Officials from the Kelvin Smith Library announced that starting this week, KSL will open a new exhibit called “CWRU through the ages.” The display will look at CWRU’s entire illustrious 134 year existence, and will feature photographs and stories about how the university has changed over the last century and a half.
As everyone on campus knows, CWRU was founded in 1880 when the university’s only president, Barbara R. Snyder, passed through Cleveland en route to Independence, Missouri. This was during her famed trip, where her family attempted to travel the Oregon Trail to settle in Oregon City, Oregon. The Snyders were originally from New York, but were hoping that the new western territories, with their potential of finding gold, would bring some more money into the family.
Snyder was only 10 years old at the time, but fell in love with the beauty of the “Mistake on the Lake” when she was mesmerized by Cleveland’s burning river. Despite her young age, Snyder, who was affectionately called “Babs” by her family, stayed behind and founded CWRU with nothing more than a dream, and $10,000 of her father’s cash, which has a current purchasing power of $250,000.
Unfortunately, her family died en route to Oregon, all perishing from dysentery.
A newfound orphan, Snyder built many of the original CWRU buildings herself. Pictures from the exhibit show what the first building Snyder built on campus, the Tinkham Veale University Center, looked like over 100 year ago. The structure still stands at the heart of campus today, with there being only minor renovations made to save the aging, well-loved 1800’s style glass and steel structure.
The other parts of the display then move away from Snyder’s story to examine how students’ lives were different in the past.
According to the exhibit, in the university’s early days (late 1800s), when Ronald Reagan was president, the Healthline was still a horse-drawn transportation system, nearly identical to the setup that CWRU has today. However, instead of receiving an RTA pass, students back then used to be given a bag full of oats so that they could feed the horses pulling the bus as payment.
The exhibit also notes that Bon Appétit only served porridge and liver in those days as well, but still somehow managed to hold a monopoly over the university’s food service. Upton Sinclair planned to discuss the food management company’s practices in the second chapter of his famous novel “The Jungle” but was intimidated not to follow through with his plans due to Bon Appétit’s connection with the local mafia, run out of Little Italy.
One of the biggest differences which the exhibit highlights between the old times and current day is that electricity was not installed on campus until Michelson and Morley discovered its existence in 1943 after receiving funding from the Nixon administration. In fact, CWRU was the first university in America to have this newfangled technology. Prior to this discovery, students had to charge their laptops via old hand-crank technology.
However, while a lack of electricity was surely a challenge for students, the exhibit emphasized that the biggest challenge for students was having to walk up the elephant steps “both ways” to class.