Mar. 9, 2007
Ezra Cornell, industrialist and educator, comes alive at Kroch Library bicentennial exhibit
Most students, mused Barrett Amos '08, spend four years at Cornell and then move on -- better educated, certainly, and perhaps with a few tidbits of university history they have picked up along the way.
But to wander through the Ezra Cornell exhibit, he said, is to gain a real appreciation for how this place came to be.
The Cornell University Library exhibit, "'I Would Found an Institution': The Ezra Cornell Bicentennial," opened March 8 in the Hirshland Gallery of Carl A. Kroch Library. Cornell President David Skorton and Ezra Cornell '71, the founder's great-great-great-grandson, marked the event with a ceremonial cake-cutting.
The exhibit includes a telegraph receiver, of course -- the one used in Baltimore for the receiving of the first telegraph message in 1844 -- representing the industry that Ezra Cornell helped develop and that also marked his first success.
Other items in the exhibit include: the original Cornell course and room roster, known back in 1874 as the "Schedule of Subjects, Hours, and Rooms of Exercise"; a pitcher, made by Ezra Cornell's potter father; rare shells, brought to Ithaca from Hawaii (known then as the Sandwich Islands); an oddly random pair of wire clippers, used by Ezra for, well, clipping wires; and lots of letters.
One letter is from Malvina Higgins, who requested that Ezra admit blacks to his university. Another is from Ezra to A.D. White, proposing the university's motto, "Any person ... any study." And another is from Ezra to his granddaughter -- particularly relevant on March 8, International Women's Day:
"I want to have girls educated in the university as well as boys, so that they may have the same opportunity to become wise and useful to society that the boys have. I want you to keep this letter until you grow up to be a woman and want to go to a good school where you can have a good opportunity to learn, so you can show it to the President and faculty of the University to let them know that it is the wish of your grand Pa, that girls as well as boys should be educated at the Cornell University."
Erica Evans, a retired Cornell staff member who was at the exhibit with her husband, Professor Emeritus Howard Evans, was struck by the improbability of Ezra Cornell's life. "He was born with so little," she said. "But even without an education, he was an educator at heart."
The exhibition will run until Aug. 31. For more information, call (607) 255-3530 or visit http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/Ezra.