1900s Students

Oratory and Debate, and the Literary Society are all under the guidance of the English Department. Professor Crawford reported to Chancellor McCormick that: “The various activities under the supervision of the Literary Society have an average attendance of about 25 with often an attendance of 35. The debate club, recently formed, meets at Noon hour and is attracting the attention of a goodly number of students.”

Ph.D.s Conferred


Thomas Charles Blaisdell-Composition Rhetoric

George William Gerwig-(no title available)


Edward Charles Parker-(no title available)


Wallace Lee Bonham-The Harmony of the Ethical with the Dramatic Purpose in Shakespeare’s Great Tragedies

Thomas Charles Blaisdell (1867–1948) received his Bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University. After receiving his doctorate, he published a textbook (most likely drawn from his dissertation), Steps in English: Composition-Rhetoric (1906) and a book for teachers,English in the Grades: Suggestions for Teachers (1905). In 1930 he published another volume entitled Ways to Teach English. As Peggy O’Brien notes in her 1995 article “’And Gladly Teach’: Books, Articles, and a Bibliography on the Teaching of Shakespeare,” Blaisdell was among the early twentieth century advocates for the close-reading of Shakespeare and the “physicalization” of his work through reading aloud, class-room acting exercises, and a ‘stage-centered’ pedagogical approach. Blaisdell served as a Professor of the Teaching of English at the State Teachers College in Slippery Rock, as Professor of English at Michigan Agricultural College (1906-1912), President of Alma College (1912-1915), and as Dean of the School of Liberal Arts, Penn State.

George William Gerwig (1867-1950) received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska and began his post-doctorate career serving as an Extension Lecturer at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, as well as teaching courses such as “The Art of the Short Story” in the Saturday/evening course program at the University of Pittsburgh. Gerwig was an educator, an insurance salesman, and the first secretary of the centralized Pittsburgh Board of Education. He served as a member of the board of the Henry Clay Frick Education Commission. Gerwig was the author of several books, including The Art of the Short StorySchools with a Perfect Score: Democracy's Hope and Safeguard, and a series on schooling and moral education,Guideposts to Character. He also published eight pamphlet-length volumes in a series on Shakespeare’s female characters. Gerwig knew Willa Cather from his time in Nebraska, and he is thought to be at least partly responsible for her move to Pittsburgh to teach English at Allegheny High School.


Percy Earle Burtt attended the Western Theological Seminary, completed his term of duty with the Navy during World War One, and went on to serve as minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Sharon, Pennsylvania.

Arthur Wallace Calhoun became a scholar and professor whose subject was worker’s education and American labor. He completed his MA at the University of Wisconsin and his PhD at Clark University, in 1969. He taught at a variety of colleges and universities, including the University of Kentucky, the Rand School of Social Science, Grove City College (PA), Erskine College and the Brookwood Labor College. A pacifist and social radical, he rarely stayed at any position for more than a few years. His written works include Social History of the American Family, The Worker Looks at Government, The Social Universe, Social Regeneration, and The Cultural Concept of Christianity. His papers are held at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University.

Walter LeRoy Copeland, who won the Senior Oratorical Prize in 1903, studied law and eventually became a director at the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation. At his death in 1959, he left the University of Pittsburgh some $1 million earmarked for the Department of Neurological Surgery, which continues to fund research to this day.

Charles Rohrer Crow, who won the Freshman Literature Prize in 1902, was the father of Charles Rohrer Crow, Jr., who was hired into the department as an Assistant Professor in 1947. Charles Crow Jr. will be much featured in this history.

Robinson Jeffers

Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962) was born in Old Allegheny on Pittsburgh’s north shore. His father, a Presbyterian minister, was a professor at the Western Theological Seminary, and his parents took an active interest in their son’s education, teaching him languages, including Greek, and providing extensive opportunities for travel in Europe. In 1902, when Robinson was 15, he was enrolled for a year as a sophomore in the Western University of Pennsylvania. The following year, when the family moved to California, he transferred to Occidental College. Jeffers went on to a substantial career as a poet. He is known primarily for his narrative or epic poems, written in long Whitman-like lines and celebrating the landscape of California’s coast and forests. Jeffers is considered to be an important figure in American modernism. More recently, his work has been recovered as a form of eco-criticism, articulating a philosophy of “inhumanism.” His translation of Medea was performed in New York in 1947 with Dame Judith Anderson in the title role. His collected work was published by Stanford University Press (Vol 1, 1988; Vol 2, 1989).   

William Hart Lacey served as the Associate Editor and Editor in Chief of the Courant, the student magazine.  He was chosen to give the Salutatory Address at the 1904 graduation ceremony.   He completed his degree in Law at the University of Pittsburgh.  

Riley Salathian Lethwick, who won a Freshman Literature Prize in 1908, went on to a career as a composer and lyricist. One of these compositions, “The Mail Train Blues,” was recorded by Sippie Wallace and Louis Armstrong.

Robert L. Vann (1879-1940) entered the Western University of Pennsylvania as a scholarship student in 1903, graduating in 1906. He was a member of the Philomathean Society and served as editor of the student magazine, the Courant. He received 2nd prize in the Senior Oratorical Contest for a speech, “The Heavy Belgian Hand: Wrath that Makes for Praise,” on Belgian rule in the Congo. (Thomas Blaisdell was one of the judges.) Vann graduated from the WUP Law School in 1909 and opened a law practice, serving as one of only five African American lawyers in Pittsburgh. In 1910, he became editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, a position he held until his death in 1940. Under his leadership, the Pittsburgh Courier became one of the most influential and most widely read black newspapers in the United States.


1900s Prizes

The Sophomore Literature Prize

With a new Chancellor in office, the Chancellor’s literature prize was reconstructed as a Sophomore Literature Prize and a Freshman Literature Prize. The awards went to the most outstanding students in literature courses and the awards were determined by a committee consisting of the Chancellor, the Professor of English, and a third party chosen by the two.

1901    Carlos David Norton
1902    John Coleman, William Hart Lacey
1903    Paul Coleman
1904    Arthur Wallace Calhoun
1905    William Cathcart Arthur, Thomas Alan Miller
1906    Percy Earle Burtt
1907    Clarence Achilles Reece
1908    Margaret Geraldine Kelly
1909    Gertrude Marie Munroe

The Freshman Literature Prize

1901    William Hart Lacey
1902    Charles Rohrer Crow
1903    William Charles Reuter, Edwin Kuhn Price
1904    William Cathcart Arthur
1905    Percy Earle Burtt
1906    Clarence Achilles Reece
1907    Carl Eugene Davis
1908    Frederick Clarence Gillespie, Riley Salathian Lethwick
1909    Ned Lewis Estabrook

Senior Oratorical Prize

1903    Walter LeRoy Copeland

Chancellor’s Oratorical Prize

1904    John Coleman
1906    Oliver Henry Fulton, Robert Lee Vann
1907    Edwin Robert Wiese, Sidney Isaac Kornhauser
1908    George Salter Coleman, Harriet Elizabeth Kelly