Lincoln-Howard 1945 football classics ticket
  • A 1949 program for a Marian Anderson recital
  • Cellophane tape holds together 1949 ‘Dear Jane’ letter
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    Recruiting at Howard Univ., 1949 style

    Anyone who knows anything about HBCUs knows Howard University in Washington. It’s not the oldest of the historically black colleges and universities but it is among the most august.

    It has a large web of alumni who support the school wholeheartedly (some may say fanatically, but there’s nothing wrong with that) and I know a few of them. So I was delighted to come across a Howard University Bulletin – “Howard Today” – from around 1949 among a box lot of stuff from one of my recent auctions. I was able to date the bulletin by the patch on a varsity sweater worn by a male student on the cover: “1949 Champions.”

    The bulletin had some water damage and a few of the pages were stuck together. But most of the black and white photos inside were still in good shape, and were just wonderful for the history they told.

    The bulletin is chock full of photos of the students and their activities: ROTC, the drama club’s plays, the homecoming queen, a fencing competition, soccer and football, an engineer with his equipment, chemists in the lab, women in the dorms, sororities in a parade and guest speakers, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge, educator Mary McLeod Bethune and pianist Hazel Scott.

    It’s not often that I come across old photos of black people, especially not ones that tell the story of one of our universities. The bulletin was especially sweet because some of the photos were taken by Robert S. Scurlock, a prominent photographer whose family’s Scurlock Studio captured Washington’s black middle class for more than a century. He shot the front cover inset and back cover, and some inside photos. Unfortunately, his photos are not individually credited in the bulletin. (In a post last week, I mentioned Robert Scurlock’s counterpart in Philadelphia, John W. Mosley.)

    A couple months ago, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture completed an exhibit called “The Scurlock Studio and Black Washington: Picturing the Promise” of more than 100 images. The studio is now closed, but 200,000 negatives, 30,000 prints and 230,000 images are archived at the Smithsonian.

    Described as a “pictorial presentation” of activities at the college, the 82-page bulletin was a good chronicler of what the university was all about in 1949. Howard was founded in 1867 as a liberal arts and science college. It was named after Gen. Oliver O. Howard, a Civil War hero who was commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, which provided much of its early funding. By the time of the bulletin 82 years later, the university invited students to visit the “Hill” to see what it had to offer: degrees in medicine, pharmacy, dentisty, social work, engineering, architechture, grad school and more.  

    At the time, according to the bulletin, it had 502 faculty members (“some of the finest scholars and teachers in the world”) and a $14 million educational plant, with an additional $17 million building program in progress (“one of the finest in the country”), and it educated more than 6,000 students from 40 states and 24 foreign countries (“the largest institution for higher education for Negros in the United States and is likewise the only comprehensive university system designed primarily for them”).

    I’m not sure if these bulletins are produced anymore, since you can now learn all about Howard from the web. But it is a good reminder of how great this university has been – and still is.

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    1 Comment

    1. I am looking for any photographs of my mother, who was Howard University’s Homecoming Queen in 1949.
      Her name is Martina S. Walden. However, Howard may list her maiden name which was Martina Amy Street.
      She graduated in 1950.

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