1893 Detailed Manuscript Letter from Historian William M. Blackburn, President of Pierre University

1893 Detailed Manuscript Letter from Historian William M. Blackburn, President of Pierre University

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On offer is an interesting letter written by the  internationally-recognized American historian, William Maxwell Blackburn (1828-1898). Blackburn served as president of Pierre University from 1885 to 1898. He was an ecclesiastical historian internationally known through his authorship of numerous books and articles. He wrote on various topics of local and national interest such as the philosophy of education, geology, and South Dakota history. Blackburn published more than 30 books on topics ranging from young adult fiction to religious histories. He also was a founding member of the South Dakota Historical Society. [SEE BIO NOTES AFTER LISTING FOR INFO ON THE UNIVERSITY]. 

Blackburn wrote this letter to Prof Hitchcock, apparently a friend and confidant. In his letter, Blackburn writes for 3-and-a-half pages, commenting on many events both local and national in scope. 

One reference is to labour problems at the Pullman Company that were the dominant railway coach manufacturer in the United States. The following year, Pullman would be engaged in a bitter national strike that paralyzed U.S. rail transport and was a turning point in American labour relations. An excerpt:

“... since the ‘brake up’ at Pullman – an event so common to state institutions, especially in new states that I was not overwhelmed with astonishment tho most very sorry that you felt it best to resign…” [p1]. 

The letter also references and important event in the state and city history – notably an effort to have the state capital moved from Pierre to Huron. In the end, Pierre prevailed:

“Just now we are somewhat concerned over a House bill to submit to the People a Change in the Constitution so as to give the Capital to Huron…” [p2].

He makes passing reference as well to the political divisions in the electorate of the time, specifically mentioning the Populist Party which played a large role in 1892 elections as a significant left-wing force in American politics:

“The Legislature has few “populists” in it, but about 30-40 farmers so-called” [p4].

He touches on many other topics throughout. 

For a historian, this letter is a direct connection to a widespread, significant economic upheaval in America, showing how it can touch even small communities far away from the major centres of economic and political power. On a more local level, it is a direct link to an aspect of local history in the Sate of South Dakota.

ABOUT PIERRE UNIVERSITY:  The Presbyterian Church opened Pierre University in 1883 and built a wood-frame building called Pioneer Hall that year. In a bid for the university, the city of Pierre, South Dakota, offered twenty acres of land and $13,000 for the construction of the educational institution Religious and educational institutions were looked to as a ‘civilizing’ influence over the ‘rough’ Western town. Pierre University’s focus was on training ministers and teachers, and it awarded the first higher education degree in Dakota Territory in May 1887.The depression of the 1890s hit the area hard and the college was merged with Scotland Academy and relocated to Huron in 1898 where it became Huron College. Passing through several private hands and operating under various names, the ‘university’ continued until 2005 when it finally closed. The University was never large and, in his letter, Blackburn notes that they have 33 ‘class’ students and 35-40 ‘specials’ – possibly part-time students.

The letter is a two-page, double-sided document that measures approximately 10.5 inches by 8.0 inches. It is about 2/3 complete. The paper is in good condition. There is an approximately 1.5 inch tear along one fold. The handwriting is clear and legible.

Please don't hesitate to contact us for more information or to request photos. (Kindly include the SKU, listed on this page above the price, in your e-mail so we can more easily answer your questions.)

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