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.
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.”