Outside of his capacity as President of the United States, Harry S. Truman visited Little Rock on June 10, 1949, for the annual reunion of the 35th Division, his World War I unit. He was joined on this trip by members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation and his sister.
Upon arriving in Little Rock, President Truman gave brief remarks at a welcome reception inside Robinson Auditorium. He also spoke at a reception at the Hotel Marion and following a ball given at Robinson Auditorium.
In all of his June 10th remarks, President Truman spoke of the hospitality he always enjoyed in Little Rock. He discussed visits he had made over the years, including a stay at the Hotel Marion while in Arkansas campaigning for Senator Hattie Caraway.
At the ball, he commented on how, as a Baptist, he had not learned how to dance. He then joked that however he had picked up other habits which were perhaps not in keeping with his Baptist faith.
At one event, President Truman asked all in attendance to shake hands with their neighbors as a way to shake his hand by proxy. He explained that on inauguration day, he had shaken over 25,000 hands. Given the fact that he signed 600 documents a day, regardless whether he was in Washington or not, he felt he could not keep up with shaking hands all day.
As he concluded the day, he previewed that he would be giving a national address the next day while in Little Rock. In his usual, self-deprecating way, Truman remarked “…if you want to hear the President of the United States you had better come out to the stadium tomorrow, and I will tell you something that will be good for your souls.”
The texts of all of his remarks while in Little Rock can be found here.
Join the Old State House Museum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 12 to explore what life was like for Arkansans during WWI. Visitors can meet a variety of living history interpreters portraying the men and women who helped with the Great War Effort, including:
• Soldiers who will give first-hand demonstrations on infantry, cavalry and artillery training methods
• Red Cross nurses
• Women working on food conservation programs
• Donut Dollies with the Salvation Army
• Silhouette artist
There will be games and hands-on activities ongoing throughout the day.
Admission is free. The museum can validate parking at the DoubleTree hotel; metered parking near the museum is free on weekends.
On September 18, 1948, the Arkansas Razorbacks took on Abilene Christian and won the game by a score of 40 to 6. It was the first game of the season, and the Razorbacks went into the game ranked #13. They maintained that ranking for four weeks before falling out of national standings. The team ended up with a season record of five wins and five losses. Playing four of their games at War Memorial that season, they were two and two in Little Rock. They were one and two in Fayetteville and amassed a 2-1 record on the road.
Prior to the game, the stadium was dedicated to the veterans of World War I and World War II in a ceremony led by former Razorback standout and Medal of Honor recipient Maurice “Footsie” Britt. Though he would later be known for entering politics and becoming Arkansas’ first Republican Lieutenant Governor, in his college days he was known statewide as an outstanding Razorback football and baseball athlete. During World War II, his bravery and courage allowed him to become first person in American history to earn all the army’s top awards, including the Medal of Honor, while fighting in a single war.
Also participating in the opening ceremony were a mass of high school marching bands from across the state. Reports indicate up to forty bands were on the field to play the National Anthem as part of the event.
The construction of the stadium had been a dream of Governor Ben T. Laney. He had encouraged the Arkansas General Assembly to create the stadium during the 1947 session. In August of 1947, Little Rock was chosen as the location over Hot Springs and North Little Rock. West Memphis had abandoned its bid when it was unable to secure the necessary financial pledges. Construction started in 1947 and continued up until opening day. On the day of the game, newspaper photos showed heavy equipment grading the parking lot prior to paving.
Though it had been Laney’s dream, with the passing of the guard, a newspaper photo on the day after the dedication focused on the incoming governor, Sid McMath. Because Arkansas was such a Democratic heavy state, the paper referred to him as Governor-designate even though it was six weeks prior to the 1948 General Election when he would face off against C. R. Black. McMath won the race with 89.4% of the vote.
From 1906 until 1920, a temporary structure stood next to City Hall. It was Little Rock’s first city auditorium.
It was a flexible use structure consisting of a large room with a stage on one end. It had a variety of uses including a roller skating rink. In the lead up to US involvement in the Great War, the Arkansas National Guard obtained permission to use it as a rifle range when it was not being used for other purposes.
Once the US entered the Great War, the facility was also used as a place for recreation for officers stationed at Camp Pike. It was the site of dances as well as basketball games and other sporting competitions.
In addition, various organizations used the facility for patriotic rallies and music concerts.
(Note, after 1912, the front of the facade which appears in the photo was removed. The new Central Fire Station was constructed between the auditorium and Markham Street. A new entrance to the auditorium was built off of Arch Street.)
May is Heritage Month in Arkansas. The 2017 theme is World War I. On Thursdays in May, the blog will look at various ways Little Rock took part in the Great War.
Dr. Ida Joe Brooks was the first woman to practice medicine in Arkansas. In 1920, she became the first woman to be a party nominee for a statewide office. She was the Republican nominee for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. However, due to her gender, the state Attorney General would not let her name appear on the ballot. (Even though this was the first election in which women could vote.)
In 1877, Dr. Brooks, became the first woman to head a state teachers’ organization. She was president of the Arkansas Educational Association. After teaching for several years, she wanted to attend medical school. She had to do so out of state, because the Arkansas medical school would not admit her based on her gender. In 1914, she ended up becoming the first female faculty member of what is now UAMS.
During World War I, she attempted to enlist in military service. When she was denied, due to her gender, she was commissioned in the US Public Health Service and served at Camp Pike specializing in psychiatry. After the war, she was health director for the Little Rock School District.
From the first Thanksgiving football game for Little Rock High School in 1914 until 1933, the Tigers played a variety of opponents. They faced off against other Arkansas high schools, out of state high schools, a college and a team of soldiers. Their record in these twenty games was 18 wins and 2 losses. While the opponent may have varied, each year the Tiger eleven lined up against their foes at home in Little Rock. The team had enough of a reputation that they could invite opponents and never had to travel.
Playing games on Thanksgiving had become a tradition by the time Little Rock joined in the fray in 1914. Their first Thanksgiving Day opponent was Texarkana High School. The Tigers won by a score of 20 to 0. The crowd of 1,500 at West End Park (now the site of Quigley Stadium) not only witnessed the high school game, but also saw Arkansas College (now Lyon College) defeat Little Rock College (no association with UALR) by a score of 40 to 0. With their win, Little Rock captured the state championship – their fourth since 1907.
By the next Thanksgiving Day, the field at West End Park was known as Kavanaugh Field. It would have that name until it was replaced by Quigley Stadium in 1936. From 1915 until 1933, Little Rock would defeat three Arkansas high schools Van Buren, Benton and Hot Springs as well as high schools from Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Kansas, Illinois and Missouri. Three of their out of state opponents returned for a second time, so even though these schools were generally overwhelmed by Little Rock High, it was obviously viewed as a positive experience. Playing out of state teams garnered other benefits. In 1920, they played Tupelo Military Institute, which held the Mississippi-Alabama championship. By defeating them, Little Rock High School claimed the state championship of four states: Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi.
In 1917, they beat the college team of Arkansas State Normal School (now UCA) by a score of 45 to 0. (The Tigers so overpowered State Normal that the Gazette mused that the extremely muddy field was all that kept LR from scoring more than 45 points.)
The Tigers’ only two defeats came in 1918 and 1924. The first Thanksgiving Day defeat came in 1918 when Little Rock played a team of soldiers from Camp Pike. The soldiers were an average of 20 pounds heavier than the Tigers. They used that weight to their advantage to defeat the high schoolers by a score of 42 to 0. This was at the height of the US involvement in The Great War. So this game was certainly part of Little Rock’s war effort as the City worked to extend hospitality to soldiers. The Tigers’ 1924 defeat was at the hands of Atlanta Tech High School by a score of 35 to 7.
While the Thanksgiving games were serious business for the Tigers and their fans, they also provided for moments of entertainment. In 1923, the Gazette reported that the Tigers had hosted a dance at the Capital Hotel for the visiting Ensley High football team from Birmingham, Alabama. One wonders if there were a motive to their hospitality considering that the next day the Tigers won by a score of 20-7. Perhaps distracting the opposing players the night before the game was all part of Coach Earl Quigley’s strategy. On Thanksgiving 1929, Little Rock hosted previously undefeated Soldan High from Saint Louis. At halftime of the game (which would end with LR scoring 26 to their opponent’s 6), there was a performance by the Little Rock High School band as well as a group of girls called Quigley’s Quackers.
Based on their reputation as a powerhouse, Little Rock would continue to play teams from other states. But after 1933, Little Rock would play a close rival: first North Little Rock (1934-1957) and then Hall High (1958-1982). During the two decades of playing various teams, the Little Rock Tigers achieved ten shutouts and suffered one shut out. The Tigers scored 492 points and gave up 133 points.
Muskogee Central High
Arkansas State Normal
Tupelo Military Institute
New Orleans Warren Easton High
Bryan (TX) High
Birmingham Ensley High
Atlanta Technical High
New Orleans Warren Easton High
Birmingham Ensley High
Wichita Central High
Chicago Lindblom High
Saint Louis Soldan High
Chicago Lindblom High
Dallas Woodrow Wilson High
Saint Louis Cleveland High
Muskogee Central High has been known as Muskogee High since the 1970 integration of the formerly all-white school with an African American high school.
Tupelo Military Institute existed from 1913 to 1937.
Warren Easton High is Louisiana’s oldest high school. After Hurricane Katrina it is now a charter high school.
Bryan High School was replaced by Stephen F. Austin High School, which was replaced by a new Bryan High School.
Ensley High in Birmingham closed in 2006.
Atlanta Technical High closed in 1947. A charter school with the same name operated from 2004 to 2012.
Wichita Central High has been known as Wichita East High since 1929. It is the largest high school in Kansas.
Chicago Lindblom High now educates under the name Lindblom Math and Science Academy.
Saint Louis Soldan High now educates as Soldan International Studies High School
Woodrow Wilson High School continues to operate in the Lakewood neighborhood of East Dallas.
Saint Louis Cleveland High now educates as Cleveland Junior Naval Academy and is no longer in the longtime Grover Cleveland High School building.
Today is Veterans’ Day, a chance to pause and remember those — both living and deceased — who have served in the Armed Forces of the US. November 11 was chosen since it was on November 11 in 1918, at 11:11 (Paris time), the Armistice was signed to end the Great War, as World War I was then known. In 1954, the holiday was renamed Veterans Day since the US had been in two military conflicts since the Great War.
A World War I infantry reunion brought President Harry S. Truman to Little Rock in June 1949, a few months after he won his own term in the Presidency. During his time here, he spoke twice at Robinson Auditorium.
Upon arriving, he made some informal remarks:
I am most happy to be here. I am only here in my capacity as a member of the 35th Division. Tomorrow I will address you as President of the United States, and I am afraid you will have to listen, whether you like it or not.
I hope to have a pleasant time in Little Rock, as I always have when I come here. I have been here a dozen times–one of the most hospitable cities in the United States. They know how to treat you, they know how to make you like it, and want you to come back.
I will see more of you later on in the day.
I appreciate the welcome that everybody has given us here this afternoon.
Thank you very much.
Later that night, he spoke at a Ball at Robinson. It followed a banquet that had taken place at the Hotel Marion.
Governor McMath, the Mayor of Little Rock, and distinguished guests:
I can’t tell you how very much I appreciate the cordial reception which I have received in Little Rock. It has been like coming back home to come down here. It’s a habit of mine and has been for 25 years. I have been here in town many a time, and attracted no attention at all. But my friends were just as cordial to me then as they are now.
And I want to thank Eberts Post No. r for its cooperation with the 35th Division in putting on this ball and entertainment.
My education, so far as taking part on the floor is concerned, was sadly neglected as I grew up. I am a Baptist–not a light-foot one–so I didn’t learn how to dance. But I did learn a lot of other things in life, maybe, that I shouldn’t have learned.
I hope that the 35th Reunion this year will be the usual success that 35th Reunions are. I have missed only one, I think, in 25 years or more. I didn’t want to miss this one. The fact that you had it on a weekend gave me and the congressional delegation of the great State of Arkansas an opportunity to be present and attend the meeting. Otherwise, we would have had to stay in Washington and work.
It doesn’t make any difference, though, where the President goes, his work follows him up. I told the congregation this afternoon–you see, I am talking as a Baptist talks–that it didn’t make any difference where I went, I have to sign my name some 600 times a day to keep the country running. And it has, up to date, and I think it will continue, at least for 3 1/2 years more.
I am looking forward to a most pleasant time. I am talking to you now as a member of the 35th Division only, but if you want to hear the President of the United States you had better come out to the stadium tomorrow, and I will tell you something that will be good for your souls.
Thank you very much.
The following day he gave a national address on foreign affairs at the dedication of War Memorial Park. It was carried on coast-to-coast radio. There was no radio coverage of his remarks at Robinson, but a large press corps of national correspondents captured his words.
The Little Rock Mayor to whom he referred was Sam Wassell. Mayor Wassell’s wife had christened the USS Little Rock during World War II. A first cousin, Dr. Corydon Wassell, was a war hero who had been played by Gary Cooper in a movie.