John Philip Sousa’s Newly Uncovered Letters

John Philip Sousa’s Newly Uncovered Letters

By Scott Schwartz

Recently the Sousa Archives acquired the Frances Carter and Marjorie Moore Sousa Research Files documenting John Philip Sousa’s relationship with his family while America’s March King.  The collection includes Sousa’s letters to his wife; early photographs of Sousa’s bands; original scripts and schedules for 20th Century Fox’s 1952 movie, Stars and Stripes Forever; memorabilia; and magazine articles.

Photograph showing Helen and Jane Priscilla Sousa, two young girls in white dresses.
Helen and Jane Priscilla Sousa, c. 1898.

The documents were compiled by Sousa’s daughters, Helen and Jane Priscilla, and Marjorie Moore, the Marine Band’s first historiographer, to fact-check the script for Fox’s biographical movie about Sousa’s life and music.

Sousa’s influence on late 19th– and early 20th-century music is well known, but very little is known about his relationship with his family.  As a traveling bandleader Sousa gave thousands of concerts between 1892 and 1932 and spent months away from his family.

Sousa’s wife Jane and children accompanied him for some portions of tours, but he usually travelled without them.  These absences occasionally created tensions with his family, and his letters home document their very private lives.

In WWI in 1917 Sousa offered his services to the U.S. Marines and then the U.S. Army, but he was turned down because of his age and became frustrated by their responses.  However, the commandant of the Great Lakes Naval Center offered Sousa a commission as a lieutenant in the United States Naval Reserve to organize and train Navy bands for the war.

Sousa’s short letter to Jane on September 21, 1917, announcing his Navy commissioning probably caught her by surprise because he had temporarily disbanded his civil band.  He wrote, “Dearest Jane…No dear, I am not in the Navy as a regular but as a Reserve Officer ordered to active duty which gives me as long as I am under orders as an active Lieutenant with the pay and allowance of a Lieutenant (Senior Grade) of the Navy.”

Photograph showing John Philip Sousa, with a white beard and smoking a cigar, reading the "Great Lakes Naval Recruit" magazine.
John Philip Sousa as an officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1917.

While on tour with the Great Lakes Naval Battalion band on May 17, 1918, Sousa wrote, “Dearest Jane, I am here with the band until Tuesday night, then to Cleveland [and] N.Y. for the war bond concert and some work in connection with the Atlantic Fleet…Hope to see you on the 28th.  With much love and kisses, devotedly, Philip.”  However, by early September Sousa’s civilian band was reconstituted to complete their Willow Grove Park performances and he left for Chicago rather than returning home.  This annoyed Mrs. Sousa.  He wrote on September 13, “Dear Jane, I am enclosing your allowance for September.  It must be a delicious and satisfying feeling to receive an allowance of $1,000 per month, and also possess the right to give your husband hell when it so moves you…Am tired.  Affectionately, Philip.”

Sousa’s tenure with the Naval Battalion Band ended in 1920, but his commission with the Navy for a dollar a year allowed him to lead his civilian band throughout 1919 when not needed by the Navy.  His 1919 civilian band tour across America and Canada left Sousa little time for family and the growing tensions on the home front.

His July 6, 1919, letter to Jane began, “Dearest wife.  The same forces that silently and relentlessly led the world into a war…started an individual and family antipathy that has no parallel in history…Our family is not the only one…Philip’s contempt for Priscilla and Helen, Helen’s contempt for the rest, Priscilla’s indifference to me and you…make each other as unhappy as possible…The average person’s judgement about other’s affairs is usually of no value…Devotedly. Philip”

It is unclear what caused this animosity, but Sousa’s continuous touring with his civilian band most likely inflamed these tensions.  However, by 1925 the tone of Sousa’s letters home had softened.

After his 71st birthday he wrote on November 11th, “My dearest little lady.  In my courting days and after I used to write you at all hours of the night and day, but it has been some time since I wrote you at 5:15am…Many thanks for your birthday greeting…the Rotary Club and others entertained me in Peoria.  I got more flowers than a blushing prima donna…I am in good condition, but a little shy on sleep…With much love, Philip.”

Photograph showing Jane Sousa, wearing a frilly white lace dress.
Jane Sousa, wife of John Philip Sousa, as she looked in the 1880s.

By 1929 his band’s touring schedule was limited to three months.  When not on tour Sousa spent his time at home in Port Washington, New York.  He wrote to Jane who was visiting her son and grandchildren in California, “Dearly Beloved, your telegram… came announcing your safe arrival…Priscilla and I were glad you…arrived safely. I do hope you’ll have a pleasant visit…Priscilla felt that I should be watched carefully and…not take more than an ounce of whiskey, all of which I obey as any dutiful and loving father should.  But please tell her not to be so hard on a poor old father.”

The following March 21, 1930, Sousa wrote from Chicago’s Auditorium Hotel about his short trip to the University of Illinois to conduct his new “University of Illinois March” with Harding’s concert band.  “My darling wife, I have had a rather hectic time since I left N.Y…Yesterday I drove out to the University 175 miles.  They had a concert by the student band.  They played splendidly.  The students gave me a medal, the bandmaster gave me a baton, a medal, and their blessing…Ever your loving Philip.”

These brief samples from the Carter and Moore collection provide realistic insight of Sousa’s relationship with his family and help dispel the storybook portrayals of him as America’s March King.  This newly acquired collection will be arranged and described this fall, and it will become available to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Sousa’s life and career.  For further information about the collection contact or call 217-333-4577.

A Legacy of Curiosity: Ricardo B. Uribe and Cybernetics

By Sophia Ebel

Is it possible for a sole field of study to encompass philosophy, mathematics, biology, cognitive science, computer science, sociology, political science, economics, and more? To attempt to answer some of the most complex questions out there about the diverse systems—biological, social, technological, and more—that govern our lives? That, in a nutshell, is the field of cybernetics—the “antidisciplinary” science that formed the core of Ricardo B. Uribe’s research at the University of Illinois.

BCL Report No. 68.2, Ricardo B. Uribe Papers, University of Illinois Archives, Record Series 11/6/40, Box 2.

Born in Santiago, Chile, in 1935, Uribe studied electrical engineering at the University of Chile before joining the institution’s teaching and research staff. In the early 1970s he worked on Project Cybersyn, a project supported by the Chilean government that employed cybernetic approaches to organize and reform the country’s economy. Political turmoil, however, changed the course of Uribe’s life and career when General Augusto Pinochet seized power in the 1973 Chilean coup d’état. Uribe and his family fled, seeking refuge in Illinois where renowned cybernetician Heinz von Foerster (whose papers are also held by the University of Illinois Archives) had created a position for him in UIUC’s Biological Computer Laboratory (BCL).[1]

Education and the ways in which humans understand the systems surrounding them are two threads interwoven throughout Uribe’s work; these reflect both the cybernetic research interests of the time and his own lived experiences. Much of Uribe’s early writing relates to “autopoiesis” —the process by which a system is able to self-maintain, reproduce, and create the components it needs to expand—and the implications of autopoietic systems for relativity, human understanding, and various forms of modeling. A variation on this concept is demonstrated by W. Ross Ashby’s elementary Non-Trivial Machine (NTM), a device contained in the Ricardo B. Uribe Papers. Ashby was a cybernetician contemporary of Uribe; Von Foerster had coined the term “non-trivial machine” to describe any system in which the “input-output relationship is not invariant, but is determined by the machine’s previous output.”[2] The machine does utilize input, but like an autopoietic system has an independent internal state and constantly produces new operations as to maintain a condition of unpredictability.  

Ashby’s Non-Trivial Machine, Ricardo B. Uribe Papers, University of Illinois Archives, Record Series 11/6/40.

Ashby’s NTM consists of an aluminum box with two switches and two lights. The observer’s task is to determine the internal structure of the system by flipping the switches and watching the lights. One of the switches, however, changes the internal configuration of the box whenever it is flipped. The purpose of this machine was to exemplify the environment in which an artificial brain may operate, and to demonstrate the difficulty of understanding human cognition—perhaps the ultimate non-trivial machine. Autopoiesis, while not equivalent to cognition, is considered one of the prerequisites of a cognitive system. 

Uribe’s views on education were also central to his career and work. In his magnum opus, Tractatus Paradoxico-Philosphicus: A Philosophical Approach to Education, Uribe described education as a recursive system: 

“If humans rather instruct than educate their children, these children will instruct their children even more (educating them even less), and they in turn will similarly do with their own children and so on and on. If humans do not perish at the hands of uneducated leaders, sooner than later they will grow into a population of morons who only obey rules, predictable creatures, ants of an anthill, humans no more. The sad (happy?) end of the story: awareness of their own shortcomings will thoroughly escape them.”[3]

Tractatus Paradoxico-Philosophicus, Ricardo B. Uribe Papers, University of Illinois Archives, Record Series 11/6/40, Box 6.

This passage calls back to the violence and bloodshed Uribe would have witnessed during and after the 1973 Chilean coup d’état, and defines his approach to instruction at the University of Illinois. In addition to his work in BCL, Uribe established the Advanced Digital Systems Laboratory (ADSL) to bring together students across disciplines and encourage creative, collaborative, and unconventional problem solving. ADSL continues today as the Advanced Digital Projects Laboratory, and is an undergraduate/graduate course open to qualified students from all colleges. Uribe’s philosophy also shaped the curriculum of “ECE 110: Introduction to Electrical and Computer Engineering,” which introduces first year students to ECE principles in a hands-on and explorative manner. The central project of the course—working in groups to design “an autonomous electric vehicle” able to navigate an unknown course—is Uribe’s design.[4]

In addition to Tractatus Paradoxico-Philosophicus and the NTM, the Archives’ recent donation of Uribe’s papers include years of BCL reprints and reports, manuscripts relating cybernetics to other scientific and humanistic fields, conference materials, American Society for Cybernetics documents, and select course materials. Uribe’s legacy is one of curiosity—asking big questions and encouraging others to think in unconventional ways, question the status quos of both life and learning, and discover for themselves.  


[1]  James Hutchinson, “Remembering Ricardo Uribe, Founder of ECE’s Advanced Digital Projects Laboratory,”Grainger College of Engineering Electrical & Computer Engineering, last modified October 13, 2019,

[2] Heinz von Foerster, “Perception of the Future and the Future of Perception,” BCL Publication 198, photomechanically reproduced from Instructional Science, 1, 1, (March 1974): 31-43, Record Series 11/6/40, Box 3, University of Illinois Archives.

[3] Ricardo B. Uribe, “Tractatus Paradoxico-Philosophicus: A Philosophical Approach to Education,” Red Edition, Copyright 1991-2007, Record Series 11/6/40, Box 6, University of Illinois Archives.

[4] Ricardo B. Uribe et al., “A design laboratory in electrical and computer engineering for freshmen,” IEEE Transactions on Education, vol. 37, issue 2 (May 1994): 194-202, doi: 10.1109/13.284994. 

The Ricardo B. Uribe Papers were processed with generous funding from the Thomas M. Siebel Endowment for the History of Science.

The Four Color Theorem Project


Students work on arranging and describing Kenneth Appel’s Papers.

From October to November 2017, the Illinois Geometry Lab’s program devoted to showcasing undergraduate Mathematics students’ research worked with the University Archives to arrange and describe Kenneth Appel’s personal papers. In 1976, Kenneth Appel and his colleague Wolfgang Haken (both Mathematics faculty members at the University of Illinois), succeeded in proving the “Four Color Theorem.” This theorem argues that every map in a plane or a sphere can be colored with only four colors in such a way that no two countries of the same color are touching. By that time, mathematicians had been working to prove this theory for over one hundred years. In fact, it took hundreds of hours of computing work for Appel and Haken to prove it. The announcement that the theory had been proven was met with a flood of people writing to them. Some were writing to congratulate the team and others to prove the team wrong.

The students worked alongside the archives staff to learn more about the archival process by appraising the material, arranging and describing it, and rehousing the materials in archival boxes, all while taking an historical approach to mathematics, using primary sources to learn more about Appel, his research, and the ways in which the mathematics community reacted to what was then a controversial finding. Kenneth Appel’s Papers include correspondence relating to the Four Color Theorem that illustrates both in number and in tone, the storm of letters that Appel and Haken were bombarded with at the time. Some notable letters include a teacher that says his eighth graders were able to prove the theory wrong and an account of a $100 bet that was made that the theory could not be solved by July 1976, including a photocopy of the $104 dollar check (the four dollars being paid for “interest”). The record series also includes publicity materials, drafts of papers, and data printouts and computer punch cards, much of which relates to the Four Color Theorem.

On Saturday, November 4, 2017, the students will host an exhibit featuring materials from the collection. The exhibit will be a part of the Illinois Geometry Lab Open House which is being held in conjunction with the Department of Mathematics’ Four Color Fest, an event being held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the proof. You can also see the exhibit in room 146, University Archives, December 8, 2017-January 31, 2018!

University of Illinois Archives Awarded NEH Grant to Digitize “The Cybernetics Thought Collective”

Heinz von Foerster (left) and W. Ross Ashby (right), found in record series 39/1/11, box 3. The W. Ross Ashby Papers are held by the British Library. The University of Illinois Archives preserves the Heinz von Foerster Papers.

The University of Illinois Archives has been awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to develop a prototype web-portal and analysis-engine to provide access to archival material related to the development of the iconic, multi-disciplinary field of cybernetics. Continue reading “University of Illinois Archives Awarded NEH Grant to Digitize “The Cybernetics Thought Collective””

University of Illinois Archives Celebrates Sesquicentennial

Since its establishment in 1963, the University of Illinois Archives has served as the steward of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s institutional memory. Through the preservation of the administrative records that document the development of the University’s colleges, departments, and programs; of faculty papers that shed light on the fascinating twists and turns of research and the light-bulb moments in which ideas emerge; and of the papers of alumni and student groups that allow us to understand the legacy of the University and student life, the materials in the University Archives’ holdings chronicle the achievements, activities, and impact of the University of Illinois’ administrators, faculty, and students over the past 150 years. Continue reading “University of Illinois Archives Celebrates Sesquicentennial”