William De Witt Hyde Collection

The William De Witt Hyde Collection
Source report by Owen Strachan

What is it? The William De Witt Hyde Collection, composed of letters, sermons, photographs, and other personal effects of William DeWitt Hyde, Bowdoin's seventh president (1885-1917), is located in the Special Collections and Archives room at Hawthorne and Longfellow library in Brunswick, Maine. The materials, compiled from 1867 to 1923, are divided among ten boxes in the following order:

Box one (M96): Hyde's presidential reports from 1892-1904, his general Correspondence from 1882-1917, as well as miscellaneous items such as inaugural addresses and various other speeches. Organized alphabetically by archivist's headings in manila folders with title, box number, and file number (1-number of files in box) given on the tag of each folder in the Collection. It should be noted here that each and every file in the Collection is identified in this way.

Boxes two-six (all M96.2): Sermons. Box two contains topical sermons listed in alphabetical order. A sample sermon from box two: "Wisdom, Justice, and Love." Most sermons are about twenty to twenty five pages long and appear to be first drafts, as they include notes for revision and numerous corrections, additions, and deletions. Boxes three through six hold sermons exposited from Biblical passages. These sermons are filed in Biblical order, beginning with Genesis and ending with James, and are untitled save for the book and verse on which they are based. Sample titles from boxes three-six (all share Biblical passages as headings): "Genesis 1" and "Matthew 16," sermons that deal with Biblical passages and then are applied to a greater context, such as life at Bowdoin or the general state of modern society.

Boxes seven-eight (both M96.3): Addresses and essays on a variety of subjects, from the Dudley Coe dedication to MacBeth. Listed in alphabetical order. The works found in these boxes deal more with secular topics than with inherently Christian subjects, including societal issues such as women's rights and the general moral state of mankind. Also contains eulogies delivered by Hyde at various funerals.

Box nine (M96.4): Hyde's personal notebooks from his own collegiate days at Harvard. Alphabetized by subject, this box counts among its holdings Hyde's Apologetics, Geometry, and Theology notebooks, in addition to several others from other subjects. One knows the notebooks are authentic by the fact that the scrawl is almost entirely illegible, the true mark of an active mind.

Box ten (M96.4): Biographical materials and photographs. Alphabetized by archivists' headings, includes newspaper clippings about Hyde, magazine articles written by him, photographs of Hyde and his family, and numerous other personal items. Much material is included on the "sitting" of Hyde for his Presidential portrait, presently located in Hubbard Hall.

When was it made? It is not entirely clear when the Collection came into existence as information is not provided on the subject of its creation. One might surmise that the collection of Hyde's material began even as he served as president of Bowdoin. It is standard practice that a college preserve the documents of its presidents, and Hyde certainly gave the college much to preserve, as in his thirty two year term he seemingly wrote a sermon, letter or address for every day of his tenure.

Who appears in it? William DeWitt Hyde, numerous friends and family with whom he corresponded, nationally known figures such as Woodrow Wilson, Henry Van Dyke, and James A. Garfield, among others. Most items were written by Hyde although there are several letters written to him, namely letters from easily recognizable historical figures such as Wilson. The sermons, President's reports, addresses, and essays were all written by Hyde, materials which compose 90 percent of the Collection. In his sermons, God, Satan, Bowdoin Students, and humanity in general are often referenced, as one might expect from a conservative Christian minister.

How is it organized? See What is it? Above.

How do you use it? 1) Look online to see what materials you want to view. It should first be noted that while there is not a sheet with a list of each item to be found in the boxes, there is such a listing available online through the Bowdoin Library webpage. The webpage for the Collection also includes general information about the library's holdings for Hyde and a brief biography of Hyde. The webpage may be accessed by typing this address: http://library.bowdoin.edu/arch/mss/wdhg.shtml or by following this pathway: 1) Go to library.Bowdoin.edu, 2) Click on Search, 3) Type in William De Witt Hyde Collection, 4) Click on his name in the search findings, 5) Choose the area of the collection you want to look at, 6) Print out the box listing you need by clicking print once you have located your area of research.
2) In order to proceed in your investigation into Hyde's life, you must have the material in hand. Once you have identified the material you require to begin researching, ask the helpful Archives staff to retrieve the boxes you need, which can only happen after signing some forms and presenting them with the call number of the information you are seeking. 3) Once they have retrieved the sources, locate the aspect of Hyde's life you are researching: correspondence, sermons, photographs, or other materials in the ten box set by using the computerized list. (Note: If you do not have access to the list, you may find the material you are seeking by reading the outside labels of each box and then by perusing the contents found inside.) There is an ordering system particular to each box, either alphabetical or Biblical. See "What is it?" for more information on this system. 4) Each folder contains the title on an extended flap, making it easy for one to simply flip through the Collection. In general, the Collection is straightforward and quite user friendly, although it will be eminently easier to search with the numbered list of items in the collection, found online at the above hyperlink, in hand. At this point, simply read through the Collection, selecting documents that apply to your area of research.

What kinds of questions can it answer? The Collection can answer a plethora of questions on Bowdoin, late 19th and early 20th century Christianity, the role of a college president in the same time period, and most importantly, the person of William De Witt Hyde. Hyde's character, his Christian views, the state of Bowdoin, and his presidency are frequently interwoven in the letters, sermons, and addresses of the collection. Although Hyde was a multifaceted man, providing commentary on many subjects in substantial detail, it ought to be restated that the central feature of this Collection are the sermons, the material that serves as the backbone of this Collection. Hyde was meticulous and detailed in his writings; many of the sermons run over twenty five pages long, and as previously stated include Hyde's views on the Bible, society, and the state of Bowdoin.
For this particular scholar, the Collection can also answer more nuanced questions, such as how the movement popularly termed "muscular Christianity" influenced the Christian life of Hyde and his college in general. Additional topics include but are not limited to Christian character, the evil of slothfulness, the course offerings of Bowdoin at the turn of the 20th century, the importance of faith, the role of academics and athletics in a young man's life, marriage, war, the essential doctrine of salvation by grace alone, discipline, the fall of man, and many, many others. There is a wealth of information to sift through in this collection and it can be safely stated that any scholar looking for information involving the central teachings of the Christian faith between the years of 1885-1927 will be hard pressed to find a finer primary source than this collection. Additionally, the collection will meet the needs of those researching both Hyde's personal life and the religious and academic situation at Bowdoin during the thirty-two year presidency of Hyde.