The latest posting on our Coordinates website is from Margrit von Braun ’89 PhD, who writes from Nigeria. Margrit and her husband, Ian von Lindern, founded TerraGraphics, an environmental engineering company, in the 1980s. They have since developed an expertise in remediation of sites contaminated with heavy metals and are currently working to clean up lead contamination resulting from gold mining in Nigeria’s Zamfara State.
Over 400 children have died from the contamination. With no other income as lucrative as gold mining, the residents of Zamfara brought ore into family compounds, where women, many of whom are not allowed to leave the compound, processed it with the same equipment they used for grinding grain.
Margrit started sending her dispatches to friends (including me) and family soon after she arrived in Nigeria last fall. I convinced her to let us use them to develop a new Coordinates posting complete with interactive mapping and her photos. In doing so, Margrit continues a long tradition of alumni reporting from abroad.
The PowWow, a predecessor to this magazine, began in 1910 and soon was publishing dispatches from alumni and faculty. For some reason, that international reporting was particularly prolific during the years leading up to World War I. Perhaps it was the novelty lent by the new magazine of being able to communicate with their fellow alumni or simply a preference of the editor. But it was likely due to a desire of the authors to communicate with their fellow graduates of a very small and intimate student body. In 1910, Washington State College graduated 71 students, with a mere 428 having graduated since its founding.
Whatever their motivation, the contributors of The PowWow wrote at length of their experiences and observations, and for such a small group of graduates, they were incredibly well-traveled.
The first couple of years of The PowWow were dedicated primarily to recounting the history of WSC and a few class notes. But then, President Enoch Bryan wrote from London, perhaps providing momentum for what would follow. He wrote about seeing the city from the top deck of the omnibus, his observations and impressions as excited and fresh as those of his child sitting next to him.
That same issue, T. Maeda ’11 wrote about the Chinese revolution, and Charles Ageton ’11 wrote of “Life in Porto Rico.”
In 1914, Shorty Stewart ’07 described the Battle of Juarez during the Mexican Revolution. He and friends watched it from across the river in El Paso, lying low to avoid stray bullets. The next morning, they crossed to a now quiet Juarez and inadvertently witnessed the execution of three federal officers and a civilian.
The same year, E.E. Fitzsimmons wrote about the mobilization for war in Berlin. “The loyalty the Germans showed for their Fatherland on this occasion,” he wrote, “reminded me of a W.S.C. football rally infinitely multiplied.”
Elaine Kennell wrote from Paris, describing the mobilization there as Austria declared war on Serbia. The American ambassador insisted that all Americans leave to alleviate the need for food in the coming days. Miss Kennell departed with only one trunk, leaving behind her opera scores and books.
In 1917, faculty member Frank Golder described the chaos in Russia. In 1919, Edwin Keyes ’09 recalled witnessing the surrender of the German fleet. Over the previous couple of years, The PowWow had received many letters from WSC men fighting in the Great War, most of their addresses listed simply as “somewhere in France.”
Tim Steury, Editor