Light on the hill: A history of Tufts College, 1852-1952

Miller, Russell


Music has always played an important part in the life of Tufts students. For many years at the turn of the century the institution was known as "the Singing College."[6]  Quartets and quintets (including the Silver Bells) were the first musical organizations, providing everything from barbershop harmony to operatic selections. A Glee Club was formed in 1867, but, as with many another student group, the fatal mistake was made of selecting all the members from one class; their graduation put an end to this musical


endeavor for several years. After the passage of time and the arrival of another college generation, another organization took its place. During the mid-1870's a "private" Glee Club known as the "East Hallers" held sway, but vocal music did not take on great vitality until Leo R. Lewis, of the Class of 1887, appeared on the scene and organized the chapel choir into a Glee Club which gave public concerts in the late 1880's and 1890's and traveled extensively.[7]  A Banjo Club, organized in 1888, was superseded by a mandolin and Guitar Club, which often accompanied the Glee Club. An


orchestra of five members was organized in 1871 but died out periodically and was now and again revived. The group sometimes erroneously referred to as the "Original Tufts Orchestra" actually existed from 1883 to 1890 but did achieve distinction in its day for its size (varying from eleven to over twenty members), the high quality of its performances, and its numerous public appearance. There was never enough talent on the campus in the nineteenth century to produce a full complement, so players from neighboring communities were frequently included. Only one brass band (organized in 1884) served the campus briefly before the First World War.

Aside from optional instruction in vocal music between 1869 and 1876, there was nothing approaching a Department of Music or provision for instruction until 1895. Albert Metcalf subsidized the first Professorship of Music (held by Leo Lewis) and obtained for the College between 1895 and 1897 many valuable works on the history and theory of music. He also secured the working library of Frederic Louis Ritter, which consisted of over 2,000 volumes, including 500 orchestral scores of standard works.[8]  Orchestration was completed for five of the most popular Tufts songs as a part of regular class work in 1901. They were first publicly performed by sixty members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra on a May evening in 1901, thus inaugurating the annual spring custom of "Tufts Night at the 'Pops.' "

Dramatics was another student enterprise that attracted considerable interest. The Tufts Dramatic Club, formed in 1876, was among the first (and short-lived) Thespian organizations and performed on a stage constructed for the purpose in the chapel of the main College building. The Stuft Club, founded in 1886, lasted until 1892, when its chief promoter became an alumnus. Three years later, the Modjeska Club was formed, with the purpose of producing serious drama; it had but a brief career. The Eranos Club enjoyed a similarly abbreviated life. Until 1910 no organization interested in dramatics survived the graduation of its members, and except for an occasional special all-College production, individual classes presented what plays were given.[9]  Out of this


practice arose the custom of having the junior class produce and act a play each year. Out of this, in turn, came the only student dramatic group to have a continuous history into the 1960's. Founded in the spring of 1910, Pen, Paint, and Pretzels (3 P's) was an honorary society at first limited to seniors but extended after a time to juniors. Its original purpose was to "encourage dramatic interest at Tufts College by the production of original plays by students or graduates of Tufts or Jackson."[10]  The "temporary" stage provided in Goddard Gymnasium in the 1880's was replaced by similar facilities in the remodeled headquarters of the Somerville Golf Club which in 1909 became the women's gymnasium. The same building, redesignated the Tufts Arena Theatre after the Second World War, was still serving as headquarters for dramatics in the 1960's, Jackson College having acquired a new gymnasium in 1948.

The 3 P's did not confine their productions to original plays, although they were in good supply. As scenery, lighting, and student interest grew, the organization became more and more ambitious and in 1913 went outside its own circle of authorship for the first time by offering Henrik Ibsen's Enemy of the People. Producers and sponsors varied from year to year, working in more or less close cooperation with the 3 P's. In some instances it was a particular Tufts freshman or sophomore class that put on the play; in others, it was the Masque, the official dramatic society of Jackson College, organized in 1915-16 and united with the 3 P's in 1930. During and immediately after the First World War the 3 P's went on the road, entertaining troops at Commonwealth Pier and the Navy Yard in Boston, and at Fort Devens, and civilians in such nearby communities as Winchester and Everett. Among the undergraduate leaders in the 3 P's in the immediate postwar years was Leonard Carmichael. He became president of the College less than twenty years after he played leading parts in several 3 P's productions and served as the society's president in 1921. The leading


dramatic organization had no more qualms about presenting Shakespeare, Shaw, and a host of other prominent playwrights in 1916 than in the 1960's.

Events, organizations, and worthy causes in the non-collegiate world have always been reflected to some extent on the Tufts campus. A branch of the National Young People's Christian Union was established in 1891. In the following year a Prohibition Club appeared; it experienced various fortunes until it suffered a perceptible (and permanent) decline after 1932, with the repeal of the Volstead Act and the Eighteenth Amendment to the federal Constitution. Politically concerned students have organized local clubs to support national presidential candidates from one four-year period to another, following the tradition established in 1876 when rival organizations were created to support Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden. The potential Republicans on the campus then outnumbered the Democrats almost four to one- a situation completely reversed by the 1960's.

Isolated as the College may have seemed in the nineteenth century, located on its hilltop northwest of Boston, there were numerous opportunities for contact — academic and otherwise — with the outside world. Students could make trips by boat (via the Mystic River), rail (the Boston and Maine), or streetcar (the Boston Elevated) to see the sights or enjoy the cultural - and other- advantages of the Big City. Or they could be treated to many forms of intellectual stimulation offered by outside speakers or special programs of various kinds made available on the campus The oldest endowed series was the Russell Lectures, established by James Russell of West Cambridge (Arlington), Massachusetts, in 1867. The lecturers, selected annually by the Trustees and usually after consultation with the faculty, spoke on a topic relating to Christianity, in accordance with the provisions of the donor's will. In only one year in the long history of the Russell Lectures was there no speaker.[11]  Numerous other programs under the sponsorship of either the institution or some division or department, or one or more student groups, have enriched the regular offerings of the College and have appealed to almost every taste and interest imaginable.


[6] The definitive work is Harry Adams Hersey, A History of Music in Tufts College, published by the Trustees of Tufts College in 1947.

[7] "Dear Alma Mater," the music for which was composed by Lewis in 1898, was first rendered in full choral form, with organ, at a concert in 1900. Professor David L. Maulsby of the English Department wrote the words. Discipline for the Glee Club was strict. There were four or five rehearsals a week, formal dress was required at all concerts, and members were fined for making mistakes and for letting their eyes wander too far in the direction of ladies in the audience. Smoking by members was prohibited at all times.

[8] For many years most of the Ritter Collection has rested in dust-covered splendor in the recesses of the library.

[9] The great dramatic event in 1895 was a presentation of Nicholas Udall's Ralph Roister Doister, under the direction of the English Department. An even more impressive offering was the joint production of John Milton's Masque of Comus by members of the Departments of Music and English in 1901. Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus was the third major College-sponsored effort before 1910.

[10] Charles R. Gott, of the Class of 1911, and one of the five charter members, later returned as chairman of the English Department.

[11] Rev. Massena Goodrich delivered the first address in 1868. No lecture was given in 1918 because of wartime conditions.

  • Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts College, was published to coincide with the centennial of the institution in 1952. A second volume was published in 1986. This edition was created from the 1966 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume I.
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