The Early Faculty of Beloit College
Published in Semi-Centennial Anniversary Beloit College 1897
Professor Joseph Emerson.
If the word faculty signifies the vital force, by which an organism is a living power, we cannot say that the first permanent instructors of Beloit College were its first Faculty. Its first constructors were full of that living spirit, which formed the College. For spirit is older than body. That spirit was born in the hearts, and formed in the minds, and it wrought in the work of Aratus Kent and Stephen Peet, of Aaron L. Chapin and Flavel Bascom and Samuel W. Eaton and G. S. F. Savage, all sons of Yale, and in the sons of other colleges, and in others who, though not graduates, were sharers in that liberal education which colleges had spread through the East. Such were Dexter Clary and Alfred Field, and Lucius Fisher and Horace Hobart and Horace White. It lived then and lives now also in such women as Mrs. Clary and Mrs. Field, whom we rejoice to have still with us, and in the Lucius Fishers and Horace Hobarts and Horace Whites of to-day.
Nor were those first professors the first teachers of the College. Gratefully we join in the thanksgiving of Sereno T. Merrill, the first instructor and still the wise and honored trustee of the College.
There were also five young men, the first students of the College, whose hearty interest made them already a part of its vital force, foreshadowing the standing which they and all true sons of Beloit were to hold in that order of liberally educated men, who are, or should be the Faculty of civilized humanity. They and their loyal successors were and have always been most efficient helpers in forming and developing the life, and work of the College.
To a College thus already instinct with life came two young men. They had been classmates at Yale. One of them had been teaching there and the other would have been with him, had be not preferred to continue in the work of building the excellent College of the Western Reserve in Ohio. But though even his alma mater could not call him back, a new enterprise in the heart of the nation could and did call him on, and in the mouth of April, 1848, Jackson J. Bushnell arrived in Beloit. It was an event of no small moment for the city as well as for the College. A man so full of mind which sought only for the truth, so full of enterprise which aimed only to do good, so regardful of every other one and so forgetful of himself, so full at once of the highest ideals and of the most practical efficiency, could not be hid or be in the rear, whenever and wherever there was any good to be done or any wrong to be righted. No one could associate with him and not become a better man. The character of the man infused itself into that of his fellow citizens, his colleagues and his pupils. It goes with them all round the world. Everywhere it is that spirit of earnest loyalty which is the brand of Beloit, and in which the spirit of President Chapin and that of Professor Bushnell are so finely blended.
Through our first quarter century, though with some interruption caused by his devotion to public interests, Professor Bushnell filled worthily the department of mathematics and physical science. In the enlargement of the College the department has been resolved into that of mathematics and physics, now so well filled by Professor Thomas A. Smith, and that of astronomy, which with much more of the life of the College owes such a debt to the excellent care of Professor Charles A. Bacon.
If the personality of Jackson J. Bushnell could not be hidden in his official position, it was to his younger associate, to whom fell the ancient classics, a joy, like that of the morning stars, to be lost in the light which it was his privilege to introduce. Homer and Aeschylus, Socrates, and Plato and Demosthenes are not dead or emeriti. Were they ever more alive than when they came into the minds, the hearts, the souls of the young men who were to reproduce Marathon and Salamis at Vicksburg and Gettysburg? What could one ask more than to stand in the shade and to see such light flow into such souls?
When the department came to be divided it was a fresh satisfaction, which is still a part of the joy of this jubilee, to have the Roman sternness purified and sanctified by Christian grace. Cicero and Virgil are more themselves as introduced by William Porter. Also, as we pass into the new era, which the civilization, born in Greece, is now entering, it has been thrilling to see the Greek philosopher living again in such a representative as Professor Blaisdell. And now, as the half century closes, the electric light in which Greek life and art are presented under such a hand as that of the younger Theodore Lyman Wright, aided by the equipment provided by another son of Beloit and of a father of Beloit, the younger Lucius G. Fisher, shines on with glad hope into the future.
In connection with the resurrection of fine art in our Greater Greece, could you, or could the truth excuse the reserve, which should abstain from the mention of Mrs. Helen Brace Emerson, the founder of the department of fine art, and of Mrs. Ellen Battell Eldridge and of other friends who have endowed and developed it, until its collections now fill our former chapel. Let us hope that the instruction, which had been so hopefully begun may be successfully renewed. The old Greek bards themselves, to whom we have assigned positions in our primeval faculty, would rejoice to see how our President Eaton and our Professors Sleeper and Allen have organized a department of sacred music, which is daily filling not only their especial pupils but our whole College with those harmonies, through which we may become better members and better leaders in the harmonies of a better life.
The department of languages has also gladly welcomed the modern tongues under the able introduction of Professors Hendrickson, Whittlesey, Dawson and Pearson. So we go on to complete our connection with the thoughts and enthusiasms of the living present, as well as with those of the living past and to press on with them into the great life of the future.
The solid thought of mathematics and physics, and the high thought and rhythmic enthusiasm of the classics and the manifold voice of language do not fill the whole capacity of man, and the faculty of the College could not be complete without an interpreter of nature. From the Green Mountains, from Middlebury, came Dr. Stephen Pearl Lathrop, a naturalist, a chemist, a physician, a Christian gentleman and a true man. His valuable service was cut short for us by his removal to our State University and soon after closed by his decease. His remains rest in our own cemetery, and we are thankful that his worthy wife is still among us. The work of his department of chemistry has been well maintained by such successors as Henry B. Nason, Elijah P. Harris, James H. Eaton and C. G. Wheeler, until now the far-east as well as the far-west come for counsel to our Professor, – Erastus G. Smith.
The second quarter century has seen the development of the cognate department of geology, under such sons of the College as Thomas C. Chamberlin and Rollin D. Salisbury, and now by a son also of the first graduate of the College, Professor George L. Collie, while still another alumnus, Hiram D. Densmore, is professor of botany and biology.
As the College and its classes advanced, there was need of a president, and a president was not far to seek. Rev. Aaron L. Chapin had been a large part of the heart and hand and soul of the enterprise from the beginning, and his associates felt that he was the man to conduct it to its accomplishment. Forty years of good service have attested the correctness of their judgment. His colleagues in the board of trust will bear witness to the wisdom and administrative capacity which led the College through its early and its later struggles and achievements. His colleagues in the faculty and his pupils well remember the faithfulness and the kindness, the aptness and ability, with which he guided the home life of the College. He came to be known throughout and beyond the land as the man for counsel in a local or an international emergency, and the sunlight, in which the young College on the prairies was growing so wholesomely, shone peace back to the Atlantic and to the Bosphorus.
It is a great satisfaction of this jubilee that his presidency is held to-day by such a pupil as Edward D. Eaton, and his professorship by such a son as Robert C. Chapin.
But again college or individual must look inward and upward as well as out upon nature and on man, and before we had a senior class we had a senior professor in the department of psychology. A senior professor, indeed, was Miles P. Squier. For, though some of us had more of youthful spirit and enthusiasm, he belonged to the former generation and linked us to that ante-natal faculty of Beloit to which we have alluded. He was born in the year 1792 and graduated at Middlebury in 1811, the same year in which Ralph Emerson, the father of his Beloit colleague, graduated at Yale. The two, Emerson and Squier, were classmates and roommates at Andover Theological Seminary. Lines of life, which, however divergent, were still governed by the same motives, brought both together in their last days to share or witness a realization of their aims in the building of Beloit College. The elder of them remained in New England, but his influence was always telling upon the west, even upon our west. He became a tutor at Yale, and there he taught Aratus Kent. He was pastor in Connecticut and there he taught Stephen Peet. He was almost persuaded to accept the first presidency of the Western Reserve College, and he did send his eldest son there as pupil. His work for a quarter century as professor at Andover trained men who came to our prairies, and when he rested from those labors, he and his devoted wife came gladly to where their children had already gone and gave the evening of their days to enthusiastic and largely fruitful sympathy and endeavor for Beloit College.
Meanwhile the other classmate, Miles P. Squier, went to the front, like our Professor Bushnell. He explored for the Home Missionary Society the forests of western New York, and, declining a tutorship in his alma mater, revived the first church in Buffalo, which had been broken up in its infancy by the war of 1812, and became its first pastor. Then upon a partial failure of health, he gave his efforts to the first beginnings of the Auburn Theological Seminary. Then he built the Geneva Female Seminary and the Geneva Lyceum for young men, especially for those preparing for education for the Christian ministry. But his quick ear caught the first movements for the Beloit College, and from 1845 onward his heart and that of his congenial wife were here, and in 1849 he received and in due time accepted the professorship of philosophy, giving the endowment as well as his own devotion and wish.
He used to come when the spring-time came, and to revive our flagging minds, and to call us to thoughts deep and high, and clothed in wise words, which were to him simple as the prattle of a child. For he was always as sage as Plato and as young as Homer. Would that he and his noble wife were here to unite their enthusiasm with our thanks-givings for the fulfillment of their prayer.
Most richly were those prayers answered in the life and teachings of the saintly intellect, which has formed the minds and souls of the sons of Beloit for so many blessed years. In how many, even of this audience, does the soul of James J. Blaisdell live to-day. May his successor be a like dispenser of blessing!
If a man be full of thought, knowledge and spirit, human and Divine, he still needs the faculty of speech, and the Faculty of Beloit was not complete till the coming of the first professor of rhetoric.
Franklin W. Fisk was the valedictorian of the Yale class of 1849, of which the salutatorian was Timothy Dwight, now the president of Yale University; and Joseph Hurlbut who was for two years an instructor at Beloit, ranked with them, and Isaac E. Carey, who is also on the roll of our teachers, was close to them. While Dwight remained to develop into a university the home Yale, which the spirit of his grandfather had made so great as a College, his three peers came to aid their former teacher in the endeavor to reproduce Yale College upon the prairies. Mr. Fisk had achieved his education by the force of his own will and character, and his power was already felt in the world when he came to inaugurate in Beloit a department which has ever since been a large part of the power of the College, largely through the impulse which he gave to it before he was called to the work of his life in the Chicago Theological Seminary. That impulse, with the large development given by such a master of thought and of utterance as Professor Blaisdell, and by the classic intelligence of Henry Dickinson, E. G. Miner and L. S. Rowland and by the practical efficiency of Professors H. M. Whitney and Louis E. Holden, in the two departments which now continue it, has been and will be a voice known and felt in the world. Beloit College has something to say; she means something, and she wishes for the voice not of Gorgias but of Demosthenes.
In speaking of the early faculty of Beloit we must not forget those young men, selected from the best graduates of the best colleges of the East, who came to aid for longer or shorter time in the collegiate or the preparatory departments. From Yale, beside the three from the class of 1849, of whom we have spoken, there were Thomas S. Potwin, Franklin C. Jones, William D. Alexander – afterward president of Oahu College, Henry S. DeForest, president of Talladega College, and Fisk P. Brewer, professor in Iowa College. From Princeton came Lewis C. Baker, and from Amherst William H. Ward, the editor of the Independent, Moses Stuart Phelps, professor at Middlebury, and Lucius D. Chapin, pastor at Ann Arbor. Necessity required, as it still requires, provision for preparatory institutions, a wholesome necessity, enabling to begin the training of manly character nearer to the time when character takes its manly tone. The results, under the conduct of such men as John P. Fisk, Ira W. Pettibone, W. W. Rowlands and Thomas D. Christie, with the young men, principally from our own College, who assisted them, prepared for the work of Almon W. Burr, whose thought and will and work are now such an inspiration not only in our own school but throughout the system of Christian academies, which are now a constellation of best omen in all our region.
As, in the outset are counted the early students with the early teachers among those who made Beloit, so we ought to count the early and the later teachers with all the students among those whom Beloit had made. For the teacher receives as well as gives, and pupil and teacher alike, as they have breathed together the air of Beloit, and fed together upon the thoughts of all ages, and all the words of God which gather here, have been forming themselves for places in that order of liberally educated men, who are to be the faculty of a liberated world. In such a faculty Aaron L. Chapin, with his forty years of presidency here, may have received more than the student of a four years' course. But whoever, in years or in months has breathed enough of the air of Beloit to catch the spirit of Beloit, is of her company.
A half century's account of blessing and giving illustrates the expansive character of liberal education.
Beloit has received from thirteen other colleges, one president, twenty professors, and twenty other teachers. Beloit has given to forty colleges, sixteen presidents, thirty professors and twenty-five other teachers or officers. If we add our other educators, and physicians, and jurists, and editors, who are a specialty of Beloit, and our clergymen and home and foreign missionaries and our business men, whose opportunity and whose work is an immense factor in the extension of liberal education, what shall we count the contribution already made to the advancement of mankind? How shall we remember that later faculty of Beloit, who are now carrying on the alma mater's teaching in all right lines of life all round the world? If the early faculty of Beloit rejoice in the work of the later faculty in the home college, we must all rejoice together in that greater faculty of the greater Beloit, who are doing the part of their alma mater in the spreading through the earth of that liberty in which the truth maketh free.