I was a teacher/coach at KMI, from 1966-69. Cappy Gagnon
I am an authority on all aspects of the history of Notre Dame. My latest research project has been on noteworthy Notre Dame men, focusing on those from our distant past. One inspiration for me was the outstanding book Reflections: A Portrait-Biography of the Kentucky Military Institute (1845-1971). James Darwin Stephens did a great job on this book. I really enjoyed reading vignettes of famous KMI men. I am planning a similar format for my effort.
I have been reading copies of THE NOTRE DAME SCHOLASTIC which dates back to 1867. In those days, The Scholastic was a student weekly magazine which also served the alumni, staff, faculty, and friends of the school. It was well done.
I was pleasantly surprised to find several references to KMI while doing my research. Notre Dame and KMI had much in common. Notre Dame was founded in 1842; not long before KMI’s 1845 founding. Both were private boarding schools for men. Each had a religious and military foundation, with Notre Dame being better known for the former and KMI for the latter. Each believed strongly in developing character and had strong sports programs. Each had strict rules for its students. Each endured some tough times in its early years. Each produced a lot of military men, with both having fine Civil War stories to tell. Each suffered devastating fires.
Until World War I, Notre Dame enrolled students from elementary school through University. In its early days, KMI had standing as a post-graduate school or college in addition to being a high school. Back in those days, with few Americans graduating from high school, quality boarding schools like Notre Dame and KMI enrolled some exemplary young men, upon whom they had a big impact. Both Notre Dame and KMI enrolled many students for brief periods, perhaps a semester or two. These young men might later matriculate elsewhere or go directly to work, but were often heard from later, for having impressive lives and careers.
Both schools were known for their student publications, The Notre Dame Scholastic and The KMI NEWS. It was common back then for colleges to share their publications. The Scholastic featured a section called Exchange Notes, in which features of the better publications were highlighted. The KMI News earned this plaudit from Notre Dame, in July of 1879:
The KMI (Kentucky Military Institute) News, published by the cadets, is a lively weekly from away down in the Blue Grass regions.
The KMI News published this editorial, in September of 1879:
One of the threatening questions of the day is that of "compulsory education." They say that in such States as Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and the like, illiteracy is on the increase, notwithstanding the immense cost of their common school systems. They say that, with this illiteracy, there has been an increase of crime. They conclude, from these premises, that the States should force their educational system on the individual. Strange that the forcible conclusion has not forced itself into their slow minds, viz: This means does not accomplish the end for which we designed it; therefore, it is not adapted to that end; some defect must exist in the system itself. Strange, we say, that statesmen cannot be brought to appreciate that the ignorance is in themselves; that the illiteracy is in themselves. The man is a fool that concludes everybody is a fool; the man is drunk that thinks everybody is drunk; the man is illiterate that thinks everybody illiterate that is not educated as he is. Such ideas belong to the "heathen Chinee," not to free-born
American citizens. Yet the American statesman concludes, when his system fails, all is failure. Verily, my friend, the world goes right on and up the way of progress, under the law of the "survival of the fittest" Of all the blind follies, that is the most silly that would attempt to burnish diamond as marble or clay or leather, and then conclude this matter is not diamond, because, forsooth, it refused to respond to his burnishment. We trust the day never will come in America when a majority of the States attempt compulsory education.—Kentucky Military Institute News
The KMI News received additional favorable attention from the Notre Dame student writer, also in the fall of 1879, in a Books and Periodicals section:
—The Kentucky Military Institute News, a little paper published by the Cadets of Kentucky's famous military school at Farmdale, Ky., is one of the most regular of our exchanges, and a welcome one. The boys get up quite an original little paper, and no doubt it helps to keep things lively around the K. M. I —
Also in 1879, Notre Dame reported this about The KMI News:
—The K. M. I. News promises an enlargement soon. The extra space may enable the publisher to spell out the name of the paper—Kentucky Military Institute News. One of our college contributors—we forget which—said, a week or two ago, that it had read the K. M. I. News from beginning to end, and looked it over and over carefully, in order to ascertain the meaning of those redoubtable cabalistic letters, "K. M. I.," but all in vain—the least clue could not be had. We were in in a similar quandary for a while after receiving the first number of the paper, until we came across the name of the institute in one of the articles.
The KMI News was again mentioned in May, 1880:
—Our neat and courteous contemporary the K. M. I. News, comes to us regularly every week. We decidedly like the tone and spirit of this charming little weekly, notwithstanding its attempts from time to time to make the Kentucky Military Institute the most happy place on earth. The good sense, too, evinced in many of its articles has ever been to us a sign of its success and utility, and in this we hope not to be disappointed.
(My editorial comment here: The Notre Dame paper also portrayed ND as a “happy place” to be. Similar to KMI, it was not a place to have a party; but it was a place to receive a strong education, accompanied by vigorous and manly exercise and strict discipline. I got a nice chuckle that my two favorite private schools were so similar in this respect.)
The next few articles are a back and forth between The KMI News and The Notre Dame Scholastic on a topic where the two schools had diametrically opposite views. Notre Dame has never had fraternities, preferring the more egalitarian spirit fostered in the dormitories. Apparently, KMI had some fraternal associations in the 1880’s. The debate is interesting.
—The following, extract which we find in the exchange notes of The Kentucky Military Institute News, explains itself:
"The NOTRE DAME SCHOLASTIC, of Notre Dame, Ind., in its issue for Sept. 17, 1881, ventures two assertions as sufficient reasons for its conclusions against College Secret Fraternities, when, in a critical attitude, it ventures to glance at our articles on this subject. The first assertion is that College Secret Fraternity means 'exclusive clanship, bound by an oath.' The second assertion is that College Secret Fraternity is a 'servile tie that binds the freeman and makes of him a slave,' or 'The bond of nature's nobleman is his word, and he who would exact of him an oath, in ordinary social intercourse, is unworthy of his friendship.' The language of 'poor white trash,' though used in reference to precisely the same object, has quite a different meaning when used by a master from what it has when used by a slave. In order to get at the weakness in our critic's assertions the reader must inquire into his environment. His associations tell him that the oath means slavery to authority, because the oath, in his experience in such matters, is administered by authority foreign to and disconnected with the taker of the oath. Not so is it with the free born American citizen who owes no fealty other than to his God, his country, his family and to himself. When the individual becomes by the oath a part of the authority, administering the oath, he cannot become a slave except an oath of eternal fealty to principle and honor characterizes the slave. In College Secret Fraternities it is not, usually, an oath to any authority, but an obligation to principle—to certain principles as eternal as the foundations of the eternal throne of Jehovah. Outside of this obligation to principle there is a fit obligation to secure secrecy in certain forms which are useful alone in the recognition of others as obligated to the same high purpose. The entire ignorance of our critic on this point is wholly pardonable since his experience tells him that a secret oath is to some interest or individual and not to principle. Here, clanship is not the fact, however it may be at other colleges. On the other hand, as a general fact, the members of our secret fraternities are well known to associate freely with all, for the very good reason that their principles require them to do so. If at any college the contrary is the tendency, it must be due to other influences than the secret fraternities. Again, only about one-fourth of the whole number here were members last year and about one-half of the exemplary pupils were in these societies."
The Notre Dame student rebuttal:
A careful perusal of the K. M. I.'s defense (?) of secret societies in college will make it evident that he has been so badly stunned by the truth of our remarks that he cannot find his way,—he is groping in darkness. He says our criticism "ventures two assertions," and he proceeds to state what he supposes those assertions to be. "With all respect to him we now inform him that neither of his suppositions are correct (we call them suppositions; they are nothing more). When we speak, we have something to say, and we say that something in a manner and words that cannot easily or honestly be mistaken. Two other college papers, The Cornell Era, and The Oberlin Beview, in commenting upon our criticism had their eyes open and saw things as we put them. The exchange editor of The Oberlin Review says: “Fairness and appreciation are necessary elements of an exchange editor, and these the Scholastic man possesses in a marked degree. He makes a square hit, when he says, in a criticism of the Kentucky News, that' We fail to see any benefit accruing from Secret Fraternities that cannot as well be had in open societies.' The truth is that Fraternities, like the medieval customs of hazing and fagging, have no proper place in modern institutions of learning, and must sooner or later go." So far the Review. Anyone who will read our item in full, as The Cornell Era gives it, and as the K. M. 1. News should, in due fairness, have given it, will see how far the latter has gone wide of the mark, in his gropings. "We said: "We would not attend a small college in which secret societies are tolerated. In larger colleges, like the University of Michigan, the evil would not be so great, because an honorable, high-principled young gentleman who did not wish to join a secret society, or half a dozen secret societies, could find meet companionship amongst those who, like himself, disliked the principle of exclusive clanship bound by an oath. We fail to see any benefit accruing from secret fraternities that cannot as well be had in open societies. These may be as exclusively exclusive as the most fastidious may wish, and thus secure all the advantages of secret fraternities, without the servile tic that binds the freeman and makes of him a slave. The bond of nature's nobleman is his word, and he who would exact of him an oath, in ordinary social intercourse, is unworthy of his friendship." Now, although the KMI is a small college, and has been hit by our assertion, we did not intend it for that institution alone. Anyone who is not willfully blind can hardly fail to see that what we meant was, that no benefit could accrue from secret fraternities in college that could not as nice be had in open societies. The K.M.I. exchange editor understands us very well, but is unable to defend his position. This is evident from the manner in which he dodges the question at issue, secret societies in college, and attempts to gull his readers by slanderous assertions against us, and by bringing in matters that are irrelevant. The allusion to our religious belief in the concluding paragraph is uncalled for and unmanly. He says our associations tell us that the oath means slavery to authority, because the oath, in our experience in such matters, is "administered by authority foreign to and disconnected with the taker of the oath." Has the K. M. I. man been gulled by somebody, or is he lying out of the whole cloth? "We tell him flatly that, as free-born American citizens, who owe no fealty other than to our God, our country, our families and ourselves, we, as Catholics, take no secret oath to any interest, individual, or principle. In the Catholic Church, everything is open and above-board, and who will can ascertain for himself the truth of our assertion. Therefore, the gerrymandering of the K. M. I. man will avail him nothing. He may plead ignorance, but ignorance, in this case, can hardly be excused, inasmuch as he had at hand ample means of learning the truth.
And another comment:
—The editors of The King's College Record and the K. M. I. News have set the hot weather at defiance and continued to issue their respective papers regularly during the vacation. The heavens may be as of brass, and the comets—one, two, three!—whew! may shake fire out of their thirty-thousand-mile tails, but our Nova-Scotia and Kentucky friends hold a firm grip of their quills and defy the heat. We admire their pluck, and especially that of the Kentuckian, but are not at all inclined to follow their example or propose it for imitation by others. We believe in keeping cool, and if we can't be cool, to be as cool, at least, as circumstances will permit. We have glanced over the article of "College Secret Fraternities" in the Kentucky Military Institute News, and our opinion is that it is a very weak "apology" for the existence of any such societies. Colleges, and especially small colleges, may well seek to frame an "apology" for the existence of secret societies within their walls. We would not attend a small college in which secret societies were tolerated. In larger colleges, like the University of Michigan, the evil would not be so great, because an honorable, high-principled young gentleman who did not wish to join a secret society or half-a dozen secret societies, could find meet companionship amongst those who, like himself, disliked the principle of exclusive clanship bound by an oath. We fail to see any benefit accruing from secret fraternities that cannot as well be had in open societies. These may be as exclusively exclusive as the most fastidious may wish, and thus secure all the advantages of secret fraternities, without that servile tie that binds the freeman and makes of him a slave. The bond of nature's nobleman is his word, and he who would exact of him an oath in ordinary social intercourse is unworthy of his friendship.
“We like athletics and athletic news, but not to the exclusion of literary effort. Among the able exchange notes of the Philosophian we find the following comment on the K. M. J.'s apology for secret societies in college: "The first number gives to us the conclusion of quite a dissertation on 'College Fraternities.' There are several points presented to which we would take exception if we were going into the business of general discussion. It doesn't seem to us, however, that we care to take up that line of work under our department. The author says, however, that ‘Society members, nurtured under the influences of society in conjunction with the College, love Alma Mater to an extent unknown by other pupils.' Can he prove his assertion? Is not the tendency rather, to receive nurture from the society and forget or overlook College influence? The member of a society learns to like it with its influences. And the question comes, '"Does he not get to putting it first at all times?' If so how can it be proved that he loves Alma Mater with a love that the student who is thoroughly loyal but doesn't belong to a society is incapable of ? Is it not making a part greater than the whole? Then, too, we would ask if that sympathy can be considered genuine which only is engendered by the fact that the one in trouble belongs to the same secret fraternity? We should say no! It is at least not the kind of sympathy that we are taught to cherish by the Book of Books or that we had illustrated in the life of the only perfect Man who ever walked on earth. Taking the article as we have it, it is a very weak thing for College Secret Fraternities to depend upon, and they certainly could not stand much pressure, having so poor a foundation."
The only other KMI reference from 1867 through 2013 was in a Lost & Found note, in 1948:
GOLD '47 CLASS RING with red setting, inscribed "Kentucky Military institute" BERNARD BAUTE, 221 Breen-Philips Hall
As a final note, two of my most distinguished ND classmates were KMI grads. Pat Danahy and Mike Gilman are two men of whom both fine schools can be justly proud.
Cappy Gagnon, Notre Dame, 1966 (KMI 1966-1969)