Friday, October 7, 2011

Exhibit looks at campus life during the Civil War

Penn State during the Civil War, 1861-1865," a Penn State University Archives exhibit is on display, now through Jan. 13, 2012, in the Hintz Alumni Center, Robb Hall, on Penn State's University Park campus.

When the Civil War broke out with the bombardment of Fort Sumter April 12, 1861, Penn State had just won a prolonged legislative battle for a $50,000 appropriation to complete the construction of Old Main. The entire operation of the Farmers' High School (as Penn State was then called) was to be housed in this single structure that had been only one third completed when the first students arrived in February 1859. News of Fort Sumter's surrender changed the mood of the 88 students and five professors then on campus from satisfaction over the legislative victory to confused excitement. President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers to serve in the Union army and Governor Andrew Curtin's immediate response had the students in a patriotic uproar to enlist, which was aggressively quieted by College President Evan Pugh.

Pugh, a Quaker, assured the boys that they could complete their education and still have ample time to serve their country. Pugh urged them to wait at least until they were over 20 years of age for the sake of their mothers. “At no time in the life of a young man,” wrote John Thompson in recalling Pugh’s speech “is he so dear to his mother, as between the ages of 16 and 20. Then when manhood is almost upon him, the mother pictures for him a splendid career … her boy is growing to be a man very much like other men.”

The exhibit, featuring University Archives collections, focuses on the nature of campus life during the years of the Civil War, 1861-1865, including student life at the Farmers’ High School; circumstances of the campus’ name changed to The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania; the impact of the passage of the Morrill Act of 1862; and roles played by Evan Pugh, James Beaver, William Waring and Frederick Watts in the building of the fledgling college.

Photographs, campus publications, newspaper clippings and personal memorabilia bring the visitor back to the very beginnings of Penn State’s history to experience life on campus as a student, faculty member, college president, and visitor 150 years ago.

Exhibit hours during the semester are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. some Saturdays. Call the Hintz Alumni Center, during business hours to confirm Saturday times. For additional information about the exhibit and Penn State’s early years, contact Jackie Esposito, university archivist, 814-863-3791 or or Alston Turchetta, archival assistant, 814-865-1793 or

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