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Interview with Marice Wolfe

Audio (first part)

Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for the Peabody Oral History Project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is October 5, 2005, and the interview is with Marice Wolfe, who received her Master of Library Science degree from Peabody and who was head of Special Collections and University Archives from 1973 --

Marice Wolfe: '73 to 2000.

Dohrmann: -- to 2000.

Wolfe: Uh-huh. 27 years.

Dohrmann: OK. To begin, please talk about your connection with Peabody, and the capacity in which you served at the time of the merger.

Wolfe: All right. Well, I attended Peabody as a student. Of course, I had known of Peabody years before because it was always a place of great comfort, encouragement, obviously wonderful for the students who were engaged here. My mother-in-law was secretary of the Library School for some time and so I visited the campus. And I enjoyed very much the two years I spent. I was working at the time at the -- in special collections at the Vanderbilt Library so there was a lot of rushing about commuting on feet across 21st Avenue. I have never used the bridge to this day. And, of course, it didn't exist. We always hoped there would be one across from the library to Wesley Hall on the other side of 21st but came up in a different place.

Dohrmann: Do you know what caused the financial situation that resulted in the merger?

Wolfe: Not specifically, but I think schools whose alumni are in service professions don't see as much return from them as those who, you know, go high up in the business world. I think that was one thing. It's not that the alumni didn't support Peabody; I believe they did. But it -- just in... Not in as large amounts as what's required. I don't know about the operation of the school, but it was a financial emergency by the time it got to the merger.

Dohrmann: Were there alternatives to merging with Vanderbilt, do you think?

Wolfe: Well, I remember the uproar when it was announced that Peabody might merge with TSU and, again, I could only speculate about that. But it did light a fire under the Vanderbilt people to get over and make their arrangements. I was pleased to read this article by Bonnie Ertelt in the Peabody Reflector, which just arrived recently. Ray Waddell tells the story and it seems a lot more... It's not that his article is bland but the experience seems more bland than I remember it, because a lot of people were just up-in-arms about things. And some have never given up the conspiracy theory that existed at that time.

Dohrmann: Can you talk a little bit about what you think they were talking about when they said conspiracy theory?

Wolfe: Well, of course, my perspective on this really is more Vanderbilt's than Peabody's, although I have good friends who are just complete Peabody people. But they always felt the looming of this giant across the street who was, you know, intent on taking Peabody over and changing it. And I can see that there have been some changes. It's a more energized, success-oriented place now and that's what you need to be in this world to be ranked in the top of those people who do what you do. I don't... According to the article, Vanderbilt had pretty much set it aside when the possibility of the TSU merger came up. And then they decided, well, that just wasn't going to do. And historically, it had been in the minds of all the Vanderbilt chancellors, at least from Kirkland on, trying to bring this together. And some had made -- had made steps in that direction, had made some progress. But Peabody was resistant. And it just finally got to a point where there was no choice.

Dohrmann: Do you think the board members -- did they agree about the decision to merge?

Wolfe: Well, I was talking to one of my Peabody friends recently and their understanding was that H.G. Hill had left the board a little earlier than the time of the agreement. But when it was first brought up he couldn't tolerate the idea and so he resigned from the board. So there was some disagreement. I suppose there were others who would rather have had it another way. And there are a few suggestions of that, and even outright statements of that, I think, in the oral history project that was done around 2000. But I thought most people reconciled themselves to it. It's more... Well, I don't want to say it's those who don't want to know. But there isn't any explaining it or compensating for it for people whose devotion to Peabody is just so great that -- and the old Peabody; it's not the new Peabody -- that they just can't accept it. But I think that feeling is still around more than is suggested in this article. You know, this sounds like everybody is happy. And then, you know, they are. Those who are in it, but the alumni still have some reservations.

Dohrmann: And what about the faculty? The Peabody faculty members. What did they think about the merger?

Wolfe: Well, those I knew about, and that was mostly the Library School people, were resistant to it. In fact, I think Ed Gleaves was Chairman of the Faculty Senate at that time, and then their view was pretty negative. In fact, I think probably there was so much resistance to it that it would have carried the day except that nothing could be done about the money. They had to have an influx of money.

Dohrmann: On the library side, what was the reaction once the merger was announced?

Wolfe: Well, of course, the library was always part of Peabody -- since the JUL, I guess I should say. In my memory, it was part of Peabody. So we were always entertaining that mix of the three institutions. And many of the librarians had been trained at Peabody, so they had an allegiance there. And I think probably the feeling reflected that of the more general Peabody people. I don't think it made much of a ripple in Vanderbilt in everyday operations, you know. But at Peabody it did. And just literally it did. People lost jobs, classes were eliminated, courses were eliminated. And so it was a strain, a great strain, and pretty harmful.

Dohrmann: You've already touched on this somewhat, but what are the -- what do you see as the central issues of the merger? Is it mostly money?

Wolfe: Well, money is the essential base, but I think the issue was merging somehow, or not merging but bringing together these two unlike views of higher education, the outcomes, you know, what are we being trained for, and Peabody was a very humanitarian-oriented place. And this is not to say that Vanderbilt wasn't, but I think it didn't so much... That there wasn't a consciousness of being trained for working with children, or the disabled, or the various constituencies that Peabody addressed. And, you know, Vanderbilt just went about its business and Peabody had the trauma.

Dohrmann: And just discuss a little bit more about the negatives of the merger. The things that were hard on everybody, faculty and students and...

Wolfe: Um-hmm. Well, I think poor John Dunworth really had to carry a load of responsibility for it that maybe wasn't entirely his. I mean, he didn't create the financial situation. But he had to respond to it and so he became kind of a whipping boy for all the strong feeling. And I think it pained him a great deal. What was the question?

Dohrmann: I think about the main negatives --

Wolfe: I didn't get -- kept on thinking about him.

Dohrmann: The main negatives of the merger.

Wolfe: I'm really not sure there are very many negatives. I mean, I'm -- it's unfortunate that people -- some people don't want to let go of their feeling that there's loss of Peabody. But Peabody's progressing very nicely. I have to agree with Ray Waddell on that. They're making all kinds of progress.

Dohrmann: Right. And so the positive outcomes of merger as you see them?

Wolfe: Well, the strength and stability of the institution, the school. And they've had some good leadership, been able to develop programs or capitalize on programs that were there but hadn't been as fully defined as they are now. The developmental side of the work with children and... I'm not sure what the course offerings are now. Maybe the students take their liberal arts training at Vanderbilt. Is there still that mix of the liberal arts curriculum that's some here and some there. And Peabody's a professional school on top of that. So there's a loss of the undergraduate community that existed at Peabody, but there's a gain of reputation in the sense that the graduates are prepared and there's space for them in the world because their degrees are recognized, their training is recognized. And so I think it's a level above, you know, going down to the local school and applying. You know, they're operating in leadership roles in education.

Dohrmann: You talked about John Dunworth, but who were other key people in the merger?

Wolfe: Well, I'm not sure I can remember names. There were several faculty people who were anti-merger. I think Dr. Dunworth had his administration with him. And anyone who looked at the situation knew that something drastic had to be done. And so they went along. But, of course, the faculty members who lost their jobs, they got a lot of sympathy in the community. And I suppose some didn't settle readily into something else. You know, they were just cut off. And it was worse when it was a place that elicited so much emotion. You know, they couldn't imagine being let go by Peabody and so Vanderbilt was the villain. And I think that helped perpetuate that feeling, unfortunate feeling.

Dohrmann: Do you have other stories about Peabody and the merger?

Wolfe: [laughter]. Well, I think one of your questions has to do with the records of Peabody College. And... Now, of course, I received those records. And they were... And this is, I think, a Chancellor Heard kind of thing. It just -- this is the way he operated. They were to be kept top secret. And so he and President Dunworth arrived at the archives with these boxes that were, you know, marked secret, taped up, never to be opened until I don't know what, the end of the world. [laughter].

Dohrmann: [laughter].

Wolfe: And they weren't opened until Paul Conkin began writing his history of Peabody. Then he got the permissions. Even though he had already written Gone with the Ivy and there was some disgruntlement about that. He had access to those records and he's an excellent historian and I'm sure he did a good job with them. But I never saw inside the boxes.

Dohrmann: OK.

Wolfe: There was a -- there were, of course, other records of the college transferred by department and some administrative records and so on. And it was harder to get the concept across -- I think this was because of Peabody psychology -- that archives are the property of the institution, not the property of any dean or faculty member. I mean, a faculty member might have papers that are manuscripts, but anything created in the course of the business of the institution belongs to the institution. And there was a possessiveness about some things. In fact, a dean of Peabody, some years after the merger, demanded to have his records back. You know, if things weren't going to be done to his liking, he wanted them back. And we had to have our associate librarian, at the time Shirley Hallblade, speak with him. And she was effective in making the point that he couldn't decide about the records. And, of course, plenty of Vanderbilt administrators felt that way, too. You know, just wouldn't release them or put all kinds of tic-toc double-locks on them. [laughter]. And, in fact, I think -- this is a guess, maybe you could confirm it. I think the records of the Wyatt administration are over at 2525 West End Avenue in those offices were Chancellor Wyatt and Jeff Carr and, you know, they just took the whole thing and moved over there and didn't deposit it. Has it come in yet?

Dohrmann: I'm not sure about that.

Wolfe: [laughter].

Dohrmann: [laughter].

Wolfe: Yes, I think they've still got them. And so there it is. I mean, just... It's not a criminal thing so you can't take what's not ready to come.

Dohrmann: Well, thank you very much.

Wolfe: Well, you're welcome.

 

Audio (second part)

Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann for a Vanderbilt/Peabody University Oral History Project. Today's date is October 5, 2005, and the interview today is with Marice Wolfe, who was Head of Special Collections and University Archives from 1973 to 2000 - 27 years. What were the beginnings of Special Collections and how have the collections grown over the years?

Wolfe: Well, the beginning was... There was a rare book room always, a treasure room, on the 8th floor of the general library building. And even when the library was in Kirkland Hall, there was space devoted to the choice items, which at that time, I suppose, were early Bibles and things like that.

Dohrmann: OK.

Wolfe: But when the addition was made to the general library building, the H. Fort Flowers Graduate Library Wing, that was built for study space -- stacks and study space. And they had an idea that H. Fort Flowers, who was a wealthy man by virtue of his having invented the dumping coal car, that he was going to pay for this. Well, I don't know what the particulars were of that, but it came up a little short. And so some board members were asked to contribute. And the largest contributor of those was Jesse Wills. Because of the joint-ness, the library board of trustees had representatives from each of the schools. And Jesse Wills was always on the library board for Vanderbilt - he was on the Vanderbilt Board. He was a... I don't know how to describe people. Just kind of of the air of Nashville. He was such a Nashvillian and he had worked in the insurance industry, which is one of the strong industries in Nashville, and had been one of the Fugitives. As a young man in his 20's, early 20's, he'd joined them for meetings and contributed poetry to the Fugitive magazine. And then when his father died he had to become more active in the business and so he let the poetry go and came back to it in -- I guess about 1956, I think... The first book of his later work was published in 1956. And he organized a Fugitive reunion at Vanderbilt. And by that time, the soreheads of the group had kind of calmed down. And since he was one of them, he was able to, you know, diplomatically bring them together.

So the Fugitive reunion was held May 3-5, 1956, I believe, and he hosted it. And he had a wonderful home in Belle Meade where he could do some hosting and entertaining. And the famous picture of five Fugitive poets was in the backyard of that house on Belle Meade Boulevard. But while he was at it, organizing that, he also asked them for materials. And pretty much each one supplied a photograph and, you know, probably some odds and ends of correspondence. Not great volume at that time. But it planted the idea. And so when the Flowers wing was built, he, with this idea in mind, he had enough control over the situation to designate the -- what is still the Fugitive Room in Special Collections in the library building on the second floor entrance from the terrace. And so that was the catal -- he was the catalyst, really, for putting that in place. And he -- when I came, he'd had all the pictures framed uniformly and they were all hanging there. And there were some -- a couple of exhibit cases with books and just odds and ends.

But in terms of volume, it was not a great deal. He deposited his own papers, which I think come to about six cubic feet, you know, six cartons. And a lot of that is manuscript material. But the correspondence in it is just wonderful because he had these exchanges with everyone who was then living. And I guess in 1956, Ridley Wills, his cousin, had already died. And Alfred Starr, I believe, was gone. Stanley Johnson and I'm not sure about the rest. I think they were all living. But the director of the library, whose office was -- whose suite was right next to Special Collections had it very much on his mind and he and Jesse Wills were friendly and he wanted to develop this. I'm thinking about the dates. Somewhere between '56 and I think '72, Allen Tate sold his papers to Princeton. And so that set up kind of an alarm that these are going to get away from us if we don't do something. And it also suggested that these things are going to cost money. So Jesse Wills started purchasing, as best he -- as he could locate them, materials, so began building that. In -- there had been an archivist at the beginning of Special Collections in this -- when was the building opened? Do you remember?

Dohrmann: '69.

Wolfe: '69.

Dohrmann: The -- for the edition?

Wolfe: Yes.

Dohrmann: I think that's (inaudible).

Wolfe: OK. That's right. I thought it was -- sounded too late to me because it was so far after the reunion.

Dohrmann: Yes.

Wolfe: But yes, that is right. And there was an archivist appointed at that time, and somehow or another, things didn't go as they had hoped. And then the person in the place before me was a librarian who was an excellent rare books cataloguer. And, of course, she had practically no budget, as continued to be the case. And so she did a wonderful amount of work on the existing collection but didn't add much during that period, I don't think. And then she went off to do something that was more to her liking and several months passed and a librarian who -- director of libraries was Frank Grisham, tried to find someone to fit his ideal of what the person ought to be like. And I always say he was looking for a white gloves kind of person to begin with the Friends of the Library, because that was also in his mind. A source of funds, a support group, all the things that friends serve for the library -- and for a library. For, I suppose, any group they support.

And I'd been teaching for about 16 years before that. I wasn't right out of college. And over the course of that time I taught American Literature. And I won't say I was steeped in the Fugitives but it looked convincing enough, I guess.

Dohrmann: [laughter].

Wolfe: And he and Bob McGaw and Essie Samuels were a committee to hire the person who's going to fill this position. Bob McGaw was secretary of the University and a very attractive person. Very high on doing things right. He had a truly professional approach to occurrences. And in fact, I missed this and I'm sorry that I did, but he had a Vanderbilt family reunion in 1973 -- I didn't come 'til October -- and got, oh, I don't know -- great, great number of Vanderbilt family members to come to Vanderbilt and try to encourage them to think of it as home. And some few did. But he was wonderful at organizing things like that. So he was concerned with Vanderbilt archives. He wanted the University's records to be property handled and they had already appointed an archivist, a historian, Professor Henry Lee Swint. And Henry Lee was the archivist and then Essie Samuels was the deputy archivist and together they were gathering material for Vanderbilt history. And Henry Lee was writing the history and they had a crew of five, I think it was, five or six graduate students who were just delightful. [laughter]. They sort of kept me company through the first years. But anyway, they were convinced that I could somehow do this. Since I'm a Yankee they were concerned I'd move away and I told them my then husband was planning to be buried in the Stones River Battlefield Cemetery and they thought, "Well, that was probably permanent enough." [laughter].

Dohrmann: [laughter].

Wolfe: You know, he was always kidding about that and I suppose it will come to pass. So they took a chance on me and I got out my white gloves and went to work. [laughter]

Dohrmann: [laughter].

Wolfe: They turned out to be more preservation gloves than social gloves but...

Dohrmann: Do you know other stories about the Fugitives and Agrarians and what it was like to work with them as some of their papers came to Special Collections?

Wolfe: Well, of course, Mr. Wills was just charming and delightful. He was in poor health -- I think he and Allen Tate both died in '79. And I had had some brushes with Allen Tate at other places in where I was teaching or something. And, you know, so I kind of knew the person he was. And he was... He didn't suffer fools but if you were a literary person who needed encouragement, he and Caroline Gordon were just there for you. They couldn't have been more generous. I was just reading something about Robert Lowell and the famous story of when he came and camped on their --

Dohrmann: [laughter].

Wolfe: -- front lawn at Ben Folly in Clarksville. But they did nicely by Robert Lowell. And, in fact, the... I think it was a review of a Lowell book or a book about -- it was a biography of Lowell. And he had this idea of poetry having sprung from the old classical ideals and the John Donne period of English literature and went on for a little while about that. I thought, oh, well, you know, I hear the voice of Allen Tate. And he did -- they were... The Tate's were wonderful teachers and, you know, a whole generation of poets were encouraged by them. So I remember -- I went to services for both men and Jesse Wills was -- his service was at the downtown Presbyterian Church, which was another cause of his, and he did a lot for that very interesting place, too. And Allen Tate's was at Saint Henry's Church in West Nashville. And it was the last time I heard a Latin mass, a requiem. He had the full requiem mass. And it was quite, quite beautiful. Ransom... I guess Ransom was just well advanced because he'd been older than... He was a faculty member during the Fugitive period and taught some of the others of the group. John Crowe Ransom. And he was in Ohio; didn't travel. You know, he was not available to me. But I did see him. I lived in Ohio for a year and saw him in Columbus give one of his sort of farewell lectures. And he was just a delight. Who else was around? They'll probably come to me. The Agrarians were more accessible, perhaps. Should I make the distinction between the Fugitives and Agrarians?

Dohrmann: Sure. Yes, that would be great.

Wolfe: [laughter]. Well, the Fugitives were a group of poets and critics, people interested in literature who met and discussed poetry and philosophy, and some related subjects, weekly from 1922 to 1925. And sometimes they were all there and sometimes they weren't. But they were all contributing to the Fugitive, their little magazine. And the practice of criticism of one another's work was established at these meetings because each one would bring some poems and they would be discussed by the others in the group. And (inaudible) could be pretty rough and they were supposed to go off, and, you know, revise, and come back. And that process stayed -- oh, I forgot Warren, didn't I -- stayed with them for a lifetime. And they all submitted their current work to the others for evaluation, criticism, and so on. Of course, there were, you know, ups and downs in relationships. But this was their practice. And it really did a lot for everyone's work, to have it reviewed by someone they could respect. And not only respect but they knew them from youth, you know, so that they could say, "Oh, well, that's Allen again." [laughter]. So it was very, very fine. But those were all literary people, even if they were only on the fringe of literature. They were literary people.

And then some of them who were hotheads like Allen Tate and some others, got distressed about the state of the world and the state of the South and got together a collection of essays called I'll Take my Stand, which was published in 1930. So there's that separation of, clearly, five years and longer because they weren't all in Nashville for all -- all alone. Three of the Fugitive years. And I'll Take my Stand has to do with various general topics concerning the South; the agrarian life, how religion affects this and so forth. And so those people were economists and historians. But the four main Fugitives contributed to it and that's what causes the confusion between the two. That they dominate I'll Take my Stand as they dominated the Fugitive group. But they're really two distinct groups. And those four are -- the oldest was John Crowe Ransom, who was kind of a father figure to the others. Or -- yes, a father figure in terms of conflict as well as sponsorship. He had left Vanderbilt in 1937, I think. Is that right?

Dohrmann: That sounds early but I'm not sure.

Wolfe: Well, I'd better check that. I didn't have any resources at home to do my reference work. Well, anyway, he -- the Fugitives were always somewhat at odds with the Vanderbilt administration and, you know, they claimed that Chancellor Kirkland would not subscribe to the Fugitive magazine and they had all kinds of little offenses that they saw. When they met they did not meet on campus and so they disassociated themselves with the University, even though some were faculty members. Some of the younger ones -- Warren was a faculty member for a couple of years, and then Tate later on came as kind of a guest lecturer. And... But Ransom continued until -- I don't know why that number, it's just so strong for me. But anyway, he wanted to edit a critical journal and he was being oppressed. I guess he wouldn't have -- he was too much a gentleman to say that, but you know, he was -- he wanted to do more than what he was doing at Vanderbilt. And Kenyon College wanted a literary magazine and wanted him to edit it, so they made him an offer and he just took it. And usually, it's said that they offered him so much more money, you know, that he could... It was about $250, you know. Vanderbilt could have met it had they wanted to, but they just didn't value -- the administration, Kirkland and Eddie Mims. Edward Mims had been chairman of the English Department and these young Turks were just more than he wanted to have around him. So he did not encourage them. Donald Davidson is the one... I was naming the big four there. Ransom. Donald Davidson was also a bit older. Wonderful writer and a wonderful teacher of writing. But he stayed on until his retirement. And Allen Tate, who was here, there, and everywhere. Didn't settle much. And then Robert Penn Warren, who is the most famous of them and so I suppose, in that way the most successful. Probably the most devoted to writing as a craft, because he did teach, but there were long periods of his life when he did nothing but write. He was married to a writer. You know, that just was his life. He never got into political things as Allen Tate did. And I don't mean democrat/republican political things, but with the literary organizations. There were always things that Tate was in a stew about. And, of course, he was into academic politics trying to place these protégées of his. And that was very good for them. You know, they had a strong force behind them -- or ahead of them. So those were the four major Fugitives and Agrarians.

Dohrmann: What about the transfer of the Peabody archives to Special Collections?

Wolfe: Well --

Dohrmann: How did that happen?

Wolfe: There was one symbolic, I guess, and major transfer of records and that constituted the records of the -- what's the word -- the coming together of Peabody and Vanderbilt; the merger. And it was always -- they came in boxes taped thoroughly, with do not open written on them in, you know, imposing letters and so forth. And so they were not opened. But it was the record of the discussions and, I guess, the paperwork that was involved and ownership of the property and all the legalities for the merger of Peabody and Vanderbilt in 79.

Dohrmann: That's right.

Wolfe: And... But, before that, there were records that came in of various Peabody activities because Peabody did not have an archives. Had, you know, some collections of old papers. So the music department had always been very strong, and things having to do with their summer school. They had an active -- I guess the whole college had a very active summer school. And things like that sort of came in formally. Not as archives but as collections representing this or that. And then after '79, 20 years that I was observing it. It never was a strong stream because it was hard to pin down the administrative structure and get that coming because, you know, archives are retired when they are no longer used in the creating office. Well, they were always used -- whatever they had was being used so they didn't come. And I don't know how strong that segment is now. Someone else would have to answer that question. But that was the core of it. The materials having to do with the merger. And those were unsealed when Paul Conkin wrote his history of Peabody College.

Dohrmann: How did he get permission? Do you know?

Wolfe: I guess he was sponsored by the Vanderbilt administration and they talked... Was Dean Mim -- I think Dean Mim was here and she -- he charmed her and so he was given access. But he... Of course, he dealt with the merger. But as in the case of the history of Vanderbilt, his interest in intellectual history took him back to the beginnings. And his interest was in how these institutions developed not so much in their contemporary existence.

Dohrmann: Yes.

Wolfe: So... I don't know. I'm sure he stepped on some toes as he did with the Vanderbilt Gone with the Ivy. But they were, you know, he's an excellent historian and, you know, the people who were interested in Vanderbilt football would find somewhere that a score was incorrect and just get all irate about it. And, of course, they weren't irate about the score, they were irate about whatever was exposed in their minds about the workings of Vanderbilt. I suppose that was true of Peabody, too.

Dohrmann: Chancellor Alexander Heard and Mrs. Heard have had an especially important commitment to Vanderbilt's library. Can you talk a little bit about their role in the growth and development of the library?

Wolfe: Well, let's see. Chancellor Heard is a very impressive and charming man. And his period as -- in leading Vanderbilt was... Oh, what shall I call it? Stimulating in an intellectual way. And the way of doing things that supported the aura of a great university. And, of course, he realized and said, I think, that the center and heart of a great university is its library. He did get Harold Vanderbilt to establish the Vanderbilt Library Excellence Fund. That was based on monies that he got from -- that Harold Vanderbilt. So that was the beginning of his support of the library. He became personally interested in it, you know, enough to come over there and have a look around, a little beyond that, I think. And not that he didn't always feel that it was important but I guess this goes back to its joint-ness and, of course, it was joint through the beginning of his administration. It was hard for one party to that contract, they said, to do over much because it was a balancing act. And, you know, Vanderbilt couldn't put in a lot of money because Peabody would have to match it. I don't know if... Scarritt, of course, was never in a position to be in matching in any equal way. But that was the story that, you know, until -- or as long as it was joint, there was this problem of the competition. And I think he -- Chancellor Heard and, of course, Jean was -- Jean Heard was very much his partner in all of this. Very lively. A lively intellect. Charming woman. You know, she just wanted to get something going. And she and -- she'd been talking to Frank Grisham about this Friends of the Library idea. And so that was one of my first projects when I came on and it was just as... Oh, what were those things called? Just when a typewriter would do a letter for you. You'd fill in the address and then the typewriter... So we got up in the little -- little group got up into the administrative suites in the Kirkland Hall on a weekend and typed these letters. Someone put together a list of the most likely contributors. You know, Jean was one and we had some other people work on it. And we just mailed these letters to everyone we could think of to join the Friends of the Library. And Jesse Wills was president pro temp of this Friends of the Library and he... At the same time, Franklin was -- Williamson County was running a -- Friends of the Library was new to them, too, but they were having a walkathon. And he came to me one day -- or I think he called me and said, "I don't have to walk, do I?" No, no, different friends. But we sent out all these letters, and of course, with Jean talking it up and so forth, we had a pretty good response. And it's still going strong. It's 27 -- somewhere between 25 and 30 years old now. And a very worthwhile... Not only the contributions, which have been lovely and distributed over the library system by a committee of the Friends and librarians who look at requests that are submitted each year. Special Collections early on established an annual $5,000 gift from the friends. And that doesn't sound like a whole lot now but it had been very nice and enabled the purchase of a lot of Fugitive material and so forth because Special Collections didn't have much of a budget for materials acquisitions. But it got a lot of people interested in manuscripts and a lot of things just... All of a sudden people recognized that they had them and they donated them. There was a program of speakers not only at the annual -- well, there were two events a year for the Friends. And at the dinner, at the annual dinner, usually someone of national significance spoke. And then at the spring meeting, a more mid-South kind of person spoke. But then that developed into a little additional soirees where we had people -- we invited people to speak who had papers of interest and it kind of lubricated the transfer of those papers. So that worked very well. And, of course, they were... No telling the influence that the Heard's had on Vanderbilt. So much time has passed now that you just kind of... I miss them. They're wonderful people.

Dohrmann: What about highlights of your career? What are special things you remember?

Wolfe: The thing I enjoyed most and I don't know what possessed me but I just had an inspiration. On the 50th anniversary -- I don't know, it was some anniversary of the Fugitives and I thought, "Well, we need to recreate a Fugitive meeting." So I put together a script from the letters that were exchanged by the Fugitives in the '22-'25 period and then got various people -- got Ridley Wills, Jesse's son to read his part and, you know, distributed them. There was one woman who was included in the Fugitive's, Laura Riding, so Jean Heard got to read her part. [laughter]. And we had a dinner at the Wills' house on Belle Meade Boulevard. Of course, now it is the home of Jesse -- of Ridley Wills, the -- what is he, third?

Dohrmann: I think so.

Wolfe: Yes. Jesse's son, Ridley's son, Ridley. And they were very gracious in having this thing. So we were out under tents with a wonderful dinner and then this kind of light-hearted... I don't know what to call it. It wasn't really a play but it had a plot line and it had the actual words of the Fugitives. And I thought it was great fun. I loved it. I don't know how anyone else felt about it but...

Dohrmann: And what was the date on that again?

Wolfe: Oh, gosh.

Dohrmann: Do you remember?

Wolfe: Well, what would have been the 50th?

Dohrmann: For the Fugitives or the Agrarians?

Wolfe: The Fugitives. It was definitely a Fugitives thing.

Dohrmann: And so it would have been '75 maybe?

Wolfe: That's way too early.

Dohrmann: That's too early. 1980?

Wolfe: I'm just going to have to look it up, I guess. I don't remember what it was linked to. '25, '75... It was sort of late. You know, it was just a couple of years before so it was somewhere in the '90s, I think.

Dohrmann: OK.

Wolfe: I'm sorry. I should have established that date. But I got a big kick out of it and spent a lot of time on it. I guess the best part of it for me was getting to know the people who were depositing papers and their -- the people connected to them. Because sometimes it wasn't... You know, Frank Owsley, for instance, was gone and the papers were already in Special Collections. That was one that was already established. But his widow, Harriet Owsley, who had been a manuscripts cur -- the manuscript curator at State Library and Archives. Very strong personality. She was an interesting person to know and I -- so I enjoyed many of these acquaintances that I made through the collections. And enjoyed the people who... We had one nice collection come on late of Robert Drake, who considered himself at odds with the Fugitives. And I think he was a little bit jealous of them but... He was an interesting character and he wrote well and so we just had a period of time where he brightened our lives. Did you know him? Was he...?

Dohrmann: I only met him the one time in Special Collections, just to shake hands.

Wolfe: I didn't expect to lose him as early as we did but... Doctor -- sorry, my details are fading. Norman and Roselea Goldberg... He started coming in with this dictionary. First he was telling me about the dictionary and then he finally brought the dictionary. And it was, you know, an early piece of publishing. And so I thought he was all about, you know, early rare books. And then it turns out he has this wonderful art collection and all the supporting library, which is now an extension of --

Dohrmann: (inaudible).

Wolfe: Yes. So you just never knew where things were going to take you.

Dohrmann: Yes.

Wolfe: Had to be... Well, of course, you wanted to be polite to people but I always thought it helped to learn a little something about what they were interested in so that you could continue this conversation. And, you know, every six months or so or every year when they turn up for some gathering, have a visit. Oh, and Delbert Mann, that was an exciting one. The film director who did about 200 or so -- over 200 productions in his lifetime. But he was a fascinating man who won his Oscar for Marty in '55, '56, something.

Dohrmann: (inaudible).

Wolfe: And then did a lot of work for television after that. Some real high spots but he was a charmer and had a fascinating life, which he wrote in eight volumes. So we acquired the eight volumes and read through them and so forth. And eventually somebody had the courage to cut it down to a publishable length. And that pleased him and pleased them. But we had several good times with him where he would come and do the Friends dinner or a little film focus weekend or something like that. That was great.

 

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All photos courtesy of Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives.
Audio files processed by Brian Smokler of the Peabody Technology Support Center.

Questions? Comments? Please let us know.

Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.