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O'Shaughnessy Family Papers

Identifier: Ms-1987-052

Scope and Content

This collection contains the papers of Louis O'Shaughnessy, a long-time professor of mathematics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; his wife Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy; their daughter Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock, a VPI mathematics instructor; and the Surface family, parents and siblings of Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy. The collection includes correspondence, schoolwork, diaries, photographs, and printed materials.

Series I: Louis and Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy Papers, 1886-1965. This collection contains both personal and professional papers of Louis O'Shaughnessy and personal and financial papers of Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy. Included in Louis O'Shaughnessy's papers are a few pieces of personal correspondence, written to various family members and relating personal news. Among these are two postcards, both postmarked in 1906: one shows children sledding down a street in Christiansburg, Virginia; the other is an illustrated postcard listing the wins and losses of the VPI football team that year. Also among O'Shaughnessy's personal papers are examples from his years as a student, including his VPI diplomas, schoolwork, graded exams, and grade reports, as well as an account book he maintained while a student at VPI. The notepad provides an account of every expenditure made by O'Shaughnessy during his sophomore, junior, and senior years. The series also includes a file of material on the Coming Men of America, a junior secret society to which O'Shaughnessy belonged. Among the few materials in the series relating to O'Shaughnessy's professional career is a folder of VPI announcements and forms, including--among other items--a 1943 University Club financial statement, a circular letter sent to freshmen regarding the honor system, and two registers of students (1932 and 1945) that include the religious affiliation of each.

From Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy, the series includes several pieces of correspondence, including a number of get-well cards received. The series also contains some of Ida O'Shaughnessy's personal financial records from the years following her husband's death.

Also included are collections of invoices and receipts, advertising ephemera, and printed material. Among the latter are two postcards relating to the 1905 VPI football team, a postcard from Hemlock Haven (Marion, Virginia); a 1957 holiday program from De Jarnette State Sanatorium (Staunton, Virginia), and a flyer for an appearance by psychic Madam Orva at Roanoke Theatre

Series II: Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock Papers, 1887-1958. This series contains both personal and professional papers of Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock, who served as an instructor of mathematics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in the 1940s. The series includes a large collection of Bock's letters to her parents. A frequent correspondent, she writes chatty letters of her social activities, home life, and travel. The majority of the letters are written from the Bocks' home in Annapolis, Maryland, during the 1940s and 1950s. The series also contains three diaries, written while Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock was a student at Blacksburg High School. The diary entries revolve almost entirely around the many boys that she liked and little else. Also among her personal papers is a collection of ephemera including mementos from VPI dances, the text of a speech that O'Shaughnessy delivered in 1936 to urge the inclusion of women students in the VPI annual, and printed materials. A large portion of the series is devoted to Betty Bock's schoolwork, particularly at VPI, and includes class notes, essays, and exams. From Bock's years as a mathematics instructor at VPI, the series includes her course plans, exam questions, a selection of students' graded exam books, and grade reports.

Series III: Surface Family Papers, 1857-1933. This series includes papers of the parents of Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy. From F. D. Surface, father of Ida, the collection includes two notebooks, devoted almost entirely to Bible study notes. The series includes two letters written by Betty Surface (one co-written with her husband), touching on local news from Blacksburg, one mentioning the campus death of Stockton Heth Jr. at the hands of Charles Vawter. Accompanying these is a letter from Vawter's father, asking for Betty Surface's prayers for his son. Included also in this series are papers of Fanny and George Thomas Surface, siblings of Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy. Among these are a number of letters from George Surface. Several of these consist only of fragments, as they were seemingly retained only as scrap paper that F. D. Surface used for notes. The series also includes George Surface's student notebooks and the Surface family Bible, published in 1857 and purchased in Christiansburg in 1863.

Series IV: Photographs and Negatives, 1887-1950. The images in this series include both studio portraits and informal snapshots--most unidentified-- of the O'Shaughnessy and Surface families and their friends. The collection contains several images from Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock's wedding. Also within the collection are a number of photos of various buildings, including the O'Shaughnessy home at 206 Turner Street, Blacksburg (today the home of the Alpha Phi chapter of Betha Theta Pi) and Southside Community Hospital in Farmville, Virginia. Several local and regional photographic studios are represented in the collection: Twin City, Bristol; W. H. Richards, Christiansburg; Jewell's, Christiansburg; Olinger, Blacksburg.

Series V: Mementos and Personal Effects and Artifacts, n.d. This series includes a few textiles, origin unknown, though they likely belonged to Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock. Among these items are an infant's dress, and some women's dress gloves. The series also includes some cosmetics compacts and a miniature bar of soap from the Hotel Roanoke.


  • 1857 - 1965


Language of Materials

The materials in the collection are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

The copyright status of this collection is unknown. Copyright restrictions may apply. Contact Special Collections and University Archives for assistance in determining the use of these materials.

Reproduction or digitization of materials for personal or research use can be requested using our reproduction/digitization form: Reproduction or digitization of materials for publication or exhibit use can be requested using our publication/exhibition form: Please contact Special Collections and University Archives ( or 540-231-6308) if you need assistance with forms or to submit a completed form.

Biographical Note

Louis O'Shaughnessy was born in South Solon, Ohio, in 1877. After a year of study at Valparaiso University, O'Shaughnessy matriculated at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and graduated in 1903; the following year, he earned a graduate degree in civil engineering at VPI and taught at the university for two years. O'Shaughnessy obtained a master's degree in mathematics from Ohio State University (1907) and a doctorate degree in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania (1911), where he served on the faculty.

In 1905, O'Shaughnessy married Ida Louise Surface (1885-1973), a native of Montgomery County, Virginia and daughter of Rev. Floyd Daniel and Elizabeth (Betty) Childress Surface. The O'Shaughnessys would have one daughter, Mary Elizabeth (Later known as Betty Louis).

In 1918, O'Shaughnessy returned to VPI as a professor of applied mechanics. The family lived near campus at what is today (2020) 206 Turner Street and home to the Alpha Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi. He served as acting dean of engineering during the 1927/1928 year; as head of civil engineering for 17 years; and as director of graduate studies from 1936 to 1954. In addition to his teaching and departmental administrative duties, O'Shaughnessy served on the university's athletic council and was a member of Phi Kappa Phi academic honor society, Tau Beta Pi (engineering honor society), Chi Epsilon (civil engineering society), and Omicron Delta Kappa (leadership honor society). Louis O'Shaughnessy retired in 1954 and died on February 17, 1958.

Betty Louis (née Mary Elizabeth) O'Shaughnessy was born to parents Louis and Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy in Philadelphia in March, 1917. The following year, she moved with her parents to Blacksburg, Virginia. She graduated early from Blacksburg High School and is listed as a freshman biology major in the 1932-1933 list of VPI students. By her junior year, O'Shaughnessy had switched majors to general science. She graduated with honors from VPI in 1936, and is listed as a graduate student in 1936/1937 but seems not to have completed her graduate studies. In 1942, she joined the VPI faculty as a mathematics instructor, teaching courses in algebra, calculus, trigonometry, and analytic geometry. In December, 1944, she married Arthur E. Bock (1916-1989), who had earned his master's degree in engineering at VPI in 1940. The Bocks moved to Annapolis, where Arthur Bock was employed as an engineering instructor at the U. S. Naval Academy. Betty Louis Bock died in 1989.


5.2 Cubic Feet (11 boxes; 2 oversize folders)


This collection consists of papers--including correspondence, schoolwork, diplomas, diaries, photographs, and printed materials--of Louis O'Shaughnessy, professor of mathematics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VPI); his wife Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy; their daughter, VPI mathematics instructor Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock; and the Surface family (parents and siblings of Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy).


The O'Shaughnessy Family Papers are arranged in the following series:

Series I: Louis and Ida Surface O'Shaughnessy Papers, 1886-1965. Series II: Betty O'Shaughnessy Bock Papers, 1887-1958. Series III: Surface Family Papers, 1857-1933. Series IV: Photographs and Negatives, 1887-1950. Series V: Mementos and Personal Effects, n.d.

Source of Acquisition

The O'Shaughnessy Family Papers were donated to Special Collections and University Archives in 1987, 1998, and 2019.

Related Archival Materials

See also the Louis O'Shaughnessy Letters, 1903-1905, Ms1993-010, at Virginia Tech Special Collections and University Archives.

Separated Materials

The following items were removed from the collection to be cataloged for the rare book collection:

Andrews, E. A. Selections from the Metamorphoses and Heroides of Ovid. Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1869. (Includes inscription: "F. D. Surface, Preston & Olin Inst. Blacksburg Va. Feby. 6, 1871" on first free end paper.)

Burpee Bulbs for Fall Planting, 1949. [Clinton, IA: W. Atlee Burpee Co.], 1949.

Foster, R. S. Objections to Calvinism As It Is in a Series of Letters Addressed to Rev. N. L. Rice, D. D. Cincinnati: Hitchcock and Walden, 1849. (Includes inscription "F. D. Surface, Auburn, Montgomery Co. Va." on first free end paper.)

Griffis, William Elliot. Corea, Without and Within. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1885.

Gudheim, H. Differential Equations for Engineers. 3rd ed. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, 1928.

Kuhner, Raphael. Grammar of the Greek Language, for the Use of High Schools and Colleges. Boston: B. B. Mussey, 1849.

Laboratory Manual (Virginia Polytechnic Institute Sophomore Physics Laboratory). 3rd rev. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, n.d.

Lucas, J. B. and J. A. Addlestone. Laboratory Outline of Introductory Qualitative Analysis. rev. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, n.d.

Robeson, F. L. Notes on Physics. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, 1932-1934. [in 3 parts]

Robeson, F. L. Notes on Physics, pt. 3. Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Brothers, 1935.

Stevens, Wm. Bacon. The Parables of the New Testament Practically Unfolded. Philadelphia: Bradley, 1887. (Includes the inscription "J. T. Olinger, Montgomery County Va" on first free end paper.)

Surface, George Thomas. The Story of Sugar. New York: D. Appleton, 1910.

Tigert, Jno. J. The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South. Nashville, TN: M. E. Church, South, 1894.

Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences. Ribbon Trimmings: Instruction Paper with Examination Questions. pt. 4. Scranton, PA: The Institute, 1920.

Carefree Washing: the Frigidaire Way! Dayton, OH, 1948.

"Housewares Harvest." Roanoke, VA: Pugh's, n.d.

Also separated from the collection was the VPI cadet uniform of Louis O'Shaughnessy, transferred to the collections of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets (VTCC) Museum.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

The guide to the O'Shaughnessy Family Papers by Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech, is licensed under a CC0 (

Processing Information

The processing of the O'Shaughnessy Family Papers commenced in May, 2018 and was completed in August, 2018. Additional processing was completed in March, 2020.

O'Shaughnessy Family Papers, 1857-1965
John M. Jackson
2019 (CC0 1.0)
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • July 2019: Jenna Slezak added diplomas and LM Rozema updated finding aid.
  • March 2020: Added materials from accession 2019-187 and extensively revised finding aid. - John Jackson
  • 2020-08-19: Finding aid notes updated to new department standards. juliags
  • 2021-02-10: LM Rozema made minor updates to notes.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and University Archives, Virginia Tech Repository

Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries (0434)
560 Drillfield Drive
Newman Library, Virginia Tech
Blacksburg Virginia 24061 US