Wrap it Up! Acting Like A Hower UnClass Comes to an End

By Chloe DiMario

As The University of Akron’s Spring 2023 semester comes to an end, so too does the “Acting Like A Hower” UnClass. Throughout the stress of finals week, our class has been busy finishing and reflecting upon our projects from this semester. These projects have all taken surprisingly different directions as can be seen in previous blog posts, and the same could be said for the
experiences each student has had.

For the final blog post of this course, I wanted to focus on the experience that students have had in an UnClass and how this structure made for one of the most memorable classes we have all taken. So I took a survey of my classmates.

Q1: Why did you decide to take this class?
There are many factors that determine who someone would take a class. In many cases, you will have peers of similar interests, backgrounds or majors in your class roster. However, we found that this UnClass was very different. Whether it be a curriculum requirement, a favorite professor teaching it, or a fun class that happens to fit into your schedule, this UnClass has gathered many different students.

Mat said that “I took this class with encouragement from Dr. Nunn. I had her for two courses in the fall where I mentioned having a love of acting and theater, and she thought I would find this course interesting- and she was right!” Mat and I have shared a course with Dr. Nunn before and hearing that one of your favorite professors is teaching such a unique style is a guarantee win for students. In fact, the class had a few other students that knew Dr. Nunn prior, but what about everyone else?

Some needed this class as a specific credit such as for Honors Colloquia Credit. CJ offered that, “I decided to take this due to an interest in the Hower family and it was recommended by Linda [Bussey].” CJ has already worked with Hower House and its director, and having that background made for an interesting transition into our class. Many students had diverse interests coming into this course and it is those interests that began to shape our outlook on the class.

Q2: Looking back on our first class in mid-January, what were you thinking coming into this class and what are you thinking as we finish it up?

First impressions can make or break a course for some students and my first impression of this course was to ask “why are we already doing work”. I truthfully had no idea what to expect from this class and it was a bit foolish of me to expect just another syllabi reading for our first day. As we dove head first into already scanned documents provided by Dr. Nunn, my excitement only

I wasn’t alone with my first day confusion as many students didn’t know what to expect. Mat claimed that “I went into this class with zero expectation. I had no idea what an UnClass was.” And Hannah agreed by saying “ The first class was very interesting because I had no other experience with an “un-class”. I was a little nervous about the lack of structure and free-flowing nature of the course work because I function well with deadlines and more firmly set parameters.”

This lack of class structure threw a lot of students for a loop and I and many other students were worried about our prior knowledge of the Howers as Karla stated, “I was thinking about how I had no idea who any of the people in the family were in relation to my peers who seemed to know a good bit about the Hower family and Grace Crawford beforehand.”

However this confusion did not stop us from pushing forward and enjoying this class to the very end!

  • Karla: “Now as we finish up it’s interesting to see how much I’ve learned.”
  • Hannah: “As we finish up, I’m very glad to have had this experience as it developed collaboration skills, as well as experiences to think about and approach research in new ways. I felt I had more freedom to examine ideas or leads that would come up, without having to worry about reaching a specific conclusion. Documenting the process of the research, even if it didn’t lead to a specific conclusion, was a valuable learning experience. and highlights the point that primary source research is fascinating .”
  • Mat: “As we come to the end of the semester, I have to say I’m surprised at how invested I’ve become in this class, especially in the archival work, which I hadn’t anticipated at all.”
  • Katie: “Now I am feeling confident in the work I have produced and excited to share and see my classmates’ projects.”

Q3: What was the most memorable item you found/scanned?
A big part of enjoying this class has come from all of the archival material we worked with. At the beginning of the class, a lot of us expected to be scanning letters or playbills or official documents, but our projects ended up utilizing a wide variety of documents from bank statements to photographs to advertisements and newsletters. This diversity made for interesting and memorable finds.

Melanie said that “I really enjoyed looking at the various membership lists and seeing the different names. Some of them were recognizable (Knight, Polsky, etc.), while others were not. Some of the earlier lists were handwritten on notebook paper, which to me demonstrates the group’s humble beginnings.” Finds such as these were a constant surprise throughout the semester that brought a strange sense of humanity into a class most of us were expecting to be rather technical. Kaden found that “My favorite thing that I found was this picture of a bracelet that Grace had made for her. It was red and the first artifact that I analyzed and was super cool.”

The little mementos from the Hower family and Weathervane really brought forward a story among dusty, old pieces of paper and creating those stories was one of the most enjoyable experiences from this class. An experience that may not be possible in a regular formatted class.

Photographs were another big part of the archival document process and we all found ourselves marveling at these little pieces of history captured on film. Hannah (along with the help of Mark Bloom from the UA Archives and Special Collections) found negative of the Dumas Players and said that “The negatives of the Dumas players were really memorable because these were largely hidden in an archival collection that’s not fully processed, and we had no other photographic images available to our group from UA sources. They also show that the Dumas Players were active later than what was originally thought by the earlier research done by Weathervane.”

Image of the Dumas Players, Horace and Evelyn Stewart Photograph Collection, Box 7 Folder 432a. University of Akron Archives & Special Collections. https://collections.uakron.edu/digital/collection/p15960coll17/id/242/rec/37

Katie, upon reflecting on her favorite documents, summed up the experience of working with old photographs perfectly when she said that “I really enjoyed scanning the few photographs from some of the productions. Though not the focus of my project, I think telling stories through photographs is really intriguing.”

Q3: What was the most challenging part of working with these archival documents?
Although this class was full of high, enjoyable moments, it had its low points as well. Working with archival materials, regardless of how fun, is a strenuous and challenging process that takes patience and concentration. John claimed that one of the most challenging parts was, “The transcription because Grace’s handwriting is terrible.” This is a sad but real issue with archival materials. Journals and letters were often handwritten and if the person writing happened to have poor penmanship, then it can be a serious struggle to transcribe the text for others.

Postcard in Grace Hower Crawford’s handwriting, Hower Family Papers, Box E4 Folder 3. University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

There’s also the issue of finding documents that you may need. Hannah ran into this issue during her research claiming that, “The most challenging part of my work with the archival documents was that there are gaps and dead-ends in what I’m trying to research. For example, I would find one document that would answer part of a question, but then there would be missing
pages, or only one side of the correspondence, undated or unsourced newspaper articles, etc.” I ran into a similar issue when looking at possible dates for items in the Hower collection. I would discover a document labeled one thing, and then find five other documents of different dates labeled the same way.

And, as is the case with the diversity of an UnClass, comes the challenges from a lack of experience. Kaden says that, “The most challenging aspect was interpreting the documents. Since I am a STEM major, it is not my normal area of focus. This has created a “barrier” because I wasn’t familiar with the processes that went behind archival materials.” It can always be hard taking a class outside of your major or skill set, but an UnClass with its open class design is one of the best ways to explore these new skills.

Q4: What was your biggest takeaway from this class?
UnClasses are designed to not be designed. The purpose is for the students to make their own experiences with guidance from a professor. The research, the projects, and the takeaways are all based on the student.

Kaden shows that he valued the experience of working outside of his major. “My biggest takeaway from this class was that it is cool to try classes that you normally wouldn’t take. I would have never signed up for this class because I have little interest in archival materials, however, now that I’ve taken a course like this, I would consider taking another.”

Melanie strengthened her researching ability. “This class reminded me just how much there is to research from one topic. From this class there have been three or four main branches of research, but then within the groups there are offshoots of additional research. With my community research, I’ve mapped out where members lived, but you could research each person (their lives, which Weathervane plays they performed in, if they performed with other playhouses, etc.), the neighborhoods themselves, and other things. The list goes on and on with what you could look at.”

And Hannah was reminded just how interesting and important doing archival research like this truly is. “My biggest take-away from the class is that archival research is very valuable, but not likely to be easy. You have to be willing to invest time and understand that what you find may lead to more questions than answers at first, but that you are likely to make valuable discoveries
along the way. You never know what treasure awaits.”

It goes to show how valuable these UnClasses are and how varied every student’s experience is with this class style. My biggest takeaway is that, despite the stress of working without many guidelines, I can and will find a way to make a fun and beneficial project using my work. This class has taught us all a lot during this too short of a semester and we hope you have enjoyed
keeping up with all of our work.

If you would like to learn more about our work, please explore the Hower Family Collections and if you ever have a chance, from the “Acting Like a Hower” UnClass, we encourage you to try an UnClass for yourself and experience the excitement for yourself!

“Acting Like A Hower” students at the Institute for Human Science and Culture during their last official class meeting.

Data Accessibility and Playbills

By Mat Cruz

Just a few semesters ago, I switched my major from Statistics to English. I was worried that my time working with data entry and organization would be wasted, that I had taken all those courses for nothing. Strangely, though, I’ve found myself essentially performing data collection and organization for this course as well, which has been incredibly fun! When signing up for the Acting like a Hower UnClass, I hadn’t anticipated being able to apply my prior knowledge. Not only am I finding myself working with what I learned as a stats student, I’m also doing something I’m genuinely passionate about-making information available to everyone who wants it. 

That was why I had an interest in statistics to begin with. I wanted to collect data and information and format it in such a way that it would be easy for a non-mathematically minded person to interpret. Which is almost what I’m doing now, only instead of numerical data, it’s all about people, plays, and Weathervane Playhouse’s colorful history! 

Bill Kist partially serves as inspiration for the direction this project has taken. He expressed wanting easier ways to find information on people involved in early Weathervane productions. Others, too, have said that it would be great to have an organized system through which you could find information on people and productions put on by the Akron theater. Some might even like to see if there is an overall trend in who performed when and if they had a preferred genre, or if certain genres were more popular during certain years, such as if comedies were especially common during World War II. 

As mentioned in my previous blog post, the first step is organizing the data into a spreadsheet. I made a column for the play number, the title which will contain a link directly to a page of the scanned-in playbill on ContentDM, the director(s) involved, the actors, tech crew, any sponsors listed, musicians, and miscellaneous information that might crop up. My concern with this data is not with documenting the specifics, but in documenting names. If someone was looking for information about N. S. Elderkin, Jr. (a frequent name on these playbills), they could do a simple search function and find each instance of the name. Then, if they are so inclined, they can select each playbill he occurs on and see further details about what he’s done! 

Sample images of the very dense spreadsheet.

However, for more visually-minded people, or for those who don’t wish to scroll through a spreadsheet, I am working on another option. The spreadsheet has become rather massive due to the sheer number of names and plays produced, so it could easily become daunting for someone to navigate. The solution I am now working on is using a resource called Palladio, which organizes the information into sort of flowering shapes. In the below example, I took two of the most commonly appearing actors, N. S. Elderkin, Jr. and Paul Strough, and mapped together to see what plays they had performed together. Surprisingly, there were only two!

Pallidio image from spreadsheet data, showing N. S. Elderkin, Jr. and Paul Trough’s appearances.

This also has its limits, however. Since there are so many names and productions documented, the information can quickly become clustered or hard to navigate without inputting specific parameters. Those parameters can also be frustrating to create, as I had to make an entirely new spreadsheet with the data I wanted as Palladio was not capable of cleaning it up for me. When all of this becomes finalized and accessible, I will likely have to write a tutorial on how to use Palladio most efficiently for anyone who wants a fun, fast way to see just how many productions their loved one was in. 

Of course, this is far from including every single production that Weathervane has ever had. I was severely limited by time, given that this UnClass only runs for a semester, and to document every single playbill would be quite a challenge. So I was limited to only the first ten seasons, but hopefully, I have created a comprehendible enough organization system that someone else might be able to pick up where I left off, and eventually, we could have access to an entire online database of Weathervane playbills. Until then, at least there will be a good starting point for people’s searches into either their own family history, or into Weathervane’s. 

Weathervane Theatrics at “Tire Town Topics”

By CJ Jacobs

Akron is the capital of rubber and tire production, so it only makes sense that during World War II the city put on shows titled with tires. 

A 50-page program entitled “Tire Town Topics,” dated November 1942, was sewn into the 1942-44 Weathervane Scrapbook, found in The University of Akron Archives and Special Collections. That program looks like a really thick Broadway playbill, with only one show named in the program as well as only one list of cast members. On the cover there is a soldier charging for battle, and war production is mentioned on the bottom of the cover. When I first saw this in the scrapbook I was shocked by how different it was compared to other Weathervane programs at the time, which are usually only four pages.  

Cover of “Tire Town Topics,” 1942-44 Scrapbook. Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

 The program featured so many advertisements separating the information about the play, The Man Who Came to Dinner, which was sponsored by the Akron University Club and put on by the Weathervane Players. As the pages are flipped I saw countless advertisements from manufacturers and companies that supported the program and were war time producers from Akron. Considering the program was put on at Goodyear Theater, the Goodyear Company had a full page advertisement right after the name of the production.  

Advertisement from of “Tire Town Topics,” 1942-44 Scrapbook.

It is interesting to see the ads from the war compared to the ads of today and how much they have changed. The ads included focus on war efforts how each company was contributing to the effort. Not only were these articles probably included to raise morale for their own war effort, but to promote the businesses on the home front in a time of money rationing.  

Similar to the Weathervane newsletters mentioned in prior blog posts, Tire Town Topics had their own that I found in the University of Akron Archives and Special Collections. This newsletter is a few years later than the program above, dating from 1946 and pointing to a different production at the Goodyear Theatre. Still focusing on soldiers coming home, the war is mentioned a year after the end in September 1945.  

Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, Box 1 Folder 14. University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

Tire Town Topic were a yearly production designed to raise moral of the Rubber City and grow their businesses while providing the entertainment that the Weathervane Players provided.

Please note that “Acting Like a Hower” blog posts feature archival documents which may contain offensive content. For our full Statement on Offensive Content, click here

“Class of 29”: The Show Must Go On

By Melanie Mohler

Earlier in the semester while searching through the Akron Beacon Journal (ABJ) online for early mentions of Grace Hower Crawford and the Weathervane Playhouse, a 1937 article titled “‘Class of 29’ Tells Truth, Weathervane Players Learn” caught my eye. The article revealed how some community members saw the theater’s choice of plays reflecting a political bent, reporting that several Akron women (who remained anonymous) complained when they heard that Weathervane Playhouse would be performing Class of 29. They claimed the play was a “‘mouthpiece for the nation’s radical element,’” (“‘Class of 29’ Tells Truth, Weathervane Players Learn”) and telephoned Mrs. Laurine Schwan, president of Weathervane Playhouse, to voice their concerns.

Class of 29 was produced in 1936 by Claude Miller through the Federal Theatre Project, a Federal Project Number One program dedicated to the arts under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The play is about a group of 1929 Harvard graduates who are experiencing unemployment due to the Great Depression. The plot is meta, seeing that the piece was produced under the WPA, a program directly aimed to help those that experienced unemployment due to the Great Depression. Some criticized the play, arguing that those being paid by the government to produce and perform the play shouldn’t question the government (Flanagan, 75, 178).

Poster for the Federal Theatre Project’s Los Angeles production of Class of 29 (1936).  “Class of 29” where do they go from here? Federal Theatre Project, Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/98519000/ accessed 19 April 2023.

Interestingly, Schwan surveyed 35 members of The University of Akron’s (UA) class of 1929 to determine if the ideas in the play were true regarding employment. 19 responses were received with the following data:

  • 10 reported that they had to accept an odd job;
  • five immediately accepted jobs in their chosen field, but the position wasn’t permanent;
  • two did not find a job for a year;
  • and two found steady jobs in their chosen careers. 

Schwan concluded that the conditions reported by the UA graduates confirmed that the play was factual and not seditious in nature (“‘Class of 29’ Tells Truth, Weathervane Players Learn”). The play was still relevant when Weathervane Playhouse performed it just a year after it was produced. However, ABJ’s Theater Editor Edward Gloss gave the performance a not-so-great review, noting that the script was awkward, which made the actors’ performances suffer (Gloss).

Class of 29 playbill. Box 5, Folder 1, Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections. https://collections.uakron.edu/digital/collection/p15960coll17/id/262/rec/5

According to meeting minutes from February 23, 1937, Class of 29 had 292 attendees, selling $135.00 in tickets, and making the theater a profit of $16.43 (Meeting of the Board of Governors, 1937). Today that profit would be worth $350.00 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). 

I found that this controversy demonstrated another angle of how Weathervane interacted with the community, with concerned citizens as well as students at the University of Akron. Despite the anonymous complaints, Schwan made sure that the show would go on.


Flanagan, Hallie. Arena. Quinn & Boden Company, Inc., 1940. Viewed on archive.org https://archive.org/details/arena0000hall/page/n7/mode/2up accessed 19 April 2023.

Gloss, Edward P. “Weathervane Troupers Offer ‘Class of 29’ Federal Theater Play,” Akron Beacon Journal, 16 February 1937.

“‘Class of 29’ Tells Truth, Weathervane Players Learn,” Akron Beacon Journal, 11 February 1937.

“CPI Inflation Calculator,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm accessed 19 April 2023.

Meeting of the Board of Governors, 23 February 1937. Box 1, Folder 8, Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections. https://collections.uakron.edu/digital/collection/p15960coll17/id/257/rec/6

Grace Hower Crawford and Race: The Complexity of Race Relations in 1930s Akron 

Please note that “Acting Like a Hower” blog posts feature archival documents which may contain offensive content. Language and images presented in some historical documents may follow incorrect and harmful stereotypes based on race, sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity and/or culture. Please read and review this blog with care. For our full Statement on Offensive Content, click here

By Hannah Kemp-Severence

Throughout this semester, our group has been researching the Dumas Players, an African American Theater group active mainly in the 1930s, and its connections to Grace Hower Crawford and the Weathervane Community Theater.  From various local sources, it is well-established that race relations were rather fraught in Akron during this time period (McClain 1975, 213-230; Endres and Flox 2001, 21-22), which makes the question of the relationship between Grace Hower Crawford and the Dumas Players very interesting. In trying to understand how Grace became involved with the Dumas Players, the issue of race relations has come up often and I want to highlight some of what I’ve found to give some context to why this group and its relationship with Grace Hower Crawford has been so intriguing to me.  

Hower family photo of a group of children. Grace is directly behind the third child in the front row, counting from the left. Box 68, Folder 9, Hower Family Papers, University of Akron Archives and Special Collections.

From the above photo, one can see that Grace Hower Crawford had exposure to people of color from a young age, though we don’t know in what capacity. The Hower Family had servants of color, and Grace travelled widely, gaining exposure to cultures from across the world. There are documents within the Hower Family Papers that show unfavorable views towards some of these cultural groups prior to Grace’s work with the Dumas Players (Hower Family Papers, University of Akron Archives and Special Collections), so what was the difference, or what changed? What drew Grace Hower Crawford to work with this group? 

Drawing on playbills and newspaper articles found throughout the Dumas Players folder from Bill Kist along with information from the Hower Family Papers and the Young Women’s Christian Association of Akron (YWCA) collection at the UA Archives, I looked into the YWCA connection with the Dumas Players. I thought maybe this group could have fostered an environment of racial equality and inter-cultural relations that moved this relationship forward. The Dumas Players did indeed hold meetings at the YWCA (Akron Beacon Journal, November 6, 1939 as one example) and perform at the YWCA auditorium (YWCA Collection, Box 42 Folder 1, April 1935 Ys and Other Ys; Hower Family Papers Box D3 Folder 1 as examples). There were even echoes of an official relationship between the group and the YWCA from various articles. Within this Ys and Other Ys newsletter from January of 1935, it seems the Dumas Players may have been considered an official club:  

Young Women’s Christian Association of Akron Collection, Box 42, Folder 1, University of Akron Archives and Special Collections

I’ve also found that Grace Hower Crawford was a member of the YWCA, serving as part of the International Institute (Ys and Other Ys Newsletter, March 1935, YWCA Collection) and her work with the Dumas Players at the YWCA goes back to at least August of 1934 (Akron Beacon Journal, August 16, 1934) but from both the YWCA collection in the UA Archives and the YWCA history by Dr. Kathleen Endres and Cheryl Flox, fostering any ideals of a desegregated group or racial equality seems highly unlikely. From an article and survey in the December 1939 Ys and Other Ys newsletter on page 3, you can see how little integration there was in this organization, and it wasn’t until 1950 that “all YWCA facilities were open to everyone, regardless of race” (Endres and Flox 2001, 22). 

A YWCA Poll of Membership Opinion” and questionnaire from December 1939 issue of Ys and Other Ys page 3 YWCA Collection, Box 42, Folder 1, University Archives and Special Collections.

It can also be noted from a speech given at a YWCA staff meeting in November of 1938, that from the perspective of the speech writer, African Americans in Akron faced many issues that were not being addressed by organizations including the YWCA, that purported to have missions of support in these areas. 

YWCA Collection Box 28 Folder 5, University of Akron Archives and Special Collections

So, what shaped Grace in the development of her views in working with African Americans? Was she really influenced by the play The Green Pastures, playing in Akron beginning in March 1934 (Akron Beacon Journal, March 5, 1934) as noted in Part I of my last post, or was she already involved with the Dumas Players prior to this time? Did the popularity of the play give the Dumas Players the impetus it needed to move forward with performances to wider audiences as noted in the unattributed news article in that post, or had they already established this goal? 

Image of the Dumas Players, Horace and Evelyn Stewart Photograph Collection, Box 7, Folder 565a, University of Akron Archives and Special Collections.

There are many other lingering questions and still so much unknown about the Dumas Players, its work with Grace Hower Crawford, and its history with the Weathervane, but our group has uncovered some interesting clues to piece together. Our final project will showcase more of the results, which I hope will lead to further research highlighting this important part of Akron’s African American community. 


Akron Beacon Journal. 1934. “’De Lawd’ Rests, Talks About Noah, Moses, Dinner, Actors.” March 5, 1934. Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/. 

Akron Beacon Journal, 1934. “Novel Midway Show Planned by Y.W.C.A.August 16, 1934. Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/. 

Akron Beacon Journal. 1939. “City Life: Events of Today, Tomorrow—News in Brief, Vital Statistics.” November 6, 1939. Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/.  

Dumas Players folder. Materials lent to Acting like a Hower Unclass from Bill Kist. Accessed April 15, 2023. 

Endres, Kathleen L. and Cheryl Flox. 2001. The YWCA of Summit County: A History. Akron, OH: YWCA of Summit County.   

Horace and Evelyn Stewart Photograph Collection. University of Akron Archives and Special Collections, Akron, OH.  

Hower Family Papers. University of Akron Archives and Special Collections, Akron, OH. 

McClain, Shirla Robinson. 1975. “The Contributions of Blacks in Akron: 1825-1975.” PhD diss., University of Akron. https://www.akronlibrary.org/images/Divisions/SpecCol/images/Contribution_-Blacks_Akron.pdf

Young Women’s Christian Association of Akron Collection. University of Akron Archives and Special Collections, Akron, OH. 

Alfred McMillan and his Involvement with the Dumas Players  

Please note that “Acting Like a Hower” blog posts feature archival documents which may contain offensive content. For our full Statement on Offensive Content, click here.

By Kaden Rupert and Karla Rickards

In the Acting Like a Hower UnClass, the group researching the Dumas Players has covered a lot of ground within their larger subject. Some aspects being researched are the individual members of the Dumas Players, which was composed of Black actors from the Akron area; Grace Hower Crawford’s connection with the group; and the play, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which Crawford directed at the Weathervane Playhouse in the summer of 1937.  

Below is a scanned photograph of from Uncle Tom’s Cabin as produced at the Weathervane. We believe that Alfred McMillan, the Dumas Players star, is in this picture, since the scene seems to feature Uncle Tom, a role we know he filled. That said, we cannot completely confirm it, since the back of the photo names the play but not the actors.

Image from Weathervane Playhouse’s production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 1937. Box 7, Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

We do know that, in the Weathervane’s production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the roles of Black people in the story were played by members of the Dumas Players. Given the number of Black characters in the play, this equates to roughly ⅔  of the cast being from the Dumas Players (The Dumas Players folder). The production was historically significant because, in the nineteenth- and even early twentieth-century, Black roles in Uncle Tom’s Cabin were often played by white actors in blackface. Though the play itself was a based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel, on stage in the nineteenth century the story was often presented as a melodrama that reinforced racial stereotypes, with no Black actors on stage. This history made the involvement of the Dumas Players’ Black actors unusual, and Uncle Tom a particularly difficult role to play.

Although most information about Alfred McMillan is unknown, we are actively researching his life beyond his work with the Dumas Players — where he was from, his age, and what happened to him once the Dumas stopped performing together. He was one of the actors most commonly included in the Dumas Players’ cast lists. It’s clear he was a compelling actor that audiences loved. He was an important factor of the Dumas Players’ success and paved the way for other Black actors in the theater community.

It was historically significant that McMillan played the role of Uncle Tom because he was a main character of the play. By having so much exposure in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the Dumas Players started to gain some recognition from the Weathervane’s audience.

Playbill from the week of June 21st, 1937, Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

A review of the Weathervane production appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal, written by Edward E. Gloss and published June 22, 1937.  Entitled “Uncle Tom’s Cabin Opens at Weathervane; Dumas Players Share Roles,” mentioned the cast, production, and other aspects of the play. The article’s subtitle declares that the casting of Dumas Players alongside Weathervane actors was generally a success, and it points out McMillan in particular. It reads, “Production, rough in spots, challenges interest with mixed cast; Uncle Tom is ably portrayed, Tipsy wins laughs.” 

In the article, McMillan is mentioned a couple times in reference to his role as Uncle Tom. The reviews were positive and great publicity for the Dumas Players, Grace Hower Crawford, and the Weathervane. 

Gloss sees the play as serious business, even as he states it had often been played for comedy. He begins his review by trying to remind his readers of the comic tone of earlier traveling performances, while also reminding them how controversial the play can be. He says, “Considering that the novel and roving Tom companies fanned the flames of Civil War and succeeding generations swore by the hardy theatrical perennial, levity does not seem appropriate in the[se] remarks.” He doesn’t seem completely sure of what to make of a more serious version of the play, though, and admits he’s never seen a performance with Black actors:

“…I say I have seen worse performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin which most [playgoers] certainly have and turn to some phases of the Weathervane’s production that pleased tremendously. In casting the production director Grace Crawford recruited players from the Dumas troupe to play her colored roles. I have no memory of a mixed performance.” 

Gloss singles out McMillan’s performance for praise while admitting that other Dumas Players were not as impressive. He writes, “Alfred McMillan plays Uncle Tom with a sincerity and reverence and to a depth beside which others in the cast, however hard they are working, must suffer in contrast.” 

The review then mentions many of the other cast members names, while clearly linking the play to the Weathervane more than to the Dumas Players: “Uncle Toms Cabin was a Weathervane production. Directed by Grace Crawford. Play based on the novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. On the Weathervane Playhouse stage. ” 

With this semester is almost over, many of the questions that have been asked in past blog posts simply cannot be answered. However, the Dumas Players Group is creating a website to publicly display our findings about the Dumas Players. There will be information regarding Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Alfred McMillan, Grace Hower Crawford’s involvement with the Dumas, and general information regarding the Dumas Players.  We look forward to supplying you with the link.

Most sources, except where noted, used in this posting have been leant to the Acting Like A Hower class from Bill Kist, former President of the Weathervane Board of Directors. specifically in the The Dumas Players folder. 


“The Dumas Players and Grace Crawford.” pp. 1–4. Accessed 4-6-23  

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin Opens at Weathervane; Dumas Players Share Roles” Edward E. Gloss, Akron Beacon Journal. Published 6-22-1937.  

Red Room, Green Room: The Weathervane’s Showcase of Local Akron Artists 

By Katie Gable

When the Weathervane Playhouse was founded in 1935, Grace Hower Crawford, Laurine Schwaan, Helen Troesch, and Muriel Maclachan brought the art of theater to Akron and made it accessible through their community playhouse.

These women had an eye for art, Grace specifically. The Hower family in general was extremely well traveled and Grace returned from many trips with clothing, embroideries, and other art pieces. 

So when Weathervane had the chance to showcase even more local talent, they did. In addition to their stage productions, the Marshall Ave location had a “red room” where they displayed art from local artists. To draw people in to see the art, they offered complimentary cups of coffee and a chance to meet with the cast of whatever production was running at the time. 

Playbill for Heaven Can Wait, January 1945. Box 5, Folder 2, Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections. 

When the Weathervane made its move to the Copley Road location the tradition of housing local artists exhibitions continued; however this time the room was green. The concept was the same: give local art and artists a space to feature their work and allow the Weathervane to act as a mini hub for art and culture in the community of Akron.

Mentions of the red and green room could be found in both programs and newsletters. Their features were small, usually just long enough to let the public know that these rooms were open and what art/artists were being displayed.

Curious about the history of Akron’s local art scene, I decided to research some of the artists mentioned and see what kind of work they produced.

The first artist I looked at was from the “Heaven Can Wait” playbill above, Raphael Gleitsmen. To my surprise and delight after typing his name into google, I immediately recognised one of his works. If you are an avid Akron Art Museum enthusiast like myself, you might recognize his painting “Winter Evening” which currently hangs in the museum. The landscape painter painted “Winter Evening” depicting what a bustling Main Street in Akron would have looked like during the 1930s (Akron Art Museum to Bring Art Into the Community With Downtown Reproduction of Gleitsmann’s ‘Winter Evening’, 2014). Given that the art was finished in 1932, I wonder if that specific piece would have hung in the red room.

Image from https://knightfoundation.org/press/releases/akron-art-museum-bring-art-community-downtown-repr/

The next artist I decided to look into was Jack Richard, director of the Falls Civic Art director. His work was displayed in the green room in December of 1955. 

Newsletter noting Jack Richards’ art on display. Box 1, Folder 15, Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections. 

Richard, who was from the Cuyahoga Falls area, was known for sports portraits, landscapes, murals, and teaching. Though I do not recognize his name nor his art, I am still extremely impressed. Richard seems to have worked with lots of oil paint, a medium that is quite difficult. Looking through his work, I would say my favorite piece is “Autumn Dream” (Jack Richard – Biography, n.d.). (insert autumn dream picture)

Richards, Autumn Dream. https://www.askart.com/artist/Jack_Richard/101303/Jack_Richard.aspx

I struggled with finding dates for many of his paintings, but based on what I have seen I am not surprised he was selected to have a solo exhibit in the green room.

Despite only exploring two of the artists featured at the Weathervane’s green and red rooms I have a newfound appreciation for Akron’s art history. I think it’s great that the Weathervane wanted to showcase all kinds of local art and artists, not just acting and actors. The red and green room are extremely reminiscent of local art spaces today such as Summit Artspace and even the Institute of Human Science and Culture at the University of Akron. The success of these rooms has inspired me to go check out and support Akron artists and I hope it inspires you to do the same. 


Akron Art Museum to bring art into the community with downtown reproduction of Gleitsmann’s ‘Winter Evening’. (2014, November 18). Knight Foundation. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://knightfoundation.org/press/releases/akron-art-museum-bring-art-community-downtown-repr/

Jack Richard – Biography. (n.d.). askART. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.askart.com/artist/Jack_Richard/101303/Jack_Richard.aspx

Transcription and Handwriting: Making Decisions for the Next Researcher 

By John Thomas

Grace Hower Crawford is a woman who wrote a lot of things down, nearly everything, leaving a lot to sort through when constructing the Hower Travel Timeline. It does, however, make it much easier when constructing the Hower Travel Timeline. Her habit of keeping records of her purchases during her trips abroad gives us a clear sense of what catches her eye, and of what kinds of items made it back home with her. While Grace did write everything down, these records are far from immaculate, often written on whatever she had laying around at the time in quick but sloppy cursive. 

Hower Family Papers, Box D7, Folder 2, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

When these records are digitized, they also need to be transcribed so that they can easily be searched through by others who want to use them. As such, I’ve been getting a lot of practice reading Grace’s handwriting, as well as the usually cleaner handwriting of those who would write her receipts. Even so, in transcription, people will occasionally do something that can’t be represented on a keyboard, and one has to make a judgment call about how best to represent that.

Hower Family Papers, Box D7, Folder 2, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

In the document above, Grace has made a list of items she purchased on a trip to presumably Vietnam. I’m specifically going to draw your attention to the bottom entry of the left column, ostensibly an entry for a shirt, purchased for $6.00. However, when written, Grace dotted a letter “i” that she didn’t actually include, and only spelled out “shrt” with a dot floating above the “r”. When transcribing, one is supposed to remain as faithful to the source material as they can, but this isn’t something that can be represented with a traditional keyboard. 

This leaves the transcriber with a couple of options. Notes about a transcription can be left by the transcriber in square brackets, [like so]. One could also simply write out what is technically there, treating the dot as a stray mark, leaving “shrt” in the transcription. The option I went with is to include the “i” in the transcription, making the transcription likely closest to the author’s intent and making the transcription easiest to find.

I chose this mode of transcription for two reasons: the first is that it is the most readable. I try to avoid overloading a transcription with information that isn’t on a page unless it’s absolutely necessary. The second reason is the same as the first: it’s more readable. When given a choice between two equally valid options, it feels willfully obtuse to choose the more confusing one. The transcription does exist to preserve the integrity of the document, but it should also provide clarity and searchability to these documents. There is a balance to this though; misspellings should be preserved if they are there, but I would rather err on the side of readability and searchability in edge cases such as these. 

Just a Sailor from Akron

By CJ Jacobs

While searching through the Weathervane Collection at the University of Akron Archives, I stumbled upon a Weathervane Scrapbook from 1942-1944. There were numerous photos, newspaper articles, programs, and even a whole 40 page booklet pasted into the crumbing pages of the scrapbook. I spent some time analyzing the names under pictures and stumbled across a man by the name Robert Burgoon. I immediately wondered what might have happened to a young man like him, given that he was the right age to be serving in the World War II military. So I decided to find out.

Image from a Weathervane Playhouse Scrapbook, dated 1942-1944. Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections.

I wanted to know more about his life and who he really was. All I knew was his name, and that he helped in Weathervane productions. I hopped on Ancestry.com via the Akron Public Library and searched his name to find a lot of documents about him! I found his enlistment record, marriage certificate, and various census data to build up his life in my head.  

Draft Card, from National Archives and Ancestry.com. 

I had figured out Robert was born August 16th, 1922 and lived in the North Hill area of Akron when he had enlisted. He was in the Navy from 1942-1946 and then later got married on December 18th, 1947 to Florence Mae Olds. Together the two stayed in Akron after their marriage. The addresses that I was able to find for Robert still showed up on Google Maps which as a local history nerd made me very happy! I also was able to find that he was married and had children with Florence as well.  

After I had found these records, I wanted to look through the Weathervane programs from the late 1930s to see if I could find his name anywhere and I was able to find his name in Busman’s Honeymoon! This play was put on in October in 1942 and was probably right before he left for the Navy. I later was able to find his name under “Bob” instead of Robert in the list of people linked the Playhouse who served, labeled Weathervane in Service and published within the playbills during the war as well.  

WV_Box5_Folder2_002: Robert Burgoon as Frank Crutchley. Weathervane Community Playhouse Records, University of Akron Archives & Special Collections. The full playbill is available to see here.

Robert’s picture stuck out to me because he was just a man in a picture, but his name was not plastered all over other Weathervane documents. I had never heard of his name in any other letters or documents I had read before and I felt compelled to share his story. There are so many interesting stories of people who got lost in the archives and so much can be found with a simple search about them that can uncovered to the world once again.  


National Archives at St. Louis; St. Louis, Missouri; Draft Registration Cards For Ohio, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 192  

Summit County Court of Common Pleas – Probate Division; Akron, Ohio; Volume Number or Range of Dates: Vol 117, 1947-1948 

Did you now Robert Burgoon or want to talk about this post? Please leave a comment here or email nunn@uakron.edu.

Please note that “Acting Like a Hower” blog posts feature archival documents which may contain offensive content. For our full Statement on Offensive Content, click here.

An Embroidery of Longevity

By Chloe DiMario

As this blog’s recurrent readers may know, Grace Hower Crawford was not shy about her desire to travel, and she and her family took many opportunities to explore other countries. The Hower Travel Timeline group has been fortunate to find travel journals, itineraries, cruise tickets, receipts, and so many more documents that have helped to piece together the full extent of the family’s time abroad. However, there is another step to this timeline that needs deeper consideration: the purchases.

Mentioned in this previous blog post, a piece in the Hower House collection that has attracted much interest from the staff and visitors is an old Chinese embroidery. It has no date. It has no name. It is simply a red, silk curtain with some people and some animals and some plants, but in reality this piece is anything but simple. What may appear to be a random collection of men and women is actually the story of a festival called the Peach Banquet. Xiwangmu, The Queen Mother of the West and a goddess of longevity, holds this Banquet every 6,000 years to share peaches with other immortals from her immortal peach orchard. This is a popular story that is embroidered as a message of longevity for those who own it.

Xiwangmu depicted flying down on a phoenix with two unnamed attendants carrying a lotus (left) and a basket (right). A branch of a peach tree with a cluster of immortal peaches can be seen to the right. Author’s photo.

Another figure you’ll see on this embroidery is one of the immortals arriving at the banquet. Zhang Gulao, one of the eight daoist immortals, rides in on a donkey that legend claims, upon arriving at his destination, he would fold up like paper until he needed it again. In his arms, there is a fish drum (yugu), a piece of bamboo with two metal beaters. This is one of the attributes of the immortals that each immortal carries with them in their depictions. Take a good look at the embroidery and you might be able to spot all eight.

One of the eight Chinese immortals, Zhang Gulao, depicted riding on a donkey and holding onto his fish drum, surrounded by various plants and rocks. Author’s photo.

Plants and animals are another prominent feature of this embroidery and others like it. Insects, birds, fish, and other wildlife have many diverse meanings in Chinese art, depending on how the animals interact with their environment. This next image shows a special spotted deer native to East Asia called the sika deer. The deer is seen as a symbol of longevity because it was thought they would live for a very long time and were the only animals thought capable of locating the fungus of immortality (Ganoderma lucidum or Reishi mushrooms). These deer are often portrayed holding this fungus in their mouths triumphantly, and this embroidery is no different as this sika deer holds a reishi mushroom in its mouth.

 A sika deer depicted holding a Reishi mushroom in its mouth and surrounded by various flora. Author’s photo.

Another prominent animal in Chinese culture is the crane. Thought to have lived for more than one thousand years due to its white feathers, cranes are a symbol of immortality and high rank and are often seen interacting with immortal beings throughout Chinese art. One of the three cranes on this embroidery is sewn into an elegant pose, holding the same reishi mushroom in its beak as the sika deer. To the crane’s left are the branches of a pine tree, a symbol of nobility and longevity as it lives strong throughout any season. When a crane and pine tree are together in Chinese art, the artist is conveying a wish for someone to enjoy the same longevity that the pine tree and the crane have. To the crane’s right is a lotus flower, which holds many meanings throughout Asia and is a very important flower to many cultures. It is a symbol of purity as it grows in muddy areas, but remains clean and beautiful.

A crane depicted with its wings open and holding a Reishi mushroom in its mouth next to a pine tree (left) and a large lotus flower (right). Author’s photo.

Analyzing the many messages of this embroidery and looking at why an embroidery like this would be made, it can be hypothesized that it was a birthday gift for an older family member. It is unlikely to ever be known if this embroidery was bought by the Howers as a birthday present, or if it had been an item for sale, no longer attached to its original owner. Regardless, it is a testament to hard work and artistic ability as these hand sewn designs tell a deep and immensely cultural story about immortals and longevity. There is still more to be discovered about this piece and many others in the Hower House collection that show just how much the Hower’s traveled the world.

If this analysis interested you in any way, I encourage you to come visit Hower House once they reopen to see this embroidery and some of the other culturally significant pieces of the collection. You can also check out the book that made this project possible, Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art by Terese Tse Bartholomew. This will provide an in depth consideration of the many symbols and stories found throughout Chinese art.


Bartholomew, Terese Tse. Hidden Meanings In Chinese Art. Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (2006).