A couple of weeks ago a patron was using some boxes from Frank Vandiver’s papers and as is my habit I spent some time looking though them myself. They were extraordinarily interesting–Frank seemed to have had correspondence with every significant Civil War historian in the country, some of it deliciously gossipy. There were also several letters from Mech E professor Alan Chapman, who was even funnier in writing than he was in person.
He saved everything and because the files were organized chronologically it was easy to discover how he wound up at Rice in the first place. Here’s a letter to him from the influential southern historian William Hesseltine, who had recently spent a semester as a visiting professor at Rice. It’s pretty surprising, not because of the goofiness about Stonewall at the end but because of Hesseltine’s assessment of the Rice Institute:
Next in the file, a letter from Vandiver to the Dean of the Institute,Holmes Richter ’26 ’27 ’29, arranging his visit to campus and the topic of his job talk:
There’s no suspense here, of course, but by December the match was consummated. This was, incidentally, how the academic “job market” worked until well into the 1970s.
Bonus: I see that although I’ve mentioned him several times I haven’t written a proper post about Frank. To give you a better idea of who he was and his role in higher education in Texas here’s the Rice News story from his death in 2005: