Delegation re-enacts FHSU's beginning in Washington, D.C.

3/29/00 Photos of Reenactment -

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Fort Hays State University bridged time and space Tuesday to mark the historic event that made the university's creation possible.

It was March 28, 1900, that President William McKinley signed federal legislation returning the land of the abandoned Fort Hays Military Reservation to the state of Kansas to establish the institution known today as Fort Hays State University.

About 70 FHSU friends and officials gathered in Washington exactly 100 years later for a day of special activities, including a re-enactment of the bill signing.

Besides the tour group from Hays and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, several other Kansas dignitaries attended a formal banquet Tuesday night at the Library of Congress. They included U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, both R-Kansas, and former Gov. John Carlin, who is now in charge of the National Archives.

The day began with a visit to the U.S. House of Representatives.

"Not everyone who visits Washington has a chance to sit on the House floor," said Moran, who arranged the visit, after the group was seated on the GOP side of the chamber.

Dr. James Forsythe, FHSU historian and former vice-provost and Graduate School dean, said the U.S. House and Senate had passed an earlier version of the legislation. However, for reasons that are not entirely clear, President Grover Cleveland refused to sign it.

But Martin Allen, a Hays farmer and entrepreneur, refused to give up. He and other western Kansans persisted and both houses of Congress passed new legislation in 1899. President McKinley signed it into law the next year. Sadly, Martin Allen had died the year before the signing.

"Martin Allen had this dream or this vision of taking this abandoned fort land and creating an institution of higher education for western Kansas," President Edward H. Hammond said at the banquet. Hammond said that the ceremony commemorating this earlier accomplishment served to remind us today of the responsibility we have to carry education forward. "We are in control of our destiny and our future, much as were those earlier western Kansans who created FHSU."

Tuesday's activities were part of a series of events leading up to the Fort Hays State University Centennial in the year 2002.

At the banquet, President Hammond told the audience that he and Moran conceived of the Washington event while attending the rededication of Martin Allen Hall during Homecoming 1999.

The president entertained the crowd by relating the fun he had telling John Wefald, president of Kansas State University, that Fort Hays State was the only school in Kansas created specifically by an act of Congress.

After Forsythe talked again about the historical setting of the legislation, the re-enactment began with Dr. Herb Songer, vice president of Student Affairs, portraying President McKinley and Dr. Larry Gould, FHSU provost, acting in the role of a presidential aide. The script, written by Forsythe, drew numerous laughs, especially when Pesident McKinley asks, "Do many people actually live in the area? I have always heard how arid it was and that no trees grow in western Kansas. Are there enough people to support a normal school?"

Aide: "Yes. I checked, and nearly all the land has been taken, either as a homestead or as a timber claim. Also, Germans, Bohemians, Austrians, and others have been immigrating to the area in great numbers, and they all want their children educated."

Between the visit to the House floor early in the morning and the banquet Tuesday night, the Hays group visited the White House and its Blue Room, where McKinley signed the legislation, took a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol and visited Rep. Moran's office.

Adding to the historic flavor of the day's activities were the presence of the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Jennie Ward, who had the distinction of being enrolled as student No. 1 when the first class was convened in 1902 at the Western Branch of the Kansas Normal School of Emporia. She married W.D. Philip in 1907.

Kaylynn Philip, who was about age 8 when her grandmother died, said she had vivid memories of Jennie Philip being an unusually active woman. She said that her grandmother was always very involved with community affairs. She owned her own car at a time when that was highly unusual. Philip said that Jennie drove the 11 miles to Hays from the family ranch almost every day and knew nearly everyone in Hays. Kaylynn Philip graduated from FHSU in 1970 with a bachelor's degree in Spanish. She earned a master's in Spanish from FHSU in 1973.

Tatum Sprague, Jennie Philip's great-granddaughter and Kaylynn Philip's niece, said she was excited to participate in the trip because of the history of her grandmother.

Sprague, a student at Kansas State University, said that she had taken a lot of razzing from the FHSU group during the three days they were in Washington. However, she said, she wore a Fort Hays State University T-shirt on the Washington Mall Monday and was approached more than once by people asking questions about the university. She promised she would wear the FHSU shirt someday on the K-State campus.

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