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

Miller, Russell


A committee of seven Trustees appointed to seek a new president was created at the same meeting (March 31, 1905) at which F. W. Hamilton, chairman of the Executive Committee, was made acting president. The committee was given no special instructions and was presumably free to consult whomever it wished. It was not until October that it made a preliminary report. Several persons were under consideration and a "voluminous correspondence" was in progress with some individuals, but no results had yet been achieved. The committee contacted the Board of Overseers as the logical body to represent the alumni; the Board immediately set to work to obtain suggestions from every graduate of the College for a successor to Capen. A circular was distributed, "countless" personal letters were written, and numerous interviews were held. The alumni were assured that all letters received in reply to the Overseers' request would be treated confidentially if desired by the writers.

A detailed report of the Overseers' findings and recommendations was forwarded to the Trustees in October 1905. The


candidates whose names were submitted ranged from men eminently fit (but not available) to "radical suggestions and some few that might be considered extraordinary." Out of the welter of ideas there did come a consensus. Certain academic qualifications were recognized as indispensable. The new president should be a man

of ample scholarship, acquainted in the professional sense withmodern educational thought, a competent business man or administrator along educational lines; he should be a man of largeexecutive ability; he should be magnetic, courteous, affable, forceful, tactful in his dealings with men, so that he may represent theCollege in a large way in all financial, educational, and socialcircles; he should be one who by temperament, personal forceand broad sympathy, should command the confidence and esteemof those about him; a man above all of large power of leadership,who shall rally to his support the loyalty of the oldest and theyoungest of the college constituency.

Certain other qualifications that seemed of special relevance to the situation at Tufts were spelled out. President Capen had established such a harmonious relationship with the alumni that the Overseers were particularly insistent that his successor be one who would be "widely acceptable" to them, for "sooner or later the future of the College must lie in the hands of the graduate body." The Overseers had, in consequence, been led to the conclusion that the new president ought to be a graduate of the College, if one could be found having the necessary qualifications. They marshaled all the reasons that could ever be offered for making such a recommendation.

On another point the consensus of the alumni was unequivocal. The new president should be a layman rather than a clergyman. This was partly a matter of following a national trend, of which Yale was cited as an example. "The training of the clergyman is no longer, as in former years, the ideal for the president of a College." The general demand was for an experienced educator. Another argument centered around the desirability of removing any hint of sectarianism in Tufts' operation, control, or admissions policy. A third reason for avoiding a clergyman was the objection voiced by "a large part of the alumni" to Frederick William Hamilton, Class of 1880, Universalist pastor, and long-time chairman of the Executive Committee of the Trustees, who was "the clergyman most often


mentioned in connection with the position." It was surely no pleasant duty to report this fact to a group of which the person himself was a member and which had to make the ultimate choice for the presidency. The Overseers were as blunt as they could be under the circumstances and still handle the problem diplomatically. The judgment of the alumni added up to only one thing: Hamilton did "not have the all important support of the alumni sentiment of the College" and "would enter the office against alumni sentiment so strong as to handicap seriously the success of any man in the office."

In the opinion of the Overseers, speaking for the majority of the alumni, the alumnus who most nearly met all the conditions set down was Dr. Charles M. Jordan, of the Class of 1877. He was a man "in the prime of life" who had been engaged throughout his career in the practical affairs of education. After graduating from Tufts, Jordan had served as principal of the high school in Bangor, Maine, and then in the same capacity in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He had completed his thirteenth year as superintendent of the Minneapolis public school system, comprising approximately 1,000 teachers and 45,000 pupils. He had demonstrated his capacity as a good organizer, administrator, and speaker, and made a most favorable impression among other able men, judging from the correspondence received by the Overseers. He had declined such important positions as the presidency of Buchtel College, the state superintendency of education in Minnesota, and the superintendency of schools in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Overseers urged that the choice of a president should not be made in haste. They were "unanimously of the opinion that the largest latitude as regards time should be taken and that the field may be thoroughly covered and that the best man and the most acceptable to all interested should be chosen for the place." The Overseers were understandably upset when it was reported at their meeting in January 1906 that the Trustee nominating committee was about to make its report and that immediate action on the selection of a president was contemplated. Such a summary disposition of the problem of filling the presidency would alienate the alumni and might cause "irreparable harm."

If Dr. Jordan were not considered a suitable candidate, the Overseers were quite willing to suggest one of their own number, H. Austin Tuttle, of the Class of 1891. Even though he persistently


refused to be considered a candidate, the overwhelming majority of the Overseers and many alumni would have considered him "a most fortunate selection." Overseer Henry Blanchard filed a dissent. He objected strongly to the allegation of "summary" and "precipitate" action by the Trustees, for they had been anxious to make a decision the preceding October and had yielded only on the importuning of the alumni. He had no objection to Mr. Tuttle, whom he did not know very well, but he did know Dr. Hamilton and supported him wholeheartedly. Blanchard considered groundless the fear that Hamilton would not win the regard of the undergraduates and alumni.

The Trustee nominating committee finally made its report to the parent body on March 1, 1906. The committee had held ten meetings averaging three to four hours each and had conducted, besides interviews, a correspondence "aggregating many hundreds of letters." It had consulted with the Overseers both informally and formally. A joint committee had spent five hours on an evening in February exchanging opinions. The committee had also solicited suggestions from the faculty and had ascertained the sentiments of "the Universalist body, which has contributed so generously to the maintenance of the College - which has, indeed, given it pretty much all the support and endowment that it has ever had." The committee had started its search with no common agreement on a suitable person and with no specific individual in mind; it was "open to suggestions from any quarter." In serving as a sort of clearinghouse for dozens of suggestions, the committee's task, not unexpectedly, was "difficult and perplexing." Quite contrary to a widespread impression, it reported that it had never contemplated precipitate action, and offered its delay of nearly a year before taking action as evidence of its deliberate intent.

The committee was quite frank in explaining the dilemma it faced in weaving some kind of middle way between conflicting views.

There were many who thought we should go outside ouralumni body and our Universalist constituency and select a man forthe eminence of his name, someone with a record of public servicewhich would reflect a luster upon the College. To others it wasclear that we ought to find someone, even if he lacked a nationalreputation, who knew the traditions, the constituency and the

needs of the College from association and education. Some urgedthat we must secure a money-getter; others called for an administrator; others yet for a great educator. In some quarters there wasstrong opposition to the choice of a clergyman; to many others aminister seemed peculiarly fitted for the work.

One by one, each view was assessed. The committee eventually came to certain conclusions. The new president had to be someone, distinguished or not, who would consider the administration of the College a serious responsibility, not merely "as a feather in his cap." What the College needed most was "hard, tense work and serious, aggressive thinking on the part of its head." The committee felt throughout their deliberations that if a layman could be found who had the other desired qualifications the choice should have gone to him - "chiefly out of deference to the feeling of so many of the alumni." But such a person was not to be found. Further, they did not consider the selection of a clergyman intrinsically objectionable. Except for Harvard and Yale, every college in New England at the time had a clergyman for a president. If the new president could make the College strong and successful, then it made no difference whether he was a specially competent money-raiser or not, for the endowments would come. (This rather circular reasoning might not have represented the strongest of arguments.) Much more effective was their contention, arising from "decided and firm conviction," that it was essential to have a man with "intimate knowledge of the Universalist body, sympathy with its thought, and acquaintance with its membership." That he be an alumnus was desirable but not indispensable. It would have been an affront to "the great body of men and women who stand solidly for the support of Tufts College" if the committee had gone outside the Universalist fellowship and had recommended a man without knowledge of and sympathy for Universalist antecedents and ideals.

The committee recognized the fact that both of the persons recommended by the Overseers were Universalists, laymen, and alumni. The committee considered it unwise to nominate one (Jordan); the other (Tuttle) "absolutely refused to allow his name to be used." The committee believed it had deliberated long enough, and six more months or even a year of further consideration would not produce any better solution to the problem than


they had to offer. The College needed leadership, and needed it without further delay.

Frederick William Hamilton, D.D., was the committee's choice. He was "the most eligible, qualified, and able" of those considered. His ability, his conscientiousness, his loyalty, and his scholarship were unquestioned. His experience as a Trustee had acquainted him with the inner workings of the College and had prepared him "in a marked degree" for the presidency. The committee admitted that he was "a clergyman indeed," but pointed out that he had had "an unusual business training." He was an alumnus and had won distinction as a Universalist clergyman. The committee admitted that they had found "a strong and persistent opposition" to Hamilton's nomination on the part of a "large majority" of the Overseers, who claimed in turn to represent a majority of the alumni. On the other hand, there appeared to be "strong support" of his candidacy from "many of the influential graduates of the College." In the committee's estimation, he had "in large degree" the confidence of the faculty and of his fellow Trustees.

In response to a request from the Trustees that the faculty suggest candidates, a secret ballot had been taken in June 1905 in which twenty-four of the thirty-five votes cast were for Hamilton. There is no indication in the records that the faculty ever prepared a formal slate from which to choose candidates.[2]  At a meeting of alumni in New York in December 1912, after Hamilton had resigned, E. B. Bowen, of the Class of 1876, asserted that Hamilton's election had been "brought about principally by the efforts of the Faculty, combined with the Trustees."[3] 

Before they had completed their lengthy report and had made a formal nomination, the Trustee committee returned to the


matter of alumni opinion. They recognized that unanimity had never existed among the graduates regarding College policies and probably never would exist. So it was "perhaps inevitable" that they should not be in entire accord. There was sufficient unity and solidarity, however, to be counted on to give the new administration "a cordial goodwill and a hearty helpfulness" once the presidency was filled.

The nominating committee's elaborate report was not acted on by the Trustees when it was presented on March 1. Two more weeks of doubt, hesitation, and maneuvering intervened before a decision was made on the presidency. The vote was postponed until March 13. When the Trustees convened on that date, twenty of the twenty-four were present, including the nominee. The president of the Corporation, Hosea W. Parker, was "detained by an important engagement" and the vice-president (and chairman of the nominating committee), Thomas H. Armstrong, presided. The election of a president of the College was the first article on a long agenda, but consideration of it was postponed until the very end. After Hamilton had retired from the room, a series of communications was read and discussed. The first was a letter from Trustee F. S. Pearson (who was not present) "dissenting from the report of the nominating committee so far as it related to the nomination of Dr. Hamilton to be president of the College." The second came from the chairman of the Board of Overseers, Edward H. Clement, asking for further delay. Next came a letter from Minton Warren, a member of the Overseers who had asked that his letter be read before the full Board of Trustees. Then came a motion for a four-week postponement of the vote, supported by a petition signed by thirty alumni. The motion to postpone was lost and after "a prolonged discussion" the Trustees proceeded to ballot. Hamilton was elected by a vote that was unanimous by the time the election was completed. The Trustees thereupon voted to send each graduate of the College a printed copy of the nominating committee's report, together with the action of the Trustees.[4] 

Nobody is likely to have envied President Hamilton his new position. The committee's letter of notification included the


perfectly accurate statement that he had been elected "by the affirmative vote of each and every Trustee present" and in his letter of acceptance Hamilton had repeated the phrase. Yet he could not possibly have accepted the office without some intimation at least that he was by no means the unanimous choice of the Tufts constituency. Minton Warren sent an indignant letter to the secretary of the Board of Overseers within forty-eight hours of the report of the Trustee nominating committee in which he tendered his resignation. He felt that he could no longer retain his self-respect and
remain a member of the Overseers "in view of the recent action of a committee of the Trustees, ignoring and treating with contempt" the "earnest request" of the Overseers to delay the choice of a president or at least consider more seriously the selection of Jordan. Within a few weeks, Edwin Ginn also submitted his letter of resignation from the Overseers; he was even more explicit in his reasons than Warren had been. The recommendations of the Overseers were ignored in the selection of a president, wrote Ginn. If there was any excuse for the existence of the Overseers, "their wishes


should have had recognition in this the most important action by the College on which their advice could be asked." Ginn was "not in sympathy with the new president nor with the general administration of the college." The crux of the matter to Ginn was the lack of any authority by the Overseers to make any decisions. They had "acted simply as an Advisory Committee with but a very limited influence. This was proved to me beyond question in the selection of a president. I was so disappointed over the outcome that I felt the time had come for me to withdraw entirely from the Board of Overseers."

A defensive note had crept into the report of the Trustee committee that had nominated President Hamilton. Was it justified? A review of the evidence available and of the situation confronting the Trustees (and the College) would seem to indicate that their choice of Hamilton was by no means an illogical one. The committee had settled on no one candidate at the outset and had certainly welcomed and considered suggestions from every quarter and of every complexion. It was inevitable under the circumstances that not everyone would be satisfied with the result, especially the alumni, who expected, or at least hoped, that the first choice of the Overseers would receive favorable consideration.

Hamilton had the qualifications and experience that most individuals agreed were necessary for a president of Tufts to possess. He represented a unique combination of clergyman and businessman. In the nine years between his graduation from Tufts and his acceptance of a pastorate in 1889, he had filled various executive and financial positions in the offices of the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad in Maine and had gained the business experience that was coming more and more to be expected of college presidents. Hamilton had entered the ministry at the suggestion of President Capen and in 1889-90 had been one of the special students in the divinity school. He held pastorates in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Roxbury, Massachusetts, and held offices in numerous philanthropic and social organizations. He was a director of the Boston Associated Charities at the time of his election to the Tufts presidency. He had already written prize-winning essays on contemporary social issues (such as the immigration question and the Venezuelan boundary dispute of 1895) and had published a collection of his addresses. He had served as president of the Alumni


Association for a two-year term and since 1896 had been a member of the Board of Trustees.

The task of winning the unqualified allegiance and support of the alumni was made even more difficult by the grave problems facing the College. The committee's letter of notification was less of an invitation than a series of challenges that the new president was expected to meet. Hamilton was reminded that the College had, in the past, experienced "a good measure of success," had done its share in the betterment of the world, and had a future of "as great and ample opportunities for continued growth and usefulness." He was then told that there were "serious problems of finance, administration, and education to be solved" which required a president who could assess the situation accurately and exercise "a wise and tactful judgment, a zealous watchfulness, a prudent foresight, and a resourceful management." He was being entrusted with a commission which, at base, demanded the building up of the endowment of the institution.

The new president promised to do what he could. In his letter of acceptance he gave assurance that he would hold the line and would not venture into new educational paths unless they were accompanied by the wherewithal to make them successful. He opposed the meeting of increased educational costs by raising tuition. "Tufts College, like every other college, must continue to be a philanthropic institution, giving education for fees far inadequate to meet the necessary expense involved." It was up to the friends of the College and public-spirited individuals to fill in the gap. The gap was widening and had to be closed if there was going to be any future at all for the institution.

President Hamilton echoed the same sentiments in his Inaugural Address, delivered on June 19, 1906. After a brief mention of the purposes of the College - to train the intellect for practical pursuits, to make "human minds instruments of precision," and to develop spiritual and moral values - he went to the heart of the matter. If the goal of the institution was "to fit young men and women for life," certain means were necessary. Money was one of them. Tufts had never had a single great financial patron and had depended on a few generous benefactors and many small ones. It was "the first duty" of the president to see to the financial welfare of the College. "We cannot do our work unless we can pay our


bills." The watchword had to be "efficiency." The address was not particularly inspiring; it lacked the warmth and enthusiasm of his predecessor's Inaugural. But its pragmatic tone seemed to be what was needed at the time.

The financial clouds that hovered over the College at all seasons and threatened time after time to dim if not to extinguish its prospects became the darkest yet at the turn of the century. A note of warning that all was not well had been sounded in 1898 when the Education subcommittee of the Trustees was asked to consult with President Capen and "some of the leading professors" to see what could be done "to accomplish a saving of ten thousand dollars in salaries for the coming year." The Finance Committee simultaneously received a similar assignment covering the administration of the College grounds and buildings. It took no financial wizard to see what had happened to the resources of Tufts by 1900. As of that year, $719,000 of the College's total funds of $1,600,000 were invested in buildings and land used solely for educational purposes and therefore were productive of no revenue in themselves.[5]  Annual operating deficits for the Hill departments increased from $15,000 in 1900 to $31,000 two years later, and thereafter the figure became even greater. When the Finance Committee refused to concur in a recommendation for additional appropriations for the school of letters in 1902, they put the problem baldly. "In our present financial conditions . . . our policy should be to annually cut our garments according to our cloth - and leave undone some of those things which, however desirable, would nevertheless not be matters of necessity." Time after time the Executive Committee reviewed every niche and corner of the College's operations to see whether a dollar could be saved here or another one there, but the basic stumbling block of finances refused to be budged. Expenses had already been cut to the bone by 1903, but that did little good. The Executive Committee, solely in compliance with an order by the Trustees, presented some "suggestions" that they refused to translate into formal recommendations because they saw no


possibility of further reductions. If the "suggestions" had been carried out, they would have involved the dismissal of the one-man Department of Grounds and Buildings (Patrick Burns), drastically reduced salaries in the divinity school, closed one department in the college of letters and cut in half the personnel of four others, and stopped the purchase of all books for the library not acquired through the Joy Fund. After a two-hour discussion, the Trustees discarded all of the suggestions.

It was not as simple a matter as leaving the grass uncut during the summer months or allowing a leaky drainpipe to rust the walls of East Hall. Everyone in any way associated with the institution had to realize that Tufts was growing out of the horse-and-buggy era. College administration and instruction had changed radically by 1903 and had become more expensive. To keep up with her sister colleges, Tufts had had to offer a greatly expanded curriculum, and this meant enlarged expenditures. "Whatever we may think of the desirability of these conditions, they exist, and Tufts College must face them as other colleges have done." The Trustees


were not personally at fault for the constantly increasing expense of running the College, but they had to recognize that expense must be incurred and provided for, "or the College must go out of business."[6]  The commitments of the College had increased more rapidly than the capacity to meet them.

The worst thing that could happen to Tufts, financially speaking, had to be faced up to by 1906. The College had encroached on its endowment to the extent of $199,000. The Finance Committee suggested reducing the indebtedness to permanent funds to $47,000 by charging off every unrestricted fund that could be found in the assets of the College.[7]  Even with this bookkeeping legerdemain the encroachment was still there. What could be done? The situation was grave. There was no prospect of replacing the reduced principal out of current revenues. Some $200,000 of the values on the books represented a number of educational buildings constructed out of free funds of which nothing was left to produce income. One partial and short-range alleviation suggested was "a material increase in tuition charges." Another was strict enforcement of the program load of students and the levying of a charge of $20 per course on those above the limit. Still another would have required in the Hill departments the payment of tuition in advance, such as was already done in the medical and dental schools. This system would obviate the need for the posting of student bonds and the making of deposits and would hence save clerical costs.

The Finance Committee threw down the gauntlet in the fall of 1906. The estimated loss for 1906-7 was $35,000. The budget for that year was $216,000 and receipts from students were estimated at $140,000. From then on, every expenditure in excess of income would have to be charged against endowment - an immoral and thoroughly reprehensible procedure in the eyes of the committee. The time had come to take a step dreaded for years. The faces of the eight Trustees who attended must have been rather grim as they


emerged from the regular meeting of the Board on March 12, 1907. After they had transferred another unrestricted fund amounting to some $35,000 to the profit and loss account to help reduce the deficit, they voted to approve the recommendation of the Finance Committee to sell off, in whole or in part, the wedge-shaped block of land bounded by Broadway, Packard Avenue, and Powderhouse Boulevard in Somerville, on the south side of the campus.[8]  The loss of the land was a blow in itself, but the timing of the decision was even more unfortunate. The College entered the real estate market at a most inauspicious moment. The Panic of 1907 on the national front merely dramatized the economic uncertainty that was already reflected in depressed urban and suburban land values. It was in this sphere that endowment income was already reduced, and the very conditions that made it desirable to sell land made property unattractive to buyers. The Boulevard property, as it was called, was sold in bits and pieces over a period of more than ten years. Meanwhile, the impairment of the permanent funds of the College climbed to $120,000 at the end of the 1907 fiscal year. To cap off that dismal meeting in March, the Trustees had had to listen while President Hamilton related the woes of the engineering school, which had reached crisis proportions. He then lectured his fellow Trustees on the inevitability of continually mounting expenses if Tufts was to do a decent job. Better faculty salaries were absolutely necessary. He was "amazed at the loyalty and pathetic devotion of the men who at miserably inadequate salaries have stood by Tufts College loyally and patiently."

The nub of the problem in the Engineering Department was the relentless increase in enrollment, which called for additional staff, appropriations, and salary increases that the Trustees had for months been unable to provide. The numbers of students in 1904-5 were 177; in 1905-6, 188; in the current year, 218; in 1907-8, expected to be still larger. The entrance limit of ninety freshmen in the Engineering Department and ten in the Bromfield-Pearson School had already been reached. The consequences were inescapable: an overburdened teaching force, overcrowded laboratories, and already inadequate salaries made so much more so that the morale of the entire staff had been adversely affected. If any or all


of the staff saw fit to resign, it would be impossible to fill their places at the salaries being paid and the work load being carried. The situation was temporarily saved in 1906-7 by a special subscription among the alumni, but that was only a staying action. The closing of the overburdened shops to thesis work and the virtual elimination of the chemical engineering course during 1906-7 were most unfortunate, for these steps meant a lowering of the standards of the department and the turning away of qualified applicants. Simultaneously, tuition was raised and less was being offered. This was a situation that the Trustees should no longer perpetuate. It was a question of the very existence of the Engineering Department.

Three courses of action seemed possible: retain the existing faculty by paying them at least "living salaries" and furnishing them with at least a little more classroom assistance; permit the faculty to seek greener pastures and be prepared to pay much higher salaries to their successors; or reduce the enrollment to a figure comparable to what the instructors were originally employed to handle, and expect a decrease of about $10,000 in tuition fees. President Hamilton realized that none of these prospects sounded very attractive, but the first alternative seemed the only possibility. By increasing salary appropriations among the ten members of the faculty and staff by $3,400 and the laboratory and equipment appropriation by $1,000, the department could probably survive. According to Hamilton's reckoning, if it were not necessary to curtail enrollment, the enhanced tuition fees would provide $7,000 more in income than in previous years. Therefore, the increase in expenditures would not add to the deficit. Closing the Engineering Department should be only a last resort, and the College would unquestionably be even worse off without it. The issue thus squarely presented, a copy of Hamilton's report was mailed to each Trustee for him to ponder.

Fortunately it was not necessary to close the engineering school, for the deficit was lessened somewhat by increased student income following a raise in tuition, and by reduced salary commitments for faculty who retired by way of Carnegie pensions. The remainder of the money to build Robinson Hall was received in 1908, and the Crane gift added to the endowment of the divinity school. The outlook appeared even brighter in the same year when


news was received that one Henry J. Braker had provided $500,000 for the College in his will. Tufts was able also to open its new library that year.[9] 


[2] Some of the ballots were blank; Frank Oliver Hall, a graduate of the divinity school and a recipient of an honorary degree from Tufts that June, was the only other person who received votes.

[3] The editor of the issue of the Graduate in which Bowen's remarks were reported added his own parody of Rudyard Kipling's famous words as a footnote to Bowen's statement. Some one has blundered: Ours not to make reply, Ours not to reason why, Ours but to print and die.

[4] These documents, with the committee's letter of notification and Hamilton's letter of acceptance, were published in the April 1906 issue of the Tufts College Graduate.

[5] Rental from dormitory rooms at this time barely paid for the cost of repairs and general maintenance. Dormitories were not always full; in 1900-190l, the Finance Committee raised the question of whether to keep all three of the men's dormitories open, "when two will more than accommodate the people."

[6] The comparative costs per student in the four major divisions of the College, and the receipts for each (not counting scholarship aid) were as follows in 1905: divinity school, $651.75, $42.95; college of letters (including engineering), $319.75, $86.91; medical school, $116.60, $121.32; and dental school, $153.40, $117.56.

[7] A readjustment, on paper, of the resources by the end of 1906 had actually reduced the impairment of the capital funds to $90,000 by borrowing from the principal of the permanent funds.

[8] The parcel consisted of 85,000 square feet of land; there were no buildings involved.

[9] The Braker bequest was not received for many years. It is dealt with in Chapter 14.

  • 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.
This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights