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

Miller, Russell


The annual meeting of the Trustees had taken place as scheduled on October 8, 1918. After a sizable amount of routine business had been transacted, President Bumpus threw consternation into the ranks by submitting his resignation in a prepared statement.[44] 

The needs of any large educational institution are manifold.During the four years of my service with you I have endeavored tomeet certain of these needs - always conscious, however, that therewere many things which were left undone. It seems to me that afair appraisal of Tufts College at the present time would showthat there is now need for some one to take a directing hand whohas qualifications different from those which I possess. Under thesecircumstances and after giving the matter careful consideration Iam asking you to provide for my successor at some time no laterthan a year hence.

After the initial shock had worn off, a three-man committee was appointed, including Austin Fletcher, the president of the Trustees, "to consider the letter of resignation."

Bumpus' announcement came at a rather gloomy time in 1918. The campus had reached its maximum point as a military establishment, and officers of the College were beginning to be concerned about what its fate would be when the war was over. On the


home front, Tufts had lost, less than six months apart, two of its best-known and best-loved faculty members on the Hill. At the same meeting that the committee appointed to consider Bumpus' resignation reported that it was "with deep regret that the College is called upon to again fill a vacancy in the office of President," memorials were presented in memory of Charles H. Leonard, Dean Emeritus of Crane Theological School, and William L. Hooper, the man who had served so selflessly as acting president between 1912 and 1914. Notice was received during the same period of the death of Albert Crane, chief benefactor of the theological school. In accepting Bumpus' resignation, the Trustees recognized the services he had rendered the College at a most difficult time and expressed appreciation for his willingness to continue in office for as much as a year. Trustees Fletcher, Darling, McClench, and Mason were immediately appointed to recommend a successor. However, at the same meeting it was voted to enlarge the committee to include three other representatives of the Tufts community. For the first time in the history of the College, the alumni, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the faculties of the medical and dental schools had an official place on a combined committee to nominate a president of Tufts.

Expressions of dismay and regret, intermixed with notes of appreciation for Bumpus' services to Tufts, began to pour in almost from the day that the news of his resignation was made public. An alumnus who was serving as an assistant surgeon in the Navy voiced the sentiments of dozens of alumni when he wrote "to personally express my regret at your going, my appreciation of the fact that you ever came, my thanks for your personal interest in the medical school, and my pride in the fact that I was graduated from the medical school during your term of office as president." Arthur B. Coolidge, lawyer, state senator, and member of the Class of 1903, acknowledged the "very unwelcome news" and expressed the view that "all of us who have watched the progress of the College during your administration have admired your handling of its educational and financial affairs."

As soon as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences were officially informed of Bumpus' action, two special faculty meetings were called at which resolutions were adopted expressing the sense of loss of his "leadership and inspiration." They paid tribute to his


"untiring activity," his "courtesy and consideration," and particularly his harmonious relations with the faculty. The resolutions were reciprocated by an equally cordial acknowledgment by the outgoing president, who made a point of the fact that he had been "as much invited by the Faculty to become the President of Tufts as I was appointed by the Board."

The alumni were equally appreciative of Dr. Bumpus' efforts on behalf of the College during four years of "public storm, stress, and confusion." A testimonial dinner was given in January 1919 by the Tufts Club of Boston, the very first meeting of which he had attended in 1915. More than 250 alumni were present for the occasion, which was climaxed by the presentation of a series of resolutions, a gold watch, and a telephone message of good will from alumni in Chicago.

The one sour note injected into the Bumpus resignation came after it had taken place and originated with Austin B. Fletcher. His extensive correspondence with President Bumpus indicated that their relationship during the first three years, at least, had been reasonably cordial, but as the war progressed and as Tufts became more and more deeply enmeshed in governmental affairs, Fletcher became increasingly restive and dissatisfied. When the resignation was offered, Fletcher accused Bumpus of deserting the College when it needed his services most. Actually, Fletcher apparently had some reservations about the president from the beginning of Bumpus' administration. Bumpus was an "outsider" who could never really be completely attuned to Tufts' traditions and spirit.[45]  Fletcher was also disturbed because he thought Bumpus had personally plunged too deeply into the war effort at the expense of College interests. When Bumpus assumed his duties in the Quartermaster Corps in the summer of 1918, Fletcher warned him that he was taking on too much, that he would find the labor involved "excessive and the methods of living exhausting." When Bumpus returned to the campus that September, Fletcher acknowledged the fact by informing the president that "it is the desire of every one to be thoroughly patriotic, but at the same time we must look


out for the College. I do not want to find that we are in a position where the Government has made use of us to the extent of crippling our regular work and then abandoning us."

During Bumpus' tenure, Fletcher kept an eye on as many of the details of administration as he could. He complained when the wrong class was attached to his name in the Register of Alumni and Officers published in 1917 and remarked that "it is claimed by some that this same slip-shod attention runs through the whole institution." Bumpus countered with the observation that "the per student cost of operating the college is only a fraction of that of other institutions in our neighborhood," and that in spite of inadequate administrative funds, "there is good work being done by Tufts sufficient in amount to warrant the commendation rather than the criticism of those who are acquainted with the difficulties under which we are operating." Bumpus' independence of spirit was also illustrated by his reply to Fletcher when the latter heard in 1917 that a chapter of the American Association of University Professors was about to be established on the Tufts campus. Fletcher had no use for "such labor unions" and hoped it would not infiltrate the Tufts faculty. Bumpus replied that any effort that would result in protecting the rights of the academic profession and raising the professional stature of teaching was good, and that he might consider joining the organization himself.

Existence for President Bumpus and other officers of the College had been complicated during the war by the presence of an articulate pacifist in the person of Professor Clarence R. Skinner, holder at the time of the chair of Applied Christianity in the Crane Theological School. President Bumpus was constantly concerned also about "the element of pacifism and socialism" which he was sure was growing among students in 1918. They were solicited for funds to defend Scott Nearing, nationally known for his agitation against the military draft and under indictment in 1918 for violation of the Espionage Act. Professor Skinner was one of the subscribers. In the summer of 1918, when it had become apparent that both Bumpus and the College were becoming deeply committed to the war effort, Dean McCollester, who staunchly supported Skinner but was more tactful and diplomatic in expressing his views, requested the Trustees to "consider some plan by which Crane Theological School of Tufts College may become a separate


institution in its management and operation." He had come to the conclusion that the aims and spirit of the College, with its technical and vocational leanings and the "emphasis laid upon material values," were no longer compatible with the goals of the theological school. The Trustees were so involved in what they considered more pressing matters that they took no action on McCollester's request until he reminded them six months later. A Trustee committee was appointed in December 1918 to confer with a special committee of Crane alumni and consider "future plans for the School." Several of the Crane faculty became convinced that Bumpus had "a destroying influence" on the theological school and that his resignation gave "new hopes" for it. This information, growing out of clashes between Bumpus and Dean McCollester, was relayed directly to Fletcher and may have had a part in the growing negative attitude that Fletcher developed toward the president.

There is no conclusive evidence in the records that Fletcher's criticism of his conduct of College affairs was the deciding factor in Bumpus' resignation, although he was sufficiently upset by a sharp letter from Fletcher, after he had announced his decision to resign, to consult with Trustee William McClench. McClench expressed sorrow that "any unpleasantness" had arisen between the two but felt sure that Fletcher had "no intention" of injuring Bumpus in any way in any statements he made concerning the reasons for Bumpus' resignation. Bumpus had, in his opinion, carried the College safely through the war and longed to return to his scientific pursuits.[46]  After a brief interval spent mostly in Duxbury, Massachusetts, he returned to the field of natural history to which he had devoted so much of his life. He took a leading part in organizing the educational program of the National Parks Service and created the system of over 200 "trailside museums" which dot the United States today and are familiar to thousands of touring Americans. After serving as chairman of the National Parks


Advisory Board for many years and living to see his dream of "teaching Americans to know their heritage" come to pass, he retired at the age of seventy-eight, full of years and honors. In May 1943, just a few weeks before his death, he resigned as Senior Fellow of Brown University, on whose board he had served for almost forty years. That institution departed sufficiently from precedent to elect him the first Fellow Emeritus. As the American Association of Museums summed it up, Bumpus "lived the good life, and the world is lastingly better for his having lived."[47] 

William W. Spaulding, who served as a Tufts Trustee from 1889 to 1929, noted in 1919 that "up to the time of President Bumpus, the institution had been distinctly under the Universalist auspices and I have always regretted the apparent necessity of selecting a president from the outside field." Those who felt as Spaulding did could have had no grounds for complaint about the next president of Tufts College. John Albert Cousens was not only a leading Universalist layman but an alumnus of the Class of 1898 whose devotion to the College was difficult to surpass. He took office as acting president on September 1, 1919, and on June 5, 1920, became the head of his Alma Mater without benefit of a formal inauguration. He was to serve in the presidency until death ended his career seventeen years later.


[44] There was a certain irony in the fact that the president's salary was increased substantially at the same meeting.

[45] The "community of interest" among the Trustees previously referred to was still noticeable in 1918. Of the twenty-eight members then on the Board, sixteen were not only alumni but divided equally in their fraternity affiliations between Zeta Psi and Theta Delta Chi. Fletcher was a member of Zeta Psi.

[46] This explanation was reiterated in several letters written to acquaintances and associates in 1918 and early in 1919. It is also supported by Dr. Bumpus, Jr., in his biography of his father. One gets the impression that the Tufts presidency was considered by Bumpus himself to have been only an interlude in a distinguished scientific career; it becomes a matter of perspective.

[47] Quoted in Bumpus, op. cit., p. 131.

  • 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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