Following the firing on Fort Sumter in April of 1861, Lawrence officials and Appleton community members called for a meeting in the chapel of Main Hall. In a speech delivered at the Lawrence semi-centennial celebration in 1897, Col. J.A. Watrous recalled the proceedings:
“I remember that President Mason presided; I remember that graduates and others from neighboring cities came to attend the meeting; I remember the speakers. The first was Professor Henry Pomeroy, a man great in mind and patriotism, but small of stature. The flag of the Union was there as we see it here. After a few words of introduction, Professor Pomeroy, pointing at the stars and stripes, said, and with a tremble in his voice: ‘If that flag goes down never to rise in honor again, it will be the greatest misfortune to civilization that has ever overtaken it.’ He then enumerated some of the many disasters that would follow the overthrow of the government of the United States. Drawing himself up to his full height, and throwing his head back, he again pointed to the flag and said: ‘Fellow citizens, I say to you that that flag shall not go down in disgrace. I say to you that the patriotism of the people of the North is such that every dollar and every man will be placed at the service of Abraham Lincoln in restoring peace.’ After this grand and patriotic flight there was an outburst by the audience that fairly made the building shake, well as it is founded. Such clapping of hands, stamping of feet and hurrahing were never before heard in Appleton. When quiet was restored, Professor Pomeroy, looking to heaven and raising his right hand, said: ‘I am not going to ask any of these people to go to the war, but I am going to ask some of them to come with me to the war.'”
This last line of Henry Pomeroy’s is the one most often repeated in contemporary accounts of this meeting. His speech and others “all bore fruit,” reported President Russell Z. Mason in a later recollection, in the form of “numerous enlistments.”
In addition to being Earth Day, today is the 75th anniversary of a significant event in Lawrence history. Following the end of classes on April 22nd, 1936, 400 of the 700 students enrolled at Lawrence set out to march down College Avenue for a Peace Parade. They were marching in solidarity with students from college campuses around the country, who had formed anti-war mock organizations such as the “Veterans of Future Wars” and the “Association of Gold Star Mothers of Veterans of Future Wars.” Though the leader of the march had initially secured permission from the Appleton Police Department, the police chief later changed his mind and forbade them from leaving campus. The paraders marched around campus with banners and baby buggies, and when they reached the corner of College and Drew, a few marched on. An April 24th, 1936 Lawrentian article describes what happened next:
” Appleton police climaxed the Lawrence Veterans of Future Wars Peace demonstration when an officer seized Albert Haak, former Wauwatosa High football player, by the shoulder and clubbed him on the head. Students rushed to the aid of Haak, who collapsed as he was knocked out…The strong arm of the Appleton law left its mark on at least four students and the minds of the faculty and towns people as the police force bore down on the order prohibiting a downtown parade of the local Viking Post, No. 815, Veterans of Future Wars.”
The incident received national attention as one of many similar demonstrations around the country. The Lawrentian describes students “huddled around radios…to hear the account of the student strike against war at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and ‘small Lawrence College’ in Appleton.” The faculty, President Wriston, and the Board of Trustees unanimously denounced the “grossly provocative” actions of the Appleton police. In an era not typically associated with student protest, this event stands out as a showing of Lawrence support for a larger student movement as well as an episode that united the Lawrence community.
Today is the 150th anniversary of the Confederate firing on Fort Sumter, the opening action of the American Civil War. Like other academic institutions during these years, Lawrence was greatly affected by four years of the most brutal war that the country had yet seen. William F. Raney notes in his The History of Lawrence University, 1847-1925: “About 81,000 men from Wisconsin served in the armies of the Union at one time or another. To this number Lawrence made its contribution, both in those who left college and in those who, because of the war, never got there at all.” (82) Every graduating class from 1858 to 1870 included students who served. The war also had tremendous effects beyond the front lines. Main Hall served as a meeting place for the wider Appleton community during these years, where patriotic speeches were delivered and women met to coordinate aid for families of soldiers. Though classes continued at Lawrence throughout the war, the college struggled with plunging enrollment and other problems that lingered years beyond the end of the war.
To commemorate this extended sesquicentennial, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the stories of Lawrence students and faculty from 1861 to 1865. This is the inaugural blog post of what will be a series of posts exploring this part of Lawrence history. If you have any particular aspects of this history that you are interested in hearing more about, let us know in the comments.