All posts by emoryhistorian

Serving in senior administrative positions at Emory University since 1988, including secretary of the university, vice president, and senior adviser to the president, I was appointed university historian in October 2015. My PhD degree, from Emory, is in Christian ethics, and I have BA and MA degrees in English (Lehigh) and a divinity degree. After writing my dissertation on Iris Murdoch, I became increasingly interested in the way institutional ethos is shaped and the way Emory, in particular, has transformed and been transformed by the moral imaginations of its people.

Remembering Gorbachev at Emory

The death of Mikhail Gorbachev on August 30 made me recall his visit to Emory University thirty years ago. It was May 11, 1992, and fifteen thousand graduates, friends, and family members filled the Emory Quadrangle to hear the Commencement address delivered by the last person to preside over the Soviet Union. It was the largest Commencement crowd in the University’s history, and that Commencement became the benchmark for all future Emory graduation exercises in terms of size, security—and celebrity (the last criterion not always met to the satisfaction of the students).

The year before, Eduard Shevardnadze had delivered the Commencement address. He had been foreign minister of the USSR until its dissolution and would later serve as first president of the Republic of Georgia. His granddaughter Tamuna Mosashvili was a student in Emory College, and a burgeoning academic and health-sciences relationship between Emory and Georgia paved the way for his appearance. Building on that experience, Emory President James Laney decided to invite Gorbachev as a follow-up act.

Mikhail Gorbachev greets Emory student Tamuna Mosashvili at the Atlanta airport the day before the 1992 Emory Commencement.

Out of power since 1991, Gorbachev had decided to go on a speaking tour of the United States, including a stop at Westminster College in Missouri, where Winston Churchill had delivered his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946. Emory was able to lure Gorbachev by promising a meeting with President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Presidential Center might serve as a model for the kind of post-political career Gorbachev could have.

I was part of the delegation that met Gorbachev at the Atlanta airport, where he arrived on a private jet supplied by Malcolm Forbes, the publisher of Forbes magazine. The irony of name of the plane carrying this communist leader was lost on none of us waiting on the tarmac—Capitalist Tool.

Malcolm Forbes’s private jet, Capitalist Tool, ferried Gorbachev to Atlanta.

Interest in hearing this former head of the Soviet Union was so intense that people with no connection to Emory and from as far away as Florida wanted to attend the event; the Quadrangle had to be fenced off for the first time to ensure that graduates and their guests would have seats. Even so, the graduates could receive only a limited number of tickets, making for a lot of unhappiness.

The day was magnificent. Senator Sam Nunn 1961C 1962L introduced President Carter, who in turn introduced Gorbachev. The audience listened to the speech twice—first in Russian and then in English, as Gorbachev and his translator alternated paragraph by paragraph. It did go on, and the audience was no doubt happy to stand and applaud the final words. Having received his honorary degree, Gorbachev departed the stage and went on to his next stop.

President Jimmy Carter, Gorbachev, and Emory President James T. Laney smile for the photo op.

For more on this episode, see chapter 8 of my book Emory as Place: Meaning in a University Landscape (University of Georgia Press, 2019).

Gary S. Hauk


Old House Won’t Be Around Much Longer

A new Emory History Minute just went live today, August 22, 2022.

Thanks to Emory videographers Corey Broman-Fulks and Stephen Nowland for their excellent work.

You can see more of these brief history videos by googling “Emory History Minutes” for the entire playlist of 28 videos that Corey and I did for the 175th anniversary of Emory back in 2011.

Gary Hauk, Emory University Historian Emeritus

Mark Auslander’s further exploration of slavery in Emory’s earlier environs

As Emory prepares to host a major conference on slavery and the dispossession of Native American lands, I turn to Mark Auslander for this latest post on Emory history.

Mark is a former faculty member at Oxford College and is now a research scholar in anthropology at Brandeis University and visiting associate professor at Boston University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He spent years uncovering the documentary history of enslaved men and women who helped to build, operate, and maintain Emory College in its antebellum years, as well as tracing and celebrating the legacy of their descendants. The results of that extraordinary research became his book The Accidental Slaveowner: Revisiting a Myth of Race and Finding an American Family (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011).

With Mark’s permission and that of the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Boook Library, I am reposting here  “Uncovering Enslavement on the Main Emory Campus: Two Receipts from the Civil War Era,” a post that first appeared September 2, 2021, on Scholar Blog, the Rose Library’s blog.


by Mark Auslander

Let us consider two receipts issued during the Civil War in the town of Decatur, Georgia. Both cast light on the structures and experiences of enslavement on the lands that would become, many decades later, parts of the main campus of Emory University.

Figure 1: Receipt from W. J. Houston Scrapbook. Stuart A. Rose Library, Emory University.

The first document (Fig.1) is found in the Rose Library, in a scrapbook assembled and donated by the descendants of Washington Jackson Houston (1831–1911), a major landowner and entrepreneur in Decatur and Atlanta. The document reads:

1st Confed Cav Regt [regiment]

Near Decatur GA

July 18th ’64

Recvd of W. J. Houston

Two hundred and ninety bundles oats, forage for horses of this Regt [regiment] while on picket

J. W. Irwin Capt [Captain]

Co. G. 1st Confed Cav Regt

Kellys Cav Div [Division]

The 1st Confederate Cavalry Regiment had been organized in Tennessee in April 1862.[1] After the Battle of Chickamauga, the 1st (also known as the 12th Cavalry Regiment) had been placed within the division of Confederate Brigadier General John Herbert Kelly, Army of the Tennessee, who had commanded units with distinction at Chickamauga (September 18–20, 1863) and  the Battle of Pickett’s Mill (May 27, 1864), both Confederate victories. General Kelly would die six weeks after the receipt was signed, on September 2, 1864, while participating in an effort in Franklin, Tennessee, to cut off Union General Sherman’s supply lines during the final phase of the Atlanta campaign. As it happened, September 2 was the very day that Atlanta surrendered to General Sherman. 

In mid-July 1864, the 1st Cavalry Regiment was assigned to the outer defense of Atlanta during the prolonged struggle over the city that would play a determinant role in the ultimate outcome of the Civil War. The regiment was under the command of General Joseph Wheeler, its mission to harass advancing Union forces and provide intelligence and reconnaissance reports to the Confederate command.

Who was Captain J. W. Irwin?

Captain J. W. Irwin was James William Irwin (1835–1914), who grew up in Savannah, Hardin County, Tennessee, the son of James and Nancy Sevier Irwin. He enlisted as a 2nd lieutenant on October 1, 1861, and served throughout the war, surrendering with his unit [2] in Gainesville, Alabama, on May 4, 1865. He was paroled May 11, 1865, and returned home. In 1870 he is listed as a dry goods merchant back in Savannah, Tennessee. In 1868 he married Cornelia Broyle; the couple raised six children. Captain Irwin held prominent positions in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and local Masonic chapters. It is worth remarking that both Captain Irwin and Washington Jackson Houston, who had such a brief encounter on the eve of the Battle of Atlanta, survived the war and lived well into the twentieth century, dying within three years of one another, in 1914 and 1911, respectively.

Who was W. J. Houston?

Houston’s great-great-grandson Richard Houston Sams, who resides near the Emory campus, recalls family stories that during the Civil War, Washington Jackson Houston routinely traveled back and forth between his home in Decatur, some six miles east of Atlanta, and his home in Atlanta, where he oversaw railroad logistics for the Confederate war effort. (For this reason, he was excused from military service.)  As the war intensified and Atlanta became a likely target of Union military advances, he had arranged for his wife, daughters, and enslaved people to be transferred out to the Decatur area, which he anticipated, erroneously, would put them out of the line of fire. On December 24, 1863, he purchased a major tract of land north of present-day North Decatur Road, from his wife, Amanda’s, father, Dr. Chapmon Powell, and settled his family and enslaved people there.[3] 

Sections of this property later became part of the Clairmont Campus of Emory University and the Lullwater Preserve (home of the Emory president), as well as the Houston Mill House property owned by Emory and named in Houston’s memory. Washington Jackson Houston acquired the cabin in which his in-laws, the Powells, had lived, known as Dr. Powell’s “medicine house,” and built his home around it. (The original medicine house cabin was later relocated to Stone Mountain park, where it remains on display.) It was at this location that Houston presumably received the receipt for his oats.

Although the parties to the receipt were unaware of the fact at the time, that week was to prove pivotal to the trajectory of the war. The day before, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, relieved General Joseph Johnston of command for the defense of Atlanta, putting in his place General John Bell Hood. Sherman reportedly was pleased over the news, knowing Hood’s reputation for aggressiveness and impetuousness, which made it more likely that he would send troops beyond the sturdy defenses Johnson had overseen, meeting Sherman’s troops in open battle.

July 18 was also the day before Union troops, in the 23rd Army Corps of the Army of the Ohio, commanded by John M. Schofield, crossed the South Fork of Peachtree Creek and set up a command post, which served as temporary headquarters for General William T. Sherman. The headquarters was the subject of an illustration published the following month in Harper’s Weekly, by the celebrated northern artist and war correspondent Theodore R. Davis (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. James O. Powell’s house, as Sherman’s headquarters.

These events were commemorated by a plaque along Clairmont Road, placed in 1954 by the Georgia Historical Commission but no longer standing:

“West of this point 75 ft., was the antebellum residence of James Oliver Powell (1826–1873), Sherman’s headquarters, July 19, 1864. Sherman traveled with Schofield’s 23d A.C. from the Chattahoochee River at Power’s Fy. July 17, & arrived here July 19. The house was used as a temporary hospital while the 23d A.C. was in his vicinity. Cox’s (3d) div. moved to the Paden plantation (Emory University); Hascall’s (2d) div., together with Dodge’s 16th A.C. occupied Decatur occupied Decatur after a spirited conflict with the defenders of the town — a detachment of Wheeler’s cavalry (CS).

The nearby Hardeman Primitive Baptist church (located beside the present-day Clifton School on the Clairmont Campus) was used as a field hospital for wounded Union soldiers. When the Union army made ready to depart, they burned the structure. Houston’s descendant Richard Sams believes the burning was likely a sanitation measure because of the large number of limbs that had reportedly been amputated within it by Union Army surgeons.  Two days later, Sherman’s army would fight the Battle of Peachtree Creek, and then face Confederate defenders in the climactic Battle of Atlanta of July 22, commemorated in the Cyclorama at the Atlanta History Center.

On July 19th, as they set up temporary headquarters at the Powell place, these Union troops would certainly have informed the enslaved people on the Houston and adjacent plantations that under the terms of Emancipation Proclamation they were legally free. Many previously enslaved African Americans would choose to follow Sherman’s troops four months later on his March to the Sea across Georgia.

The fall of Atlanta in early September 1864 struck an enormous blow to the Confederate effort and virtually guaranteed Abraham Lincoln’s reelection in the November 1864 election, dashing Confederate hopes that the Federal leadership would ever sue for peace.  It also helped doom the eventual fall of the slavery system on which the Confederacy was anchored.

Identifying Enslaved Persons

Who precisely were the enslaved people on the Houston plantation who must have produced, among other things, the 290 bundles of oats for the Confederate horses, referenced in the receipt? The 1860 slave schedule lists Washington Houston as owning only two slaves at his Atlanta residence, a girl age 10 and a woman age 50. It seems likely that when he purchased hundreds of acres of land from Chapmon Powell, he must have bought a number of enslaved people as well.  (Chapmon Powell had owned sixteen slaves in 1850, and six slaves in 1860.)

The identities of these enslaved people are hinted at by the fact that six years later, when the 1870 census was enumerated, the W. J. Houston household  (Dwelling #120), included an African American woman named Ophelia Powell, age 22, born around 1848, employed as a domestic servant. She appears to be the adult child of the African American couple Irvin Powell (b. 1828) and Ursilla Powell, who in 1870 lived with five children twelve households away from the white Houstons in Decatur (Dwelling # 132). It seems likely that at least some members of this African American Powell family had been owned by W. J. Houston during the Civil War period. It may be that Ophelia is a match for the unnamed ten year old child listed in the 1860 slave schedule as property of W. J. Houston in Atlanta, and had been with the white Houston family for an extended period, even while most of her family was owned by the white Powell family in Decatur. (In his 1857 will, Chapmon Powell indicated his desire to bequeath a girl child slave to his daughter Amanda, the wife of Washington Jackson Houston; he may have given or sold other slaves to Houston during the Civil War period.)

Washington Jackson Houston must have been confident he would be compensated in full for the costs of the 290 bundles of oats from the Confederacy at some point; it appears this never happened, since, as his descendant Richard Houston Sams notes, the receipt remained in the family possession until it was donated to Emory Special Collections. The Confederate military, after all, was occupied with the defense of Atlanta, and evacuated the city on September 1, 1864, so there was never an opportunity for Houston to redeem his receipt. The document remained among the Houston family descendants until Richard Houston Sams generously donated it to Emory’s Special Collections, as part of the W. J. Houston Scrapbook some years ago.

In contrast, Mr. Houston’s neighbor Thomas Noteman Paden, just up the road (living at what is now the intersection of North Decatur and Springdale Roads, in Druid Hills) was clearly reimbursed twice for providing the Confederate army with fodder earlier during that fateful summer. On June 9, 1864, he sold 1,750 pounds of fodder for $87.50. July 15, three days before the transfer of oats from W. J Houston to the 1st Confederate Cavalry, he sold 7,500 pounds of fodder for $300.00, and was clearly paid. [4]

A Receipt for Lucy

As it happens, Thomas Noteman Paden is referenced in a very different kind of receipt (Fig. 3), which dates to a few weeks before the official start of the Civil War. This document, preserved at the Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center, reads as follows:

“Georgia, DeKalb County.  Received of my father James Paden a negro girl by name Lucy about seven years old of dark complexion and valued by Daniel Johnson and Robert Medlock at six hundred dollars, as part of his estate this 25th day of March 1861. Witness my hand and seal Thomas N Paden. Robert Medlock”[5]

Fig. 3. Receipt for enslaved girl Lucy. Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

James Paden (c. 1792–1864), who gave seven-year-old Lucy to his son, was a Judge of the Inferior Court in DeKalb County, who owned a 700-acre plantation adjacent to the Powell and Houston properties. His lands occupied the lands that now house the core campus of Emory University and the Druid Hills Golf Club. His house was located at the northwest corner of what is now Clifton and North Decatur Roads. In 1860, he is recorded as owning twenty enslaved people. One of these was an enslaved female, age seven, who presumably was Lucy.

Lucy’s parents, Jerry and Grace, were enslaved by Judge Paden, as were her brothers Jerry (Jr.) and Sandy, and sisters Rose Anna and Sarah. Sarah had been transferred some years earlier, as a provisional gift, to Judge Paden’s daughter Caroline Lettice Paden Chandler, wife of W. B. Chandler; she was taken with the Chandlers to their home in Fannin County, Texas, about 700 miles from Decatur.  (In his will, written in 1859, Judge Paden finalized this gift, formally bequeathing Sarah to Caroline.)[6]

Now, in March 1861, Lucy too was being separated from her parents and siblings. Thomas Paden’s plantation was about a mile west of Judge Paden’s house, a little south, as noted, of the intersection of present day Decatur and Springdale Roads, in the modern day Druid Hills neighborhood. She presumably was able to see her family from time to time, but the move must have been traumatic for the little girl and her loved ones.

Why did Judge Paden choose to transfer young Lucy to his eldest son Thomas on this day? The  late days of March 1861 were ones of enormous national tension as the fate of besieged Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor remained uncertain and war loomed on the horizon. Open warfare  would not officially begin until the morning of April 12, when Confederate batteries opened fire upon Fort Sumter, but throughout March pro-Confederate fervor ran high in Georgia and plans were already being made for military mobilization. Perhaps the Judge anticipated that his son would soon enter into Confederate military service and wanted to provide Thomas’s wife, Nancy Caroline Guess Paden (1819–1904), with household help during Thomas’ upcoming absence. Or it may be that the timing of the transfer was coincidental; many people in Georgia, after all, did not anticipate that the North would fight to preserve the Union.[7]

In any event, a little more three years later, the day after W. J. Houston received the receipt for the oats was a momentous one for the enslaved people on the Paden plantations. General Jacob Dolson Cox, whose 3rd Division was part of Schonfield’s advancing army, occupied Judge Paden’s house as his temporary headquarters on the evening of July 19. Union soldiers camped that night in what is now the CVS parking lot in Emory Village. It seems likely that Union officers would have informed the enslaved people on the Paden plantations that under the terms of the Emancipation Proclamation they were now legally free.

True freedom, however, would be delayed for many months. After Judge Paden’s death, in December 1864, his property was divided among his heirs in January 1865; in the eyes of the DeKalb County Court, slavery was still fully operational.  A dozen enslaved people were distributed, tearing apart several families, including Lucy’s relatives. Lucy, now owned by Thomas N. Paden, was not herself redistributed, but her parents, Jerry and Grace, were sent about seventy miles northwest of Atlanta to be enslaved by Judge Paden’s daughter Elizabeth Paden Strange. Lucy, then around ten years old, must have feared she would never see her mother again.

However, within five years, the family was reunited. The 1870 census records the following household living in Atlanta:

Jerry Paten age 63  (b. 1807, born in Virginia), farm laborer

Grace Paten, age 60 (b .1810 in South Carolina)

Jerry Paten   24  (b. 1846)

Rosanna Paten.  23 (b. 1847)

Lucy Paten,  16  (b. 1854), attending school

Sandy Paten,  12  (b. 1858 ),  attending school

William Daniels, age 23 (b.  1847)

Aaron Williams, age 22 (b. 1848)

I am not sure if William and Aaron, residing in the Paten household, were kin to the Patens. Ammi Williams, a major Atlanta-Decatur property owner, owned a plantation immediately north of the Padens (on the grounds that now include the Emory north campus and the Centers for Disease Control) on which were enslaved a number of people. It is possible that Aaron came off of that property.

Life must have been challenging for the newly freed Paten family in the 1870s, as they negotiated the sharecropping system, the end of Reconstruction, and the mounting strictures and disenfranchisements of the segregation era. Yet we know that Lucy and Sandy were pursuing their education, and were together once more with their loved ones, facing the uncertain future together.

What’s in a Receipt?

Pondering these two brief documents, it is worth reflecting on what precisely is involved in a receipt. It is formally a minimal contract, ratifying a commodity-based transaction between buyer and seller, or giver and receiver, as property moves from one party to another. Yet, as we have seen, receipts can evoke a good deal more than that, including traces of lives lived in the relative shadows, whose full existence is not fully recognized by the legally authorized figures who receive and relinquish property in the recorded transaction.

Karl Marx long ago noted insightfully that property is not so much a relationship between a person and an object as it is a relationship between people through objects. Those people, whose labor makes possible the transferred objects, may not even be mentioned in the legal record; the enslaved individuals who plowed the fields, harvested the oats, and who perhaps were ordered to feed and tend to the horses, are nowhere noted in the July 1864 receipt. While Lucy is notated in the 1861 receipt, and her appraised value of six hundred dollars is recorded, her personhood is emphatically not acknowledged in the document. She is legally only chattel, a token of value to be transacted at the whim of her owners. Her value of course was bound up in her reproductive potential; the appraisers must have anticipated that she would give birth to many future enslaved children, who would in turn increase the wealth of Thomas Paden.

And yet, behind the receipts are the lives of so many people who performed uncompensated labor on behalf of their white masters, including the families of Irwin and Priscilla Powell, and Jerry and Grace Paten, who would see their families torn apart during the slavery era, and then struggle to preserve their families’ integrity against all odds.

Finally, we might give some thought to the horses themselves, being fed the oats that day, July 18, 1864, during a brief interim between hostilities. We do not know how many horses carried the cavalrymen of Company C of the 1st Georgia Regiment, but we can assume many of them did not survive the coming rifle and artillery fire, as General Wheeler’s regiments tried in vain to slow Sherman’s progress towards Atlanta. For some, presumably, those oats were their final meal, as they and their equine brethren on both sides of the conflict were sacrificed in the bloody maw of war. From that violent conflict, to be sure, would emerge the liberation of four million souls, and, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “a new birth of freedom.” Yet, as we honor the lives of the formerly enslaved Powells and Patens in freedom, and celebrate all those who built new worlds in the aftermath of Emancipation, we should also allow these two receipts to stand as quiet memorials to all those, human and nonhuman alike, who did not live to see the war’s conclusion in April 1865.

Acknowledgements: This research was made possible by support from the Ginger Smith University Archives Fund for the Travel Award from the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University. I am grateful to the staff at the Rose; the DeKalb County Historical Society; the Probate and Real Estate divisions of the DeKalb County, Georgia Courthouse; the Georgia State Archives, Georgia Division of Archives and History; and the Kenan Research Center (Atlanta History Center) for their assistance and guidance. Special thanks to Gordon Jones, Curator of Civil War History, Atlanta History Center, Ginger Hicks Smith, Emory University archivist emerita, John Bence, Emory University archivist, and Rev. Dr. Avis Williams.


For further reading on the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, the Battle of Atlanta, and the work of memory, please see:

Daniel Pollack.  Spectacles of American Nationalism: The Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama Painting and The Birth of a Nation. Southern Spaces. July 19, 2021.

[1] Marcus Joseph Wright, Tennessee in the War, 1861-1865; Lists of Military Organizations and Officers from Tennessee in Both the Confederate and Union Armies; General Staff Officers of the Provisional Army of Tennessee, Appointed by Governor Isham G. Harris (Williamsbridge, New York City: A. Lee Publishing Company, 1908).

[2] A brief regimental history records a Captain J. U. Irwin with the First Cavalry, slightly misidentifying the officer who signed the receipt. Tennesseans in the Civil War, Vol 1. 1964. Civil War Centennial Commission of Tennessee.

[3] DeKalb County Deeds;  Richard Houston Sams (personal communication).

[4] Confederate Papers Relating to Citizens or Business Firms, 1861–65, National Archives. I am grateful to Gordon Jones of the Atlanta History Center for calling these transactions to my attention.

[5] United Daughters of the Confederacy Collection. MSS 765,  Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center.

[6] A copy of James Paden’s will is in the Asa Griggs Candler collections, MSS 001, Stuart A. Rose Library, Emory University.

[7] Thomas N. Paden was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Company, DeKalb County, Georgia Militia on March 21, 1864, as the Atlanta Campaign loomed. (United Daughters of the Confederacy Collection, MSS 765, Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center).

The Dooley Statue

To the best of my recollection, this is how the the statue of Dooley came to Emory.

The initial idea belonged to Lance Henry, an economics and music major who graduated from Emory College in 2007. He had an interest in Emory history and once proposed resurrecting the name of the first Emory student publication – The Collard Leaf, from before the Civil War – to create an alternative to the Emory Wheel and the Emory Phoenix. When he approached me about getting the new publication started, we got so far as designing a banner and recruiting writers, but waning interest and lack of funds meant that the Collard Leaf never sprouted.

Determined, I suppose, to leave his mark at Emory somehow, Lance next proposed erecting a statue of Dooley. His vision was to mount it on top of the old Dobbs University Center (replaced by the current student center) – like the statue atop the U.S. Capitol – with Dooley facing east, toward his home in Oxford. This seemed self-defeating to me – how would anyone see Dooley a hundred feet above them on top of a fairly flat dome? – but I agreed to help him see whether the notion of a Dooley statue somewhere on campus could get traction. Lance took the proposal to the Student Government Association, which offered encouragement but no funding.

To gauge campus interest, we created a survey to see which Emory students had any knowledge of Dooley and whether attitudes toward Dooley were mostly positive or negative. Unsurprisingly, far more undergraduates knew about Dooley than graduate or professional students, and while the undergraduates varied, a majority leaned positive.

After discussing the proposal with the Public Art Committee, and with the help of Linda Armstrong, Kerry Moore, and other members of the Visual Arts Department, the Traditions and History Committee published a national request for proposals in Art Papers and Sculpture magazine, asking sculptors for credentials and photographs of representative work. We received nineteen responses, and after reviewing all of the materials, a selection committee invited four artists to present models of their proposed statue of Dooley. The artists came from Maryland, Atlanta, Washington State, and Chicago; one was an alumna.

In early 2007 we brought the artists to the Visual Arts Studio to meet with the selection committee, who included members of the Visual Arts Department, the Public Art Committee, and the Traditions and History Committee. Of the four presentations, one clearly stood out – the model presented by Matthew Gray Palmer, of Friday Harbor, Washington. Among his many sample photos, we saw sculptures of birds and animals that were constructed of thin metal plates curved, cut, and attached in a way that suggested shape but also latent and kinetic energy. His model for Dooley used the same technique. The accurate representation of a life-size skeleton appeared to be hurrying forward and leaving in its wake an enlivening rush of wind and energy – just what one would expect from the “spirit” of a place. Whimsically, Matthew shows Dooley casting aside his skeleton costume to reveal that underneath, he is really — a skeleton! A mystery within an enigma.

The model presented by Matthew Gray Palmer.

Installation of the sculpture required approval of a series of committees as well as the board of trustees. We presented the model and the site proposal to the full Public Art Committee and to the Real Estate, Buildings, and Grounds (REBG) Committee of the board. The minutes of the May 23, 2007, meeting of the REBG Committee state:

Dr. Gary Hauk joined the meeting with a model of the Dooley statue designed by Matthew Gray Palmer. This design is the culmination of student surveys and a national sculptor search. The design has received affirmations by the Public Art Committee, the Art History Department, and the Visual Arts Program. The statue will be constructed in either bronze or steel and will be placed between the Anthropology Building and the roundabout on Asbury Circle. The Emory Alumni Association will be asked to support fundraising for the project, estimated at $85,000.

The committee approved the statue, as did the board at its meeting the following month.

We commissioned Matthew to complete the sculpture, which took about eight months. In addition to funds for the sculpture, we had to find money for the site preparation. Much of the funding came from donors, with the balance coming from a university landscape fund. The campus community gathered for the dedication of the sculpture in September 2008.

Campus reaction was mixed. One longtime faculty member, at Emory for more than three decades, told me that it was the best addition to the campus in years. Some admired the statue’s sense of grace and dash. Others, however, thought the statue was (like Dooley himself, in their view) “ghoulish” or disturbingly dark.

Almost immediately the statue became a mannequin to be adorned with costumes appropriate to the season, whether hearts for Valentine’s Day, a green headband for St. Patrick’s Day, beads for Mardi Gras, or whatever fit the theme of Dooley’s Week in a given year. His outstretched top hat often contained coins dropped in by passersby presumably inviting good luck.

One online commentator (at ) remarked, “Immortal public art often takes time to be accepted. The same will likely be true for Lord Dooley. . . . Dooley is proof that college is still a place where ideas can flow and shape freely, even if the end result is a scary skeleton that reminds people that they will die. And when the cultural pendulum eventually swings and campuses again resemble a 1970s Grateful Dead concert, Emory students will say that they have the most freakin’ awesome mascot ever. And they will be right.”

Mourning Hank Aaron

The death of Hank Aaron on January 22 reminded me of his receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Emory at Commencement in 1995. When the University celebrated the man who broke racial barriers along with Babe Ruth’s home run record, the occasion seemed to call for the citation writer — me — to swing for the fences too. And if I couldn’t hit the ball over the fence with my words, at least I could summon an echo of poetry. Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” came to mind, with its line that “good fences make good neighbors.”

Emory president Bill Chace presents Hank Aaron his honorary Doctor of Laws diploma as board chairman Brad Currey looks on.

Home-Run King, Diligent Citizen:

A young man not yet able to vote,

you left family and home to follow your life’s great calling.

North and South you pursued, as well,

your nation’s destiny of colorblind opportunity.

Along the way you entered the large and consequential realm

of American myth. Through perseverance and fortitude,

you showed good fences make good targets.

In our springtime of anxiety about America’s pastime and future,

your career—in baseball and since—reminds us that,

however simple the games of our youth,

our collective history has no simple eras.

For your heart—its strength and striving toward good

and for your hands—their power and building of good

we confer on you the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

You can see more about Hank Aaron and his relationship with Emory here.

In a day when plenty of fences still divide us, our country owes great thanks to this American hero. Thank you, Henry Louis Aaron, for helping us to see that we can change society for the better without violence, but with courage, truth, and hope.

Gary Hauk

Emory Historian Emeritus

Emory and the 1918–20 Pandemic

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, many questions have come up about the impact of the 1918-20 pandemic on Emory. How did that terrible influenza more than a hundred years ago affect life on campus for students, faculty, and staff? What role did Emory’s new medical school play in battling the pandemic, if any? How did Wesley Memorial Hospital (later Emory University Hospital) respond in its location in downtown Atlanta? (The hospital moved to Druid Hills in 1922.)

When the virus hit in 1918, Emory college was still located on its original campus, in Oxford, Georgia, while the schools of theology, law, and medicine had barely gotten a start on the Druid Hills campus, which opened in 1916. The student body on both campuses was small, and both campuses were somewhat isolated from major population centers. Still, the 1918–20 influenza pandemic infected millions of Americans and killed more than 31,000 Georgians in 1918 alone.

Caelan Bailey, a first-year student at Oxford College of Emory University, has written the most thorough history of that earlier pandemic as well as the current pandemic in the context of Emory. I’m grateful to her and to the Emory Wheel, where the story was originally published, for permission to repost the story here.

Gary Hauk

Emory University Historian, Emeritus

The 1918 Pandemic: Then and Now

by Caelan Bailey

Copyright, The Emory Wheel

November 18, 2020

When a virulent disease upended Katherine Anne Porter’s life, the author turned to writing to process her experience. 

“All the theaters and nearly all the shops and restaurants are closed, and the streets have been full of funerals all day and ambulances all night,” Porter wrote.

While the scene may sound familiar in 2020, that excerpt is from “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Porter’s 1937 collection of short stories largely based on her experience surviving the 1918 influenza pandemic, commonly known as “The Spanish Flu.”

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

October marked 102 years since the deadliest month in American history when 195,000 Americans succumbed to the Spanish Flu. The peak of the pandemic came in the fall of 1918 and by the end of 1919, the disease left a total of 50 million deaths, 675,000 of whom were Americans.

Despite its immense toll, with influenza deaths surpassing those of coinciding World War I, Emory pediatrician and medical historian Dr. Hughes Evans noted that knowledge of the 1918 pandemic was not widespread until recent decades.

“For a long time, people called the 1918 epidemic America’s forgotten epidemic because it was as if it never happened,” Evans said. “No one talked about it, no one taught about it, no one read about it.”

Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, global deaths have reached one million worldwide. By press time, the New York Times estimated that 246,879 Americans and 8,740 Georgians have died of COVID-19. 

“It’s useful to make a comparison [between 1918 and 2020] only to say that the virus is the public health crisis of the century,” said Dean of the Rollins School of Public Health Dr. James Curran. “We’ve not had anything like this in a hundred years that has such worldwide impact and such consequences — economic consequences, other health consequences, international consequences.”

While the specific origin of the 1918 strain of influenza is unknown, the first outbreak occurred in March 1918 at Camp Funston in Kansas, according to John M. Barry’s “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History.” Troop movement during World War I facilitated its spread throughout Europe and the world, likely mutating along the way to become deadlier to humans by its second wave.

The disease was later dubbed the “Spanish flu,” which was largely due to Spain’s reporting of the sickness when no other countries did, according to infectious disease expert Dr. Robert Gaynes of the Emory School of Medicine. 

“When it began to occur in Spain, they reported it,” Gaynes said. “People erroneously believed it started there.”

Today, the World Health Organization uses “Spanish flu” as an “example to be avoided” in the naming of new diseases, advising against including geographic locations in names of viruses. President Donald Trump’s use of “China virus” to describe COVID-19 has endured similar criticism.

Unlike most viruses, including COVID-19, the 1918 influenza largely impacted young and healthy people. Gaynes said as fear grew about the swiftly acting disease, the phrase “well at breakfast, sick at lunch and dead by dinner” became popular.

Medicine at the time, according to Evans, was in its “pre-virology days.” 

“They knew it was a respiratory infection,” Evans said. “They thought it was probably bacterial, although I think there was some vague understanding that there may be something else going on.”

In Georgia, the disease first appeared in September 1918 at Camp Gordon, a temporary military training camp outside of Atlanta. Military officials placed the camp under quarantine, with reports of “iron-clad sanitary precautions being forced on each man at the camp.” Nurses were in short supply.

However, by Oct. 4, 1918, the Georgia State Health Board issued a warning as influenza showed “a considerable presence,” advising that “the epidemic now sweeping the country must be intelligently met or a vast toll of suffering and many deaths will result.”

In Atlanta, doctors reported 230 influenza cases in early October and the city instated a “ban on public gatherings” as the police force was “instructed to keep vigilant watch over persons who expectorate in the streets.” As the Red Cross opened work rooms to sew masks, health authorities assured the public that there was “no reason for alarm.” 

The Atlanta History Center noted public outcry in October 1918 as movie theatres closed to prevent the spread, citing former President Woodrow Wilson’s own continued patronage. Outdoor entertainment like the Georgia state fair and college football games, however, continued with masked crowds, as they do today.

By the end of October 1918, The Atlanta Constitution ran the headline “Influenza Showing Decrease in State.” A health official credited the “early closing of schools, churches, theaters, and other places of public assembly” for the “relatively small number of cases in Georgia.” By November, the Atlanta city health officer announced the threat had subsided. 

In the Georgia State Board of Health report for 1918, officials wrote, “We will never know how many succumbed to the disease in Georgia, but the death rate has been high.” With 30,768 instances recorded, influenza was listed as the leading cause of death.

According to Oxford College’s Dean of Campus Life Joseph Moon, Emory College chose its original location in Oxford, Georgia, because it was away from coastal marshes that harbored diseases like malaria, although influenza spread would theoretically not have been impacted.

In 1918, when it was still a white men’s college, Emory began its last school year on Oxford campus. There is a gap in University records for that time, for which archivists credit the move to Atlanta and World War I. Oxford campus partially converted into a military training camp during this time. 

At the end of the school year, Atlanta University, now Clark Atlanta University, extended its academic calendar by two weeks in the summer “to make up for time lost in the fall on account of the influenza.” 

In June 1919, however, The Atlanta Constitution reported on “the historic final Oxford commencement of Emory college,” writing it was “delightful.” The paper made no note of influenza.

The newly amalgamated Emory University School of Medicine and School of Nursing were active in treating the outbreak both in Atlanta and abroad, mobilizing medical resources as Emory’s schools are today with COVID-19.

The School of Nursing’s 1918 annual report stated “very few cases” of influenza were recorded among nurses at the school and “none were serious,” although the house physician “contracted the disease and died.” The school was “very much handicapped this year for want of lecturers,” although the report was unclear about the purpose of doctors’ absences.

University Historian Emeritus Gary Hauk wrote about a group of Emory doctors and nurses dubbed “The Emory Unit” who established Base Hospital 43 in France, where they treated influenza patients during the third global wave in 1919.

Barry underscored that during those past epidemics, “governors and mayors, and nearly all the newspapers insisted that this was influenza, only influenza.” Meanwhile, the Public Health Service sent out six million copies of an informational flyer whose “warning to avoid crowds came too late to do much good.”

According to Gaynes, the recurrence of influenza to this day is due to changes in molecules on the outside of the virus that specifically trigger mammals’ immune responses. In 1918, the shift of both at the same time caused such a virulent strain. The virus then causes a “cytokine storm,” where immune cells leak too much typically helpful liquid, which leads those afflicted to “essentially drown in their own fluid.” 

Medicine was ill-equipped to respond. In the Georgia State Board of Health’s original statement, it incorrectly identified the cause of influenza as “influenza bacillus,” a bacteria scientists could inconsistently isolate from patients. Scientists developed a vaccine to treat the bacteria, and the board wrote that their “laboratory forces cannot begin to supply the demand for this vaccine.”

Barry wrote that “no medicine and none of the vaccines developed then could prevent influenza.” He added that due to the presence of improved antibiotics today, “modern medicine could likely prevent significantly more than half of those deaths” in a modern-day 1918 pandemic. 

Despite such improvements, the danger of a potential epidemic still loomed. 

“We were worried about a H1N1 flu epidemic a few years ago and no one thought it was going to be as bad as 1918 but we were concerned that it was going to be quite a disruption,” Curran said. “COVID has really been as bad as we were worried about H1N1 flu. … We have a new organism which seems to, in some cases, defy treatment and has kind of taken over the world.”

Evans highlighted that medicine has been “decreasing the deadliness” of COVID-19 by tailoring treatments for those infected. Curran emphasized that the over 5,000 patients admitted to Emory Hospital “do really quite well compared to the national average with COVID.”

In a recent interview, Barry underscored that COVID-19 is a slower spreading and less deadly disease than influenza, although they share similarities in respiratory transmission, ability to affect various organs and novel demands on public health. 

Regarding long term effects, Barry added, “In 1918, there were complications that didn’t surface at all until the 1920s. We just don’t know.”

Doctors have reported strokes and seizures associated with COVID-19. Recent research has documented a range of neurological effects in hospitalized patients and there have been recent instances of “brain fog” after those infected recover.

Evans noted that masks in 1918 that were often made out of gauze or other thin fabrics likely did little to protect people. PBS’s American Experience compared wearing a mask to combat the 1918 influenza to “trying to keep out dust with chicken wire.” In contrast, modern masks significantly reduce COVID-19 spread.

Distancing procedures, however, have remained as effective a century later.

“The main method has always been there,” Barry said. “Social distancing is more important than anything else.” 

World War I was a critical cultural context for the influenza outbreak as well. Barry wrote, “the preservation of morale itself became an aim” for the Wilson administration. When the pandemic threatened the war effort, Wilson “express[ed] concern about shipping troops to Europe,” but otherwise “continued to say nothing publicly.”

Wilson contracted influenza in the spring of 1919 amid peace negotiations, leading some to draw parallels to Trump’s recent contraction of the virus after dismissing ts threat.

When state and city health officials spoke on the virus, they denied the severity of influenza to maintain wartime morale, quickly losing the public’s trust. 

“It is impossible to quantify how many deaths the lies caused,” Barry wrote.

Curran expanded on this lack of government transparency, saying, “Public health is always political because we’re trying to save the lives of groups of people. … [There] are different political considerations that require consistent leadership at the state and federal level to bring people together.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, inconsistent directives on mask-wearing have stood in the way of establishing mask-wearing as the public-health norm. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit against Atlanta’s mask-mandate over the summer before dropping it in Aug. and shifting his position to allow local mandates. Georgia local governments have since passed 25 mask mandates.

In 1919, influenza receded despite the lack of an effective vaccine. According to Evans, influenza viruses “kind of just peter away.” With COVID-19, numerous people have asked Curran: When’s it going to be over? Where’s the magic bullet?

“It’s very clear the vaccine is not going to be the answer, it’s going to be hopefully another tool,” Curran said. “We don’t really know exactly what’s going to happen.”

Curran noted Emory’s ability to control COVID-19 case numbers, largely due to the accessibility of asymptomatic testing, contacting tracing, mandated masking and distancing on campus. 

In September 1919, The Atlanta Constitution published an excerpt from the U.S. Health Service’s Flu Warning: “The most promising way to deal with a possible recurrence of the influenza epidemic is to sum it up in a single word, ‘preparedness.’ And now is the time to prepare.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is not our first. Yet even after 102 years, Americans were ill-prepared for another. 

“This is the public health crisis of my lifetime and our century,” Curran said. “I think there will be a recognition of the shortcomings and needs for public health going into the future. Save your masks. I think that they’ll come in handy after COVID is over.”

Caelan Bailey (22Ox, 24C) is from Charleston, South Carolina.

Remembering John Lewis

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Congressman John Lewis delivering the Commencement address at Emory in May 2014.

John Lewis’s death on July 17 marked the passing of a great American and a good friend to Emory. He was our representative in Congress and a frequent visitor to campus, where he delivered the Commencement address in 2014 and the Oxford Commencement address in 2019. An endowed chair in the law school honors him.
His leaving us prompted me to dig out the citation I wrote when he received the Emory President’s Medal in 1999. Unthinkingly, I had scheduled his speech and the award ceremony for the first Sunday afternoon in February, the beginning of Founders Week at Emory–oops, also Super Bowl Sunday! Happily, the program was scheduled before the big game, and Glenn Memorial filled with an audience eager to hear this American hero.
The reference to his “cooped-up compassion” was an inside joke for him, who recounts in his autobiography, “Walking with the Wind,” that he used to preach to the family chickens in the hen house when he was a child.
Gary Hauk
John Robert Lewis
Son of Alabama, Midwife of a Revolution, Walker with the Wind:
Thank God for the adamantine hardness of your head,
upon whose fractured skull broke waves of arrogance—
arrogance that saw its doom in the patient marching,
the willing endurance
of those who did not have enough
but by God had surely had enough.
Thank God for the caged-bird heart of you,
in whom childhood’s cooped-up compassion grew large
to embrace the one wielding a weapon against you
as well as the beaten-down.
Thank God for those sturdy feet
that walked the fifty-four miles from Selma to Montgomery
and trod the floors of Woolworth’s and W. T. Grant and Kress
in search of lunch-counter hospitality—
those feet that know the halls of Congress
and remember the furrows of a sharecropper’s cotton field.
Thank God for the ears that listen for the Spirit of History,
the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.
Built for the long haul, built for holding on to truth,
you clasp to you the moral outrage bursting from your soul
but also the hope that infuses the weak with strength,
with power as a mighty river of truth.
Make it clear, John Robert Lewis:
You have had your rides in paddy wagons,
those freedom chariots.
You have had your forty arrests,
your forty years in the wilderness,
your forty days and nights on the mountain
in a drama of good and evil, no less.
We do not come to sanctify you today, however;
we will not make of you a stained-glass saint.
Our day, no less than a generation ago, requires
that ALL be mobilizers,
that ALL clarify blurred vision,
that ALL reject self-interest and seek the common good.
Our day requires the principles of nonviolence and democracy.
Our day requires that decency rise above difference,
honesty above pride,
and conscience above the world’s beguilement.
By this award we pledge not adulation but common cause
in the effort to live as the Beloved Community
on a scale that encompasses all.
Humbly acknowledging the humility that motivated you,
we bestow on you the Emory President’s Medal.


The Quad as Coke Bottle?

More frequently than one might guess, the question pops up: Is the Emory Quadrangle deliberately shaped like a Coke bottle? Given the historic and long relationship of Emory College and Emory University to the Candlers, the Woodruffs, and the Coca-Cola Company, the question is understandable.

Here is Exhibit A—the Quad.

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Here is Exhibit B, which needs no explanation.

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Here’s what I know. Emory University received its charter in DeKalb County on January 25, 1915. The Emory board of trustees commissioned Henry Hornbostel to design the new campus of the University in 1915. The Coca-Cola Company patented its uniquely shaped bottle in 1915. Coincidence?

I think so but am uncertain.

Let’s start with the design by Hornbostel. He originally intended the Quad area to be a large courtyard between what is now Convocation Hall and what is now Carlos Hall, closest to the bottom of the image below. He envisioned a tall and grand building where the flagpole now rises from the center of the Quad, but of course that expensive structure was never built. Beyond that tower Hornbostel extended a lawn stretching toward where Candler Library now stands. Had that large central building been constructed, there would be no bottle-like shape at all.

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Moreover, the 1915 Coca-Cola bottle, shown below, was much fatter in the middle than the current bottle and was shaped rather like a python that swallowed a rabbit. (The Coca-Cola Company website offers a timeline with images of the different bottles used for the beverage.) So had Hornbostel wanted to imitate that 1915 bottle, the Quad would have looked very different—more round in the middle and pinched at the ends.

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Prototype of 1915 Coca-Cola bottle.

The current configuration of the Quad came about somewhat haphazardly. The Callaway Center South opened in 1919 as the Physics Building and was renovated and renamed in 1993. The building across from it opened more than three decades later, as the History Building (renovated and renamed Bowden Hall in 1991). This was long after the roadway circling the Quad—Kilgo Circle (now mostly gone)—was already in place. So Bowden Hall had to fit between the roadway and the Quad.

If campus planners had wanted to shape the Quad to look like a Coke bottle, they certainly failed. As the campus map below shows, the “top of the bottle,” between Callaway and Bowden, is not perfectly symmetrical, and the middle of the Quad doesn’t have the curvature of the Coke bottle.

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If anything, the Quad looks more like an old-fashioned milk bottle than a Coca-Cola bottle.

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Is the Coke-bottle Quad a real thing? Probably not. But thinking about it offers a pause that refreshes.

Gary Hauk

Emory and the Vietnam War: Evolution of a Community’s Confidence

Continuing the series of posts written by students in my “History of Emory” course last year, I offer here an excellent brief account of changing student views at Emory during the Vietnam War. The author, Zach Ball, was a sophomore at the time.

Gary Hauk


The Vietnam War was the preeminent American military conflict of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the central focus of our foreign policy for over a decade. Throughout the course of the war, public confidence regarding its rationale — to stop the spread of Communism — waned drastically, and a nationwide counterculture movement led by young people served to further erode support for the effort. In this way, the war was waged on two fronts: as a military operation in Vietnam and as a battle for the hearts and minds of the US public.

Like many institutions of higher education, Emory University was heavily affected by the Vietnam War, and the views of students, faculty, and administrative figures towards the conflict, as expressed through newspaper articles and public statements, varied and evolved significantly as the war raged on.

As tensions between the United States and North Vietnam began to escalate in 1966, the student body generally seemed to support the increasing American military presence in Vietnam. In February of that year, a prowar student organization named Affirmation Vietnam held a successful rally at the Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium in support of the conflict. The event drew more than 15,000 attendees, including Emory’s president, Sanford Atwood, as well as Georgia’s  governor and  US Senators and Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

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At the same time, there was some backlash against the administration for providing student funds to prowar campus organizations. One Emory Wheel article argued that this action constituted a political stance by Emory leaders, and one that many dissenting students would not appreciate, because their tuition money was being used to fund efforts with which they vehemently disagreed.

By the end of the 1960s, student opinion about the war seemed to be changing, as students and faculty opposed to the war continuously pushed the Atwood administration to take steps in an antiwar direction. Atwood joined other university presidents in signing on to an October 1969 letter to President Richard Nixon urging a de-escalation of American involvement in Vietnam, and arguing against the war’s divisive nature and the resources being drained from domestic business and educational institutions.

In the years that followed, students and faculty alike became increasingly disillusioned with the war, failing to discern a sufficient justification for the increasing body count. In October 1971, religion professor Dr. Eugene Bianchi wrote a lengthy, impassioned op-ed in the Wheel criticizing the war on moral grounds, viewing its continuation as a vehicle for defense contractor corruption and unwarranted American exceptionalism abroad. A longtime advocate for peace, Bianchi joined Emory students in the early 1970s in antiwar demonstrations, which increased in number as the war grew more and more unpopular.

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By 1972, it seemed overwhelmingly clear that the majority of Emory’s campus was no longer happy about the American presence in Southeast Asia. That year, a demonstration on the Quadrangle drew nearly a thousand students, who demanded action on the second anniversary of the Kent State shootings that had left four students dead. Emory’s student body had grown weary of the war and called for withdrawal of troops from the region.

The Vietnam War challenged the Emory community’s resilience, and the sentiments of students toward the conflict changed greatly over the course of several years. Although the students’ activities stoked division at times, their passion at each stage provides valuable insight into the commitment of Emory students to engage with moral dilemmas of the day and to offer their best judgement in resolving them.

Zach Ball 21C



Geffen University — Otherwise Known as Emory!

As a new academic year at Emory begins, I take delight in sharing blog posts created by some of the students in my history of Emory course from the fall of 2018. These undergraduates dug into the University archives in Rose Library to write research papers, which they pared down to create the posts. I hope you enjoy their work. The first is by Isabella Cantor, who was a freshman in Emory College when she took the course.

Gary Hauk

The entwinement of the Geffen family with Emory formally began in the fall of 1919, with the enrollment of Joel Geffen 22C, the eldest son of Rabbi Tobias Geffen and Sara Hene Geffen. Emory had only recently established itself as a new university in Atlanta — perfect timing for Joel, who had just graduated from Boys’ High School.

As the story goes, Rabbi Geffen approached Chancellor Warren Candler regarding the admission of his son. He told Candler that he would like to send Joel to Emory University, but that Saturday classes would be a problem for the family. Until 1929, Emory held classes Tuesday through Saturday in order to give Christian students a Monday break after church on Sunday.[1] Because the Geffens were Orthodox Jews, the laws of Shabbat prevented them from riding buses or streetcars to Saturday classes, and prohibited them from taking notes and exams on Saturdays. The Chancellor, a Methodist bishop, promised Rabbi Geffen that not only would Emory be happy to accommodate Joel’s observance of Shabbat, but Joel would receive reduced tuition as the son of a clergy member. It did not seem to matter to Candler that Geffen was an Orthodox rabbi and not a Methodist minister.

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Cartoon from a 1954 article about the Geffen-Emory story in The Atlanta Journal

After Joel’s enrollment, five more children of Tobias and Sara Geffen would find their way to Emory. Despite the break in cost, it was nothing short of a miracle that a rabbi’s salary in 1920 could afford private university tuition for six children.

One of Tobias and Sara’s grandchildren, Peter Geffen, is the son of Rabbi Samuel Geffen 26C 31L (the third Geffen at Emory). For Peter, what was most impressive about his grandfather’s decision to send his children to college was that he did not limit the education to his sons. Despite his strong Litvak (Lithuanian) Jewish background, Rabbi Geffen firmly believed in women’s equality in education. Just as the Geffen sons studied the Talmud (a book of Jewish law) with their father, so did his daughters. To Rabbi Geffen, there was no distinction.

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Of eight Geffen children, six graduated from Emory University.

When Bessie Geffen graduated from Girls’ High School in 1926, she wanted to attend Emory just as her three older brothers had done. In addition to the issue of classes on Shabbat, however, another roadblock was in the way. Until 1953, Emory College enrolled few women, and no College undergraduate female students lived on campus. Rabbi Geffen spoke with the administration once again, and Bessie was admitted to the college’s education program, which did enroll female commuting students. Thus Bessie joined the class of 1929.[2]

The subject of Bessie’s admission to Emory was a frequent topic in the Geffen family newspaper, The Geffen Household. The family called the morning streetcar from South Atlanta to Druid Hills the “Emory Special,” which welcomed Bessie aboard. When she finally started school in the fall of 1926, the family joked that “[Emory does] not seem to ever get rid of the Geffens.”[3]

Rabbi Geffen raised his children with strong Jewish backgrounds, so when he sent his children off to a Methodist university, there was no concern that they would lose their Judaism. In fact, the Geffen family’s connection with Methodism turned into a bit of a running joke within the family. When Sam graduated from college, he was not able to march in the Commencement processional because he had to conduct the hymns from the platform. In an article about Bessie’s acceptance to Emory titled “Good Old Methodism,” the writer jokes that “John Wesley, noble as he is, has again saved a soul from damnation. The Geffen Household will again fill its seat in chapel with Bessie singing the stirring hymns.”[4]

An article published in 1954 in the Emory Alumnus tallies up the sixteen grandchildren of Tobias and Sarah Geffen and muses that “this adds up to a lot of prospective Emory Students.”[5] Of the sixteen, however, only one — Rabbi David Geffen 59C — ended up an Emory student. There are plenty of great-great-grandchildren, however, so perhaps a few more Geffens will enter our ranks soon.

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Louis Geffen 23C standing in front of Alabama Hall in Commencement regalia

Isabella Cantor

[1] “The Rabbi’s Children.” The Emory Alumnus.

[2] Jane Wilensky Ravid, email communications with author, November 11, 2018

[3] “Abie, Last Member to Attend Fair St. School Begins Final Year at Latter Institution,” The Geffen Household.

[4] “Good Old Methodism,” The Geffen Household.

[5] “The Rabbi’s Children.” The Emory Alumnus.