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

Miller, Russell



THE MOVEMENT that eventually resulted in the establishment of a Universalist college followed much the same pattern that was seen in the evolution of academies and the attempts to set up a theological school before 1850: a slow beginning, many haltings and delays, the overcoming of apathy and opposition, and initial failures but ultimate success of sorts. The first attempt to found a college - not alone for the ministry but for those who desired for themselves and their posterity a liberal training in the arts and sciences - dates from 1841. The leadership was not that of one man but of several. In the matter of establishing educational institutions in general, Hosea 2d, Thomas Whittemore, and T. J. Sawyer have been called the "three musketeers." It would be manifestly unfair to his contemporaries to say that Hosea 2d was himself responsible for what became Tufts College. The other members of the trio, and literally dozens more, certainly deserve much credit. But it can honestly be stated that, among Universalist leaders, Hosea 2d had the clearest vision of the educational needs and opportunities of his denomination and of how they could best contribute within the larger framework of American culture. Whittemore, in his blunt and forceful way, assessed Hosea 2d's contributions quite correctly, if not in the most polished literary style. "Dr. Ballou took an active part in preparing the Universalists to get up a literary institution among themselves. He knew they were able to do it in a pecuniary point of view; and that they would do it, when they saw their duty plainly."

For over twenty years Hosea 2d devoted much of his energies to convincing Universalists that only a well-conceived system of schools and seminaries, competently operated, adequately financed, and strategically located, could satisfactorily serve both the


denomination and a larger public.[1]  He served in some capacity, beginning in 1827, on every important committee appointed by the Universalist Conventions, both state and general, that dealt with the educational needs of the denomination. By the 1840's he had seen Universalist academies established in considerable numbers, but often supported with little more than enthusiasm; he had watched some languish and close their doors. In 1846 he acted as chairman of a committee to solicit subscriptions for the $50,000 to transform Clinton Liberal Institute into a college or university and watched sorrowfully the failure of the attempt. He had wisely stayed in Medford when not even sufficient funds could be raised to pay him the salary of $800 he had been promised as principal of the theological school at Clinton.

Hosea 2d made his first extended plea for the establishment of schools in the columns of his Expositor and Universalist Review in 1839. It was considered so eloquent and so well reasoned that one subscriber to the Trumpet wrote that the article should be "graved on the heart of every Universalist." Sufficient momentum was generated by 1841, through the efforts of Hosea 2d and men like him, to take a first step toward creating a college. After the General Convention had been adjourned that year, those interested in education remained to organize and to see what could be done about a college. Hosea 2d was on the committee that drafted the resolutions that were adopted. The preamble stated the case succinctly: "It is well known that the Academies and Colleges in our country are generally under the control or influence of sects opposed to the cause in which we are engaged; it is highly desirable that our denomination, now so rapidly growing, should be provided with institutions under its own care, for the instruction of our youth in the higher branches of literature and science." After determining to carry this out by "immediate, concerted, and efficient action," an eleven-man committee, representing Universalists from all over the United States, was directed to make recommendations regarding both literary and theological institutions. News of this provoked widespread discussion. Most of the reaction to the idea of opening a college was at first negative; the possibility of a theological school seems to have been received more favorably. The objections to


establishing a college or university were quite nicely summed up by one critic in the following words: "The proper sphere of a University lies in the department of general science and learning, and it should be the organ of no religious tenets, nor sectarian influences and prejudices. It ought never to be established or managed by any religious denomination as such, but rather by those who are interested in the cause of science and letters, of all denominations, for thus the influence of sectarian motives and feelings would be neutralized." The same writer offered a second argument: there were too many "puny Universities" already. "We should only create a feeble institution, doomed to languish on through a life-long consumption, and die at last a lingering, painful death." The most practical solution was to support "the best existing institutions" rather than to found new ones. Universalists in New England were urged "to direct their patronage and exert their influence" on Harvard. The learning of two centuries had been accumulated there; moreover, sectarian influences were "studiously excluded. There is no way in which we could do half so much service to the cause of learning in our country as by contributing to render this institution still more adequate to its purpose, and inspiring into it a more liberal, republican and earnest spirit."

The Harvard University of the 1840's had long since lost its "orthodox" Congregational inheritance, and for much of the early nineteenth century both the Overseers and the Corporation were dominated by Unitarians. The Harvard Corporation, comprising the President, Treasurer, and five other Fellows, served as an executive committee, responsible for actual operation of the institution. The Board of Overseers, a large body consisting of the Governor, the Council, the Senate, the Speaker of the House, and thirty others (fifteen clergymen and fifteen laymen) served as the equivalent of a Board of Trustees. Suspicious as they then were of Unitarians, Universalists considered them less objectionable than the "orthodox," and hence more acceptable than Congregationalists, Episcopalians, or the like.

It had not always been so. According to a tradition in the Ballou family, Hosea 2d had been destined for some New England college, but when Grandfather Benjamin Ballou heard of this in 1812, he warned the family, with vivid examples, that the youth would be exposed to the proselyting activities of other


denominations, which in his estimation would have calamitous results. Hosea 2d never found out what might have been in store for him as a candidate for an earned degree at one of these institutions, but his contact with Harvard in later years was frequent and close. Much of the research for his Ancient History of Universalism was done in the Harvard College Library, and he counted Josiah Quincy, president of Harvard from 1829 to 1846, and a Unitarian, among his most congenial friends. In 1843 Hosea 2d was given an opportunity to gain valuable academic and administrative experience, for he was elected to the Harvard Board of Overseers to replace William Ellery Channing, who had died the previous year. Hosea 2d performed his duties so faithfully that he served, by re-election, for fifteen years and through four Harvard presidential administrations. He resigned in 1858 because his other duties, including the presidency of Tufts, had become so great. In 1844 and 1845 he received additional recognition from Harvard. In the former year he was one of five (including the distinguished botanist Asa Gray) to receive an honorary Master of Arts degree. A year later, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology (referred to interchangeably in the records as Doctor of Divinity). These honors had a double significance. They signalized the unusual attainments of a man who had never had the opportunity for a formal college education but who in learning, experience, and character had won a deserved reputation outside Universalist circles. The bestowal of the honorary Divinity degree for the first time on a member of the Universalist clergy also signified the increasing respect for liberal religion. Within a few years Harvard conferred several honorary degrees on Universalists. Otis A. Skinner and Benjamin Franklin Tweed, who was to be on the original faculty of Tufts College, were among the recipients.

While Hosea 2d was being honored by Harvard, it appeared that his denomination had again come to a standstill in its efforts on behalf of higher education. Six years elapsed before activity was resumed. But at least something tangible was to come out of the efforts of 1847. The impetus came from a decision by Sawyer to thrash out once and for all the whole problem of Universalist-sponsored schools. None of the projects that had so far been started had really amounted to anything. The plan to turn Clinton Liberal Institute into a college had evaporated. Even the attempt to raise


$10,000 to endow a theological school at Clinton had been an abysmal failure; and Sawyer, with virtually no salary and no real facilities at all, struggled along with a few students whom he attempted to train for the ministry. He and others equally dissatisfied with the lack of progress determined that something had to be done. In April 1847, there appeared over Sawyer's signature a call for an Educational Convention to meet in New York the next month, several weeks before the General Convention to be held in the same city. The circular was as forthright as Sawyer could make it. It posed three questions that demanded answers. Did Universalists need a well-endowed college and theological seminary? If so, where should they be located? And how could sufficient funds be raised? If this effort were not successful, then the denomination might as well surrender "to hopeless ignorance and stupidity for another generation."

Sawyer's circular had the effect intended. The largest group interested in education that had yet assembled duly met in New York and answered the first question with a rousing affirmative. It was resolved, first, "that it is expedient that means be at once devised for the establishment of a College to meet the wants of our denomination." It was further resolved that the college be located in the valley of the Hudson or the Mohawk river, the exact location to be left to a Board of Trustees to be selected by a five-man committee of which Hosea 2d was a member. Fifteen Trustees were promptly nominated while the Convention was in session. They represented eight states, and included Calvin Gardiner of Maine, T. J. Sawyer of New York, and B. B. Mussey and Thomas Whittemore of Massachusetts. Besides the New England area and New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio were represented. The intent was obvious: to draw on the greatest possible potential resources and at the same time make the proposed institution more than a New England effort. The Convention further proceeded to appoint a committee (again including Hosea 2d) to obtain an agent to secure funds. The target, $100,000, was set by Hosea 2d, who had already seen too many Universalist efforts come to grief because of inadequate financing. The subscriptions would be binding only if the total amount were pledged. A resolution was also offered to found and finance, as a separate entity, a permanent theological school, and a committee was set up to solicit reactions from the


denomination at large and to recommend the best method of raising funds for that specific purpose. It was hoped that in this way the two educational projects could be kept sufficiently distinct to avoid the difficulties of both confusion and diffusion of effort that had plagued the denomination before. The Massachusetts State Convention endorsed both resolutions but agreed to concentrate on the accomplishment of the first goal, namely, the creation of a college. It was largely the efforts of this organization that reversed the original expectation of the Educational Convention that the theological school would be located in eastern New England and the college in western Massachusetts or New York State.

The General Convention met in New York in September 1847, and the keynote address that would make this meeting so important in the history of the denomination was delivered by Hosea 2d in the customary form of a sermon. It was a sober and lengthy presentation (almost an hour and a half) delivered to an overflow audience at the Orchard Street Church. The Biblical text selected, from the Book of Luke, was intended as a challenge: Appropriately, the Rev. Dr. Ballou entitled his subject "The Responsibilities of Universalists." Listeners acknowledged the address to have been one of the most powerful ever delivered by the quiet and scholarly clergyman.

Among the themes he pursued was the need for more serious attention to education than had so far been manifested by Universalists. Further neglect, he said, would be most dangerous. Ballou told his hearers, almost plaintively, that "I once indulged the confident expectation that I should live to see Universalists doing their duty, in this cause - founding well-endowed Academies, and at least one College, placed on a permanent basis. I have so long solaced myself with the anticipation of sharing in the work, that it is hard . . .to part with all hope. But the night is coming down, in which no man can work. - The shadows of age are already on these eyes; and nothing is done." His closing remarks were coldly factual. He reminded his audience that the Universalists had been an organized body for well over half a century, with 18 state conventions, 80 associations, and 700 clergymen, and an estimated strength


of 700,000 souls. It was high time that the denomination took positive action to aid intellectual progress.[2] 

Following the regular sessions of the Convention, a special session was devoted to a review and discussion of the decision made at the Educational Convention the previous May to proceed with plans for a college. They were confirmed with a minimum of debate and disagreement.

After the Convention was adjourned, the next task was to select an agent and to start a subscription list. While Universalists waited for the announcement that an agent had been appointed, the supporters of the college plan kept the advantages of such an institution constantly before their public. They returned to the durable contention that all existing colleges were under "strong sectarian influences." For this reason the students, exposed as they were to revival meetings and other devices for proselyting, tended to become either bigots or infidels. At the same time Universalists staunchly asserted the right of any sect, faith, or denomination (including themselves, of course) to establish their own schools. They came to the defense of the College of the Holy Cross, which had been founded in 1843 and which until 1865 vainly sought to be incorporated as a degree-granting institution by the state legislature. In 1849 such a petition was rejected on the ground that the legislature would not incorporate an educational institution for the benefit of any one religious group. Universalists challenged this reasoning. Existing colleges, such as Harvard, Amherst, and Williams, were certainly sectarian in both origin and character; the legislature had better reform these three if the lawmakers were going to be consistent. Universalists had "no more fellowship for the Papal religion distinctively than for Calvinism, but if sectarian Colleges are to be allowed, then the Catholics have as good a claim to one as any other sect."

Several months went by before any news was received that an agent had been selected. Whittemore and Sawyer chastised their fellow Universalists for their inactivity. The former complained that so much had been said about the plans for a college and so little had


been actually accomplished that he was going to refuse to publish anything about it until some concrete action had been taken. Sawyer expressed the sanguine belief that, if a determined effort were made, sufficient funds could be raised within a month. In 1848 the announcement was finally made that Otis A. Skinner (who previously was to have raised money for Clinton) had been employed as agent, and that he would receive nothing for his services unless the $100,000 were fully subscribed. No time limit was set (fortunately, as it turned out), but Skinner immediately set to work. Even so, it was almost three years before his mission was accomplished. An occasional notice would appear in Universalist newspapers that he was in some town or village in New England, but only fragmentary news came out of his travels until late in 1849 and early in 1850.

Sawyer and Hosea 2d watched every development closely, exchanging letters sometimes as often as two or three times a week between Clinton and Medford. Sawyer was discouraged; he wrote Hosea 2d that Universalists would probably have to chalk up still another failure. Hosea 2d tried to bolster his colleague's sagging morale. On the last day of 1849 he wrote his friend in New York State that "as for the College, Brother Skinner has got on to the last $25,000; and this he will obtain, and no mistake." A few days later he assured Sawyer that "we shall have a College yet, and we shall slowly grow into a well informed and cultivated people, though not until after a good many temporary relapses, that are yet to come. I think, however, that we have already sowed our worst crop of wild oats." But even Hosea 2d had doubts at times. He too became discouraged, although he usually managed to retain his dry and puckish sense of humor. "I have often had the hypochondria . . . when observing the practical indifference of our folks with respect to education, their contempt of systematic culture, their magnetic attraction to foolish hobby-horses. I have spent half my life thinking that I was a gone goose."

Until the spring of 1851, Universalists had to be satisfied with occasional tantalizing notices from the agent. He had had moderate success in Chicopee, Massachusetts; he had received pledges of $1,009 in Nashua, New Hampshire; prospects were still bright, and before long he hoped to begin collections. In the summer of 1850


he reported to the New Hampshire State Convention that he had secured pledges of $90,000. Then for a six-month period nothing was heard at all of fund-raising activities, and the Trumpet office was deluged with inquiries. Skinner was urged to make a public report and remove the aura of mystery that seemed to surround his activities. The good news was finally announced. Skinner gave public notice in April that he was ready to collect the subscriptions pledged for the college. He confessed that the last $10,000 had been the hardest to obtain and that some skeptical souls had promised to pledge only after collections had actually begun. Skinner also admitted that, as a matter of fact, he was still actually $3,000 short of the goal but would pledge the rest himself, confident that others would contribute so that he would not be out of pocket. The goal had been reached, it seemed. One jubilant correspondent in the Trumpet wrote: "The great work which has, heretofore, filled so many minds with anxiety, and some with much doubt, has been nearly accomplished. So nearly, indeed, that we can say beyond reasonable peradventure, that WE ARE TO HAVE A COLLEGE!"

In accordance with a call from the Executive Committee of the temporary Board of Trustees created at the 1847 Convention, a meeting of the subscribers was arranged in Boston for September 1851, timed so that it coincided with the Annual General Convention. The Convention, the largest in the history of the denomination, was attended by 220 clergy and "many hundreds" of laymen. It was quite evident that the possibility of actually establishing a college occupied a prominent place in the minds of those present. Skinner reported that he had succeeded in obtaining the subscriptions, and the Executive Committee assured themselves that the terms had been complied with. It was ascertained that $60,000 had been subscribed unconditionally and was immediately collectible. Of the remainder, a bond promising $20,000 after his death had been provided by "a wealthy individual in the City of Boston" who turned out to be Sylvanus Packard, one of the most generous benefactors the College was to have. He agreed to pay $1,000 annually during his lifetime on condition that at least $50,000 of subscriptions had been paid in. The remaining pledge was in the form of a deed to a parcel of twenty acres of land valued at $20,000 and straddling the towns of Medford and Somerville. Those who remembered the earlier attempt to establish Walnut Hill Evangelical


Seminary recognized both the location and the name of the donor Charles Tufts.

The college would not have been possible if any of the pledges had not been made, large or small. But the backbone of the subscriptions was the contributions of dozens of Universalists who had just a little to give but who wanted to do their share. Although there were few donations of $1,000 or more, the greatest number were below $100. Many people gave as little as $5.00. The original plan had been to have one agent do the collecting, but there were so many small donors scattered over such a wide area that Skinner finally had to obtain assistance. Authorized agents, whose names were announced in Universalist newspapers, were equipped with printed receipt forms signed in advance by Skinner. Occasionally, a touch of humor was associated with the collections. One donor, who had promised to give $100 for each of his nephews, arranged that each youngster would hand his allotted share to the collector when he came around. The plan was carried out in good faith, except that between the time of the pledge and the collection another nephew had been born; so the uncle gave an additional $100. When the collector arrived, even the three-week-old nephew was clutching a 100-dollar bill in his hand.

The subscribers who met in Boston that September day in 1851 had a long and important agenda. After it was determined that they would "establish a college with all convenient dispatch," the subscribers made arrangements to nominate a Board of Trustees to replace the one created in 1847, and to obtain an act of incorporation from the state legislature. The new Trustees were empowered by the subscribers to select a site and to draw up the necessary rules for governing the new institution. A slate of twenty-three Trustees representing nine states was duly nominated "with great unanimity." Less than half (nine) were clergymen.

Probably the best-known member of the Board of Trustees selected in 1851 was Phineas Taylor Barnum, who had already achieved considerable fame as a showman. Barnum was never formally a member of any church, but it was "well known," according to Barnum himself, "that my sympathies are with the Universalists" and that they deserved support. He let it be known on more than one occasion that he was once imprisoned for defending religious liberty with such vigor that some of his remarks were considered


libelous by certain Connecticut judges of less liberal religious persuasion.[3]  At the time of his election as a Trustee Barnum was a very busy man. He operated out of his Connecticut headquarters of "Iranistan," the pseudo-Moorish palace near Bridgeport from which he commuted daily to New York. Besides his "American Museum" in Boston, he owned a "Travelling Menagerie"; managed the Phillips Patent Fire Annihilator Company For The United States; and served as president of both the Poquonock Bank in Bridgeport and the Fairfield Agricultural Society. He was currently engaged in "getting up an immense Panorama" of the Crystal Palace Exhibition of the World's Fair celebration in London. It was asserted that his life had already "been written in a dozen languages."[4]  Barnum paid close attention to Universalist affairs. When the announcement had been made that the General Convention was to meet in Boston in 1851, with charactertisic showmanship he suggested that the sessions be held under a large tent in the center of Boston Common.

Many of the names of the other Trustees were already familiar to most Universalists, if not to the larger world. Calvin Gardiner, Benjamin B. Mussey, Oliver Dean, Otis A. Skinner, Sylvanus Packard, Thomas Whittemore, Hosea Ballou 2d, and T. J. Sawyer had been leaders for many years.[5] 

The new Trustees promptly undertook the tasks assigned them by the subscribers. The first was to select a location. Theoretically, several sites were possible, and originally the plan had been to give every person who subscribed $10 to the college one vote on the choice. However, the decision of the subscribers to make the selection a responsibility of the Trustees changed the situation. This in no way precluded an extended discussion about the matter within the denomination, and some of the arguments for or against one location or another, or for a rural or an urban setting, shed considerable light on mid-nineteenth-century conceptions of the role of a college and its responsibility to its constituency.

Some thought that it made no difference at all where the institution was situated. Its success and its stature "must depend upon what it is, rather than where it is. ... If properly endowed and wisely maintained, and impartial in its influences, it will build quickly for itself a reputation, even though pushed to an inland forest, adjacent only to one of our small villages; and if poorly endowed and badly managed, it would fail of support though placed in the centre of one of our largest cities." Skinner was expressing a widely held rural prejudice when he wrote that "all colleges should be remote from cities, where temptations press not so heavily upon a young man." Sawyer recognized the practical problem that a country location posed: "Some might prefer to have the College located [away] from a large city, but it is obvious that it must be placed where we can obtain funds to build and endow it."

During the period when the question was being actively considered, numerous towns had indicated their desire to be considered; Brattleboro, Vermont, and Worcester and Springfield, Massachusetts, were among the contenders.[6]  When the matter had been considered in a very preliminary way in the 1840's, western Massachusetts or upstate New York had seemed to be the most popular choices. Hosea 2d had not felt strongly about it then, and considered Clinton, New York, a good possible midpoint between New England and areas west of the Hudson River. He could see some advantages for a New England location, but they were not sufficient to counterbalance other possibilities. The important thing was to


create "a respectable college, wherever it might be." After the 1847 convention had proposed the Hudson or Mohawk Valley, Hosea 2d still felt "perfectly indifferent." He suggested to Sawyer that the latter might look over Springfield, but if that place were chosen, the site for the college should be "about a town's width" away from the center of population.

From 1849 until a site was finally selected late in 1851, the New England region seemed to be gaining in favor. There were certain very concrete reasons for this eastward shift in sentiment. Sylvanus Packard's subscription of $20,000 was contingent on the college's being located in Massachusetts. The summer of 1851 brought even more specific recommendations. With the wisdom that is said to come from hindsight, one newspaper editor had expressed his dissatisfaction with the site selected for Harvard. That institution should have been placed "among the West Cambridge hills" instead of on flat terrain. Whittemore immediately suggested that Universalists should capitalize on the opportunity lost by Harvard. If the new college was to be located in the Boston area, there would be no better place than the hills of Somerville or Medford. Whittemore was quite aware of another consideration that was likely to govern the ultimate choice of location; he knew that Charles Tufts' gift of twenty acres of land was subject to the condition that the college be located on that land.

As Medford and Somerville became more and more talked about as a site, Hosea 2d became more and more concerned. When Walnut Hill began to be mentioned, he became thoroughly disturbed and marshaled an impressive list of objections. He saw no reason why a theological school would be inappropriate, but a college was another matter. There were the usual objections that proximity to a large city would make living expenses high and would expose the students to "an unhealthy moral atmosphere." But other considerations caused him the greatest concern. There was "no need of another college on merely literary grounds . . . and it would be felt by the community at large as an attempt at a sort of rival institution to Harvard." The Universalist college would inevitably be compared with Harvard "- and what a comparison, especially for the first years! - with our two or three professors, of name unknown in the literary or scientific world, with our library perhaps two or three thousand volumes at most, with


but the embryo of a philosophical apparatus, - in contrast with the oldest, richest, best-appointed university on this side of the Atlantic." And in spite of all that could be done, students who might otherwise go to a Universalist school would be attracted by Harvard and its faculty. Recruiting and retaining a respectable student body would be a chronic problem. In short, an institution on Walnut Hill would always be overshadowed by its neighbor in Cambridge and suffer by unfavorable comparison. In view of all this, there was a certain irony in the appointment of Hosea 2d to the Committee on Location.

The probable site when the Trustees met in the fall of 1851 had been narrowed to two: Walnut Hill, in Medford and Somerville; and the village of Franklin, about twenty-five miles south of Boston. The latter location had been offered by a wealthy Universalist physician and member of the Board of Trustees, Oliver Dean, who was willing to donate twenty acres of land and the sum of $20,000. The committee visited both sites, and Hosea 2d gave "at considerable length" his reasons for favoring Franklin. When the five-man committee voted in favor of Walnut Hill, unanimity did not prevail: Hosea 2d cast the lone negative vote. He was as aware as anyone that the principal reason for placing the college at so "unfortunate" a place was the conditional gift of Charles Tufts, but he argued that "it would be better even to sacrifice the donation than to incur the disadvantages which seem to be attached."

Several reasons seem to have prompted the committee's decision in favor of Walnut Hill and make it appear that the discussion over eventual location was really only academic after all. Mr. Tufts would not give his property if the college were located elsewhere, and it was understood that Dr. Dean "would ultimately do about the same for the College in one place as in the other." It was also a matter of pleasing Mr. Tufts, for from the time the Medford and Somerville property had come into his possession in 1840, he had determined to found an educational institution of some sort on it. He made out three legal instruments to that effect before 1848, one of which had been intended for the ill-fated Walnut Hill Seminary. Practical considerations were also involved in the decision. There was a good deal of adjacent property owned by Mr. Tufts which might very well be deeded to the college sometime in the future. Furthermore, the college proper might not need more than ten


acres of the proffered twenty, and the surplus could be sold off at a comfortable profit. The college land was valued at $1,000 an acre in 1858. The surrounding land was worth from $200 to $300 an acre before the college was located. Thereafter, the valuation jumped to about $500 an acre.
Even in 1851 there were residents of Somerville who had offered to buy over ten acres of the Tufts gift at $2,000 an acre. It was estimated by the Trustees that such offers would total $24,000 and still leave sufficient land for the college buildings.

One other less mercenary consideration undoubtedly entered into the choice of location. The metaphorical association of "light"


and "education" is an ancient one. There are frequent Biblical references to the value of light in dispelling darkness of various kinds, and the Universalists concerned with establishing the college knew their Bible well. What more effective means was there of spreading the light of education than placing a college on the highest hilltop in the vicinity of Boston? One of the traditions at Tufts, recorded in innumerable variant versions, is that Charles Tufts, when asked by a relative what he would do with the land he had inherited, and more particularly with "that bleak hill over in Medford," replied, "I will put a light on it." At a Universalist festival in Faneuil Hall in June 1855, a toast to the recently opened college was offered. Hosea Ballou 2d's reply either echoed or anticipated Charles Tufts' statement, for the president of the new institution said, "For if Tufts College is to be a source of illumination, as a beacon standing on a hill, where its light cannot be hidden, its influence will naturally work like all light; it will be diffusive." [7]  The "beauty and the grandeur" of the site constantly impressed visitors (as it still does in some degree), and those associated with the institution from the beginning have pointed to its location with pride. Elmer Hewitt Capen, president of Tufts from 1875 to 1906, frequently alluded in his writings and speeches to the remarks purported to have been made by Charles Dickens when he first visited Boston in 1842 and was taken on a tour that included Walnut Hill. "He said that there was not, probably, more than one other hill-top in the world from which one could see such a combination of natural beauty in the landscape, and, at the same time, survey such an accumulation of wealth and culture." The pride seemed to have been enforced when Cardinal Newman pronounced a hilltop location one of the essentials of a university.

With the problem of location settled, the next step was to obtain a charter. A premature attempt had been made in 1850, when the "Tufts Institution of Learning" had been created, with Benjamin B. Mussey, Timothy Cotting, and Richard Frothingham, Jr., as the incorporators. But the charter had lapsed because the corporation had not been organized within the time provided by state


law. The charter which did become operative was obtained without difficulty and was approved April 21, 1852, under the corporate name of the Trustees of Tufts College which has been retained to the present day. The Board was made self-perpetuating, and no religious restrictions of any kind were imposed on the composition of the Board. The original charter stipulated that the institution was to be located in Medford. Because of the peculiar location of the Tufts gift, spread as it was across town lines, a month after the original charter was granted, an additional act was necessary to apply the same charter to the Somerville location.

Fourteen of the twenty-three Provisional Board of Trustees of


1851 were retained under the 1852 charter. Timothy Cotting of Medford and Richard Frothingham, Jr., of Charlestown were new to the Board. The name most conspicuously absent from the reconstituted Board was that of Thomas Jefferson Sawyer, who meanwhile had returned to Clinton, New York, to resume his duties in connection with the Universalist school there. Whether he refused to serve as a Trustee because he was piqued that the institution to be established on Walnut Hill was literary rather than theological or because he preferred to confine his activities to strengthening denominational education in New York State is a matter of conjecture. There can be no doubt that some sectional rivalry did exist between Universalists in New England and in New York. In any case, the Trustees unanimously elected him as first president of Tufts College, and a committee (including Hosea 2d) was appointed to "confer with him in relation to the same." The committee returned with the disturbing news that Sawyer would accept the presidency only on the condition that his salary be no less than $2,500 per annum. The Trustees had no alternative but to declare vacant the office of president. Much effort and sacrifice had been expended to raise the initial subscription, and they felt that it was not in their power to make a commitment for such a generous salary, which might have jeopardized the existence of the college before it had even become a physical fact. Fortunately, the Trustees had among their own number a man eminently qualified to fill the post.

Hosea 2d was unanimously elected president in May 1853 and reluctantly agreed to serve. He confided to his brother Levi the doubts he entertained about taking on such a responsibility so late in life. There was also the danger of "pecuniary ruin" for him if the College failed. He defended Sawyer's right to decline the post "for prudential reasons" and told his brother he would have done the same if he had allowed financial considerations to enter into his decision. When he agreed to serve as president, the matter of salary was left open. Hosea 2d requested only that it be equal to what he had been receiving from his Medford parish. The Trustees honored his request and initially agreed on $800; in 1855 the annual stipend was increased to $1,000. It was only his hope to see the College come alive that motivated him to accept. He agreed to hold the office "not on the ground of being fit for it, which the Lord knows I


am not, but because I do not know who they can get that is fit for it. But I shut my eyes to the consequences, and rush forward . . . I am in for it, and if I come out ground into powder, I hope it will bring the price of flour down."

Another reason for Hosea 2d's pessimism was what seemed to him the untoward delay and difficulty in getting things under way, Even by May 1853, no by-laws had been adopted even for the governance of the Trustees of the institution, although officers had been selected, with Oliver Dean as the first president of the Board. A building committee had been instructed in the summer of 1852


"to proceed immediately to erect a building for the use of the College," but excavation for the foundation was not begun until mid-November, and work was almost immediately suspended until the following spring. Expenditures by the building committee were originally limited to $20,000; they soon found that figure woefully inadequate and had to request more than twice what was originally allocated. The revised total of $50,000 was then supposed to have been stretched sufficiently to complete the main structure and to provide boarding houses and other facilities in addition. A deficit could be seen even before the first building took shape. Nonetheless, the Trustees proceeded with their plans. Otis Skinner, who had supervised the business arrangements for several months without compensation, was formally employed to oversee construction and the laying out of the grounds. The ceremony of laying the cornerstone was arranged, and with all the trials and tribulations of getting under way, at least a beginning had been made. As Rev. A. A. Miner reminded his audience on that summer day in July 1853 when the cornerstone was laid, "the occasion which has assembled us, is one of mutual congratulation." The Boston Journal, recounting the events of the day, also looked on the optimistic side. The prospects of the new College "now are bright and cheerful, and its future progress and prosperity will be watched with interest not only by the members of the denomination of which it is the organ, but by all friends of a wise and liberal education."


[1] His personal correspondence, much of which is in the Tufts University Archives, is full of his hopes and plans for education.

[2] The sermon was reprinted in the Trumpet, Vol. 20 (October 2, 1847), pp. 61-62; and in Hosea Ballou 2d, Counsel and Encouragement (Boston: Universalist Publishing House, 1866), pp. 382-407. The original manuscript is in the Tufts Archives.

[3] Barnum was a frequent contributor to Universalist newspapers, including the Trumpet, and often wrote under pseudonyms that were complete transparencies.

[4] The latter statement was made in a lengthy biographical sketch in the Trumpet signed "One Who Knows." Anyone familiar with any of the numerous editions of Barnum's autobiography can identify the author of the Trumpet article without undue effort.

[5] The remaining original Trustees were Israel Washburn (Orono, Me.), T. J. Greenwood (Dover, N.H.), L. C. Browne (Nashua, N.H.), Eli Ballou (Montpelier, Vt.), John Chase (Chicopee, Mass.), Christopher Robinson (Woonsocket, R.I.), Thomas Crane (New York City), Caleb Barstow (Buffalo, N.Y.), Josiah Barber (Auburn, N.Y.), John Hollister (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Charles H. Rogers (Philadelphia, Pa.), John Galbraith (Erie, Pa.), and John A. Gurley (Cincinnati, Ohio). Some were dropped when the Board of Trustees was reorganized in 1852; some played no important role on the Board; a few were prominent because of activities not related directly to the college (such as Israel Washburn, governor of Maine); and a scattering of others, such as Rev. T. J. Greenwood, were later to become closely associated with the affairs of the college.

[6] The town of Brattleboro offered to give $3,766 if the Trustees would locate the college there. A "very beautiful" site of twenty acres could be obtained at about $100 an acre; this would leave a cash contribution of $1,766.

[7] There was a certain appropriateness in the title, Candle in the Wilderness, selected for the historical essays which comprise the centennial history of St. Lawrence University, published in 1957. St. Lawrence is sometimes called Tufts' "sister institution" because of their common Universalist origins.

  • 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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