August 31, 2009

The Camera Club victory

When Johns Hopkins students decide something needs to be done, usually they find a way to do it, even if that might mean bribing a senior officer of the university.

Consider the case of the Camera Club, a student-run group organized in the mid-1930s. The students enjoyed taking pictures, but they had no place for club meetings or, more important, no place for a darkroom where they could develop and print their photographs.

They combed the Homewood campus and discovered that the Gatehouse, at the corner of Charles Street and Art Museum Drive, was empty. It had been used as a laboratory by “gas engineers” in the School of Engineering, but it was unlikely that they would use it again. (The small stone building, now the home of the undergraduate newspaper, The News-Letter, was the gatehouse for the Wyman family’s Homewood Villa, an ornate Victorian residence that stood, until the late 1950s, just southwest of where Garland Hall is today.)

The building was in poor condition. All the windows had been knocked out, and the roof was described as “falling off.” But with modest renovations, it could become the perfect home for the Camera Club.

What could the club do to get use of the building? First, Sara Elizabeth Freeman, the graduate-student secretary of the club, wrote to P. Stewart Macaulay, then secretary of the university and later provost and executive vice president. She noted that the building was not occupied and that eventually it would have to be repaired. Why not fix it now and make it available to the Camera Club?

Five days later, on Nov. 18, 1937, Freeman sent another letter to Macaulay, this time to inform him that club members had unanimously voted to elect him “to honorary membership in the Johns Hopkins Photographic Society.” (Perhaps the university secretary would be more inclined to accept membership from a society rather than a club?). Macaulay thanked the students and accepted their invitation. He added, “Obviously, none of the members has seen any of my photographic efforts.”

Writing to President Isaiah Bowman about the Gatehouse on Nov. 26, in a letter now in the Hamburger Archives of the Eisenhower Library, Macaulay said, “It seems to me something should be done to make the place more presentable.” He said it would be a good site for the Camera Club, and he recommended an expenditure of $2,000 for repairs. He concluded, “The Camera Club is anxious to obtain quarters, and I have a selfish reason for wanting to help.”

The students had made a wise choice in their selection of P. Stewart Macaulay as an honorary member.