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

Miller, Russell


If enrollment had been the sole criterion, the Tufts School of Religion (the Crane Theological School) would have been experiencing a period of unprecedented prosperity when Dr. Carmichael became president of the College in 1938.[3]  There were sixty students enrolled in 1937-38, the largest number in the history of the school up to that time. The Executive Committee of the Trustees even considered the advisability of curtailing enrollment. A high point in the affairs of the school was achieved in September 1941, when it played host to the Universalist Convention. This was an historic occasion, for it marked the first time that the denomination responsible for having founded the College had held a formal meeting on the campus. At the same time, denominational representation in the student body had continued to broaden; in 1942, individuals from seven different religious bodies were enrolled, including even the Greek Orthodox faith.

A tradition was established in 1940 which served a double purpose. The practice of dedicating various rooms in the school


memorialized outstanding faculty and benefactors and also helped to finance physical improvements. The furnishing of the Vincent E. Tomlinson Memorial Lounge in Paige Hall was made possible by a gift from the family. Three classrooms in Miner Hall were similarly refurbished in 1942 and 1949.[4]  In 1950 the Clarence R. Skinner collection of Oriental shrine and art objects, which had been willed to the school, was put on display in Miner Hall.[5] 

President Carmichael viewed the school with a less enthusiastic eye than some of its supporters and found it deficient in several respects. It posed a continuing financial problem for the College, and in 1939 the president told the Trustees that the school involved "a deficit which may be inconsistent with its accomplishment." He was also critical of the curriculum and called for increased attention to "scientific social work" and similar "technical studies." His most serious doubt concerned the continued admission of undergraduates to the school. He might have noted also that although eight faculty members were teaching in the school, in 1937-38 only one was actually full-time, and four were teaching half-time in the school of liberal arts.[6]  Dean Skinner, always the champion of his school and of its students, was also dissatisfied with the position of the school; his concern, however, was on quite different grounds from those of Carmichael. Skinner wanted the theological students identified as a much more separate and homogeneous group than they were considered, and felt strongly that they should have their own academic and social community in Paige Hall.[7]  He was also disturbed because the tuition charge ($350 in 1942) was the highest of any theological school in the United States. He believed that, for this reason, the Crane School was in a poor competitive position


and could not always secure the most desirable students. This argument by Dean Skinner was of less concern to Carmichael than the matter of academic preparation of the Crane students. The burden of tuition charges could always be lightened by the granting of Trustee gratuities. The president objected to the use of the Crane School as a "back door" to the school of liberal arts by students who could not normally meet the latter's requirements.

The School of Religion fared better, in some respects, than did some other parts of the institution during the Second World War. Theological students were deferred from military service by law, although about one-fourth of those at Crane left their studies to volunteer for military service. Paige Hall was taken over by the Navy, and the remaining Crane students were temporarily housed in a residence adjacent to the campus. During and immediately after the war the school's greatest losses were in the faculty. Dean Emeritus McCollester died, and Professor Bruce Brotherston, who taught half-time in the school, retired. In spite of repeated efforts to retain his services, Professor Rolland E. Wolfe, who had served on the faculty since 1934, accepted a position elsewhere. Dean Skinner announced his own retirement, effective at the end of the academic year 1944-45, after thirty-one years as a teacher and administrator. After his temporary replacement by Professor Alfred S. Cole, Dr. John M. Ratcliff, a member of the Crane faculty since 1927, was elected dean.

The school emerged from the war period in 1945 with thirty- four students, but with only one full-time faculty member and one serving half-time. The three remaining faculty gave but a single course each. The McCollester Professorship was still unfilled, and the school was farther than ever from meeting the standards of staff strength established by the American Association of Theological Schools, which required a minimum of four full-time faculty for accreditation. The situation was little better four years later. The school commenced the academic year 1949-50 with thirty-eight students, and Dr. Eugene S. Ashton, who had joined the faculty in 1947, had been appointed to the McCollester chair. However, he and Dean Ratcliff still comprised the only full-time faculty. At no time in over half a century had the school operated with so small a full-time staff. The curriculum was kept at a respectable level


during Dean Ratcliff's tenure only by the expedient of using part-time faculty to offer courses in alternate years.[8]  Students were beginning to desert the school because it had so few faculty and such meager course offerings. Ironically, one of the reasons was the renewal, in 1943, of the cooperative arrangement with the Harvard Divinity School, whereby Crane students maintaining a high academic average could take without charge two courses there. When some of the Crane students saw the opportunities at Harvard they transferred. The school even lost the residence facilities for its students when Paige Hall, to have been returned to it after the war, became a Jackson dormitory in 1946 and was not again made available for theological students until the fall of 1954.[9] 

After the Second World War a thorough study was made of the entire Crane School - from the scholastic standing of its students over the ten-year period since 1934 to the fundamental objectives it sought to accomplish. Admission policy was a basic and long-standing weakness that had become increasingly noticeable over the years as professional and academic standards had risen. The traditional practice had been to admit students as freshmen in the school of liberal arts and to combine undergraduate with graduate and professional training offered by Crane. While the general procedure had been to admit only those who had completed secondary school and had met the standard entrance requirements, exceptions had been made "in a number of cases." Four categories of students resulted. One, designated as "Specials," included students ranging from those who had had only "irregular high school training" to an occasional student who already possessed a Ph.D. The second group included those with a high school diploma. A third was composed of transfers from other colleges. The fourth group was made up of those who had been admitted with a Bachelor's degree. Of the 135 students between 1934 and 1944 whose records were reviewed, forty-seven were "Specials," forty-five were


high school graduates only, thirty-five came with some amount of college credit, and only eight possessed an A.B. degree. As might have been expected, the group with the most formal education and regularity of training compiled the best academic records. The heterogeneity of the student body was reflected in the wide range of academic achievement in each group. Both Dean Skinner and Dean Ratcliff were a bit defensive about the records of the students in their school as compared with those in the school of liberal arts.

President Carmichael and Dean Ratcliff were never able to agree on what the essential nature of the Crane School should be, in terms of its admissions and degree-granting policies. The dean of the school argued that it should continue to admit undergraduates who could obtain a combined A.B.-S.T.B. degree. He saw as its primary mission the training of all those interested in some phase of the ministry (taken in its broadest sense), college graduates or not. He put particular emphasis on the necessity for preparing young men and women who intended to enter the field of religious education and general parish work. Carmichael, on the other hand, opposed the policy of admitting undergraduates directly from secondary school and wished to see Crane achieve and maintain a professional level comparable to that of the medical school. Yet at the same time, no move was made to include the school in the Second Century endowment campaign between 1949 and 1951 - a fact that Dean Ratcliff called to the president's attention.[10]  The president wanted Crane, if it were to continue as a professional school, to require a Bachelor's degree for admission, with academic standards and requirements to match.

An event at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, in December 1951 had a direct bearing on the Crane School. The interior of the headquarters of the Universalist theological school on the St. Lawrence campus was gutted by fire. The Trustees of the school, which body was separate from that of St. Lawrence


University proper, immediately voted to rebuild the damaged structure. The New York State Convention of Universalists, which had founded the theological school in 1856 and continued to select its Board of Trustees, approved the decision. While the securing of funds for rebuilding was being discussed, the suggestion was made that it might be an opportune time to consider merger of the St. Lawrence and Crane theological schools. A formal invitation to the Crane School to merge with the St. Lawrence school on the New York State campus was extended in March 1952 by the New York State Convention. Further discussions took place, and President Carmichael was authorized by the Tufts Trustees to study the possibilities of merger. Representatives of each school then presented the most favorable case they could muster for locating on their respective campus.

There seemed to be a certain logic in combining two relatively weak schools (neither of them accredited) into one much stronger institution.[11]  Dean Ratcliff, who heartily endorsed the idea of merger and had discussed the possibilities of some kind of close association of the two theological schools for over a decade, was given the responsibility for conducting the negotiations for Tufts. President Carmichael remained neutral and attended none of the meetings at which merger was discussed. The very prompt decision of the Board of Trustees of the theological school at St. Lawrence had, for all practical purposes, closed the door to any possibility that the schools could be merged, but conversations continued for several months. President Eugene C. Bewkes of St. Lawrence University, who was not directly involved in the decisions but was naturally interested in the outcome, expressed his hope that a broader representation than the New York State Universalist Convention could be brought into the negotiations, so that the decision to rebuild could be considered more carefully. The Board of Trustees of the theological school at St. Lawrence expressed no enthusiasm over merger or affiliation, particularly if the combined schools were located at Tufts. So the whole matter was dropped after the Trustees of the St. Lawrence school declined (in May


1952) a tentative proposal prepared by Dean Ratcliff and approved by President Carmichael which would have merged the two theological schools on the Medford campus.

After the collapse of negotiations with the theological school at St. Lawrence, Dean Ratcliff returned to the yet unanswered question of the status of Crane as a professional school. He prepared a detailed memorandum embodying the arguments for and against making it an exclusively graduate school. He was highly dubious that there would be sufficient enrollment in a purely graduate school to justify the school's existence, in view of the experiences of similar schools in the denomination. However, he did take cognizance of the growing pressure to establish a bona fide graduate program, chiefly from the American Association of Theological Schools. He recommended that a compromise be worked out by extending the S.T.B. combined program from six to seven years and in that way meeting the requirement of three full years of graduate work. This naturally would require an increase in faculty and extension of curriculum.

A step was taken in the direction outlined by Dean Ratcliff when, in the fall of 1952, the Executive Committee of the Tufts Trustees approved a set of revised degree requirements for the combined A.B.-S.T.B. program. They went even farther by requiring the completion of a four-year undergraduate degree for admission to the B.D. program. Dean Ratcliff did not see the working out of the new program, for death cut short his career early in 1953, a few weeks after President Carmichael had himself resigned. Dr. Ashton, McCollester Professor of Biblical Literature and assistant chaplain in the College, served as acting dean until Dr. Benjamin Hersey was appointed. It was left to the new head of the school to see if a transition could be made, after 1954, to the status of a full-fledged graduate institution.


[3] For the thirty years between 1925 and 1955, the Crane School was listed in all official publications as "The School of Religion . . . A Department of Tufts College." It was not again referred to officially as the "Crane Theological School" until 1955, when it was considered "an integral part of Tufts University." It was, except for one brief period in the 1960's, one of the Associated Schools of the College of Arts and Sciences.

[4] The Frank Oliver Hall classroom was dedicated in the spring of 1942, and the William George Tousey and George Thompson Knight rooms were provided in 1949 by contributions from the families of the two long-time faculty members.

[5] Skinner, who had been dean of the school from 1932 to 1945, had died in 1949.

[6] Attention was called to this by the Committee of Visitors to the school in the fall of 1937.

[7] He offered at one time to invest $2,000 of his own funds in a project to provide a dining room, kitchen, and social area in the basement. This was finally accomplished in the 1950's by the alumni.

[8] Among the part-time faculty who had a long association with the school and who contributed greatly to it were Professor J. A. C. Fagginger Auer, who served as Professor of Church History from 1924 until his retirement thirty years later; and Rabbi Beryl D. Cohon, a Visiting Lecturer obtained through the Jewish Chautauqua Society, who taught from 1947 through 1961.

[9] Dormitory accommodations were provided for the displaced Crane men in Fletcher Hall.

[10] In the extensive fund-drive publicity, the School of Religion was merely lumped in under the heading of "Tufts Undergraduate Schools" and was not mentioned in the statement of financial objectives. It did, however, conduct its own campaign, which was endorsed by the General Assembly of the Universalist Church in 1951. It had the threefold objective of augmenting the endowment of the McCollester Professorship, faculty salaries, and scholarships.

[11] At the time, each school had only three full-time faculty members. The school at St. Lawrence had an endowment of $440,000, while the Crane funds had, by 1952, shrunk to less than $300,000, including $35,000 for scholarships. Even then, part of the Crane funds were merely assigned arbitrarily to the school by the Tufts Trustees from other resources of the College.

  • 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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