ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWER: Judith Pillans
INTERVIEWEE: Mrs. John J. Tigert
DATE: March 8, 1966
P: [When did you arrive in Gainesville?]
T: In September, 1928.
P: What was your first impression of the town?
T: Well, I thought it was a very small town indeed. Some of
the streets weren't paved, and my son came running in tell-
ing me about the train running down the middle of the street,
Main Street, with a man running out in front waving a red
hankerchief or flag.
P: That was because there was a law that the train couldn't go
through town faster than a man could walk, is that correct?
T: That's right. That is right.
P: Had you lived in Washington immediately before coming to
T: Yes, we had.
P: So from Washington, D. C. to Gainesville was going from a
large city to a small town?
T: It was quite a change for us. As we were coming in the old
High Springs Road, my daughter looked over toward the east,
and she said, "Oh, there's the industrial part of the city."
I think there were three smokestacks over there.
P: What was the campus at the university like when you arrived?
T: It was perfectly beautiful. Wide open spaces, with trees
everywhere--great big oak trees and pine trees--and the red
brick buildings showing through. It was very lovely.
P: How far did the area of the campus extend when you first
came? About what area did it cover?
T: Well, I would say from Thirteenth Street out the Newberry Road
to about where the Miland's house is now, and then on Thirteenth
Street just down to where the department of architecture is now.
P: The new architecture building, you mean?
T: That's right.
P: When you first came, of course, it was just a university for
men, wasn't it?
T: That's right. I'm afraid I liked it better than I do now,
P: Well, was your husband still president when it became co-ed-
T: No, he retired that year.
P: So you didn't really have to face the girls, did you?
P: Do you remember how many students were attending the university
when you first came?
T: There were about 1,700, and the town had about 13,000 people
in it when we came.
P: Well, you've really seen Gainesville grow over the years. How
large was the faculty at the university?
T: Well, it was small, and when we entertained we always included
the entire staff and the experiment station and other people.
I remember that I sent out 500 invitations the first year when
we had our faculty reception.
P: Now, you'd have to break them off into thirds or fourths or...
P: Mr. Klein Graham was the business manager at the university when
you first came.
T: Yes, that's right.
P: And he and your husband worked closely together, you said...
T: Very closely together, yes.
P: ...in developing the university...
P: ...into one of the major universities of the South.
T: My husband thought he was a very fine business manager.
P: You said that several people, though now retired, had been at
the university when you first came. Can you recall some of
T: Well, yes. There was Dr. Willoughby [Claude H. Willoughby],
and there was Dean Beaty [Robert C. Beaty], and there was...
it's hard for me to think of them all. Dr. Hume [H. Harold
Hume], of course, was there, but passed away this past year,
and Dean... so many of them have passed away that I really
just can't think of any more right now. I was going to write
that down, and forgot it.
P: Well, when you think of the names of some of the newer buildings
on the university campus, many of them are named for these early
leaders, aren't they?
T: Yes, that's right. And most of those early leaders have gone
on to their reward.
P: Hume Hall, and the administration building named for your husband,
and several other buildings.
P: When you first came to Gainesville, did you stay at the White
T: Just temporarily. My husband had been staying there, and I was
detained in Washington because my son was ill, and so when we
joined him they moved us over to the Thomas Hotel.
P: Were these about the only public accomodations...facilities?
T: Yes, I think so, except the old Gilbert Hotel, which was a
traveling man's hotel right on the railroad down near
P: When was the Thomas Hotel converted from the Thomas home into
a hotel? Was that before you came?
T: I think it was 1927 when it opened, and we were here in 1928.
P: So it was relatively new when you got to Gainesville?
T: Very new.
P: Well, the White House was one of the places to stay, wasn't it?
T: Yes, it was a very well-known hostelry all over the South, and
especially patronized by the traveling man.
P: Where was the president's home then?
T: There was none. Dr. Murphree [Albert A. Murphree] had owned
his own home, and there was no president's home. So we stayed
at the Thomas for about a month, and then we moved out onto the
Newberry Road in what is now the Miland's house. It was in
very poor condition, and I can remember one time when I was
having a luncheon for Dr. Harry Woodburn Chase as a commencement
speaker, I went into the dining room the day of the party and
discovered huge red ants running all over the dining room table,
the buffet. We had to get out our sprays and kill them all,
and then put the legs of the table in cups of water, and just
hope that none were left to run over the table while our guest
P: After you lived there, you did move into a home that became
known as the president's home?
T: Yes, it was a home that Mr. M. M. Parrish had built for himself,
and we moved there after the first year and lived there for
P: And it's at the end of the Boulevard, where it turns in, where
Tenth Avenue curves, comes across?
T: That's right.
P: Did any other presidents of the university live in this home?
T: Dr. Miller [J. Hillis Miller] lived there until the president's
residence on the campus was built.
P: And so the new home was built during...
T: During his administration.
P: ...Dr. Miller's administration. Could you summarize Dr. Tigert's
[John J. Tigert] career at the university in a few words? Tell
us a little bit about the development during his years there.
T: Well, that would be very difficult, because the things there
happened so fast. The school developed so rapidly for a good
many reasons, and he was very much interested in all types of
new departments on the campus. For instance, he wanted a graduate
school very badly, which they hadn't had. They had a very small
library, and he was very anxious to have a larger library and
have more books. That would enable the university to be recognized
by some of the educational associations of the United States as
one of the good universities. They count the books in the library
as very valuable requirements for membership in some of the finer
associations. He was also very anxious to have the athletics put
into an association, the Southern Association of Athletics.
Another thing that he was very much interested in when he first
came was the educational facilities, and helping out the South
American countries. So he started the...I've forgotten the title
of it then, but I think it was the College of Interamerican Affairs.
Maybe it wasn't college, but it was something like that. They
brought the students from South America up, and gave them special
courses that would suit them when they went back to their own
He was very much interested in starting what he called the
University College, which meant that all the freshmen and sophomores
would have general education before they started to specify what
they wanted particularly. I could go on a great lengths, but I
think somebody else had better do that.
P: Tell us what you did for entertainment in Gainesville. Did you
go watch the Fighting Gators back in those days, too?
T: Certainly did, and something that we all did, everybody did, on
the days that the ROTC had their parade, we'd all go out and line
up along the field and watch the boys parade.
P: What entertainment facilities were available in Gainesville
in the late 1920s? Did you go to this operahouse that I keep
hearing people talk about?
T: No, we didn't. I don't believe that the opera house was here
when we first came. There were two movies. There was a movie
very near the old post office, and then the Florida Movie Theatre
was built after that, and we used to go to that. Then we had a
good many entertainments on the university campus. We brought
quite a few very good musical companies to the campus, and we
had to educate the boys. Like they do now, they preferred jazz
of all kinds, but we finally educated them to symphony concerts
and things of that sort. We had no department of music, though,
on the campus.
P: Were you still connected with the university when the post-war
T: Yes, we were.
P: That was a time of great expansion for the university, wasn't it,
right after the war?
T: Yes, it was a time of greater expansion than any we'd had. Remember
that we'd had two panics and two world wars while we were there,
so that there was never very much money for education. What was
given to the university was very hard won. For instance, when the
P. K. Yonge School was built, the General Education Board said
they would give $350,000 if the university would give $350,000,
and they had very great difficulty getting that out of the state.
At one time my husband went up to ask for some money to finish the
P. K. Yonge School, and Governor [Dave Sholtz] told him the treasury
was empty. Then he said, "Well, maybe there's $5,000 in it," and
he often told the tale that my husband went away with the $5,000.
P: Can you think of any other memories you'd like to tell us?
T: No, I don't believe I can.
P: Were your children educated at this university?
T: No. My boy was; not my daughter, although my daughter took some
courses there later on after she had graduated.at Agnes Scott.
Since girls could not go to the university unless they were twenty-
one and taking something that wasn't given at Tallahassee [Florida
State College for Women] she had to wait until she was twenty-
one. She had graduated from Agnes Scott when she was twenty,
so she had to wait until she was twenty-one.
P: Where do you go to church in Gainesville?
T: We went to the First Methodist Church. Speaking of the opera
house, we had opera chairs that squeaked and crashed all through
the service. It wasn't really very reverent.
P: Is the present sanctuary the building when you first came?
T: No, we had another building which is now the community hall in
the group there.
P: Do you remember who was minister of the church?
T: A man by the name of Dr. Meyers.
P: Do you know anything about the history of the Methodist Church
T: I only know that part of it, that part of the present Methodist
Church was at one time the Florida Seminary.
P: That's the building that your church remodeled and called Edwards
T: Yes, that's right.
[The following was taped on a separate occasion--22 March, 1966--
and in some ways repeats some of the contents of the first interview.]
P: Will you tell us some of your first impressions of Gainesville?
T: Well, naturally coming from Washington it seemed like a very small
village to us when we arrived, but we were enchanted with the big
trees, and thought that the town had great possibilities of dev-
eloping. As we came into town we were driving. We drove in the
old Lake City Road, and my daughter pointed over to the.east to the
R chemical factory, and said, "Oh, there's the industrial
part of Gainesville." Then after a little bit my son looked up and
saw the old Kelly Building, which was later to become the Seagle
Building, and said, "Look, they have a skyscraper." So we really
felt a little more at home after we saw that.
We went to the White House Hotel where my husband was
staying, and after a few minutes my son came running in the
house and said, "Mother, mother, the train's going down the
middle of the street." There was a city ordinance that the
train could not run any faster down the middle of the street
than a man could walk. So the brakeman walked out in front
waving the red flag, and that condition continued for a good
many years until they moved the tracks over on to the other
side of town.
P: Where did you live when you first moved to Gainesville?
T: There were no real large houses available, so we took an old
house out on the Newberry Road, which some of the Thomas boys
teased me later about and said had been a remodeled barn. I
always felt that some of the insects still stayed there as
their residence with us, because we had a very difficult time
keeping house there.
P: Was there an official residency for the president of the university?
T: No, there never was. We lived there for a year, and then we
were able to rent a large house over in the northeast section
that Mr. M. M. Parrish had just finished. We lived there for
nineteen years, most of the time paying our rent, and so that
it was our own home and not a president's residence.
P: When was the president's home at the university built?
T: After Mr. Tigert retired. There was always so much that he wanted
to do on the campus that he never would accept money to build
a president's residence at that time, because the university was
so short of funds.
P: Would you tell us what the campus was like when you first arrived?
T: We thought it was the prettiest campus in the United States. There
was such wide open spaces all over it. There were not many buildings,
and the buildings that were on the campus were old-world looking.
In fact Dr. Calvin, who came down for one of the religious emphasis
weeks, said that the two first dormitories, Thomas Hall and Buckman
Hall, reminded him of the buildings at Oxford. The big trees on
the campus, and the grass and the...as I say, the spaciousness of
it made a very wonderful impression on all of us.
P: How many students were at the university when you arrived in 1928?
T: I think there were about 1700. But at one time during World War II,
the campus was full of ghosts, because the boys had all had to go,
and there were only 700 boys on the campus. It made it sad to go
P: Compare the number in 1928 with the number when your husband re-
tired in 1947.
T: There were between eight and nine thousand when he retired in 1947.
That was the year that co-education was started.
P: Can you tell us how large the faculty was then? If you can, tell
us any people that we might still know who were on the faculty
when you arrived.
T: There were about 500. That figure stays in my mind when I think
of the first-reception that we had for the faculty and staff. We
never just limited ourselves to the faculty, but we had almost
everyone who was on the campus, even to the landscape man; I asked
him to our reception. And some of the people who were there and
have since retired and live in Gainesville--I think you've heard
from one of them, Mr. Klein Graham; then there was Dean Norman
[J. W. Norman] and Dean Beaty; Mrs. Boutelle, Dr. Williamson and
Dr. Fox, and Mr. Goldbear; Dr. Mead, and Professor (eftsa r '
There's still quite'anumber of them living in town, retire ere.
P: I recognized from some of those names that many of those people
have had buildings on the campus named for them.
T: That's right.
P: Mrs. Tigert, will you tell us some of the contributions which
your husband made, or summarize his career while he was at the
T: Well, I don't believe I could summarize his career exactly. I
think that that would be better to come from someone else, but a
few of the things that he was interested in come to mind. The
most important thing that he wanted to do was to enlarge the library
so that he would have the proper standing in the other university
and college associations, and in that line he wanted to start a
graduate department very much at the university. He said the univer-
sity could never become a university until it had a graduate school.
He was instrumental in bringing Phi Beta Kappa here, and also
He was very interested in the School of InterAmerican Affairs,
which he started. At that time, when it was being worked on with
representatives from the South American countries, there were twelve
oaks planted in the Plaza of the Americas, and they were named for
the School of Inter erican Affairs, and named for each country in
South America. Each one of those countries sent a flag up to be
displayed at the time that those oaks were put in, and then after-
wards the flags were always hung in the auditorium at the end of
the buttresses there, and they were quite colorful. The school
grew by leaps and bounds, and very soon they had a large group of
students coming up to study agriculture and other things that per-
tained to the development of their own countries. Now, I believe
they have several hundred who come every year from South America.
He also was interested in establishing he laboratory school,
and with the help of the generall board of education he got some
money which the state matched, and they started the P. K. Yonge
Laboratory School. At one tie he was nearly out of funds, and
he went up to see Governo ~Soltz to get some more, and Governor
Sholtz said there was only $5,000 in the treasury at that time,
and Mr. Tigert laughingly said he came away with that.
P: Where in Gainesville do you go to church, Mrs. Tigert?
T: We've been members of the First Methodist Church ever since we've
lived in Gainesville. Part of that, you know, was the old East
Florida Seminary. They have now converted that building into
the Sunday school rooms; done over.
P: Will you tell us some of the things you did for entertainment in
Gainesville back when you first arrived?
T: Well, they always had a Lyceum program at the university, and
some of the numbers were very good. Some of them we felt as
though we would like to improve, but all of them were very pleas-
ing to the young men at the university, so we went slow on that
score. But eventually we did begin bringing good music to the
Then, whenever there was a parade of the ROTC unit, numbers
of us used to go out there and sit in our cars along the side of
the field and watch the boys parade. After the artillery unit
was installed at the university, we especially enjoyed the
horses, and the trouble that the boys had in controlling them.
Some of the women rode the horses in the morning, and, sad to
say, most of us at one time or another were pitched off. So
we rather enjoyed it when the boys had trouble, and we knew every
horse that was on the field.
We used to go to the football games, of course. I can remember
the first one that we attended was on a little field just west of
where the tennis courts and the handball courts are now. It seemed
very small. There were a few bleachers right in the corner of the
field. It looked more like a baseball field than a football field.
That first game we were very proud to have Governor and Mrs. Carlton
[Doyle E. Carlton] as our guest, and also Senator Fletcher [Duncan
U. Fletcher]. But just at the beginning of the second half the
heavens opened, and there was no place for us to keep dry till we
had to get into our cars and go home.
P: Mr. Klein Graham told us that he took a minstrel show on the road
to raise money to build a stadium. Was it after this, and some-
what as a result of his minstrel show, that you got any sort of a
stadium at all?
T: Well, I don't remember the minstrel show, but I do remember that
the men in town put up the money for the stadium. There isn't
one penny of state money in that stadium. Mr. Tigert was always
very proud of that. When the stadium was dedicated, Dr. Denny
came down and brought the University of Alabama football team, and
there was a wonderful game. Mr. Tigert was so pleased to be able
to say that not one penny of state money was in that stadium.
P: Have you enjoyed living in Gainesville through the years? After
a big city like Washington, was small-town life in Gainesville
T: Yes, indeed. I enjoyed it tremendously. I wouldn't live any place
else. I've never known more hospitable people, more cordial people,
nor finer people than there are in the city of Gainesville, and they
started right in being just as nice to all of us that anybody could
possibly have been. All of us have enjoyed our life here in Gaines-
ville so much that the children still come back and bring their
children with them to enjoy Gainesville.