Diettrich's Secret

Prof. Sigmund Diettrich and colleague

Sigmund Diettrich was a native of Hungary and immigrated to the United States with his wife on their honeymoon. He began teaching at the University of Florida in 1931. He was chair of the Geography department from 1945-1959.

The following is an excerpt from a letter written by Professor Sigmund Diettrich to one of his colleagues. It is dated March 24, 1959.

Dear Ray,

As of yesterday, I have resigned from my position as head of the department and professor of geography. It all began on Monday, January 19, I came home from school dead tired and fell asleep. The phone work me up at 6:00pm. It was somebody inviting me to appear before the Charley Johns Committee. Then my ordeal began. After about an hour and a half they were through with me and my life work was in shambles.

Now you know it all except I was not as involved as it appears. I was guilty of breaking conventions. I was guilty of not measuring up to what I was supposed to have been. I carried my secret I thought well concealed, feeling my own private little hell whenever I yielded. Oh...but why to burden you with all this nonsense...maybe you don't even want to read the rest knowing the scarlet letter branded upon me...

Diettrich and students

Diettrich wrote many letters to colleagues and friends during his ordeal. In them, he noted how he threw himself into his work. "I don't think I ever gave better lectures in my life."

On March 16, 1959, U.F. President J. Wayne Reitz had a meeting with Diettrich, the twenty minutes that Diettrich wrote, "finished my life." He was forced to resign.

Diettrich attempted suicide later that day.

Copyright 1999 by Allyson A. Beutke
All rights reserved. No original portion of this document may be reproduced without written permission from the author.