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Twenty-Five Years of Beloit College

By Prof. Joseph Emerson


     The first corner stone of Beloit College bears the date, June 24th, 1847. On that day a large assembly, from all parts of Wisconsin and northern Illinois, with representatives from distant States, gathered among the oaks and Indian mounds, on the bluff at the junction of the Turtle and Rock rivers, and near the line of Illinois and Wisconsin, to witness the realization of a fond hope, in the inauguration of a good work.

     The region, lying between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi, was in process of rapid settlement by the sons and grandsons of New England; and the Pilgrim stock cannot feel at home without a college. Accordingly, in the years 1844 and 1845, four successive conventions, representing particularly the Presbyterian and Congregational churches throughout the whole region, had earnestly studied the question, and had reached, repeatedly and unanimously, the conclusion to establish for Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, a college at Beloit, and a Female Seminary, which has since been located at Rockford.

     Beloit was selected as the location of the college, as being centrally situated, as the home of a population suitable for the home of a college, and as proving its interest by the offer of $10,000 in site and building, a pledge which has since been more than doubly redeemed.

     In October 1845, the enterprise was committed to the charge of a Board of sixteen trustees, representing the principal points of the whole field of the college. Of the sixteen, five are now no more. They were Rev. Aratus Kent, of Galena, the pioneer evangelist of Northern Illinois, who was ever a true and liberal friend of the college, and the farther of the other branch of the plan, the Rockford Female Seminary;--the Rev. Stephen Peet, who had given years to the planting of the churches of Wisconsin, and had years yet to give to the college and to the Chicago Theological Seminary, which completed the system;--and Gen. G. W. Hickox, and Samuel Hinman and E. H. Potter, Esqrs.; all men of worth and mark among the christian pioneers of the Northwest.

     After another year of preliminary work, the trustees were able, in June 1847, to invite the community for whom they acted, to unite with them in laying the corner stone of the first college edifice. The previous conventions had been scenes of earnest and even solemn interest, which hallowed, in the memory of those who attended them, the old stone church at the corner of Broad and Prospect streets, in which they were held. The church is gone, but, in memory of its connection with the college, its corner stone now underlies the corner stone of the Memorial Hall, in which latter stone, also, its contents are preserved. This gathering was upon the open bluff, and the noble view, which it commanded in both states, combined with the occasion to excite glowing imaginations, which were changed to more confident anticipations, by the announcement, on the occasion of the endowment of the first professorship, by Hon. T. W. Williams of New London, Ct., who still lives to see the fruit, which his benevolence has borne during the quarter century.

     So the East responded to the West; or rather the East had been first; for, years before, Rev. Henry Barber, of the State of New York, had given lands, worth $1,000, for the future college, on condition that it should know no distinction of race or color. If he could come now, and find here the African, the American Indian, the Armenian, and the Japanese; or if he could take part in sending the sons of the college to Turkey, China, Japan, and Dakota, or if he could visit the Hall memorial of those who died for human rights, he would not recall his gift.

     The list of donations to a Christian college becomes eloquent, when we remember that each gift comes from a heart, and each means something. To the principle of Barber, and the enlightened public spirit of the citizens of Beloit, and the generosity of Williams, succeeds a subscription of $10,000, raised in the West through the agency of Rev. S. Peet, a large proportion of which was from the liberal hearts but slender resources of Home Missionaries, who were laboring in the region. Then came from the East donations in books from a large number of leading men, and several scholarships from individuals and churches, and especially a gift of lands, since sold for about $35,000, from Mrs. S. W. Hale, of Newburyport, Mass., a lady representing a connection known for large Christian beneficence in past generations as well as the present. The general sympathy of the East was expressed by annual appropriations from the College Society during the first eight years. Beside the Williams and the Hale funds, professorships have been endowed at various times, by gift, of from $10,000 to $15,000 respectively, but Rev. M. P. Squier, of Geneva, N. Y., by Rev. David Root, of Conn., by Rev. H. N. Brinsmade, D. D., now of Newark, N. J., and by Oliver Harwood, Esq., of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

     By legacy of $2,000 from Joseph Otis, Esq., of Norwich, Conn., and donations from various individuals and churches funds amounting to $10,000 have been provided for the tuition of worthy young men preparing for the Christian ministry.

     Valuable cabinets and scientific apparatus have been provided largely by the bounty, and the attention of the professors in those departments, as well as of other friends of science, and a fund on the supply of scientific apparatus has been commenced by gift from Mrs. Ripley, of Hartford, Conn.

     The college library now contains more than seven thousand volumes. For its increase, partial provision has been made by the Davis fund of $500 for the department of English Literature, given by Miss Elizabeth Davis, of Boston; by the Colton fund, intended especially for history and politics, the legacy of Mrs. Love Colton; and the Emerson fund, for the purchase of classical and theological books, founded in memory of Rev. Ralph Emerson, S. T. D., former professor in Andover Theological Seminary, whose remains rest in the cemetery at Beloit.

     Principally by bounty of the citizens of Beloit and the Northwest, the original college site of ten acres has been doubled, and three substantial buildings of brick and two of wood have been provided; while the Alumni and friends of the college, as well as the citizens, have united to build the Memorial Hall, in honor of those who fought and died for their country and for mankind.

     The resources, which have been gathered at the West, represent the benevolence of communities and of individuals throughout the whole region for which the college exists. Among the men by whose agency they have been collected, should be named Rev. P. C. Pettibone, whose devotion and genial enthusiasm were worth not less to the Institution and the community in their moral influence and impulse, than in their material results. Both remain to continue the work of a true man taken away in the midst of an earnest and effective life.

     The present resources of the college are estimated at $225,000,--an endowment, which, while it insures the permanence of the Institution, still leaves great wants, which appeal to those who have the means and the heart to forward such a plan. With the aid of receipts for tuition, and of very considerable donations for current expenses, the college has been able to go on thus far. But it cannot take the place which opens before it without a large increase of means. But neither that original interest in Christian education which called it into being, nor the new interest which has gathered round it, will let it decline or remain stationary.

     Means are now and urgently needed, for

Equipment of Scientific Deparment,................................................ $20,000
Increase and care of Library,.......................................................... 20,000
Endowment for Deparment of Instruction,........................................ 40,000
Fund for Miscellaneous Expenses,................................................. 10,000
Establishment of Prepatory School,................................................ 25,000
Buildings and Grounds,................................................................. 10,000
Funds for aiding worthy young men,................................................ 15,000
Gymnasium,................................................................................. 10,000
Total,.................................................................................   $150,000

     It is believed that in the present position of this enterprise there are few more safe or promising investments of resources consecrated to usefulness, than either of the above funds. To many these amounts will seem small. They are intended only for immediate pressing wants, closely computed. If to any they seem considerable, let it be remembered, that it is not an inconsiderable object, to build such a Christian college as should stand in the interior of this land.

     These things, however, are external conditions of the existence of a college. The college itself is the body of men, who are working together to form manhood. For the object of the college is not so much to give instruction in a miscellaneous list of studies, as to make men, prepared by accomplishments, but especially by convictions and enthusiasm, to do the duty of men.

     In this sense, the college began to be, when, in Nov. 1847, five young men were admitted to the freshmen class. They were well taught during the winter by Mr. S. T. Merrill, then Principal of Beloit Seminary, and now an honored trustee of the college. In the spring of 1848, Professors Bushnell and Emerson took the departments of Mathematics and Languages. In the 1849 Dr. S. P. Lathrop, M. D., from Middlebury, Vt., became professor of Natural Science, a chair which he occupied successfully till 1854, when he removed to the University of Wisconsin. But he work was nearly done. In a few months his remains were brought and laid in the Beloit cemetery. His contributions to the college collections sill keep his name here, and his influence still lives in those who enjoyed his instructions or knew him as a naturalist, a man and a Christian. In 1850, Rev. A. L. Chapin, who had been pastor in Milwaukee, and identified with the enterprise from the first, entered upon the duties of the Presidency, which he still holds. In the same year, Rev. M. P. Squier, of Geneva, N. Y., was elected to the chair of Mental and Moral Philosophy, a position which he honored, not more by his profound thought, than by his high and genial, scholarly and Christian enthusiasm, until 1866, when he was called to the sphere of pure light and truth. The endowment, which he gave with himself, remains to perpetuate his memory and to continue his work.

     Other chairs were filled as the college advanced, by men who are still at work here or elsewhere. The Faculty now consists of a president and nine professors or other instructors, representing all the departments of a full course.

     In the fall of 1848, after wandering for a year from one to another vacant apartment in the town, the college, found itself at home in its own premise. Its home life, like any other complete life, has been intellectual, religious and social.

     The scholastic standard of the college was fixed by the founders, in the admissions of the first class, on the New England level. The assuming of that attitude, at that time, may seem an act of audacity or of faith. It has been justified by results. It has been recognized by the East, usually so mistrustful of western colleges; it has been sustained by the West, which does not want inferior institutions. But its chief advantage has been within the Institution itself, in its spirit, as well as in the scope of its education. The Faculty when they came, finding such a standard already set, could work with a hearty good will; and the early students took up with an impulsive enthusiasm their part in making the "Yale of the West."

     The substance of the Education has been the complete college course, both in the sciences and the "humanities," adopted, not merely because it is the regular course, but more from a conviction that both are needed to make the men, who are wanted. The modifications which have been made, have been in the direction of a somewhat fuller scientific, rhetorical and historical course, adapted to the greater maturity of the minds have gathered.

     The same maturity and purpose on the part of the young men has developed a voluntary system of culture, which has always been most efficient. The Archean Debating Society dates from the early days of the college, dividing after some years into two branches; and, working in a body of young men, numerous enough to stimulate the strongest, but not enough to allow any one to be idle, has brought out what was in each man, and provided that there is something in every man.

     Perhaps nothing marks better the spirit of the community, than the audacious attempt, at the time when the members of the college classes could be counted on the fingers, to establish a college magazine. It would seem plain that they ought not to attempt it, and that they could not succeed. Bu the College Monthly was undertaken, and at the twenty-fifth anniversary of the college it closes its eighteenth volume, having no senior among the college monthlies in the land except the Yale Literary Magazine.

     The combined result of the regular drill of the college course and of the mutual education of a body of strong and earnest young men, has been to produce an order of Alumni, who have not dishonored the college, or found themselves deficient as they have come into professional schools or into life. Several of them have been called to the presidency of important colleges; several more to professorships, collegiate, theological, medical and scientific; to organize education for new or emancipated states; to sit in congress; and to conduct leading journals both at the West and the East, and hold posts of honor and influence.

     The college would have failed in the point nearest the heart of its founders, if it had not been a religious college, in its vial influences as well as in its routine.

     The inner religious life of the college is simply evangelical. There is no college church and no denominational names are known. Daily morning and evening prayers, with a lecture on the Sabbath, are the religious exercises. The voluntary religious system is equally simple. As soon as the college had a habitation of its own, that habitation was made a home, by the establishment of the weekly prayer meeting. Mission Sabbath School effort, which has of late years extended eight or ten miles in either direction from the college, and proved such a field of usefulness and of training, had already been commenced; the "Murray District" school was conducted by the first class in their first year. Soon after, the Missionary Society was organized, having for its object both to keep informed and in Christian sympathy with all Christian effort in the world and to organize work at home. In 1857, the development of religious character in a season of special interest is marked by the formation of the "Beloit College Christian Union," an association intended as a mutual pledge and support for vital christian life and effort. Again in 1865, as the men who had returned from the war brought new vigor and purpose into the community, the daily prayer meeting was established, which has since been in the Institution like a heart, from which issues of life have gone out into all the college system, educational, disciplinary, and social, as well as religious. It is estimated that three or four hundred have commenced the christian life while in college. Nearly half of the graduates have chosen the clerical profession. The following figures show the progressive growth of the college and of religion in the college, in its successive periods of seven years each:

  1851-1857. 1858-1864. 1865-1871. Total.
Graduates, ......................... 32 58 85 175
Clergymen, ......................... 10 27 47 84

     The class of 1872 will make up 90 ministers and 188 Alumni. Nearly all of the foreign missionaries belong to the third period. Seven, including one scientific graduate, have gone and more are preparing to follow them. This tendency, at this time, may be the combined effect of the great events at home which filled the preceding period, of the influence of the daily prayer meeting, and of that completion of communications by land and sea, which makes the centre of America the centre of the world. It is stated that the A. B. C. F. M. send more missionaries this year from Beloit College than from any other two colleges in America.

     The relation of the college to the public life of the nation, has been an important part of its history for the quarter century, because the events of the era have brought politics into the sphere of the principles and sympathies in which a college lives.

     It was born in the animation of the rapid settlement of this new New England. Its infancy saw the California excitement. The next years felt the fervor of the Kansas struggle. The early graduates were found among the men who rescued the new state. When that was done, a graduate was called to organize its public education, and now presides over its religious college.

     Then came the war for country, law, and liberty, which are all watch-words in college thought and life; and every call was answered by alumni and by resident students, until, of less than eight hundred who could bear arms, more than four hundred were in the field. Nearly fifty did not return; and the Memorial Hall cherishes their memory, both as an honor to them and as a perpetual education to the successors.

     So twenty-five years are gone, and the college as it is, with the work it has done, is the result. Nearly two hundred young men have been here for a longer or shorter time, and are now at work throughout the world and in almost every honorable calling. Two hundred are now here year by year. At the beginning, the college was but a longing or a prayer, on the northwestern border of a young land. Now it is an efficient institution in the centre of the central nation of the world, and, in that centre, it represents the convictions which have made the nation. It has had its past in the history of its time thus far, and is entering into the wider work of the future. As its students have come from many states of America, Europe and Asia, so they have gone to preach and teach in the school houses of almost all the South, and in the pulpits of twenty states and territories in the North of our own land, from Maine to California, thence passing to the Sandwich Islands, to Japan, to China, to Hindoostan, to Turkey, and home by old England and Canada. Thanks to the generosity of its friends and the manly character and enthusiasm of the young men, it is thought that the college has thus far been able to be of some service. Whether, at this point in its history, it will be able to advance to the position and equipment which should belong to the New England college, in such a position in the land and the world as this has now grown to be, remains to be determined by such liberal friends as have enabled it to do what it has already done, and by its alumni, and those who now in future may be its members.

     Thankful for the past, hopeful for the future, it enters upon the new era. May the next quarter century be as full of good as that which is past.