Enhancing the Research Experience: the Exponent Newspaper Text Correction Project

Purdue University Archives and Special Collections supports the discovery, learning, and engagement goals of Purdue University by identifying, collecting, preserving, and making available for research records and papers of enduring value.

illustrated cover titled The Purdue Exponent

Cover of the first Purdue Exponent, December 1889

In March 2020, most staff and student employees within Purdue University Libraries and School of Information Studies transitioned to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A majority of the student employees in LSIS work with physical materials and assist with day-to-day operational tasks. And so, the move to remote work created a conundrum: how can LSIS continue to employ our valued student employees during a time that on-site operations are no longer available? Purdue University Archives and Special Collections offered a solution.

As part of its mission to preserve and make accessible the history of Purdue University, Archives and Special Collections and Libraries and School of Information Studies previously digitized and placed online issues of the student newspaper, the Purdue Exponent. Issues are available at https://exponent.lib.purdue.edu. Available issues are no longer under copyright and are therefore in the public domain. The newspaper, which began in 1889, provides insights into the news, events, and even advertisements of their era. Placing the Exponent online included digitization of print issue and creation of computer-generated text for each article. This text allows visitors to the site to keyword search available issues. While the generated text was correct well over 97% of the time, slight errors in the text did occur. These errors sometimes impact search results. As such, text reviews and updates improve primary source research and scholarly activity.

Let’s return to March of this year. Archives and Special Collections proposed a solution to keep our LSIS student employees working and improve the digitized Exponent. Students would transition to the role of text correction experts, reviewing and editing text as errors were located. The proposal was accepted, and soon students were contributing improvements to the text. This endeavor benefitted the students by continuing their employment and providing a unique opportunity learn more about Purdue. The work also benefitted Archives and Special Collections by improving the online Exponent text, and thereby aiding researchers and the worldwide Purdue University community.

How to Correct Text

The text enhancement work involves registering a free user account. Once registered, LSIS students were asked to sign up for a year and month of the newspaper. Instructions and guidance were provided by archivists within Archives and Special Collections.


Here a list of Exponent newspaper editors in 1896. The left side of the screen, or text block, is the place where text may be corrected. Note that in some cases letters are in place of numbers and in other cases the connections between groups are hard to understand.

screenshot of Exponent newspaper with transcription text correction pane

This text has not been corrected.

screenshot of Exponent newspaper with transcription text correction pane

This text has been corrected.

In other cases, symbols, line spacing, and ink dots created mistakes in the transcript. This block of text from 1916 illustrates the need for text correction. The text block on the left shows the highlighted article before and after correction.

screenshot of Exponent newspaper with transcription text correction pane

This text has not been corrected.

screenshot of Exponent newspaper with transcription text correction pane

This text has been corrected.


Between late March and mid-summer, nearly 60 people worked as part of the Exponent project. Here are the final numbers:

Text blocks corrected: 73,531

Articles completely corrected: 23,957

Pages completely corrected: 8,235

Issues completely corrected: 341

Archives and Special Collections is thankful to everyone who worked on the Exponent project during a time of immense change. These contributions provide lasting research assistance. Future researchers, from families seeking more information about a relative, to scholars studying past events, to Purdue students using the newspaper for their own research will benefit from the 2020 Exponent project. Archives and Special Collections is also proud to have been able to help our LSIS student employees keep working during an uncertain time.


(Dis)Content in the Heartland: Protest and Peace at Purdue by Devan Lindey

The traditional narrative of college life in the 1960s seen through journalistic coverage blurred the narrative by painting it as the “summer of love” and “days of rage.”[1] This image continued into the 1970s as the United States became more entangled in Vietnam. Protests riddled campuses across the country in retaliation to escalation in Vietnam and funding of military research at universities. John Thelin in Going to College in the Sixties argues we need to consider the tameness of college in the Sixties with fraternities, athletics, and admissions processes. I intend to examine a Purdue student tradition, the “Senior Cords,” to juxtapose the on-campus protests with the more mundane side of student life to give a more nuanced picture of student life in higher education.

More extreme attacks did occur at Purdue. In response to a flag desecration a “Student Affairs Committee of the Faculty Senate” was assembled to investigate. Personal intimidation as well as threats ensued while a member of the Committee was chased in their car and nearly ran off the road. Additionally, “a dean’s home was splattered by shotgun pellets.”[2] However, most of the protests in response to on campus issues or international events were far more tame than outright threats on lives. When President Nixon announced the invasion of Cambodia, students acted. We witness a spontaneous reaction by students in protest when over four hundred students rallied which resulted in some window breaking at the armory.[3] However, this event was followed shortly thereafter by a more peaceful retort to Nixon’s action when students distributed fliers calling for the campus and surrounding community to non-violently protest through the boycott of any store not displaying a particular sign.[4]

Handbill calling for a boycott

Despite promotion of peaceful methods of protest and boycott, students did advocate for more hostile methods. The assistant to the then President Hovde announced that some students were urged through handbills to equip themselves with “guns, knives, razors, etc.” in response to arrests.[5] Students did peacefully sit in the Union as a form of non-violent protest. However, the administration saw potential for violent confrontation to develop. While we must keep in mind that this source is officially from the administration and could therefore skew information to support its own actions, other sources corroborate such fears of the administration. Specifically, we can point to a handbill circulated by students titled “Police-State Terror at Purdue,” proclaiming that “Purdue must be destroyed.”[6]

Handbill calling for the destruction of Purdue

Administrative response to threats at the Union

Despite the tumultuous affairs of protests and violence, campus life for many continued unimpeded. Classes and teaching continued while many students either unaware or simply ignoring the dissent of others immersed themselves in campus life.[7] To view this side of student life, one can look to the “Senior Cords” worn by senior students on campus. The students adorned these clothing items with imagery of student organizations, personal interests, and popular culture of the time.

The Purdue Archives contain myriad pairs of pants and skirts worn by students that all contain elements revealing the more mundane and non-radical nature of student life, a contrast with the dominant narrative of the time. As an example, we can consider Richard Gehlbach’s “Senior Cords.” When we analyze the iconography of his pants, we witness a student engaged with on campus activities such as Collegiate 4H. Additionally, Gehlbach adorned his pants with popular culture images of Yogi Bear and the spies from Spy vs. Spy of the “Mad” magazine.[8]

His pants contain various other images showing the other side of student life that we need to take into consideration to grasp a more thorough picture of student culture in the protest era.

Gehlbach cords, front

Gehlbach senior cords, back

Purdue was no stranger to discontent though the protests at the campus were less volatile than others at Berkeley and Kent State. However, in contrast to this traditional narrative, student life often remained unbothered. An observance of student culture through campus traditions reveals a much more complex image of the protest era on college campuses. The “Senior Cords” are one such source through which we as scholars can engage with Thelin’s idea of the normalcy of student life. Some students truly remained content with having the typical college experience as exhibited through the “Senior Cords.”


[1] John R. Thelin, Going to College in the Sixties (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018), xiii.

[2] Robert Topping, A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University (Purdue University Press, 1988), 329.

[3] Skip Wollenberg, “Nixon sends G.I.’s to Cambodia.” Purdue Exponent, 1 May 1970. Accessed via https://exponent.lib.purdue.edu/.

[4] Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, B1F3, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

[5] Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, B1F4, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

[6] Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, B1F3, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

[7] Robert Topping, A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University (Purdue University Press, 1988), 333.

[8] Senior Cords, 1965, Box 1, 20180212.3, Richard A. Gehlbach senior cords, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.


Primary Sources

Purdue University Exponent student newspaper. Accessed via https://exponent.lib.purdue.edu/.

Student Protest Materials, 1967-1984, Box 1, MSF 495, William Buffington Collection
of Student Protest Papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections,
Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West Lafayette, IN.

Senior Cords, 1965, Box 1, 20180212.3, Richard A. Gehlbach senior cords, Purdue University
Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries and Special Collections, West
Lafayette, IN.

Secondary Sources

Thelin, John. Going to College in the Sixties. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.

Topping, Robert. A Century and Beyond: The History of Purdue University. Purdue University
Press, 1988.

Blog post by guest blogger Devan Lindey. 

This blog post is by Devan Lindey, a third year PhD Candidate in the History Department at Purdue University. The blog post reflects Devan’s archival research in the course ILS 695, Digital and Analog Archives. Devan studies the history of higher education and legal history.

Note: In Spring 2020, students of the Digital and Analog Archives course (ILS 695) conducted research into hidden or lesser known aspects of student life in Purdue history. Each student conducted original archival research on their individual topics and selected source materials from the archives to digitize. Originally, the plan was for students in the course to create an online exhibit using the digital humanities tool, Omeka. Due to the interruption of COVID-19 in March, the course was partially reworked. Rather than creating a group online exhibit in Omeka, each student was given the option to translate their individual research papers into a different form of digital scholarship: published blog posts.  We are excited to share shortened versions of these research papers on the Purdue Archives and Special Collections blog!

What’s in a Box? Processing the Neil A. Armstrong papers

People often wonder what archival processing means. In this blog post we explore some of the aspects associated with processing personal papers and archives. The Neil A. Armstrong papers are an excellent example to use for demonstrating a team approach to processing.

The term “processing” conjures all kinds of images in a person’s mind. According to the Society of American Archivists, archival processing is defined as:

Archival Processing, n. ~ 1. The arrangement, description, and housing of archival materials for storage and use by patrons.

Society of American Archivists, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology 

On the surface, this work may seem straightforward. However, it is the act of determining how best to arrange, describe, and preserve archival materials that requires a blend of skills, from knowledge of best practices in how to organize unpublished documents, photos, and artifacts according to provenance and original order, to knowing how to assign descriptions to unidentified items using archival descriptive standards, to assigning appropriate subject headings for discoverability, and how to take the right preservation steps (preventive, such as the right environment, security, and storage) or conservation steps (Item-level treatment, such as mending a torn page or removing adhesive from a photograph).

This blend of tasks requires a variety of skill sets, educational background, and training. Archivists, for example, are experts in appraisal, identifying what materials to keep in perpetuity. Archivists are also knowledgeable about privacy and confidentiality issues and donor requirements, both of which will impact which aspects of the collection will be made available immediately for use or require temporary access restrictions. In the Armstrong papers, for example, there are many third-party privacy rights and intellectual property and persona issues that can make providing access to the collection a challenge.

Archivists work with archival assistants to agree upon the right organization as part of the processing plan for a collection. Archival assistants and graduate student employees work under the direction of an archivist to sort and put the entire collection in order, and begin the painstaking process of identifying the contents of each series, or grouping, within the collection. Archival assistants also re-house archival materials into acid-free, lignin-free folders and boxes, perform preservation reformatting, and label materials in the collection.

With a large archival collection, staff may decide to process it as a team, divvying up tasks between archivists, archival assistants, and/or graduate student employees trained in processing. Working with unpublished, unedited personal papers requires a lot of decision making as well as extensive handling of the materials themselves. To cut down on wear and tear, it is important to identify in advance the steps to be taken during processing and who will perform each task.

Because each archival collection is unique, each collection will offer new questions to answer. There are some general questions that archives staff keep in mind when reviewing a collection to be processed. In particular, assessing the condition of a collection when it arrives is essential to avoid possible contamination affecting the rest of the archival collections.

An Armstrong box before processing.

Some of the processing questions to be asked

  • Are there any pests in the box? Evidence of any moisture?
  • Is there evidence of an original order to the collection, showing how the creator used it?
  • How would you group the material into series?
    • By original order?
    • By physical type?
    • By function (correspondence, career activities, volunteer work, etc)?
  • Are there any special housings/boxes needed?
  • Are there items in the collection that pose a threat to its preservation? For example, are there rusty staples or paper clips to be removed? Are there newspaper clippings adjacent to other documents? Are there extra preservation measures needed?

Anniversary publication, Neil A. Armstrong papers

Processing the Neil A. Armstrong papers

Although the bulk of Neil Armstrong’s papers were donated by his wife Carol in 2012, there have been additional donated boxes received periodically since that time. The boxes the materials arrive in can be a variety of sizes, some with materials in an original order, others with a variety of types of items within each. Collection materials range from paper documents to photographic negatives and prints, maps, audio-visual recordings, and 3-dimensional artifacts and memorabilia. Some published materials, such as newspaper clippings and journal articles collected by Armstrong are included.

Wooden model planes, Neil A. Armstrong papers








Items in an original Gemini VIII box of Armstrong papers.







There were hundreds of decisions to be made, such as…

  • Determine the order to arrange items in.


  • Decide what to do with a piece of the Berlin Wall!

Piece of Berlin Wall, Neil A. Armstrong papers








Once an arrangement scheme is determined, Items are placed in acid-free archival folders and labeled with the collection name, collection number, box and folder number.  Series titles and the contents also go on the folder. Pencil is used, as to not accidentally mark in ink on the contents. Folder labels are avoided, as they can deteriorate over time and fall off and leave adhesive residue on the folders.


The folders are placed into archival boxes and await final processing decisions. Sticky notes are often used to temporarily mark the outside of boxes, but are never left on archival material to avoid adhesive damage to the collection.

    After all of the final processing decisions are made, the boxes make their way to the shelves to await the final labeling.   


One 2016 addition donated by Carol Armstrong was comprised of  14.2 cubic feet of material.

Here are a few of those items…


Items from Armstrong’s childhood.

Mixed materials, Neil A. Armstrong papers









Also found among the additions were documents from throughout his career.

Yes, it’s a Purdue postcard…

Purdue University mail, Neil A. Armstrong papers







And these various items…

A letter of thanks from the University of Cincinnati upon Armstrong’s retirement from teaching.

Special membership cards.




A wide assortment of Armstrong’s aviation themed tie tacks.


Processing challenges sometimes require a call to outside experts. Neil Armstrong’s Samsonite briefcase accidentally closed and locked during  intake of this 2016 addition to his papers. The Purdue locksmiths were called in.

(The briefcase was full of documents.)              


The current tally…

This large and complex collection took two years to process. However, because Neil Armstrong and his office assistants over the years had labeled and maintained his papers in groups, that order eventually became recognized in a large percentage of the collection as boxes and files were examined.  A team of three staff members met weekly to discuss the boxes and make processing decisions to best reflect the original order recognized. When obviously out of original order materials were encountered, the team discussed how to logically arrange that material according to best archival practices.  The careful processing of these papers honor Mr. Armstrong’s legacy.

Neil A. Armstrong papers
221.7 cubic feet (466 manuscript boxes)
364 page Finding Aid

Click on on this cover page from the finding aid for the full inventory.

Neil A. Armstrong papers finding aid


The Neil Armstrong papers at work…


Supporting Instruction, Learning, & Scholarship

Once the papers were processed and open to researchers, instruction archivists formed partnerships with teaching faculty in the History Department, English Department, American Studies, Honors College, and the Polytechnic School to integrate the Armstrong papers into course instruction. Students are introduced to Purdue Archives and taught how to conduct archival research as part of an information strategy. Since the opening of the papers in 2014, a number of students have explored topics related to the history, technology, international relations, engineering, computer science, and graphic design during the American Space Program. Several students have had their research published or have presented at the annual Purdue Undergraduate Research Conference. The Archives has also been a resource for documentary filmmakers, television news productions, and well-known authors who have used the collection to create films and new scholarly works. In addition, a small exhibit area has held two exhibitions based upon the collection and a partnership with Purdue Galleries in 2019 resulted in the first art exhibition inspired by artists’ use of the Armstrong papers.

All of this generation of new knowledge, scholarship, and creative works was made possible first by the generous donation of Neil Armstrong’s papers by Neil and his wife, Carol Armstrong, and secondly, by the two years worth of hundreds of hours of labor intensive processing by Archives staff to make the papers accessible and to preserve them.

Examples of courses that integrated archival literacy instruction & the Armstrong papers 

  • HIST 302H “Flight Paths: Purdue’s Aerospace Pioneers” (archival research seminar)
  • HIST 495 “Flight and Space Exploration: An Archival Research Seminar” (archival research seminar)
  • HIST 395 “Air and Space: The Technology and Culture of Flight” (archival research seminar)

    HIST 395 student Jaehyeok Kim references documents from the Neil Armstrong papers during his 2019 Apollo in the Archives undergraduate research conference presentation.

  • HONR 299 “Food, Kitchens, and the Politics of Taste”
  • TECH 299 “Seminar in Humanities & Technology”
  • HIST 494 “Science and Technology in American Civilization”
  • ENG 106 (multiple sections)

Student research and scholarship generated by use of the collection:

  • Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly (Volume 23, No 4, 2016)
  • The Exponent The Literary Edition (Spring 2016)
  • The three engineering and science students (Sam Conklin, Alex Crick, and Jaehyeok Kim), in Think, the magazine of the College of Liberal Arts (fall of 2019).  See their full articles in “Man + Machine: Research from Purdue’s Neil A. Armstrong Papers,”


Examples of television and film productions using the collection:

  • First Man pre-production researchers (2018 release)
  • Tin Goose Films documentary, “Armstrong”. Directed by David Fairhead, narrator Harrison Ford, by Tin Goose Films (Theatrical release July 12, 2019)
  • CBS This Morning Saturday,  “The Armstrong Letters:  A Look at the Astronaut’s Collection of Correspondence” (Aired July 20, 2019, April 11, 2020.)


“Apollo in the Archives” exhibit. 2019

 Apollo in the Archives exhibit, 2019

Purdue student club tour of Apollo in the Archives exhibit. Students worked hard to finish Neil Armstrong’s calculus homework (on display) without calculators atop lunar descent and ascent planning diagrams display.  “Apollo in the Archives” exhibit. 2019.




“Return to Entry” exhibition,Purdue Galleries, 2019.

“Return to Entry” exhibition, Purdue Galleries, 2019.


Artist Frances Gallardo talks with Carol Armstrong about the artwork Gallardo created and what in the Armstrong papers inspired her to create the piece. “Return to Entry” exhibition, Purdue Galleries, 2019.



It has been an honor and a pleasure to process and share the Neil A. Armstrong papers!


This blog is by Mary Sego, archives processing assistant. The content is based on a poster presented by Mary Sego and Tracy Grimm, Barron Hilton Archivist for Flight and Space Exploration, at the 2017 Libraries “One Book Higher.” The information has been updated to reflect recent use of the Armstrong papers.

The Search for Miss Webb

newspaper article

“The Dubois Club,” Purdue Exponent, October 29, 1909

By Adriana Harmeyer, Archivist for University History

On October 29, 1909, the Exponent student newspaper reported on the newly established Dubois Club at Purdue, an organization of African American students inspired by the work of W.E.B. Du Bois.  Listed among the officers of the club was Miss R.G. Webb, Treasurer.  Previously, the earliest female African American student identified by name was 1927 graduate Inez Mason, though earlier group photographs indicated that she may not have been first. This 1909 citation meant we had the opportunity to highlight possibly the first African American female student, a young woman who attended the university nearly twenty years before Mason, but the subsequent research process was difficult.

Several factors complicated the search for Miss Webb, some of which we only learned later in the research process.  We knew that during this period women were often left out of campus-wide activities, which were usually organized by and geared toward male students.  Minority students were often excluded from campus activities and were banned from living in residence halls, so they did not often appear in records of student life.  Both were factors in the case of Miss Webb, whose name appeared in none of our most used resources, such as the Exponent (aside from the single Dubois Club announcement) or Debris Yearbook.  Further, Miss Webb’s name did not appear in the commencement programs or the Board of Trustees minutes recognizing each year’s degree recipients, so it is unclear from university sources whether she graduated.

page from city directory

Polk’s 1909-10 Lafayette Directory

Since Miss Webb did not appear in these Purdue resources, I expanded my search to HeritageQuest, a commonly used genealogy website.  I found no good matches in the census records, which was unlikely with a name as common as Webb and no first name.  However, a search of Lafayette city directories led to my first promising find.  Rhoy G. Webb, student, lived in Lafayette during the 1909-1910 year.

With that first name, I continued my search and found another possible match in FindAGrave.com.  Rhoycnette A. Webb (1893-1922) was buried in Peru, Indiana.  Upon searching for that unusual full first name, I located a digitized student directory from the University of Illinois that included a Rhoygnette Ellison, whose name had been incorrectly transcribed as Rhoycnette.


Webb’s gravestone

With this new name in mind, I returned to FindAGrave and viewed the image of Webb’s headstone and found that her name had been written incorrectly and was likely Rhoygnette, not Rhoycnette.

With this first name now seemingly confirmed, I began a new search for Rhoygnette Webb.  This finally led me to sources about the former Purdue student and her life after West Lafayette.  She is mentioned by name in at least two books about black women in Chicago that were keyword searchable in Google Books: The Chicago Black Renaissance and Women’s Activism and Toward a Tenderer Humanity and a Nobler Womanhood: African American Women’s Clubs in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago, which identified her as a graduate of the Purdue University School of Pharmacy.  This finally confirmed that the name of Miss R.G. Webb of the Dubois Club was Rhoygnette.

page of text

Biographical sketch of Rhoygnette Webb in Toward a Tenderer Humanity and a Nobler Womanhood: African American Women’s Clubs in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago by Anne Meis Knupfer

Seeking additional information about her life, I searched the Chicago Defender newspaper database.  Articles in the Defender confirmed her identity and her path to becoming a prominent nurse in Chicago’s black community.  Webb graduated from the Provident Hospital and Training School in 1914, listed as “Rhoygreete” and “Rhoygneette Allegra” in announcements about the graduation. The following year, Webb was featured in a front-page article about her career and appointment as head nurse at Dr. Butler’s Sanitarium in Evanston.

newspaper front page and article excerpt

The Chicago Defender, April 17, 1915

From there, I continued checking other common sources to flesh out any more details about Webb’s life.  Of the three censuses in which she appeared, her first name appeared differently – and never correctly – in each one.  1900 saw Rhoyjnette Webb living with her parents on East 2nd Street, Peru, Indiana, with a birthdate of March 1886.  In 1910, Rhoygnetta Webb, birthdate 1889, lived with her parents Joe and Mattie Webb on East Warren Street, Peru, Indiana, along with her younger brother Joe Webb, an orchestra musician.  By 1920, R. Webb lived in Chicago with her Provident Hospital classmate Edna DePriest in a home located at 210 Rhodes Avenue, with a birthdate of 1893.  With these inconsistencies, it is no wonder that identifying her was a challenge.

entries on census records

Webb’s entries in the 1900, 1910, and 1920 censuses

Webb died in 1922, only in her 30s.  She left land to her friend Edna DePriest and the rest of her estate to her family.

There is a single reference to Miss Webb in the 1924 Purdue Alumni Directory as a former member of the 1911 Pharmacy class.  This final piece of information about her time as a Purdue student provides yet another reason why she did not appear in any of the traditional student sources.  In the earliest years of the university, the School of Pharmacy was often treated as a separate institution from the rest of the university and not active in student life.

There is still so much more to Rhoygnette Webb’s story, some of which may never be known.  Miss Webb’s career aspirations, race, and gender all combined to make her seemingly invisible in the records of the university, and her frequently misspelled name made her difficult to trace in newspapers and vital records.  She likely would have remained unknown to us had she not taken an active role in the leadership of the Dubois Club.  Thanks to that club and its coverage in the Exponent, we can now identify and celebrate Miss Webb as one of Purdue’s groundbreaking students.

Herman Murray: Breaking the Color Barrier for Purdue Football

In 1948, Herman Murray began playing for the freshman football squad at Purdue. According to the student newspaper, Murray stood out as a player in a game between the “frosh” team and the “B eleven,” when he pounced on a fumble and helped turn the tide in favor of his team (Exponent November 13, 1948). Murray joined Purdue’s “B Team” (similar to a junior varsity squad) as a tackle in 1949. Jim Smith, writing for the student newspaper, pointed out the significance of Murray’s place on the team: “Here’s hoping that the plucky Murray can help the varsity and here’s also hat’s off to the athletic department for helping to break down racial prejudice at Purdue” (Exponent, February 23, 1949).

Herman Murray, shown in the center of this photo of residents of the International House at Purdue. Debris 1949.

Murray’s athletic skills were not lost on Purdue coaches or students.  The following year he became the first African American student to play in an official varsity football game when he played in the November 11, 1950 game against Northwestern at Ross-Ade Stadium (Exponent, November 14, 1950). Students in the crowd enthusiastically chanted his name from the stands.  The student newspaper pointed out the hard work and persistence on Murray’s part that led to this important moment in Purdue history, writing that although Murray “played but a few minutes he deserves mention for his long road up. Big Herman Murray finally got his chance to appear in a ball game and he has really worked for that chance. Herm has been plugging away for the past two years serving as bait for the varsity and doing his bit in the “B” games. A good example of what determination can do.” (Exponent, November 14, 1950).

Murray is shown in back row, #99. Debris 1950

Murray was born in Indianapolis on January 2, 1930. He graduated from the Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis (1948), where he served as captain of his football squad and was named most valuable player. Murray entered Purdue University in 1948, graduating in 1952 with a BS degree in Science. For at least some of his years at Purdue he lived in the International House on Salisbury Street.

Herman Murray, Boilermaker tackle, circa 1948-1952.

Following graduation, Murray served for over twenty years with the U.S. Navy as a doctor of dentistry. He also worked for Arco Durethene Plastics and Arco Chemicals. Following retirement, Murray drove a school bus for special needs children in Long Beach, California. He passed away on August 2, 2017 (Source: Obituary, Serenity Funeral Services, 2017).

The archives staff recently learned of Murray’s passing and we wish to respectfully express our condolences to his family. 

Purdue and India, Part 2: The Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur

Editors Note: This is part 2 of a series about the connections between Purdue and India.  See part 1, about the first Indian students at Purdue, here.

Program booklet, Box 2, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur records

Purdue forged new connections with India in the 1960s, collaborating in the planning and expansion of educational programs at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur. The IIT, a government funded educational institution, was founded in 1959. Starting in 1962, IIT participated in the Kanpur Indo-American Program, which provided technical assistance from nine U.S. institutions (including Purdue) to develop strong engineering programs, enhance instruction, and research.

In a document titled, “The P.K. Kelkar Library: The first ten years and the collaboration with the Purdue University Libraries,” former Purdue Librarian Professor Richard Funkhouser explained the background for the development of the Institute, “…the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur (IIR/K) was a joint project of the Government of India and the United States Agency for International Development (U.S. A.I.D.). The aim was to build a world-recognized, doctoral degree granting, research university of the highest quality.”

Bulletin, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, Course of Study, 1966-1967

In addition to Purdue, eight other United States universities collaborated on this effort: University of California at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon), Case Institute of Technology (now Case Western), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Michigan, Ohio State, and Princeton University. All of these universities were, and still are, well known for the excellent science and engineering programs they provide. These universities also provided visiting faculty and support staff to serve as advisors.

According to notes kept by Funkhouser, “The Purdue Libraries had a unique role in the development of the Institute’s library, especially the collection. Four Purdue Librarians had active participation in the project. George Meluch and I each spent two years there and Robert Cain spent 18 months there, Oliver Dunn the Libraries Associate Director, was the Purdue Libraries liaison for the project and spent several weeks each in 1962, 1964, 1966 and 1968 at the Institute gathering data and writing the original development plan, reviewing progress and updating the plan.”

Program Description

A valuable resource on the history of Purdue’s collaboration in this effort is the collection of records on the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur, part of the Purdue Archives and Special Collections. The collection was assembled by employees of the Purdue Libraries who helped build the new library at the IIT Kanpur. The records focus primarily on the books that were purchased and new procedures established for library staff. They also include documents on the early years of the IIT Kanpur, such as early reports, course bulletins, newsletters, and brochures. These records provide insight into the development of IIT Kanpur and the roles Purdue University and other university employees from U.S. institutions played in contributing to the developing infrastructure of the new institute.

Although participation in the Kanpur Indo-American Program ended in 1972, Purdue continues to work closely with the Indian Institute of Technology system. In 2015, President Mitch Daniels signed a memo of understanding with Uday B. Desai, director of the Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad. The goal of this agreement was to strengthen and expand contacts between the two universities, with Purdue partnering on innovative approaches to course content and delivery. The agreement also included plans for faculty and student exchange and collaborative research and education programs.

Blog post by Mary A. Sego (’82), Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.


MSP 152, Purdue University International Students collection, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

MSF 462, Richard L. Funkhouser book chapter, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur records, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

Vertical File, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Purdue, Indian Institute of Technology Hyderabad to expand educational, research collaborations, Purdue Today, May 5, 2015. https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/purduetoday/releases/2015/Q2/purdue,-indian-institute-of-technology-hyderabad-to-expand-educational,-research-collaborations.html

Purdue and India, Part 1: The First Indian Students at Purdue

Editors Note: The materials in this post are presented as they were originally created. In some cases, outdated terms and phrases were used that may be offensive today, but they are presented here unedited so that the context of the difficulties faced by international students may be understood.  Please click on images for better view.

In Recognition of the World at Purdue’s Doorstep 1887 – 1955

Students have traveled from India to study at Purdue since the early 1900s. In this post, we highlight those early Purdue students from India.

A university publication titled “In Recognition of the World at Purdue’s Doorstep 1887 – 1955” identifies two students who were likely the first to come from India to study at Purdue. Those men were Amar Nath Bery of Kashmir and Ram Lal Bery of Lahore.

Ram Lal Bery, 1905 Debris

Ram Lal Bery (BSME, 1905) appeared as a senior in the Purdue yearbook, The Debris. After graduation, he returned to Indiana and became Principal of the Hindu Diamond Technical Institute.

Amar Nath Bery (BSEE, 1905) graduated the same year as Ram Lal Bery but does not appear in the Debris. He later became Secretary of the Public Works Department, Jammu and Kashmir. 


1905 Debris

The Debris yearbook includes other students from India in subsequent years. The next student from India was Albert Norton. As noted in the necrology, Norton passed away on October 6, 1906.  H.D. Wohra  (Class of 1913) appears in the Debris as a member of the Cosmopolitan Club/Corda Fratres, but he is not pictured with the other seniors in the 1913 yearbook.

Birendra Nath Das Gupta, 1914 Debris

Narendra Nath Sen, 1914 Debris

The next student from India known to graduate from Purdue was Birendra Nath Das Gupta (BSEE, 1914). As stated below his photo, Das Gupta came from India in October 1911, and he spent his first year at Wisconsin. He then came to Purdue and was able to complete his studies in three years.

Also among the Class of 1914 was Narendra Nath Sen.  Like Gupta, Sen first spent a year at the University of Wisconsin before transferring to Purdue. He planned to continue his education with advanced degrees in engineering after earning his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering.

Purdue Exponent, September 24, 1921

1922 Debris, p. 385

The 1920s saw another group of students coming to Purdue from India. Per an Exponent article from 1921, six students from India made their way to Purdue and faced unique challenges. Those students also formed the Purdue Hindusthan Association, a local chapter of a national organization to support students from India as they represent their culture in America.

Three of the men featured in the Exponent article appear in the Debris:



Kameshwar Nath Kathju, 1922 Debris


Kameshwar Nath Kathju (BS, 1922) of Bikaner, who was a Fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute of London



Syed Habibuddin Ahmed, 1923 Debris

1923 Debris


Syed Habibuddin Ahmed (BSEE, 1923) of Burhanpur



Gyan Chand Sharma, 1924 Debris

1924 Debris


Gyan Chand Sharma (BSEE, 1924) of Lahore, who played a key role in organizing the Foreign Students’ Union, a club that provided support for other international students.

Purdue Exponent, October 4, 1923

Many of the students gave presentations on campus, supported other international students, and provided insight into what it meant to travel across the globe to study at a university far from home.

Per statistics gathered for 1941-1942, there were no students from India at Purdue, but by 1946 the Lafayette Journal and Courier reported that there were ten students from India at Purdue that year.

MSP 152, Box 2, Folder 3, Purdue University International Students collection

As the years went by, outreach efforts resulted in increases to the number of International students attending Purdue. As International alumni spread the word about the value of their Purdue educations, the number of international students continued to rise.

A letter home to students in India

Purdue at India, Call # LD4767.2 .I523

In 1963, students published the “India at Purdue” newsletter. This short-lived publication focused on news and events in India for those who were far from home. The quotation on the cover states “In diversity we strive for unity.”

By 1963 there were 120 students from India enrolled at Purdue and that number has continued to grow ever since. Today, more than 2,000 students from India attend Purdue and Purdue Indian students are integral contributors to celebrations of diversity and multiculturalism on campus.

Our next post, Purdue and India, Part 2, focuses on Purdue’s collaborative efforts to establish the Indian Institute of Technology.



Blog post by Mary A. Sego (’82), Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.


MSP 152, Purdue University International Students collection, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Purdue University. Senior Class. (1889). Debris.

Purdue University. (1961). Alumni directory, 1875-1961, Purdue University. Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue Alumni Association.

Purdue University. India Students Association. (n.d.). India at Purdue.

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur records, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

Vertical File, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Kassandra Agee Chandler Broke Barriers as Purdue’s first African American Homecoming Queen

Kassandra “Katie” Agee Chandler was born to a blue-collar family from Gary, Indiana. She originally aspired to attend an out of state college following high school graduation. This plan was disrupted when she was contacted by Dr. Cornell Bell of Purdue University. Bell discovered Kassandra Agee during her senior year of high school and persisted in efforts to recruit her for the Business Opportunity Program (BOP) at Purdue, despite Kassandra’s initial desire to live out of state.

Business Opportunity Program pamphlets

Through the BOP, Dr. Bell brought bright and promising students to enroll in the Krannert Business School. The initiative was started after Bell observed that Krannert and other business schools were historically lacking in diversity, which contributed to an overall lack of diversity in the profession of business.

Business Opportunity Program group photo

After entering the program, students like Agee received mentorship, tutoring, and a sense of family and belonging at Purdue. Kassandra entered the program in the fall of 1977 and graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Purdue.

Kassandra Agee Chandler at Homecoming

As a sophomore in the fall of 1978, Agee was elected Purdue’s Homecoming Queen, the first and, to date, only African American Homecoming Queen in Purdue’s history. As a representative of Meredith Residence Halls, she competed against 23 other competitors to win her title.

Newspaper clippings

When reflecting later upon the nomination and campaign experience, Kassandra remembered being told, “They’ll never let you win this.” But she drew upon the strength of her faith, family, friends, and dorm-mates, as well as her own tenacity.

She worked tirelessly on her campaign, going door-to-door, speaking with groups across campus, and hanging campaign posters.

Homecoming campaign materials

She remembered, “I didn’t let it get to me. I never let anyone talk me down…. In the end, I was able to make my family and sisterhood proud…I felt like Cinderella…it was all a collective effort of sisterhood, of campus-hood, of brotherhood.”

Congratulations notes

After winning, Agee received local and national press, as well as campus and community wide support. Along with the many press releases, newspaper clippings, and congratulatory notes, she was invited to appear in the Rose Bowl Parade alongside the Homecoming Queens from the other Big 10 Universities. As she later said, “I’m a blue collar daughter but I was queen on the campus of Purdue. In sharing my story of what is possible during the most improbable and seemingly impossible time, I hope [to] inspire.”

Rose Bowl materials

In addition to her role as Homecoming Queen and a leader for African American students on campus, Agee was also active in extracurricular activities. She was a member of Alpha Lambda Delta freshman honor society, Purdue Pals, and the Black Voices of Inspiration Choir. Agee was also a president and founding member of Purdue’s Society of Minority Managers. She served as a social counselor for the Business Opportunity Program and was a member of the Mortar Board senior honors society.

Mortar Board

Her involvement in student activities reflected her leadership role on campus, as well as her excellent academic record.

After graduating from the Krannert School of Management, Agee held positions at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Exxon, Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble.

Agee Chandler speaking at podium

In the years since her graduation, she has frequently returned to campus to give presentations on topics ranging from her work in the business world to her experiences as homecoming queen. After years of professional experience working for industry leaders in both the public and private sector, she founded Systematic Design Consultants, where she is the principal consultant. The company is an information technology consulting firm located in Texas.

Cornell Bell letter

Agee is also a founding member of the Business Opportunity Program Alumni Network, which seeks to further the legacy of Dr. Cornell Bell and ensure the continued success of the BOP. The Network engages in fundraising, advising, and seeks to provide a support network for BOP alumni by keeping them connected while providing opportunities that will ensure their continued success in the professional business world.

Kassandra Agee Chandler returns to her alma mater this year to serve as grand marshal of the Boilermaker Night Train Homecoming Parade on September 21. This homecoming is particularly special, as Purdue officially launches the start of its sesquicentennial celebrations from fall 2018 through fall 2019.

The Black Cultural Center is offering a display of historical photographs and related items on Kassandra Agee Chandler, on the 2nd floor near the library, through the end of October. We hope you will join us in celebrating Kassandra’s rich life and legacy — at Purdue, and beyond.


MSA 363, Kassandra Agee Chandler papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, Indiana

Chandler, Kassandra Agee. “My Pieces of History: A Queen’s Journey to Archival Peace (and Release).” 6 February, 2018, Krannert Auditorium, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Written by Virginia Pleasant. All images from the Kassandra Agee Chandler papers.

Overcoming the Odds: A Look Back at Our Earliest Chinese Students

Items from the Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

Editor’s Note: All the names in this post are presented as they appeared in the original Purdue publications.  The preferred Anglicized spellings of names may have changed since that time.

Continuing in our series on Purdue firsts, we take a look at some of our earliest Purdue alumni from China.

1916 Purdue Alumni Directory

One can search the earliest Purdue Alumni Directories to see who these students were. The 1916 Alumni Directory, which can be found in the Purdue Archives, shows this list of men as the first alums in China.  Upon further research, one learns that G.L. Hagman was from Louisville, Kentucky; H.H. Arnold hailed from Denver, Colorado; and L.E. Crowell was from Portland, Indiana, when they attended Purdue. One can deduce that they must have moved to China after graduation.

Fuchen K. Sah, the first Chinese student to graduate from Purdue, 1910 Debris. Click image to view larger version.

That leaves F.K. Sah, 1910, and P.L. Yang, 1911, as the first Purdue graduates from China.

Fuchen K. Sah (sometimes spelled Fuchuen Sah) graduated from Purdue in 1910 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering.  He later became Engineer-in-Chief on Chiou-Chi Railway (The Chinese Students at Purdue, 16).

The earliest membership of the Purdue C.E. Club, 1910 Debris. Click image to view larger version.

Further research shows that another student from China was also part of the class of 1910 at some point. The membership roster for the Civil Engineering Club for 1910 lists L.C. Yen as a member and a part of the Class of 1910.

Cosmopolitan Club, 1909 Debris. Click image to view larger version.

L.C. Yen also appears in this 1909 photograph of the Cosmopolitan Club. The Cosmopolitan Club was first established at Purdue in 1907 and its membership comprised international students.

Per the listing for Yen in The Chinese Students at Purdue booklet, Yen “swung himself into action immediately after graduation. He served as District Engineer for the Szechuen-Hankow Railway and the Caton-Hankow Railway from 1910-1916. Then he took his own initiative in promoting an engineering company in Shanghai, China” (18).  Yen led the Pacific Engineering Company, while also managing the Pacific Trading Company.

Both Sah and Yen made tremendous contributions to the infrastructure of China in the early 1900s. They were pioneers in their efforts, and made important contributions to improve transportation in China.

From The Chinese Students at Purdue, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 3. Click image to view larger version.

The Purdue Chinese Students’ Club was founded in 1909 with only six students in the initial club. (The Chinese Students at Purdue, p.12). The Club’s 1925 publication The Chinese Students at Purdue is a valuable resource about both the club and its members. As stated in the text, “As an instrument for developing a cooperative spirit among the Chinese students in American universities, and for cultivating and promoting friendly relations with the people of the United States, the club has proved itself worthy of its existence.” Cora Whang, one of the first female Chinese students appears on the first row. The Chinese Students at Purdue booklet lists her as “Cora Wang, Sc., ex-’25.” (15) Note the difference in the spelling of her last name. There are no other photographs of her in the Debris yearbook under Whang or Wang.












The following profiles highlight several other early Chinese alumni.

Chi Ting Sun, 1915 Debris

Chi Ting Sun graduated in Electrical Engineering in 1915. Sun reminisced about his time at Purdue in Purdue in China, a 1961 publication by the Purdue Alumni Association of Taiwan: “I arrived at W. Lafayette in September 1911 by rail and was welcomed by a Y-man at the station. At that time a rough game, Tank Scrap, was to take place at the beginning of each school year. In the evening when the Scrap was going to start, Mrs. Goldsmith treated me as her own son. She pulled down the curtains of my room and told me to be quiet. Soon I heard shouting outside, ‘Freshmen out!’ She answered from downstairs, ‘He has been out already.’ She then turned and said to me, ‘Our American boys are accustomed to games of rough nature and they are near to their parents. You come to America for education and your parents are far away, on the other side of the Pacific. I must act as your mother. I want you to stay away at such occasions.’ Her lovely attitude toward a foreigner made me remember her forever.

I passed that winter without an overcoat for some unavoidable reasons. But Prof. Cole questioned me about the overcoat every time I met him. He watched over the foreign students so closely that it impressed me deeply.

I was in Purdue for four years and was getting on well with the professors and classmates. In the fall of 1915 I registered in M.I.T.  But before long I was badly homesick for Purdue. I am having the same feeling for Purdue in Taiwan now as I did in Boston 49 years ago.” (26)

Chi Ting Sun taught at Nan Kai College after he left Purdue. He later gave up teaching and went on to hold prominent positions with the famous Chiou-Chi Railway. It is said that many students held his recommendations in high regard. (The Chinese Students at Purdue, 16).

Kwo-Chun Lee, 1918 Debris

Kwo-Chun Lee (later spelled Kuo-Chun Li) also shared his accomplishments in Purdue in China.  He wrote, ”Just before the war broke out in July 1937, I joined the Ministry of Railways and was assigned to supervise the construction of a large railway workshop in Chuchowm Huan. Having completed this job the following year, I took up a post as section engineer of the war time construction of the Huan-Kwangsi Railway. My section was located half-way between Kweilin and Liuchow, in Kwangsi Province, winding alongside a small stream through a narrow deep valley fully infested with malaria. In worst cases, victims died within three days and due to this disease we had lost several thousand men within a period of two years.” (Purdue in China, Purdue Alumni Association of Taiwan, p. 19).  After the war, Li went on to help rehabilitate the war torn railroad system in three provinces. He was able to accomplish the rehabilitation by May 1949, the railway was opened to traffic, and an extension of the railway was undertaken. Li reported that he left the mainland for Taiwan about this time. His first job in Taiwan, as reported by Li, “was the erection of sixteen spans of 205 feet steel trusses for the Silo Bridge, the famous highway bridge in central Taiwan.” (Purdue in China, 20). Li later went on to hold prominent positions within the Military Construction Bureau, Ministry of National Defense. In his words, “The Bureau undertakes all kinds of construction projects, including designing and building airfields, harbor, roads, barracks, shops and all kinds of installations for the armed forces.” (20).

Practical knots, hitches and splices Norman, C. A. ; Purdue University. Division of Rural Engineering 1920. Click image to access the full publication.

Chen Yew Tang, 1921 Debris

Chen Yew Tang graduated in 1921 with a B.S. in Agriculture and was a skilled illustrator. His talent is shown in this Purdue Extension Bulletin he contributed to while a Purdue student.




J.C. Li, 1923 Debris

Ju Chi Li also contributed to agriculture worldwide.  He graduated from Purdue in 1923. As a student, Li wrote about agriculture in China in the October 1922 issue of The Purdue Agriculturist 


Purdue Agriculturist, October 1922. Click image to view larger version.

Purdue Agriculturist, October 1922, p. 14. Click image to view larger version.

This fictionalized diary page from the 1927 Chinese Students’ Year Book describes what it was like for a Chinese student at Purdue in 1927. “Rent $12.00…”

Page from a Chinese student’s diary, Chinese Students’ Year Book, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 5. Click image to view larger version.

Alumni graduate students from China have also made major contributions to their fields.

Yong-piao Liu, Purdue in China, p. 35

Dr. Yong-piao Liu’s work was important to the field of veterinary science. As Liu recalled in the Purdue in China booklet, “Through the recommendation of Dr. I.E. Newsom, veterinary advisor of JCPR (the former president of Colorado Agriculture and Medical College) as well as the financial aid offered by China Foundation, I joined the Department of Veterinary Science of Purdue University to study veterinary bacteriology for one year from 1953-1954. I spent many a happy hour there in carrying out various experiments with adequate laboratory facilities, materials and assistance of the staff. Before going to the States I investigated Swine Pneumonia and this work I continued at Purdue University in order to determine the real cause. From 108 heads of the diseased pigs, I isolated Listeria organism from three cases. This was the first successful trial of isolation of Listeria organism for swine in Indiana.” (23).

Dr. Y.P. Liu later became the head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at National Taiwan University, in charge of Veterinary Bacteriology and Infectious Diseases of Domestic Animals.

Deng Jiaxian, 1950. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Another Chinese Ph.D. student from Purdue to make his mark in history was Deng Jiaxian, known as China’s “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” He received his Ph.D. in Physics from Purdue in 1950. After graduation, he returned to China and dedicated over 20 years working with a team of scientists who developed the nuclear and hydrogen bomb for China. Jiaxian’s contributions were critical to China’s nuclear program. In 1999 he was posthumously awarded the National Merit Medal for his contributions to Chinese Military Science.

The Purdue University Archives and Special Collections has a collection of articles that document some of the press releases after Deng Jiaxian’s death, from a local story by Jack Alkire of the Journal and Courier to publications from China. The Archives also has Jiaxian’s Ph.D. dissertation, The Photo-Disintegration of the Deuteron.”

The Chinese Students at Purdue booklet provides a list of the earliest Chinese Purdue alumni. Two women, Lillian Lee, (ex ’25) and Cora Wang, (ex ’25), do not appear in the Debris yearbook, but are noted as alumnae.

The earliest Chinese Purdue alumni. From The Chinese Students at Purdue, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 3. Click image to view larger version.


The 1927 Chinese Students’ Year Book lists Anna Lee as the only female Chinese student at that time.


Pages from Chinese Students’ Year Book, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 5

Programs from the Chinese Students’ Alliance Mid-West Conference, 1921. Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 4

Another important contribution Chinese students at Purdue made was participation in the Chinese Students’ Alliance. The Alliance was a nationwide organization of Chinese students studying in the United States, the first nation to which modern China sent students for an education. 

Program from the Chinese Students’ Alliance Mid-West Conference, 1925. Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 4

The Alliance was divided into three sections; the Eastern, Midwest and Western. Each section was composed of a number of Chinese Students’ Clubs.

Chinese Students’ Annual Conference Closed Wednesday, Purdue Exponent, September 10, 1921. Click image to view larger version.

Each year during early September, an annual summer conference was held by each section at a convenient location for the purpose of bringing the Chinese students together to exchange ideas and discuss important problems. Purdue University was the site of the Mid-West Conference in 1921 and again in 1925.

There are so many other stories that could be featured as firsts among the Chinese Purdue students! This is just a sampling of those that made an early impact among the Purdue community and worldwide. Their efforts have made the world a better place.

Blog post by Mary A. Sego (’82), Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.


Purdue University. Chinese Students’ Club. Alumni Committee. (1924). The Chinese students at Purdue. LaFayette, Ind.: Purdue University.

Purdue Alumni Association of Taiwan. (1961). Purdue in China. Taipei, Taiwan.

Burg, David F. “Chinese Students’ Alliance.” Encyclopedia of Student and Youth Movements. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1998. Modern World History Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 17 June 2014.

Yu, C.C. “The Chinese Students’ Alliance in the United States.” Young China, July 1921. Web. 17 June  2014.

Bevis, Teresa Brawner. “The Chinese Students’ Alliance.” A History of Higher Education Exchange: China and America.  New York : Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2013. Web. 17 June 2014.

File:鄧稼先普渡照片.jpg. (2017, October 3). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 20:28, July 18, 2018 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:%E9%84%A7%E7%A8%BC%E5%85%88%E6%99%AE%E6%B8%A1%E7%85%A7%E7%89%87.jpg&oldid=261298137.

Celebrating Black History Month: Firsts by Purdue African-American Students and Alumni

Items from the Purdue University African American Students, Alumni and Faculty collection

Black History Month is a great time to take a look back in Purdue’s history and honor our African American pioneers, the people who broke new ground and paved the way for others. Actually, any time is the right time to honor people who have succeeded, but particularly those who faced obstacles outside the norm of typical student life.

If one flips through the Debris yearbook from the earliest years in Purdue’s history, it becomes clear from the atmosphere that is portrayed, the cartoons that are illustrated, and the words that are used that students were not always kind or inclusive towards one another. Although all students struggle from time to time, it is important to remember that people of color, or any people who differed from the majority, faced additional struggles inside and outside the classroom, and their voices are not always included in these historical accounts of student life. We believe this creates even more cause to celebrate, as a means of honoring those individuals who succeeded despite the odds.

According to historical accounts in the Archives, in 1944 there were twelve African American students at Purdue (Cornelius 10), and records show 145 black students in 1965.  Thirty years later, during the 1994-1995 school year, there were 1,175. In 2015, the number was only a bit higher, at 1,183.

Below are some of the Purdue “firsts” among the African American student population:

1890, Purdue’s First Black Graduate

George W. Lacey is noted as having graduated from Purdue in Pharmacy. He is not found in the Debris yearbook, but he is mentioned elsewhere as having been Purdue’s first black graduate. His name is found in the 1890 Druggists’ Circular and Chemical Gazette with the listing of those who graduated from the Purdue School of Pharmacy that year. Fred Whitford, author of The Grand Old Man of Purdue University and Indiana Agriculture: A Biography of William Carroll Latta, also makes mention of Lacey as being the first black Purdue graduate (Whitford 37).


Or was it David Robert Lewis?

David Robert Lewis has also been noted in Purdue’s historical accounts as the University’s first black graduate. He was from Greensburg, Indiana, and he earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1894. His senior thesis was titled “Highway Road Construction.”



Click to learn more about Lewis.

One problem in identifying the first African American graduate of Purdue, is that although Purdue began offering courses in 1874, the first records that include images of students are in the Debris yearbook, which did not exist until 1889. Therefore, the possibility exists that neither Lacey nor Lewis were the first African American graduate from Purdue– it is possible that a student who graduated prior to invention of the yearbook may have been African American, but thus far there is no record in the University Archives that confirms this. Official university records did not include race or ethnicity prior to 1974.

Other Early African American Graduates

Richard Wirt Smith graduated from the School of Pharmacy in 1904.

1904  Debris






Smith in a Purdue Pharmacy Lab in 1904.

Indianapolis Recorder, February 4, 1939

1904 Debris













Per Mr. Smith’s obituary in the Indianapolis Recorder, February 4, 1939, he died a successful druggist, at the young age of 54.

1905,  John Henry Weaver, Pharmacy

As noted in John Henry Weaver’s Debris entry, he was also a member of the track team for 4 years. Sadly, as mentioned in Alexandra Cornelius’ research, “Purdue teams, like other national sports teams, became segregated in the 1910s and 1920s. They remained segregated until 1947, when black attorney Willard Ransom, a Purdue alumnus, challenged the University, and a student protest led to a black football player being put into the game.” Cornelius found other evidence that life must have been difficult for black students in the early years of the 20th century. Her research has provided valuable evidence of early African American life at Purdue and is used frequently in the Archives.


1905, Samuel Saul Dargan graduated from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1905. He went on to become the first black man to earn a Law Degree from Indiana University (1909). He was curator of the IU Law Library for 39 years and assisted many law school students during that time.

1905 Debris




More about Dargan



1913, David Nelson Crosthwait Jr., Mechanical Engineering

1913 Debris

David Crosthwait became a pioneer in the field of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, and is known for finding a way to heat Radio City Music Hall.

More about Crosthwait





Who was the first black woman to attend Purdue?  As one turns the pages of the earliest Purdue Debris yearbooks, very few females look up from the pages. Even fewer black females are present. Per Caitlyn Marie Stypa, in her 2013 master’s thesis, Purdue Girls: The Female Experience at a Land-Grant University, 1887-1913: “While university publications make it difficult to determine who the first black woman was to enroll in or graduate from Purdue University, it is quite certain that she was not a student until after 1913.”  Stypa goes on to write that “as late as 1911, black women made up just one-third of one percent of female college and university students. Common reasons for the low enrollment rate included lack of funds or outright discrimination” (Stypa 5).

As mentioned earlier, the fact that prior to 1974, a student’s permanent record did not include any racial or ethnic identification makes efforts to locate the first African American students a difficult task.

1910, First African American Women

One of the first black females to be found in the Debris yearbook appears in the middle of this photograph of the 1910 Junior Pharmacy Class. If one looks for her in the following years, she does not appear. Not every student had their photograph taken for the Debris, which makes it difficult to rely upon as a source for verifying the first African American students at Purdue; however, as one of the few early historical records containing images, the Debris yearbook is often our best available source for finding clues about Purdue’s early African American students. Because this woman could not be identified in later issues of the yearbook, it is possible that she was a student who did not finish her degree at Purdue. [Editor’s note, 2023: this woman is likely Rhoygnette Webb. To learn more about Webb and the process of discovering her identity, read “The Search for Miss Webb” https://blogs.lib.purdue.edu/asc/2020/04/23/the-search-for-miss-webb/] 

1910,   Junior Pharmacy Class

1913, Summer School for Teachers

In this photograph from the 1913 Debris, one finds another black woman. Her name is not noted, but she participated in Purdue’s Summer School for Teachers, which included Indiana high school and college students from around the state. It is unknown whether she was a full-time student enrolled in courses (outside of the Summer School for Teachers) at Purdue. 

1910, Summer School for Teachers

1927, Inez Mason

In 1927, Inez Mason was the first cited member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, an early Greek organization established for African-American college women.  She received a Bachelor of Science degree the same year. Her membership in the sorority is noted under her photo in the 1927 Debris.

Inez Mason, 1927 Debris







1931, Thelma F. McDonald

McDonald, 1931 Debris


No further information has been located in the Archives about Thelma McDonald.



1932, Silance Sisters

Sisters Delia and Ella Belle Silance of Lafayette appear to be two of the first black female graduates of Purdue. Both graduated with distinction and are shown below in the 1932 Debris.

Silance Sisters, 1932 Debris

“…Male black students could only live in West Lafayette in International House on University Avenue. However, black female students were denied the right and had to live across the river. ‘Practice House’ was a requirement in order to earn a degree in Home Economics. It was a program of 6 weeks duration, during which time home making duties were rotated among the girls each week. During those weeks two girls roomed together in the house. However, I was assigned to a group of five which included a very well liked black student. Those making the room pairings were planning to assign her to her own room, thinking incorrectly that no one would want to room with her. But she did have a room mate and one of the white girls roomed alone. Therefore, all of the assignments had to be rescheduled to accommodate a class of five. Thankfully, those restrictions were lifted long ago.” (Source: The Way It Was at Purdue 1941-1945, by Esther Conelley Boonstra, HE ’45).

Read more of Connelly Boonstra’s firsthand account of Purdue in the early 1940s

1942 – International House established

The first members of International House, 1942

International House became the home for Purdue black male and international students, appearing in the Debris in 1942.


1949 Debris



This page from the 1949 Debris describes International House. Click on the photo for a full view of the page.



Jean Douglas, 1945 Debris




If one searches the Debris for the Home Economics graduates for 1945, the lone black face that looks up from the pages is Jean Douglas.  She is most likely the student mentioned in Esther Conelley’s account above.


 1940s-50s, Purdue Athletics

As mentioned previously, Purdue athletic teams remained segregated until at least 1947. The pages of the Debris yearbook rarely mention black student athletes before 1950. According to Athletics sources, the first African American students to join the Purdue football team were Herman Murray and Lively Bryant, both in 1949. The Purdue student newspaper reported that Herman Murray played in practice games of the “B Team” against the freshmen as early as November 1948 (Exponent, November 13, 1948). Murray became the first African American Boilermaker to play in an official football game when Purdue played Northwestern at Ross Ade Stadium on November 11, 1950. The 1950 Debris yearbook shows Herman Murray in the team photograph for the Football “B” team. Murray, a tackle, received his varsity letter in 1951.

1950 Debris



Lundy, 1955 Debris

In 1955, Lamar Lundy was a center for the Purdue basketball team.

Many other exceptional black athletes would one day follow in their footsteps.





Other Firsts


1955, first African American Woman to Earn Ph.D.

In 1955 Dr. Delores Cooper Shockley became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Purdue and in the United States.   Read more about her



1968, first African American Faculty Member

Bass Williams

It was not until 1968, when Helen Bass Williams was hired, that Purdue had a member of the faculty who was African American. Williams was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement before coming to Purdue. She was hired as an instructor in French and a counselor in the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education.

More about Helen Bass Williams

1975, The National Society of Black Engineers

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) began as the Society of Black Engineers (SBE) and was founded at Purdue University in the 1970s. Because of this, Purdue is also known as the mother chapter of NSBE. The National Society of Black Engineers came into being as a result of a conference planned and hosted by SBE at Purdue in April 1975.

1975 Debris

Per the Purdue University Minority Engineering web page:

“In the early 1970s, only 20 percent of minority engineers stayed in the engineering program after their first year. With this low retention rate, there was a large disparity in the student population. John Logan, Edward Coleman, George Smith, Stanley Kirtley, Brian Harris, and Anthony Harris became known as the Chicago Six, as they took action to help their fellow students. In 1975, they founded the Black Society of Engineers (BSE) with the help of their advisor Arthur Bond at Purdue. Anthony Harris proposed changing the name to Society of Black Engineers (SBE) in 1976 and he began reaching out to engineering programs and advisors throughout the nation, proposing a national organization and collaboration. In 1976, the first national conference was held at Purdue University and included participation from 32 schools and 48 students from all parts of the country.”  More Information

1975 Debris

Anthony Harris, one of the society’s founding members, was named chairman of the national advisory board for the society in 2007. He is president and CEO of Campbell/Harris Security Equipment Company, a manufacturer of equipment that detects contraband, explosives and “dirty bombs.” Its primary customers include the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1975 and an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1979. He was named a Purdue Outstanding Mechanical Engineer in 1999.


1978, Kassandra Agee – Purdue’s First Black Homecoming Queen

1979 Debris

In 1978, as a sophomore, Kassandra Agee was elected as Purdue’s first African American Homecoming Queen, following an extensive and energetic campaign. Kassandra “Katie” Agee (now Chandler) took part in many activities on campus.  She was a member of Alpha Lambda Delta freshman honors society, Purdue Pals, the Black Voices of Inspiration Choir, and the Society of Minority Managers. In addition, Agee also served as a social counselor for the Business Opportunity Program in the School of Management and was a member of the Mortar Board senior honors society at the time of her graduation. Following graduation, she was successfully employed at a variety of businesses, including the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Exxon, Dow Chemical, and Procter & Gamble, as well as running her own information technology business.

1990, Robert J. Taylor (M.E. ’60), Purdue’s first black trustee

“Taylor named Purdue trustee”   Taylor served as a member of Purdue’s board of trustees until 1996.

1990, Tarrus Richardson was elected as Purdue Student Body President

1991 Debris

In 1990, Tarrus Richardson became the first black Purdue Student Body President, with 70% of the vote. Richardson was very active on campus.  He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Purdue in 1991and a MBA from Harvard Business School in 1996. He later became CEO of IMB Development Corporation.


There are so many more diverse individuals in Purdue history who could be featured, and the Archives looks forward to continuing to preserve the histories of these individuals and share them with you. It is an honor to highlight the lives of Purdue pioneers who faced tremendous obstacles and persevered, forging the way for future generations of Boilermakers.

As part of Black History Month, and beyond, we aim to celebrate all individuals who helped make Purdue University the outstanding institution of higher learning it is today. To learn more about early African American life at Purdue, please contact us to view the references cited below, as well as related collections on the topic, in the Archives.

Blog post by Mary A. Sego (’82), Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. Post updated 7/29/19 with additional source information about Herman Murray, by Sammie Morris.


Cornelius, Alexandra, “Evolution of the Black Presence at Purdue University,” (1994, July 5) Purdue University African American Students, Alumni and Faculty collection, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections (Box 1, Folder 10), Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, IN.

Whitford, F., & Martin, A. (2005). The grand old man of Purdue University and Indiana agriculture : A biography of William Carroll Latta. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press.

Stypa, Caitly Marie (2013). Purdue Girls: The Female Experience at a Land-Grant University, 1887-1913, Unpublished master’s thesis, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Boonstra, Esther Conelley (1945). The Way it was at Purdue 1941-1945, Esther Conelly Boonstra collection, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, (Communal Collections 3, Placement 20), Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, IN.

Debris Yearbook, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.  earchives.lib.purdue.edu, 18 February, 2018.

Related collections:

The records of the Black Cultural Center (BCC) are a treasure trove of source material on African American student life at Purdue, dating from circa 1969 to present. In partnership with the BCC Library, the Archives makes these records available for research and study.

The 2009 film Black Purdue, created by Jamar White, Derek Fordjour, Keith David, and the Purdue Black Alumni Organization provides excellent primary source material. The film includes interviews with many of the students and faculty involved in the early days of the founding of the Black Cultural Center. This film is available through both the Archives and through the media collection of the Black Cultural Center.