Scratching the Surface: One Reedie’s Work with Vanport and the Girl Scouts of America

By Ronan Battistoni

Sepia image of a woman wearing a long coat and dark gloves, tucking a bag under her arm, in front of a house next to a short palm tree.

[Opal Weimer poses for a photo, circa 1940]1

This article draws from the Opal Weimer-Tice papers, a new addition to Reed’s Archives. Weimer was born in 1900 and grew up in the St John’s neighborhood of Portland before going on to receive her diploma from Reed College in 1922. After graduating, she relocated to California with her first husband, William Fostvedt, to become a teacher of physical education. The couple had two children before their divorce in 1940. By August of 1943, Weimer had remarried to Chicagoan textbook salesman Fred Tice.

This article focuses on a brief period between Weimer’s two marriages, during which she lived in Vanport, a warworkers’ housing project located between Portland and Vancouver. It’s the story of a young woman attempting to find purpose in a period of mass global turmoil, while simultaneously acting as the sole caretaker to her two young children. It’s one of the most dramatic chapters of Weimer’s life, but only a small part of what her papers contain. If you’re interested in learning more about her story, the Archives team encourages you to reach out–we’d love to show you around!

Black and white scanned images of Opal Weimer, standing on a lawn smiling, wearing a long skirt and long-sleeved shirt, and James Hamilton leaning against a brick building wearing a three-piece suit. The text in the image reads:
"Opal Rae Weimer  Portland. Life has no terrors for Opal. Achievement comes about as easy to her as humdrum existence to the rest of us. Her cups testify to this, as well as her election to class office, athletic council, and presidency of the women's dormitory. She sings alto in the chorus and dispenses chewing gum and golf balls in the Co-op. Opal deserted us for one year at California, but returned to the fold for her last year. She is modest in spite of her ability at husky jobs. Not even pleading calls to go strolling will distract her when her mind is made up to study. Her ambitions include a brilliant future.
James Thompson Hamilton  Portland. This man rounded his career of activity upon the Reed college campus with the presidency of the Senior class. Quest, Drama Club, football, basketball, track, house presidencies- all these were meat for him. Besides these Hamilton as a member of the old firm of Ham and Hunter and as an independent more recently was the star photographer of the campus, and has been responsible to a great measure for the success of the three Griffins. In spite of all these responsibilities, Hamilton is a cheerful cuss, and we wonder why he wasn't called Sunny instead of Jimmie."

[Opal Weimer and James Hamilton’s senior photographs for the Reed College Griffin, circa 1922]2

In late March of 1943, three years following their divorce, Opal Weimer sent a letter to her ex-husband, William Fostvedt, requesting his approval to relocate from California to Portland with their two young children, Cyndy and Nancy, for one year. James Hamilton, an old friend from her days at Reed, had offered her a position establishing extended services (before- and after-school) programming for children of war workers in Vanport City, a federal housing complex located between Portland and Vancouver. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Weimer: not only would she be able to work full-time without worrying about childcare, thanks to the Extended Services program, but she would also have the chance to shape a radical new project from the ground up and to “feel an integral part of the great war effort.”3

Sepia photograph of two young girls bundled up with gloves, winter hats, and coats and a woman wearing a long coat and dress sitting between them. There is snow covering the ground and some is on the clothes and shoes of the girls.

[Opal Weimer photographed with her daughters, Cyndy (left) and Nancy (right) circa 1943]4

Fostvedt enthusiastically supported Weimer’s decision, explaining that he had long desired to enlist in the military and join the fight against fascism in Europe but was prevented from doing so by his poor health.5 As a result, he was able to sympathize with her desire to contribute to the war effort through the limited avenues that were available to her, even though it meant being separated from his children for an extended period of time.6

Weimer spent the months prior to her arrival in Vanport traveling the East Coast with her children, learning as much as she could about Vanport and its needs from federal educational personnel, librarians, and schoolteachers while conducting publicity interviews with national magazines.7 She found that opinions on Vanport were mixed; while federal housing projects were much more widespread at the time, Vanport was by far the largest, and faced a number of unique challenges due to the historical, political, and geographic conflicts that led to its construction.

Black and white image depicting the interior living room. There is a couch, radio, lamp, a child reading in a chair, a table in front of a window, a child reading on a twin bed, and rugs on the floor. Typed on the image is: Interior, Denver Ave. Housing Project, Nov. 3, 1942, Kaiser Company Inc. Portland, Ore.

[A Vanport publicity photo, depicting the interior of a standard apartment living room]8

Vanport was built in 1943 to support employees of the Kaiser Shipyards, which opened near Portland and Vancouver shortly before the US entered World War II in 1941. Because the military draft had created a shortage of able-bodied, white male laborers, Kaiser’s workforce was primarily reliant on women and Black people. However, Portland’s aggressive redlining policies consigned Black residents to the severely overcrowded Albina district. Such limited housing and poor living conditions made it hard for Kaiser to retain employees, so when the Housing Authority of Portland resisted changes to their racist zoning policies, Kaiser went to the federal government to secure funding and support for a new housing project.9

Sepia image depicting the exterior of a Vanport apartment block. There are several cars parked in gravel or dirt in front of a two-story complex. Typed on the image is: Parking Area and A Unit, Denver Ave. Housing Project, Feb. 9, 1943, Kaiser Company Inc. Portland, Ore.
[Vanport apartment block exteriors]10

Vanport was haphazardly constructed in under a year on the Columbia River floodplain, surrounded by 15 to 25 foot dikes on all sides.11 By the time Weimer arrived in June of 1943, only two years after its construction, it was Oregon’s second largest city and the largest housing project in the US. Unfortunately, due to its hasty construction, Vanport wasn’t able to measure up to what had been advertised to the families who moved there–sometimes from across the country, at great personal cost. During her initial interviews to assess the needs of local parents, Weimer found that stress levels among the shipyard workers were high, and living conditions crude. One working mother, the subject of one of Weimer’s case studies, complained that

All the things that are gonna be here, they said was already here waiting for us… The day we got into Portland after 4 days and 4 nights on the train–it was just awful. It was raining, and we had to go to a hotel. $6 a day for a room, and we had to have two rooms. The next day at the yards they said we’d just have to wait until Vanport was ready, or they’d try to find someplace else for us to live.12

Meanwhile, in a survey for a Vanport school newsletter where fifth graders were asked what the word “Vanport” brought to mind, one young girl quipped “Mudport” in reference to the mud coating the city and its roads, a byproduct of the Pacific Northwest’s heavy rainfall and Vanport’s perpetually unfinished landscaping.13

Sepia image depicting the construction site of a school building. Typed on the image is: School, Denver Ave. Housing Project, Feb. 17, 1943, Kaiser Company Inc. Portland, Ore.
[A Vanport school construction site]14

For a time, Weimer worked with other Vanport school representatives to put a positive spin on the project’s problems by comparing their struggles to those of the pioneers who settled Oregon over a hundred years prior. In one draft for an article, she writes, “the immediate problems here are muddy, confused and growing like weeds, yet the very confusion is but part of the valiant effort toward the future beauty and orderliness of a new pioneer town.”15 It soon became apparent, though, that Vanport’s administration didn’t have sufficient plans in place to resolve the most serious problems. Schools lacked adequate facilities and supplies, enrollment was low, and with an end to the war in sight, massive numbers of Kaiser employees were preparing to leave Vanport and Portland.16

Meanwhile, by early July, Weimer’s working relationship with Hamilton had become strained by his unreciprocated attempts to engage in an affair with her.17 Weimer soon decided to end her contract early, remarry to Fred Tice (whom Hamilton had introduced her to earlier that summer),18 and leave Portland for Chicago.19

Wedding photograph of a man wearing a suit posed behind a woman, both looking into the camera. Dated July 30, 1943. Photograph by Gladys Gilbert, Portland.
[Weimer and Tice photographed together on their wedding day, July 30, 1943]20

Still, Weimer struggled to readjust to the constrained life of a housewife, feeling that it left one “lacking in continuity, and with one’s own personal life left lying about with so many tag ends.”21 She continued to keep up with Hamilton (albeit on uncomfortable and often hostile terms) through letters for several years, regularly inquiring about the status of Vanport and the Extended Services program. They cut off contact with each other entirely in 1945, after Hamilton berated Weimer for her personal and professional conduct. She preserved the letter, after adding her own label to the envelope: “this is kept as an example of neuroticism, extreme bad taste, and unjustifiable error!”22

Weimer continued to keep up with publicly-available news on Vanport until, three years later, the project was destroyed in a flood. In the immediate aftermath of the flood, Portland residents came together to support the survivors; Reed College hosted a clothing donation drive23, and offered single men temporary housing at a reduced cost in the Foster and Scholz dormitories.24 Vanport was never rebuilt, though, leaving over fifteen thousand people without homes. The disaster eventually forced integration in Portland neighborhoods that had formerly been predominantly or exclusively white-owned. The only other surviving remainder of Vanport is Portland State University, formerly known as the Vanport Extension Center.25

Oregon Journal newspaper with headline "Educator Succumbs. Monday, June 2, 1958." "Prof. James T. Hamilton, 58, head of the department of education at Reed college since January 1, 1950, died late Saturday. Hamilton was the superintendent of schools for Vanport City during World War II. Born in Illinois, Hamilton was a 1922 graduate of Reed college. He served from 1924-1932 as superintendent of schools at Newberg. For the next 18 month he received his master's degree. In 1934 he became director of admissions for Reed college. During his career in education, Hamilton also did graduate work at the University of Southern California, at Columbia university teachers college, and at Stanford university. 
Hamilton is survived by a son, James Jr. Funeral services have been set for 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at J. P. Finely & Son."
[James Hamilton’s obituary, printed in the Oregon Journal and preserved by Weimer]26

Hamilton went on to work at Reed College as the head of the Department of Education. He passed away in 1958, ten years after the flood, at the age of 58.27 In 2017, he was commended by the Oregon senate for his work in ensuring the integration of Vanport’s schools despite resistance from other administrators, as well as hiring some of Oregon’s first Black schoolteachers.28

Six people loading up a car with sleeping bags, two of the people are standing on the car's doorframe with the doors open and the other three are standing on the ground. Five of them are wearing girl scout uniforms and the person in the middle, Opal Weimer, is wearing a hat and coat and holding a bag at the door of the car.
[Weimer preparing for a trip with Girl Scouts, Chicago, 1953]29

Meanwhile, Weimer spent the rest of her life as a devoted wife and mother, eventually finding new outlets for professional fulfillment through work with the Girl Scouts. She wrote and edited the Lodestar (a newsletter for the Girl Scouts of Santa Clara, California) for years, served on the Girl Scouts’ Bicentennial committees, and worked as Girl Scout Roundup staff alongside her daughters.30 She received the Thanks badge in 1965, on the 25th anniversary of her involvement with the organization, and was commended by them for her work following her death in 1978.31

Black and white photo of Opal Weimer, seated in a rocking chair wearing a floral dress and beaded necklace, and  Fred Tice, seated in a rocking chair wearing a button up shirt and pants. The couple are looking at each other.
[Weimer and Tice photographed together in their garden, approx. 1960]32

[1] Opal poses in front of a house. 1940. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Photos of Opal. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

[2] The Griffin. Reed College, 1922.

[3] Weimer, Opal. Letter to William Fostvedt. 22 March 1943.

[4] Opal, Cyndy, and Nancy in the snow. 1943. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Photos of Opal. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

[5] Fostvedt, William. Letter to Opal Weimer. 25 March 1943.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Weimer, Opal. Letter to James Hamilton. 24 March 1943.

[8] Kaiser Company. “Interior: Denver Ave. Housing Project.” 3 November 1942. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Vanport: 1942-1943. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

[9] Geiling, Natasha. “How Oregon’s Second Largest City Vanished in a Day.” Smithsonian Magazine, 18 February 2015. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/vanport-oregon-how-countrys-largest-housing-project-vanished-day-180954040/.

[10] Kaiser Company. “Parking Area and a Unit: Denver Ave. Housing Project.” 9 February 1943. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Vanport: 1942-1943. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

 [11] Ibid.

[12] Weimer, Opal. “Case History: Families in Vanport.” Unpublished manuscript. 7 July 1943.

[13] “Vanport City Schools Weekly Staff Bulletin.”

[14] Kaiser Company. “School: Denver Ave. Housing Project.” 17 February 1943. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Vanport: 1942-1943. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

[15] Weimer, Opal. “The Pioneers of 1943.” Unpublished manuscript.

[16] Weimer, Opal. Letter to James Hamilton. 9 November 1943.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Hamilton, James. Letter to Opal Weimer. May 1943.

[19] Weimer, Opal. Letter to William Fostvedt. 7 July 1943.

[20] Weimer-Tice wedding portrait. 30 July, 1943. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Photos of Opal. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

[21] Weimer, Opal. Letter to James Hamilton. 1 November 1943.

[22] Hamilton, James. Letter to Opal Weimer. 14 April 1945.

[23] Heintz, Chuck. Faculty communication. “Clothes Still Needed.”

[24] Odegard, Peter H. Letter. 5 June 1948.

[25] Geiling.

[26] “Educator Succumbs.” Oregon Journal, 2 June 1958, pp. 5.

 [27] Ibid.

[28] Vanport Commemoration, S. Res. 21, 79th Cong. (2017).

[29] Weimer in Chicago, preparing for a Girl Scout outing. 1953. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Photos of Opal. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

[30] “Day is Done… God is Nigh: Farewell Opal.” Lodestar: Santa Clara County Girl Scout Council Newsletter, October 1978.

[31] Death Record for Opal Weimer Tice, 20 September 1978, File No. 129-1210, Virginia Department of Health. Certified copy in possession of Reed College Archives.

[32] Opal and Fred Tice in their garden. Opal Weimer Tice papers. TiceO, Box 16, Photos of Opal. Reed College Special Collections and Archives, Portland OR.

Tales From the Archives: Oh, the Humanities!

By Ronan Battistoni

Roman-style dinner hosted by the Classics Club. Participants wear togas and are gathered around a low-lying square table.
A Roman-style dinner hosted by the Classics Club in 1914

There are few things more iconic to Reed College than Humanities 110. At its best, the course defines the Reed experience: intellectual rigor, lively classroom discussions, and a preference for thoughtful feedback over grades. It is also one of the places where the conflict between Reed’s left-leaning student body and the institution’s insistence on maintaining its academic traditions becomes most clear.

Early Days: 1920s-1940s

The Humanities is rooted in the educational philosophy of Richard Scholz, Reed College’s president from 1921-24. Scholz aimed to introduce more structure to the educational program designed by his predecessor, William Foster, while maintaining academic rigor and interdisciplinary perspectives.

A black and white photo of students gathered around a table for a humanities conference.
A 1940s Humanities conference

Under the Scholz presidency, students were required to take a pair of courses in their freshman year, one in history and one in literature. Each presented a broad survey of Western culture until about 1763 AD.1 By the mid-1940s, these courses were condensed into a single class: Humanities 11. In the fall semester, freshmen read the Greek and Roman canon, before shifting to medieval Europe in the spring. This structure remained virtually unchanged for thirty years.

Black Student Union Protests: 1960s

In the mid-1960s, the college received a $275,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to fund minority recruitment. While the grant was successful at diversifying what had once been a homogeneously white student body, Black students reported a lack of support on campus and feelings of alienation from their white peers. This tension led to the creation of the Black Student Union (BSU), which organized for the creation of a Black Studies center and a reevaluation of the Humanities program.2

Black Student Union protestors gathered outside of Eliot Hall

BSU’s frustrations with the classical Humanities syllabus reached their peak in 1969 when several Black freshmen began boycotting registration in the course. BSU representatives argued that “Black freshmen… did not want to take a course entitled ‘Humanities’ that omitted the contributions of black people to civilization.”3 While the BSU boycott never gained the traction to significantly impact the Humanities curriculum, it planted the seeds for an ongoing conversation regarding the pedagogy and content of the course.

Reed Union: 1970s

In early March of 1971, several freshmen staged a walkout during a Humanities lecture. While the walkout was apparently without warning (or clear demands), it led to the organization of a Reed Union* on the Humanities curriculum.4

A poster with a white fist in the center. On the poster is written "students unite," "fight shit," "fight reification," and "boycott humanities lectures."
A flyer created by disgruntled freshmen in 1973, encouraging their peers to skip Humanities lectures

Unfortunately, the Union was mired in a lack of clarity regarding exactly what students wanted from the Humanities. While faculty and administration focused on rebutting requests to do away with the Humanities requirement entirely, the majority of students were interested in building a more engaging and pointed curriculum.5

For several years following the protest, the Humanities curriculum saw an unprecedented level of experimentation. From 1973-78, freshman Humanities were split into three courses: 120, 130, and 140. All three were organized around the same areas and time periods (archaic and classical Greece in the fall, and Medieval and Renaissance-era Europe in the spring), but differed slightly in scope and theme.6

Despite adjustments to the syllabus, students remained unsatisfied. Some complained that the class was overdesigned, and too vast in scope to allow for any real depth.7 Continued dissatisfaction with the lack of real writing instruction led graduate student Julianne Murray to introduce a peer-review “dorm writing” program with the support of the college.8

By the end of the decade, the three-track system was phased out and replaced with a version of the syllabus that was nearly identical to the 1960s curriculum.

New Perspectives: 2000s

A student dressed in a toga running down a hallway.
A candid captured at a Greek and Roman festival hosted by the Classics Club in the 1990s

By the early 2000s, the bulk of criticism came from within the Humanities faculty rather than students. One party sought to hold onto traditional texts while recontextualizing old materials and incorporating secondary sources more in line with a modern understanding of the classical world. This view was advocated by Philosophy professor Peter Steinberger in a 2004 Reed Magazine article, in which he referred to Humanities as “a matter of new wine poured into old bottles.”9

Others sought a much more drastic overhaul of the syllabus. A 2008 internal review of the Humanities program points to the events of September 11, 2001, as the catalyst for faculty’s growing desire to incorporate more diverse materials, especially from the Islamic world. Some suggestions included a more directly comparative syllabus (for example, a unit on epics might feature Gilgamesh, Genesis and Exodus, the Iliad, and the Aeneid) or a shift from classical Greece and Rome to another time period, civilization, or cosmopolitan center.

None of these suggestions made it off the drawing board. Objections included “the potential paucity of texts in each of these syllabi” and their lack of canonical relevance, as well as a reluctance to cast off the expertise of experienced Humanities faculty. While the writers of the report eventually came to the decision to continue the study of Greece and Rome, their attitude toward it reads as ambivalent at best. By this point, it seems to have been clear to students and faculty alike that the persistence of Classical studies in Humanities was at least on some level a case of “institutional inertia.”10

Reedies Against Racism: 2010s

Protestors gathered in a lecture hall holding signs, students watch from the audience.
RAR protestors gathered at a Humanities lecture in 2016

By 2016, long-simmering tensions within Humanities 110 reached a turning point as protests led by the student group Reedies Against Racism (RAR) broke national news. RAR had many demands: they wanted the campus designated as a legal sanctuary for immigrants, better support services for students of color, divestment from the college’s operating bank Wells Fargo, and a revival of the long-defunct ethnic studies program. But at the center of the discourse–both off and on-campus–lay a single, polarizing request: a fundamental reevaluation of the Humanities 110 syllabus.12

RAR advocates were ultimately successful at convincing the administration to move their periodic review of the Humanities program forward by a few years. By 2018, the spring semester of the Humanities curriculum had been completely overhauled to incorporate two new modules: one focused on Mexico City, and another on the Harlem Renaissance.13

What Comes Next?

A graphic comparing the Humanities 110 syllabus in Spring 2018 (in pink) to the syllabus in Spring 2019 (in white).

While the new syllabus seems to have resolved some concerns about the lack of diversity in Humanities, new challenges have come to the fore. The Religion department–a long-standing pillar of Humanities lecturers–withdrew from the course entirely in 2018. Religion professor Kambiz GhaneaBassiri explained the department’s reasoning in a Quest interview, in which he argued that the new, modular curriculum was too broad and “[did] not allow [time] for close examination of relationships between different people, societies, and cultures.” As a possible solution, GhaneaBassiri proposed a tighter syllabus, still classically focused but more diverse in scope, which could emphasize interactions between the Persian empire, India, Central Asia, Greece, and Europe.14

Students have filed a number of complaints of their own. A number of reflections printed in the Quest since 2018 bemoan the emphasis on form over content, the use of colonial texts,15 and a general lack of self-criticism in conferences regarding approaches to potentially triggering texts.16 Others echo the Religion department’s concerns about the limited amount of time allowed for each module.17

Of course, it’s not all bad: the incorporation of different mediums (including films and music), as well as increased opportunities to issues like gender, sexuality, and ethnicity in a relatively contemporary context, have been well received by students and seem to have improved engagement in the course. The sheer volume of Humanities discourse in the Quest implies that, at the very least, the course is doing its job at shaping Reedies into powerful critical thinkers.

Interested in learning more about the Humanities or RAR? Reach out to us–we’d love to hear from you! The archives team can be contacted at archives@reed.edu.

* Reed Unions are panel-style discussions between students, faculty, and administration. Most recently, community members discussed Reed’s divestment policy and response to the climate crisis at a Reed Union in 2020. While Reed Unions have no formal authority, they are a valuable avenue for communication between students, faculty, and administration who are often isolated from each other.

[1] Internal review of the Humanities 110 program. October 31, 2008.

[2] “The Struggle for Black Studies.” An Identity Crisis: Images of Student Dissent at Reed, 1966-1972, https://blogs.reed.edu/an-identity-crisis/the-struggle-for-black-studies/.

[3] The Reed College Quest, September 10, 1969.

[4] The Reed College Quest, March 15, 1971.

[5] The Reed College Quest, March 21, 1971.

[6] Reed College catalog, 1974-1975. September 5, 1974.

[7] The Reed College Quest, April 11, 1975

[8] Julianne Murray, “Dorm Writing Group Project Report.” January 1980.

[9] Peter J. Steinberger, “The (Un)Changing Face of Hum 110.” Reed Magazine August 2004. https://www.reed.edu/reed_magazine/aug2004/features/hum_110/index.html

[10] Internal review of the Humanities 110 program. October 31, 2008.

[11] Brandon Zero, “Learning from the Past.” Reed Magazine, July 12, 2021. https://www.reed.edu/reed-magazine/articles/2021/reedies-against-racism-learn-from-the-past.html.

[12] Mary James, “Summary of Progress on Student Demands.” December 6, 2016.

[13] Humanities 110 syllabus, 2018. https://www.reed.edu/humanities/hum110/syllabus/.

[14] Elai Kobayashi-Solomon, “Losing Faith.” The Reed College Quest, September 14, 2018. https://reedquest.org/articles/losing-faith.

[15] Mud Bentley and Albert Kerelis, “Student Thoughts on Hum 110.” The Reed College Quest, March 19, 2021. https://reedquest.org/articles/humthoughts21

[16] Eva Goeke, “Lines Crossed.” The Reed College Quest, February 25, 2022. https://reedquest.org/articles/lines-crossed.

[17] Olivia Hicks, “Letter to the Editor: A Reflection On Humanities 110.” The Reed College Quest, April 30, 2021. https://reedquest.org/articles/humopinion.

Tales from the Archive: The Big Debate: Graffiti at Reed, 1980-2021

Graffiti at Reed has been a contentious debate for the past four decades amongst both students and faculty. Some have viewed it as a valuable expression of free speech and student autonomy. Others have considered its presence a nuisance, one that degrades the college’s quality and reputation. Most of Reed’s graffiti has taken on a political bent, though at times it has purely been comical. From the 1980s till now the Reed College Quest has been the primary arbiter between those in support and those against graffiti. 

The debates surrounding graffiti in the 1980s were varied, with one article from November 14, 1984, decrying its existence due to its obscene nature. While the author acknowledges that graffiti on campus can be humorous, she critiques its occasional breach into problematic territory. On one such occasion, a student wrote on a bicycle ad that “Women shouldn’t ride bikes anyway.” We can all agree this is a poor use of ink, especially in an era when women’s rights were increasingly threatened. This was the 80s, when Ronald Reagan and the nascent Evangelical right were becoming increasingly powerful, and along with them came attacks on women’s reproductive rights. In 1987, another article, “Metaphysical Graffiti”, praised graffiti’s prevalence. Written in response to the erasure of graffiti by other students and campus services, the author argues that graffiti at Reed is unique when compared to “regular outside of Reed graffiti” insofar as it is creative, witty, and intellectual. Hence, “graffiti at Reed [should not be] thought of as defacing property so much as an anonymous forum for the expression of a diverse number of views”.

The article then discusses how different departments at Reed have their own brand of graffiti, like the Chemistry department’s graffiti which featured a chemical formula to make “Five-Pronged Werewolf Slayer.” Instead of erasing graffiti, the author argues it should be preserved and designated to particular spaces. 

The 1990s brought about an era in which students were much less keen on graffiti’s ubiquity. This is, in part, due to dramatic increases in graffiti and general vandalism which occurred at the school during the era. The debate hit its peak in the late 1990s, with 1997 featuring almost monthly articles on graffiti’s prevalence. In February of that year, one article claimed that “graffiti as a means of social expression is tantamount to ethical cowardice insofar as the accountable party does not take responsibility for his/her viewpoints”. This was in response to the defacing of the new commons, which had recently been renovated. Another article published the same year, “Are We Gettin More Destructive?”, presented various arguments for why Reedies are “more destructive” than they once were, and argued that graffiti is the most obvious example of this increase in destructive habits.

Another hypothesis for the rise in graffiti was the closure of Commons’ lower level, a space traditionally used for student activities, which had the dual purpose of serving as a “natural outlet” for destructiveness on campus. Additionally, the lower level of commons was apparently used as a “sexual clearinghouse for the campus,” and because of its closure, students “have taken their excess sexual tension and channeled it into destroying the campus”. Another theory for the rise in graffiti is an increased number of students who are “volatile drunks and addicts [who] roam the campus,” who in their inebriated states wreak havoc on Reed’s infrastructure. While these are all compelling theories, the prevalence of graffiti certainly has not abated and continues to this day.

Graffiti at Reed in the twenty-first century has remained a staple of the SU and in campus bathroom stalls, and the occasional monumental design can be found on the side of buildings. To this day, both graffiti’s presence and its erasure by campus services is still being debated, with 2020 being a particularly controversial year due to the country’s political environment. While most graffiti has been tame, there have certainly been instances where graffiti has been used in harmful ways. If you want to see more pictures check out our digital collections, or visit special collections and archives, or email us at archives@reed.edu.

Tales from the Archive: Divestment and the Occupation of Eliot Hall

In a recent email to the campus community, President Audrey Bilger and Chairman of the Board of Trustees Roger Perlmutter declared that Reed would “prohibit any new investments in public funds or private partnerships that are focused on the oil, gas, and coal industries, including infrastructure and field services… [and] phase out all such existing investments in private partnerships in accordance with the funds’ typical life cycles.”

Bilger and Perlmutter acknowledged the efforts of student organizations like Greenboard and Fossil Free Reed in the Board’s decision to divest—but did you know that the history of student organizing for divestment goes as far back as the 1980s? The first big push for selective investment at Reed was driven by increasing concern about the South African apartheid state.

February 1985

The Reed College Quest published a special issue on apartheid, in which the editorial board took an official stance in favor of full divestment of college funds from companies doing business in South Africa. According to the Quest’s estimate, approximately $4.296 million of Reed’s endowment was invested in corporations with ties to the apartheid regime. The Quest editors argued that these investments made the college complicit in the exploitation of Black South Africans. In the following weeks, Quest editor Christopher Phelps and several other students organized the South African Concerns Committee (SACC), and started devising strategies to push the college’s administration toward divestment.

October 1985

SACC held its first mass demonstration, a non-disruptive protest in Eliot Hall. Not long after, SACC presented a petition to the Trustees that demonstrated over 50% of the college community favored full divestment. During the Trustees’ October meeting, the board chose to defer their decision to January 1986. In response, twenty-five students, unsupported by SACC, occupied Bragdon’s office in protest. Their attempts at negotiation with Dean of Students Susan Crimm were unsuccessful, and occupiers left the office after fifty-two hours.

January 1986

Bragdon delivered the college’s official statement on divestment: Reed would maintain its current investment portfolio, to the extent that it followed the Sullivan Principles**. In response, approximately one hundred students immediately took control of Eliot Hall, blocked all access to non-students, and demanded that the Trustees vote in support of full divestment and create more democratic financial decision-making structures. The use of barricades and unarmed guards at Eliot Hall’s entrances made the demonstration far more controversial than any prior SACC or divestment-related protests.

February 1986

The occupation of Eliot ended when occupiers reached an agreement with Bragdon and Crimm to establish a joint student-Trustee committee to deliberate on divestment and other issues of importance to the student body. Three other students levied an honor case against the occupiers, and argued that they had caused harm to the community by disrupting access to classrooms, the financial aid office, and other important spaces in Eliot. The Judicial Board decided that the occupiers were in violation of the honor principle.

Late 1980s

SACC renamed itself Reed Out of Africa and continued to push for full divestment, but was unsuccessful. Several students occupied the development office in Eliot Hall, but found that the administration was far less willing to attempt negotiation with them than before and received suspensions. Following Bragdon’s departure from the college in 1988, the issue died down.

Interested in learning more about the history of divestment efforts at Reed? Email us at archives@reed.edu, or visit our website!

* Divestment refers to the selective selling-off of business interests and investments, in compliance with set ethical demands. Apartheid divestment campaigns ranged from calls for divestment from companies that directly profited from the exploitation of Black South Africans (known as “partial divestment”), to companies that did any business in South Africa whatsoever (“full divestment”). While divestment has limited efficacy when it comes to placing financial pressure on companies and institutions, its modern proponents argue that it creates a moral stigma around unethical industries and labor practices. 

** The Sullivan Principles were first published in 1977 by Reverend Leon H. Sullivan. They urged global “corporate social responsibility” through a set of seven principles intended to promote equal-opportunity employment practices. Over time Rev. Sullivan became increasingly disillusioned by their ability to effect social change, and by October 1985, he issued an ultimatum in an interview with New Yorker Magazine: “If apartheid is not abolished in actuality [within the next two years], all foreign corporations should leave [South Africa]. This should be followed by a total ban on all imports and exports.”

Works Cited

  • Byshenk, Greg, Lynn Decker, and Michael Ames Conner. “Recent Topical History in Several Parts.” Reed College Student Handbook, August 7 1989.
  • Kahn, E.J. “Sullivan Redux.” New Yorker Magazine, October 7 1985.
  • Phelps, Christopher. “Reed and Apartheid.” The Reed College Quest, February 5 1985.
  • Sullivan, Leon H. 1984. “The Global Sullivan Principles.” University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/links/sullivanprinciples.html

Exhibit: Race, Politics, and Women’s Rights: Visions of a New United States

Many have already heard of The Liberator, the 19th-century abolitionist newspaper created by William Lloyd Garrison. However, a new magazine under the same name emerged in the twentieth century. First published in the spring of 1918, the twentieth century Liberator continued the fight for equality: it focused on worker’s rights, women’s rights, and promoted socialism as an alternative to capitalism.

During World War One, the Wilson administration passed the 1917 Espionage Act and the 1918 Sedition Act. The legislation prohibited subversive speech that critiqued the draft, the Constitution, or the United States government.1 Subsequently, the U.S. government shut down socialist political magazine The Masses and prosecuted its editor Max Eastman.2 With the magazine effectively terminated by the U.S. government, Eastman and his sister Crystal founded The Liberator to succeed the defunct Masses.

The Eastmans were an accomplished pair of American activists. Crystal Eastman (b.1881-d.1928) was a labor lawyer, suffragist, socialist, and journalist who worked with her brother (as a co-editor) on the socialist magazine The Liberator. Much of Eastman’s journalistic work focused on the suffrage movement and workers’ rights in the early twentieth century. In 1917, before The Liberator’s creation, Crystal Eastman and other activists established the National Civil Liberties Bureau, which later became the ACLU, to fight government repression of dissenters’ rights during the First World War.3 Eastman is also credited with co-founding the Congressional Union in 1913 (later known as the National Woman’s Party) and supported the Equal Rights Amendment of 1923, a proposed amendment to eliminate federal and state laws that discriminate against women.4 

Max Eastman (b.1883-d.1969) was a poet, editor of The Masses and the Liberator, and a prominent socialist and women’s rights activist in the early twentieth century. In 1910 he and other activists founded the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage.5 Despite his professed belief in men and women’s equality, critics have noted a majority of The Liberator’s articles on women’s issues were written by men. Around 1 January 1922, Eastman passed his editorial position down to literary critic Floyd Dell. Under Dell’s supervision, the magazine’s focus shifted from politics to arts and culture.

First published in the Spring of 1918, a reader could pick up an issue of the  magazine for twenty cents and read about the American labor movement, reports from post-war Europe, and John Reed’s reporting from the USSR. Political art and poetry fleshed out the remainder of the magazine. Contributors included prominent writers such as Claude McKay, a Jamaican-born poet and key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. 

Born Festus Claudius Mckay (b.1889-d.1948), McKay was one of the most important poets of the Harlem Renaissance. His work ranged from vernacular verses celebrating Jamaica to poems that protested racial and economic inequality.6 

In 1912, using a stipend he earned from the Jamaican Institute of Arts and Sciences, McKay left Jamaica for college in the United States. He attended Tuskegee Institute for two months before transferring to Kansas State College. In 1914 McKay departed college for New York City. His experiences with racism in the United States encouraged him to continue writing poetry.7 

In 1919, McKay met and befriended Max Eastman, who later hired McKay as co-editor for The Liberator in 1921: a position McKay would maintain until 1922.8 McKay published several poems in The Liberator, most notably the enthralling poem If We Must Die.9 The poem was first published in the July 1919 issue of The Liberator and republished in several magazines.10 The poem’s publication date is significant as 1919 was one of the most tumultuous years of the twentieth century. There was the Influenza A pandemic, workers unrest, and the Red Summer. If We Must Die was a direct response to news of the race riots that spread across the United States. According to Juliana Spahr’s analysis of the poem, “Claude McKay’s If We Must Die is the poem of this moment, one that captured the zeitgeist as if McKay were a prophet, and not a mere writer.”11 

Along with politics, the magazine’s visual material included a variety of illustrations and cartoons contributed by artists such as Cornelia Barns, William Gropper, and Art Young. 

Born in Philadelphia in 1888, Cornelia Barns was an American illustrator and suffragette. She began contributing illustrations to Eastman’s first magazine, The Masses, in 1914. Barns was one of a  few women who played a significant part in the creation of The Masses. In 1917, Barns moved with her family to California with her husband and child. Committed to radical political and social change, Barns continued to provide art to The Liberator, New Masses, and Suffragist after moving to California.12 

One of Barns’ most notable covers for The Liberator, Strike!, depicts women from the International Garment Workers Union who, in 1919, went on strike for a 44-hour work-week in New York.13 Inside the magazine one could learn more: “Our Cover design, drawn by Cornelia Barns, will carry to readers all over the country something of the spirit with which Local 25 of the International Garment Workers is conducting its strike for the 44 hour-week in New York. Eighty-five percent of the strikers are girls. Of the 35,000 who went out on January 21st, 23,000 have already won their terms and gone back to work. The rest are sticking it out magnificently.”14

Contributions from famous American cartoonists Art Young and William Gropper cemented The Liberator’s status as an influential socialist magazine within New York’s publishing scene. Art Young (b.1866-d.1943) was an American illustrator and activist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1884 he moved to Chicago and studied art and supported himself by drawing newspaper cartoons. In 1903 he moved to New York, and worked as an illustrator for The Masses. After the magazine’s suppression by the U.S. government, Young worked with the Eastmans to produce artwork for The Liberator until the magazine was merged with other left-wing publications to form Workers Monthly in 1924.15

William Gropper was another illustrator who contributed his art to The Liberator. The son of Jewish immigrants, Gropper took art courses as a teenager at an experimental socialist school. After winning awards for his drawings, Gropper took a job with the New York Tribune. His supervisors at the tribune fired him when they discovered his left-wing political connections.16 

By 1922, The Liberator achieved a circulation of 60,000 readers, but Max Eastman desired to shift focus towards book writing and left for the Soviet Union.17 When finances became an issue later that year, the Communist Party of America (CPA) moved in for a friendly takeover. The political party worked with Eastman, Dell, and other writers for the transition. By fall 1922, the magazine became an official organ of the CPA, and political content returned to the foreground.18 

In 1924 The Liberator was merged with other magazines to form a new publication, Workers Monthly. The magazine would change names again to The Communist in 1927 until settling on the title Political Affairs in 1946.19 

To learn more about The Liberator, visit the Special Collections and Archives exhibit, Race, Politics, and Women’s Rights: Visions of a New United States, curated by Nick Campigli, on the library’s main level across from the reference desk. Or, email archives@reed.edu to schedule an appointment with Reed Special Collections and Archives.

To learn more about The Liberator’s contributors, see the book Crystal Eastman: A Revolutionary Life, or view our catalog of Claude McKay’s literature.

  1. Daniel G Donalson, The Espionage and Sedition Acts of World War I Using Wartime Loyalty Laws for Revenge and Profit (El Paso: LFB Scholarly Pub., 2012), http://site.ebrary.com/id/10610281, 2-3.
  2. “Max Forrester Eastman (1883-1969) | American Experience | PBS,” accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/goldman-max-forrester-eastman-1883-1969/.
  3. “Crystal Eastman,” American Civil Liberties Union, accessed October 28, 2021, https://www.aclu.org/other/crystal-eastman.
  4. “Crystal Eastman | American Lawyer, Writer, Activist,” Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Crystal-Eastman.
  5. “Max Forrester Eastman (1883-1969) | American Experience | PBS.”
  6. Poetry Foundation, “Claude McKay,” text/html, Poetry Foundation, October 13, 2021, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/claude-mckay.
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Claude M’Kay, African Poet. Made Co-Editor” The Chicago Defender, accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.proquest.com/docview/491882707?accountid=13475&forcedol=true.
  9. “The Liberator, July 1919,” The Liberator, accessed October 13, 2021, http://dlib.nyu.edu/liberator/books/lib000020/, 21.
  10.  “‘Our Precious Blood May Not Be Shed’ | Claude McKay,” Lapham’s Quarterly, accessed October 14, 2021, https://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/our-precious-blood-may-not-be-shed.
  11. Juliana Spahr, “Hearing the Pandemic in Claude McKay’s ‘If We Must Die,’” PMLA 136, no. 2 (March 2021): 254–57, https://doi.org/10.1632/S0030812921000158.
  12. “Barns, Cornelia Baxter (1888–1941) | Encyclopedia.Com,” accessed October 13, 2021, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/barns-cornelia-baxter-1888-1941.
  13. “GARMENT WORKERS ORDERED TO STRIKE; Union Calls Upon 35,000 Members to Quit Their Employment At 10 o’Clock This Morning. APPEAL FOR GOOD ORDER Right to Discharge at Issue–Demands Include 44-Hour Weekend Advance in Wages.,” accessed October 15, 2021, http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1919/01/21/97060727.html?pageNumber=22.
  14. “The Liberator, April 1919,” The Liberator, accessed October 13, 2021, http://dlib.nyu.edu/liberator/books/lib000016/, 2. 
  15. “Art Young,” accessed October 14, 2021, https://academic.eb.com/?target=%2Flevels%2Fcollegiate%2Farticle%2FArt-Young%2F78052.
  16. “William Gropper | Smithsonian American Art Museum,” accessed October 14, 2021, https://americanart.si.edu/artist/william-gropper-1957.
  17. Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: Remapping the History of the American Left (London: Verso, 1987), 172.
  18. “The Liberator.”
  19. Ibid.

Dancing with Reedies: Reed Balls in the Twentieth Century

Reed’s dance culture has long been an avenue for the student body to build, strengthen, and maintain community. Before Covid, and hopefully after, Reed students organized balls (dances) on campus throughout the academic year. These balls allow the student community to connect, share information, and build relationships across grade levels. 

Today, these dances choose a band, a subculture, or a special event as their theme. For example, during the Reed dance “Theme Reveal,” students gather to learn what the Renn Fayre theme will be that year. Reed Special Collections and Archives has collected three photos that depict this long-standing tradition throughout the twentieth century.

Students Dressed for a Costume Dance, 1915

The first picture, from 1915, shows two couples dressed for a costume dance in the old Reed gymnasium. The picture was taken from the scrapbook of alumni Lindsley Ross ’15 and was donated to the Reed College archive by his widow. The dance was described as a “fancy dress ball” where students dressed in formal Georgian attire.

Student Dance Party, 1937

The second picture was taken in 1937 and was donated by alumni Mary Jackson Gibson ‘39 from a scrapbook. The photo shows the 1937 Story-Book dance. The Amanda Reed Association, a women’s organization named after Amanda Reed whose estate founded the college, sponsored the event. 

In the photo, female students paired off to dance with one another. In the background, other students watch on. The location of the Story-Book dance is unknown, but the dance may likely have taken place in the school gymnasium or Student Union.

Halloween Party, 1980s

The Reed student community’s long-running love of dances continued through the twentieth century. However, they became increasingly less formal as time went on. The third picture is from a donation of several photos taken by alumni Larry Clarkberg ‘87, who took this photograph for the Reed College Quest, Reed’s student-run newspaper. The photo displays students at a Halloween party in the Student Union building on campus. The six students in the photo’s foreground are dressed as members of the Village People and are most likely singing the song “YMCA.” 

Reed’s dances build ties between different grade levels and act as a part of the foundation for Reed College’s student community. If you want to learn more about Reed dance culture, please visit our digital collections or email the archives at archives@reed.edu.

Hidden Histories of Race & Reed

New exhibit! “Hidden Histories of Race & Reed”, developed and curated by Ashley San Miguel and Maya Arigala, opened in the second floor Eliot Hall display cases Friday December 13th.

Flyer for exhibit. Black and white photograph of Reed students protesting outside of Eliot Hall with signs. Flyer text reads: "Exhibit unveiling: hidden histories of race & Reed. Join us at the second floor Eliot display cases! December 13th Drop in between 5pm-7pm. Reception in Eliot 216, food will be provided. Vegan & GF options. Sponsored by: social justice fund, library archives, office for institutional diversity. Email ashsanmic@reed.edu or arigalam@reed.edu with questions."

This exhibit uses items from the Reed College Archives to chart the 1968 Black Student Union (BSU) protests to install a Black Studies Center at Reed, and the subsequent rise and dissolution of the center just a few years later.

Black and white photograph of Reed students protesting outside of Eliot Hall with signs. The photograph is the same as used in the event flyer.
Black Studies Demonstration, Eliot Hall 1968. Photograph by Stephen S. Robinson, class of 1972.

Reed College Canyon: new digital collection now available!

We are excited to announce a new RDC resource: the Reed College Canyon collection!

The images in this collection were largely created by Canyon Restoration Manager Zac Perry to document the Canyon from about 1999 to the present. The Reed Canyon was declared a wildlife refuge by the state of Oregon in 1913, and restoration efforts began in 1999. “Restoration goals include improving diversity of wildlife, managing invasive plant species, restoring native plant communities, and increase potential habitat for salmon and other resident fish.” (https://www.reed.edu/canyon/visit.html)

Also included in this collection are photographs of Canyon Day, images created by Canyon student employees and visitors, as well as pre-1999 photographs from the Reed College Archives.

This collection is open to current Reed students, faculty, and staff.

Questions? Contact Laura Buchholz or Zac Perry.

Portland Muslim History Project archives collection now available in RDC!

We’re excited to announce our most recent addition to Reed Digital Collections: selections from the Portland Muslim History Project archive, recently donated to Special Collections and Archives by Reed College professor Dr. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri.

View the Portland Muslim History Project archive in Reed Digital Collections

The 2004 Portland Muslim History Project narrated the history of Muslim built communities in Portland, Oregon. Its aim was to contribute to scholarship on Islam and American religions by exploring how Islam becomes rooted in a local American context.

Archiving the records of this project, as well as the digital collection, is a part of a larger effort led by Dr. GhaneaBassiri, local historian Johanna Ogden, and Multnomah County archivist Terry Baxter to archive the history of Muslims in Oregon. The Oregon Historical Society, Portland State University, and Oregon State University have all played roles in this larger project.

A finding aid for the entire archive donated to Special Collections and Archives will be available in the near future. The digital collection is open to the public.

The Portland Muslim History Project digital collection is the product of a collaboration between Dr. GhaneaBassiri and Special Collections and Archives. Reed College religion majors Tehniyat Naveed and Delainey Myers were indispensable in making this project a reality.

Questions about this collection, or about Reed Digital Collections? Please write to rdc@lists.reed.edu.

Reed Student Publications


April 6 – June 1, 2018
Flat cases and wall case by the Reference Desk

In many ways, the types of publications Reed students choose to produce are indicative of much larger social trends at the college and beyond. The newest exhibit from the Archives and Special Collections, “Student Publications at Reed” takes a look at the ways students have used pamphlets, comic books, journals, fliers and more as a media by which to process their world. Take a look through a few, and you might just get a glimpse of Reed of yesteryear…