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Epochs in the History of the College

Published in Semi-Centennial Anniversary Beloit College 1897


     A noble continuity has characterized the life of the College. The changes that mark the successive epochs in her history have been changes, not in ends, but in the means of attaining those ends. The College has moved with the society in which it is placed. On the one hand, the rapid development of the wealth of the country and the conquests of inventive skill and scientific research have given her new implements for training and teaching, and on the other hand, the changing world of life without has made new demands on those who are to bear a man's part in its affairs.

     The College has felt the wonderful political and social changes since 1847, and the scarcely less revolutionary changes in educational methods during the same period. But her aim has been the same, a "liberal, Christian education." Her whole history is a consistent interpretation of the motto upon her seal, "true science with pure faith." If knowledge has claimed a wider scope, and faith a deeper sacrifice, she has exhibited throughout the same steadfast devotion to both.

     We may distinguish four well-defined epochs in the life of the institution, each of about twelve years. First is the formative period, from 1847 to the election of Lincoln; then the war period, extending, with its influences, down to about 1873; third, the period of intensive growth, to the inauguration of President Eaton in 1886; and finally the era of extensive growth with which the half-century closes.

     First we see the College of the New Northwest, located in that territory which, admitted to the Union in 1848, made a more rapid increase in population during the decade in which the College was founded than any of her sister states. Pioneer life finds expression in all the experiences of the infant institution, both before and after the laying of the corner-stone of Middle College, – the initial event in our College era.

     The instructive story of the genesis of the College has often been recited, but it is fitting that it be reviewed once more. Into the fertile prairies of Wisconsin and Illinois were pouring, in the years following 1840, the sons of New England. These settlers brought their ideas with them, and were seeking, as rapidly as possible, to embody these ideas in institutions which should both give them form for the present and perpetuate them in the future. The higher Christian education was one of these cherished ideas, dear to their hearts from the first. In 1842 and 1843 at least two definite plans were discussed in their ecclesiastical gatherings, and one for a college colony at Beaver Dam had made considerable progress before its impracticability was demonstrated.

     The sentiment in favor of establishing a college was crystallized into action by a convention at Cleveland, Ohio, in June, 1844, at which representatives of all parts of the Northwest discussed the religious needs of the whole region. One evening at this convention was occupied by addresses on behalf of the Society for the Promotion of Collegiate and Theological Education at the West, organized in New York in 1843. The secretary of this society, Rev. Theron Baldwin, was a passenger on the steamer Chesapeake, which carried homeward the delegates from beyond Lake Michigan. A conference of seven of these men in the stateroom of Stephen Peet, then agent for Wisconsin of the American Home Missionary Society, bore fruit in the calling of a convention, which met at Beloit, Aug. 7, 1844, composed of fifty-six delegates from Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.

     The task before the convention was not only to rally an interest in the founding of colleges for the rapidly growing commonwealths, but also to secure the concentration of that interest upon a few properly located institutions. Hence the caution which prolonged the deliberations through three subsequent conventions before the matter could be handed over to the corporation, appointed by the last of the four in October, 1845.

     The first convention recommended the establishment of one college for Iowa and of a college and a female seminary for Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, "one to be located in Northern Illinois contiguous to Wisconsin, and the other in Wisconsin contiguous to Illinois." Iowa accordingly was left to proceed by herself, and a committee of ten was appointed to receive propositions for a location for the Illinois-Wisconsin college and report to the next convention in October.

     But at this second convention was developed some dissent from the policy of uniting the two states in support of a college near the border, and hence the question was referred back to the churches, who were to express their mind in a third convention, which met at Beloit, May 27, 1845. After protracted discussion, the plan of one college and one female seminary for the two states was re-affirmed by a vote of sixty-three to one. This vote virtually decided also the location of the college at Beloit, for Beloit was the border town which bad been in the minds of the leaders from the outset, and her interest in the enterprise had been manifested by an offer from her citizens of a site and $7,000, "together with their sympathies, prayers and future efforts."

     The convention therefore then passed as a matter of course a resolution locating the college at Beloit, and appointed a committee of ten to draw up a charter and a list of trustees, both to be presented to the fourth convention, Oct. 21, 1845. This convention accepted the trustees and charter as recommended, and left further arrangements, including the locating of the seminary, in the hands of the sixteen trustees.*

     Eight of the sixteen were ministers, eight laymen; eight were from Wisconsin, eight from Illinois; eight were Presbyterians, eight Congregationalists. Mr. Peet states that the denominational distribution was an accident, while the geographical location was carefully studied. A majority of the ministerial incorporators, including Peet, Kent and Chapin, were graduates of Yale, whose influence appears at many points in the subsequent history.

     The trustees immediately met, Oct. 23, 1845. After prayer they chose Rev. Aratus Kent as president and Rev. Dexter Clary as secretary. The charter fared hardly at the hands of the territorial legislature, owing to influences unfavorable to religion, if not to education. Amendments were inserted restricting the sphere of operations to the town of Beloit, and prohibiting religious tests. So dissatisfied were the trustees, that they voted (April 14, 1846) not to accept the charter on these terms, but in October, finding that valuable time would be lost by waiting for a new legislature, they reconsidered their action and found that no practical difficulties had been imposed by the amendments.

*The names of the sixteen charter members head the list of the trustees as printed in the appendix to this pamphlet.

     The formal organization completed, the college was ready to take on the material and personal equipment for its work of instruction. The lots comprising the most beautiful part of the campus were deeded to the board, and the visitor to the village in October, 1846, was shown, amid the brush, the stakes that marked the ground-plan of Middle College. At the laying of the corner-stone, June 24, 1847, Mr. Peet announced the gift from Hon. T. W. Williams, of New London, Conn., of $10,000 in western lands to endow a professorship.*

     The organization of classes could not wait for the completion of the building nor the engagement of the professors, about whom much correspondence had already been carried on.

     The famous "Old Stone Church," which had sheltered the conventions, offered its hospitable basement. The Beloit Seminary, established in 1844, had candidates ready for the freshman class, and its accomplished principal, Mr. S. T. Merrill, was ready to carry them along with their college studies. Accordingly, Nov. 4, 1847, a class of four (within a week increased to five) was admitted, after examination by Mr. Merrill and the trustees, to entrance upon a course of study drawn up exactly on the Yale plan.

     The founders of the College had realized, from the first, that their reliance for the accomplishment of their high purposes must be, not upon buildings nor endowments, but upon men. And they chose well the men to whom they entrusted the life of the new-born College. After Professor Emerson's survey it is not necessary for me to do more than to note the dates in 1848, when he and Professor Bushnell entered upon their life-work for the College, the latter arriving April 27, the former May 24. The first president, Rev. A. L. Chapin, was called from Milwaukee, Nov. 21st, 1849, and inaugurated July 24, 1850. Professor Porter came in 1852, and Professor Blaisdell in 1859. The harmonious continuity already alluded to is due in large measure to the co-operation, for so long a period, of these men of diverse gifts but kindred spirit. The limits assigned me do not permit the tracing in detail of the events of this pioneer epoch, now fairly inaugurated. They were the days of the picturesque, of the heroic. Knowledge was Greek, Latin and Mathematics. Prayers began at 6 A.M. The president's chair embraced such duties as the revision of freshman essays and the hearing of preparatory Caesar. The Archaean Debating Society and the Missionary Society, both organized before the first class had gone very far, were the chief voluntary organizations. These were the days of beginnings, and the beginnings were sometimes small, but they were days of high endeavor, of patient continuance, of faith and prayer.

*The story of the giving of these lots to the College is told in the address of S. T. Merrill, Esq., printed in the "Proceedings at the presentation of the Fisher Collection," 1804, with a fac-simile of the original deed.

     By works, too, the friends of the College gave proof of their faith. At the end of the first ten years the trustees were able to report gifts amounting to $125,000, of which $29,000 had been given by citizens of Beloit, and $31,500 by other donors at the West, including the $10,000 which Stephen Peet had solicited from home missionaries and their parishioners. From the East had come $64,500, the largest single gift being that of Mrs. Hale of Newburyport, who gave lands which eventually were sold for $35,000.

     The life of this period is reflected in its buildings; in Middle College, our Plymouth Rock; in North College, a younger sister of Yale's South Middle; in the Old Chapel, where, though the interior might be severely plain, the tossing tree-tops outside seemed to waft the prayers a little nearer heaven. Plain living and high thinking are written upon every wall of the trio, – written as well upon the forms and character of those men whose presence was the living power within the inert walls.

     The work to which the early graduates addressed themselves was predominantly that of the Christian ministry. The need of the world and of the newly-settled country, threatened with the tendencies of immigration to barbarism, impressed strongly upon these men the demand for the message of the Gospel.

     Meanwhile the nation has entered upon that struggle in which the Northwest was to turn the tide of battle in favor of freedom and union. The College felt the thrill of the conflict. Faith was now faith in country, God-given and God-guided; knowledge was the discerning of the hour; training was the teaching of the manual of arms. The campus was filled at the recreation-hour, not with contending ball-players, but with drilling squads of recruits.

     Beloit sent her four hundred heroes, her forty-six martyrs, to the front, and the hero-spirit pervaded those who stayed by the stuff at home, so that the daily routine was performed with a new energy and fidelity. The impulse of this spirit carried the College along for a dozen years from 1860, until the last of her soldier-sons, – lieutenants, captains, colonels of regiments, – had finished their academic preparation for the works of peace. How the soldier-spirit carried them out into the posts of danger to "follow the flag over the breastworks" of the enemy of souls in Turkey and China and Japan, I need not, in this presence, attempt to relate.

     But how the College flourished in the years succeeding the war may be seen in the catalogues with their lengthening enrollment of students, and the names of those whose presence added strength to the faculty. In 1864 Professor Blaisdell was transferred from the chair of rhetoric to that of philosophy, and the College, after the faithful solicitation of President Chapin had brought in fifty thousand dollars from generous givers East and West, to increase its endowment, declared its independence of the Education Society.

     The same impulse was felt in undergraduate activities. The Olympian Base-ball Club won the state championship in 1876. A students' annual, called the "Palladium" at first, later the "Register," was published from 1862 to 1871. The daily prayer-meeting, which lived for twenty years, was started in 1865 among those who had prayed together in the camp. A reminiscence of the barracks was suggested by the architecture of South College, built in 1868 to shelter the increasing numbers.

     A fitting crown of this period was the dedication in 1869 of Memorial Hall, erected by the gifts of many donors in response to an appeal for one hundred dollars for each man who had enlisted from the College. The soldiery in uniform, Old Abe, Wisconsin's war-eagle, the martial music, the glowing oratory of Senator Carpenter, the classic eloquence of Professor Emerson, the booming of the minute-guns, fired by student-veterans in honor of the dead, – all bespoke what the College had learned and suffered, given and gained, through the war. As we survey the record of the College, we do not wonder that President Lincoln, shortly before the surrender of Lee, testified to a friend that it was the home missionaries and the college presidents who had saved the Northwest to the Union and thereby saved the Union itself.*

     Succeeding the war-period came the years from 1873 to the close of President Chapin's administration, in 1886, years characterized rather by the gradual strengthening of the College than by sudden changes or dramatic incidents, – the period of intensive growth.

     Three important tendencies appear in this epoch. The first is the strengthening of the College by its own alumni, now a body strong in numbers as well as in character. They entrust their own sons to the care of Alma Mater, the first of these being graduated in 1881. They contribute a fund to endow an alumni professorship, and have begun to take their places on the boards of trust and instruction. Professor Hendrickson, appointed in 1871, was the first of the eleven graduates whom Beloit has called to full professorships; Dr. J. Collie, elected in 1869, was the first alumni trustee.

*The spirit and the record of the sons of Beloit in the war are fittingly set forth by Professor Emerson, in Lectures VII. and VIII. of his published "Lectures and Sermons."

     A second line of development shows the influence of causes that were felt in all the educational institutions of the country, tending to the introduction of more of natural science and modern language at the expense of the classics which had formed the main stay of the course of study. The standard of admission was raised from time to time, to correspond to the rise of standards at the East. Here a term of Greek, there one of Latin, had already made way for geology or history, and finally in 1873 a philosophical course was laid out for those who knew not the sound of the limpid Greek. Though containing less philosophy than the other course, its name was justified by its originator on the ground that it was arranged on philosophical principles. Few chose it in those years, but it furnished its full share of men of mark in college and in after life. The new chairs established during this period were those of geology, astronomy and modern languages, and the scientific equipment of the College was increased in many ways, – especially by the gift of the Smith Observatory, dedicated in 1883. This building, the first to bear a name suggested by the donor, was erected as a memorial to Mr. J. F. Smith by his sister, Mrs. J. S. Herrick.

     We notice in the third place, as in other institutions at this time, the diversification of undergraduate activities, and it is interesting to observe how many of the features of college life that have since become so prominent had their beginnings at Beloit in the thirteen years that we are now considering. In 1875 the College Monthly, established in 1853, expands into the semi-monthly Round Table, and in the same year Beloit wins second place in the first Interstate Oratorical contest. The first fraternity was given recognition in 1880. The first Greek play to be performed, the Antigone, was given in 1885, in what is now the reading-room.

     The first field-day was held in 1880; Beloit entered the Western College Base-ball League in 1883; lawn-tennis appeared in 1884. The Delian Band foreshadowed the merry tinkle of the Mandolin Club, as did the Phi Beta Sigma Quartette the Glee Club. The College yell was born May 2, 1884, on the eve of a tie-game of base-ball with the University of Wisconsin, and though of much less formidable dimensions than at present, its seven syllables formed the basis of the chorus of to-day.

     The enthusiasm of war-times found a parallel in the heartiness with which the students took up the building of a gymnasium. The project was launched by the salutatorian of '73, whose Latin speech was received with unwonted thunders of applause as he closed with the words, which for more than a year had been upon his lips, "gymnasium aedificandum est." The contributions were, like those for Middle College, partly in days' works, and the Wednesday and Saturday half-holidays saw groups of busy students wheeling gravel or laying shingles.

     The citizens of Beloit attested their loyalty to the College by rallying once more and raising a subscription for the remodeling of Middle College, which in 1880 was adorned with its mansard roof and colonnaded front. Less conspicuous, but no less important, were the additions made from time to time to the endowment funds, which, by the close of President Chapin's administration, amounted to nearly two hundred thousand dollars. The largest gift of this period was that of $20,000 from Mrs. Stone of Malden, Mass.

     We cannot but ask, as we see how new departments of knowledge have taken their place beside the older discipline, and how the training of the student by his fellows takes on a corresponding diversity of forms, whether our good ship has drifted away from the ideals of faith toward which her framers set her course. The College generation that followed the outgoing veterans of the war underwent a certain reaction from the intensity of that mighty uplift of feeling, but this was only a temporary reaction, and a recovery soon ensued. The effect of social and intellectual movements in the world outside is reflected in the apportionment of the graduates among the various callings. Of the alumni who were graduated before 1876, 42 per cent. entered the ministry; of those graduated since that date, 22 per cent. On the other hand, the teacher's profession shows an increase from 11 to 24 per cent., and the various forms of business activity attracted 15 per cent. of the earlier graduates, 23 per cent. of the later; while law, (15 per cent.), medicine, (7 per cent.), and journalism, (4 per cent.), show almost the same proportion in the two periods.

     These figures mean, not that the ideals which the College has held up have been lowered, but that she has shown her sons how to apply them over the wider fields that the increasing specialization of knowledge and the new application of science to industry are opening up to men of trained minds and devoted hearts. Surely, of all her sons, none have proved themselves more loyal to the "Beloit idea," to the "faith that makes faithful," than those in business and the institutions of learning.

     The following table, prepared by Professor Porter, is of interest in this connection, showing, as nearly as can be approximated, the number of years of service rendered by Beloit alumni in the learned professions during the last half-century:

Ministers ..................................................................... 2,561
Physicians ..................................................................... 784
Lawyers ..................................................................... 1,440
Teachers ..................................................................... 1,151
Editors ..................................................................... 665
Total ..................................................................... 6,601

     In 1886 Dr. Chapin, after thirty-six years of service in the president's chair, resigned, and his mantle fell upon his chosen successor, Rev. Edward Dwight Eaton. Under his leadership the College entered upon its fourth epoch, that era of rapid expansion in which we all rejoice. The historian of the centennial year will be better able than we to trace the continuity of development, but I am sure that he will find that the changes of this period have been only an enlarged expression of the purpose of the founders. Elective courses, laboratory methods in all departments, the array of modern buildings, substantial, convenient, beautiful, the culture afforded by contact with art and music, – these are not incompatible with a liberal Christian education, but are the long-looked-for aids in its better attainment.

     It was because this expansion meant the magnifying of the old ideas that every one connected with the College, trustees, alumni, students, friends, rallied so heartily in response to the challenge of Dr. D. K. Pearsons in 1889. As Professor Blaisdell beard at his gate the cheers that came from the old Chapel as the students pledged the money that many of them would have to earn themselves, he recognized the spirit of the boys of the war-times. The zeal of others was kindled by the enthusiasm of the students, and to the $100,000 which Dr. Pearsons had offered was added more than an equal sum, including the gift from Mr. J. W. Scoville of $25,000 for the comely Academy building that bears his name, and $10,000 for its endowment from the citizens of Beloit.

     Other buildings followed. Chapin Hall, built and christened by Dr. Pearsons, was completed in 1891. The beautiful new Chapel, costing $35,000, given by Mrs. M. R. Doyon and others, was dedicated in 1892, and the tones of the pipe-organ which Mrs. H. Story placed within it called into being the musical department of the College. The vacating of the old Chapel building left quarters there for another new department, art, which has been enriched by numerous gifts, including the casts sent by the Greek government to the World's Fair in 1893, presented by L. G. Fisher, Jr., and an endowment of $10,000 from Mrs. Azariah Eldridge.

     Meanwhile, the urgent need of the College for an enlarged equipment for the teaching of the natural sciences had been appreciated, and Dr. Pearsons gave $60,000 for the erection of a Hall of Science, and Mr. Wm. E. Hale an equal sum, $50,000 being for endowment. The building, named for the donor, was ready for use in 1893, and in that year Mr. F. G. Logan equipped its museum with the valuable Rust archaeological collection. Hon. Wait Talcott had previously provided a fund for the purchase of scientific books. The chairs of astronomy and botany were endowed, in honor, respectively, of Edward Ely, Esq., and of Mrs. Cornelia Bailey Williams.

     Along with science and art, other departments have not been overlooked by the generous friends of this later period. The endowment of the chair of oratory by Hon. J. H. Knapp was completed. Mrs. S. D. Warren, a life-long friend of Professor Blaisdell, made a large addition to the endowment of his chair of philosophy. E. P. Bacon, Esq., has provided a scholarship fund of $20,000, and a generous legacy for the same purpose was received from the estate of Rev. Joseph Emerson, of Andover, Mass., while the gift of Mr. and Mrs. C. B. Stowell opened the way for the admission of women to the privileges of the institution.

     This increase of Beloit's material equipment was accompanied by a great enlargement of the opportunities which she was able to place within reach of her students. The course of study was enriched. Occasional options had been offered before 1886, but in that year the courses were reorganized with the introduction of a large number of electives in the later years of study. Instructors in art and music were in 1893 added to the faculty, whose numbers had in ten years increased from fourteen to twenty-four.

     With the completion of Pearsons Hall in 1893, it was possible to open a Science Course, incorporating not only results but also methods of investigation, and to carry yet further Beloit's standards of character and scholarship in the fields where they had been so conspicuously exhibited already under less favorable auspices.

     To enjoy the enlarged advantages now offered by the College, an increasing throng of students sought her doors, as her ranks were recruited from affiliated academies and accredited high schools. With the growth of the Beloit Academy to the full capacity of Scoville Hall, the policy of developing preparatory schools in the vicinity into feeders of the College was begun with encouraging success, while, on the other hand, provision was made for recognizing the fact that the best High Schools of the region now do full preparatory work. In 1895 women were admitted to the College classes and Stowell Cottage was opened for their accommodation. When President Eaton's administration began there were 58 students in the College proper; in 1889 there were 97; in 1897, 196.

     The diversification of student life, already begun, is carried further with the increase of attendance. Class-day becomes an established institution from 1886. The Glee Club makes its first concert tour in 1889. A new series of oratorical victories encourages the wearers of the gold. The Greek play attains the dignity of an annual public performance. A College Annual appears again in 1889, after the battles over the Register have been forgotten. The fraternity houses add their charms to the social life of the students. A regular instructor in athletics is added to the faculty in 1894 by the efforts of the students, and a place on the team now means, not a little desultory practice, but persistent hard work. Yet amid all these distractions, the worth of honest manhood never found readier recognition, the proportion of students dependent on their own exertions was never greater.

     Numbers have increased, courses have been multiplied, facilities have been amplified. Has the growth in knowledge been at the cost of faith? Time alone can tell. But judging from such indications as the interest in the Sunday vespers, the hush of reverent affection which greets the mention of Professor Blaisdell's name, or from the cordial unanimity of conviction among the members of the faculty, and the spirit in which recent graduates are finding and doing their work in the world, we rejoice to believe that the College is not to erase but to magnify the larger half of her motto.

     The experiences of each succeeding epoch have demonstrated the value of the ideals of the founders, the strength of the foundations that they laid. Each period has found the College responsive to the changing demands made upon her by the advancement of knowledge and by the new forms of duty to which, with social development and change, faith has prompted. "The past at least is secure." The future is with God. But if the College shall be true to God's plan for her as revealed in her history, if she shall still teach men to read God's truth, to read man's need, and to live the truth into the life of the world, who dare doubt that the future too is secure with God and those whom He shall call to carry on her work?

     The prophetic words with which Dr. Chapin closed his account of the "Origin and Early Progress of the College," delivered fifty years ago at the laying of the corner-stone of Middle College, hold good for us to-day: "With faith inspired by past experience, in connection with the firm promises of God, we address ourselves to the difficulties before us, with confident hope that He who has thus led us by ways that we knew not, will perfect the work that He has permitted us to begin and make it redound to His glory and the good of men."