A Shameful Namesake: College Complicit in President Slocum’s Sexual Misconduct

The job of a college archivist “is not to only preserve and provide access to positive information about the college[.] My job is not public relations. I’m not here to promote the college but to preserve its history… the college has a wonderful history… but I would not be doing my job if I hid that story.”

Archivist Jessy Randall poses with The James Hutchinson Kerr papers, the only surviving record of women’s statements of harassment by President Slocum. Photo by Daniel Sarché

Archivist Jessy Randall arrived at Colorado College in 2001 to work in special collections where “many small mysteries awaited” her. However, there was one big question not many people seemed to be looking into: President William F. Slocum was pushed out of the CC presidency in 1917. Randall wanted to know why. Rumors of financial misconduct or rivalry within the faculty floated around, but was it something bigger?

From 2001 to 2017, Randall worked to look into the darker murmurings that Slocum had been guilty of sexual harassment against two women. “It was a side project, not what I was hired to do, but I was curious.”

In a blog post from this fall, Randall released a more accessible compilation of information from the archives proving that Slocum had not assaulted just two women, but was guilty of serial sexual assault. The compilation details hundreds of assaults perpetrated by Slocum, dubbing him “CC’s own Harvey Weinstein.”

In her blog post Randall explains that the information has always been there and had been looked at before, but the focus was always the Dean Parsons case in the aftermath (Parsons was dismissed after bringing details of Slocum’s behavior to the Board of Trustees). 

Visiting professor of Mathematics and Fulbright Scholar John Fauvel called the scandal “The Monicagate on Cache La Poudre St” in a blog he wrote for the college website. His research led him to the political fight and faculty divide that followed suit, but once again, Randall was interested in the catalyst himself: “What he [Slocum] did was the main story.”

Randall first looked in places one would think to look: The Slocum papers, and The Parsons papers, there was nothing explicitly about the harassment in either. The only time there was any mention of the scandal was that were acknowledgment of two anonymous women.

Next Randall stumbled upon the Kerr Papers. James Hutchinson Kerr was “a local gadfly writing his own encyclopedia of Colorado Springs.” He stuck his nose in everything and wrote about anything, donating a gigantic collection of his hand copied manuscripts to the college in 1919 as well as a copy to the Colorado Springs Pioneer museum.

Kerr was a bit eccentric, the topics list of his manuscripts spanning 30 pages alone. The section Randall studied began with a note: “This volume contains material on the Pres. Slocum affair. If it is necessary to allow anyone to use it, it MUST be used under the closest supervision.”

Randall wondered how anybody ever missed these. The problem was, no one was really looking for the women’s statements until now, “Now is the moment that people are listening” said Randall.

President William F. Slocum, President of Colorado College from 1888-1917. He was asked to leave after reports of his behavior were brought to the attention of the Board of Trustees by Dean Edward S. Parsons. PHOTO COURTESY OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS.

The archives are startling and the statements chilling. Many of the statements are vague and full of euphemisms making some hard to understand. This is because there was no word for sexual harassment, no language women of the time could use to explain their encounters.

Back then, as is now, women were afraid to tell their friends or authorities because they were embarrassed and often felt as if it was their fault. At first Randall saw Kerr’s recount and thought it was an overstatement, but Slocum was president from 1888-1917, and lurked as a predator in a time period that ensured silence, and a position of power that allowed him access to young women over and over again. “There were students, faculty, faculty wives, staff, all had been accosted. Slocum was not picky, if you were female you belonged to him.”

Kerr describes Slocum as “a dangerous animal on the loose.” The first woman to come forward was Professor Maude S. Bard “It gradually dawned upon me, that I was dealing with a man of strong and evil passions and that my only effort must be to protect myself… In the spring of 1913, in the President’s office, at Palmer Hall, Mr. Slocum took me by the shoulders, forced me to stand against the east wall of his office, and pressed his whole body against mine, especially emphasizing the pressure at the portion of his body and mine most calculated to arouse and satisfy physical passion…

… I struggled to free myself and fled from the office.” This was the first of three instances Slocum harassed Bard. Bard finally came forward after a student assistant of hers had come to her in distress after too being “handled” by him. Bard’s suggestion at the time was for the assistant to quit. “It’s [wasn’t] ‘here’s the person to complain to’, [it was] ‘if you don’t want to be touched quit your job,'” commented Randall. 

The second woman to come forward with her name was Harriet Satyr: “To feel that I have not only been insulted once, but many times, has been a thing which I have had to live with mentally. I have had to put up with ‘handling,’ insinuating looks and insidious familiarities, in many of the private interviews which I have had with him, in obeying his wanting ‘to see me for a few minutes…

…I am unable to express the looks which have left me boiling with a sense of shame and disgrace. The constant need of having his hand on your body, feeling it, are things a woman cannot mistake. A constant desire to always bring the physical side in is always present. […] Another illustration […] at the end of a normal conversation, when he asked me if I was engaged, I answered ‘No,’ and like a flash the lights were turned off, and before I was aware of what was happening, I was seized in his arms, and he said, “You have got to kiss me.”

Dean Edward Parsons was finally the one who stepped in and brought the issue to light to the Board of Trustees. After the claims were confirmed, Slocum was asked to step down in 1916. He took the year to fundraise abroad before announcing his resignation after the 1917 commencement.

Next, Dean Parsons was asked to leave as the board believed he had overstepped his boundaries, and was trying exercise more power over the college than he should. In anger and protest, 22 other faculty members resigned. The case was brought to the American Association of University Professors, the AUUP, which found Colorado College in the wrong and required the school to ask Parsons and the rest of the faculty back, all declined the offer.

Throughout this time, the student body had little idea of what was going on aside from the fact that there was some discord between the President and faculty. Many heard murmurings of “personal immortality” or “hypocrisy” but the language was very vague. Slocum, prior to being College President had been a minster and gave sermons on ethics. 

Slocum was able to skirt by for a long time with nothing more than dislike from many on campus. There was neither adequate language for the women to describe what had happened to them, nor channels for support or reporting. When Bard and Satyr finally broke the story, hundreds of women finally came forward, giving oral testimony about their encounters.

Only 22 allowed them to be written down, and out of the 22 only nine allowed them to be copied to Kerr. Five out of eight women were brave enough to attach their names to the accounts. The copies Kerr received are the only documentation still available, all records from Parson’s committee were lost. If not for Kerr’s eccentricity and persistence, the serial nature of this case would have been lost to history. All of the accounts quoted here are from Kerr’s copies.

Maude S. Bard, Secretary to the President 1912-1916, and wife of Professory Edward R. Warren, was one of two women to publicly come forward, on-record with statements against Slocum. PHOTO COURTESY OF SPECIAL COLLECTIONS.

The atrocities go on and on. One anonymous professor said: “Of course I have known for a long time that Pres. Slocum has a most disgusting attitude toward women who are unsuspicious, young, and thrown into contact with him.”

Florence Leidigh was the only student whose name was attached to her account: “I could continue indefinitely with tales of young girls who had horrifying experience with their president: one in a public train, another in a closed carriage, and yet another while walking across the campus in an early twilight, and still another who one year accompanied President and Mrs. Slocum abroad.”

Another woman further went on to describe how this was not the kind of man who should hold power over young men and women.

While Kerr was eccentric he was dedicated. “The idea that a teacher must close his eyes to fraud and shame and be a mere tool in the hands of the head-official, or an irresponsible money-sucking board of trustees, is repulsive to all self-respecting teachers” Kerr says in correspondence to Parsons.

“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.” Kerr added.

In a letter written at the time Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, Guy Albright, wrote, “The fact was that Slocum was an erotic. No woman was safe from insult when left alone with him. Stories by the hundreds and affidavits by the dozen poured in proving that college girls, women secretaries, wives of professors, married women in town, pretty or homely, old or young, all were liable to shocking caresses and suggestive language from Slocum…

…Someway, while rumors had been abroad for many years, nobody dared expose the old libertine. His position and his power as well as women’s modesty protected him through 27 years in Colorado Springs…

…He was hated by students and distrusted by faculty folk because of his faithlessness, his lying, and his double-dealing. But until these young women were goaded to speak, no one had the courage to attack him.”

For so long the Slocum case has been lost in a choppy period of Colorado College’s history. But in an age where the world is actively condemning these acts, even retroactively, it is fitting for the information to be out there and accessible.

While there have been previous efforts to rename the residence named after Slocum all have stalled. Perhaps, with the resurfacing of information and compilation by Randall, a renaming will be more seriously considered. Even so, a renaming campaign would likely need to be driven by student interest. For now, anyone interested in accessing the information or more details about the case can be found in Randall’s blog “Colorado College’s Own Harvey Weinstein” or in Special Collections.

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