Beginnings of the Alumni Association
Published in Alma Mater II 1955-1956
By ROBERT H. IRRMANN
Mr. Irrmann, a graduate of Beloit College in the Class of 1939 (of which he is secretary), is Associate Professor of History at Beloit College and also Archivist, succeeding the late Prof. R. K. Richardson in the latter position. His home is in Park Ridge, Ill., and he obtained his M.A. degree at Harvard, his Ph.D. at Indiana University. He has been at Beloit since 1948.
Beloit College as a chartered institution was a mere ten years old, and but five years had passed since she graduated her first class, when the Alumni Association was formally organized on July 9, 1856. The first class was present in full complement when this event took place over Commencement. The first college in Wisconsin to form an alumni association, Beloit stood in the line of a long tradition of college alumni associations – four dozen such associations antedating the founding of our own organization.
The Society of the Alumni of Williams College has been rightly styled the "Granddaddy of them all." Williams College was roughly twenty years old when her alumni body was founded; the group was brought into being to help preserve the college, and to retain it in Williamstown. The student body was in part preparing to "transfer" to other New England colleges, and there was grave consideration of moving the college itself to Amherst, Massachusetts. To save the college in its then (and now) location at the head of the Mohawk Trail, a graduate of the class of 1817, Emory Washburn, urged a meeting of the alumni. The ultimate objectives of this meeting were to form an Alumni Association, and to use this body to aid and assist the college. In response to Washburn's appeal, an early alumnus and patron of the college published an appeal to Williams alumni in THE BERKSHIRE STAR on August 25, 1821:
A meeting of the Alumni of Williams College will be held at the College Chapel, September 5, at 9 A.M., to consider the expediency of forming a Society of Alumni. The meeting is notified at the request of a number of gentlemen educated at the institution, who are desirous that the true state of the College may be known to the Alumni, and that the influence and patronage of those it has educated may be united for its support, protection, and improvement. A general meeting is requested.
The meeting was held, the Society was organized, an annual meeting at Commencement time was decreed, an alumni oration at the time of the annual meeting was provided for, officers of the Society were specified – and a pattern was established that was essentially, though probably quite unwittingly, followed when Beloit alumni organized thirty five years later.
First in Wisconsin, we have honorable compatriots in the Middle West: Illinois College alumni organized in 1839; the University of Michigan in 1845; Knox in 1850; Indiana University in 1854. In this tradition, yet "typically Beloit", and "pursuant to a call for a meeting of the Alumni of Beloit College, to succeed the Commencement exercises", seventeen members of five of the first six classes of Beloit assembled Wednesday, July 9, 1856, at 5:00 P.M. in the College Chapel, then the south room on the first floor of Middle College (then simply, "College"), presently the Business Office. Alone missing was the class of 1852. Philo Bennett had been the sole member of that class; his absence left no representation.
The famous first class was present in full strength: Joseph Collie, William C. Hooker, Stephen Denison Peet, and Strong Wadsworth. It was Wadsworth, having transferred to Yale College in the fall of 1850, who wrote to Professor Joseph Emerson that he was "admitted to the Senior Class, without other condition than being prepared at the end of the term to pass an examination in Whately's Rhetoric ... For my success in passing the examination [for entrance into Yale] I feel under great and lasting obligation to your care in my instruction and your kindness in preparing the way for me here – as well as to the influence of your reputation as an instructor and that of other members of the faculty of Beloit College. . . .", and it was Strong Wadsworth who thus mirrored Beloit's pride in the grade of training that was accepted by "mother" Yale without discount. Asher W. Curtis and Horace White represented their class, 1853; Benjamin Durham and Edward Hobart that of '54; Francis Case and Sterne Rogers that of '55; and all the graduates of 1856 were present: Henry C. Hyde, Frederick A. Lord, Peter McVicar, John A. McWhorter, David Owen, Alfred Taggart, and George I. Waterman.
To give form to this constituting meeting of the College alumni, Stephen Denison Peet was elected president, pro tem. and Sterne Rogers secretary, pro tem. Peet, upon election, declared the purposes of the about-to-be-formed association: ". . . to preserve a record of the residence, profession or occupation, health and general well being of the graduates of this Institution . . . " There being representation from all classes but one (1852), those present that ninth of July organized "The Beloit College Alumni Association." Then a special dispensation was invoked to make all members of the first class charter members of the Association:
It was also moved and carried that Strong Wadsworth of Chicago, Illinois, a member of the Class of 1851 from the year 1847 to the year 1850 and afterwards a graduate of Yale College, having taken the degree of Master of Arts during the exercises of this day, be considered a member of this association, he signifying his assent to such action of the Association ...
In providing for the leadership of the infant body, four offices were created: Joseph Collie was elected president of the Alumni Association; Sterne Rogers, '53, and Peter McVicar, '56, vice-presidents; and Horace White, '53, secretary. The Association voted to meet annually upon the occasion of each commencement of Beloit College – "these meetings to be held on such day and hour and at such place as may be determined by future action of the Association." For 1857, the charter members committed themselves to a collation, appointed a committee of five to assume this charge, "dutch treat", and "on motion the Association adjourned to the second 'Wednesday (being the 8th day) of July, 1857." Now, a century later, the Beloit College Alumni Association will again gather for its annual meeting on the occasion of the Commencement of Beloit College, and will gather as well for a collation, the Alumni Luncheon, and – the heavy hand of a hundred years of tradition still upon us – each of the alumni at his own expense. A century ago the first minutes were in the hand of Horace White, and to him the Alumni and the College Archives are indebted for the bound volume wherein are inscribed the records of the Association through 1873.
Before the end of 1856, the ranks of the alumni had been diminished by one. It was a member of that last class, David Owen, who first broke the solid ranks of the Alumni, dying of dysentery in October while a student at Union Seminary in New York. His college-mates enrolled a sympathetic obituary in the BELOIT COLLEGE MONTHLY in November, 1856, and Horace White has left a touching memorial to David Owen in the Records of the Alumni: "Your Secretary . . . can bear full testimony to his great worth, to his amiability & loveliness of character. His loss will be felt most deeply by his immediate class-mates, but the intelligence of his death will come very near to every member of the Association. His sincere and unaffected piety assures us of his dwelling in that Kingdom not made with hands, Eternal in the Heavens."
Horace White, "alumni inquisitor" for the first alumni poll, answered his own questionnaire, and copied his answers into the records of the Association:
Being unable to attend the 2nd annual meeting of the Association and having placed the records herewith in the hands of your President, to be passed to his successor, Your Secretary deems it proper to record his own answers to the inquiries addressed to his fellow members under the instructions of the Association:
1st–It will probably not be in my power to attend the Commencement on the 2nd Wednesday of July next.
2nd–My residence for the succeeding year will probably be Quindars, Kansas Territory. If my successor in the Secretaryship of the Association will address me immediately after his election to care of Strong Wadsworth Esq., Chicago, Ill., I will inform him more definitely.
3rd–My present occupation is in the office of the National Kansas Committee, No. 11 Marine Bank, Chicago, Ill.
4th–I am not married and for that reason as much as any other I am still single.
5th–My health has been usually good since my graduation and is now entirely so.
* * *
Your secretary has procured the book in which the record for 1856-7 appears and desires to present it to the Association. He has also obtained a copy of each of the publications of the College including the Catalogues issued up to this date, furnished through the politeness of Prof. Wm. Porter. These he has caused to be bound in a volume which he desires also to present to the Association herewith.
Your secretary would suggest for your consideration that the duties of his successor be defined more clearly, particularly as regards the preservation of the correspondence of the Association. He would suggest that the Association determine by vote or otherwise whether such correspondence be copied into the book of Records, or be filed separately as constituting a distinct portion of the history of the Association.
Trusting that the 2nd annual meeting of the Association may be pleasant to those who shall attend and profitable to the Association at large, and hoping chiefly that it may be the precursor of many others marking the passing years with happy memories,
I am, Very Respectfully,
Fourteen alumni, and a former member of the college class of 1856, Emerson W. Peet (brother of S. D. Peet of the first class, and son of the Rev. Stephen Peet, chief among the founders of Beloit College), were present at the gathering of the alumni on July 8, 1857. Five classes of the seven were represented, and the meeting was held at the Bushnell House. Peter McVicar, second vice-president presided, and Stephen Denison Peet was secretary, pro tem. Feats of eating were among the performances of the second alumni reunion: "The Association having at length shown that in this duty as in every other they had not forgotten that parting injunction of their worthy President 'quit yourselves like men', in this case 'men of unbounded stomach' they quitted the table and proceeded to the election of Officers for the succeeding year . . ." Peet of '51 was elected the second president of the Alumni Association, Brewster and Hobart of '54, vice-presidents, and James White, '57, secretary.
Among the business matters attended to, Horace White was duly thanked "for his very acceptable donation of the Book of Records and volume of publications and Catalogues of Beloit College." The advent of a new generation of potential alumni was "ascertained by the reading of the letters of absent members of the Association and by the oral testimony of some of those present that two babies had already been born into the Alumni Association," and "three cheers that spoke volumes for the Association's Philoprogenitiveness were given for the first baby a son of Asher W. Curtis of the Class of 1853 and three cheers for the second baby a daughter of S. Denison Peet of the class of 1851 . . ."
In the first calendar year of the life of the Alumni Association of Beloit College, the meetings were exclusively alumni gatherings. No notice seems to have been taken by the College faculty of this (to the alumni) momentous event. President Chapin in his Journals for 1856 and 1857, briefly mentions Commencement, but makes no comment upon the organization of the Alumni or its later meeting. No letter of Professor Emerson's survives carrying mention of the founding of the Association. In 1857, Commencement marked the tenth anniversary of the active life of Beloit College, and Joseph Emerson gave an oration, one hour and twenty minutes in length, that stands then and a century later as a truly magnificent exposition of the genesis and the purposes of the College. The Alumni, sad to note, made no mention of this oratorical milestone in the history of their college.
Pursuant to the call sent out prior to Commencement in 1858, twenty-three members of the Alumni Association gathered in the College Chapel (still the south room in Middle College) on Wednesday afternoon, July 14. Seven of the eight classes were represented, and Horace White took the lead in proposing business matters for the consideration of the Association, namely, that future secretaries maintain alumni correspondence, and compile a dossier on vital statistics, as was done by the secretary for 1856-57, that "a tax be levied upon the members of the association present at each annual meeting sufficient to cover the expense of printing the necessary blanks and paying the postage on such correspondence", and that the tariff be 25 cents per head for those present. White's motions were approved, and Horace White was elected third president of the Alumni Association, Lord and Tucker vice-presidents, and George Waterman secretary.
Alumni business in the early years of the Association seems always to have been overshadowed by Alumni appetites. The editors of the BELOIT COLLEGE MONTHLY in the June issue of 1858 took the privilege of editorial license to comment on the intellectual aridity of alumni gatherings. Under the section headed "Collegiana", the editors begged ". . . leave to propose to the 'associated alumni', that an afternoon or evening of Commencement Week be appropriated by the Society, in succeeding years, for an Anniversary Address, and such other exercises as would be appropriate. This would, we think, tend to keep alive the interest of our Alumni in Commencement proceedings, and would add much to the attractions of the occasion." At the gathering in 1858, however, the appetitive passion overshadowed the intellectual, and "dinner having been prepared at the Mansion House, it was voted to adjourn to that locality."
The transit having been accomplished by means prepared by our most indefatigable committee, the alumni we[re] hospitably received by 'mine Host' of the Mansion House with his full corps of men and maid servants, and sat down to a dinner which did honor to the Dietetic Philosophy of our committee and the Culinary practice of our Host. A Blessing having been asked by the Rev. Stephen D. Peet, the association resolved itself into a committee of the whole on the state of provisions as to supply and demand, and after a most vigorous discussion of the subject for an hour or more, reported the supply more than adequate and the demand wholly satisfied. It was then voted that Thanks be returned to the Committee of arrangements and Proprietors of the House for their display of "gastronomical genius" and the brilliant decorations of the Dining Hall.
At the termination of the dinner, "speeches by several of the earlier graduates then followed, which were replete with wit, beauty, eloquence and all the graces of oratory . . ."
Among the speakers was the Rev. Joseph Collie, who with becoming pride and glory announced to the association that an heir bad been born to the United houses of Collie & Foote, whereupon three rousing cheers for George, son of Joseph Collie were given by the members to testify their appreciation of the prosperity of Beloit College Alumni in their noble efforts for coming generations.
The tariff to pay secretarial bills was then assessed and collected, "whereupon with evident feelings of Joy and Satisfaction at having once again lighted the fires of social affection and intercourse upon the hearth Stone of Old Beloit, and rejoicing that memory had found another garden spot to which, in the present [or] the future, she might return and pluck bright flowers, the association voted to adjourn."
The retiring secretary, George I. Waterman, brought his secretarial stewardship of the Alumni Association to a rounded period in recording Association expenses for 1858-59. Five dollars and a half had been paid into the Alumni "treasury", $3.00 of which had been expended for printed circulars, and $1.00 for postage. The balance of 150 circulars and $1.00 in currency made any levy unnecessary for 1859-60. With his task well acquitted, George Waterman lay down his pen and his office on Commencement day, 1859.
The Ninth Commencement of Beloit College was celebrated in the new College Chapel, presently "South College" or more popularly known as the old Art Hall or as the present Student Union, on Wednesday, July 13, 1859. The Alumni gathered in the Chapel at 5:30 P.M., following the commencement exercises, and in the absence of all of the elected officers of the Association, William Hooker was chosen president pro tem, and Harlan M. Page secretary. "The minutes of the last meeting were then read, evoking a hearty recognition of their merit as a photograph of the doings of the preceding year." The election of officers, by twenty-six members representing all nine classes in the life of the college, then went forward, and Hooker, '51, was chosen president, Hinman and Bennett, of '55 and '52 respectively, were chosen vice-presidents, and Page, '54, was duly elected secretary. This alumni meeting marked the first appearance of Philo Bennett, '52, at an Association gathering, and was the first commencement since 1851 at which all the classes of the Alumni were represented.
Lesser business was quickly disposed of, and then serious attention was turned upon what seemed recurringly to be uppermost in the minds of the reuning Alumni – food, the collation, the repast, the banquet. The editors of the BELOIT COLLEGE MONTHLY, commenting upon this alumni proclivity in the October, 1859, issue, said of the recent Commencement festivities, that "the Alumni also met in secret conclave for a 'feast of reason' and eatables, and a 'flow of soul' and lemonade." The alumni minutes themselves are amazingly and amusingly full on this topic in 1859:
The Committee charged with preparation for the feast of good things constituting so vital a part of the enjoyment of our annual reunion, was called on to report progress, and replied, through E. F. Hobart, that the most earnest efforts had been made to enable the Association to realize individually and collectively the fullest possible amount of pleasure, but circumstances had rendered it necessary to have dinner served at the rather unusual hour of 9 P.M.
Some objection was made to this arrangement, and an animated debate sprung up in regard to the best time for the annual meeting, and for partaking of the customary entertainment. Preference for Tuesday afternoon was expressed by some, by others for the time between 6 and 8 o'clock on Wednesday afternoon, and remarks spirited, earnest, witty, wise and otherwise were made by various members. It was urged that dining was a business to be undertaken with deliberation and a mind free from distracting care, that elaborate preparation therefor was one of the truest indexes of an advance in civilization, and strenuous protests were made against allowing this annual gathering, with its feasts intellectual and material, to be subordinated to anything whatever.
A motion that hereafter the regular meeting of the Alumni be held at 3 P.M. of Tuesday, was after discussion laid on the table, and the Association took a recess till the hour of supper.
At the appointed time its members gathered at the Bushnell House, where after some delay the doors of the Dining Hall were thrown open, and in due order the Association gallantly marched in, surrounded the table, and addressed themselves to the formidable task of putting down the combinations of flesh, fowl, vegetables, pastry and the fruits and delicacies of the season, arrayed against them under some sixty different names.
"Dire was the clang of plates, of knife and fork
That merciless fell, like tomahawk, to work."
The host [Professor Jackson J. Bushnell of the mathematics department, builder of the Bushnell House, now the Goodwin Block], of old famous in bisecting arcs and angles, describing circles, squares and parallelepipeds, with blade in hand showed equal skill in carving bipeds and quadrupeds, calculating the point of fowl joint intersections, and in solving the equation, wherein X is the quantity of comestibles required by his guests. The gusto with which one after another of the dishes provided by the hostess were stowed away, was an appreciative tribute to her skill and good taste. The choice bouquets decorating the table were much admired.
The demands of appetite appeased, the letters were read with some interruptions from the hilarity of not deeply interested members. Announcements of additions to our families were received with the usual demonstrations of satisfaction.
A number of toasts were read, but owing to the lateness of the hour, not responded to at length.
With some reluctance the meeting adjourned to one of the parlors, for the completion of its business.
The time of the next meeting, after much discussion and various propositions, was settled by the adoption of the following:
Resolved that the next meeting of the Beloit College Alumni Association be held on the afternoon of Tuesday proceeding [sic] Commencement . . .
Inasmuch as, with the increasing number of Alumni the reading of letters would occupy an undue share of time, it was
Resolved, that the Secretary make a succinct digest of letters received from the Alumni, to be read at the meeting.
As the graduating class of each year would not be entitled to membership in the Alumni Association at the time of meeting on Tuesday, a motion was made that they be admitted, which, after considerable discussion, was lost.
Harlan M. Page, '54, took Horace White's motions and his secretarial duties much to heart, and Page it was who served as secretary to the Alumni Association for many years. From 1859 on, to the end of the minutes kept in Horace White's gift book (1873), the writing and recording is Page's. On July 9th, 1860, Page recorded the then living alumni of Beloit College, nine classes, thirty six men, each identified as to residence. Page commented upon his obligation to digest the replies from fellow alumni, and circulate such a digest among the membership of the Association: "as they are nearly all brief and no abstract could convey an idea of their spirit the resolution directing 'a succinct digest' has been taken in a Pickwickian sense, and that laborious task avoided." The secretary also duly reported on the finances of the Alumni Association. One dollar and fifty cents had remained from the assessment of 1858; postage for the term 1859-1860 had come to one dollar and fifty-one cents. The Association faced the advent of Abraham Lincoln's campaign for the presidency with a deficit of one cent.
On July 10th, Tuesday, in accord with the vote of the Alumni Association at the Commencement of 1859, the group convened. So few were present that the meeting was adjourned to the following day. "Pursuant to adjournment, on the close of the exercises of the 10th annual Commencement the Alumni reassembled in the Rhetorical room" in Middle College. Anticipating a small alumni gathering, no arrangements had been made for an alumni banquet. Only seven of the ten classes of the College were represented, and but nineteen men were present. Tuesday preceding Commencement was agreed upon as the next time of meeting, and "in the hope of another and larger gathering in 1861 the Association then adjourned."
On the eve of the Tenth Anniversary of the graduation of the first class of Beloit College, secretary Harlan M. Page sent out an appealing circular to all alumni, urging as full attendance as possible in honor of this anniversary. War between the States had begun, and patriotism mingled with college loyalties in Page's summons to the alumni gathering for 1861:
Madison, June 14th, 1861.
It seems desirable that the Tenth Anniversary of the graduation of the first class of Beloit College, which is now at hand, should be honored by as large an attendance on the part of the Alumni of the Institution as possible.
Our Annual Meeting will take place on the afternoon of Tuesday. In the evening it is proposed to have a supper or collation, and to enjoy each other's society in recalling the pleasures of college days, and telling and hearing of our voyage since we launched our bark upon the tide of life. It is hoped the members of the Association will make every effort to be present.
On Wednesday afternoon, in connection with commencement exercises, an address will be delivered before the Alumni.
You are particularly requested to . . . express your preferences as between an elaborate supper and a simple collation. . . .
Our Alma Mater taught us loyalty to the Union. In these days when treason stalks abroad and rebellion rears its hissing head, let us gather around her and renew our vows.
The Secretary was somewhat discouraged at the slender response to his circular and noted in the Minute Book of the Association (Madison, July 9, 1861) that "if our Association is to be worth anything in preserving the history of the life and experiences of its members, they must from year to year furnish the data from which to construct it and would urge the importance to the objects of the Association, if not to each individual member, of having a word from each at our annual gatherings." Page in 1861 published, at his own expense, the first statistical abstract of the alumni: names, ages upon graduation, marital status, occupation and place of residence. The youngest graduates were but eighteen at the time of their graduation – Bundy and White of '53, Benjamin Durham, '54, Storey and Danner of the class of 1860 all held this distinction. The oldest to graduate, Owen, '56, Baay, '57, were twenty-eight. Of the fifty-five members of the Alumni Association on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the first graduating class, nine were clergymen, and ten were theological students; ten were teachers, and two were in school administration; nine were lawyers, and one was clerk in the United States court in Chicago; two were physicians and two held M.D. degrees in addition to their other occupations, and two others were medical students; two were editors, three were miners, one an assistant postmaster, one was a lumberman, another a lumber dealer, one a broker, and another a civil engineer. Of the fifty-five members among the first ten classes, one was dead, thirty-six were bachelors, sixteen were married, and two were widowers in 1861.
On the evening of the Tenth Commencement, the Alumni gathered in "College Hall" at 5:00 p.m., but so few were present that "the meeting was adjourned to the call of the President, Benjamin Durham." On Wednesday morning, July 10th, the Alumni again assembled, and "President A. L. Chapin addressed the Association welcoming the members, soliciting their practical interest in the College and promising to the Association higher consideration and a more honorable place in Commencement week." After six years the infant alumni association had grown to a stature and proportions significant enough to be considered by the administration of the college.
An alumni innovation – reflecting the urgings of the Editors of the BELOIT COLLEGE MONTHLY in their issue of June 1858? – was made at this meeting of 1861: The Alumni Address. The initial address was given by Harlan M. Page, '54 on Patience. An Address before the Alumni of Beloit College, commemorative of the first decade. Page was gifted with the sensitive use of a polished English style, and even today his address is a delight to read. He commended the virtues of patience to men and women in all walks of life, and spoke particularly to "You who have the care of the Colleges of the West, [who] need it to meet the restive spirit of youth impatient of restraint." Casting his mind back to the posture of the College when he came as a freshman, Page gave a wonderful sketch of the infant Beloit to his Alumni audience:
As to-day we contrast the present with the past, we note great changes. Eleven years ago tonight  there stood but one building, (except an old house that did disfigure the enclosure,) upon the college grounds. Going through unplastered rooms stepping cautiously over joists where floors were yet unlaid; careful not to ignite the piles of shavings heaped around; we illuminated the College in honor of the inauguration of him who has since so worthily filled the Presidential chair. For months, and even for years afterwards, recitations were held in rooms roughly plastered, the ceiling supported by tamarack poles, and they with the bark on. Now, not only is that edifice completely finished, and cabinet, laboratory and library handsomely fitted up, but in yonder Hall [North College] food and rest is obtained for the body; and that chaste and beautiful Chapel [the present student Union] invites to the worship of God and the seeking of spiritual nourishment.
Returning to his theme of Patience, Harlan Page ended his alumni oration with a plea for devotion to ideals in a material world:
We may find that, where men award more honor to money than to mind, a college education does not at once give us the advantage we had hoped. Friends may grow cold, all avenues to employment seem closed, yet let us not, with reckless haste, sacrifice principle, or barter honor to gain a seeming advantage. We may toil hard and long, with small success, yet in due season we shall reap if we faint not. It may be harder to overcome the obstacles, to endure the reverses, to meet the obligations of active life, than it was to master the most complicated sentences of Latin or Greek, or to solve the most difficult problems of mathematics; yet let us gird ourselves afresh for the conflict, as for Olympic games, learn the lessons Patience would teach us, and so encounter the trials and vicissitudes of life, endure that which we cannot overcome, strike for truth and right, despite opposition or sneers . . . if we amass not wealth, if we achieve not fame here, we shall, at the last, obtain a crown of honor. We may meet no more to enjoy scenes like these. However separated, we shall not forget our Alma Mater, nor the ties that have made us brothers.
Not only was this address a new institution, but the newly created relations between President Chapin and the Alumni Association were furthered that day; the planned collation at the Bushnell House was voted "dispensed with in order that the Alumni might be able to attend the soiree at President Chapin's." The Editor of the BELOIT COLLEGE MONTHLY had commented in the "Editors' Sanctum" in October, 1859, two years before of the "soiree" of that commencement evening: "The President's Levee occurred in the evening, to which 'friends of the Institution' were invited – not Students however, bless your ignorant heart no. The occasion was undoubtedly a pleasant one." If the Alumni felt then as peeved as did certain students, the Alumni concealed their pique with more grace, and silence.
The formal meeting of the Alumni gathered after the Commencement exercises for 1861; eight classes were represented, and twenty-two men were present. An alumni oration and a Poem were voted for the Alunmi meeting for 1862; George Waterman was chosen Orator, and Alexander Kerr Poet, with Bundy and Lewis as respective alternates. The time of the meeting in 1862 was to be left to the discretion of the Committee on Arrangements. Page's Alumni Address was received with thanks, and the Association voted its publication. In a more mundane vein, an assessment of fifty cents per alumnus present was agreed to, and then a Committee of three (Strong, Storey and Fitch) was appointed "to draft resolutions expressive of the views of the Association in regard to the present crisis in our country."
The Alumni of Beloit College in July, 1861, heartily endorsed the following affirmations:
Resolved, That we . . . as loyal citizens, do hereby express our utter and hearty condemnation of this wicked rebellion, and declare that in our judgment, every sentiment of patriotism, and every consideration of national honor and safety, demand its complete suppression, and the restoration of all forts and national property, thus unlawfully seized, to their rightful ownership.
Resolved, That such is our attachment to the principles of freedom for which our fathers battled, and the free institutions which they bequeathed us, that we regard no blood or treasure too precious to be devoted to the defense and prosperity of the government in all its constitutional authority.
Resolved, That in this contest we recognize the "irrepressible conflict" which must ever exist between Freedom and Slavery, and we believe that duty to ourselves, to prosperity, and to the cause of liberty in the world, demands that as a nation, we reject all compromises with the Slave Power, and accept peace only upon a basis which guarantees both civil and religious liberty, at no distant day to all men owing allegiance to our government, and asking its protection.
Resolved, That we have learned with pride and gratification that this Association has not among its members a single traitor; and that some of them are already in the Federal Army, eager to contend for our constitutional rights, and willing to hazard their lives on the battlefield in order to maintain the authority of free government.
The attitude of the alumni at the gathering in 1861 reflects not alone their personal convictions, but the liberal intellectual atmosphere in which they had been trained as undergraduates. It was President Eaton who remarked that "Beloit College had been from its foundation a congenial home of the spirit of liberty and union", and the early faculty were humanitarian and anti-slavery in their feelings. At his great Commencement address in 1857, Joseph Emerson had baldly declared these fundamental principles:
It is the duty of the College to teach important fundamental truths, and if there be politicians who deny such truths, it would be shameful and most treasonable for the College to be silent just when the time requires the word. For example, the doctrine that "all men are created equal" has given to our nation its being and its liberty, and now we are come to the time, when it is ready to deliver us from one development of that selfishness which is the real bondage of us all, and bring us nearer to that "royal law of liberty," – love supreme to God and to Neighbor as to self: – and just at this pass, when the principle is ready to work a real deliverance for us, and when of course it meets its struggle, comes the use of education, if education is anything better than an embellishment and a slave of barbarism. If that doctrine is the truth, it is the fundamental truth, and the College must teach it, and if any party rises to deny it, let them call the College partizan [sic], but let them know that it must speak the truth and that the truth must prevail.
The resolutions of the alumni undoubtedly reflect William E. Seward's Rochester, N. Y., speech of October 25, 1858, wherein he used the memorable phrase: "Irrepressible conflict"; the hope of the alumni that peace will come guaranteeing civil and religious liberty "to all men owing allegiance to our government" seems almost to anticipate the intent of Mr. Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of some eighteen months later. Certainly the mind of Joseph Emerson had made an impact upon those alumni who heard him at the Tenth Anniversary proceedings in July of 1857. Both expressions are testimonies to the liberal educational climate in which these alumni had been reared as undergraduates, and reflect credit upon the abiding influence of the early Beloit upon her graduates.
The Civil War had gone on for fourteen months when Secretary Page sent out his call to the Commencement and the Alumni Meeting for Tuesday, July 8, 1862, to meet in the College Chapel at 4:30 p.m.
Harlan M. Page was perhaps the most consistently devoted of the early secretaries of the Alumni Association, and his pre-alumni-meeting reports are very informative of the state of the Association. On July 8, 1862, he reported that the Alumni Association Fund of $7.00 had been expended for circulars and postage; "as there is less than nothing in the Treasury, it will of course be necessary to replenish it in some manner." Page went on to report on Alumni news, and joyously announced that some half dozen bachelor alumni had married during the preceding year, "but no corresponding increase in children is reported." Among alumni occupations, the ministry was proving attractive, and seventeen of the alumni, "including all of the Class of 1859" were now preachers. Seven alumni were by July, 1862, in the Army, three as officers in the fighting ranks, as many employed in healing the wounds and ministering to the wants of the sick and suffering soldiers." Page was wholly honest in assessing the past year of the life of the Association:
On the whole the last year has not been marked by anything particularly striking in the history of our Association or its members, though the world about us has been heaving and groaning as never before.
May time deal gently with us all as we pass along life's journey and may we often, as now, turn aside to rest for a little time and to renew our strength and courage for our work.
The 1862 meeting of the Alumni Association, as previously announced, in part preceded the Commencement exercises. Alexander Kerr presided in the absence of the president and the two vice-presidents. "On motion of Rev. S. D. Peet . . . it was voted that each of the alumni present should contribute $1.00 toward paying the expenses of the Alumni dinner." An assessment for current charges was also approved. The alumni attempted to honor Harlan Page with the presidency of the Association, but he declined, "in the belief that he could better serve the Association in another capacity", and he was reelected Secretary. One signal honor was insisted on: that Page preside at the public meeting that evening, when the Alumni Oration and Poem would be presented. Joseph Collie acquitted himself well that evening at the Presbyterian Church with an "earnest, high-toned and able presentation of the idea that 'Fealty to Duty is a nobler aim of life than Distinction.'" Kerr's poem, "in perfect rhyme and measure, gave varied Pictures of Peace and War, reflections of Lights and Shadows which go flitting over the country in such times as the present."
On Commencement Day, July 9th, thirty-two alumni gathered again after the college exercises, and entertained as their guests the Faculty, Trustees and other guests, meeting first in the parlors of the Bushnell House early in the afternoon.
A change of base was soon effected to the dining room where a vigorous attack was made upon the large, varied and choice supply of eatables provided, a running fire of genial conversation being kept up in the meantime. President Chapin gracefully presided at the table. After effecting the reduction of the works before them the company listened to a sketch of the present condition of the Alumni and interesting letters from some of them. Several toasts and sentiments were offered and responses made. Prof. J. Emerson longest connected with the institution as a Professor gave some reminiscences of the early history of the college and was followed by Rev. J. Collie of the first graduating class to the same effect. State Treasurer Hastings spoke on behalf of the State authorities. J. M. Bundy of the class of 1853 spoke in response to a toast to our soldier Alumni detaling [sic] some of the things he saw and heard when visiting the army. Prof. J. D. Butter of the State University spoke of the brotherhood of scholarship and the friendly feeling which should exist between kindred institutions. Alex. Kerr of the class of 1855 gave some account of his experiences as a teacher in Georgia and views of Southern life. J. L. Pickard, State Superintendent of Public Instruction expressed a lively interest in this institution and dwelt on the intimate dependence of the higher and lower schools on each other. L. D. Mears of the graduating classs was called out as the first male child of Beloit and happily responded. Prof. J. J. Blaisdell made some highly appropriate remarks.
A resolution was passed, among others:
Resolved that Beloit College justly claims our sympathy in its financial embarrassment, and that we pledge our hearty and earnest efforts for its relief.
As Harlan Page noted as his l'envoi to the Commencement, and Alumni gathering, of 1862: "'When the Alumni separated it was with the feeling that they had never had so agreeable a gathering before and a hope that the next year might witness as pleasant a meeting." President Chapin was impressed to the point that his journal makes mention of these combined events: "July 9, 1862. Commencement exercises four hours – Alumni dinner – Levee." Now in a complete sense the College and the Alumni had joined in true community.
June 13, 1863, marked the date of Secretary Page's call to the Alumni to attend the twelfth Commencement of the College and the annual meeting of the Alumni Association. This latter meeting was scheduled for 4:30 P.m. in the College Chapel on Tuesday the 7th of July. The call to assemble carried the following notes and requests:
The Annual Alumni Dinner will be served up at the Bushnell House, Wednesday afternoon, under the joint management of the College authorities and the Alumni Committee. The dinner and its accompaniments last year gave the highest satisfaction to the Alumni, Faculty, Trustees and invited guests, and those who may attend this year can hardly fail thoroughly to enjoy themselves . . .
In pursuance of a resolution adopted last year, a tax is levied on each member of the Alumni Association, of 25 cents for contingent expenses. It is hoped the amount will be speedily remitted.
The Alumni will be glad to know that in every respect, except a lack of funds to meet current expenses Beloit College is in a most prosperous condition. An act was passed by the last legislature enabling the College to hold a liberal amount of land free of taxation, and it is hoped that under its operation its endowment fund will be largely increased.
At the last Alumni meeting . . . it was agreed that each one of the Alumni should endeavor to raise the sum of at least $50 for the College, contributing it from his own purse, or securing it from others. This can be done without much difficulty, and such funds may be forwarded to the Secretary or directly to the officers of the College, and will be gratefully acknowledged. If the amount should be considerable, it is proposed to do something toward the erection of a gymnasium.
On the appointed day, thirty-two alumni assembled, under the presidency of Alexander Kerr. Following the happy custom and precedent of the preceding year, the Faculty and certain invited guests elected to join the Alumni at dinner on the next day. An appeal was made for funds to defray Association printing and postage expenses, and the assessment for the dinner was raised to $2.00 for each alumnus present. Philo Bennett, only member of the second class (1852) was elected president, and Page was again returned as secretary. In the evening of Tuesday, July 7th, the Alumni gathered once again in the Presbyterian Church for the Alumni Address, this year given by "E. H. Avery of the class of 1858 on Latter day martyrdom, showing that truth had as heroic devotees and defenders now as in the olden time, that the days of persecution had not passed away and men were ready even in these days to suffer and if need be to die for righteousness sake."
Upon conclusion of the Commencement ceremonies on the following day, having been "edified and entertained by the able and patriotic addresses of the graduating class, and witnessing their admission to the first degree of arts the Alumni, with the Faculty, Trustees and other guests repaired to the Preparatory room in the Chapel building where they found a broad expanse of table supplied with various fruits of the earth and culinary preparations of man's device. President A. L. Chapin, with Gen. Pope at his right and Gen. T. C. H. Smith on his left ruled the feast while President Alex. Kerr assisted him from the other end of the table." At the conclusion of the Alumni banquet, Harlan Page read a paper on the history of the alumni since the graduation of the first class in 1851, and the Alumni thought so highly of it that they requested it be entered on the minutes of the Association. Ninety-three years later Page's sketch gives us a full view of the youthful Alumni Association, and the fruits of the first sixteen years of the life of Beloit College:
Since the last meeting of the Alumni there have been numerous changes in our little band. Its members have been scattered more widely than ever and their occupations become yearly more diverse. The changes and the present location and condition of the Alumni I have endeavored briefly to set forth.
Prior to this day Beloit has sent forth in all 75 graduates. Of these one died in 1856 soon after graduating and two more have fallen within the past year leaving the number 72. Of these 20 remain in Wisconsin and 13 in Illinois. The others may be found one here and another there, from the old Bay State all along the way to Colorado and the Pacific Coast, and beyond in the Happy Isles of the Pacific. We include in our ranks 18 clergymen, 9 teachers, 5 lawyers, 7 engaged in various mercantile pursuits, 5 in different subordinate National or State offices, 4 theological students, 4 physicians, 2 medical students, 1 editor, 1 civil engineer and 1 farmer. In this enumeration are not included those in the army who will increase the number in several professions "when this cruel war is over." Two or three have a double vocation as preachers and teachers or physicians.
Of the Alumni 19 have been connected with the Army of the Union in various capacities, not including however any contractors or sutlers, besides two or three who have labored more or less as nurses and physicians among the sick and wounded, and six who would have graduated today had they not answered to their country's call for men on the tented field.
With the accession of the class of today – whom we warmly welcome – our number is increased to 84. As at the beginning we can still say all are true to the flag and keep step to the music of the Union. In our ranks we number neither open traitors nor disloyal souls seeking to embarrass the Government, nor cravens ready when the prospect seems dark and forbidding to talk about making "the best obtainable peace" with the rebels. We all stand for "Liberty and Union, one and inseparable."
President Chapin spoke several times at this long and memorable alumni gathering, and on the conclusion of Harlan Page's brief historical sketch, "touchingly alluded to the losses of which it told." He later in the evening "remarked that all were reminded in a thousand ways that the nation was shaken to its very center by this war and while they mourned over the losses and sorrows springing from it they could not but feel that it linked the nation to the great principles of truth and right. It was a matter of rejoicing," Chapin notes, "that so many of the men leading our armies were ready to stand up for the great principles defended by the arms of our brave soldiers and it was a source of gratification that the military arm of the nation was so fitly represented with us today by one of our fighting Generals."
"Maj. Gen. Pope being called for amid loud cheering responded that others might express their thanks for the kindly feeling manifested toward him and the manner in which he had been greeted, but none could feel it more deeply. The highest reward a soldier could have was the feeling that his fellow citizens were in earnest sympathy with him and the cause for which he contended. He expressed his pleasure at learning how patriotic the students and graduates of Beloit had shown themselves and complimented Wisconsin as standing first on the roll of chivalry in this war. He had served along with its men and was indebted to some of them for some of his greatest successes. There was hardly a field of battle where they had not stood and always in the front of the conflict, cheerfully ready for any duty."
The long arm of the past reached forward to the Alumni gathering in 1863, for men who had seen the vision of the college back at the convention in Cleveland in 1844 were some of them present in the living embodiment of that vision nineteen years later. Chapin had been at Cleveland; so too had Theron Baldwin, long the Corresponding Secretary of the Society for the Promotion of Collegiate and Theological Education at the West. On this late afternoon Baldwin "was then introduced as the hero of the fight for the establishment of colleges in the West. He gave many interesting incidents of the contest and said he had come west to recruit to gain new vigor and impulse. He referred to the history of the colleges of the country, showing how much they had done for Christian civilization and for liberty. He thought eastern colleges would have to look to their laurels when western ones were making such good progress and taking so high a stand. He was glad to learn that this was a thoroughly loyal college, as the stars and stripes floating so proudly over it had indicated to him, and rejoiced that it promised to be such a fountain of blessing to all this region in future years and ages."
President Kerr made some remarks with regard to the interest felt by the Alumni in their Alma Mater, exhorting them to do all that lay in their power to promote its prosperity, and illustrated his exhortations by presenting President Chapin with $100.00, procured by two alumni "as a substantial token of their good will."
The venerable Prof. Squires [Miles P. Squier of New York] responded to a desire expressed on the part of the Alumni to hear from him that when a man comes 800 miles to attend a Commencement he wants to have something pretty good to pay him for his trouble. The exercises of today had amply repaid his journey. He had been struck with the interesting nature of the topics presented and the able manner in which they had been treated. He was now 72 years old and might not live to see many returns of this anniversary. He had watched the growth of Beloit College since it was first planted and rejoiced in its prosperity and in the high stand taken by its graduates in higher seminaries of learning and in the walks of life. He should never loose his interest in it and was sure it would live, because it was worthy to live.
President Chapin then "transferred the graduating class from his care to that of the Alumni in appropriate terms", announced to the alumni that his work for the coming six to twelve months would be to complete the endowment of the College, aiming at a fund of $50,000. And "as the evening shades drew on the Alumni Association adjourned for one year having had an unusually interesting and satisfactory meeting." Mr. Chapin's Journal took note for that day of the "alumni dinner – Levee eve." Many of the alumni without doubt attended the Levee, not knowing that the continuity of the meetings of the alumni were to break for the first and only time to date in the century of its existence, for the state of the nation and of the college in July, 1864, rendered impracticable an alumni gathering, and most of the graduating class itself was off in camp near Memphis as "100 day men". When next the alumni would gather, in July, 1865, peace would again have come into their world, and the second stage of the Alumni Association and its activities would begin. Its first eight years had witnessed its birth and achievements first of lusty adolescence and then of dignified maturity. Like the college itself, the Alumni Association "would live, for it was worthy to live."