William Terah Lawson [W1876] was one among hundreds of Hovey’s men. These former students who studied under, and came to adore, this brilliant and passionate naturalist went out into the world but always remembered their beloved Professor Hovey. This is evidenced by a letter we recently received. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a woman whose grandfather had attended Wabash in the 19th century. She had two letters to her grandfather, one from Hovey and one from John Lyle Campbell and wondered if we were interested in having them in our collection.
Young Lawson graduated from Wabash in the “Centennial” Class of 1876 and this bright student went on to study medicine in Cincinnati. The first item that I opened was a very warm letter from Lawson’s good friend Dr. Edmund O. Hovey written in November of 1876, the fall after Lawson’s graduation. The letter is a great example of faculty to student, then alumnus, interaction in this time period. This letter seems to indicate that Lawson was a little more than a regular student, “Your successor Mr. Coyle fills his office I believe pretty well. We miss “Lawson” however in several respects. You earned a good reputation while you occupied that narrow room & performed the somewhat varied duties devolved upon you.” The record does not say, but I wonder if Lawson might have been a lab assistant….
Also in this letter Hovey sends along a short summary of day to day life at the College. He includes this bit of news, “My family is well & I work some upon the Cabinet nearly every day…” The “cabinet” Hovey refers to could also be described as his life’s passion and was a sizable collection of natural history specimens. In the Catalog of 1876 a description of the Cabinet says that it included birds, plant samples, rocks and minerals, “…especially rich in coal, ores of gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead and iron…” Collected over his lifetime, Hovey’s Cabinet was so large that it came to fill the Polytechnic Gymnasium which was then renamed the Hovey Museum.Here is a great image of part of the collection in the Museum.
Hovey’s passion for his Cabinet was tied up with the notion of having real materials that Wabash students could touch and examine on the spot for a more effective learning experience. Many collections came about through donors, but in some instances the College bought them. When Hovey died he left the college many things, among them a catalog listing every item in the Cabinet.
A lasting record of Hovey’s lifelong passion for natural history.Best, Beth Swift Archivist Wabash College