Raymond Walters Redux

By Kevin Grace

Former University of Cincinnati president Raymond Walters (1932-1955) has been on our minds recently because of UC naming changes.  In June, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of its branch campus, Raymond Walters College, to UC-Blue Ash in order to bring consistency to university branding and degree programs (UC-Clermont is the other branch campus).  However, as the university moves into a new era of semesters, admissions requirements, and academic challenges, its history isn’t forgotten as the Blue Ash campus will rename one of its major buildings to maintain its recognition of Walters.

Raymond Walter’s service of 23 years represents the longest tenure of any of UC’s presidents and incorporates a time when the university underwent great changes.  Even as UC continued positioning itself as a “university of the city,” Walters saw it through the Great Depression, World War II, the initial influx of veterans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill, and dramatic increases in research and enrollment.  In terms of the latter, Walters became a national leader in compiling and using annual collegiate enrollment surveys.

Walters was an interesting man, in both his personal and in his professional lives.  He was the last UC president not to have a Ph.D. – he held a Master’s in English.  Raymond Walters was also an authority of some note on the life and career of 19th century composer Stephen Foster, who spent time in antebellum Cincinnati as a shipping clerk.  Walters amassed a large collection of Foster music, recordings, and books, so much so that a special room in Blegen Library (then the Main Library) was used to house it all, officially called the Stephen Foster Room.  The walls were painted with murals of an imagined Foster life on Cincinnati’s waterfront.  After he retired and Walter Langsam became UC’s president in 1955, Walters’ Foster collection became part of the UC Libraries’ special collections (US-93-1).   As one enters the lobby of Blegen Library and looks above the door to the Classics Library graduate students reading room on the right, one can see a faint image of Foster room signage on the terrazzo that was used to make wall repairs.

One of the most valuable legacies of Walters’ time as president is the collection of his diaries housed in the University Archives in the Archives & Rare Books Library (UA-73-20),    The diaries detail the events, the people, and the everyday happenings on campus and in his private life, giving the reader an intimate look at UC and the life of a president.  The entries are often tender, especially when he talks of his wife (“Bob-o-link”) and their life together.  Other remarks concern the changes on campus (Armory Fieldhouse opened in a snowstorm as the Bearcat basketball team beat the Indiana University Hoosiers).  There are also entries on the visitors to campus and the people he entertained in his home on Interwood Place in Clifton.  The details of a particular visitor do not appear in the diaries, but his son, the late Philip Walters, once told of the time when H.G. Wells stayed at the Walters home.  Wells apparently liked his scotch, and trying to accommodate his guest, the teetotaling president bought a bottle and put it in the refrigerator.  Philip, coming downstairs to the kitchen for a late night snack, found Wells fuming and fussing at Americans’ ignorance of how to handle scotch.

In the past few months, we have had another glimpse of the private side of Walters.  While browsing in a Washington, D.C. used bookstore, a Bearcat alum came across a book on the shelves, opened the front cover, and immediately knew that it would be of interest to UC.   So, she sent it to the Archives & Rare Books Library.   The volume is William Dean Howells’ Literary Friends and Acquaintance, and it came from Walters’ personal library.  He had marked the book with both his stamp and his bookplate so we are afforded a look at a title that Walters owned in his youth and, perhaps, influenced him in his academic endeavors.

In addition to the Board minutes that document his presidency and the diaries that reveal his private life and professional musings, the Archives & Rare Books Library also hold extensive biographical and photograph files on Raymond Walters – still remembered and still honored at the University of Cincinnati.