The Early Trustees
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The Early Trustees

Published in Semi-Centennial Anniversary Beloit College 1897


     The Trustees, and the Development of the College under their Guardianship, is the topic assigned to me.

     A Christian college which is to live and prosper and be a perennial fountain of blessings to coming generations must have a Christian origin. In this respect Beloit College was happily favored. It had its first inception in the minds and hearts of that group of intelligent and consecrated men who counseled together in the cabin of a lake steamer in 1844. This consultation resulted in the calling of the conventions held here in 1844-45 by representatives of Presbyterian and Congregational churches in Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, and the College had a truly Christian birth in the hearts, the counsels and the prayers of these men of God, inspired as we believe, by his Spirit, and actuated by the purest and noblest motives.

     These founders of Beloit College were men of rare worth, wise in counsel, and efficient in action, men who had knowledge of the times in which they lived, and foresight of the future "to know what Israel ought to do."

     The motto adopted for the seal of the College expresses the character of its founders and the motives which governed them in what they did: "Scientia vera cum fide pura."

     They laid deep and broad the foundations of a Christian educational institution, upon which others might build securely and prosperously, and committed to a select board of trustees the responsibility of carrying forward the work so happily and hopefully begun by themselves.

     It is more especially of this first board of trustees, to whom was entrusted the guardianship of the College a half century ago, that I am to speak. And who and what were those men who constituted that first board of trustees, – the charter members, – whom it delights us all to hold in grateful remembrance, on this jubilee occasion? And what were the responsibilities which they assumed, and their qualifications to meet them successfully? In answering these questions let me first call the roll of their names.

     Reverends Aratus Kent, Stephen Peet, Aaron L. Chapin, Dexter Clary, Flavel Bascom, Calvin Waterbury, Jedediah D. Stevens, and Ruel M. Pearson; also Messrs. George W. Hickcox, Augustine Raymond, Charles M. Goodsell, Ephraim H. Potter, Lucius G. Fisher, Wait Talcott, Charles S. Hempstead and Samuel Hinman. Eight clergy men, and eight laymen, all good men and true, leaders in the churches which they represented, and equally divided between Wisconsin and Illinois. Alas! No one of the noble band remains with us, to witness the wonderful growth and prosperity of the College so dear to their hearts, and to share with us in the rejoicings of this jubilee year. And yet may we not believe that their sanctified and glorified spirits join to-day in our doxology of praise and thanksgiving, for what God has wrought in and through this beloved institution in the fifty years of its existence?

     I wish that we had a photograph of those trustees assembled at their first meeting, October 23d, 1845, as they prayed, and counseled together; how without funds, without a campus, without a building, without a library, or scientific apparatus, without a faculty, with only a name to begin with, they could develop, and build up a Christian college, which should be the worthy peer of long established and fully equipped eastern institutions.

     As it was my privilege to know them all, and to be intimately associated with several of them, you will pardon me, for speaking more particularly of a few of the number as they impressed me in their official relations as Trustees of the College. The impress of their moulding power has been an abiding influence for good upon the College in all its subsequent history.

     Foremost among them would be seen, that sterling Puritan, Rev. Aratus Kent, an ardent lover of education and religion, the first president of the board, which office he held four years, until 1850, when the newly-elected president of the college became ex-officio president of the board of trustees, and Mr. Kent was made vice-president, which office he held until the time of his death.

     He was a man of unbending integrity and of unyielding principles; a strict economist, yet public-spirited, generous, and self-sacrificing for the good of others. A graduate of Yale College, when he first came West as a pioneer home missionary, he said, "If there is a place so hard, that others will not go there, send me to that place;" and he was sent to an exceedingly difficult field, two hundred miles beyond any organized Protestant church. The spirit of the man is illustrated in the closing sentences of his charge to President Chapin at his inauguration, "Take this charter and observe its provisions. Execute these laws with the firmness of Caesar, and with the meekness of a Christian. Make the impress of this seal the symbol of literary eminence unrivaled between the oceans."

     Rev. Stephen Peet, another of the charter trustees, was, perhaps, more than any other man the originator of the College, and he served as a trustee with untiring energy and fidelity, up to the time of his death, ten years later.

     He was a man of God, fertile in plans and resources and characterized by sound judgment, good common sense, and executive ability. The College was dear to his heart, and he devoted himself with enthusiasm to labors for its welfare, enlisting others also in its support, and securing large additions to its funds in the time of its greatest needs. He was deeply interested in promoting the higher Christian education in the new West, and Beloit College, and Chicago Theological Seminary, are enduring monuments of his successful efforts to secure such institutions as be earnestly desired, and labored to have established.

     Intimately associated with these two leaders in the enterprise, a charier trustee, a member of the executive committee, and the secretary of the board, until the time of his death, – half the life of the College, – was another honored name, that of Rev. Dexter Clary.

     For nearly thirty years he devoted the best energies of his mind and heart, in these official relations to the welfare of the College. With conscientious fidelity and promptness, did he discharge the responsible duties devolved upon him, and in manifold ways, to the extent of his ability did he contribute essentially to its growth and prosperity.

     But to no one of the trustees does the College owe a larger debt of gratitude than to him whose benignant and life-like features, sculptured in enduring marble, are unveiled before us to-day, and whose name and deeds will be held in honored and loving remembrance while the College exists. President Aaron Lucius Chapin's life was identified with the College from its first inception as a founder, trustee and president. From the time of the first consultation of the friends of college education, in the cabin of that memorable lake steamer, he was inspired with the need and the practicability of establishing in this new West a Christian college which would in time become a worthy peer of the best Eastern colleges. He gave his after-life, at the call of duty, to the planting and up-building of such an institution. His thirty-six years of administration as president of the College and forty-seven years service as a trustee, and member of the executive committee attest his ability and success in the responsible work committed to his hands. He outlived all those associated with him in the first board of trustees, and was privileged to witness and rejoice in the already blessed fruitage of their united labors.

     The time allotted to this address forbids us to speak in detail as our hearts would dictate of the other clerical members of that first board of trustees, Reverends Flavel Bascom, Calvin Waterbury, Jedediah D. Stevens and Ruel M. Pearson, efficient, genial, wise-hearted men, who contributed much by their counsels, prayers and influence to the success of the enterprise.

     But we should not fail to name as equally worthy of grateful remembrance on this jubilee occasion those honored and beloved laymen associated with them, who contributed so much of time, thought, labor, business experience and financial aid to make the enterprise a complete success. They planned and counseled wisely, – they labored faithfully, and contributed generously to build a Christian college worthy of the name, upon the broad foundation which had been laid at the beginning.

     Special mention should be made of Mr. Lucius G. Fisher, to whose influence, gifts, and personal sacrifices, the College is largely indebted for its admirable location, and whose valuable services as a trustee were continued to the end of his useful life.

     And what was true of that first board of trustees, in their devotion to the welfare of the College, and their fidelity in discharge of the trust committed to them, I hazard nothing in saying, has been equally true of their successors in the trust. They have been and are men to whose wisdom, business sagacity, fidelity, and love for the College, its interests could safely be entrusted. The harmony which has characterized their deliberations and the unity of action which has resulted are an occasion for devout thankfulness.

     And now from what and to what has the College developed under the guardianship of its trustees in the fifty years of its existence?

     The first board was elected in October, 1845. The same year the location of the College was fixed by a convention of the churches, on this border line of the great commonwealths of Wisconsin and Illinois; – the form of a charter was agreed upon; and beyond that the enterprise was committed to the trustees to develop and carry forward to its completion. The College at this time was only a name.

     What more was required to give to it a reality, and secure its permanency, growth and prosperity? An act of incorporation must be obtained; an eligible site, or campus, must be secured; buildings must be erected; funds collected, and students enrolled.

     In 1846, largely through the self-sacrificing liberality of Mr. Fisher, one of the trustees, a campus, like Jerusalem of old, beautiful for situation, was provided. The same year a charter was granted by the territorial legislature of Wisconsin. Funds were contributed sufficient to begin the work. The corner stone of the first building, the venerable Middle College, was laid June 24th, 1847, amid great rejoicings, the president of the board of trustees, Father Kent, laying the corner stone. The same year was gathered the first class of five students, in the basement of the first Congregational church, under the temporary instruction of the now venerable and honored trustee, Mr. Sereno T. Merrill. But one thing more was wanting as essential to the establishment, permanent growth and usefulness of a Christian college, and without which all else was in vain, viz., a cultured, scholarly, devoted Christian faculty.

     This was supplied the following year, when the now sainted Professor Jackson J. Bushnell, and our beloved Professor Joseph Emerson, classmates at Yale College, "par nobile fratrum," were elected to professorships, the one of mathematics and natural philosophy, and the other of languages, and entered with enthusiasm and whole-hearted consecration upon their duties, doing the work of a whole faculty.

     Such was the small beginning. What have we now at the end of a half century?

     The board of trustees has been enlarged from sixteen to thirty-two. Ten clergymen and twenty-two laymen: twenty from Illinois and twelve from Wisconsin. Eighty-four in all have served in this capacity: thirty-eight clergymen and forty-six laymen, of which number forty were from Illinois, and forty-four from Wisconsin; of these twenty-six have finished their earthly course and entered upon the reward of their labors. Our campus has been enlarged and made both attractive and useful. Grounds for the Women's department, recently established, with their five cottages, have been secured, also an ample athletic field.

     In place of one solitary building, half-finished in 1847, nearly a score of buildings adapted to various needs have been erected. Among them the Memorial Library Building, erected in memory of the patriot college students, over 400 in number, who enlisted in the Union Army, 46 of whom gave their lives for the life of the nation; Pearsons Hall of Science, Chapin Hall, Scoville Academy, Smith Observatory, and the beautiful Chapel, enduring monuments of the wise and large-hearted generosity of the men and women, who by princely gifts furnished the needful funds for their erection.

     The College has in buildings and grounds, library and apparatus, art and museum collections, property in the use of the College of the estimated value of $380,000. Endowment funds for the support of the College have multiplied many-fold. Beginning a half century ago, without an endowment of any kind, we now have the partially or fully endowed professorships, named for the donors, of Williams, Brinsmade, Squier, Root, Hale, Harwood, and Knapp; and of permanent funds, the Emerson, Colton, Talcott, Bushnell, and Davis library funds; the Dodge educational fund; the Logan prize fund; the Porter missionary fund; the Bacon student's aid fund; the Eldridge art fund; the Joseph Emerson fund; the Edward Ely fund; the Science Hall fund; and largest of all, the D. K. Pearsons fund. Altogether, assets of half a million, in addition to those before named.

     But gratifying as is this result, the present imperative needs of the College, to put it on a secure and permanent basis, for its highest usefulness, demands that this amount be duplicated. Can it not be? And at an early day?

     Should I not add in this connection, that we have an honest treasurer and assistant treasurer; sagacious, faithful and experienced, to care for the funds entrusted to their keeping and investment.

     We have a board of instruction, of whom Professor Emerson has spoken, increased from two in 1848 to twenty-three, viz., seventeen professors and six instructors; able, scholarly men, heartily devoted to the interests of the College, well qualified to instruct, and under the lead of a president who commands the highest respect, confidence and love of all associated with him, or who know him.

     There has been gathered a well-selected library of 24,000 volumes and 7,000 pamphlets, and the various departments of science are furnished with valuable apparatus, adapted to their needs.

     We have a large and loyal body of alumni, – the best living capital of the College, – who have confidence in and love for their alma mater, and are ever ready by purse and influence to aid in its highest development and usefulness. The classes enrolled are largely increased in numbers. Over four thousand students have at some time been connected with the institution, and five hundred and twenty have graduated from it.

     And what is of essential value, the College has behind it an enlarged constituency, who have shown their love for it, and their appreciation of the work which it has done, and is doing, and it is embosomed in an intelligent community, who have ever been ready, loyally to plan, and labor, and sacrifice for its support.

     And now with such a history as the College has behind it, to inspire with faith, hope and courage; with grand possibilities of enlargement and usefulness opening before it; with a location unsurpassed in attractiveness; with a president to lead in whose ability and wisdom all have confidence; with a cultured, scholarly and Christian faculty; with a helpful alumni, and a host of tried friends who will not desert it; and with abiding faith in the continued favor of our God, who has done great things for us in the past, may we not enter upon another half-century with assured trust, and joyful expectation, that Beloit College will continue to be what Dr. Pearsons has affirmed it now is, – "the brightest star in the constellation of Western colleges"?