The Harvey Weinstein of Colorado College: Sexual misconduct tales for dorm's namesake lead to call for change

By Debbie Kelley Updated: December 2, 2017 at 7:58 pm • Published: December 2, 2017 0
photo - William F. Slocum, circa 1895. Photo from Tutt Library Special Collections.
William F. Slocum, circa 1895. Photo from Tutt Library Special Collections.

The harrowing personal accounts of female employees and students being sexually assailed at Colorado College a century ago were not indexed or catalogued.

But deep in a collection of thousands of documents in the school's archives there they were: 20 pages of women's statements attesting to being violated by a singularly powerful man, the college president.

"It's the same story over and over that we're getting now," said Colorado College archivist Jessy Randall, referring to the recent floodgate of American women who have gone public with allegations of sexual improprieties by well-known men in high positions.

The homemade encyclopedia of James Hutchison Kerr, in which the testimonials of the women can be found. Photo from Tutt Library Special Collections. 

It was Randall's tireless searching that led her to pages 294 to 311 of Volume 12 of a homemade encyclopedia of Colorado Springs.

"I would have hoped that 100 years later, we would have moved along this continuum," she said. "But it's not that different."

In 1913, Colorado College President William F. Slocum grabbed his secretary, Maude Bard, by the shoulders, forced her to stand against a wall in his office and pressed his body against hers, "especially emphasizing the pressure at the portion of his body and mine most calculated to arouse and satisfy physical passion," according to Bard's statement.

From giving "bestial" looks to one female student and performing a "too minute and familiar examination of a brooch" on the chest of another, to kissing the wife of a dean and perpetrating a "horrifying experience" in a closed carriage, Randall recently discovered the accounts of many women who endured unwanted sexual advances from Slocum.

"The thing I find interesting and sad from the statements from these women is they don't have anybody to talk to about this and try to have action taken," Randall said. "Nowadays, if a student were assaulted by an administrator at the college, she would have a number of different pathways to justice."

Slocum Hall opened in 1954 on the corner of Cache la Poudre Street and North Nevada Avenue. Photo from Tutt Library Special Collections. 

Randall, CC's archivist since 2001, is credited with resurrecting the evidence that had been pushed aside for decades. She and others now are pushing for vindication.

Many students, staff and faculty are angry that a freshman dormitory, which opened on campus in 1954, is still named for the tainted leader.

"Even though it was long ago, it's time they had justice and their voices were heard, in a time when people are listening," said sophomore Emily Kressley, writer for the student newspaper, The Catalyst.

The recent social media "hashtag me too" movement, spurred by accusations from multiple actresses and other women of sexual misconduct by film producer Harvey Weinstein, has ignited a modern-day crusade for Slocum Hall to be stripped of the name of a known sexual abuser.

In a survey The Catalyst conducted last week, 96 percent of students who responded said they would be likely to support or initiate a renaming, and 97 percent of students said they believed sexual harassment warranted the renaming of a building that's named after a perpetrator.

Kressley said while a number of colleges around the nation have changed names of buildings because they were tied to racial issues, sexual assault has not come into play much in renaming buildings.

But it's just as significant, she said.

"It's really important for people in authoritative positions to not abuse their power and manipulate women," Kressley said. "It seems like a no-brainer."

Also this past week, a group of faculty and staff began circulating a petition to rename Slocum Hall, at the corner of Cache la Poudre Street and Nevada Avenue.

"It has come to our attention, through the work of Jessy Randall in the CC archives that President Slocum was a serial sexual harasser/assaulter, and the records are very clear," the petition states.

Signatures will be presented to CC President Jill Tiefenthaler and the private nonprofit college's board of trustees, according to the petition.

In a blog post, Tiefenthaler said she's aware of the controversy.

Randall's proof led the CC board at its November meeting to propose a committee to "recommend a process for the consideration of the removal of honorary designations," such as named buildings and honorary degrees, Tiefenthaler said.

The process will be proposed to the full board for approval at its next meeting in February, said CC spokeswoman Leslie Weddell.

"With a process in place, the board can carefully consider this matter," Tiefenthaler wrote.

Excerpt from Maude Bard's statement. PHoto from Tutt Library Special Collections. 

The board has the authority to name a building and confirm honorary degrees and change or remove such honors, according to college policy.

Randall said she believes removal is justified under college policy that states, "Examples of such situations include, but are not limited to: ... Continuation of the name may compromise the public trust or reputation of the college."

Added Randall, "One quote that really makes me burn that we have a dorm named for him is that 'no woman was safe from insult when left alone with him - pretty or homely, old or young,' all were subject to his shocking suggestions or caresses."

One of Randall's suggestions for renaming Slocum Hall is in honor of his secretary, Maude Bard, who endured several incidents of manhandling by her boss.

Venerated female alumni also are being considered as possibilities.

"The Slocum Affair," as it was referred to in hushed tones through the decades, became as time went by somewhat of a mystery. Little was known as to why Slocum, an ordained Congregational Church minister, stepped down as president of the college in 1917, after he had headed the institution for 29 years.

He became Colorado College's third president in 1888, and over the years murmurings about his sexual indiscretions seeped into all corners of the school that was founded in 1874.

"It had bothered me that the focus always seemed to be 'did he or didn't he,' but I thought, it was 1915, and maybe he complimented somebody, and they took it wrong," Randall said.

Historical accounts emphasized the schism that followed after Slocum relinquished his position, said Randall, who has been researching the topic for the past 16 years.

The dean who led the investigation into Slocum's behavior, Edward Parsons, was forced to leave his post as well, for overstepping his boundaries, which in turn led to 22 faculty and staff leaving in protest.

"I don't think people were all that interested in the women's statements," Randall said.

But personal testimonies had been written down and inserted into the college's annals.

They were extremely difficult to locate, however, Randall said.

Unlike books, such historical collections might have 80 boxes of papers that stretch for six or eight linear feet on shelves, she said. The material could cover hundreds of topics in a haphazard fashion.

"It could be that they didn't want to call attention to it because it could bring shame to the college," Randall said.

A series of discussions with researchers over the years led Randall to uncover those pages, from a homemade encyclopedia of self-appointed historian James Hutchison Kerr, who had taught at CC.

"I thought their statements had been destroyed to protect the reputation of the women," Randall said. "And also partly to protect Slocum himself."

Hundreds of women had stories about Slocum, but only 22 were willing to have them written down. Of those, only nine women gave Kerr permission to reproduce them in his historical accounts. Of the nine statements, five have names and four are anonymous.

Kerr wrote, "22 affidavits made. Hundreds of women of the highest social and church standing who do not wish their names on the written page, hesitate not to give their experiences orally but not in writing."

When the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, Randall said she began receiving many inquiries about Slocum, so she scanned the original pages and transcriptions and started an online blog about The Slocum Affair.

"Now we know what he was accused of and how many people said things about him," she said. "He did put his hands on students, faculty, staff and wives of faculty, according to those statements. There was a pattern of bad behavior."

Slocum's secretary reported his actions to the dean after she found out a student had had similar experiences. Men diagnosed Slocum as having "acute erotomania," a delusional psychological condition.

Slocum and his wife had passed away by the time the dormitory was named after him in 1954.

"The circumstances around his dismissal had faded away enough that nobody thought it was a bad idea," Randall said.

There was no outcry regarding the building's namesake until now, she added.

For Randall, the end of the historical journey is like fitting the last piece in a giant puzzle.

"His position and power and the women's modesty protected him, but when these women were goaded to speak during the investigation, they did," she said. "It's been kind of cool to get their statements out there. I'm sorry it happened, but I'm glad they're being vindicated now."

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