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

Miller, Russell


The Tufts student body would not have been normal if it had not developed its campus customs and traditions and had not indulged in escapades of varying degrees of seriousness. The tradition of Class Day, as a senior class activity, started in June 1876, two days before Commencement. On this gala occasion the exercises, which lasted more or less continuously from 12:30 P.M. to 5:00 P.M., were climaxed by a "grand reception" in the evening, with music furnished by the Germania Band of Boston. Among the


ceremonies during the day were deliveries of orations and poems, the burying of a box containing mementos at the foot of a tree near the main College building, and the smoking of "the pipe of peace" to denote the end of class rivalries for another year. As student-sponsored activities were wont to do, the Class Day tradition died out after a period of years and was resurrected by the Class of 1891. The Class of 1892 was credited with reestablishing the annual Field Day, which had also temporarily disappeared.

There were tangible senior "privileges" in the nineteenth century, such as carrying canes and wearing beaver hats. A sign of manliness (in the nineteenth century at least) among all classes was the production of some form of facial adornment. Mustaches, "side tabs," goatees, full beards and gradations thereof were the rule rather than the exception. The faculty in the 1870's and 1880's either set the style or conformed, judging from the graphic evidence of photographs, portraits, and class albums. One statistically minded student in 1864 found less than half of the student body imberbe and less than a quarter of the faculty likewise unadorned.[19] 

Extracurricular traditions in the nineteenth century which took greater conscious effort than growing beards included the annual contest for the class pennant between the traditionally rivalrous freshman and sophomore classes. So much life, limb, and property was endangered by the "flag rush" customarily following the fall freshman-sophomore football game that it was abolished in 1900 by vote of the students (and at the request of the faculty). The first incident requiring faculty disciplinary action occurred shortly after the College opened, when a freshman allegedly attempted "to use a pistol upon a room-mate."[20]  The frequent disappearance of the Bible from the chapel, or the substitution of a dictionary (unabridged) for The Book, was at least not as noisy as the firecrackers which now and again exploded under the platform or pulpit. There is no record that a cow was ever ensconced in any of the upper floors of the College Edifice, but at one time a


baggage wagon peacefully reposing in the College barn back of Middle (Packard) Hall was completely disassembled and subsequently reassembled in the "Mathematical Recitation Room."[21]  When students received written admonitions in the early days of the College for various infractions of the rules of behavior and discipline, the vast majority quickly mended their ways. One, however, became so inured to the plentiful supply sent him that he papered the inside of his dormitory door with them and still managed to graduate. A somewhat more gruesome collection of mementos resulted from the excavations for a street to the Mystic Water Works Reservoir near the top of the Hill in 1879. A large Indian burial mound was uncovered and yielded nine skeletons and various artifacts. "Many of the students have tastefully decorated their rooms with vertebrae, teeth, ribs, and similar cheerful objects from the graves. The effect is quite striking to a stranger of nervous constitution."

Bonfires and other incendiary activities were a special source of anguish for over sixty years because of the isolated location of the College and because of the reluctance, for reasons unknown, of the faculty or Trustees to provide efficient fire extinguishers. The insurance coverage on campus property was never quite adequate in the nineteenth century, and only prompt action by the students prevented the burning of both the College Edifice and East Hall more than once. The former building was almost lost on July 4, 1858, when a student lit a pile of shavings nearby in order to explode firecrackers. His self-righteous explanation to the faculty was that "he had always been allowed to make all the disturbance, noise, and confusion he pleased on the 4th of July." The introduction of baseball created another hazard, for broken windowpanes in the dormitories became a chronic nuisance. The 100-foot tower


constructed as part of Goddard Chapel in the 1880's gave rival classes unparalleled opportunities to lay siege to each other, and the flagstaff erected in 1903 near the top of the Hill tempted students to utilize it for impromptu antics, usually in the dark of the moon. Rolling stones down dormitory stairs, emptying buckets of water on unsuspecting passersby, and similar activities not included on the College calendar brought disciplinary action when the occasion warranted. Student demonstrations of sympathy for those "under sentence of punishment" often caused more excitement than the original offense. Students usually accepted the punishments meted out to them, but in rare instances an entire class would protest against some faculty or administrative action that they deemed unfair (such as failure to extend holiday periods) by the device of "concerted absence" from recitations. This "cutting" en masse usually brought faculty retaliation. An often-used countermeasure was to schedule makeup classes on Sunday morning. One student in the 1860's was deprived of the privilege of delivering his Commencement Part "for entertaining improper company


in his room, at unseasonable hours." [22]  The Trustees had to take a hand in proceedings in 1914 by employing a police officer "from noon to ten P.M. on Sundays for the balance of the academic year to keep objectionable women off the College enclosure."

Hazing of some sort was an ancient tradition (with freshmen the usual victims) and was most difficult to eradicate. From time to time the practice became sufficiently serious to require Trustee as well as faculty action, and the students issued policy statements regularly. The Class of 1869 unanimously adopted a resolution (at the suggestion of President Miner) on the eve of Independence Day in 1866 stating that "we regard the College custom of hazing as unnatural and barbarous, since it meanly takes advantage of inexperience and offers hostility to those entitled above all others to our sympathy and kind attention." Reportedly, the celebration of the July 4th holiday that year was as boisterous as ever. The resolution was passed on to the Class of 1870 in the hope that hazing would become extinct. Needless to say, it did not, for class rivalries were frequently spirited and sometimes tempers ran high. The faculty was commended by the Trustees in 1894 for condemning hazing "in all its forms, as unworthy of young men engaged in the pursuit of the higher education." It was "to be eradicated at whatever cost." More than one student lost his scholarship aid for having "come under . . . grave censure in the course of the year." The editor of the Tuftonian in 1911 assured his readers that "hazing is no longer a universal institution; horse-play is being tabooed." Probably no more inaccurate statement was ever made, for student exuberance and animal spirits in general have never been conspicuously absent on any college campus.

Among the matters of concern to the Overseers in 1902 was student conduct. They were highly critical of student behavior and the code of morals "which thoughtful men would repudiate at once in the domain of business or of society." Ostensibly, this student code tolerated cheating in examinations, justified the destruction of private property in the celebration of athletic victories, encouraged boorish manners and various forms of reprehensible


conduct, and caused strained relations between professors and students, campus and community. The Overseers put part of the blame on the inflexible curriculum and "paternal form of college government" of an earlier day. But even with more liberal and enlightened administrative policies the situation still seemed to be bad around the country, and there was "reason to fear that the moral atmosphere at Tufts College is not essentially different from that in other institutions." The Overseers charged the faculty of the College to do something about the problem and suggested drastic measures if necessary. "The arrest and conviction of a few bumptious youths, followed by their prompt dismissal from college, would prove an object lesson in citizenship of incalculable value to the entire student body."

The faculty dutifully reviewed the report of the Overseers regarding student discipline and took a significantly more tolerant attitude than did the alumni board. The faculty pointed out that youthful energies needed a certain amount of outlet in shenanigans anyway, and that most of the difficulty had stemmed from exaggerated reports made in Boston newspapers by copy men who saw advantage in a bit of sensationalism. The Overseers considered it necessary in their annual report of 1903 to allude again to student behavior, particularly because of newspaper reports of hazing and immoral conduct. They were relieved to learn from President Capen that the reports regarding the first were "grossly exaggerated" and that the statements regarding immoral conduct were "absolutely without foundations." The Overseers, it is clear, were concerned about the image of the College created in the public mind. Problems arising out of newspaper publicity, "town and gown" conflicts (complicated by the location of the College astride two communities), and unorthodox student activities within the confines of the campus were never absent in any decade of Tufts history but somehow were surmounted without seriously threatening the survival of the institution, its inhabitants, or its neighbors.


[19] The first president of Tufts was among the few completely cleanshaven inhabitants on the campus in his day; he did not have a like-minded successor in Ballou Hall until 1920.

[20] The culprit was suspended for a year for "intemperance, falsehood, disobedience, and for having dangerous weapons in the college and for using them." Neither the wielder of the pistol nor the intended victim completed his course or received a degree from the institution.

[21] By means of certain techniques not recorded, the names of the five guilty parties were ascertained by the faculty. The ringleader was suspended from the College for one semester and, like his pistol-toting classmate, failed to earn a Tufts degree. There is no record of how long the system lasted, but the first effort by the faculty to give the students a measure of self-government was taken in the spring of 1900 and arose out of cases of student discipline. A student jury was created, with the president of the College as judge, to hear and act upon "all cases of public disorder and all offences committed by students against each other." The faculty was to serve as a court of last resort in cases of conflict over jurisdiction or a hung jury.

[22] In another instance, two young men "warranted the penalty of dismission" for having "brought two young women from Boston on Saturday evening, and provided them with room and entertainment till the following Monday."

  • 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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