John Clayton Tracy (1890 Ph.B.) and Jesse Owens’ 1935 World Record

The following post was authored by Genevieve Coyle, public services assistant in Manuscripts and Archives.

In 1890, John Clayton Tracy earned his Ph.B from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale University, and then his Civil Engineer (C.E.) degree from the Yale Graduate School in 1892. He went on to teach in the Department of Civil Engineering at Yale for 46 years, including serving 22 years as the department chairman. Tracy is known to many engineering students for his important work on plane surveying. His 1907 book Plane Surveying: A Textbook and Pocket Manual is still considered by many scholars to be a key piece of work in building today’s knowledge on the topic.

At the very beginning of his extensive time at Yale, Tracy participated in some extracurricular activities, including the 1890 Yale Track Team. While he may not have made a career out of his speed, he was certainly competitive as seen at a track meet on October 26, 1889 where he ran the 100-yard dash in 10.6 seconds. He also served as a judge for several Yale track meets for events including the javelin throw and dashes.

Yet it was his seemingly forgotten role in a track world record that truly merged his two passions for running and civil engineering.

Jesse Owens was a young, Black track runner who had a brief, impressive career in the track world. He is largely known for the four gold medals won at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and the many world records he held throughout his career. Perhaps most notably, at a May 25, 1935, collegiate track meet at the University of Michigan’s Ferry Field, Owens broke four world records in the timeframe of 45 minutes. Today, Owens is also known as the first man to ever run the 100-meter dash in 10.2 seconds, setting a record that stood until Willie Williams ran it in 10.1 seconds two decades later. Owens held the 100-meter dash world record longer than anyone since.

However, this record was almost never awarded to Owens, through no fault of his own.

On June 20, 1936, Jesse Owens ran 100 meters in 10.2 seconds, which was a tenth of a second faster than the current world record. Unfortunately, a standard post-race measurement of the course found the length to be 1.5 centimeters short. Despite the fact that Owens was clearly on track to still beat the record if he had gone an extra 1.5 centimeters, officials determined this race would not stand as a world record.

Letter from John C. Tracy to Paul R. Jordan, May 8, 1937

Letter from John C. Tracy to Paul R. Jordan, May 8, 1937

Although little record of this incident can be easily found today, Tracy caught wind of the almost world record, and the John Clayton Tracy Papers (MS 502) hold documentation of his attempt to correct the situation. In March 1937, John Tracy wrote to Jesse Owens’ Ohio State University track coach, Larry Snyder, inquiring about how the measurements of the track were performed. Over the next few months, Tracy was brought into the fold of several other individuals all working to prove Owens’ record should be ratified. In addition, the men discussed a broader goal of setting permanent, international measurement standards to prevent these issues in the future. It is worth noting that their discussion includes the effect temperature would have on a steel measuring tape, and today the World Athletics Organization’s current Track and Field Facilities Manual has detailed instructions on exactly how to account for temperature.

As you can see in the May 8, 1937 letter above, Tracy wrote to Paul R. Jordan, chairman of the Records Committee at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) of the United States, about the issue. Tracy explains that his expertise on the issue of errors in measurement is two-fold, stemming both from his experience as a judge at track meets as well as his extensive work on plane surveying.

"Permissible Errors in Measurements on Running Tracks" by John C. Tracy, C.E. typescript, page 1

“Permissible Errors in Measurements on Running Tracks” by John C. Tracy, C.E. typescript, page 1

Eventually, on June 11, 1937, John C. Tracy submitted his report, entitled “Permissible Errors in Measurements on Running Tracks,” to the AAU Records Committee. Regrettably, there is no further correspondence on this subject in Tracy’s papers, but we know that Jesse Owens was eventually recognized for having set a new world record that day in 1936.

New “Virtual Bookshelf of Undergraduate Publications” – Yours to Explore!

The following post was authored by Michael Lotstein, University Archivist, Manuscripts and Archives.

This week the University Archives has updated the undergraduate publications section of the Yale Publications research guide to include a new website called Virtual Bookshelf of Undergraduate Publications.  The Virtual Bookshelf is the brainchild of Jarron Long, Class of 2023 (Grace Hopper College) and contains links and information on dozens of current undergraduate publications featuring a wide variety of topics and interests.  Jarron tackled this project single-handed, mostly over the 2020 holiday break, and aims to promote and celebrate the hard work and dedication that goes into the production of these important publications.  Jarron’s admitted favorites are the Yale Epicurean because, who doesn’t love food(!) and the Turnaround, which is the official magazine of the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective.

Screen shot of the Virtual Bookshelf of Undergraduate Publications home page

Screen shot of the Virtual Bookshelf of Undergraduate Publications home page

So take a moment and visit this amazing new site to learn more about the multitude of journals, ‘zines and publications the Yale undergraduate community is hard at work creating!

Manuscripts and Archives: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan of Action

The following post was authored by Michelle Peralta, Resident Archivist for Yale Special Collections, and Christine Weideman, Director.

To be both transparent and accountable, Manuscripts and Archives shared our initial efforts to address bias and discrimination in our work and workplace in early September. Our first step was to create a Statement of Affirmation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) which was made publicly available on our blog and website. As a next step, we considered how to sustainably and intentionally incorporate DEI efforts into all our areas of work as described in the affirmation statement. We created a DEI Plan of Action that outlines specific tasks and projects staff are undertaking now or will undertake in the next several years. Work is divided among four categories: collections, services, spaces, and workplace.

We consider the Plan of Action to be a living document that is responsive and reflective. We recognize that it will evolve as a result of our experiences and critical analysis of the work we undertake. We are committed to regular reviews of the plan and will modify, revise, or update it as necessary. We will continue to make the plan accessible as a means of documenting our work and commitments.

We welcome all feedback on our plan, affirmation statement, or our DEI efforts.

Manuscripts and Archives: DEI Plan of Action (developed August 2020)

FY 21 (in progress)


  • Develop/roll out website to document impact of 2020 on lives of persons in Greater New Haven area
  • Document activities of Grant Hagan Society, student org, to support people of color in Yale School of Music
  • Contact Dwight Hall to document student work with New Haven organizations
  • Document how Yale student organizations are responding to national protests
  • Enhance, correct, and highlight description about our collection material
    • Provide leadership to the Yale Reparative Archival Description (RAD) project


  • University Archivist serves on Yale University working group investigating Yale’s entanglement with slavery and connections to the abolition movement.


  • Conduct audit of physical and virtual spaces to ensure they are inclusive, accessible, and welcoming


  • Request that diversity competency language be included in all position focus statements or job descriptions so that the importance of inclusivity can be discussed with potential candidates (MSSA recommendation has been passed on to Central HR and is being addressed at the University level)
  • Develop internal MSSA group to focus on workplace culture
    • Develop departmental code of conduct to align with YUL community values and MSSA efforts to address bias in collections, services, spaces, and workplace
    • Develop departmental procedures for addressing microaggressions or inappropriate language/behaviors
  • Update MSSA’s About page including mission statement, history, and collecting emphases

FY 22 (to be planned)


  • Enhance, correct, and highlight description about our collection material
    • Provide more subject terms for student papers with focus on under-documented populations in New Haven and at Yale, to enhance their discovery and use.
    • Create a LibGuide on our holdings related to minority populations in New Haven and at Yale. Include language about silences and perspectives in MSSA’s collections
    • Create a workflow for staff members to contribute citations and flag MSSA materials/collections documenting under-documented populations in New Haven and at Yale.
    • Create a workflow for staff members to suggest revisions to collection descriptions to make those descriptions more inclusive, accurate, and useful to researchers (pending guidance from RAD)
  • Pursue collaborative projects to surface primary sources/collections related to marginalized populations (Grad School placement of grad students in semester projects within the Library; participating in non-MSSA driven projects)


  • Develop/provide guidance and parameters for archiving student projects, individual or teams, documenting New Haven and Yale history, and what we can do to assist





1924 Silent Films from the Yale University Press

The following post was authored by Michael Lotstein, University Archivist, Manuscripts and Archives.

Image of volumes of the Chronicles of America volumes

Chronicles of America volumes published by Yale University Press. Image source:

In 1918, the Yale University Press published a fifty-volume book series on American history entitled Chronicles of America. The series included contributions from Yale faculty, including Ellsworth Huntington, Charles Seymour, and Charles McLean Andrews. In 1923, the Yale University Press commissioned the production of historical films based on the series. Ultimately, fifteen films were made at a cost of $1.25 million dollars ($15.2 million dollars today) that proved to be a financial failure. The films not only proved to be theatrically impractical, but unusable in schools that at the time lacked the means to incorporate films into the classroom. Two of these films—“The Puritans” and “The Pilgrims,” both produced in 1924, provide instructive glimpses into how academic historians of a century ago envisioned the shared heritage of the America and New England. Note: The films are posted on YouTube, so there may be commercials included that are unaffiliated with the films or with Yale University Press.

Manuscripts and Archives’ Statement of Affirmation on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The following post was authored by Michelle Peralta, Resident Archivist for Yale Special Collections, Manuscripts and Archives.

During the past several months, staff in Manuscripts and Archives met to discuss our responsibility to address bias and discrimination in our work and workplace. After several lengthy discussions with the entire department, we developed the following Statement of Affirmation. It outlines our commitment to implementing more equitable policies and procedures, remediating prior practices and deepening our understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion issues as they relate to libraries and archives.

In creating our statement, we drew inspiration and guidance from various sources including the Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia and the Alabama Department of Archives and History, as well as the Society of American Archivists.

Our Statement of Affirmation is included on the departmental blog but will also live on our department homepage as a first step in our efforts to improve transparency and communicate more broadly the ways in which we are carrying out this work.

Statement of Affirmation

Manuscripts and Archives (MSSA) affirms our commitment to adhering to the Yale University Library community values and to addressing bias and discrimination in our collections, services, spaces, and workplace.

  • In doing this work, we acknowledge the following:
    Archives and archivists are not neutral. Archives exist within systems that have traditionally privileged and welcomed narratives of the wealthy and powerful, particularly cisgender, heterosexual white men, and have often perpetuated practices that marginalize, suppress, and harm those with other perspectives and experiences.
  • We cannot fully understand the experience of marginalized communities.
  • We are not experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. This work, however, is an ongoing departmental priority and deserves our dedication, engagement, and willingness to act and to listen.
  • We recognize our institutional and individual privileges as well as our responsibility to collaborate with local and professional communities in addressing DEI issues.

Moving forward, we strive to do the following:

  • Embed our commitment to address DEI issues in our strategic planning, department and unit work plans, and individual goals.
  • Embrace transparency in our work so we can be held accountable internally and externally.
  • Address biases in our services, collection development and stewardship, descriptive practices, spaces, and workplace.
  • Cultivate a safe workplace that empowers staff members and encourages open discussion.
  • Educate ourselves and those around us on DEI issues, recognizing the various experiences and engagement of staff with DEI work.
  • Assess progress on our efforts at least bi-annually.

John Franklin Enders and Modern Vaccines

The following post was authored by Genevieve Coyle, public services assistant in Manuscripts and Archives.

We often turn to the past for answers to problems we are facing in the present. While science does not move backwards, it can still be interesting, perhaps even useful to look back and remember the lessons we have learned before. With that in mind, the John Franklin Enders Papers (MS 1478) seem more relevant now than ever. Today, Enders is known to many as the “Father of Modern Vaccines” due to his integral role in developing both the polio and measles vaccines.

John F. Enders on the cover of Time magazine, November 17, 1961. Leonard C. Norkin blog post dated August 4, 2016.

John F. Enders on the cover of Time magazine, November 17, 1961. Leonard C. Norkin blog post dated August 4, 2016.

John Franklin Enders was a Yale graduate whose life work was in bacteriology and immunology, although it took time to find this ultimate vocation.  He received an Bachelor of Arts in English from Yale in 1919, after spending several years away from his studies to be a flight instructor in the U. S. Naval Reserve Flying Corps during World War I. While pursuing a PhD in literature at Harvard University, Enders was introduced to Hans Zinsser, the head of the department of bacteriology and immunology at Harvard. Shortly thereafter, in 1927, he transitioned to studying bacteriology and immunology, and received his PhD from Harvard Medical School in 1930.

During Enders’ lengthy career, he was a very active author, publishing countless articles and papers for over 40 years. Specifically, his work on measles can be tracked through the numerous publications he contributed to during the 1940s and 1950s, before a vaccine was successfully developed in the early 1960s. These writings include Etiology of Measles published in 1940, Recent Advances in Knowledge of the Measles Virus published in 1958, and Vaccination Against Measles published in 1961. Of course, he wrote papers on dozens of other research subjects including mumps, polio, and influenza, all of which can be found in Series II of the Enders papers.

Measles lab notebook entry for January 25, 1954. John Franklin Enders Papers (MS 1478), Series III, Box 102, Folder 5.

Measles lab notebook entry for January 25, 1954. John Franklin Enders Papers (MS 1478), Series III, Box 102, Folder 5.

Enders’ lab notebooks provide a more granular depiction of his research on measles, as well as many other experiments. As shown in this image, the very first page in volume 1 of his measles laboratory notebooks, dated January 25, 1954, details an attempt to isolate measles using four types of tissues. In total, four measles notebooks span nearly two decades of Enders’ lab work on the virus, from 1954 to 1970.

The picture of Enders’ work is rounded out by the extensive correspondence held in the 88 boxes of Series I from MS 1478. There are more than four boxes of materials completely dedicated to the subject of measles, including correspondence with the Communicable Disease Center (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and correspondence about a measles vaccine study in New Haven, Connecticut.

Letter from John F. Enders to Hans Zinsser, December 12, 1938. John Franklin Enders Papers (MS 1478), Series I, Box 88, Folder 2072.

Letter from John F. Enders to Hans Zinsser, December 12, 1938. John Franklin Enders Papers (MS 1478), Series I, Box 88, Folder 2072.

On a more personal side, letters exchanged with friends and colleagues offer a slightly more intimate portrait of Enders. Although there are only a small handful of letters between him and his colleague and mentor, Hans Zinsser, the notes serve to humanize Enders. In this December 12, 1938, letter to Zinsser, Enders wrote “I have been flattened out myself with what you would probably call grippe…”. Enders seems to get no amusement from the irony that his work in infectious diseases does not stop him from suffering a case of the flu.

 Through his hard work in the field, Enders received many honors, most notably the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1954. In addition to the research detailed above, Enders also studied cancer, AIDS, and countless other diseases during his illustrious career. The John Franklin Enders papers are housed at Manuscripts and Archives, and they are a scientific treasure trove waiting to be explored.

“Help Us Make History” at the Yale University Archives

Through the Help Us Make History project, the University Archives has documented the stories of Yale undergraduates during the 2020 Spring Semester.  The first prompt “Share a picture of your study space” was a great success.  See some examples of how Yale undergraduate students finished out their semester.  If you would like to participate, there is still time to visit the site and send us a pic of your study space from the past semester.  Otherwise, stay tuned for more prompts coming soon!

Image of a Yale student's COVID-19 isolation work space“Desk in my brother’s room at home. Around me were childhood stuffed animals, a turtle tank and a full-size bed. Important to me is the sunlight filtering in. Lighting has had a drastic influence on my mood, motivation and study habits. The same is what occurs in my brain, the logical connections, the development of claims, the cranking out of problems. But nothing outside my mind has continued the same. I miss the intellectual generosity that the Yale space fosters and that my peers bring into my life.”


Image of a Yale student's COVID-19 isolation work space“I lived in Baker Hall, my work-space was the desk next to my bed. I had a nice view of the trees from my window. In had everything I needed in my small work-space:  a small pot to warm water for tea, my computer for attending my online classes, a lamp, a calendar, and pictures to remind me of my family and home (Mexico). I played the ukulele to relax, each post-it was a new ukulele song. I had three boards on the walls to write down my ideas, a section of my one of my boards can be seen in the reflection on the mirror.”

Image of a Yale student's COVID-19 isolation work space“My family and I moved from CT to NJ during our spring break.  Due to the quarantine, we weren’t able to buy a lot of the furniture we were planning to and I built myself a makeshift desk out of boxes and totes.  The desk is in my room and was definitely a huge improvement from sitting on my bed for hours on end.”

R.I.P. “Manuscripts and Archives Digital Images Database” (MADID) – Hello “Manuscripts and Archives Digital Library” Collection in FindIt

Screen capture of main Yale Library Digital Collections page (FindIt)After many years of faithful service our beloved Manuscripts and Archives Digital Images Database (MADID) will retire in January 2020. MADID’s happy retirement is made possible by the migration of the MADID images to FindIt, Yale University Library’s central digital collections search engine.

Staff and researchers, especially frequent MADID users, are encouraged to explore FindIt, where they will find digitized Manuscripts and Archives content along with content from other Yale Library repositories. You can browse using the facets, including Repository, Digital Collection, and Call Number (see “Limit your search”) or enter the old MADID number in the search box. All images from MADID are now in FindIt. Not finding what you need? Contact us at We are happy to assist you.

The Demise of the Crocodile Club: A Town/Gown Tragedy at Yale

The following post was authored by Camila Tessler, archivist in Manuscripts and Archives. All references to archival collection material are to items from the William Henry Anderson Correspondence Regarding the Crocodile Club (MS 2018).

Image of William Henry Anderson letter to his father, 1858 January 9. (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 5).

William Henry Anderson letter to his father, 1858 January 9. (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 5).

On January 9, 1858, William Henry Anderson (Class of 1859) wrote to his father that the Crocodile Club, a Yale undergraduate group, was flourishing. In fact, he wrote, “I think I can safely say that [the Crocodile Club] is … the most popular club of all.” (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 5). A little more than a month later, on February 21, Anderson again wrote to his father, admitting that the faculty were recommending that the club disband. In a month’s time, how did Yale College’s “most popular club” fall so low as to be forced to disband by the faculty?

The Crocodile Club was a popular eating club, which provided a way for students to socialize and dine together. These eating clubs still exist at other Ivy League institutions, such as Princeton, but at Yale the only modern equivalents are the senior societies. The Crocodile Club was apparently successful, racking up bills of “nearly a thousand dollars” (Box 1, folder 4), which is the rough equivalent of $30,000 in today’s money. The club appears to have been comprised of many students who could afford to both eat out and board with the other “crocodiles.”

On the night of Feburary 9, 1858, following several nights of tension between New Haven firefighters stationed near the campus and groups of students, members of the Crocodile Club encountered a group of New Haven firemen while on their way back from dining. As an altercation between the two groups spiraled out of control, the leader among the group of firemen, a man named William Miles, was shot by one of the Yale students. (Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg, Four Years at Yale, New Haven: C.C. Chatfield & Co., 1871, pages 510-511).

Image of Letter from William Henry Anderson to his father, 9 February 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 6).

Letter from William Henry Anderson to his father, 9 February 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 6).

William Anderson was present and wrote to his father about the incident, his arrest, and the subsequent trial. He stated in a letter dated February 19, ten days after the incident, that “suspicion of course fell upon the club and perhaps justly and we were all implicated and are as much guilty as another in the eye of the law” (Box 1, folder 6). In the same letter, Anderson went on to relate to his father that “counsel advised me not to answer anything that would show I was there … and he advised all the rest to the same”. Their refusal to testify landed the boys in jail, but only nominally. Anderson claimed that he spent most of his jail time studying and did not suffer any inconvenience, though it is not altogether clear whether this is a fact, or something added to reassure a potentially concerned parent. Anderson’s letters are rife with reassurances to his parents that everything at Yale is fine, so playing down his jail time wouldn’t be completely out of character or context.

Image of excerpt from letter from William Henry Anderson to his father following his trial, 6 March 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 9).

Excerpt from letter from William Henry Anderson to his father following his trial, 6 March 1858 (MS 2018, Box 1, folder 9).

As the trial moved forward it quickly became apparent that justice favored gown over town. Even though Anderson clearly knew who shot Miles, he asserted that “I have the consciousness of knowing that I did not injure a person that night, not so much as a scratch. That consciousness, you know, will be worth worlds to me for if I knew that I had killed the man, even in self defense as what was done by whoever did it, I could hardly bear the thought” (Box 1, folder 8). Anderson continually refused to testify, as did the rest of the rest of the Crocodile Club group. Their silence bought them their legal innocence, as no one was sentenced to jail time. Anderson believed that it was “a very fair verdict” (Box 1, folder 9), since there were no legal consequences.

That lack of legal punishment did not, however, free the Crocodile Club members from consequences at Yale. In a letter to his father dated March 24, almost a full month after the end of the trial, Anderson revealed that “[the faculty] talked it over till noon and there decided to separate from the college three members of the club, Carrington, Smith, and Lorichell. This separation is about equivalent to a dismissal” (Box 1, folder 11). This dismissal was accompanied by a reference to any other college of their choice, so the dismissal, while a bold action on the part of the faculty, was one with a golden parachute.

Events where town and gown were diametrically opposed were common in the 1850s, and they are equally common today. The details of this case were so odd though, and the first-hand testimony in letters home from one of the participants so palpable, that the incident is worth exploring. Looking over historical cases such as the rise and fall of the Crocodile Club can help us to contextualize and have a clearer understanding of the relationship between Yale and New Haven over time. In this case Yale students were absolved Yale of a terrible crime through silence, and did serious damage to the town-gown relationship. We struggle with similar incidents today and can use the rise and fall of the Crocodile Club as one lens for examining accountability and justice in the ongoing, evolving relationship between the communities of Yale and New Haven.