Interview with Clement Eaton, November 5, 1975

Project: University of Kentucky Oral History Project

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Interview Summary

Dr. W. Clement Eaton is a Professor Emeritus of History. He came to the University of Kentucky in 1946 after publishing a book entitled Freedom of Thought in the Old South. Mr. J. Winston Coleman had purchased the book, and invited Eaton to visit him in Lexington, Kentucky. Eaton was teaching at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania at the time, so he and his wife came to visit the area for a week, where he met members of the Book Thieves Club, which included Coleman, Dr. Frank L. McVey, and Thomas D. Clark. Clark called to offer Eaton a position teaching Southern History, after Wendell H. Stephenson resigned. Eaton states he would never have come to Kentucky if Coleman had not invited him. He recalls the state constitution had placed limitations on faculty salaries, which he felt "were serious handicaps to developing a university". His impression of students and faculty was, based on previous teaching positions, was "mediocre".

Eaton recalls that, after World War II, the G. I. Bill attracted more students and he remembers teaching larger classes at Frazee Hall. He emphasizes his dislike of the need to administer objective tests as a result of this. He talks about his methods of keeping students awake, athletes in particular, and mentions Don "Dopey" Phelps, a football halfback. Black students were admitted at U.K. for the first time in 1949. The Graduate School registered thirty students, in violation of the Kentucky Day Law, which was still on the books at the time. Eaton remembers there was not a strong opposition to this, although he notes this might have been different if undergraduates had been allowed to enroll. He notes that "there was a social separation of the races" and did not see this as unusual.

Eaton remembers no personal restrictions on academic freedom, but recalls that Dr. Donovan sometimes had difficulty maintaining autonomy on this due to outside pressure from politicians. Eaton's Ph.D. dissertation was on the freedom of thought and speech, and he talks about the effect McCarthyism had on the country as well as the university. He recalls several U.K. Presidents and his relationship with Dr. Thomas D. Clark. He comments on President John T. Oswald's decision to institute the policy of rotating departmental chairman. Eaton emphasizes that "one of the worst things that is occurring in American education today is the commercialization of athletics" and "recruiting practices". He talks about the shift from teaching to research at U.K. He gives his opinions regarding homosexuality and abortion.

Interview Accession

1975oh030_af007

Interviewee Name

Clement Eaton

Interviewer Name

William Cooper

Interview Date

1975-11-05

Interview Rights

All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.

Interview Usage

Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.

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Interviews may be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections, University of Kentucky Libraries.

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Eaton, Clement Interview by William Cooper. 05 Nov. 1975. Lexington, KY: Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.

Eaton, C. (1975, November 05). Interview by W. Cooper. University of Kentucky Oral History Project. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington.

Eaton, Clement, interview by William Cooper. November 05, 1975, University of Kentucky Oral History Project, Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries.





Persistent Link for this Record: https://kentuckyoralhistory.org/ark:/16417/xt702v2cbm71