Professor Parrott and “A Little Preachment from the Pew to the Pulpit”

Over past three weeks I’ve been spending at least 10+ hours every week in Virginia Tech Special Collections searching through various collections within the University Archives. This search has led me to look at student scrapbooks during the WWI era, the student newspaper The Virginia Tech, and now Virginia Tech president Joseph Eggleston’s records. I’ve searched through three of seven boxes and the search has already yielded a number of fascinating finds. I want to use this post to share my favorite and most surprising discovery.

Below is a letter from October 31, 1917 written by the professor of shops J. R. Parrott to President Eggleston. Attached to the handwritten letter was a four page essay written by Parrott titled “A Little Preachment from the Pew to the Pulpit.”In the essay Parrott details his opinion about the war, his objections to it, and his pacifist sympathies. Parrott’is the first major voice I found at Virginia Tech during the war period who voices opposition. Though I have found no evidence to suggest that Parrott vocalized his opinions in public, it is remarkable that he felt comfortable enough to put his ideas on paper and send them to Eggleston. Particularly when one considers that there could have been serious consequences for Parrott under the 1917 Espionage Act if this “Little Preachment” fell into the wrong hands. A concern which may explain why Parrott did not affix his name to the essay itself.

From the essay you can tell that Parrott was absolutely opposed to the war. His opposition seemed to be rooted in two things, his religious conviction (believing that the war was God’s punishment on Europe) and his suspicion that American involvement in the war was stoked by other interests (particularly moneyed interests which he calls “the Morgan money and munition crowd”).

At the same time Parrot seemed to have resigned himself to the reality of American involvement in the war. On the last page of his “Little Preachment” Parrott wrote that “as a democracy we are all in it [the war] to the bitter end, and bitter end it will be, to take our punishment with the rest of the world.” He went on to write that since American soldiers were already at the front that it was the duty of all to provide “all the moral and material support a loyal people can give.”

Anyway, you can read the entire source for yourself. Below I’ve included the entirety of Parrott’s letter. I have provided my own transcription for the handwritten cover letter and I have drawn attention to a couple colorful quotations from particular pages.

Parrott, Little Preachment Cover.JPG
Transcription: “Dear Mr. Eggleston, As it is easy to get a wrong idea of ones position on matters of serious moment I think you might be interested in the enclosed paper which gives emphatically my most earnest position in regard to the great punishment now being inflicted on humanity. I hope you do not disagree to far with me as a whole. Yours sincerely, J. R. Parrott”
Parrott, Little Preachment 1
“A Little Preachment” page 1 : “The Morgan money and munition crowd worked up the jingoists with a great show of world patriotism and forced Congress into the war.”
Parrott, Little Preachment 2
“A Little Preachment” page 2
Parrott, LIttle Preachment 3
“A Little Preachment” page 3 : “My prophecy is that this war will not end till this proud, rich United States is thoroughly humbled and on her knees, not to Germany, but to Almighty God, and the sooner the better.”
Parrott, Little Preachment 4
“A Little Preachment” page 4 : I could choose a quote to highlight, but this entire page is worth reading!

As I said previously, Professor Parrott is the first major pacifist voice I’ve found at Virginia Tech during the war period. Though he certainly wasn’t the only one who held similar beliefs on campus, he’s the only one I’ve found who put his views into writing. In his response to Parrott’s “Little Preachment” President Eggleston revealed that he was somewhat sympathetic to Parrott’s views, but not entirely. Eggleston responded in a three page letter which is  somewhat revealing of his own views. As it is late, I plan to share Eggleston’s response in another post over the next few days. Bear with me until then.

Anyway, I think a source like this can add a lot of depth to the story I’m trying to tell about Virginia Tech during World War I. At the moment I’m still trying to digest the impact that a source like this could have upon my research. But here are a few questions I’ve been thinking about since yesterday: What kind of differences are there between faculty views about the war and student views? Did the faculty differ among themselves? Was there tension on campus over issues like this? Is there a generational divide?

I’m looking forward to talking with my advisers and classmates about this source and these questions soon. Sharing, feedback, and discussion are important parts of the research process and I hope that they can help me ask some more useful questions.

As always, readers, I value your comments and questions. Feel free to leave your comments below!

Until my next post, “Yours for American democracy and real Christianity.”

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7 thoughts on “Professor Parrott and “A Little Preachment from the Pew to the Pulpit””

  1. A fascinating find! Eggleston was a Baptist minister as well as pres. of college? Parrott seems to suggest that on p. 2 of his essay. Was his essay a response to something Eggleston might have told the student body? I’m wondering about what prompted Parrott to write such an essay. It would also be interesting to know how students viewed Parrott. I guessing there are no “course evaluations” to draw from : ) But anything else that might suggest “shop” was a class that might influence young minds?

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    1. I don’t think that Eggleston was a trained minister, I can’t find anything in biographies on him to suggest that he was a trained minister. However, his letters reveal him to be a very devout believer. His letters are full of theology and I believe that he gave occasional sermons in local churches. Eggleston certainly used his position as college president to “sermonize” to students and encourage Christianity. I’ll have to get to the bottom of this, but I suspect Parrott calls him a “minister of the gospel” because he is largely self-trained and uses his position like a minister.

      I don’t have a clue as to why Parrott sent such a letter. I’ll have to look back at his correspondence and the campus newspaper in the days before to find clues. I also wonder if he is responding to events that are happening in Europe. October 1917 is when the first American troops join the Allies fighting in the trenches, the Battle of Ypres is still going on (which resulted in 700,000 casualties), and days before Parrott’s letter the Germans and Austrians broke through the Italian front in the Battle of Caporetto.

      Finally, I know of no course evaluations to find out what kind of relationship Parrott had with students. As a professor of Mechanical Arts and the head of the Shops Department I imagine that he worked with students relatively closely since he had to supervise their work with heavy machinery. Machinery that cost a lot of money and was dangerous if misused. I might get a sense of his relationship with students by looking through some more of his mundane letters about the operation of the shops.

      Though, something you might find funny Dr. Jones. Parrott did not like the Athletic Association one bit. In a letter he sent Eggleston on October 13, 1917 he wrote that the “Athletic Association is to V.P.I. what Tammany Hall is to New York.” Little to say, Parrott is a very interesting character and I plan on combing through his letters carefully.

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  2. This is really fantastic! With some much evidence leaning toward the side of full mobilization for the war, it seems as though voices like Parrott’s would be swept under the rug. I wonder if there are any instances where he may have led meetings or clubs composed of students who had similar opinions about the war.

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  3. My curiosity was peaked by the religious conviction Parrott had over the war. I assume there was the same sort of “preaching” being done in favor of the war. Have you seen any evidence of that? Have you come across many other documents that use religion in reference to the war? I mean, is this a regular occurrence, or does this document stand out not only in that it speaks against the war, but uses religion in reference to it?

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