Alice was here

Tomorrow, October 6th, is Mad Hatter Day! University Archivist Jocelyn Wilk shares a Columbia connection to the day, which celebrates the Hatter, a key character in Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland.
Bronze statue of the Mad Hatter
Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland, Llandudno.


Did you know that Alice in Wonderland came to visit Columbia and was awarded an honorary degree?

You may think us mad to suggest such a thing, but, indeed, this actually happened!

In May 1932 Alice Pleasance Hargreaves, the “Alice” of Lewis Carroll’s works, came to New York City and Columbia University, in particular, to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s birth. Festivities at the University included an exhibition held in the Avery Library of “Carrolliana” assembled from collectors throughout the country.

Mrs. Hargreaves’ participation took two forms. On May 2, in a private ceremony, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by Columbia President Nicholas Murray Butler in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library. In her acceptance speech, Mrs. Hargreaves said: “I shall remember it and prize it for the rest of my days, which may not be very long. I love to think, however unworthy I am, that Mr. Dodgson – Lewis Carroll – knows and rejoices with me.”

woman and man in graduation caps and gowns
Columbia University Honors the Original Alice of “Alice in Wonderland”. New York City.- Mrs. Reginald Liddell Hargreaves, for whom Lewis Carroll wrote the book which is now one of the world’s classics, with President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia University after the private ceremony in which she was given the degree of Doctor of Letters. 5/3/32.
Source: Historical Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives.

On May 4, in the University Gymnasium, she was the guest of honor at the final ceremony in the Carroll Centennial celebrations – which coincided with her own 80th birthday. Mrs. Hargreaves was presented with copy number one of a special edition of the exhibition catalogue created for the centennial exhibit on display in Avery Library. In addition, Mrs. Hargreaves, President Butler and Professor Harry M. Ayers of the Department of English all spoke at the ceremony attended by some 2,000 guests of the University. Ayres gave a long speech entitled “Lewis Carroll and the Alice Books.”

Celebrating Lewis Carroll Centenary at Columbia. General view of the stage at yesterday’s ceremonies in the gymnasium. Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler is presiding and to the left is Mrs. Alice Pleasance Hargreaves, the original Alice. The decorative panel was executed by Miss Marjorie Simons under the direction of Professor George J. Cox.
Source: Historical Biographical Files, Columbia University Archives
Creator: NY Herald Tribune (May 5, 1932 edition)

Behind the speakers, the stage was decorated with a colorful banner depicting the various fantastic characters from the books, all patterned after the original illustrations by John Tenniel. The banner was executed by Miss Marjorie Simmons, a graduate student in the Department of Fine Arts of Teachers College. Parts of the “Alice in Wonderland” suite of Edgar Stillman Kelley were performed by a special chorus of 120 voices from Barnard and Hunter College Glee Clubs accompanied by the 70 members of the Columbia University Orchestra. The program was broadcast through this country and Europe over an NBC hook-up.

When it was her turn to speak, Mrs. Hargreaves told the large audience: “If Lewis Carroll had told me the story which I am living today it would have seemed as strange as the whimsical stories which he used to tell me, using me as his ‘Alice’.”