Local History Spotlight

Volume 7: Cornell Off Campus, continued

Everett Morse's grandson, also named Everett Morse, tells this story about his grandfather: Morse arrived at the train station in Ithaca's West End after a business trip and took the streetcar to his home on East Hill. During the journey, a fellow passenger and newcomer to town asked Morse, "What's that big building on the hill?" pointing to South Hill. And Morse told him it was his factory, where his automobile chains were made. This gave Morse the idea of painting the name of the company on the large smokestack that punctuated the factory and could be seen from miles away. Morse was primarily an inventor who became a businessman, but it's evident that he was also a booster for Morse Chain.

A contemporary of Morse, and one whose family pre-dated Cornell's —and almost pre-dated Ithaca's founder Simeon DeWitt— was Robert Treman. He came from a family of merchants, well off but hard working. Unlike Morse, he needed no help paying his way through university. Treman could have been merely successful but he also chose to be generous. He gave his time to Cornell, serving as a Trustee for 46 years, and money to his church and the hospital. But his lasting gift was to protect our local natural beauty. He wrote in his will: "I have considered it a priceless heritage to live in the midst of and to enjoy the wonderful beauties of nature..."

While Martha Van Rensselaer concerned herself with the lives of farm wives, Howard "Ed" Babcock devoted himself to the well-being of farmers. He felt that improving agriculture was the key to the state's prosperity, especially in the midst of a world-wide Depression. In his opinion, farmers could only participate in this prosperity if they owned more of the means of production and distribution in the form of cooperatives. Considering the many times Babcock had to justify farm cooperatives as "non-subversive," it was an idea ahead of its time. Fellow farmer Romeyn "Rym" Berry was no subversive but he was witty and could be snarky, even about the university he loved: "Academic persons need a change of routine periodically to keep the ivy from growing into their ears and up their pants legs." His astute commentaries and fond memories, leavened with humor, kept Ithaca Journal readers entertained during some of the darkest days of World War II.

Cornell women may have seen themselves on the forefront in the crusade for professional opportunities equal to those of men, or as "merely" doing a job they loved. Laura Bryant, "Aunt B" to Ithaca High School alumni, believed anyone could sing and practically everyone she came into contact with did. She earned a reputation as an inspiring teacher early in her career, so much so that she would spend her summers at various universities and colleges, including Cornell, as an instructor of summer music programs. Katherine Van Winkle Palmer knew she was lucky to have arrived at Cornell during World War I, when men were scarce. She may have intended to pursue a life in academe but her early association with Professor Gilbert Harris turned her toward the work of the Paleontological Research Institution. She founded PRI's museum to introduce our community to its own extensive fossil record.

All of the women featured in the exhibit were involved in education, either formally or informally. All but one. In her long career to make government work for all its citizens, Assemblywoman Constance Cook epitomized the word "trailblazer." Some considered her efforts on behalf of women radical but she knew they were crucial, which can be the same thing. By the end of her life, Beverly Martin must have known that others considered her to be a trailblazer but she was another woman who was doing a job she loved and happened to be exceptional at it. In 1968 it was still rare for a young woman —Martin was only 33 years old— to become a school principal and unheard of in Ithaca if she were African-American. She insisted she wasn't interested in just Black and White issues in the schools, but multiculturalism in all its beautiful variety.

An early and on-going by-product of Cornell University was the faculty wife, and one outstanding example is Ilma Levine. She and her partner in science education Debbie Levin were once mistakenly called "former teachers at Central Elementary School" but their dedication to the voluntary program they operated could easily have been mistaken for paying jobs. Levine once said that she and Levin figured they'd continue in their quest to build a local science museum until somebody stopped them, but no one ever did. Supporting the arts and sciences, or a dynamic career in government, were not solely the purview of women, however, as Stu Stein demonstrated in ways almost too numerous to count. Just as William H. Miller's buildings have been called ubiquitous, so has Stein for his active public life that touched every part of Tompkins County.

Just as there was no debate as to who would be the "first" Cornellian, there was no contest as to who would represent the most recent decade. Svante Myrick is exceptional by any standard as the youngest and the first African-American mayor in Ithaca's history. Cornell and the entire community are waiting to read what's said about him at the exhibit commemorating the university's bicentennial in 2065.

Julee Johnson
Exhibit Curator

Acknowledgements

Many people and institutions contributed to this exhibit, which would have been much poorer without their involvement.

Invaluable assistance was provided by Elaine D. Engst and Laura Linke of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; Donna Eschenbrenner, Director of Archives and Research Services, The History Center in Tompkins County; Bruce Estes and Simon Wheeler, The Ithaca Journal; Sally Grubb, Exhibit Coordinator, Tompkins County Public Library; Carol Kammen, Tompkins County Historian; Paula Mikkelsen, Associate Director for Science, Paleontological Research Institution; Sue Perlgut and Connie Cook the Documentary, a film by Sue Perlgut and Nils Hoover; Gary Stewart, Director for Community Relations, Cornell University; Mary Tomlan, Ithaca City Historian; and Charles Trautmann, Executive Director, Sciencenter.

Additional assistance was given by Martha Armstrong; Louise Bement; Barbara Blanchard; Bruce Brittain; Judith Burns; Pierre Clavel; Richard Driscoll; Evan Fay Earle; Barbara Ebert; Karen Fuller; Morgan Howland; Eileen Keating; Everett Franklin Morse; Deborah Levin; Ilma Levine; Ryan McGuire and Bells Design; Svante Myrick; Eisha Neely; Christine O'Malley; Richanna Patrick; Anne Sauer; Annie Sherman; Suzanne Smith Jablonski; John Spence; Jenny Stein; Sandra G. Stein; Beatrice Szekely; Michael A. Tomlan; Rosemarie Tucker; John Wertis; and the Tompkins County Legislature. My thanks to them as well.

Any and all errors are those of the curator.

Cornell Off Campus was designed by Robin Adams, Whirlwind Design, and printed by Image Press, Syracuse.

Photo Credits. Ezra Cornell: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; The History Center in Tompkins County. William H. Miller: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; The History Center in Tompkins County; Historic Ithaca, Inc. Mary Isabelle Sherman: The History Center in Tompkins County; Library of Congress. Martha Van Rensselaer: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University. Everett F. Morse: The History Center in Tompkins County. Robert H. Treman: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; The History Center in Tompkins County. Howard E. Babcock: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; The History Center in Tompkins County. Romeyn Berry: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; The History Center in Tompkins County. Laura Bryant: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; The History Center in Tompkins County. Katherine V.W. Palmer: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; Library of Congress; Paleontological Research Institution. Constance Cook: Library of Congress; Sue Perlgut; www.ConnieCookFilm.com; The Cook Family. Beverly J. Martin: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University; The History Center in Tompkins County. Ilma Levine: Sciencenter. Stuart Stein: Barbara Blanchard; Manta Popat/The Ithaca Journal; the Stein Family; Tompkins County Legislature. Svante Myrick: Robyn Wishna/The Ithaca Journal; Simon Wheeler/The Ithaca Journal; www.SvanteMyrick.com.

©The Ithacal Journal photographs are used with permission.

Cornell Off Campus

  • Download exhibit catalog (PDF)
  • Entries include:
    • Ezra Cornell
    • William H. Miller
    • Mary Isabelle Sherman
    • Martha Van Rensselaer
    • Everett F. Morse
    • Robert H. Treman
    • Howard E. Babcock
    • Romeyn Berry
    • Laura Bryant
    • Katherine Van Winkle Palmer
    • Connie Cook
    • Beverly J. Martin
    • Ilma Levine
    • Stuart Stein
    • Svante Myrick
Page last modified Jan 20, 2016