Can we fulfill our mission under the banner of D.M. Frost?

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Can we fulfill our mission under the banner of D.M. Frost?

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Most people who spend their days on the North Campus of Saint Louis University probably do not know who he was.  Names of campus sites, names of buildings, all become commonplace to us as we pursue work and studies.  Robert Frost?  David Frost? Who knows?

Actually, the Frost campus is named in honor of D. M. Frost, a well-known Missourian and a Confederate general during the American Civil War.  The university granted this honor to Frost as a result of the substantial gifts from Frost’s daughter, Harriet Frost Fordyce.  Gifts aside, we must still question if SLU should maintain a campus name that honors a Confederate general, one who fought to preserve the evil of slavery.  Before answering, let’s look at the history.

Ironically, the campus sits where General Frost rather embarrassingly lost his first battle, Camp Jackson.  In May 1861, this was a bivouac of Missouri Militia, conspiring with then Governor Jackson to bring the state into the Confederacy.  Frost’s militia had already received Confederate arms and were planning an attack on the St. Louis arsenal.

However, Capt. Nathanial Lyon, commanding Federal forces in the city, led his combined force of regulars and volunteers to Camp Jackson and surrounded Frost and his men, forcing them to surrender in a bloodless victory.  Unfortunately, while marching the prisoners through St. Louis streets, the Federal troops were confronted by Confederate sympathizers.  In the ensuing riots, inexperienced troops fired wildly, killing 28 civilians.

A prisoner exchange soon brought Frost back to the Confederacy and, despite his ignominious start in combat, the Confederacy made him a general. He went on to fight in several battles in the western theater of the war.  Yet his family, still living in St. Louis, felt increasingly uncomfortable in this Union stronghold, and so they left for Canada in1863.  Fearing for their welfare, Frost followed without official permission.  For a time he was listed as a deserter, but then was just dropped from the list of CSA Army officers.

Frost returned to St. Louis at the war’s end with a Presidential Pardon, and continued with his life.  His first wife died soon thereafter, and in 1872, he married again.  Harriet Frost (born in 1876) was a daughter of this second marriage. She grew to be a well-educated and active young woman, eventually marrying the wealthy Samuel Wesley Fordyce in 1900.

Harriet was a woman of dedication and vision, using her wealth and position to support numerous charitable causes.  Her gifts to the Jesuit communities both in St. Louis and elsewhere were notable, but the largest was a 1959 gift of over $1,000,000 to Saint Louis University for the purchase of land for campus development east of Grand.

Harriet was also a loving and loyal daughter, and in honor of her gift, the university agreed to name the North Campus after General Frost, a name it has carried for over 50 years.

But back to that question—can we really continue to celebrate the heritage of a military leader of the Confederacy?  Throughout the country, debates are arising about the flying of the Confederate battle flag at government facilities and at schools.  Some high schools, named for Confederate leaders, have chosen to change their names, while some states and schools have left off the flying of that old emblem of the fight to preserve the evil institution of slavery.

I would argue that the time has come to rename our North campus, letting go of a name that connects us with centuries of slavery and the subsequent century and a half of racial segregation, discrimination and oppression. While D. M. Frost may not have been one of the most dynamic or successful leaders of the Confederacy, his name still stands for the support of an intolerable institution.  How can we, in good conscience, do our work to reach out to the local community, to help heal the wounds of racism and bigotry, while over our heads flies the banner of Frost?

Perhaps we can still honor the gracious Harriet Fordyce by naming the campus for her, rather than for her father.  In recognizing the contributions of this generous philanthropist, we divest ourselves of this connection to the “Southern Cause.”  Additionally, in naming the campus for a woman, we can begin to acknowledge more fully how much women have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the success of Saint Louis University. This is a kind of “rebranding” that may be a lot more significant than a new style or design of  the Billiken.