Author Archives: aharmey

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  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.

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.,-indian-institute-of-technology-hyderabad-to-expand-educational,-research-collaborations.html

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.

Collection Spotlight: The Romance of Bernice Nelson and L. Murray Grant

Editor’s Note: The Collections Spotlight series will highlight small collections that provide unique glimpses of Purdue and its people.

Among the holdings of Purdue University Archives and Special Collections are many materials that belonged to Purdue students during their time in West Lafayette.  Each collection is different and provides a personal view of the student and his or her college experience.  In the case of the L. Murray Grant and Bernice Nelson Grant Papers, we get to glimpse two different students during their college days.

Lloyd Murray Grant, 1904 Debris

Bernice Nelson, 1905 Debris










Lloyd Murray Grant graduated from Purdue with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering in 1904.  His future wife, Bernice Nelson, graduated the following year with a B.S. in Science (1905).  Both Murray and Bernice were popular students who participated in many clubs and societies.  They crossed paths as members of the Debris Yearbook staff, Murray as business manager and Bernice as associate editor.

Bernice Nelson’s dance cards

Bernice attended many social events held by campus groups and kept her dance cards, which document the dances of the evening and allowed young women to record the names of their dance partners.  Almost every one of her dance slots was filled.  Interestingly, though most of Bernice’s seven remaining dance cards are from the 1903-1904 year, she never once listed Murray as a dance partner.  Despite this absence, Grant’s senior biography in the Debris hints at a connection: “Murray holds a strength record in the Gym and also one outside.  He is known as the man with the ‘strong hold’ – the ‘full Nelson.'”

Programs (clockwise from left): Annual Dinner of the Purdue Alumni Association of New York City 1906, 1904 Commencement Program, Class of 1905 Junior Banquet, Invitation to 1904 Commencement

Gala Week, the days leading up to graduation, was packed with activities for seniors and their families.  Murray saved the programs from many of those events, including the senior class banquet, invitation to commencement, commencement program, and full list of Gala Week activities.  The program for Bernice’s commencement in 1905 is also part of the collection, as is the program for a Purdue Alumni Association of New York City Annual Dinner of 1906.

The collection also includes two articles about Purdue written by Bernice Nelson and published in the Exponent.  The first, simply titled “Purdue,” extols the prominent role of Purdue graduates in the world.  The second, titled “The Purdue of Yesterday,” is a handwritten draft.  “The Purdue of Yesterday” shares anecdotes passed along by Purdue students from earlier years, including stories about sneaking out past curfew, riding trains around campus right after the track was laid, and playing lighthearted pranks during chapel services.

“Purdue” (left) and “The Purdue of Yesterday”

After graduating with his Mechanical Engineering degree, Murray Grant found work first in New York City and then in his hometown of Spokane, Washington.  Bernice Nelson moved first to Illiopolis, Illinois, then to Rawlins, Wyoming, to teach science.  In 1909, the couple married in her hometown of Lowell, Indiana, then moved to Seattle, where they lived for the rest of their lives.  Murray built a successful career in water works and piping, and is credited with “design[ing] and construct[ing] most of the large, continuous stave penstocks and pipe lines in the U.S” (Who’s Who in Engineering, Vol. 1, 1922-1923).

David E. Ross to L. Murray Grant, June 7, 1933

The Grants remained active in Purdue alumni organizations throughout their lives.  Murray was President of the Purdue Alumni Association from 1907 to 1908, participated in local chapters everywhere he lived, and even co-founded the Spokane chapter in 1908 (Exponent, 12 December 1908).  Their move to Seattle was announced in the Exponent with the note that “they will be glad to have all Purdue friends call when in Seattle” (Exponent, 18 September 1909).  The Grants were often visited by Purdue’s President Winthrop Stone, an amateur mountain climber, when he traveled to the western United States and Canada to climb the Rockies.  The Grant Papers include multiple letters between Stone and Grant planning their reunions during Stone’s visits.

The final item in the Grant Papers is a letter from Purdue Trustee David E. Ross, written in 1933, asking Murray Grant to meet with an international exchange student from Purdue who would be visiting the Seattle area.  Nearly thirty years after graduation, Murray was still involved in the promotion of Purdue.

The L. Murray Grant and Bernice Nelson Grant Papers are available for research in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center.

MSA 330, L. Murray Grant and Bernice Nelson Grant papers, Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Looking Down, Looking Out, and Looking Up: Maps and the Human Experience

The latest exhibit in Archives and Special Collections explores the history, art, and science of maps and their interaction with the people who create and use them. “Looking Down, Looking Out, and Looking Up: Maps and the Human Experience” will be open until June 23, 2017, in the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.  Populated entirely with maps from our collections, this exhibit highlights the wide variety of uses and styles of maps and their applications in many aspects of modern society.  This blog post will highlight just a few of the maps and artifacts in the exhibit.


Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca

Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca…by John Harris

One of the earliest items on display is a large volume published in 1744, Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca. Or, a Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels… by John Harris, a compilation of travel notes and discoveries of more than 500 writers.  The text includes extensive analyses of geography, science, and culture.  The book, which is dedicated to King George II, also includes a world map in the front.  Especially notable is the “Parts Undiscovered” over the area now known as Alaska and the northwestern regions of Canada.


Wright's history notebook

John S. Wright’s history notebook, 1889, MSA 27

In 1889, Purdue student John S. Wright illustrated and colored historical maps to accompany his history class notes and assist him in his studies.  Multiple maps are pasted into this notebook, illustrating wars and political boundaries from the Ancient Roman Empire to nineteenth century Europe.  The notebook must have served Wright well; after graduating in 1892, he became an executive of the Eli Lilly Company.


A General History of Inland Navigation

Canal map from A General History of Inland Navigation… by J. Phillips


This foldout map shows extant and planned canals throughout England, designated by pink or green lines.  The map is part of A General History of Inland Navigation, Foreign and Domestic; Containing a Complete Account of the Canals Already Executed in England, with Considerations on Those Projected, by J. Phillips, published in 1792.





Wilmer Stultz flight plan

Wilmer Stultz flight plan, 1928, MSP 38

In 1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.  The pilot of that flight was Wilmer Stultz, and this is his hand-notated map with extensive navigational notations and charting of multiple possible flight courses for that famous trip.  The exhibit also includes maps from the planning of Earhart’s final flight in 1937, during which she disappeared.


Cloth maps

Cloth maps used by Ralph Schneck, MSP 123

During World War II, cloth maps could be crucial to the survival of downed Army Air Force pilots.  These cloth maps were distributed to pilots and sometimes secretly passed into prisoner of war camps by concealment in books or games.  The maps in the exhibit belonged to Ralph Schneck, pilot in the 8th U.S. Air Force, and were carried in a waterproof bag marked “MAPS ONLY.”



Lunar surface maps

Lunar surface maps used by Captain Cernan, MSA 288

This book of lunar maps was used on the surface of the moon by Captain Gene Cernan during the Apollo 17 mission, the last human mission to the moon.  The book contains 24 segments of the Taurus-Littrow Valley along with a larger overview map of the valley.


map pins

Map pins owned by Lillian Gilbreth, MSP 8

Among the map-related items in the exhibit are these map pins owned and used by Lillian Gilbreth, Purdue professor and expert in efficiency and organizational management.  Pins like these were stuck into large wall maps for various purposes; the variety of colors and shapes allowed for the owner to create her own identification system using the pins.


You can see these items and many more in the exhibit, open until June 23, 2017.

Politics at Purdue, Part I: Visits from Presidential Campaigns

Young adults are a large voting demographic and their support can make the difference between victory and defeat in an election.  That means college campuses are prime locations for campaign rallies, and Purdue is no exception.  Here are some highlights of Purdue’s encounters with presidential candidates during the most exciting times of their campaigns.

Until 1971, the voting age in the United States was 21, not 18, limiting the possibility of participation on college campuses.  The Purdue student newspaper reported in October of 1900 that “about seventy-five per cent of the Senior class will get a vote this fall, and about two-thirds of the number will vote for McKinley and Roosevelt” (Exponent, Oct 4, 1900, p. 13).  That number was limited not only by the age restriction but also by the fact that women were still twenty years away from gaining the right to vote.

The seniors were excused until three o'clock Wednesday afternoon, to hear Roosevelt, most of the class took the opportunity to see and hear the "Rough rider" of New York. The Exponent, 4 October 1900

Exponent, October 18, 1900

The week after the report of the Republican McKinley-Roosevelt ticket’s popularity, the Exponent reported that “the Seniors were excused until three o’clock Wednesday afternoon, to hear Roosevelt, most of the class took the opportunity to see and hear the ‘Rough rider’ of New York” (Exponent, Oct 18, 1900, p. 14).  Though Roosevelt did not come to West Lafayette, students would have easily traveled to Fort Wayne (on October 10) or Indianapolis (on October 11) to hear him speak.

Screenshot from 1960 Purdue Newsreel

John F. Kennedy visits Purdue (1960 Newsreel)

Democrat John F. Kennedy made at least two visits to Purdue in as many years.  On April 13, 1959, Senator Kennedy visited campus to attend a special student convocation at Elliott Hall of Music, where he “spoke well, handled the question period with finesse, and the Hall was filled, thus making a fine performance in every way” (Purdue Board of Trustees Minutes, May 1, 1959).  Kennedy was also rumored to have attended a Purdue-Notre Dame game in West Lafayette on October 3, 1959 (Lafayette Journal and Courier, Oct 3, 1959).

Purdue Drill Team with President Kennedy at the White House

Purdue Drill Team with President Kennedy at the White House (Purdue Alumnus, Summer 1961)

The following year, after his presidential campaign had commenced in earnest, Kennedy won the Purdue students’ mock election as the “Purduvian Party” candidate.  One week later, Kennedy adjusted his campaign schedule to visit West Lafayette and accept the nomination in person, saying he hoped that “as Purdue goes, so goes the nation” (Newsreel 1959-1960).  The nation did go with Purdue and put Kennedy into the White House, where the Purdue Drill Team visited him in 1961 while visiting the area for the Cherry Blossom Festival (Purdue Alumnus, Summer 1961, p. 1).

Jack Carter, PS0000078

Jack Carter at Purdue (Purdue Archives photo     #PS0000078)

Family members of the presidential candidates are often involved in their campaigns. In 1976, Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter’s son, Jack, visited Purdue to campaign on behalf of his father.

Robin Dole at Purdue

Robin Dole at Purdue (Journal and Courier, October 29, 1976)

Later that year, incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford’s daughter, Susan, gave a brief speech at the Purdue airport as part of a quick campaign stop on October 29 (Lafayette Journal and Courier, Oct 30, 1976).  Ford’s Vice Presidential candidate Bob Dole’s daughter, Robin, also visited Purdue that week (Lafayette Journal and Courier, Oct 29, 1976).

Dan Quayle at Purdue

Dan Quayle at Purdue      (1993 Debris)

President Ford and his running mate Dole lost that election.  Sixteen years later, in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle returned to his home state to campaign for George H.W. Bush’s reelection.  The results of the election were foreshadowed when, according to the Purdue student yearbook, “the student body showed discontent” during Quayle’s speech on the steps of Hovde Hall (Debris 1993, p. 38).

Candidates from outside the Republican and Democratic Parties have also visited Purdue.  In 1972, Dr. Benjamin Spock, the People’s Party nominee, visited campus.  As the student yearbook noted, “Dr. Benjamin Spock made the sole presidential candidate appearance at Purdue.  From the two major parties, we could not even attract a campaign manager” (Debris 1973, p. 387).

Ross Perot, 1996 Newsreel

Ross Perot at Purdue (1996 Newsreel)

In 1996, Ross Perot of the Reform Party gave a televised speech in the Armory weeks before earning more than 8 million votes in the general election (Debris 1997, p. 324; Newsreel 1996).  Purdue’s most recent campaign visit happened on September 13, 2016, when Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson visited campus (Exponent, Sept 9, 2016).

Other notable political figures have visited Purdue before, during, and after their times in office, but campaign season always inspires some of the most interesting visits.  Do you remember any other campaign visits to Purdue?  If you have memories or memorabilia such as photographs or historical documents related to those events, we would love to hear from you!

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series highlighting political visits to Purdue.  Part II will take a look at visits from presidents during and after their time in office, most notably Ronald Reagan’s 1987 visit.

The President’s Freshman Brother

In 1900, Winthrop Stone became President of Purdue University.  In the fall of that year, Lauson Stone, his much younger brother, enrolled as a freshman.  What was life like for a student whose older brother was running the university?


Winthrop Stone in 1902; Lauson Stone in 1904

A 21-year age gap between the brothers meant that by the time Lauson was born in 1883, his brother Winthrop was already a college graduate who had left the family home.  After studying in Germany around the time of Lauson’s birth, Winthrop moved to Tennessee. He later became a Professor of Chemistry at Purdue, in 1889.  When Winthrop’s oldest son was born in 1890, Uncle Lauson was only seven years old.

Winthrop Stone was promoted from being the first Vice President in Purdue’s history to being President after the sudden death of President James Smart on February 21, 1900.  It’s unlikely that the brothers spent very much time together before Lauson’s arrival at Purdue in the fall of that year.

Lauson became famous early in his college career for being the president’s brother.  The Debris yearbook, created by seniors who usually had little time to spend on freshmen, included a joke about the Stone brothers in its 1901 volume:


Great disturbance in the Dormitory! A Freshman kicking posts out of the banisters, just to see ‘em drop down the stairs.  Prof. Alford rushes wildly upon the scene.  “Stop that noise, immediately! Who is the cause of all this disturbance?” “I, sir.” “Report to Dr. Stone at once! No explanations are necessary.  Save them for Dr. Stone.”  Dr. Stone is greatly surprised to receive, within the next few minutes, an official call from his brother. (p. 301)

Despite the attention, or maybe because of it, Lauson was a popular student active in many clubs, including the Chemical Society, Mechanical Engineering Society, Minuet Club, Irving Literary Society, and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.  He was also a Cadet Captain in the Cadet Corps, Associate Editor of the Debris yearbook his junior and senior years, Junior Class Secretary, and part of the Senior Class Banquet Committee.  When the 1903 Debris yearbook made humorous suggestions for the following year’s yearbook titles, one suggestion was, “How I was Chased by All the Frats at Purdue, by L. Stone.” (p. 296)


Sigma Alpha Epsilon in 1904.  Lauson Stone is in the center row, fourth from the right.

Lauson contracted typhoid fever in late 1903, and his prolonged absence from school meant he would not be able graduate with the Class of 1904 as planned.  Still, he was listed among the seniors in the 1904 Debris with this thorough biography:

Lauson Stone has labored under three handicaps in his college career, any one of which would have had nine out of ten of us down and out before we had passed the Sophomore mile­stone. In the first place the incubus of being a brother to the president of the University has weighed upon him in the shape of his nickname of “Doc,” which was bestowed on him early in our Freshman year, and has clung to him ever since. Secondly, at about the same time as above mentioned, he developed what is technically known as a “case,” which has not become any less acute with years, and which was partly responsible for his attempt to take both Mechanical Engineering and the Science Course at the same time. Lastly, a six months’ tussle with typhoid did indeed send his chances of graduating with us glimmering, but he is an ’04 man through and through, even if he does have to fall back on ’05 for his sheepskin. He is from Amherst, Massachusetts. (p. 112)

Lauson spent the following year working as a student assistant in the Practical Mechanics department while completing his coursework, and finally graduated in spring 1905 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.  In 1909, he married Helen Estelle Darby, a fellow member of the Purdue Class of 1904.  Their marriage announcement in the Exponent student newspaper makes no mention of Lauson’s notable brother.  It also misspells Lauson’s first name.


Helen Estelle Darby, 1904

The marriage of Miss Helen E. Darby and Mr. Lawson Stone occurred yesterday at 3 o’clock at the Darby home on East Main street. The ceremony was performed by Rev. G. W. Switzer and was witnessed by the relatives and a few intimate friends of the bride and groom. Both Mr. and Mrs. Stone are graduates of Purdue of the class of ’04 and have a host of [f]riends at the University. Mr. Stone holds a government position in the department of the interior at Pittsburg[h]. He is a member of the S. A. E. fraternity. (March 28, 1909)

Lauson did not stick around Purdue after graduation.  He spent his career in Pennsylvania, first in a teaching position at Western Reserve University, then with the United States Geologic Survey, and later in the steel industry.

Meanwhile, as Winthrop and Lauson Stone were advancing their career and education at Purdue, their middle brother, Harlan Fiske Stone, was building his legal and political career and eventually became the most notable member of the family.  Harlan served as Dean of Columbia University Law School, United States Attorney General, Associate Supreme Court Justice, and eventually Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

All images from the Debris Yearbook.