THE "SLOCUM AFFAIR" AT COLORADO COLLEGE
William F. Slocum was president of Colorado College from 1888-1917. During his presidency, the college grew from 50 students to 500 and from a single building to sixteen. His wife, Mary Slocum, founded the Woman's Educational Society at CC. After an investigation into his behavior with women at the college (students, staff, faculty, and faculty wives), the Board of Trustees asked for and received Slocum's resignation. He spent the 1916-1917 school year abroad and officially left CC after the 1917 commencement celebration.
Source: James Hutchison Kerr Papers, Ms 0081.7, Colorado College Special Collections. Kerr was a member of the Geology, Chemistry, and Metallurgy faculty at CC from 1876-1880 and kept extensive records on Colorado Springs. Front cover label reads: “This volume contains material on the Pres. Slocum Affair. If it is necessary to allow anyone to use it, it MUST be used under the closest supervision, and any notes taken from it should be examined when the user has finished with it.” Finding aid to the collection. Scans of the pages containing the women's statements (Ms 0081, Box 7, Vol. XII on spine, pages 275-311). Scans of typed transcriptions of the women's statements (Julia Lipsey, transcriber, 1962, Kenneth Englert Papers, MSS 0110, Box 4, Folder 15, Special Collections, Pikes Peak Library District; photocopies of Lipsey's transcriptions are at CC in Ms 0081, Box 1, Folder 10).
Note from James Hutchison Kerr:
22 affidavits made. Hundreds of women of the highest social and church standing who do not wish their names on the written page, hesitate not to give their experiences orally but not in writing.
According to Kerr, 9 of the 22 women who gave affidavits allowed him to copy their statements (by hand, for his own record); of these, 4 requested anonymity.
The people who made copyable written statements were:
Maude S. Bard [secretary to the president 1912-1916, later wife of professor Edward R. Warren]
Jean Auld [CC class of 1908; instructor in Greek and Latin 1909-1911]
Harriet Sater [CC staff]
Irma K. Persons [wife of Warren Persons, Dean of Business Administration 1912-1918]
Florence Leidigh [CC class of 1902; assistant to Dean of Women Ruth Loomis, 1902]
Anonymous former secretary to the president
Anonymous former instructor
EXCERPTS FROM WOMEN'S STATEMENTS selected and with occasional paraphrases (in brackets) by CC archivist Jessy Randall, 2017.
Maude S. Bard [CC class of 1912, secretary to the president 1912-1916, later wife of CC professor Edward R. Warren]:
When I came to the College in the spring of 1908, was warned by Miss Stevenson, as to what I should expect from the President.
When I returned in September, 1912, Mrs. Bushee also warned me, as she, too, had had to protect herself against Mr. Slocum.
At first I felt the protestations of love for me were genuine, and that it was incumbent upon me, to try to save him from himself, and to save his self-respect. It gradually dawned upon me, that I was dealing with a man of strong and evil passions and that my only effort must be to protect myself.
As two evidences of the struggle which ensued, I cite the following:
One afternoon in the Spring of 1913, in the President’s office, at Palmer Hall, Mr. Slocum took me by the shoulders, forced me to stand against the east wall of his office, and pressed his whole body against mine, especially emphasizing the pressure at the portion of his body and mine most calculated to arouse and satisfy physical passion. I struggled to free myself, and fled from the office. This particular form of bestiality he never attempted again.
On commencement day of this year, June 9, 1915, I was in the library of the President’s home, when I fainted. A doctor was summoned, who directed I should lie on the couch, until my own doctor could come to me. A woman friend was left to watch me, while Mr. & Mrs. Slocum went to the Alumni Banquet at Cossitt Memorial. Between courses the President came to his house to see me. Bending over the couch, with back to the other persons in the room, he inserted his hand under the clothing covering my chest, and stating that the doctor had told him to watch my heart action, passed his hand again and again over me, as far down as he could reach. I tried to protect myself by pushing him away as much as my condition would permit. The next day he reminded me of this effort on my part, and told me I had been a prude. This happened at my home on the next morning after I had fainted. Mr. Slocum called to see me and was left alone with me. I was in bed being too weak to get up. He repeated the insult of the day before, still under the cover of the necessity of watching the heart action. Then suddenly he stooped over me, laid his hand on my chest, and exclaimed, “Oh, I love you so!”
These are two or three instances of the President’s persecution of a woman who works for him. I can give others, but none more flagrant. I also know, from my personal observation, that the women students in the college are not safe alone with the President in his office.
Supplement of Miss Bard’s statement by Jean Auld [CC class of 1908; instructor in Greek and Latin 1909-1911]:
Yes, I remember the incident you speak of, though of course I couldn’t see it all. I remember I was astonished and shocked at his manner. He sat down on the couch beside you, as I recall it, and bent down over you very close while he felt your pulse. Then he remarked that he was a physician, too, and added something in an undertone which I couldn’t catch. I then saw him thrust his hand under your clothes to feel your heart. That of course was all I could see, except your expression of repugnance.
Harriet Sater [CC cashier, 1910-1918]:
To feel that I have not only been insulted once, but many times, has been a thing which I have had to live with mentally. I have had to put up with “handling,” insinuating looks and insidious familiarities, in many of the private interviews which I have had with him, in obeying his wanting “to see me for a few minutes.” I am unable to express the looks which have left me boiling with a sense of shame and disgrace. The constant need of having his hand on your body, feeling it, are things a woman cannot mistake. A constant desire to always bring the physical side in is always present. [...] Another illustration [...] at the end of a normal conversation, when he asked me if I was engaged, I answered “No,” and like a flash the lights were turned off, and before I was aware of what was happening, I was seized in his arms, and he said, “You have got to kiss me.” The lights were turned off another time, but the second time I was prepared. [...] I have been talked to on “cold-heartedness,” which was purely in a physical way.
Anonymous former secretary to the president:
Twice, much against my will, I was obliged to telephone (in Mrs. Slocum’s absence) for Miss [name not given in transcription] to come down from [place not given] on “important business.” Mrs. [name not given] told me that Miss [name not given] spent the night at the Slocum house. When Miss [name not given] was in evidence, I was moved into another office [...] to get me out of the way.
Anonymous former instructor:
Of course I have known for a long time that Pres. Slocum has a most disgusting attitude toward women who are unsuspicious, young, and thrown into contact with him [...] Dr. Slocum made himself extremely disagreeable to me for the first few weeks, cropping into my room in [name not given], late in the evening, and saying many sentimental and silly things. I was young then and felt very guilty, as though I had brought such familiarity on myself, and I finally asked [name not given] about it. She told me that the experience was fairly common [...] By never staying in my room alone in the evening the difficulty finally relieved itself [...] I could not repeat anything he said. The impression of him, however, is a very horrid one, and the trapping feeling when he took advantage of his age and position and his friendship for my family, I can assure you I have never forgotten.
I sat quite close to his desk in the chair he placed for me. In the midst of the conversation he suddenly stopped, and leaning down, began to look at me in a way which I cannot describe in any words save bestial [...] I left the room at once. He simply sat at his desk and watched me go. I was never alone with him after that [...] such a man has no right to occupy a position of power over the lives of young men and young women, who are bound to hold him in honor and respect.
The first act of President Slocum which attracted my attention was a too minute and familiar examination of a brooch I was wearing. Soon after that he had me blot checks for him on several occasions [...] he said he would find out when I was scheduled for office work and sign checks at those times. One these occasions he seemed to wish the door to his office closed, wanted me to sit very near him, and would look at my wrist watch now and then, each time laying his hand on my hand or wrist [...] the expression of the man’s eyes, when he looked at me, offended and horrified me. These instances appear trivial to my reason, but [...] I have lain awake nights with the thing on my mind.
Irma K. Persons [wife of Warren Persons, Dean of Business Administration 1912-1918]:
[After a college dinner at the Acacia Hotel, Mrs. Persons accompanied an injured Mrs. Slocum home. When Mrs. Slocum was settled, she entered a dark room with Dr. Slocum to get her coat.] He put his arm around me and then the first thing I knew he kissed me, on the mouth, and in the act our eyeglasses became entangled. He turned on the lights to find our glasses and I got out of the room. He was all this time calling me endearing terms [...] He wanted to take me home, but I insisted on being taken back to the hotel, where Mr. Persons was. From his house to the hotel he drove just as slowly as was possible, all the while calling me endearing names, trying to hold my hand [...] and several times he put his arms around me.
Florence Leidigh [CC class of 1902, assistant to Dean of Women Ruth Loomis 1902]:
During the early days of my freshman year, I was horrified at the discovery that the College's President was a man who made shocking advances to students and other women. One of my intimate friends [...] told me of her fear at being left alone with Dr. Slocum, even for a moment. If so left in a room of his own home, she was invariably made to submit to the most startling caresses. My greatest shock, however, came with the knowledge, that the President, almost every evening, was in the closed rooms of one of the officials of the girls' hall -- often remaining until after midnight [...] I could continue indefinitely with tales of young girls who had horrifying experience with their president: one in a public train, another in a closed carriage [...]
ALSO FROM THE KERR PAPERS
Statement made by Dean Edward S. Parsons at the joint meeting of the Trustees and Faculty August 28, 1916:
The first time the rumors began to come to me about Mr. Slocum was about ten years ago. At that time there were relations with a lady, who was a member of the faculty, which seemed to be foolishness, but were entirely out of accord with the doctrines of the right relations of the sexes preached from the chapel desk and in social committee meetings. Then perhaps five or six years ago I began to hear more definite things concerning the relations of Mr. Slocum to women members of the faculty, secretaries, and students [...] [Parsons consults with Professor Schneider, who has some medical training. Schneider] felt that the dangers were very great and could not be overlooked, that there was a pathological condition [...] [Parsons speaks with CC Trustee Philip B. Stewart, who said] many men do the things which Mr. Slocum had done and are not caught, but Mr. Slocum had been caught, and he simply could not be retained in his present position [...]
Letter from Colorado Springs lawyer Charles W. Haines to Kerr, August 17, 1917:
Our "esteemed contemporary" is suffering from acute Erotomania. Medical men, one at least, here recognize it. How far 'tis a misfortune (weakness, physical) and how far "sin," I cannot be called upon to decide, but I am clear in my mind that 'tis venial compared with chronic lying, hypocrisy, and hideous selfishness -- itself conceit.
Other primary sources on the Slocum Controversy:
Guy Harry Albright Papers, Ms 0389, Colorado College Special Collections, Box 1, Folder 3: letter from Albright to Paul Peck, October 23, 1917. Scan of typed transcription (CC Information File Faculty-Bio-Parsons, Edward S., appendix to Fauvel article):
The fact was that Slocum was an erotic. No woman was safe from insult when left alone with him. Stories by the hundreds and affidavits by the dozen poured in proving that college girls, women secretaries, wives of professors, married women in town, pretty or homely, old or young, all were liable to shocking caresses and suggestive language from Slocum. Someway, while rumors had been abroad for many years, nobody dared expose the old libertine. His position and his power as well as women's modesty protected him through twenty-seven years in Colorado Springs. He was hated by students and distrusted by faculty folk because of his faithlessness, his lying, and his double-dealing. But until these young women were goaded to speak, no one had the courage to attack him.
Julia Hassell Lipsey interview, 1977, Colorado College Oral History Collection R15. Lipsey was a member of the class of 1917 at CC. Short excerpt in MP3 format.
[The faculty] said to the trustees, "Look how this man is -- he's a perfect hypocrite, and look at these actions with these secretaries," and so forth, "get rid of him." And the secretaries, or some of the trustees would say, "Well, look at what he's done for the college. He's built up the college; he has a vast number of wealthy friends, and provides for the college. That sort of thing happens in offices, business offices all the time, now just don't talk about it."
Additional sources on the Slocum Affair and the subsequent Parsons Controversy:
Committee on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, "Report of the Sub-Committee of Inquiry for Colorado College," Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors, vol. 5, no. 7/8, Nov. - Dec. 1918. Related papers are held at George Washington University.
CC President Clyde Duniway, correspondence 1917-1919, including letters of resignation, protest letters, and support letters, Colorado College Archives Box 390.
Joe P. Dunn, "Scandal on the Plains: William F. Slocum, Edward S. Parsons, and the Colorado College Controversies," Great Plains Quarterly, Spring 2010, pp. 117-34.
John Fauvel, "Monicagate on Cache La Poudre: The End of the Golden Age of Colorado College," [ca. 1998].
David D. Finley, "The Parsons Case," paper prepared for the Colorado Springs Round Table, 18 March 2005, CCIF Faculty-Bio-Parsons, Edward S., Colorado College Special Collections.
Charlie Brown Hershey, Colorado College 1874-1949 (Colorado College, 1952), pp. 87-94.
Debbie Kelley, "The Harvey Weinstein of Colorado College: sexual misconduct tales for dorm's namesake lead to call for change," Colorado Springs Gazette, December 2, 2017.
Emily Kressley, "A Shameful Namesake: College Complicit in President Slocum's Sexual Misconduct," Catalyst, vol. 48, no. 9, October 10, 2017, pp. 1, 6. Faculty Petition Creates Momentum: The Push to Rename Slocum Hall," Catalyst, January 12, 2017.
Robert Loevy, Colorado College: A Place of Learning 1874-1999 (Colorado College, 1999), pp. 94-106.
Julia Martinez, "The Harvey Weinstein of Colorado College," Chronicle of Higher Education, November 14, 2017.
J. Juan Reid, Colorado College: The First Century, 1874-1974 (Colorado College, 1979), pp. 82-84. Scans of Reid's unpublished notes on his 1972 interviews with Maude Bard Warren and Eleanor Davis Ehrman (J. Juan Reid Papers, Ms 0176, Colorado College Special Collections, Box 1, Folder 11).
"That Sort of Thing. All the Time." Exhibition in Worner Hall at Colorado College, August 2019 - February 2020. Curator: Jessy Randall. Designer: Briget Heidmous. Title from a statement by Julia Hassell Lipsey, CC class of 1917, audio clip above.
Alta Viscomi, "Slocum the Lecher: The Troubling History of Our Dorm's Namesake," Cipher, vol. XVII, issue VI, March 2014, pp. 6-8.
Note: the Colorado College dormitory at 130 E. Cache La Poudre was named Slocum Hall when it was built in 1953. When the Slocum Affair received new attention in 2017-2018, the building was temporarily renamed South Hall. Students, faculty, and staff shared ideas for a new name with Special Collections over the next few years.
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