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Chinese students at CC

Guest post by Hongli Zeng, CC class of 2024.

Today, with approximately 20 students per class, Chinese students make up the largest international student community at Colorado College. Their story dates back to as early as the late 1910s.

In the summer of 2022, CC History Major Hongli Zeng conducted primary-source research with the abundant archives provided by the Special Collection. By looking at documents ranging from the Colorado College Yearbook (Pikes Peak Nugget), the college newspaper (The Tiger, now named The Catalyst), Registrar records, local gazetteers, and personal memoirs, the research attempts to reconstruct details of the lived experience of this special community on campus a hundred years ago.

A total of ten students were enrolled at Colorado College in the academic year 1923-1924, making the “largest Oriental Club the city ever had”.

The Colorado College Tiger, Tuesday, October 2, 1923.

Recipients of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship facilitated by both the American and Chinese governments, those students were welcomed by both the college and community in Colorado Springs with hospitality and curiosity. Chinese students were often invited to give speeches addressing the cultural mutual understanding of both countries. Occasional events such as “The Celebration of the founding of the Chinese Republic” and the Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Arts were also held on campus, attracting attentions from the President and students.

Some, however, also experienced unpleasant encounters of orientalism and racism, only a few decades after the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and the atrocity of Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riots in 1880. A centerpiece of this episode that highlighted tensions of Chinese students’ identity as racial minority on campus was probably the “poem debate” between an American student and their two Chinese classmates. With a “provocative” poem posted on The Tiger in March 1924 calling the Chinese “Chinee” and expressing despise for Chinese cultures, two Chinese students majoring in English literature and Arts respectively soon replied with poems that demonstrated not only their cultural pride but also extraordinary literary cultivation as non-native speakers.

The Colorado College Tiger, Tuesday, March 25, 1924.
The Colorado College Tiger, Friday, March 28, 1924.

This dramatic anecdote was only tip of the iceberg of a more comprehensive image of the lived experience of the very first group of Chinese students in the history of CC. Their foreign-study journey started at Colorado College, but didn’t end here. Pursuing graduate degrees at the most prestigious institutions on the east coast including Harvard and Columbia University, many of them became well accomplished in their respective fields in later lives. That American student who wrote a rather childish poem probably didn’t expect replies from two Chinese peers who would later stand on the list of the most influential Chinese literates and intellectuals of the 20th century, one who single-handedly translated the complete works of Shakespeare into Chinese and another remembered today for his unbounded patriotism and leftist romanticism in both poem and politics.

A more detailed research paper on this subject is now available in Special Collection for public view (in Colorado College Information Files, Students – Chinese). If you are interested in discussing this topic further with the researcher, feel free to reach out to

a thief, not a donor

[This post is reprinted from a now-defunct blog in May of 2013.]

It’s not often that library work involves crime of any kind, but this week we had a research question with a crime-related answer. I’ve changed the name of the perpetrator to protect his privacy.

First, the back story: from approximately 1903-1977, Colorado College had a small museum in Palmer Hall (now our social sciences building). Its collections included fossils, pottery, stuffed animals, and more. When the museum closed, the materials were dispersed to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and elsewhere. (The blue whale skeleton from the CC Museum, pictured below ca. 1920, now hangs in the Denver Museum.)

Recently, a Denver Museum staff member contacted me with some questions about a name she’d found associated with a box of items from the CC Museum. There were a number of named collections in the CC Museum, including the Lang-Bixby Collection, the Corwin Collection, and others. But this name — let’s say it was Dontrustim — was one I hadn’t heard before.

We checked through our files on the history of the museum and discovered that Dontrustim was indeed associated with certain materials from the CC Museum. Why? Because he stole them, creating the short-lived “Dontrustim Collection.” 

James M. Dontrustim majored in art history and graduated from Colorado College in 1970. He was an honors student and won a prestigious fellowship as a senior. He worked with rare books and manuscripts at the CC library and also as a part-time guard at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, the local art museum.

In 1972, he was charged with stealing more than $10,000 worth of art objects from the Fine Arts Center and the CC library. Most of the Fine Arts Center items were there on long-term loan from CC. Dontrustim pleaded guilty, saying he had no intention of selling the objects: according to an article in the Colorado Springs Sun on May 16, 1972, he intended to study the objects, catalog them, and use them “to beautify his apartment.”

It took us a while to figure out this mystery, because our file on the CC Museum is thick and the top sheet of stapled pages on Dontrustim misspelled his name slightly as — let’s say — Dontressim. But our excellent student assistant spotted the similarity and found a list of about 100 items Dontrustim stole. Some were small, easy to hide under a sweater: a Babylonian clay tablet, a carved stone scarab. Others would have been more difficult to smuggle out of the museum: a prehistoric Anasazi ladle, a pair of Plains Indians leggings, a double-headed steel spear.

How did he do it? How did he get caught? Did he feel bad about it later? These are mysteries we’ll never solve. But we can tell our Denver Museum researcher not to call Dontrustim a “donor.” The items in the Dontrustim Collection may have been in James M. Dontrustim’s possession for a brief while, but he didn’t donate them; rather, the police recovered them from Dontrustim’s apartment after his arrest and returned them to the museum.

Happy Purim!

Colorado College Special Collections has a Megillah, a Book of Esther, a sheepskin scroll handwritten in Hebrew, traditionally read aloud at Purim celebrations. (Purim falls on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar; this year, 2022, that’s March 16.)

Haman, the villain of the story, has ten sons. Megillahs traditionally show the names of the sons in larger script. In English, the text is:

And Parshandatha,
and Dalphon,
and Aspatha,
and Poratha,
and Adalia,
and Aridatha,
and Parmashta,
and Arisai,
and Aridai,
and Vajezatha,
the ten sons of Haman.

Even if you don’t read Hebrew, you can see that one word (“and”) repeats. (Hebrew goes right-to-left.) In many families and congregations, the reader must get through this section all in one breath, or start the book over from the beginning.

Provenance: according to a handwritten note with our copy, it was purchased in Italy by Dr. Louis Barth of Grand Rapids, Michigan, probably around 1900, and acquired by Colorado College probably after 1932 (the year Dr. Barth died) and before 1940. Although the scroll looks and feels medieval, it probably dates to the 19th century.

donation of Edith Bramhall painting

In December of 2021, Special Collections received a charming and unusual donation from Edward P. Bentley of Greenville, Michigan: a painting by Edith Bramhall, beloved Political Science professor at Colorado College from 1920 to 1946.

The painting, “Chickens,” was likely painted between 1946 and 1960; it has Bramhall’s address during that time, 116 East San Rafael, on the reverse side. It may have been a view from her home, with Pikes Peak in the background. That part of campus looks very different now, so we can’t be sure.

Robert Loevy’s Colorado College Reader (2012) contains two chapters on Bramhall, the first woman to make a career of teaching at CC. (Women served on the CC faculty before 1920, but none for longer than a few years). Bramhall is considered the founder of ” modern” Political Science at the college, and the department’s top prize for majors is named for her.

An undated document in the Archives (CC Information File Faculty – Bio – Bramhall, Edith) contains this anonymous anecdote: “She showed me some of her oil paintings of the region. Among them was a very good painting of Pikes Peak and the surrounding mountains, apparently done early in spring and early in the morning. It had a nice feeling of freshness about it. Pointing to it, Miss Bramhall recalled that she arose one morning and looked out at the mountains and decided that they would not look like that for long and that if she wanted to capture the right spring feeling she had better get to it at once. ‘So I just skipped classes,’ she said, ‘and I took my paints and things and went off to the hills to paint.'”

We thank Edward P. Bentley very much for this gift, including the specially-made frame. The painting is now part of the IDEA / Campus Collection and hangs in room 218, Tutt Library.

No-No Boy by John Okada

In October of 2021, CC Special Collections acquired a first edition of John Okada’s No-No Boy. The 1957 novel, a staple of Asian American literature, tells the story of Ichiro Yamada, a man who answers “no” to the two so-called “loyalty” questions in a 1943 questionnaire for Japanese Americans: “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?” and “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?”

We’re especially excited to have the book here at CC because it connects with our collections on Camp Amache and also because it’s the first edition of a title with a complex and fraught publishing history — see “Dispute Arises Over ‘No-No Boy’” in the New York Times.

Mary Chenoweth’s “Choo Choo”

Look at this fantastic one-of-a-kind scroll-book by Mary Chenoweth that we just got as a gift from Eve Tilley!

Just look at it!

The pencil is there to show scale. The text of the scroll reads:

Toot all a bored 1997 coal more and more coal hemanaigs [?] trunk line heavy poof down-n-out short list slate pleez run on time oil books books ABC lift cracker barrels Xercise off hours without spectacles bug footloose accordion to Sante Fe NM lake of [eye]’s? well worn out past hurts rent a car only five more or maybe seven american eagle oops Rocky Mountains either way just decide cross country advertisers end

Reverse: Mary Chenoweth June 1997 for Trudie Gregory all aboard

Black newspapers digitized!

In honor of the Black Lives Matter movement, Special Collections digitized several Black newspapers in Colorado Springs, including The Colorado Springs Eagle (1912, ed. Julia Embry), The Voice of Colorado (1936-1937, ed. Tandy Stroud), and Colorado Springs Crusader (1982, ed. Dorothy Middleton). We also digitized two CC student publications, Black Literary Magazine 1978-1981, and Fight the Power 1991-1994. Searchable PDF files, and more, are linked from this page. Below are some excerpts.

Pandemic Projects

You may be wondering what CC Special Collections is doing while it’s closed for in-person research. The answer is: a lot! But different things than usual.

We are helping researchers remotely, mostly by email. We are using the focused attention that comes with uninterrupted time to process manuscript collections such as the Van Briggle Pottery and Tile Company Records, which started out like this:

and are now fully cataloged, with a finding aid available upon request. We can’t usually use our reading room tables for this kind of thing, so there are some benefits to being closed! We are also doing little projects that we always meant to do but somehow never quite had time for, like home-making a foam holder for our cuneiforms:

We’ve also been digitizing up a storm. More about that in the next post!

Divya Victor’s new book from the Press at Colorado College

Divya Victor, author of CURB, the newest book from the Press at Colorado College, visited campus last week to give a reading. Special Collections hosted Victor, printer Aaron Cohick, and Natanya Pulley’s Diverse Voices / Diverse Forms class for an advance preview of the book and a special small-group talk with the author.

CURB documents the assault and killing of Indian-Americans and Indian immigrants in public spaces in the United States. It will be for sale this fall.


It’s a truly jaw-dropping achievement from the Press.

Overheard in the reading room at this moment: “There’s books in this book!”