Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Perhaps not as big a story as "Man Bites Dog" but "Socrates Bites Coed" made the front page of the Kentucky Kernel 50 years ago this month.  Thankfully, student Mary Menge was not injured badly by the bite administered by UK President John Oswald's dog Socrates.  There is absolutely no evidence that the dog bite at Maxwell Place hastened President Oswald's departure from the University.  Neverthless, he resigned only two months later in April 1968.

Monday, February 12, 2018


President John Oswald described the UK campus in 1968 as a state of ferment.  Free speech, anti-war protests, the women's movement, and student rights issues consumed the campus.  But the push by African-American students for a range of issues needing attention and change was at the forefront of the ferment because of its historical antecedents and its impact on the university's future.

UK President John Oswald and BSU President Theodore Berry
The UK Black Student Union, founded in January 1968 and led by its first president, Theodore Berry, became the focus of the movement on campus.  On February 15 the BSU met with President John Oswald to state their goals.  The BSU called for more black students at UK, as well as more black professors, administrators, and staff.  Noting the difficulty of recruiting black professors because of UK's "white image," the BSU argued that black faculty needed to be "actively recruited by UK in order to get them to come here."  President Oswald agreed emphasizing that "UK should make a greater effort to recruit Negro teachers on a personal basis."

The BSU also demanded an end to off-campus housing discrimination.  Even though the university maintained a list of housing that did not discriminate by race, incidents of discrimination remained.

A course in African-American history became central to BSU's call for action.  Not only did the UK History Department not offer such a course, Professor Carl Cone, History Department Chair, attended the February meeting to say that he would "not recommend that the course be included in its curriculum for the next year."

Cone argued that "the course was too specialized for general interest."  This was a History Department that among its regular curriculum taught two courses on Japanese history; one to 1600 and another from 1600 to the present that likely did not have "general interest!"  He did concede that an existing course in American history "would be broadened to include more about the American Negro."

Cone's comments received a "dubious reaction" from the audience.  The BSU presented Cone a petition signed by 900 UK students stating their interest in a black history course.  In 1968 only 150 African-American students attended UK.

In its reporting on the meeting between President Oswald and the BSU the Kernel identified the organization as a "militant Negro group."  Responding to the label Theodore Berry pushed back saying, "If militant means speaking up for what is rightfully ours without asking, then we are militant, but not in a sense of violence."

But events during 1968 moved at a frantic pace. Assassinations took the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy creating unrest and uncertainty across the nation.  President Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not run for re-election and Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Locally, President Oswald left UK in April precipitated by disagreements with Kentucky Governor Louie Nunn and other politicians over free speech and other university policies.  Jim Embry replaced Theodore Berry as presidents of the Black Student Union.

In October 1968 the once recalcitrant Professor Cone announced that a new course in Negro history would be available for the spring 1969 semester.  The course, to be taught by white professor Steven Channing, "will be offered at least once every year and will be open to about 100 students."

Jim Embry, 1968
Cone noted that his change of heart resulted from a change nationally in the history profession in the previous eight to nine months that now considered a black history course a relevant part of the curriculum.

Noting the BSU's long advocacy for such a course, BSU President Jim Embry reacted by noting that, "Our asking for the black history course last spring is now showing its effects.  It should have been done in the first place.  My elation is not that great, but I am glad it's going to be started."

The University of Kentucky owes a debt to Theodore Berry, Jim Embry and many others who forced the university to be more progressive in regard to race and diversity.  Over the past five decades much progress has been achieved but much more remains to be done.  Black History Month is a time to reflect and reaffirm UK's commitment to diversity but the effort must continue throughout the year.

Thursday, February 1, 2018


A brief article on the back page of the May 27, 1915 Idea, the student newspaper for the all-white University of Kentucky, noted that "the first Negro night school at State University" had just completed its first year of operation.

UK Custodians 1904
The campus YMCA sponsored the classes taught by YMCA student members.  Several of the "teachers" studied law including Elmer Robertson who directed the program.  The classes were described as "the first attempt at work of this kind on the campus" and "a marvelous success."

The classes, held in the basement of the Main Building three times a week, covered six subjects.  The article noted that, "The janitors have been intently interested from the beginning and their regular attendance has been gratifying."  There is no known record of how many custodians took advantage of the program or their identities.  Also, we do not know how many years the program may have operated. 

The thirteen student teachers listed are: "H. Scott, Jackson, Peak brothers, Redwine, C.B. Smith, Griggs, C. Dotson, S.K. Clark, Sartin, Grainger, Hodges and Reddish." 

YMCA Members, 1916
UK would not fully desegregate for another four decades and even then it would take years for UK to increase the number of African-American students and become a welcoming environment.  Most agree that the process of making UK a fully inclusive environment continues to this day.  But for a time in the early years of the 20th century, UK students tried to make a positive difference in the lives of African-American staff.

Thursday, January 18, 2018


Student patients and nurses in the temporary hospital
established in the gymnasium.
2018 is proving to be a bad year for influenza.  One hundred years ago the flu became so bad that the University of Kentucky closed for a time that fall.

The flu outbreak caused illness and loss of life across the commonwealth and few Kentuckians escaped its impact.  My grandmother, Leila Phillips Birdwhistell, was pregnant with her second child when she was stricken with the flu that year.  She lost her baby, and even more devastating, learned that because of complications she could not have more children.  This made my father an only child at a time when farmers had large families to help with work around the farm.

In a 2006 report Alex Azar, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Service described the devastation of the 1918 flu in Kentucky.

“Kentucky saw its first cases of influenza during the last week of September 1918. Infected troops traveling on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad stopped off in Bowling Green, KY, where they passed the virus on to a few of the local citizens.”

“By the time the first week ended, Louisville had already suffered an estimated 1,000 cases of influenza.  The pandemic grew even worse in ensuing weeks. Louisville alone lost 180 people each week from influenza during the second and third weeks after it struck.”

On October 6, the Kentucky State Board of Health announced the closing of "all places of amusement, schools, churches and other places of assembly."

By late October “state officials reported more than 5,000 cases of the flu. Over the next three weeks, they reported over 8,000 more.  Even as late as mid-December 1918, Kentucky was so overwhelmed by the disease that a local health officer sent an urgent telegram to Surgeon General Rupert Blue requesting that the U.S. Public Health Service take over the administration of health work until the influenza epidemic had abated.”

Medical staff outside the gymnasium
In his November, 1918 report to the UK Board of Trustees President Frank McVey noted that "the University closed for about a month from October 11 to November 6."  There had been "352 cases of influenza in the hospital, the total number of deaths had been 7" and "there were 43 cases of influenza at the university, 15 of which were convalescents." 

McVey added that while UK was again open it remained "under quarantine."  The "men of the Students' Army Training Corps were confined to the camp" and "the girls of Patterson Hall and Maxwell Hall are not permitted to leave the halls except to attend classes." 

By December the women's dormitories closed because of a shortage of help as nearly all assistants were ill.  The women students were sent home.

Friday, January 12, 2018

SU-KY Circle and the Origins of UK Cheerleading

Organized cheerleading at UK began with the founding of the Su-Ky Circle in 1920-21.  SU-KY stood for State University of Kentucky.  The K-Book the following year offered a brief history of how the organization came to be.
K-Book, 1921-22
Women and men students tried out and participated in activities earning points to become a member of Su-Ky and over time it became one of the most important student organizations on the campus.  Steve Clark and Barbara Zweifel wrapped streamers around a goal post in 1959 to earn points towards SUKY membership.

SU-KY founder, Stanley A. "Daddy" Boles (1887-1961), grew up on a farm in Grant County, Kentucky and attended Kentucky Wesleyan College (located in Winchester, Ky. at that time).  He earned the nickname "Daddy" as a member of the Wesleyan football team because someone observed he was so much larger than the other players.

After earning his undergraduate degree Boles received an M.A. degree from Vanderbilt University.  His first coaching position was at Locust Grove Institute in Georgia..  He later coached at Polytechnic College, now Southern Methodist University and Texas Christian University before coming to UK in as director of physical education and assistant with athletics teams .
Stanley A. "Daddy" Boles
In 1917-18 Boles coached both the football team (3-5-1) and the basketball team (9-2-1).  The tie game in basketball resulted from an official scoring error discovered after the game ended.  He was appointed Athletics Director the following year and served in that position until 1933.  Boles is credited with hiring Adolph Rupp.

Boles founded the Kentucky State High School Basketball Tournament in 1919 and for many years the tournament was held in UK's Alumni Gym.

Modern UK cheerleaders have established a national reputation having won 21 National Championships including 17 of the last 23 national titles.  This year the UK cheerleaders will represent the United States at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

A recent Kentucky Kernel story by Bailey Vandiver highlighted the history of one of the most popular cheers at UK men's basketball games, the Y.  Check it out!


Saturday, January 6, 2018

New Dining Hall

A new dining hall, Champions Kitchen, opens this week in the soon to be completed UK student center.  The 750 seat facility will offer a bakery, a breakfast station, a salad bar, and a "worry free zone" where food is prepared is a special room free of gluten, peanuts, tree nuts, or shell fish. (1.6.18 Herald-Leader)

Nearly a century ago in January, 1919 UK also announced a new dining hall.  The facility was located in two rooms in the basement of the Main Building formally occupied by the stenographic bureau.  The area, which could accommodate 250 patrons, included a kitchen and dining area with small tables, newly painted woodwork, and grey furniture that made "a very pleasing appearance..." 

The dining hall, operated by the Home Economics Department, served three meals a day cafeteria style “at moderate prices" (breakfast 20 cents, lunch 25 cents, and dinner 45 cents).   However, during the first weeks of operation the new dining hall only served lunch since "the Home Economics students" were "unusually busy with the coming Farmer's Week.

Fifteen women students worked in the dining hall at least six hours each week and received credit toward laboratory work and were also paid.  Any profits from the dining hall were used to purchase new equipment with the remainder going to the Home Economics Department.

Kentucky Kernel, January 23, 1919

ExploreUK, SCRC, UK Libraries

Kentucky Kernel, January 23, 1919

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Turn Towards Science and Research

As the calendar turned to 1898 the University of Kentucky began a new era in scientific education and research with the dedication of the new Natural Science Building.  President James K. Patterson gave the welcoming address at the dedication ceremonies.  Unfortunately, he had broken his left leg over the holiday break.  With no use of his right leg which had been injured in a childhood accident, Patterson was unable to walk and "was carried by four stalwart soldiers (student cadets) to the dedicatory exercises."

In his dedicatory speech President Patterson reflected on the lack of attention paid to scientific discovery and education in Kentucky's past.  But with the new science building he predicted that the University of Kentucky (then known as State College) "must take the lead in the field of scientific study and investigation in this Commonwealth and among her sister States of the South."  The President called upon the state legislature "representing the intelligence and pride and patriotism of Kentucky" to provide the "material resources by which this may be accomplished."

The editors of The Cadet (student newspaper) joined in the celebration of the new building by noting that, "Not only is the study of natural science enhanced, but the work and reputation of the college will reap beneficial results.  We tip our hat to the new Science Hall.  Long may she stand."

The new Natural Science Building (now Miller Hall) was completed December 10, 1897 at a cost of $27,000 which included $5,000 for equipment.  The building "was erected by Lexington contractors" and all of the electrical wiring "was done exclusively by the students of the college."  All of the brick work for  the new building "was contracted for and done exclusively" by African-American workers.

Included in the three story building were botany, zoology, anatomy and physiology, and geology and paleontology.  The basement was "to be used for fish ponds and incubators."