Today’s blog post was written by Lindsay Fasce, a senior history major and Heritage Protocol & University Archives intern.
As of 2017, the Florida State University has a vast international studies program, which offers just under 50 programs in over 15 countries around the world. This program has grown rapidly since the launch of the first study abroad program in the fall of 1966, when 120 university students traveled to Florence, Italy for an 8-month program in the historical city. While in Florence, the students and faculty witnessed the flooding of the city when the Arno River broke its banks and poured into the city streets. They joined the aid effort to help the city protect, salvage, and preserve the priceless works of art and manuscripts damaged in the flood.
As an intern with Heritage Protocol & University Archives, I was given the task of researching these students and the efforts they made to help the city of Florence. This project began just in time for the former students to return to Florida State University in April of 2017 for a 50th reunion celebration.
I started from the beginning, searching through the existing materials in the archives for information on the inaugural Florence program. I then read through and studied all the donated materials from the alumni. I was able to use the materials I found with those donated to the archives recently to attain a better understanding of what happened leading up to the flood and the events succeeding the flood.
In 1964, Dean Dr. Ross Oglesby brought a group of Flying High Circus students on a performance tour through Europe. While in Europe, Dr. Oglesby was inspired by his surroundings and developed the idea for a study abroad program that would be conducted in the historical Italian city of Florence. The idea developed into a program, and with the help of a Florence Committee under President Blackwell, the program opened in the fall semester of 1966 headed by Dr. Conrad Tanzy.
Students interested in the program received brochures with information on the program costs, the curriculum, faculty, the facilities, and the application process. Once the applications were turned in and interviews conducted, 120 students were chosen to participate in the inaugural Florence study abroad program. Not only were the students and their families excited about the Florence program, the communities of the chosen students began to cover their stories and interview them on their upcoming historical trip. After months of preparation, the selected students flew out of New York on August 1, 1966, and arrived in Florence on September 1, 1966, for eight months of study in Italy.
The students and faculty were housed in the Hotel Capri, located close to the heart of Florence, just west of the Arno River. The Hotel Capris was not the first facility considered to house the program when Dr. Oglesby was developing and planning the idea of a study abroad program with the Florence Committee. While in Europe in 1964, he met an Italian Countess in Florence who wanted to sell her Villa to the University to use for the program. Florida State University officials informed the committee that the University, as an institution, could not buy property and they would have to find accommodations elsewhere. The program was then moved to the Hotel Capri, as its size could efficiently handle the program and its location was advantageous to the students and faculty studying in Florence.
The first days of November brought unwavering heavy rains that filled the dams along the Arno River. On November 4, 1966, the waters of the Arno River broke through the embankment and flooded Florence. Flood waters reached threatening levels in the blocks surrounding the river and caused damage as well as casualties. When the flood waters receded, it left deep deposits of mud and silt in its wake, mixed with spilled oil from cars caught in the flood. The mud made rescue and clean-up efforts difficult, and every passing day added to the destruction of the priceless art works and manuscripts housed in Florence. The Hotel Capris, the home of the FSU Florence program, was far enough away from the river where damage was minimal and all the students were safe, but the hotel was without power. The students had the choice to travel back home, but all the students and faculty decided to remain in Florence. President John E. Champion sent letters to the guardians of the students informing them of the situation and the students’ decision to stay in Florence.
Volunteers that aided in flood relief efforts were later called the “gli angeli del fango,” or “Mud Angels.” Among these Mud Angels were Florida State students who assisted volunteers with digging through the mud and oil to preserve priceless artwork and manuscripts. The students trudged through the mud every day to libraries and churches to help with disaster recovery, then returned to their hotel covered in mud which still had no power or running water. After many days of aid work, the risk to the student’s health grew too great and the students and faculty were sent to Rome until conditions improved. In Rome, the students were awarded a certificate by the City of Rome officials for all their efforts to aid Florence and were even thanked by Pope Paul VI. In March 1967, the students left Florence and returned home safe. In 2016, the 50th anniversary of the flood, the students were invited back to Florence to be awarded and thanked for all their efforts.
In honor of the 152nd anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, we are re-posting an entry that was originally published on March 6th, 2013 by Eddie Woodward.
Almost from its inception, there had been a military and cadet component at West Florida Seminary (1851-1901), predecessor to Florida State University. With the commencement of the Civil War in 1861, this aspect of the school’s curriculum increased in importance, so much so that the State Legislature proposed changing the name of the institution to the Florida Collegiate and Military Institute. Throughout the War, the students served as something of a home guard, occasionally guarding Union prisoners of war and always on call in the event of a Federal threat to the capitol. In early March 1865, that threat was realized when word came that a Union fleet had landed troops on the Gulf coast at the St. Marks lighthouse with the probable intention of capturing the capitol in Tallahassee.
The invading forces, commanded by Brigadier General John Newton, moved northward from the coast, hoping to cross the St. Marks River at Newport and attack St. Marks from the rear. Local militia was called out to delay the Union advance, and among those were cadets from West Florida Seminary. At noon on March 5, the cadet corps assembled at the school and marched to the state capitol where they were enlisted and sworn into Confederate service. The cadet’s principal, Captain Valentine M. Johnson then led them to the Tallahassee train station for their journey southward to meet the invaders. Johnson was a veteran and had served honorably in the Confederate Army until 1863 when he was forced to resign for health reasons. It is nearly impossible to accurately determine the number of cadets that participated in the campaign. However, reasonable estimates put the number at around twenty-five, with their known ages ranging from eleven to eighteen. At the train station, Johnson filtered out those cadets, mostly the youngest of the corps, that would not participate. Others were left behind to continue their home guard duties and to man fortifications as a last line of the capitol’s defense.
The cadets and other Confederate troops boarded a train in Tallahassee which carried them south to Wakulla Station on the St. Marks Railroad. From there, they marched six miles to the small village of Newport. There, in the late afternoon on March 5, they joined forces with a portion of Lieutenant Colonel George Washington Scott’s 5th Florida Cavalry Battalion and a small contingent of Confederate marines and militia. Scott’s men had skirmished with the Federal troops the previous day, gradually falling back from the East River Bridge toward Newport. It was at that bridge that the Union forces hoped to cross the St. Marks River, enabling them to move against St. Marks and perhaps Tallahassee. At Newport, the cadets occupied a line of breastworks running parallel to the river along its west bank. From there, they commanded the approaches to the East River Bridge, which Scott’s men had partially burned. Federal troops on the opposite side of the river still hoped to force their way across and a skirmish soon developed. By nightfall, the firing diminished, and everyone waited in their positions to see if the Federals would resume the conflict the next morning. It was in those trenches on the banks of the St. Marks River that the young cadets from the West Florida Seminary received their baptism of fire.
Newton, frustrated in his efforts to cross the St. Marks River at Newport, learned of another crossing upriver at Natural Bridge. At that location, the St. Marks River ran underground for a short distance, creating a natural crossing point. In anticipation of such a move, the Confederate General William Miller positioned Scott’s cavalry at Natural Bridge with orders to delay a crossing until reinforcements could arrive. At dawn on March 6, a battle erupted with the Federal forces unable to force their way across the span. The cadets were soon ordered out of their entrenchments at the East River Bridge and marched along the Old Plank Road to reinforce Scott’s men at Natural Bridge. One mile from the battlefield, two cadets peeled off to aid the wounded at a field hospital. The rest continued on, all the while the sounds of cannon and musket fire growing louder.
When they reached the battlefield, the cadets were positioned near the center of the Confederate line, a giant crescent enveloping the Natural Bridge. There they immediately dug trenches to protect them from enemy fire and were instructed not to fire unless a charge was made on an adjoining Confederate battery. In these early stages, the battle was primarily an artillery engagement and the cadets could do little more than wait it out with the rest of the defenders. All attempts by the Federal troops to cross at Natural Bridge were stymied with heavy losses. The worst fighting occurred in front of the Confederate line in a dense hammock that covered the crossing. The cadets were not heavily involved in this action but remained under constant artillery and musket fire. Cadet Lieutenant Byrd Coles credits the Seminary’s teachers on the battlefield with the safety of the cadets: “no doubt many of the cadets would have been struck if our teachers had not watched us constantly and made us keep behind cover.”
With the arrival of reinforcements, the Confederate troops counterattacked, charging across the bridge and driving the Federal troops a short distance. At this instance, the Union General Newton, realizing that Natural Bridge, like the East River Bridge at Newport, was too heavily defended to cross, ordered a retreat back to the St. Marks lighthouse and the protection of the Federal fleet. The cadets were then ordered to return to Newport to guard against another attempted crossing there. However, the Federal forces had had enough, and the cadets’ active duty had come to an end.
The Confederate victory against the Federal invasion was complete. Confederate casualties numbered three killed and twenty-three wounded (three mortally), with Federal losses totaling 148. The cadets from West Florida Seminary suffered no casualties. With the battle won, some of the cadets returned to Tallahassee, while others remained at Newport where they guarded two Confederate deserters that had crossed over to the Federal army and had been captured during the campaign. After the cadets witnessed their trial and execution, they escorted a group of around twenty-five Federal prisoners of war back to Tallahassee. On their return to Tallahassee, the cadets were welcomed as conquering heroes. A ceremony was held in the State House of Representatives chamber of the state capitol, where the cadets were presented with a company flag. Cadet Hunter Pope accepted the flag in the name of his comrades. It is uncertain what became of the flag, and it is thought that it returned with the cadets to the Seminary and was probably taken by Federal troops when they occupied Tallahassee after the War.
The Confederate victory at the Battle of Natural Bridge had no effect on the outcome of the War, and in less than a month, Robert E. Lee would surrender the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The terms of Joseph E. Johnston’s surrender of the Army of Tennessee seventeen days later, included the surrender of Confederate troops in Florida as well. On May 10, Federal troops under the command of Brigadier General Edward McCook took possession of Tallahassee. The Federal army captured and paroled approximately 8,000 Confederate soldiers, including twenty-four cadets. It is thought that some of the cadets simply returned home after the surrender and before being formally paroled.
Tallahasseeans fondly remembered the service provided by the West Florida Seminary cadets. Beginning in 1885, the state of Florida granted pensions to Confederate veterans, and two years later, they were also extended to home guard units, which included the cadets. Sixteen former cadets applied for pensions, while several others endorsed the applications of their comrades. The Tallahassee chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy issued Southern Crosses of Honor to the former cadets who applied for the award, and they received tributes as “The Youngest of the Young Who Wore the Gray.” That phrase, forever associated with their participation in the battle, is inscribed on a monument at Natural Bridge Battlefield, which is today a state park.
As a result of the cadet/students participation in the engagement, on February 28, 1957, the FSU Army and Air Force ROTC units were officially presented with battle streamers by Governor LeRoy Collins in a ceremony at Doak Campbell stadium. Today the Florida State University Reserve Officers’ Training Corps detachment is permitted to fly a battle streamer as a result of the School’s participation in the action at Natural Bridge. It is one of only three colleges and universities in the United States which is permitted to do so. In the 1990s, the campus ROTC Building was renamed the Harper-Johnson Building in honor of Captain Valentine M. Johnson and a twentieth century Air Force ROTC graduate who rose to the rank of general.
For a full account of the battle, see David J. Coles, “Florida’s Seed Corn: The History of the West Florida Seminary During the Civil War,” Florida Historical Quarterly 77, no. 3 (Winter 1999): 283-319.
This blog post sources a timeline researched and compiled by Mary Kate Downing.
Happy birthday, Florida State! Can you believe that it’s only been 166 years since the Florida Legislature (then the General Assembly of the State of Florida) passed an act that led to our inception as an institution? We can’t either! …especially since only until fairly recently, it was widely accepted that FSU’s founding day was in 1857, and not 1851 as we now know. Why all the confusion? This isn’t a situation of FSU lying to get senior discount on movie tickets. Yes, FSU’s predecessor institution, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River, didn’t open its doors until 1857, but there was a lot more going on for 6 years before its grand opening.
On January 24, 1851, the General Assembly of the State of Florida passed an act establishing two seminaries of learning, one to the east and one to the west of the Suwannee River. It wasn’t until 1854 when the Tallahassee City Council offered to pay $10,000 to finance a new school building on land owned by the city in an attempt to “bid on” being the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee, which the legislature had yet to decide. The $10,000 consisted of the value of the property, the yet-to-be-constructed building, and the remaining balance in cash. Approximately $6,000 was originally committed, with the Council promising to give the city the remaining balance if Tallahassee was determined as the location of the seminary west of the Suwannee. Later in 1854, construction on a school building began and Tallahassee’s city superintendent approached the state legislature to present the case for the seminary to be in Tallahassee. However, state officials failed to make a decision regarding the location of the seminary before the end of the legislative session.
By 1855, the newly constructed College Hall (in the area that is now Westcott Building) opens. Because of the state legislature’s lack of a decision on whether it would be one of the legislature-designated seminaries, it was not given an official name. Instead, it was alternately called “The City Seminary” and “Tallahassee Male Seminary.”
In 1856, the ball got rolling as the City Council of Tallahassee (hereafter referred to as the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute) met and designated “The City Seminary” as the “Florida Institute.” It also indicated that “government of the institution or seminary shall be under the direction of a president” and decided that “a preparatory school will be established in connection with the academic or collegiate department of the institute.” It is established that one of the president’s duties will be to publish a “Catalogue Course of Studies” for the institution. Later in 1856, William (W.Y.) Peyton, previously principal of The City Seminary, is unanimously elected by the Board of Trustees of the Florida Institute as first president of the Institute.
By late 1856, the General Assembly passed legislation declaring that “the Seminary to be located West of the Suwannee River be, and the same is hereby located at the City of Tallahassee in the County of Leon.” There were several conditions that must be granted for this to occur – “the proper and authorized conveyance of said Lot and College edifice thereon be made to the City of Tallahassee to the Board of Education,” that Tallahassee “guarantee to said Board of Education the payment of the sum of two thousand dollars per annum forever, to be expended in the education of the youth of said City, in such manner and on such terms as shall be agreed between the corporate authorities of said City and the Board of Education,” and that Tallahassee “shall pay to the Board of Education as much money in cash as shall be found necessary after a valuation of the Lot and College edifice aforesaid, to complete the sum of ten thousand dollars.”
With all of the requirements fulfilled, the State Seminary West of the Suwannee River was allowed to open its doors and so began FSU’s long history.
We are excited to announce our most recently processed collection, the Pride Student Union Records, 1964-2015. Now a major fixture in the Student Government Association, the collection documents Pride’s predecessor organizations and their steps towards becoming an official agency, introducing non-discrimination policies on campus, and empowering FSU’s LGBTQ+ population.
In 1969, gay and lesbians in Tallahassee organized the People’s Coalition for Gay Rights, which later became the Alliance for Gay Awareness, as a response to the Stonewall Riots. The group was primarily a political organization active in the gay rights movement of the 1970s. In 1973, staff of the University Mental Health Center (now the Student Counseling Center) formed Gay Peer Counseling to provide support and counseling for gays and lesbian students. It became the most active LGBTQ+ group on campus in the early 1970s. In 1978, the group evolved into the Gay Peer Volunteers (GPV), which provided students opportunities for services in the community outside of the counseling environment. To include all students directly served by this student organization, the Gay Peer Volunteers changed its name to the Gay/Lesbian Student Union (GLSU) in 1989, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Student Union (LGBSU) in 1994, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Student Union (LGBTSU) in 1998, and finally Pride Student Union in 2005.
There are several other auxiliary groups at FSU that have served the LGBTQ+ population. In 1984, Gay/Lesbian Support Services formed to continue and expand upon the goals and services of the preceding organizations. In the 1990s, a specialist in student counseling continued the mission of GPV by founding Gay and Lesbian Allies (GALA), which was later absorbed by Tallahassee LGBTQ+ community center, Family Tree. Safe Zone-Tallahassee was founded in 1997 as a response to FSU administration to fund an LGBTQ+ committee or office space. In 2012, Safe Zone was revamped into Seminole Allies & Safe Zones, and provides workshops to students, faculty, and staff.
The collection contains administrative records, promotional materials, artwork and banners, newspapers, and journal and magazine clippings produced and collected by the organization since the late 1960s. Spanning from meeting minutes to posters for drag shows, protest banners and queer literature, the Pride Student Union Records provide a varied look at the voices of the LGBTQ+ community in Tallahassee.
We are happy to announce that a near-complete run of FSU Bulletins and Announcements has been uploaded to Diginole. This is a tremendous resource for those researching early history of FSU and alumni looking up course descriptions. The process to digitize the Bulletins was a long one, which included preservation work on early editions, digitizing over 500 volumes, and creating metadata for every issue.
When FSU became a co-ed institution, the development of women’s athletics took a backseat to men’s varsity sports. While sports clubs like F Club, Tarpon Club, and Gymkana gave women athletes a place to strut their stuff, there was nowhere for them to compete in an intercollegiate setting.
It wasn’t until 1968 when FSU’s volleyball team started to shed its club roots and by 1971, was a full fledged team that made its debut at the AIAW National Tournament. Dr. Billie Jones became the permanent coach until 1975, and led the team to a 107-22 record, cementing FSU Volleyball as a mainstay. Historically, volleyball has been one of the most popular sports at Florida State, being a primary event of Odd-Even competitions, so it’s only appropriate that it would become FSU’s first women’s intercollegiate team. Under the coaching of Cecile Reynaud and Chris Poole, the team has won 4 ACC titles and has played in the NCAA tournament 17 times.
Softball is another sport that grew out of a long history at Florida State. Often played at Odds-Events events, it has become one of the most dominant teams in collegiate softball. Helmed by JoAnne Graff from 1979-2008, the team was propelled into success and has competed in the Women’s College World Series 9 times and maintains the highest winning percentage in the ACC. Under new head coach Lonni Alameda, FSU Softball continues its steak of excellence.
Basketball has perhaps been the most popular sport among women athletes over Florida State’s long history. Starting in 1912, FSCW held a basketball game as part of its Thanksgiving weekend events. The popularity of the annual game became a frenzy, and the school decided to add more events to the Thanksgiving program. The popularity of women’s basketball has continued over its 47 seasons as a varsity squad. Officially established in 1970, Women’s basketball has been on of FSU’s most successful teams. The women’s cagers have played in the NCAA/AIAW tournament fifteen times, and has won the regular season conference title three times and the conference title once.
FSU women athletes have excelled in many other sports, too – track and field, swimming, golf, and soccer, just to name a few. With the support of many women, FSU women’s athletics has been able to grow into the powerhouse it is today.
We are excited to announce that the Tarpon Club Collection has been recently re-processed and updated by project archivist Christine Bethke. Included in the update are new scrapbooks, memorabilia, photographs, and films that have been acquired over the past 10 years.
The Tarpon Club began during the early 1920s as the Florida State College for Women (FSCW) Life Saving Corps. The Life Saving Corps began holding exhibitions in the Montgomery Gym indoor pool demonstrating aquatic skills during the 1930’s. These exhibitions featured form swimming, figure swimming, speed swimming, lifesaving techniques, diving, and canoe handling. In the spring of 1937, members of the Corps under the direction of Betty Washburn formed the Tarpon Club, choosing the tarpon fish as its mascot due to its reputation of being an acrobat of Florida waters. The club presented its first “water pageant” in the fall of that year featuring swimming stroke demonstrations and floating patterns performed with musical accompaniment. In 1938, the Tarpons initiated its first group of “Minnows,” or first year members, and established the tradition of requiring Minnows to participate in the club and improve their skills until they were judged eligible to become full-fledged Tarpons. The Club continued to perform at least one production per year, with each show containing a central theme, until its disbandment in 1994.
During its long existence, the Tarpon Club garnered a number of awards and received invitations to perform at national and international aquatic exhibitions. The International Academy of Aquatic Art and the National Institute for Creative Aquatics recognized the Tarpons’ skill through the years with numerous awards, and the club also received an award for its performance in the United States Synchronized Swimming Collegiate National Championships.
Notable sports writer Grantland Rice featured the Tarpon Club three times in his “Sportlight” series of short films produced by Jack Eton: “Aqua Rhythm,” filmed in Wakulla Springs in 1941, “Campus Mermaids,” also filmed there in 1945, and “Water Symphony,” filmed in both Wakulla Springs and Cypress Gardens in 1953. The Florida Department of Commerce filmed the Tarpon performance “A Dip in Dixie” in 1964 to promote tourism in the State of Florida. Some Life Saving Corps and Tarpon Alumni continued their film roles. Corps member Martha Dent Perry served as the character Jane’s stunt double in “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” filmed at Wakulla Springs in 1941, and Tarpon member Jean Knapp served as Jane’s stunt double in “Tarzan’s New York Adventure,” also filmed at Wakulla Springs in 1942. Tarpon Nancy Tribble served as an underwater double for actress Anne Blythe in the 1953 film “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid,” and designed the famous mermaid logo for the mermaid attraction at Weekiwachee Springs with Sis Myers, another Tarpon alumna. Tarpon member Sherry Brown also swam in the chorus of the 1953 Esther Williams film “Easy to Love.” Another notable Tarpon alumna, 1943 FSCW graduate Nancy Kulp, starred in several television shows, films, and theater productions. Also of note is Katherine Rawls, a swimmer in the 1936 Corps and a two-time Olympic swimmer and diver in the 1932 and 1936 summer games. Rawls would go on to be a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) during World War II.
When the Club disbanded in 1994, it was the Nation’s oldest continuously active collegiate swim group as well as the oldest club on the Florida State University campus.