Wednesday, March 6, 2024

The Widow Nolen at Harvard



Illustration from Harvard Celebrities (1901)

William Whiting Nolen orbited Harvard for the better part of 43 years. During much of that time, he annoyed the hell out of the faculty and administrators.

The native Philadelphian arrived at Harvard College in 1880, graduated summa cum laude, and went on to earn a master’s in science. Next, he enrolled in the law school but soon dropped out. He landed in the biology department as a teaching assistant.

W. W. Nolen hoped to become a professor but was not up to snuff. Yet he did have a gift for coaching students. In 1891, he opened a school on Brattle Street, offering “printed lecture notes, digests of required reading, and forced feeding just before the examinations,” wrote the eminent Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn.

The school thrived. By 1895, Nolen had moved to larger quarters and hired top Harvard graduates to help handle the load. His program could get you through your entrance exams and help you pass (perhaps ace) Latin, history, chemistry, physics, mathematics, French, English, and philosophy.

In July 1913, former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote to Nolen about his third son, Archie:


Naturally Mrs. Roosevelt and I are immensely pleased with Archie’s success. I take pleasure in sending the check – there could be no money I should be more delighted to pay. I feel that he has benefitted immensely by what you have done for him, and I am very much pleased with what you say of him personally.

 As tutees flocked to Nolen’s “cram parlor,” its proprietor raised his rates to $5/hour. “Harvard Men Attending in Hundreds,” declared the Boston Globe:


. . . what Harvard student ever failed to attend a Nolen “seminar” at least once? It is part of the Cambridge experience. Students attend who need it. Others attend who don’t need it. To attend is one of the set college duties. It is the proper thing to do, so to speak.

Nolen’s school was neither affiliated with nor authorized by Harvard. Yet Nolen managed to insinuate himself into the college, poaching exams, infiltrating lectures in disguise, paying for class notes. He also sold pamphlets: History I: Tutoring Notes, 1901; Self-Tutoring Notes, English 23, 1902, and so forth.



Harvard professors decried his effect on their students’ grades. They called him a bloodsucker. It was said that the faculty often discussed how to put Nolen out of business.

Yet while the university’s presidents and trustees loathed his very presence, they recognized that Nolen steered the sons of great wealth through Harvard. Those diplomas, perhaps earned craftily, would be worth their weight in bequests. 

By most accounts, Nolen was kind, generous, and eccentric. He also bore an odd nickname. Even those who did not know him personally could recognize it: “The Widow Nolen.”   

Where did the nickname originate? The prevailing theory was that a character named “Widow Nolen” appeared in a play attended by several of his earliest students, and they took it up.

Teased in the pages of the Crimson, the Lampoon, and yearbooks, parodied in songs and theater, the “Widow Nolen” seeped into Ivy League culture. Even the poets pounced on him.  


Poem by Henry Ware Eliot, Jr. [brother of T.S. Eliot] in
Harvard Celebrities: a book of caricatures and decorated drawings 
(Cambridge, 1901). 



The tutoring business was lucrative, yet the Widow Nolen lived modestly in a building called Little Hall, opposite Harvard Yard. He inhabited the top floor with three French bulldogs. Students could rent rooms below, and classrooms filled the first floor.

In 1923, Nolen, who had diabetes and a heart condition, died at the age of 63. Even before the will was probated, the question arose: would Nolen’s tutoring school continue at Little Hall?

The answer was no. Rather, a new school, Manter Hall, absorbed Nolen's business and carried on the glory. 

Indeed, in the absence of Nolen’s monopoly, five new tutoring schools sprung up in Cambridge. In 1936, the Harvard Student Council appointed a committee to study their “sharp, noisy competition” as they jockeyed for customers, according to Time magazine. Nothing came of it.

Three years later the Crimson published an angry editorial: “Lined up on Massachusetts Avenue, grinning obscenely down over Harvard Yard, there is a row of intellectual brothels  . . . making a mockery of a Harvard education, a lie of a Harvard diploma.” 

By that time, nine tutoring schools inhabited Harvard Square. The Crimson refused to take their advertising and called for their demise.

In 1940, the crammeries were shut down for good.

From Alice's Adventures in Cambridge
by Richard Conover Evarts (1913)


Wednesday, January 17, 2024

“Bab” Andrews & the Strikebreakers


"University Athletes Ship as Stokers"

It sounded like a great adventure, one that would yield $30 per man and a bounty of stories to tell. The seven University of Chicago freshmen were already on the top of the world because they played for Amos Alonzo Stagg, one of the twentieth century’s most winning college coaches.

These guys were hot stuff: fullback Sherburne Wightman, quarter-miler “Tommy” Taylor, high jumper Arthur Sullivan, tackle Frank G. Burrows, shot-putter Burt Gale, and track star “Jimmy” Carroll.

And the group’s leader, freshman class president Barrett Clendenin “Bab” Andrews, told reporters that Stagg had recruited him for the baseball team.

Founded in 1892 with a $600,000 gift from the oilman John D. Rockefeller, the University of Chicago was young compared with the nation’s major research universities.

Rockefeller, who would donate $35 million more to Chicago during the next decade, chose as its president William Rainey Harper, a rotund 36-year old Semitology scholar and Baptist minister who had taught previously at Denison and Yale.

Rockefeller (left) and Harper walking
to Chicago's tenth anniversary celebration
(University of Chicago Special Collections)

The ambitious Harper set forth to innovate. He established departments of Egyptology and Sociology and one of the first university presses in the U.S. He poached many a professor. And he capitulated to the craze for college sports, with the university joining the Big Ten Conference in 1896.

The football team achieved fame and glory. They were the “Mighty Maroons” until 1946, when Chicago withdrew from the conference.



But now it is April of 1903 and an agent of the Marine Carriers Association, which represents the owners of the steamers that ply the Great Lakes, meets with Stagg and some of his athletes. Stokers have struck at the port in Buffalo, N.Y. Surely the coach’s brawny young men are up to the work of shoveling coal into the freighters’ furnaces. 

They were not the nation’s first student strikebreakers. In 1901, UC-Berkeley athletes had unloaded cargo on the San Francisco docks. The San Francisco Labor Council denounced the students but UC president Benjamin Wheeler cheered them on.

Two years later in Chicago, William Rainey Harper kept mum after the student “stokers” made the news. But when representatives of the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Material Trades Council demanded an explanation, Harper issued a statement:

-        *I was out of town when the athletes decided to act as strikebreakers

-        *The students did not consult with university officials

-        *University officials would have discouraged the students from proceeding

-        *The university places no requirements on students except that they behave like gentlemen and perform their duties

-        *Students may absent themselves from their studies but must accept the consequences

-        *The university is not responsible for its students’ opinions

-        *The university does not take a side on any question; students and professors are free to think and do as they see fit

As the editor of American Industries noted, “President Harper of Chicago University Gets Solidly on Both Sides of the Question.”

Indeed, Harper would have been foolish to laud the students despite Rockefeller’s (and possibly his own) anti-labor stance. The university was in the midst of a building spree with a gymnasium, commons, bell tower, and law school under construction, not to mention perennial modification of the wooden stands that encircled the football field. 

Chicago could not afford a strike and never again—to my knowledge—would its students cross a line. But others did.

Historian Stephen H. Norwood, University of Oklahoma, has written extensively about student strikebreakers.

Columbia students broke a subway workers strike in 1905. Harvard students were called upon by university president A. Lawrence Lowell to help break the Boston Policemen’s Strike of 1919. Students were paid or volunteered to be strikebreakers well into the 1920s.   

Norwood attributes student strikebreaking to several issues:

-        *the early-twentieth-century cult of Christian masculinity, of which President Theodore Roosevelt was a proponent

-        *the brutality of football

-        *bans on violent hazing practices which left a void for aggressive social behavior

Further, the 1900s saw the rise of the “gentlemen’s C.” Many male students were not serious about their education and spent much of their time in pursuit of adventure—“larks.”  

Class of 1906 president "Bab" Andrews, far left

“Bab” Andrews, leader of the Chicago strikebreakers, was the king of larks.

A few months before heading to Buffalo, he had rounded up ten students on behalf of the Wisconsin Central Railroad, whose officials were trying to identify an embezzling conductor. Andrews et al purportedly found the culprit and declared that they’d had a great time.

Not so fast, observed the editor of the Chicago Tribune:


Though the young man may flatter himself with the titles of detective and strike-breaker, he has really earned the degree of “Spotter” and “Scab” and all the dishonor pertaining thereto.

Indeed, anti-unionism among middle- and upper-class Americans lay at the heart of the strikebreakers’ capers. Most students who could afford to attend college at the turn of the twentieth century would likely side with capitalists over laborers.

Especially for the fun of it.  

Circa 1906


Saturday, December 30, 2023

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Confidence Man

Dr. J.W. Amey appeared in a 1918 "great men" directory.


Ironically, the first time the newspapers took note of Jesse Willis Amey, he was playing the role of a confidence man in a play, Black Diamond Express.

As the 29-year old Amey toured Pennsylvania and Maryland with the troupe Railroad Comedy Drama, he formulated grand plans for the rest of his life. It was 1900 and he did not intend to spend much more of the twentieth century living with his sister and brother-in-law in upstate New York.

Within a few years Amey enrolled at the New York University and Bellevue Hospital Medical College and by 1907 he was an MD ensconced in the NYU Department of Dermatology. Among his first patients, who both died, were the ringmaster of the Hippodrome Theatre and a repertory actor. The doctor always kept one foot in the theater.

Dr. Amey was living on West 45th Street and getting around town as a member of the Friars Club and the New York Athletic Club when he made the acquaintance of Nelle Burrelle, wealthy widow and president of Burrelle’s Clipping Bureau.

An Ohioan named Frank Burrelle established the Bureau in New York City in 1888. Purportedly the idea came from a conversation he overheard: two businessmen in a bar bemoaning the fact that they had no way to keep track of the newspaper stories about their companies.

Frank’s second wife, Nelle, a native of Indiana who’d led a wild life as the wife of a Pittsburgh railroad man before she divorced him and came to New York, was creative and enterprising. She expanded the Bureau with commemorative scrapbooks and pitched Burrelle’s services to writers and performers on the circuit, such as Emile Zola in 1898.


Nelle and Frank embraced automobiles around the turn of
the twentieth century. This article appeared in 1905.

In 1910, Frank died unexpectedly while he and Nelle were on a cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. By that time Burrelle’s had 3,000 clients and a large office in the City Hall neighborhood where all of the New York newspapers were headquartered. Nelle moved into an apartment in the Carlton Hotel on 44th Street, which she decorated with patent medicine ads, tools, and “For Sale” signs. 

On March 9, 1911, a notice of the engagement of Nelle Burrelle to Dr J. W. Amey appeared in the society pages. The Brooklyn Times-Union commented:


Beside having shown herself a competent business woman and having registered the biggest year’s business in the life of the firm, Mrs. Burrelle is well known in social circles and supports many charities unostentatiously. Dr. Amey is one of the most popular physicians in the city and he and Mrs. Burrelle have long been friends.  

That very night Nelle denied the engagement. Amey followed with a statement: “The story of the engagement between Mrs. Burrelle and myself, as published today, was authorized by me and issued in good faith.”

 Nelle mused to a reporter:


Why did Dr. Amey make such an announcement? I suppose, in his case, the wish was father to the thought. Perhaps the doctor has imagination and wished to carry me by storm. Well, we are not living in medieval times. Men don’t strap their women across their horses now and carry them away.


During these years, Nelle and her company were
on top of the world. 

Ten months later, Nelle fell ill at her apartment. Her death followed a 48-hour coma. Acute nephritis and uremia were listed as the causes, but the coroner received an anonymous telephone tip that hinted at murder.  

Coroner Holtzhauser did not say, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” but he did make an announcement: “From what I have learned thus far I believe there may be something wrong.” He performed an autopsy and ruled Nelle’s death to be of undetermined cause.

Speaking to the press, Holtzhauser expressed surprise that Dr. Amey had been one of the three physicians who attended Nelle, that Amey had put his own nurse in charge of the patient, and that he had prescribed medicine that was found at Nelle’s bedside.

The drama continued.

Dr. Amey, whose inappropriate behavior did not seem to draw further suspicion among the authorities, reported to the police that thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry was missing from Nelle’s bedroom and her safe in the Carlton Hotel. He described two solitaire rings, a pear brooch, a purse studded with diamonds, and so on.

Nelle’s will was missing, too! But about six months later, Dr. Amey delivered Nelle’s will to the surrogate. It had been slipped under his door, he said.

Someone leaked the contents to the press. Nelle had left shares of Burrelle’s stock and money to various employees, her two sisters, and Frank Burrelle’s two children by his first wife. She named Jesse W. Amey co-executor and left him the rest of her estate.

The date of execution and Nelle’s signature were missing, rendering it invalid. Eventually Nelle’s two sisters claimed the inheritance.

Dr. Amey went on with his life, purchasing a yacht, competing in trapshooting contests, and marrying Grace May Hoffman, a coloratura soprano who toured with John Philip Sousa. The couple had two sons who were young when their mother died in 1924. 

Grace’s parents were devastated—not only by their daughter’s early death. For some reason, the prospect of Dr. Amey continuing to play a part in the lives of their grandsons was out of the question.

Jesse, Jr. and Frank were reared in Manhattan until their grandfather’s death and then in Schenectady by their great-aunt Grace.  

Dr. Amey never missed a chance to get his name in the papers. In the late twenties, he started a cosmetic surgery clinic well before such doctors knew what they were doing in the operating room. Mehmet Oz-like, he promoted a controversial anti-cancer serum. His pronouncements were clunky and pompous at the same time.

He fit neatly into his time as an actor-doctor. 



*Eventually Dr. Amey wended his way to Coral Gables, Florida, remarried to a wealthy divorcee, and died in 1939.


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Calling Joseph Mandelkern


“Famous for his artistic eye,” the early-twentieth century theater agent Joseph Mandelkern liked to boast that he discovered the ethereal prima ballerina Anna Pavlova. 

This was not true. However, between 1900 and 1924, the New York-based impresario sailed to Europe dozens of times and always returned clutching a bunch of contracts for Russian performers to tour the United States.

Perpetually wielding a cigar, Mandelkern was “Mephistophelian,” “fast-talking,” and “wily,” according to reports.* I bet that his rivals, and perhaps some of his friends, occasionally felt the urge to punch him or sue him. He landed in court at least a few times.

Yet he did help to ignite the American passion for classical Russian ballet. In the fall of 1911, many U.S. newspapers ran this story: 




The ranks of the imperial artists have been so depleted that Chief Director Krupensky is at his wit’s end to provide a suitable ballet to be given before the Tzar at Krasnoye Selo, the famous “red village” near St. Petersburg where Russia’s ruler spends the summer.

At the center of the controversy stood Lydia Lopokova, one of Mandelkern’s prize catches. Beautiful and independent, Lydia possessed an extraordinary presence although she was only sixteen years old.      

Three dancers—Lydia, her brother Feodor, and Alexander Volinine—signed with Mandelkern in Paris during the summer of 1910. At the time, Lydia and Alexander were performing with the avant-garde Ballets Russes. 

Then Lydia disappeared. After a few days, during which detectives dashed madly around Paris, she emerged on the arm of a nobleman of Polish descent. He had been following her around for months and finally persuaded her to marry him. Now they would return to Russia for the wedding.

Mandelkern must have twisted her arm hard because Lydia changed her mind and boarded the ship. When they arrived at Ellis Island a few weeks later, she said, “I like New York very much.”

During the next two years, Lydia earned a lot of money and fame. Mandelkern booked her all over the country, including Buffalo, N.Y., where a producer arbitrarily cut Lydia’s appearances in half.

Irate, Mandelkern lost control and shouted at the audience from a private box. The police arrested him and led him from the theater. The producer followed, delivering a few body blows along the way.

After paying a $25 fine, Mandelkern was released on $300 bail. Lydia returned to Europe, married the economist John Maynard Keynes, and left Joseph Mandelkern behind.


 "House in the Pines," located in Jamesburg, N.J., 
was owned by a Russian couple. Mandelkern
often visited there during the 1920s. 

After World War I, the business of artist representation saw considerable change, and there may have been less room for Joseph Mandelkern. Besides, he wanted a different life back in the old world.

In 1922 he applied for a new passport. In his photograph, Mandelkern appears wizened, half-hidden by large glasses and a straw boater. Six months after the passport was issued, Mandelkern wrote to the Department of State to request that the headshot be swapped for another picture in which he looked much younger.


Passport photo, Joseph Mandelkern, 1922 

Then he went off to Wiesbaden, where he married Therese Jung, a woman nearly 30 years younger than he. In June 1925, they moved to Merano, Italy, just south of the German border.

In May of 1938, Hitler visited Italy for the second time and enjoyed, in the words of historian Paul Baza, “a massive display of fascist spectacle in three cities: Rome, Naples and Florence.”

Soon after, Mussolini ordered the enforcement of severe antisemitic laws. Unsurprisingly, Therese and Joseph Mandelkern were marked “di razza ebraica” on a census of Jews conducted in Italy in August 1938.

Hitler and Mussolini, 1938

There is evidence that Joseph tried unsuccessfully to return to the U.S. He suffered a stroke in December 1939, died soon after, and is buried in Merano’s Jewish Cemetery. In the official report of his death, no known relatives were listed besides Therese.

Few acknowledge that Joseph Mandelkern played a major part in shaping the cultural tastes of Americans at the turn of the twentieth century. 

Really, he must have been insufferable.


*Quotes from Bloomsbury Ballerina by Judith Mackrell, an excellent biography of Lydia Lopokova.


Saturday, October 21, 2023

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Joseph Mandelkern's Return to Russia


Tolstoy and Gorky, 1900

On July 4, 1905, the Polish-born impresario and real estate man Joseph Mandelkern landed on page two of the New York Times.

The 41-year old hotshot had arrived in Europe a few weeks earlier. He toured Warsaw, Lodz, and Bialystok. In the small town of Dzialoszyce with its majestic synagogue, Mandelkern visited his widowed mother, whom he had not seen since 1884 when he immigrated to America.





He saw a parade of 20,000 people carrying red flags. Revolutionaries in blue shirts. Everyone armed with pistols and knives. 

It is intriguing that Mandelkern chose the summer of 1905, a scant six months after the First Russian Revolution, to make a three-month trip into political and social chaos.

Days before Mandelkern arrived in St. Petersburg, the officers of the battleship Potemkin had been overcome by revolution-minded mutineers who were enraged by their treatment during the Russo-Japanese War.

As famously portrayed in the 1925 film Battleship Potemkin, Cossacks murdered 1,000 men, women, and children who stood cheering the mutineers from the Richelieu Steps in Odessa while the ship was anchored offshore in the Black Sea. 


Famous scene from Battleship Potemkin, directed by 
Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein 

It was a dangerous, bloody time but Mandelkern felt confident about navigating through the Russian Empire because he possessed a “release from allegiance” signed by a consul general named Count Ladyzhensky. Mandelkern had paid 800 rubles for the document.

A supply of Havana cigars also greased the wheels.

Crossing the border between Germany and Russia, Mandelkern became aware of a new word, “Uligani,” derived from the English word “hoodlum.”


It entered into every conversation he held, with friends or strangers, in his home city. He heard it uttered in terror at the bier of a murdered friend. When he looked for his dead father’s gravestone, the same word was whispered into his ear by the gravedigger as a warning. When he wanted to seek rest and recreation in a public park he heard it again on the lips of a gendarme.  

The Uligani preyed on everyone.     

Now here was Mandelkern, a Jew, making his way through Russia as if he were an old friend of Nicholas and Alexandra. He also visited two anti-Czarists, famous writers both—Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky.

 Mandelkern boarded a train in Helsinki to reach Gorky, a 37-year old Socialist Realist author and Bolshevik sympathizer who spent his summers in a villa in Kokkola, Finland. After lunch, two messengers brought news of the Potemkin.

 “What have we to be afraid of?” Gorky mused aloud. “The time for secrecy is past. The change must come soon. Everybody knows it.”

Then Mandelkern went off to Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s country estate a few hours by train from Moscow. After lunch, Mandelkern learned that the Okhrana—the Czar’s secret police—regularly harassed Tolstoy. Meanwhile, the Bolsheviks demanded that he relinquish his property to divide among peasants. 

Returning to the U.S. in August, Mandelkern met with a Times reporter to share grim tales of corruption, deprivation, and violence.

Nonetheless, Mandelkern told the reporter, he detected courage among the Russians, a willingness to speak out against the Czar’s tyranny and the waste of the Russo-Japanese War.


By the time of his 1905 visit, Mandelkern had established himself as a stealthy theater agent who nabbed gifted performers. His fluency in English, Russian, and Polish enabled him to execute contracts before anyone else in the room knew the details.  

Always in motion, Mandelkern traveled through the Midwest and to Europe. His wife Pauline and their five children—at least two of whom were already superb musicians—watched him come and go.

One senses he was aloof and finicky.

He certainly had no time for his family in 1906, when Maxim Gorky accepted an invitation to come to America. Mandelkern even hinted at the possibility of a visit with President Theodore Roosevelt.

On a sparkly April day, Gorky arrived at Hoboken on a German steamship. A crowd of 1,000 greeted him. At the end of the gangplank, a delegation of socialists stretched out its hands: Abraham Cahan, editor of The Forward; Morris Hillquit, a labor lawyer; Gaylord Wilshire, a California entrepreneur; Leroy Scott, a writer and settlement worker; and Joseph Mandelkern. 

Thus began Gorky’s high-flying adventure with Mandelkern at his elbow. Lunch at the St. Regis. A visit to Grant’s Tomb. Watching children feed the squirrels in Central Park. The circus at Madison Square Garden.

“In a Russian city almost every other man one meets is either a soldier or a policeman,” Gorky told Mandelkern. “I haven’t seen a single soldier all day, and only two policemen. Marvelous!”

That evening, he was driven down Fifth Avenue to “Club A,” a brownstone owned by a group of revolutionary-minded New Yorkers. Here would occur the highlight of Gorky’s visit: dinner with Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, and other American writers who supported the movement to overthrow the Czar. 

A few days later, however, Gorky was beset by scandal.

It turned out that the writer had left his wife Katharine and two sons back in Russia. The woman who accompanied him to the U.S. was actress Maria Feodorovna Andreyeva, his mistress of several years.

Now Gorky ran into an American problem: relentless prudishness about an issue that would have been irrelevant in Russia.

Hotel Brevoort, Fifth Avenue & Eighth Street

Tossed from the Hotel Rhinelander to the Hotel Brevoort to the Hotel Belleclaire, denounced by the press and pushed away ever so gently by Twain et al, Gorky and Andreyeva found themselves begging for a place to lay their heads.  


Joseph Mandelkern, who was very enthusiastic at first in his eulogies of Gorky, said to a reporter for the Eagle that he had known it for a long time and that others on this side knew of the relations with the actress.

It does not appear that Gorky and Andreyeva went back uptown to stay with the Mandelkern family.



To be continued.

The Widow Nolen at Harvard

    Illustration from Harvard Celebrities (1901) William Whiting Nolen orbited Harvard for the better part of 43 years. During much of tha...