Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower



Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Aug 17

Remembering a Wilberforce University Professor by Amy Brickey

Posted on August 17, 2018 at 2:52 PM by Melissa Dalton

While processing probate records for estates I came across a letter with a Wilberforce letterhead from 1907 (Fig 1) in the estate of Robert Stotts. The letter is in receipt of funds received from the estate and is signed by Earl Finch. It reads:

“Wilberforce Ohio
July 10 – 07
Received of J. H. Jones as administrator of the estate of Robert Stotts deceased the full sum of $400.00/x (Four hundred) dollars in trust for Robert E. Finch, for whom I am lawfully appointed and qualified Guardian, he being a minor and my natural son.
Signed
Earl Finch”

Fig 5. Xenia Daily Gazette article about the representation at the Races Congress (JPG)
Fig 1. Wilberforce letterhead circa 1907 (Greene County Archives, Filebox 537-A)

Earl Finch was Stotts’ son-in-law, but, more importantly, was a celebrated mathematics professor and dean at Wilberforce University in the early 1900s. He was born in Marion County, Ohio on 28 February 1877. The 1880 census reflects that his family was living in Bellefontaine, Logan County, so they must have moved soon after Finch was born. He graduated from Bellefontaine High School with top honors, then graduated from Wilberforce University in 1897. On 14 March 1904 Professor Finch married a young lady from his hometown, also a Wilberforce alum, Miss Laura Belle Stotts (Fig 2), but soon he was back at work with a notice appearing in the Xenia Daily Gazette mentioning lectures he planned to give to high school students about mathematics in higher education (Fig 3).

Fig 6. Obituary for Prof. Earl Finch from Crisis Magazine, April 1914
Fig 2: Marriage record for Earl Finch and Laura Belle Stotts (FamilySearch.org)

Fig 3. Xenia Daily Gazette article, May 1904 (JPG)
Fig 3. Xenia Daily Gazette article, May 1904 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

A year after his marriage, Professor and Mrs. Finch welcomed a baby boy into their lives. Just six months later, however, tragedy struck the tiny family. On 30 September 1905, the Xenia Daily Gazette reported that Laura Finch had died at six o’clock that morning from lockjaw. Although the paper did not report how she contracted lockjaw, they did write that she had been feeling well “last Sabbath” and was out riding. She reportedly fell ill after her ride and died within the week.

After the death of his wife, Professor Finch stayed out of the newspapers for quite some time. In 1909, however, he was back in the limelight. It appears Professor Finch accompanied some students from Wilberforce University to Howard University for a debate. The Xenia Daily Gazette recalls the day the students, and Finch, returned triumphantly from the debate (Fig 4). The paper states that the Professor Finch and the debate team returned to Xenia on a Friday morning at 8:30 via train. Greeting the returning debate champions was a marching brass band composed of “[e]veryone who could get any kind of instrument,” according to the Gazette. Then, once the debaters descended from the train, “[t]he men were carried on the shoulders of the seething crowd, to the carriages in waiting. The vehicles were handsomely decorated with gold and green, college colors, and upon the horses were fastened the Howard pennants – trophies of the conflict.”

Fig 1. Wilberforce letterhead circa 1907 (JPG)
Fig 4. Xenia Daily Gazette article, 10 May 1909 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

Yet another, and perhaps more distinguished, honor would still be presented to Professor Finch. On 27 June 1911 the Xenia Daily Gazette reported another triumph for Wilberforce University’s mathematics professor and dean. Professor Finch was selected to represent Wilberforce University in London, England at the Races Congress. The article (Fig 5) stated that Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois and Professor Finch were the only African Americans from the United States who had been “given a place on the program.” Interestingly, Professor Finch did not give a talk in mathematics. Instead, his lecture was titled, “Mixed Marriages.”

Fig 4. Xenia Daily Gazette article 10 May 1909
Fig 5. Xenia Daily Gazette article about the representation at the Races Congress (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

For all the honors bestowed upon him, this still could not keep him from Death’s cold grasp. The great Professor Earl Finch passed away on 9 September 1913 from tuberculosis. He was only 36 years old. An April 1914 article in Crisis Magazine printed an obituary for him, including a picture of the much-loved Wilberforce University alum and professor (Fig 6). The obituary in the magazine stated, “With splendid sacrifice and unswerving loyalty he [Finch] forged on and did splendid work for the students and the community.” The Xenia Daily Gazette also printed an article about Professor Finch, again touching on his intellect and devotion saying, “Prof. Finch’s unselfish and devoted work in the University won for him a place in the hearts of the students, faculty and patrons of the institution that few people enjoy. He was a man of brilliant mind and was a teacher of unusual ability.”

Fig 2. Marriage record for Earl Finch and Laura Belle Stotts (JPG)
Fig 6. Obituary for Professor Earl Finch from Crisis Magazine, April 1914 (Literary Digest)

While the man is long gone, his memory and intellect remain very much alive. Surprisingly it is not his work in mathematics that perseveres, but his ideas on race and the effects of their mixing. The paper he presented at the Races Congress is still discussed in books written today, allowing the brilliant spirit and mind of this former Greene County resident to live on in perpetuity.

Sources:
Ancestry.com
Crisis Magazine, April 1914
FamilySearch.org
Greene County Archives
Newspaperarchive.com
The Literary Digest Volume XLIII July 1911 – December 1911

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