Edwin Erle Sparks papers, 1870-1940

1355

Collection Overview

Title:
Edwin Erle Sparks papers
Dates (Inclusive):
1870-1940
Creator:
Sparks, Edwin Erle
Abstract:
Sparks was an historian, and president of Pennsylvania State College for twelve years.
Abstract:
The collection contains personal correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts of Dr. Sparks' writings including a 196-page boyhood reminiscence and a draft of his Ph.D. dissertation, quot;The Cumberland National Road.quot; Also, includes published articles, reviews, articles about Sparks, scrapbooks, speeches, and research and lecture notes. Correspondents include Jane Addams, Ida Tarbell, Fred Lewis Pattee, and George Washington Carver.
Collection Number:
1355
Size:
5 Cubic feet
Repository:
Special Collections Library. Pennsylvania State University.
Languages:
English

Biographical Note

Edwin Erle Sparks was born in Ohio farm country and grew up in the village of London, 35 miles west of Columbus. A view of a "college man," resplendent in a sack coat, dark trousers and a top hat, set "the Boy's" determination at a young age to attend college so that he too could one day own "a sleek and glossy headpiece and gain distinction in strange villages." He enrolled in 1879 at Ohio Wesleyan, from which he was dismissed for smoking a cigarette. He then entered Ohio State to prepare for a career as a teacher of history. He was an active student, organizing the Ohio State chapter of Chi Phi fraternity, but also one who financed his education working as a cub reporter and as a book store clerk. Upon graduation in 1884, he taught history at Portsmouth (Ohio) High School, later becoming Principal and then Superintendent of schools at Martin's Ferry, Ohio. In 1890 Sparks first came to Penn State's notice. Between 1890 and 1895, he served as Principal of the Prepatory Department. Although he served energetically, it seems clear he left with little doubt that he would ever return as anything but a visitor. His destination was the University of Chicago for graduate study and a position in William Rainey Harper's newly established Extension Division. In his 13 years at Chicago, Sparks rose from a lecturer to a full Professor of American History in the Graduate College and wrote eight books praised for their new social history approach and lucid style. Today Sparks might be called a "popularizer"; he was, but in the finest sense of the word. He was committed to more modern approaches to scholarship and was an early voice in the movement for archival preservation of America's historical documentation. He was also, by training and inclination, a man of the podium. He gave innumerable public lectures through the Middle West on the great men and events of American history. Sparks had reached what in his own words, he described as "the summit." When the call came to him from Penn State again, sparks apparently had some doubts about changing course. Appeals by alumni and faculty friends helped persuade him that, while the challenge was great, the opportunity for success was greater. During President Atherton's illness and absence from campus and during the nearly two years following his death, Penn State struggled. It was a time of drifting and increasing disenchantment among both faculty and students. The caustic Lemon was the student's response. The little magazine's "squirt of astringent juice" burned everyone, but particularly acting President James A. Beaver and his financial overseer, Vice President Judson P. Welch. The faculty were restive also. George G. Pond railed against Welch's tighter financial controls and Fred Lewis Pattee wrote Sparks that things were so bad he was thinking of leaving Penn State. A President with vision and verve was necessary. Atherton, "the second founder", had transformed the institution into the beginnings of a modern university and had gone far in the winning over of the Legislature. Sparks would quickly revitalize the school's spirit and proceed to win many new friends for Penn state among the citizens of the Commonwealth. His fears that his past association with the scorned Prepatory Department would hinder him internally were quickly done away with, and he began his great work of "carrying the college to the people." As one sketch has noted, it was through his public speaking and the college's extension work that Penn State came to win the Commonwealth's loyalty. In his twelve years as president, Sparks spoke more than fifty times a year to all types of audiences-scholarly meetings, high school commencements and country fairs alike. His gift of humor was well known; the bon mot that the College was located in the center of the state and was equally inaccessible from all points was his creation. The college's value, however, was brought home in more concrete fashion. Agricultural and home economics extension, begun under Atherton, was vastly expanded with the help provided by the passage of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. The scope of Farmers' Week on campus was enlarged. Mining and Engineering experiment stations were established with published bulletins, and the first extension centers founded to teach engineering courses to shop workers. The Summer session for teachers and summer conferences for high school principals were established, as well as a Publicity Department to help keep the College before the public's eye. Internally, Sparks met with an improved situation upon his arrival. The Trustees were determined that the overload of work which had broken Dr. Atherton's health would not again occur. Finances would be overseen by a Treasurer and a Dean of Faulty would handle academic administration, leaving the President free to concentrate on external affairs. No longer would the President teach courses or be Dean of a School as well, as Atherton had done. A Council of Administration, established during the "interregnum", to ensure collective counsel and responsibility continued for nearly fifty years. Combining this with the e support Sparks continued to build in the Legislature, Penn State advanced spectacularly. Enrollments quadrupled to more than 4,000, and 1,000 acres were added to the College holdings. In line with Sparks' conviction that the College should serve all the state's interests and not just a few, curriculums expanded an a School of Liberal Arts was established. Ten new buildings gradually took shape - Sparks preferred to build pieces of a number of buildings for many purposes rather than sinking the construction allotment into one single-purpose edifice. A College Health Service was formed and Deans of Men and Women appointed. To further research an Institute of Animal Nutrition was established as well as the previously mentioned mining and engineering experiment stations. World War I proved to be Sparks' undoing. The nation's colleges sent many of their students and faculty to fight, trained future soldiers, and did much in the area of war-related research. Penn State was no different and in the two years before, during, and after mobilization, the life of the college was totally disrupted. The long hours of new and unfamiliar tasks brought on a nervous breakdown and a later diagnosis of angina pectoris. In 1919 President Sparks took a year's leave, but it was clear he could not continue and in January 1920 his resignation was accepted, effective in June. the Board of Trustees appointed him a lecturer in American History at a substantial salary and provided him with a house on campus. He spent the following years lecturing in occasional semesters and advancing the work of Phi Kappa Phi, of which he was regent general, and Chi Phi, for which he served as general secretary and Chakett editor. He died on June 15, 1924, as Dunaway notes, "lamented by the Trustees, the faculty, the students, the alumni, and a wide circle of friends throughout the state and the country."

Return to Table of Contents


Collection Overview

The Edwin Erle Sparks Papers consist of personal correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts of Sparks' writings including a 196 page boyhood reminiscence, and the draft of his dissertation "The Cumberland National Road," copies of Sparks' published articles and reviews as well as articles and notices about Sparks, research and lecture notes, family photo albums, scrapbooks covering the 1897-1924 period, and guest books. Sparks' presidential papers are separately maintained as a 17 cubic foot segment of the records of the Office of the President. The major part of the collection was the gift of Dr. Sparks' daughter, Ethel Sparks in 1947. The draft of the President's dissertation was presented by Mary Louise Willard and, most recently, the typescript of his boyhood memoirs by his granddaughter, Susan Sparks Schueler. The papers were originally sorted into a subject order by Penn State Room Curator Abbie Cromer and in 1977 reprocessed by Archivist Leon Stout and archival assistant Barbara B. DeShong.

Return to Table of Contents


Collection Arrangement

Organized into six series: Correspondence; writings; miscellaneous; publications; notes, typescripts, and manuscripts; memorabilia, scrapbooks, and albums.

Return to Table of Contents


Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Edwin Erle Sparks papers, PSUA 1355, Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections staff.

Return to Table of Contents


Controlled Access Headings

Personal Name(s)

  • Sparks, Edwin Erle

Return to Table of Contents


Collection Inventory

Click associated checkboxes to select items to request. When you have finished, click the Submit Request button.

Box

1,

1,

1,

1,

1,

1,

1,

1,

1,

Return to Table of Contents


Box

1,

1,

2,

1,

1,

Return to Table of Contents


Box

1,

5,

1,

5,

1,

Return to Table of Contents


Box

2,

2,

2,

2,

2,

2,

2,

Return to Table of Contents


Box

2,

5,

3,

5,

5,

3,

3,

3,

2,

5,

5,

2,

3,

5,

3,

3,

5,

3,

2,

2,

3,

5,

3,

5,

3,

5,

5,

5,

3,

3,

5,

5,

5,

5,

5,

5,

5,

5,

Return to Table of Contents


Box

8,

8,

7,

7,

6,

4,

8

Return to Table of Contents