


Byrn, Morgan. (2021, December 14) Dear Santa, Can I have oranges, candy, and some firecrackers? Junior Curators Newsletter. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://tnmuseum.org/junior-curators/posts/dear-santa-can-i-have-oranges-candy-and-some-firecrackers?locale=en

Earl, James, Mary C. Kennamer, Ron Brenneman. (n.d.) History of the Wild Turkey in North America. National Wildlife Turkey Federation Bulletin, No. 15. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.mdwfp.com/media/4016/historywildturkeynorthamerica.pdf

Family Tree. (n.d.) Weddings Between Christmas and New Year’s Day. familytree.com. https://www.familytree.com/blog/weddings-between-christmas-and-new-years-day/

Heitman, Danny. (2016, Fall) How Washington Irving Shaped Christmas in America. Humanities, Vol. 37, No. 4. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2016/fall/feature/how-washington-irving-shaped-christmas-in-america

The Herald-Citizen

November 23, 1916; January 5, 1911; December 21, 1911; December 28, 1911; December 05, 1912; December 19, 1912; January 02, 1913; December 18, 1913; December 25, 1913; January 2, 1913; December 23, 1915; December 16. 1915; January 06, 1916; December 21, 1916; December 13, 1917; January 03, 1918; December 19, 1918; January 2, 1919; December 25, 1919; December 16, 1920; December 15, 1921; December 22, 1921; December 1939. 

Jackson County Sentinel, December 23, 1920.

Mansky, Jacky. (2018, December 21). Why We Should Bring Back the Tradition of the Christmas Orange. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/why-we-should-bring-back-tradition-christmas-orange-180971101/

May, Robert E. (2019) Yuletide in Dixie: Slavery, Christmas, and Southern Memory. University of Virginia Press.

Southern Standard, December 24, 1881; December 27, 1890

Waxman, Olivia B. (2021, December 21). The Grim History of Christmas for Enslaved People in the Deep South. Time Magazine. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from https://time.com/6126789/christmas-slavery-lost-cause-confederacy/

Webb, Thomas G. A. (1995) Bicentennial History of Dekalb County, Tenn. Bradley Printing Company. 

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Crafting Tradition: The First Lady’s and Tennessee Tech’s University Flag

by Tammy George

Gloria Bell was a first lady at Tennessee Tech with her husband, President Robert Bell from 2000 to 2012.  Gloria Bell was the designer of the Tech Flag.

University flag designed by Gloria Bell, October 2003.

As first lady, Gloria Bell desired to leave a lasting gift to the campus she served, and that began with a search through the university’s archives.  Bell wanted to design a flag for the university marking the spirit and traditions of the campus.  Through her research, she established that there was no official flag dedicated to the university.  With general ideas already formed, she used basic materials of colored wrapping paper and hand drawings to create samples of her vision.  Bell convened a group of university alumni and other campus representatives to assist her in finalizing the design.  For more than a year, Bell worked with the selected focus group to create an official flag following five key rules which were: keep it simple; use meaningful symbolism; incorporate only 2-3 basic colors, no lettering, identical sides, and lastly, the flag must be distinctive or be related.

Gloria Bell’s original idea created Fall 2002 from wrapping paper cut-outs.

It took several rough drafts with various arrangements of the shapes and images to come to the final design.  Bell’s first rendition of the design was a solid purple background with a golden circle set in the center displaying a brown eagle with outstretched wings and a vertical golden column along the end.  The final goal of the flag was to honor the most familiar and longstanding traditions of the university. Along with the focus group, Bell’s final concept resulted in the university’s first official flag. The flag had these three components representing the historic and ideal characteristics of Tennessee Tech and its quality reputation including:

1. The golden eagle.  This magnificent bird, with wings outstretched, depicts the pride, honor, strength, and spirit of our students, faculty, and staff.

2. The bold pillar.  This column of gold represents the pillar of knowledge, intellect, and experience – all qualities of our prestigious academic reputation.

3. The purple base.  This field of majestic purple represents the strong foundation of character, commitment, and endurance indicative of our university’s culture.

May this flag forever wave, and may the history and future of Tennessee Tech University prosper in its shadow.

“The Tennessee Tech University Flag.” From Tennessee Tech Archives RG 116 Christine Spivey Jones subject files, Box 47, Folder 4, October 2003

Unveiling of University Flag in November 2003 from The Oracle.

The University made the decision not to reveal an image of the flag publicly until students viewed it for the first time during an unveiling ceremony held at the Homecoming pep rally on Friday, October 31, 2003.  Brent Waugh, President of the Student Government Association, introduced University President, Dr. Robert Roy Bell and First Lady, Gloria Bell, along with Julie Galloway, President of the TTU Alumni Association for the first presentation of the flag.  The flag was also displayed for viewing at the Alumni Awards Reception which was held later that same day.  Another presentation of the flag took place during a pre-game ceremony on the following evening, Saturday, November 1, 2003.

As of 2023, Gloria Bell’s flag was still the official university flag.  The flag was displayed alongside the US and Tennessee flags in prominent locations around campus as well as in front of Derryberry Hall.


“Design of TN Tech flag 2002-2003.” From Tennessee Tech Archives RG 116 Christine Spivey Jones subject files, Box 47, Folder 4.

Lykins, Karen. “TTU First Lady Gloria Bell designs university’s first official flag.” TTU News, October 30, 2003. From Tennessee Tech Archives RG 116 Christine Spivey Jones subject files, Box 47, Folder 4.

The Oracle, Vol. 85 No. 7.

The Oracle, Vol. 85 No. 8.

“The Tennessee Tech University Flag.” From Tennessee Tech Archives RG 116 Christine Spivey Jones subject files, Box 47, Folder 4.

“TTU FLAG DESIGN.” From Tennessee Tech Archives RG 116 Christine Spivey Jones subject files, Box 47, Folder 4.

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One Small Step for… Mice: The Epic Journey of a Near-Space Traveler Named Cosmouse

Cosmouse (1970-1971) was a black-furred mouse who traveled 1,000 feet in the atmosphere at approximately 21.3 G-force in a student-designed mini-rocket on May 18, 1970, in a project led by Dr. Elmo Dooley, a professor of biology.[1] The experiment was to test the mouse’s physiological changes using bio-instruments on the mouse as it traveled in the air, illustrating to students some of the many complications of space flight and telemetering biochemical information.

Cosmouse was only five weeks old when he took his death-defying journey, placing his life in the hands of a Tech professor and his students. He received his name from Elmo Dooley’s students. In preparation for the flight, he received a spacesuit in double-knit polyester designed by Betty Dooley, Elmo’s wife. The launchpad was 8 inches wide and was embellished in purple and gold, Tech’s school colors. Cosmouse and Astromouse, Cosmouse’s potential backup for the journey, received steak and scrambled eggs two days before the journey, a high protein meal “just like our astronauts” receive, said Dooley.

Cosmouse being held by a student and viewed by Tech Training School Students, Photo Services Box 46, Folder 166.

Although he was no bigger than the palm of your hand, Cosmouse successfully and safely made the flight due to the students’ rocket design and the life-supporting equipment provided by Dooley. Students monitored his heart and respiration on equipment provided by Dooley. The students and professor provisioned the mouse to withstand 21.3 G-force, the same amount used in early NASA centrifuges for astronaut training. Without these measures to protect Cosmouse, he would have suffered a major spinal cord injury. The instruments for protecting and monitoring Cosmouse were installed and a mini-couch was provided for his comfort.

This type of project was not new to Dooley. Prior to doing the Cosmouse experiment, Dooley had expertise and experience with microorganisms in closed crafts and in designing systems to be used in United States space flights for NASA and the Air Force. In 1959, he also participated in the launch of America’s first monkeys in space including a rhesus monkey, Able, and a squirrel monkey, Baker.

Dr. Elmo Dooley and student working on a design for the rocket, Photo Services Box 46, Folder 165.
Cosmouse receiving well-deserved media attention before launch, Photo Services Box 46, Folder 166.

The launch of Cosmouse did not go unnoticed by many humane societies who expressed their displeasure in the treatment of Cosmouse and unsuccessfully sought to prevent the launch. The initial launch planned for May 15, 1970, was delayed due to weather and Cosmouse instead took off on May 18, 1970, at 10:05 a.m. from Overall Field. Three hundred spectators arrived for the launch, including Tech students, Tech Training School students, and various reporters for newspapers and television. After a successful launch and two minutes in the air, the rocket burned out the solid fuel engine, and the rocket separated into two parts which returned to Earth by parachute. The part of the rocket containing Cosmouse landed within five feet of the student’s projected landing site. Physiologically, Cosmouse experienced readings that were more than double his normal respiratory and heart functions.

The flight and Cosmouse were featured as front-page headlines in local newspapers. John Bullock, an author for The Oracle, wrote of the mouse’s amazing journey: “Every mouse in the country will put Tech at the top of their list for areo-space studies.” Although Bullock’s prediction did not seem to come to fruition, the project was awarded the Outstanding Engineering Project of the Year by the American Society for Engineering Education and later became a display for Engineering Day in 1971.

Cosmouse Rocket Cake for the Cosmouse Press Party, Photo Services Box 46, Folder 165.

Despite the taxing journey, Cosmouse purportedly outlived his litter mates. He reportedly died of old age in January 1971.[2] His death spurred a second round of media reporting, including the first page of some local newspapers. Although it is unconfirmed, Dooley said Cosmouse would be mounted, preserved, and made a specimen in Tennessee Tech’s Biology Department. The experiment itself was imitated by Thurman Francis Junior High School in Smyrna, Tennessee with another adventure mouse, Midget.

Students who participated in the experiment were from Dooley’s instrumentation class and included David M. Jones, Robert S. Becker, Janice E. Lynn, Sabina Mackie, Bobby Gelen Malone, Glen E. Mysza, Frank K. Umberger III, Delbert Lee Wynn, and Richard Frounfelker. The Dooley family including Elmo’s wife Betty, and sons Leroy and Joseph also participated in the Cosmouse experiment

[1] Records generated from 1970 and 1971 suggested Cosmouse went over 1,000 miles into space, but reports from 1983 suggested the mouse traveled 3,000 feet. The potential error was not corrected by Dooley and was likely reported incorrectly in all subsequent publications after 1971. The launch took place on May 18, 1970, but in the 1971 The Eagle yearbook misprinted the launch date as May 22, 1970, likely due to the date printed on the Photo Services photographs.

[2] The average laboratory mouse lives 26-30 months.

For more images of the Cosmouse story, visit our digital collections at this website: https://tntech.access.preservica.com/?s=Cosmouse&hh_cmis_filter=xip.content_type_r_Display%2Fimage

“’Cosmouse’ back A-Ok After Trip,” The Tennessean, May 19, 1970, 1-2.  

“Cosmouse Could Die in Flight,” The Tennessean, May 9, 1970, 32.

“Cosmouse Due to Fly; Monday,” The Daily News-Journal, May 17, 1970, 9.

“’Cosmouse’, Intrepid Air Voyager, Ends Career,” The Daily News-Journal, January 6, 1971, 1.

“Cosmouse May not Go, He Hopes,” The Tennessean, May 14, 1970, 4.

“Cosmouse Remembered,” The Oracle, Tennessee Technological University, February 26, 1971.

The Eagle yearbook, Tennessee Technological University, 1971.

“Engineering Design Class Plans Module,” The Oracle, Tennessee Technological University, December 4, 1970, 1.

“Local Students Visit Tech,” The Jackson Sun, March 3, 1971, 24.

“NASA Consultant: Dooley Continues Space Work,” The Oracle, Tennessee Technological University, Vol. 56, No. 15, February 17, 1978.

“One Small Step for a Mouse…” The Oracle, Tennessee Technological University, Vol. 47, No. 27, May 22, 1970.

“Tennessee News Briefs,” Johnson City Press, May 19, 1970, 9.

“Thurman Francis Jr. High Enters the Space Age: Students Get Firsthand Rocketry Demonstration,” The Rutherford Courier, November 4, 1971, 1.

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Bartoo Hall: From Dormitory to Learning Center

by Jennifer Dewar

West Hall as pictured in Tech’s 1926 Eagle yearbook

From 1989 until 2023, Bartoo Hall contained the offices and classrooms of the Learning Resource Center, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Support Services, and computer labs. Called simply West Hall initially, Bartoo Hall was built in 1916 as one of the three main structures comprising Dixie College and kept its name through the establishment of Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (TPI). 

West Hall, was the northernmost building on the west side of the main quad and originally functioned as a men’s dormitory. It was remodeled and redecorated in 1943 and became a women’s dormitory in 1944.

Students Going to Dining Hall on the basement floor, 1923

In 1955, West Hall underwent a major reconstruction of its 12,000 square feet in order to house the biology and physics departments with offices, classrooms, and laboratories.  The interior was completely redone with a steel and concrete interior added for fireproofing.  West Hall now contained two lecture rooms, one large general laboratory, three specialized laboratories, and facilities for bacteriology studies.  A seminar and library room were also added, an intercom system was installed, and the halls were highlighted with specimen display cabinets.  This reconstruction was completed in the spring of 1956. The building was waterproofed, its mortar completely replaced, and the new front and side entrances were built in 1959. 

It had been known that the name of the building would be changed since 1955, but that did come about until October 12, 1962, when it was posthumously dedicated to Dr. Bartoo (1888-1943). Dr. Bartoo was Tech’s first Ph.D. hire and head of the Biology Department from 1929 to 1943. 

“Grand Opening…Finally!” A celebration of women’s restroom construction completion in Bartoo Hall in 1983.
Bartoo Hall. Photo Services. June 10, 2022

Bartoo Hall continued to be used by the Department of Biology until the winter of 1967 and was renovated in the summer of 1968 to accommodate the Athletics Department, the Department of Secondary Education, and the Department of Sociology and Philosophy. In 1971, Bartoo Hall contained College of Education offices and classrooms and the Learning Resources Center (LRC).  

Modern upgrades and accessibility and safety features were gradually added to the building in the late 20th century. In the early 1970s, Bartoo Hall had a heating/air conditioning system installed and a sidewalk was put in place connecting it to the Industrial Technology Building (later Lewis Hall). In the 1980s, a computer lab was added, the steps and sidewalks in front were replaced, and fiber optic cables were run for local area network access.  In the 1990s, an outside 911 phone was attached to the building and an elevator was installed.

By 1976, Bartoo Hall contained the Learning Resource Center (LRC), Student Teaching, and the Department of Administration, Supervision and Curriculum. Bartoo Hall was submitted for review to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places but was disqualified due to its remodeling. As of 2023, Bartoo Hall housed the LRC, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Support Services and computer labs.


“Current Campus Construction,” Capital Projects and Planning, https://www.tntech.edu/capital-projects/contruction.php

The Bulletin, Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, 1943-1944, 17.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, 1944-1945, 17.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Technological University, 1968-1969, 46.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Technological University, 1971-72, p. 52.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Technological University, 1976-77, 27.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Technological University, 1989, 18.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Technological University, 2022-23, 7.

The Oracle, October 1, 1955, 3.

The Oracle, April 2, 1956, 4.

The Oracle, October 2, 1959, 1.

The Oracle, November 1, 1968, 5.

The Oracle, November 3, 1972, 8.

The Oracle, October 11, 1985, 1.

The Oracle, October 24, 1986, 4.

The Oracle, May 20, 1988, 5.

The Oracle, April 10, 1992, 2.

The Oracle, October 29, 1993, 9.

The Oracle, September 11, 1998, 7.

Practical Work, 100 Years of Dixie College & Tennessee Tech History, 13.

“Recently Completed Construction Projects,” Capital Projects and Planning, https://www.tntech.edu/capital-projects/contruction-complete.php

“Restroom finally finished in Bartoo Hall and Campus Scenes,” RG 112 Photo Services photographs, Box 125, Folder 40, May 17, 1983.

“Students Going to Dinner in Bartoo Hall,” RG 9 Records of the President, Box 40, Folder 29, 1923.

Tech Times, May 27, 1983, 4.

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Elsie Jobe: Shaping Strong Women at Tech

By Cailyn Douglas

Elsie Etta Jobe was the Director of Physical Education for women, the Dean of Women, and the women’s basketball coach at Tennessee Tech (1928-1969). She dedicated much of her life to women’s sports and wellness and was committed to finding funding to create better physical education and intramural opportunities for women.

Elsie Etta Jobe (1903-1992) was born in Shiloh, Tenn. to parents Albert Wayne and Mollie Harvey Jobe. As one of seven children, she grew up in Clarksville, Tenn., and received her early education here. After graduating from Clarksville High School, she entered George Peabody College for Teachers, eventually receiving her Bachelors in 1924. Following her graduation from Peabody, she began teaching at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute for just one short year, joining the Physical Education Department. After this year, she moved to Jacksonville, Alabama, where she taught at the State Teachers College of Jacksonville from 1925 to 1927. Following these two years in Jacksonville, Jobe then moved back to her home state of Tennessee, and once again joined Tech as a professor where she remained for the rest of her teaching career.

Jobe featured amongst women’s intramural and women’s club pictures from the 1947 Eagle

Serving as the acting Dean of Women from 1928 to 1939 and the first Dean of Women from 1935 to 1939, Jobe took great interest in the success of women at the university. As the women’s basketball coach until 1933, when women’s varsity sports were removed from the university and replaced with intramurals, Jobe contributed much of her time to the progression of women’s athletics at Tech. After the removal of women’s collegiate sports, Jobe began working on the women’s intramural program and various student clubs and organizations that supported women’s sports. These programs would see growth under her leadership. The Eagle yearbook of 1941 reads, “Intercollegiate sports for girls are not sponsored at Tech, but they may compete with each other in intramurals,” which included folk dancing, tumbling, basketball, badminton, bridge, and archery. Jobe filled the role of Director of Physical Education for Women as well as Director of Intramural Activities for Women. She also participated in fundraising for various sports teams and regularly requested more funding from the University to support her efforts.

Tennessee Polytechnic Institute Department of Health and Physical Education

Outside of sports, she was involved in many religious organizations including being a sponsor of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) as well as being a member of the “religious activities” organization on campus. Additionally, Jobe served on many faculty committees including Student Employment Committee, Student Activities Committee, Student Homes Committee, and the Scholarship, Loans, and Self-Help Committee. Jobe also sponsored many organizations on campus including the Palladian’s Club, Sponsor of the Freshman Class, and the Health and Physical Education Club, which represented one of the largest organizations on campus at the time. In the community of Cookeville, Jobe participated in various activities such as being a member of the Book Lovers Club, which had a great impact on the area during the time due to the membership of notable Tennesseans such as Clara Cox Epperson and Graeme McGregor Smith.

Alberta Avenue and Pearl Street Land Plot

Jobe further devoted herself to the success of women at the university by serving as dorm mother in the women’s dormitory (Kittrell Hall at the time) and being elected President of the Tech chapter of the American Association of University Women. Additionally, she directed and organized multiple elaborate May Day programs and festivities, in order to celebrate the May queen.

By devoting nearly half of her life to the University and the success of the women who attend, Elsie Jobe earned the title of the University’s “Little Mother”, lovingly given to her by the Eagle yearbook staff of 1933. She retired in 1969, after 44 years at Tech. Elise Jobe passed in 1982 at the age of 88. She was buried in her hometown of Clarksville, Tenn. Today, she is honored on campus by the Jobe Hall and the Elsie Jobe and Jewell Nolen Endowed Scholarship. Elsie Jobe and Jewell Nolen, also in the Health and Physical Education department, shared a property and home on Alberta Avenue and Pearl Street in Cookeville, Tenn. while they were at Tennessee Tech and following retirement.

Primary Sources
The Eagle yearbook, Tennessee Technological University, 1969.

The Eagle yearbook, Tennessee Technological University, 1933.

The Eagle yearbook, Tennessee Technological University, 1994.

The Eagle yearbook, Tennessee Technological University, 1955.

Elsie Etta Jobe (1903-1992) – find a grave… Find a Grave. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/116933382/elsie-etta-jobe?_gl=1%2A1b6gcw9%2A_ga%2ANDc2MTEwMTg5LjE2NzU5NjEyNjI.%2A_ga_4QT8FMEX30%2AZmE5NTdjOGMtMTZiNC00NzgwLWI1MDktOTIwMzk0NmZjN2YwLjQuMS4xNjc5NDkyNzYxLjQyLjAuMA

Nolen, J. (1972). History of Book Lovers Club, 1922-1972.

Neufeldt, H. G., & Dickinson, W. C. (1991). The Search for Identity: A History of Tennessee Technological University, 1915-1985. Memphis State University Press.

The Oracle, Vol. 3 No. 13 February 1, 1925.

The Oracle, Vol. 5 No. 2 October 10, 1927.

The Oracle, Vol. 10 No. 2 October 19, 1932.

The Oracle, Vol. 22 November 8, 1944.

The Oracle, Vol. 23 No. 1 September 26, 1945.

The Oracle, Vol. 47 No. 7 November 7, 1969.

RG 10 Harding Studio negatives, Safety Negatives, Box 19.

RG 10 Harding Studio negatives, Safety Negatives, Freezer Box 17.

Scholarship search. Scholarships Search. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://tntech.scholarships.ngwebsolutions.com/Scholarships/Search

Search US Census Records Online: GenealogyBank. Genealogy, Family History & Ancestry Search. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2023, from https://www.genealogybank.com/explore/census/all?lname=jobe&fname=elsie&state%5B%5D= tennessee&pq=1&prebuy=no&intver=7D_6M&CCPRODCODE=&s_trackval=&s_referrer=&s_ siteloc=&kbid=69919

Smith, A. W. (1957). The Story of Tennessee Tech. McQuiddy Print. Co.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, 1938-39.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, 1940-41.

The Bulletin, Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, 1945-46.

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Meet the new Archives Assistant!

The Archives is expanding and with it comes a new Archives Assistant to help us increase our digital resources and online accessibility! Welcome the new Archives Assistant, Tammy George! Tammy began her new role as an Archives Assistant in July 2023, but she is no stranger to the university or the campus library. Tammy has worked for Tennessee Tech for the past six years and her previous role was in the Volpe Library’s Administration office. It was here that she had her first opportunity to work on a project for the Archives during the summer of 2022.

According to Tammy, her project with the Archives quickly became one of the most interesting jobs she has participated in during the course of her employment with Tennessee Tech. She reviewed the newly-digitized Eagle yearbooks and created metadata for the online digital content management system. This project was unique and she found herself learning facts and history about Tennessee Tech that she had not known before, which revealed information about the campus, its buildings, and notable places in Cookeville. History and Social Studies were always one of her favorite subjects in school and she feels very fortunate to have joined the Archives team to further explore her interests.

Tammy’s work will expand upon the Eagle yearbook metadata project. Her new position includes digitization and digital preservation, remediating existing metadata and creating new metadata, and collecting and preserving university social media, websites, and digital content from the university’s web pages for preservation in our digital content management system. Tammy will assist the Archives by helping us increase digital access while working to preserve the digital content and material that is created by the university on a daily basis.

Tammy’s hobbies include visual arts, scrapbooking, crocheting, and reading. As an avid scrapbooker, she’s looking forward to discovering what scrapbooks are in the Archives’ collection.

Tech Archives is very excited to have Tammy as our newest team member and is looking forward to working with her and sharing what she learns and does with the Tech Community. Welcome aboard Tammy!

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Using Voyant to Assist in Creating Subject Headings for Metadata Use in Archives

by Olivia Howell

In archival work, creating descriptions and subjects for digitized archives is a time-consuming task. With the rise of new types of software and applications, using a machine to process written language has become more accessible and there are several free options. Voyant is a free web-based application that allows users to insert a text and analyze it using several different built-in tools. I explored this tool while asking the question, “could using Voyant make creating descriptions and subjects for text-based digitized archives easier?”

To answer this question and test the tool, I scanned, edited, and performed optical character recognition (OCR) on the 1929 to 1930 editions of The Oracle, Tennessee Tech’s student newspaper. OCR is a process by which a computer takes an image of text and recognizes it as textual characters instead of an image, making it readable on a computer. I then submitted the six editions of the Fall 1929 Oracle as a single text document, otherwise known as a corpus, into Voyant (example A). Voyant can recognize the separation between the different editions of The Oracle, but all the editions can also be analyzed together.

Example A: Voyant’s main screen immediately after uploading the corpus with The Oracles.

Voyant automatically blacklists common words in every corpus to help users analyze only relevant words when analyzing a document. After some exploration, I found other words specific to The Oracle that were skewing Voyant’s findings. Each edition of these Oracles had the same ads and same page headings, inflating the word count of certain words and distorting the visual interpretations created by the software, such as word clouds and word correlations. To combat this, I created a blacklist of Tennessee Tech-specific words in addition to Voyant’s. For example, “Gainesboro” continuously appeared in word clouds, making it appear as a potential subject. However, in its context, the word “Gainesboro” only appeared in ads as part of a phone number listing. Although time-consuming, once I created the blacklist of words, I could reuse them.

To compare Voyant to a human-generated description, I listed possible subjects describing each Oracle edition. When compared to the words found in the text analysis in Voyant, I found the tools most comparable to a manual description in the software were the Distinctive Words tool (Example B), Cirrus tool (Example C), and TermsBerry tool (Example D).

Example B: The Distinctive Words tool and Most Frequent Words tool in Voyant.

The Distinctive Words tool allows users to see the most unique words in each ‘section’ of the corpus (The Oracle editions) and how frequently the words are used. For example, in the September 24 edition, checking context by clicking on the specific word showed that two of the most distinct words, vacation and discontinued, corresponded to two, faculty and high school, out of the three subjects. The September 24 edition had articles about the various vacation destinations and the announcement of the high school at Tennessee Tech being discontinued. Voyant was unable to provide any viable subject heading connections in the November 5 edition.

Example C: The Cirrus tool in Voyant creates a word cloud based on the most frequently occurring words in the corpus.

The cirrus tool shows which words are the most frequent across the entire corpus, not per ‘section.’ I found that the Cirrus function was useful for finding subject headings that were not unique to a single edition but to The Oracle as a whole. Although it did not show up in the Distinctive Words tool, “football” showed up in the Cirrus word tool and was a common subject heading found in each edition of The Oracle. Some words, like “club,” “teachers,” “home,” and “coming,” occur frequently, but are not necessarily in every edition.

Example D: The TermsBerry tool in Voyant.

The TermsBerry function is similar to the Cirrus tool except it shows associations between words. When hovering over a word in the cluster, Voyant highlights the words that are correlated with each other. Sometimes these correlations are compound words that Voyant treats like separate words. For example, in the Cirrus tool “home” and “coming” were shown as separate, but the TermsBerry function highlights “coming” when hovering over “home” and vice versa, connecting the two words and creating a better meaning.

Overall, I found Voyant useful for finding subject terms for our use. Since each edition of The Oracle covered multiple pages with several different topics, finding the subject headings with Voyant was faster than finding subjects by hand. Voyant found many of the same subjects that were on the list generated by hand. Some shortcomings of the tool may be that for other collections, such as personal papers (correspondence and diaries), Voyant may be less useful because of the wider variety of subject matter. Also, creating a blacklist of words may take nearly as much time as finding subjects by hand.

While researching this article, I had guidance from Jenny Huffman, Archives Assistant for the Tech Archives. Research for this project coincided with class work from the Spring 2023 Archive Management and Research course taught by University Archivist Megan Atkinson.

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President Thomas Alva Early

by Dean Duncan-Morin

Thomas Alva Early was the first of seven recorded children of George Peter Early and Mattie J. Nolen Early, born in Water Valley, Yalobusha County, Mississippi on August 28, 1881. He attended public school in Mississippi and then graduated from the University of Georgia. After, he returned to Mississippi to act as Superintendent of schools for Yalobusha County. There, he was contacted by Seaman A. Knapp, a prominent agronomist and innovator of farm demonstration work. Early caught Knapp’s attention for his work promoting agricultural clubs in the Yalobusha school district, and following Knapp’s death in 1911, helped organize and raise funds for the Knapp School for Country Life and Peabody College in 1913-1914. During this time, he joined the University of Georgia Agricultural Extension Department, establishing extension programs throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. Through this work, he connected with many wealthy and affluent individuals throughout the Lower and Lower Middle Appalachian region, who later helped him in his contest for the position of President of the newly formed Tennessee Polytechnic Institute (Tech), in early 1916.

Acrylic portrait on canvas of Thomas Alva Early painted by M.L. Stone in 1960. This picture was painted for Tennessee Tech and details of hair and eye color were provided by government records.

Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, a new technical school in Cookeville, Tenn., began its peculiar and extremely tenuous existence from its conception on the state Senate floor in early 1915. In 1914, Cookeville politicians and spokespersons, spurred by the passage of the 1909 General Education Bill establishing three state normal schools, or schools for teaching teachers, began advocating for a fourth state normal school in Cookeville. Cookeville advocates encountered fierce resistance from the administrative heads of the previously established normal schools, who felt that their exclusive privileges as state colleges would be diluted by a fourth teaching college. Advocates for the new school proposed establishing a technical and agricultural school instead, given the rural nature of the region. While this did not particularly calm the misgivings of those incensed against its founding, it convinced legislators of its benefit; on March 27, 1915, Governor Thomas C. Rye passed the legislation establishing the Tennessee Polytechnic Institute, using the now defunct Dixie College as its campus. Even though the bill passed the legislature, school administration from the other state normal schools were dead set on the repeal of its establishing legislation. And so, with the formative decisions regarding the fledgling Tech being closely watched by those seeking its downfall, a President needed to be hired to guide the institute’s first steps.

Having heard through word of mouth that the newly established technical institute was looking for someone to helm the position of President, Early sent word to Putnam County Superintendent J. M. Hatfield on Feb. 21, 1916 of his accomplishments and desire for the position. Early’s influential Nashville friends convinced members of the Board of Education that he was the best person for the job, and by late March, he was the first President of Tennessee Tech.  Within the month, the new President put together a list of professors to staff the school. This alone placed his stamp on the school forever, molding each department as he saw fit by whom he placed at its head. This action, however, according to Tech Historian Austin Wheeler Smith, eventually led to internal conflicts that resulted in Early’s later removal from the position in 1920. Smith purported that Early’s educational background in vocational and industrial work placed him at odds with the liberal arts and master’s degreed professors that he appointed as the various departments’ heads, particularly the man he appointed as Dean of English, Charles Denson Daniels.

Image description:
Early’s correspondence regarding his self-appointment as President of Tennessee Polytechnic Institute.

Although his time in office was short, Early was an integral player in Tech’s formative years. He was crucial to the survival of the institution, especially in the case of raising funds, as Tech had financial troubles for many years after its founding. Early was intimately involved in the campus culture and the lives of the students. They frequently corresponded with him regarding assistance or updating him on their life. For instance, in one case he sought accommodations for a student to stay in Cookeville so that she may attend Tech. His two most meaningful achievements came during the end of World War I. Early wanted to use Tech to assist the war effort. On September 30, 1918, Early received permission from the Department of War to establish a War Training School with a detachment of the Student’s Army Training Corp.

Image description:
Letter from Thomas Alva Early to Mrs. Dora Allen, detailing his plans to discuss with the citizens of Cookeville about the furnishing of accommodations for Mrs. Allen’s daughter, Gladys.

His second achievement, a rehabilitative vocational school, came to fruition after he had been removed from office, but he did see it in its early stages. Early suggested the school in 1918 for the wounded soldiers that would soon come back from the European conflict, but the Board declined his idea. In 1919, recently elected Governor Albert Roberts, further initiated Early’s idea, and requested that a rehabilitation school be built at Tech on September 23 of that year. While Tech terminated Early in 1920, the rehabilitation school survived, and on July 1, 1920, a day after Early left office, 60 veterans arrived at Tech to learn vocational skills for reintegration into society.

Early’s presidency ended unfortunately due to running afoul of some powerful Nashvillians late in his term; particularly, the new Governor, Albert Roberts, elected in 1919. Early himself suspected that Roberts wanted him removed from the position, a claim he supported with the split vote on his termination being between members of the Board appointed by the previous Governor and members appointed by Roberts. Austin Wheeler Smith purported that it may have been due to Early’s support of former Governor Thomas C. Rye that drew Governor Roberts’ ire. Tension from within and without led to the resignation of Dean Daniels in the Summer of 1919, which then prompted Early to submit his resignation for the next year on September 16, 1919. Sometime between the filing of his resignation and his departure, Early withdrew his resignation, which the State Board of Education responded by firing Early and all his administrative faculty but one on June 30, 1920. As almost an insult to injury on the way out on June 22, the newly appointed Putnam County Superintendent Albert Williams accused Early of embezzling $400 dollars from the U.S. government, but there is no concrete recorded evidence supporting this claim.

Image Description:
An article in the Putnam County Herald in which Thomas Alva Early defends himself against accusations of embezzlement of funds from the U.S. government, July 1, 1920.

After his term as president, Early became a bank liquidator for the Grenada Banking System, later becoming its vice president. On July 5, 1939, Thomas Alva Early died in his sleep in Greenwood, Leflore County, Mississippi. He may rest easy knowing that all of his efforts have paid off over a century later.


(1920, July, 1) Putnam County Herald. [Documents curated and collected by Christine Spivey Jones]. Christine Spivey Jones Papers (RG 116, Box 14, Folder 26). Tennessee Tech University Archives

(1917-1920) [Faculty minutes of the faculty of TTU from 1916 to 1931]. Faculty Minutes, 1916-1931 (Acc#2022-0070, Box 1, Folder 1). Tennessee Tech University Archives

(1920, July, 1) [Presidential papers of Quintin Miller Smith]. University Presidential Papers (RG 9, Series 1, Box 37, Folder 5). Tennessee Tech University Archives

Early, Thomas Alva, (1917-1918) [Presidential papers of Thomas Alva Early]. University Presidential Papers (RG 9, Series 6, Box 102, Folder 2). Tennessee Tech University Archives

Early, Thomas Alva, (1916) [Correspondence between Thomas Alva Early and J. M. Hatfield]. J.M. Hatfield Papers (RG 69, Box 1, Folder 1). Tennessee Tech University Archives


Neufeldt, H. G., & Dickinson, W. C. (1991). The Search for Identity: A History of Tennessee Technological University, 1915-1985. Memphis State University Press.

Smith, A. W. (1957). The Story of Tennessee Tech. McQuiddy Print. Co.

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