Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: September 18-24, 1917

September 18th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Highlights from this week’s letters include the sad news of a friend’s death and happier news of Forrest’s promotion to first class private (“this simply means that I have qualified in examinations and that I will get $33 a month instead of $30”).

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 19, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 19, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 19, 1917

Wednesday Sept. 19th

Dear Marie,

I am sending you a couple cards. One is of Stock and I and the other is of me. Yesterday I got three letters from you which made up for Sun. and Mon. I couldn’t dope out what was wrong after missing two days. That sure was bad news about Wooll Beimer,* he was a mighty good old scout. Sorry to hear that you are having trouble with your arm. I got a little infection in my jaw and had to have it dressed this morning and again before supper. It will be all O.K. in a few days then I will get some more pictures of Stock and I. Last night I developed a W. Pocket film and washed a shirt and a pair of pants. Guess I will have to get a picture of me scrubbing. It’s our favorite indoor sport. When I get home I can say “I used to do that in the Army.” Altogether – “It’s a gay life.” Well I am on stable guard tonight and have to memorize my special orders, I will write a longer letter next time. Hope you have good luck with your music and elocution. What is a hope chest?

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Sat. Sept. 22, 1917

Dear Marie,

Your candy came in fine shape and tasted great. I am going to stand pat on my resolution not to eat sweets. Don’t worry about not doing anything to help me; you are doing more than anyone else could do. Thanks for the candy. Don’t let Blanche kid you about your letters. I didn’t think Snyder would stoop to girls of M.W’s type but I shall not lose any sleep over him. He was not much of a friend of mine anyway. I guess I never had any real friends until I came here among these fellows. Your two pictures came fine. Marie, you can’t imagine how they made me feel. You don’t look like the same laughing little girl that sat in the canoe holding the duck. (Have you got that picture?) No one could see your two pictures without seeing what a big, warm-hearted lovable girl you are. I showed them to Stock and he said, “No wonder you are so loyal to her.” This is true Marie, and he said a whole lot in a few words. Marie, I will always be loyal to you and I will try to make myself as nearly worthy of you as I can.

I am glad you are doing so well with your music and hope you will have good luck in the work, and in the recital. I don’t play any here and doubt if I ever will again. There is always something to do. Wednesday my name was on the list of promotions and I am now a first class private. This simply means that I have qualified in examinations and that I will get $33 a month instead of $30. I am mighty glad that I have made good in a radio company before going into the photographic section.

From now on I am going to take a little more time and write to you oftener. There isn’t much to write about but will write what little I can. Last Thursday “Old Specks,” the horse that got me, claimed his seventh and last victim, Corporal Ryan. Ever since my hard luck this horse has been tied all alone and groomed by the non-com officers. He got Ryan the same way he got me. When they took him over to the hospital he had a deep gash on the cheek-bone just below the left eye. He had to have several stitches taken in it and it is all blue and swollen around the eye. I am getting along O.K. but had to have my jaw dressed twice daily the last three days. One day they had a bandage going around my neck, over my head and around the right side of my jaw all for a little cut about an inch long. They were going to keep me in the hospital once but I begged off.

The captain gave orders that no one should go near “Old Specks” now so he is left in the corral. Well I am down to the City and will have to catch the next car home. An order has just been posted that no soldiers will be allowed to board cars thru the windows so we will have to learn a new way of getting seats.

Gee, I wish I could here you give that recital. Don’t send any more fudges because I will not eat any more – unless I can eat them with you.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

*The Janesville (Wisconsin) Daily Gazette reported the following story on Wednesday, September 12, 1917: “Willard Beimer, of the three brothers of this city whose athletic ability on high school and college teams have gained them considerable repute hereabouts, lies today at the point of death. A four weeks’ fight against typhoid at his home here [Beloit] has been a losing one, and at a consultation of physicians this noon, his chances for recovery were stated to be slim. The young man was taken ill while at work in Gary, Ind., last month. He completed his first year at Beloit college last spring. He was a member of the Delta Phi Upsilon.”

A follow-up article on Monday, September 17, 1917 reported that Beimer “died at his home at five o’clock Sunday afternoon…The funeral will be held Tuesday.”

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

Throwback Thursday: Study Group Edition, Part II

September 14th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

What do you think the students in this week’s photograph were studying?

Photograph of KU students studying, 1882

KU students, 1882. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 71/0 1882 Prints: Student Activities (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: September 11-17, 1917

September 11th, 2017

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: twenty-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature Bassett’s letters to fifteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Highlights from this week’s letters include the arrival of fudge from Marie (“it was the real stuff and tasted great”), Forrest’s accident with a wild horse (“the next thing I knew, I felt something like a good healthy brick on my jaw and I hit the sod like a rock”), and analysis of a hug Forrest shared with Marie before his departure (“if I had thought, when you let me hug you, that you did so without knowing or caring what kind of a boy I was, you never would have made me love and respect you the way I do”). Additionally, Forrest relays some speculation about how long the war will last. On one hand, he opines that “it won’t be long. When I watched the Officers Reserve training at bayonet fighting, I couldn’t help but feel that Uncle Sam is going to hand the Dutch a prize package.” On the other hand, Forrest reports to Marie that “this man, Popelka, says the war is going to last a good two years longer. Somebody is always taking the joy out of life.”

 

Tues. Sept. 11, 1917

Dear Marie,

The fudge and proofs came O.K. Say you sure had good luck with that batch. It was the real stuff and tasted great. Thankee, come again. I did not like the pictures very well. The expression on your face is too sober for the bright-eyed little girl that I left. Your hair looks fine, I think. In another envelope, I am sending some bum pictures. This sure is some poor work. I am going to develop my films myself after this and send them home to get the prints. I was pretty disappointed in the one of George and I. He has my camera case on his shoulder and is operating the heliograph key. We expect to get paid any day now but there are lots of things we expect, that we don’t get. I got something that I didn’t expect this morning. We were grooming the horses out on the picket chain, and I got a wild one. The first sergeant, O’Brien, warned me to watch his front feet and I was very careful and got one side all brushed up fine, with only a few false motions on the part of the horse. Then Captain Mitchum came and said he wanted the names of all expert and amateur photographers. I left the horse and went over to sign up. When I came back, I stepped up to the front of my horse and just as I got within four or five feet of him, a fellow spoke to me and I turned a little to answer. The next thing I knew, I felt something like a good healthy brick on my jaw and I hit the sod like a rock. A couple fellows picked me up and took me over to the hose and washed the blood and dirt away. My shirt was torn in strips from my shoulder half way down my right side. I went down to the hospital and had the cuts on my jaw dressed and then hit it for the barracks. I didn’t miss a single drill period although my jaw was a little stiff and I had a slight headache. Another fellow was laid low by the same horse, and now no one but Sergeant Gillespie is allowed to groom him. I don’t see how the army can use a saddle horse that is wild enough to plunge at a man and knock him down with his front feet, when he ain’t even within arms reach of him. I think I got out pretty lucky and am thankful that no blame was placed on me, for being careless. We are learning to saddle and mount our horses now. I suppose we will just be learning to ride and then I’ll be transferred Co. A of the 5th Bn. is already having mounted drill but we only have ten saddles for 75 men so only a few of us have ever been on one. Each of us will have a horse when we are in the field except the men who drive the horses on the wagon wireless set in my section. It looks pretty neat to see a company of men ride by with each horse in his proper place in the column. When Captain Mitchum called for photographers, I signed up as an expert. He said “How many years experience?” I said four. Then he asked if I knew anything about color photography. I answered, “Autochrome and Hess-Ives process. He looked as if to say “nuff ced” and put me down as O.K. Believe me one has to be a perfectly good little bluffer in order to push ahead. I am not anxious to leave this outfit though, but the more varied my experience the more I will get out of it. I have qualified in wig-wag and all the General Service code stuff such as heliograph and acetylene flash telegraph and can receive and transmit on the buzzer better than some that enlisted as operators. I am going to try to qualify in semaphore next Thursday but it will be by a close shave if I make it. The fifth section was out for 45 minutes last night after supper practicing semaphore. We sure are busy all the time. One day we spent half the afternoon heaving rock. This morning the second section was detailed to shovel about five ton of coal into the basement. Once more, it’s a gay life. Well I must wash the stains out of some handkerchiefs so I can return them to the fellows in the morning so will have to quit. I will write as often as I can because I really like to write to you and I want you to write as much as you can, though I know you, too, will be pretty busy now.

Don’t let those dreams bother you. My heart is too full of good warm love for you to allow the slightest thought of coldness. Well good night little girlie. Gee, I wish I could say that in front of your house. But it won’t be long. When I watched the Officers Reserve training at bayonet fighting, I couldn’t help but feel that Uncle Sam is going to hand the Dutch a prize package.

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, September 12, 1917

Dear Marie,

This will be a continuation of last night’s letter, as I did not have time to write all I wanted to.

I wonder what you must think after reading yesterday’s letter. Anyway I hope I can make you understand why I loved you more after you let me hug you in spite of what I wrote last night. In my dealings with others I have always tried to be square and do the right thing. Wherever I have gone I have always been trusted, whether it was at school, in my work and especially here. Read the letter which I am sending to Mother by this mail and you will see that Mr. Rawson, who was my H.S. mathematics teacher, refers to me as one of “good character.”

I am accustomed to take it for granted that my friends considered me “one of ‘good character’,” and when I met you I tried to make you regard me in that way too.

Although we went together a number of times before that day, you will remember that I never made the slightest attempt to even put my arm around you or anything else. When the day did come that I was sure you trusted me, and cared a little for me, and would not misunderstand, I asked you to come to me. When you said “no” it did hurt but I respected you more because I felt you weren’t quite sure.

When you finally did yield, you didn’t lose a whit in my respect for you, for then I thought that you were at last sure that I was worthy of a good girl. And Marie you were right, then, weren’t you? I don’t believe your character suffered any from contact with me, did it? If I had thought, when you let me hug you, that you did so without knowing or caring what kind of a boy I was, you never would have made me love and respect you the way I do.

It’s awfully hard to write in this way but I hope I have made you understand my viewpoint. I would have loved you very much even if you had refused but not as much as I do now. Now, little girlie do you feel satisfied? I know I could make you see if I could only talk to you, and if you could only see the love for you in my eyes instead of the scratch of this pen.

Sincerely,
Forrest.

 

Sunday Sept. 16, ‘17

Dear Marie,

This has been a very busy week for me and I haven’t been able to write as often as I would like to. I took the visual signal test Thursday and got thru OK. We had to be able to read about 50 letters a minute in semaphore and about 20 letters a minute at wig-wag. It takes an awful lot of practice to develop this speed as it is all new to all of us. I am still plugging along with the fastest class of ham radio operators and can copy about fifteen words or 75 letters a minute. So you see I am also walking on air as they say you are. Don’t feel disappointed at being set back. You have plenty of time and might better take the grade over. I am mighty glad that you are getting along so well. Your mention of the book “Control of Body and Mind,” interested me. Will you tell me more about what you have in this book? Maybe it will help you break yourself of biting your nails. Would you like me to try to help you break this habit?

I am going to cut out all sweet stuff, fudges and everything. But I am anxiously waiting for another box from you. The other box sure was good. Can hardly wait for your pictures to come. Here are a couple proofs of a film I developed last night. One is of Stock and I with the semaphore flags at the first line trenches. The other is of me operating a field buzzer down in a trench by a machine gun emplacement. I will send some prints of these later. I notices the little bronze square on your waiste in the proof you sent, and it sure makes me feel to know that you wear this. It represents the ideal that every man would strive for if he had a girl like you to think of. Gee, girlie, I wish I could feel your head on my shoulder and your soft brown hair in my face. Marie, every time I read your letters I can see you out on the porch that last Tuesday night. Marie don’t change your letters unless you change. I didn’t get any letter today but will watch for one by the first morning mail.

This evening I talked with a man who is training as an engineer lieutenant. I used to work under him part of the time when I was in the City’s employe last fall, surveying. We are going to try to locate Captain Culver, here, this week. This man, Popelka, says the war is going to last a good two years longer. Somebody is always taking the joy out of life. Well I must quit for tonight but will write again as soon as I get the prints. Now will you write me a letter as full of your warm lovable self as your letter of Sept. 13th was?

Yours,
Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

 

KU Greek Archives Project

September 8th, 2017

Image of a Kappa Delta scrapbook title page, 1993

Kappa Delta scrapbook title page, 1993.
Kappa Delta Scrapbooks, 1989-1998.
Call Number: RG 67/459.

One thing that sets Spencer Research Library (SRL) apart from other on campus jobs at KU is that student workers get to see the importance of well-maintained historical records first hand. As a history major, working around these materials is an amazing experience and inspiration. This background got me started on my Undergraduate Research Project, which works within the University Archives.

During a historical research methods class in Spring 2016, it became apparent to me that a great way to evaluate the changing social history of KU is through Greek life records. This is because each chapter keeps detailed minutes on weekly proceedings; records their events through monthly or yearly reports; and has a plethora of pictures and a rich collection of ephemera such as t-shirts, banners and flyers.

However, when examining the archives, I found that there are significant gaps of multiple years in the records of the Greek houses. Usually, there is little to no material after the 1980s. While KU students are still engaged in Greek life, this gap showed me that the materials simply are not being deposited into the University Archives. There could be several reasons for this; perhaps many Greek chapters are switching over to mostly paperless records, or perhaps the chapters do not know that SRL would be interested in their records. Either way, this seemed to me like a problem that needs addressing. With encouragement from my history professor Jonathan Hagel, I utilized my background at SRL and my connections to Greek life at KU to get the KU Greek Archives project off the ground.

My project is twofold. First, I’m conducting a survey of the University Archives to get a more complete picture of the types of materials that are already in the library and which Greek organizations are represented. Once this is complete, the gaps in the historical record where there are little to no materials will appear and indicate what years to focus on when gathering materials.

The next step is reaching out to the Greek chapters still currently on campus to see what materials they have in their possession that they would be willing to donate to University Archives. This process has taken the form of attending Panhellenic meetings with all of the chapter presidents to explain my project and sending many emails to chapter presidents and historians.

In the midst of the outreach and the archival survey, I wanted to use my own chapter, Kappa Delta (KD), to catalyze the process and lend credibility to my project as a sort of trial period. To begin, I looked around my chapter house for any relevant materials. Since KD is one of the newer houses on campus, the materials I expected to find would not be as old as some of the other chapters at KU; at the earliest, these sources would originate from KD’s establishment in 1990. The sources I did find are rich in the history of my chapter as well as others in the Greek community.

Image of an excerpt of the Kappa Delta Historian’s report, November 1990

Excerpt of the Kappa Delta historian’s report, November 1990.
Kappa Delta Scrapbooks, 1989-1998. Call Number: RG 67/459.
Click image to enlarge.

The most common materials are scrapbooks. These depict Kappa Delta’s new members, the remodeling of the house, and the first few years after Kappa Delta was established. Additionally, I found a binder of historian’s reports, which are composed of several pages summarizing each month’s activities of the KDs. Paired with some of the photographs in the scrapbooks, I found a comprehensive record of Kappa Delta from its founding in 1990 to about 2008.

While filling the gaps in the archival record is important, ensuring that the record is current is vital to the social history of KU. But gathering sources that are more current presents a problem. While Greeks are still documenting their social experience at KU, the majority of this is now digital. Minutes are distributed electronically, and scrapbooks can now be made in the form of videos posted online. Electronic minutes and records can always be printed and donated to University Archives, but saving videos is a problem that I have not yet explored.

As my project continues, I hope to uncover many more sources from each individual chapter at KU. However, this project cannot be complete without the participation of those in the Greek community. Several chapters have offered to donate materials, and I hope to recruit many more.

For more information about my project, please check out my blog.

Check out the Spencer website to learn about the University Archives records of student life and about the process of donating materials to the library.

Shea O’Sullivan
Public Services Student Assistant

 

Throwback Thursday: Jayhawk Edition, Part II

September 7th, 2017

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

We love all iterations of Jayhawks! Fans at this weekend’s KU football game will see Jayhawks that look very different from the one in this week’s photograph.

Photograph of the Jayhawk mascot at a football game, 1923

KU’s Jayhawk mascot at an away football game against
Kansas State University, 1923. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 0/25 1923 Prints: University General: Jayhawk mascot, dolls, etc (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services