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UConn's first president, Benjamin F. Koons, was a veteran of the Civil War, and had strong opinions on how Memorial Day was to be observed.


Memorial Day was first observed in 1866 in Waterloo, New York to honor the memory of Union soldiers killed during the Civil War (1861-1865). It was then known as “Decoration Day”, as the graves of the fallen were decorated in remembrance, and it consolidated what had been locally observed remembrances in many locations.

Over the years, the day has come to be a time to remember all who have fallen in service to the nation. In addition to visits to cemeteries and grave sites, it alos has become a day of picnics, parades, and events like the Indianapolis 500.

For some in the 19th century, including Benjamin Franklin Koons, first president of UConn when it was the Storrs Agricultural College, the thought of spending the day grilling hamburgers and hot dogs would have been distressing.

Koons was a veteran of the Civil War, and was a member of the Francis S. Long Post No. 30 of the Grand Army of the Republic in Willimantic, Connecticut. He had enlisted as a private in his native Ohio in 1862, and survived 17 engagements, at was at Appomattox when the war ended.

The Hartford Courant noted in Koon’s obituary in December 1903 that “it has been his custom of late years to deplore the perverted use of Memorial Day, believing that May 30 was consecrated to the defenders of the Union and not athletic carnivals.”


In sweltering heat, the Class of 1963 received their degrees from the University of Connecticut in an outdoor ceremony held in Memorial Stadium.

The commencement speaker was Raymond Baldwin, who, 24 years earlier, while serving as Governor of Connecticut, signed the legislative act turned Connecticut State College into the University of Connecticut.

Before starting his address, Baldwin joked about the event that occurred on May 26, 1939. He recalled that he signed the bill with a quill pen, and told the commencement audience that he believed it was probably the last document in Connecticut that was signed with a quill pen.

“I’m not sure but I think the School [sic] of Agriculture produced that pen from some goose. Anyway, it worked pretty well. Actually, there is an aftermath to that. Today the question came up as to who had the pen, and President Babbidge and the Provost of the college looked at me with some suspicion and I want to assure you that I didn’t keep the pen. I gave it to Al Jorgensen and you’ll have to look him up for that.”

“Al Jorgensen”, of course, was former UConn President Albert N. Jorgensen. And there was no need to check with him.

The quill pen was, and is, part of the University Archives collection.

Quill pen used by Gov. Raymond Baldwin in 1939 to sign legislation that changed Connecticut State College into the University of Connecticut.

Governor Raymond Baldwin signs bill creating the University of Connecticut, May 26, 1939

Marking the fifth and final name change of the small school in the eastern hills of Connecticut, Governor Baldwin formally signs the bill creating the University of Connecticut with state and school officials looking on.  Previous names reflected the changing nature of the institution as it evolved to meet the needs of the citizens of Connecticut: 

  • Storrs Agricultural School                   1881-1893
  • Storrs Agricultural College                  1893-1899
  • Connecticut Agricultural College         1899-1933
  • Connecticut State College                  1933-1939

On Wednesday, May 12, Curators from Archives & Special Collections of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center conducted a daylong workshop for teachers enrolled in the EASTCONN Teaching American History Grant.  Curators Valerie Love, Betsy Pittman and Laura Smith showed materials from the Alternative Press, Political, and Labor Collections, and the University Archives, concentrating on the topics of post-World War II Communism and the Vietnam War. 

In 2009 EASTCONN, a regional education service center in Hampton, Connecticut, received a three-year federal Teaching American History grant.  The coordinators gathered educational institutions such as the Dodd Research Center, the Connecticut State Library and Archives, the Connecticut Historical Society, Historic New England, and others to be partners in coordinating workshops and other learning experiences for eastern Connecticut teachers who enrolled in the program.  Each of the three years has a theme; this year’s theme is “Freedom, Security and Diversity,”  thus the emphasis on materials for Communism and the Vietnam War.

We brought out many provocative documents to the teachers, including a copy of a letter from Connecticut Senator Thomas J. Dodd, Senator Prescott Bush, and Representative Frank Kowalski to President John F. Kennedy in 1961 urging him to be resolved to fight Communism ( and a flyer advertising a peace protest during the Vietnam War (

As a special bonus to the day, Maureen Croteau, head of UConn’s Department of Journalism, spoke to the teachers about freedom of the press and the First Amendment.  Maureen’s topics sparked a lot of discussion with the group.

President Charles L. Beach, right, and student Paul Manwaring, stand under the north arch of Hawley Armory at the dedication of Gardner Dow Field on Alumni Day, May 22, 1920. After the north and south arches were taken down sometime around 1950, the Dow plaque was moved the to west side of the Armory building.

In May of 1920, the campus community, at what was then Connecticut Agricultural College, gathered near the north end of Hawley Armory for a solemn occasion.

Eight months earlier, on September 27, 1919, Gardner Dow, a member of the CAC football team, died from injuries he sustained when he collided with an opponent from the University of New Hampshire. The tragedy occurred during CAC’s season opening game at UNH in Durham, New Hampshire. 

On October 6, the CAC Athletic Association, which had oversight of all campus athletic activities and facilities, approved a measure naming the college’s athletic field the Gardner Dow Field.

Students, faculty, alumni, and others gathered on May 22, Alumni Day in 1920, to dedicate Gardner Dow Field, which at  one time stretched from Hawley Armory east to Memorial Stadium, with football and baseball fields, tennis courts, a track, and other athletic facilities. As the University grew, those facilities were moved to separate locations throughout the campus.

On that day in May 90 years ago, a plaque was unveiled in memory of Dow, and placed on an arch at the north end of the armory.  The plaque was moved to the east wall of the armory in the 1950s, and it is still there today, in 2010, facing what remains of Gardner Dow Field.

During June-August 2010, Valerie Love, the Curator for Human Rights Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center will be undertaking a project to conduct oral histories with human rights activists in the state of Connecticut.  If you might be interested in participating in the project, or have suggestions for people to interview, please contact Valerie at for more information. 

A slide from the Impact Visuals Photography Collection, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut.

The Thomas J. Dodd Research Center currently holds a variety of oral history collections, including:

Members of the African National Congress in South Africa, 1999-2006. 

Colt Strike of 1934, 1981

Connecticut Communist Party, 1986-1987

Connecticut Workers And A Half Century Of Technological Change, 1930-1980, 1981-1982

The Greater Hartford Process (Coventry Experience), 1972-1975

Holocaust Survivors In The Connecticut Region, 1980-1981

Manchester-Cheney Oral History Project, 1971-1991

Millworkers of Willimantic, 1979-1980

Peoples of Connecticut, 1973-1976

The Political Activities Of The First Generation Of Fully Enfranchised Connecticut Women, 1920-1945, 1980-1982

Voices From The Second World War: An Oral History, 1999-2000

Witnesses To Nuremberg, An Oral History Of American Participants At The War Crimes Trials, ca. 1997

A Woman’s Place, Hartford College For Women, 1983

Women In The Connecticut Legislature: Past And Present, 1996-1997

Homer D. Babbidge and students in front of the Student Union, 1967

Homer D. Babbidge and students in front of the Student Union, 1967

Homer Daniels Babbidge, Jr. was born today in 1925, in West Newton, MA.  Educated at Yale University, Dr. Babbidge became the eighth President of the University of Connecticut on October 20, 1962 at the age of 37.  A charismatic, respected and much beloved member of the University community, Babbidge resigned from the University in the summer of 1972 after ten years of service.  Several years after Dr. Babbidge left the University the new library, which replaced the Wilbur Cross Library in 1978, was named after him.  Today, Homer Babbidge would have been 85 years old.  Unfortunately, he died on March 24, 1984, but his legacy and name live on at the University.

Today we are pleased to report that President Obama signed into law the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act.  The Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act is named in honor of former Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan, just four months after the September 11th attacks.  For those who follow our blog and our events, know that this past October we were honored to award the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) with the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights.  The program allowed the University to learn more about the struggle for press freedom and about the work CPJ does to defend the rights of journalists around the world.   It also provided us with the opportunity to meet Mariane Pearl, wife of the late Daniel Pearl. 

President Obama and members of Daniel Pearl's family in the Oval Office. Photo by Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

 “Daniel Pearl’s tragic death shocked the world and, at the same time, opened our eyes to the abuse and harassment that many journalists face across the globe.  With this bill, we pay tribute to Daniel’s life and his work by shining a spotlight on this sort of all-too-frequent repression,” said Senator Chris Dodd, a champion of the bill.  Senator Dodd also introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

According to the press release from Senator Dodd’s office, this legislation calls upon the Secretary of State to greatly expand its examination of the status of freedom of the press worldwide in the State Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.  Specifically, the legislation requires the State Department to identify countries in which there were violations of press freedom; determine whether the government authorities of those countries participate in, facilitate, or condone the violations; and report the actions such governments have taken to preserve the safety and independence of the media and ensure the prosecution of individuals who attack or murder journalists.  The text of the legislation can be found here

President Obama was joined by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), Congressmen Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Mike Pence (R-IN), co-chairs of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, as well as members of Daniel Pearl’s family.

The first University Scholars, recognized in 1952, with President Albert Jorgensen and Provost Albert Waugh.

The University of Connecticut began honoring its highest achieving students with the University Scholars program in 1951, and six years later, it started a tradition of recognizing all academic achievements.

The first Scholars Day was held May 11, 1957 as part of the University’s 75th anniversary year celebrations. Nearly 600 students with high scholastic standing were honored in the afternoon program at the University Auditorium (it would be a few more years before it would become known as Jorgensen Auditorium).

The honorees included ten University Scholars and 579 students who had received general University honors, were members of honors societies, or who had distinguished themselves in a special field of study.  The guest speaker that day was Edward D. Eddy, Jr., provost and vice president of the University of New Hampshire, who later was president of the University of Rhode Island. His topic: “On Being Gloriously Content.” He concluded that college students were not challenged enough, and that they should seize opportunities for learning outside of the classroom to complete their education.

Wendell Minor, an award-winning illustrator of books and book jackets, will receive an honorary Doctorate degree from the University of Connecticut at the May 9th, 2010 commencement ceremony. On May 20 th the Dodd Research Center will host a Luncheon Reception in the Dodd Center’s Public Lounge from 12:00-1:30 pm, followed by a presentation by Dr. Norman D. Stevens in Konover Auditorium from 1:30-2:00 pm, with a book signing by Mr. Minor in the Public Foyer from 2:00-2:30pm. The Public is invited to all of these events. Please RSVP by Friday, May 14, 2010, to Jean Nelson at or 860.486.6346.  

A native of Illinois and current resident of Washington, CT, Mr. Minor studied art at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. He has designed the covers of over 2000 works and has illustrated 50 children’s books. Mr. Minor served as President of the Society of Illustrators in New York City in addition to currently serving on the Children’s Book Council. The exhibit pictured here is installed in the John McDonald Reading Room of the Dodd Research Center and is available for viewing Monday-Friday 10am-4pm until the end of May. On display are 22 original works of art for various books and book covers and a selection of his published works. Mr. Minor is generously donating the original art for his newest book, Jean Craighead George’s The Buffalo are back, to the Northeast Children’s Literature Collection.

Minor exhibit in McDonald Reading Room

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