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

Miller, Russell


Andrew Carnegie's gift may have added much-needed facilities and a new and dignified building to the campus, but it in no way solved the pressing problem of finance. In fact, it aggravated the situation by requiring additional maintenance and upkeep. Only $15,000 had been realized on sales from the Boulevard land by 1908, and some $150,000 was still charged against the permanent funds of the College.[22]  Even though the Crane Theological School earned more than its expenses in 1909 for the first time in its history, the engineering school went sharply into the red, and overall operating deficits continued to be as large as ever. The financial picture was not at all brightened when the city of Somerville, following a decision handed down in 1896 by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, not only levied but steadily increased taxes on


College-owned property occupied by faculty members.[23]  The tax initially imposed in 1896 was almost enough "to pay the salary of a high-class instructor." President Capen protested that the argument used by cities and towns where colleges were located, that important tax revenues were lost through exemptions of educational property, was vitiated by the advantages gained by the community. The very existence of Tufts caused a rise in the value of surrounding properties because it enhanced residential attractiveness. Its campus was the equivalent of a public park and drew larger numbers of people than nearby Powderhouse Park, maintained by the city of Somerville. Capen also hastened to point out that Tufts was most generous in admitting students from Medford and Somerville and that some had received tuition grants. All of these arguments were to no avail, for in 1909 Somerville raised its tax assessment again, to the highest point yet reached.

The financial picture until the First World War remained one of unrelieved pessimism. Annual operating losses continued unabated. The Finance Committee warned their fellow Trustees repeatedly and "as strongly as possible" of "their unanimous disapproval of the plan of conducting the College upon a plane which is known in advance to be so greatly in excess of all income from all possible sources." Thomas Cunningham, Trustee since 1903, submitted his resignation in 1912 in protest against what he considered to be the unwise financial management of the institution. The budget for Grounds and Buildings was singled out for special attention because it was exceeded for several consecutive years by as much as $4,000 annually. The superintendent of Grounds and Buildings was replaced as a result. President Hamilton was advised to confer with the officers of the Carnegie Foundation, the Rockefeller Institute, and every other potential source of outside aid. The Department of Psychology and Education which Hamilton had so proudly brought into existence was temporarily abolished, and the positions of retiring teachers in several departments were not refilled. Among those affected were English, Modern


Languages, and Biology. No department was to acquire any new equipment or appliances or to install any that were donated if they entailed extra expense.

A special Committee on Finance consisting of representatives from the Trustees, the faculty, and the alumni was created in 1911 and given a triple assignment: to obtain a $1,000,000 endowment for the engineering school; to raise money "to carry on the work of the College adequately and efficiently"; and, after the first two tasks were completed, to endeavor to secure endowments for the medical and dental schools. President Hamilton gave the committee its instructions and sketched in the background. The College needed more money than the alumni could or would contribute; gifts were not to be solicited for new departments, new chairs, or new buildings not already on the needed list. The College was not trying to expand but was attempting to care for what it already had. The priority list included "a large gift" to the engineering school, $150,000 for a new chemistry laboratory and its maintenance, an endowment for chapel services (to furnish part of the president's salary or to pay "a college preacher" if or when the president happened not to be a clergyman), $75,000 to endow existing professorships, and funds for scholarships. Dean Anthony agreed to canvass the engineering alumni; Professor Durkee, those in chemistry; Professor Hooper, those in electrical engineering; and President Hamilton and Professor Harmon, the theological alumni. President Hamilton, in turn, was instructed by the Trustees to request the resignations of some members of the staff if that would help balance the budget.

Professor Hooper served as ad hoc chairman of the special fund-raising drive. He made a study of eight "near neighbors and competitors" and found the average productive endowment per student to be about $4,500, while the figure for Tufts was about $1,200. That was a major factor explaining his willingness to try his hand at fund-raising, for he was stubbornly convinced that the solution to the College's financial plight was to increase productive endowment rather than to attempt constantly to cut expenses, as many of the Trustees urged. He showed no hesitation in calling to the students' attention the sober fact that in 1911-12 Tufts spent "on every Liberal Arts student $187.91 more than that student paid in, and on every Engineer $28.36 more than he paid back."



By the time he was commended by the Trustees in the fall of 1912 for his "excellent work" in raising more than $100,000 on behalf of the institution, he had become acting president of Tufts. President Hamilton had submitted his formal resignations as president and as Trustee on June 19, 1912, although they were not acted on until the annual meeting in October.[24]  He was granted a six-month leave of absence beginning July 1, 1912, and the Executive Committee was authorized to appoint an acting president. The Trustees voted that Hamilton's resignation from the Trustees was "to take effect at once" and unanimously confirmed the Executive Committee's choice of Professor Hooper to head the College until a new president could be found. A five-man committee appointed on June 16 "to nominate a President of the College" made its first


report in October but had no candidates to submit.[25]  It was over two years before they found a replacement for Hamilton.

The official records of the College give but slight indication of the reasons that prompted President Hamilton's sudden resignation. Very little was put on paper by the Trustees themselves. Yet a careful reading of Hamilton's annual reports and an action of the faculty in 1912 would seem to bear out the statement that he himself made public. Thirty members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences presented to the Trustees in time for their May meeting a long memorial expressing dissatisfaction with the relationship they believed had come to exist between the faculty and the Trustees, as personified by President Hamilton, who also signed the memorial. The faculty argued that insufficient cooperation and "solidarity of interests" existed between "two of the bodies upon which rest the success and usefulness of the College as an institution of learning." In brief, the faculty were unhappy because they had been excluded from any opportunity to consult with the Trustees about matters of College policy with which they were much more conversant than the Trustees. The latter had overridden, drastically modified, or simply ignored some of the requests of the faculty presented through President Hamilton. The memorialists asked the Trustees "to entertain the question, whether the time has not arrived for a reasonable measure of influence to be exercised in your councils by the body of men to whose technical experience as educators, to whose judgment and loyalty you commit the day-by- day administration of the immediate concerns of the institution." The faculty mentioned two specific areas in which consultation would be profitable: the preparation of the budgets of the constituent schools and the selection of those members of the instructional staff who were given department chairmanships and professorial rank. There were "numerous other matters" that were not listed for which conferences were thought to be advantageous.

The signatories had definite procedures to recommend. The Trustee by-laws of 1908 (Article 17) had provided for a general


faculty, to consist of the president, deans, and secretaries of the various Medford divisions of the College to "deal with all matters of a general character not provided for in the faculty of Arts and Sciences." The provision had remained a dead letter; the general faculty had never been convened. The memorialists recommended that this inoperative section be replaced by one authorizing a twelve-member Advisory Council to consist of the president, the deans, and seven members of professorial rank representing the Hill schools and appointed by the president for staggered terms. The Council was to serve as adviser to the president and to the Executive Committee of the Trustees and was to have authority "to initiate and discuss questions of administrative policy and to bring its conclusions" to their attention. The apportionment of funds for the constituent schools and candidates for positions of professorial rank were also to be reviewed by the Council before being acted on by the Trustees. The Trustees remained silent on the faculty proposal for six months. When the faculty inquired as to the fate of their memorial, they were informed that it had been referred to a special Committee on By-Laws. There the matter rested.[26] 

The editor of the Tufts College Graduate requested that Hamilton furnish him with a statement of the reasons for his resignation so that the alumni could be informed. Hamilton submitted the following letter for publication.

... My action comes as the logical result of mutual loss of confidence between myself and the Trustees. I am not, and have neverbeen, able to approve certain educational and financial policies ofthe Trustees. I have not believed, and do not now believe, that themanagement of the college property has been wise; and only acursory examination of the Treasurer's Report is needed to showthat it has not been profitable. Under the organization in use, thePresident has been for many years practically excluded from thisside of college administration.The Trustees, on the other hand, have felt that the great needof the College was a successful solicitor of funds, and point out thefact that under my administration only $100,000 has been added tothe endowments of the College through direct action on my part,though other sums have come in during that period.

A mere statement of these two positions, without argument,shows clearly that my usefulness to the College is at an end, unlessconditions in the Board of Trustees would be very materiallyaltered. I therefore retire to make a place for some other man whocan establish and maintain those relations of mutual confidencewhich are essential to that welfare of the College which is dear tous all. Personally I hope to find opportunity to be useful to theCollege as a loyal Alumnus, though I can no longer serve it to itsadvantage in an official capacity.

In reference to Hamilton's complaint that he had been "practically excluded" from participation in financial decision-making, it might be pointed out that the Trustees in 1916 amended their by-laws to make the president a member ex officio of the Finance Committee.

No one event is known to have precipitated his action; it was the climax of an accumulation of differences with the Trustees that had resulted in a virtual breakdown of communication. Put as briefly and as bluntly as possible, President Hamilton's plans for Tufts and his visions of its future were beyond realistic accomplishment, given the resources with which the Trustees had to work. In his second annual report he had expressed the hope that Tufts would aspire to rank third (after Harvard and Yale) among New England colleges. He wanted Tufts to advance much more rapidly on all fronts and chafed when almost every effort he made even to maintain the status quo seemed to result in orders to retrench. Even the creation of Jackson College, which he considered the only act of his administration "which could be called expansion," had not worked out before he resigned. As Acting President Hooper summed it up in a special report to the Trustees in the fall of 1912, "theoretically, Jackson is a separate institution, practically segregation is little better than a farce . . . a phantom." Hamilton considered himself an educator, yet his task made him into a money-raiser, for which he was not temperamentally suited. Even his successful efforts to endow the divinity school seemed not, in his estimation, to have been sufficiently appreciated.

Hamilton was a conscientious president who kept in touch with both the College constituency and trends in higher education. Knowing that he had not enjoyed the unanimous support of the alumni when he was elected, he had made a point of soliciting suggestions, criticisms, and advice from graduates. He had told the


alumni in his Inaugural Address that he could not guarantee results, but he did promise to listen. As both a clergyman and college president he was in constant demand as a speaker at alumni affairs and public occasions. He served as a substitute for Theodore Roosevelt in 1910 as one of the principal speakers at a meeting in New York. It was at Hamilton's suggestion that the first scheduled "get-acquainted" meeting was held, for the Trustees, Overseers, and faculty in 1907. He took a special interest in the welfare of the divinity school, where he taught a one-term course in Administrative Religion.

Far from becoming the third of the "Big Three" among New England colleges, Tufts by 1911 was "doing barely enough to keep in the same class of colleges as Bowdoin, Amherst, Dartmouth, and Williams." Whatever measure of success and reputation Tufts had won had come "by taking the boys of the great middle class and making them efficient and useful members of society. She has had few rich men's sons to educate, and few gilded youths to furbish. Her work has been done with sturdy fellows who sought an education for the economic advantages it would confer and who were willing to work hard and sacrifice much to get it. She has done that work successfully. Her future lies along the same lines." It was useless, said Hamilton, to become involved in "the contest between the culturists and the vocationalists." Much more pressing was how to provide the means that would enable Tufts to fulfill its task in the educational world. It was not, in his view, doing this adequately. He felt that someone else might have better success than he.

The ex-president of Tufts also became an ex-clergyman. After he had served temporarily in the North Cambridge Universalist Church not far from the Tufts campus, Hamilton left the ministry permanently in 1912 and returned to the life of business that had been his first calling. In an interview reported in the Boston Globe he announced that "I shall not preach again, as I believe business and the pulpit should be kept entirely separate." He became business manager of a forestry company in Boston and until his death on May 22, 1940, at the age of eighty, he resided in nearby Cambridge. He continued to serve until 1920 on the state Board of Education, of which he had been a member since 1909. For several years he served as National Apprentice Director of the United Typothetae and Franklin Clubs of America and wrote articles on


the history of printing. After 1915 he served as secretary of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and let others run the affairs of the College.


[22] The net total from the Boulevard land after the residue had been sold during the First World War was $155,000. Taxes, fees, and various other expenses gobbled up over $50,000 of the gross receipts.

[23] "Lands with dwelling-houses thereon, owned by a college and occupied as residences by persons engaged solely in the instruction or government of the college or in the care of its property, under parol agreements whereby each is to receive as salary a stated sum monthly and the use of the estate while in the service of the college, for which use a certain sum is deducted from the amount of the salary, are not exempt from taxation .. ."

[24] This item was not on the printed agenda of either of the meetings in June or October. Hamilton resigned twice from the Executive Committee, once on June 7, 1911, and again on July 2, 1912. The first resignation was accepted by the Executive Committee at their next monthly meeting, and A. W. Peirce was elected to take his place. However, Hamilton continued to serve and to be present at meetings until his second resignation, which took place after he had severed his connection with the Trustees.

[25] The committee, chaired by Austin B. Fletcher, vice-president of the Trustees, consisted also of William W. McClench, Arthur E. Mason, Charles H. Darling, and Charles N. Barney. All were graduates of Tufts except Mason, who had received an honorary degree in 1904. Fletcher succeeded Hosea W. Parker as president of the Trustees in 1913.

[26] A printed draft of proposed changes in the Trustee by-laws was prepared in 1912 but never adopted. The faculty proposal was not included.

  • 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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