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

Miller, Russell


The death of Austin B. Fletcher in the summer of 1923 created one of the most complex legal tangles in which the College ever became involved. It had, by a will made in 1914, become the principal beneficiary of an estate estimated at well over $3,000,000. Fletcher had, in characteristic fashion, left no doubt as to his intentions. Five professorships of $100,000 each were to be endowed in Oratory, English, Music, Philosophy, and Public Speaking and Debate. A school of law and diplomacy was to be established with $1,000,000. The income of the residue, estimated in 1923 to be "at least $2,000,000," was to be available for new buildings and their


maintenance.[9]  The good fortune that appeared to be the lot of the College was marred, however, by a series of challenges to the will by several of Fletcher's cousins. They protested the allowance of the will on the grounds that it was not authentic, that Fletcher had been "unduly influenced," and that one of the two executors was not a fit person for the task.[10]  Temporary administrators had to be appointed, counsel had to be arranged for the College to defend its interests, the case necessitated a jury trial, a key witness (Fletcher's valet) was in Europe when his testimony was needed; in short, every kind of legal delay and complication seemed to be built into the case.

Nevertheless, considerable progress had been made by the end of 1924. The suit brought by the Fletcher relatives was settled out of court (at a cost far less than had been anticipated); liquidation of the assets (stocks and bonds) revealed a substantial gain over inventory values, and sufficient cash had been accumulated to pay legacies preceding those marked for Tufts. The Eppinger and Russell Company, in which the legacy of the proposed law school and the residuum of the estate were then involved, had an unusually prosperous year. The next delay in settling the Fletcher estate was brought about by complications in the acceptance of the Braker estate, of which Fletcher had been a trustee. Fletcher and the cotrustee had made no returns to the probate court for over a decade. Meanwhile, many of the securities of the estate had declined in inventory value by 1924, and the Fletcher estate could not be settled until the Braker estate had been closed out."[11] 

The Trustees had decided in 1925 to liquidate part of the


assets of the Eppinger and Russell Company (the Florida holdings) rather than use a commercial (and to some extent speculative) operation as an endowment for the projects undertaken under the Fletcher bequest.[12]  Shares of Eppinger and Russell stock were accepted at various times as part of the residuary estate, and Cousens and Frederick C. Hodgdon became the agents of the Trustees of Tufts College to vote on such stock. In accordance with Fletcher's wish, Chadwick and Tuttle, who had been executors of the Fletcher estate, became managers of the company. All questions concerning the accounts of the Fletcher funds were settled by 1928.

One provision of Fletcher's will that was carried out strictly in accordance with his wishes was the establishment of endowed professorships bearing the donor's name. The Trustees acquiesced in Cousens' recommendation that men to hold the Fletcher Professorships should be selected from the existing staff rather than imported from outside. Aside from rewarding meritorious faculty members, this system resulted in a saving of $12,500 in salaries from general funds, according to Cousens' estimate. In order to honor also Fletcher's often-expressed wish that faculty salaries be raised, Cousens recommended that the money thus released be used for "horizontal" salary increases on a selective basis. Leo Lewis of the Music Department was the first faculty member to be elected to a Fletcher Professorship (in 1924). Then followed, in 1925, the election of Albert H. Gilmer, Robert C. Givler, and Newell C. Maynard to the Fletcher Professorships of Rhetoric and Debate, Philosophy, and Oratory, respectively. Each appointment was for three years. The fifth professorship authorized, Public Speaking and Debate, which reflected one of Fletcher's own special interests while an undergraduate, was not then created because there was no such department; but later in the same year Charles Gott was elected Fletcher Professor of English, and Gilmer became Fletcher Professor of Dramatic Literature.[13] 


[9] The estimates of the amount anticipated from the bequest fluctuated widely. Cousens reduced the expectation to $1,000,000 in 1924 but raised it to $3,250,000 a year later. Whether due to erroneous newspaper accounts or to overoptimism, literally dozens of individuals flooded Cousens' desk with applications for teaching and administrative positions for a school that was far from being even created in 1923.

[10] The two executors were Charles S. Chadwick of New York and H. Austin Tuttle of Brooklyn, a Tufts alumnus of the Class of 1891. It was Chadwick who was challenged; he was president of the Eppinger and Russell Company, one of Fletcher's many business interests.

[11] The gift of $500,000 to Tufts was not involved in this litigation. It had been paid in two installments (in 1913 and 1915), largely out of cash assets. It was Braker's extensive investment holdings that were the center of controversy after 1923.

[12] One block of land was sold, but the Mendon Tract was received and retained by the College in 1926. The institution thus found itself in the thenprofitable lumber business. Arrangements were made to sell over $1000,000 in timber off the tract.

[13] Professor Givler ceased to be Fletcher Professor of Philosophy in 1931 and became Hunt Professor of Psychology when two separate departments were created in 1932. The Hunt Professorship was created in 1931 by a consolidation of the Ebenezer and Moses Hunt funds. Professor Bruce W. Brotherston became Fletcher Professor of Philosophy.

  • 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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