Category Archives: American University History

On Display – World War I Remembered: Camp American University

In 1917, American University (AU) offered the government use of its unfinished campus for army training. At the time, AU only had two buildings Hurst Hall and McKinley. The Army used both buildings during the war years. The government established two separate camps, Camp American University and Camp Leach. The largest operation was the Engineer Officers’ Reserve Corps training camp. Camp Leach also offered training for camouflagers and foresters. Camp American University was the birthplace of American chemical warfare. Scientists working with the army’s Gas and Flame Battalion (the 30th Engineers) developed gases and apparatuses for use at the front.


Troop Inspection at Camp American University

Camp Leach from the Rooftop of Hurst Hall











A new exhibit on the first floor of Bender Library featuring photographs and postcards of Camp American University and Camp Leach will be on display through the end of 2018.

Protest Costumes

In remembrance of last year’s historic women’s march and the pussy hat, we decided to explore protest costumes. Protesters express themselves through the messages on their signs as well as their clothing. In looking through the images taken by Eagle photographers and Patrick Frazier, we discovered one recurring theme – animal costumes and masks. We selected three images that display the creativity of protesters.


The numerous anti-war protests held in Washington, D.C. in the 1960s and 1970s offer a window into protest attire. Though the theme of the protests were similar, the signs and costumes were not. Some costumes were simple a mask while others were more elaborate. In some instances, the sign was an integral part of the costume. It provided the storyline.

The Patrick Frazier Collection includes images from both of the Nixon counter-inaugural protests. The first in 1969 was the largest anti-war protest in United States history. It included a parade with street theater and marching kazoo bands. In this image, the people behind the protester in the guerrilla mask are playing kazoos.


Participants in the counter-inaugural march during Nixon’s first inauguration in January 1969


The second in 1973 centered on the capitol grounds. In this image, the costumed protester’s sign underscores the concerns of the marchers.


Participants in the counter-inaugural demonstrations during Nixon’s second inauguration on January 20, 1973



When the AU Chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom invited Secretary of the Interior James Watt to speak at AU on February 10, 1983, 150 protesters from the AU chapter of Americans for Democratic Action and the College Democrats chanted, “Watt must go” and sang, “This Land is My Land” outside the ticketed event. In this image, AU Student Jessica Cohen is wearing a rabbit costume and holding a bunch of carrots. Her sign had a personal message for Secretary Watt.


Jessica Cohen protesting at Secretary Watt’s speech at American University on February 10, 1983

On Display – From Farm to Urban Campus: Campus Design through the Years

Campus planning is both an art and a science. Campus leaders and planners work together to create a vision and plan. They study factors such as enrollment, traffic patterns, open space, and sustainability goals. A new exhibit on the first floor of Bender Library uses maps and photographs to illustrate the development of American University’s campus from its purchase to the present day. The exhibit will be on display through the end of the fall semester.


Aerial view of American University’s Campus, Circa 1930

Aerial View of American University’s Campus, June 1969

Out of the Vault – Painting of AU Chancellor John William Hamilton


Edward Wilbur Dean Hamilton’s portrait of John William Hamilton cira 1916


This life size portrait by his brother, Edward Wilbur Dean Hamilton, shows Chancellor John William Hamilton in his academic regalia seated in a red velvet chair. Art critic William Howe Downs praised the painting in an article in the Boston Evening Transcript as follows: “this work…will take rank among Mr. Hamilton’s most important and perfect portraits of men.”

Retired Methodist Bishop John W. Hamilton (1845-1934) succeeded his brother, Franklin E. Hamilton (1866-1918), as Chancellor of American University in 1916. He served until 1922. Hamilton earned an A.B. from Mount Union College and a S.T.B. from the Boston University School of Theology. He was elected Corresponding Secretary of the Freedmen’s Aid and Southern Education Society in 1892. Hamilton was an advocate of temperance and the rights of African Americans and women.

Edward Wilbur Dean Hamilton (1864-1943), painted landscapes, portraits, and scenes of everyday life. He studied painting at the Massachusetts Normal Art School (1883), the Rhode Island College of Design, and Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris (1889). Wilbur Hamilton exhibited paintings at the Paris Salon (1890-1892). After his return to America in 1892, he exhibited his landscapes and portraits in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Critics admired Wilbur Hamilton’s work for its refinement and attention to detail. The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 featured two of his landscapes. Wilbur Hamilton won a gold medal at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. He taught at Massachusetts Normal Art School, Boston University, and the Rhode Island School of Design before starting the Jones River Art School. The Rhode Island School of Design and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston have some of Wilbur Hamilton’s paintings.

AU Academy for the Performing Arts

The Wolf Trap/AU Academy for the Performing Arts was a summer program jointly sponsored by the National Park Service and AU. The program drew high school and college students from across the country to study dance and orchestra and featured intensive workshops led by distinguished professional performing artists including Merce Cunningham, Erik Hawkins, Jose Limon, Paul Sanasardo and Twyla Tharp. In addition to three to four weeks of concentrated study, the students got free passes to Filene Center shows and got to see a variety of professional productions.

The Academy received grants from the Rockefeller and Myer Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts to support the program. The National Federation of Music Clubs held nationwide auditions for the orchestra. A theatre program launched in the summer of 1974. American University took over full management of the Academy in 1974 and officially changed the name to the AU Academy of Performing Arts.

The Academy Orchestra held most of its concerts at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap. The first orchestra performance occurred on July 4, 1971 at the Filene Center. Other performance venues included Lisner Auditorium and the Washington National Cathedral. The dance students gave public performances in a variety of locations such as AU’s quadrangle and on the National Mall.

The Academy’s offerings varied over the years. For example, AU collaborated with the International Festival of Mime to offer mime courses. One workshop assisted budding playwrights in preparing their works for the stage. The Academy also offered courses for teachers such as the Orff Schulwerk workshop. Gertrude Orff and her colleagues taught their approach to music education for children for several years.


Students and faculty from the AU Academy for the Performing Arts in AU’s amphitheater

Earth Day in AU History – Interior Secretary Watt protests

In February 1983, the AU chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) invited Interior Secretary James Watt to campus. Watt’s appointment was controversial. As Interior Secretary, Watt was responsible for over 350 million acres of federal lands. He repeatedly called for the development of federal parks and wilderness preserves in order to maintain U.S. national security.

YAF distributed the bulk of the tickets (300 out of 400) for this event on an invitation only basis. Watt had a large security detail including special Interior Department and Washington, D.C. police. According to The Eagle, the Secretary’s speech was “briefly interrupted on about five occasions mostly by loud coughs and some isolated jeers calling Watt a fraud.”

An hour before Watt’s speech began, approximately 150 demonstrators gathered both outside and in the lobby of Ward to protest his environmental policies. The protesters chanted, “Watt must go” and sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land.” A few shouted into classrooms while classes were in session. The two most common signs were “Watt’s wrong,” and “Squat on Watt.” AU College Democrats, AU Americans for Democratic Action and the Environmental Law Group organized the protest.


Jessica Cohen, a member of AU’s chapter of Americans for Democratic Action.


WANTED: Signs from the Women’s March on Washington

AU Archives in partnership with the Student Historical Society is documenting AU students’ participation in the historic Women’s March on January 21, 2017. We are building a collection of protest signs. At our first collecting event, we received five signs that reflect the diversity of messages at the march. We are still accepting donations as we want our collection to include signs for all of the issues of interest to AU students.



Sierra Apaliski’s poster from the Women’s March



Did you keep your sign from the march? Do you know someone with a sign? If so, please consider donating your sign to AU Archives before you leave at the end of the semester. For further information, send an email to

Meet Norman Early

In honor of African American History Month, we would like to introduce you to one of AU’s African American student leaders.

Norman Early was the first elected African American President of AU’s student government. He served from 1966 to 1967. Early, a graduate of the District of Columbia’s Coolidge High School, was a government major and athlete. He was a member of AU’s track team for all four years. He participated in a variety of events including the triple jump and relays. Early also served as President of the Sophomore Class (1964-1965) and as Vice President of the Student Association (1965-1966).  Early won the Oral Interpretation Contests at AU’s Speech Festival in 1964. He was a member of Zeta Beta Tau.

The 1966 election was the first to draw a majority of the student body. Early won 52% of the vote. In his campaign, he called for end to “status quo” type government and a reorganization of representation in student government based upon school of enrollment and area of residence.


Norman Early’s yearbook photo

Spring Exhibit – Stability and Growth: The Hallmarks of the Kerwin Years

A university president serves many roles such as champion, fundraiser, leader, strategist, and visionary. AU’s 14th President Neil Kerwin brought a forthright manner, honesty and passion to his work. Please join AU Library in celebrating the many accomplishments of his presidency through an exhibit of photographs that will be on display on the first floor of the Library through the end of the semester.


President Kerwin with Clawed and the Nationals Mascot, Screech, at AU Night at the Nationals on August 31, 2012

Golden Turkey Awards


For twenty years in the issue just before Thanksgiving, The Eagle editorial staff announced the “Golden Turkey Awards,” a satirical look at campus events.  Running from 1993 through 2003, The Eagle staff made fun of themselves as well as others ranging from the University President and local political figures to staff and students. Some of the awards had specific titles which changed over the years. Many of the titles are period pieces themselves such as the Baltimore Colts and Tipper Gore Awards and may not mean much to current students. The awards typically poked fun at blunders and bad decisions. In 1991, the editors stated that the awards were “given every year to those odd or ridiculous people or events that highlighted AU during the year.” The editors let their creative juices flow as they came up with events and people to parody.

You can see all the awards if you enter “golden turkey” on the search page of our digital edition.