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

Miller, Russell


The institution of higher learning brought into being on a rural hilltop by the valiant efforts of a handful of Universalists met virtually all of the specifications of a nineteenth-century denominational college. As its third president frequently explained, Tufts was "of the standard New England type." Presided over by four clergymen in turn, Tufts at first offered to young men the prevailing classical curriculum of four years leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Officially, the program of study was known as the "Regular Course" to distinguish it from the "Partial Course" for non-degree students. There was not a word in the first catalogue about the purposes of this particular institution, or of higher education in general. This was not an oversight, for everyone knew what colleges were intended to accomplish. They were to offer to selected young gentlemen the foundations that would enable them to become leaders in church, state, and the professions — notably teaching. The curriculum in general was set by ancient and honorable usage, for all literate men knew that there was a fixed body of knowledge to be transmitted- knowledge that any educated citizen should acquire. It sharpened and furnished the mind, elevated the character, and promoted piety and virtue.

There were admission requirements, for certain standards of achievement were expected. At the head of the list was the stipulation that each applicant was to produce a certificate of "good moral character." If the young scholar came from another college (possible before the beginning of the senior year), a certificate of "regular dismission therefrom" was likewise required. For admission to the freshman class, an examination had to be "well sustained" in the following studies: Latin, Greek, mathematics, and history. Although substitutions could be approved, certain textbooks were expected to have been used (and were so specified in the catalogue for the benefit of the applicant), and a certain degree


of proficiency was supposed to have been attained. In Latin, Arnold's Latin Prose Composition was to have been mastered (up to the dative case), as well as Virgil's Bucolics and Georgics, and six books of the Aeneid. Four books of Homer's Iliad and three books of Xenophon's Anabasis were basic in Greek. Mathematics included arithmetic and algebra (to equations of the second degree). Preparation in history presupposed a knowledge of modern geography, Worcester's Ancient Geography, and Goodrich's History of the United States. Admission examinations were held on the day following Commencement and on a fixed day preceding the beginning of the fall term. Examinations began at eight o'clock in the morning and continued for as long as was thought necessary.

The academic year was originally divided into two terms of twenty weeks each, the first beginning toward the end of August ("six weeks after the 2d Wednesday of July") and ending in early January. The second term began in late February and ended on the second Wednesday of July. There was a six-week vacation at the end of each term, as well as special holidays, and many students who were in good standing were allowed to use up to twelve weeks (including the winter vacation) to teach school in neighboring towns. They were, however, to continue their collegiate studies "the mean while." The Thanksgiving recess provided a long weekend, but the Christmas holiday comprised that day only. Fast Day, part of the Anniversary Week in the spring, and the Fourth of July completed the list of vacations. The first catalogue was issued for the opening year (1854-55), but for the only time in the history of the institution the next year's catalogue was omitted; thereafter, the catalogues became a record of what the past year had provided rather than a projection of the next year's arrangements. The first major change in the academic year was inaugurated in 1875-76, when the faculty voted to abolish the winter vacation and to have instead, so far as possible, an undivided year of work. Since written examinations were now required at least monthly, it was considered desirable that final examinations be given at the end of major topics rather than at the end of each term. President Capen, and many of the faculty, felt that only in this way could be avoided "the evils of the cramming process, which from immemorial time has been the bane of colleges." The experiment in abolishing the semester system lasted only a few years. Except during wartime,


the College retained the two-term pattern for the regular academic year.

Freshmen encountered Latin, Greek, mathematics, history, and Rhetoric, with Natural Theology added during the second term. Sophomores continued their five-course regimen in the same subjects, except that in the second term they progressed from Natural Theology to Revealed Religion, using Paley's Evidences of Christianity - the standard text of the time. The second term was to have required physiology as the sixth subject, to be continued by hygiene when the student had earned upperclass status, but these courses were not actually offered during the early years of the College. Juniors and seniors could take advantage of the luxury of certain electives (as additions to their prescribed work). In the third year mathematics (analytical geometry, including conic sections) became an option, and physics (using Olmsted's Mechanics) was taken in its place. Moral Science and Intellectual Philosophy continued the ethical emphasis in the curriculum. Other electives included advanced Latin and Greek, French, Italian, and Lectures on Natural History. The number of electives was increased for seniors (and the required subjects correspondingly decreased). Physics, Intellectual Philosophy and Natural and Revealed Religion, Political Economy, and Rhetoric were required, and the remainder of the student's program was drawn from an arsenal of the aforementioned electives, plus German and Spanish.

Changes in curriculum and textbook occurred with glacial slowness. Literally for decades no alterations appeared in some areas. This was not at all unusual, for it reflected a tendency toward basic conservatism in all nineteenth-century collegiate education. Although an occasional new subject, textbook, or required reading crept into the academic offerings, no substantial change was made in the regular Tufts course of study for some forty years. Lectures on inorganic and organic chemistry appeared in 1864-65 for the sophomores, and botany and zoology made the seventh course required of juniors the same year. Political Economy was also introduced for seniors, including "Lectures on Mercantile Usages"; science received considerable attention, with lectures and demonstrations in geology, mineralogy, and astronomy. A year of French for juniors and German for seniors supplemented the Greek and Latin of the first three years.

In order to be advanced from one class to the next, an examination had to be "well sustained," both in the preparatory studies and "in the studies through which such class shall have already passed." Part-time or "Special" students were a part of institutional enrollment from the beginning of the College, consisting of those who could qualify for specific courses but who did not intend to earn a degree. If a student were a degree candidate, he had certain academic exercises to which he could look forward. A public examination of all classes was scheduled for a four-day period before the end of each term. At first all examinations were oral, conducted by formal Committees of Examination which were listed by name in the catalogue and were drawn from alumni, clergymen, Trustees, and other likely manpower convenient to the College. In 1864-65 separate examining committees were provided for Latin, Greek, mathematics, physics, Natural Theology, Rhetoric and Logic, modern languages, history, and Moral and Intellectual Philosophy. Juniors participated in a Public Exhibition in May, for which parts were assigned, according to the "general Scale of Merit" of each student.

The Junior Exhibition was a very formal and very serious academic ceremony, complete with an elaborate printed program. It took place in the College chapel during Anniversary Week, and classes were dismissed for the occasion. For several years those students selected to participate in the program were excused from recitations for a short time preceding the exercises in order to prepare their parts. A strict hierarchy of Exhibition assignments was established, to correspond to the customary ranks of Valedictory, Salutatory, and below. The parts were delivered by the students in descending order of class standing. First came the Latin Oration, followed by a Dissertation, and an assortment of English Orations, Disquisitions, and Philosophical Orations. Original plans called also for a Colloquy and a Poem, but neither materialized; however, there were occasional Greek Orations. When classes were small there was ordinarily a part for each member of the class, which meant that by 1862 there were thirteen speakers. It can easily be imagined that 3:00 P.M. was none too early to start the programs, for music was interspersed among the addresses, furnished by the Boston Brigade Band. An opening prayer and benediction were a normal part of each program. The topics were broad,


generally inspirational, and occasionally practical, and were chosen after consultation with the faculty. A typical Exhibition might include presentations on "Mathematics as a Mental Discipline," "Elements of Success," "Revolutions," "Iron-Clad Ships," and "Our Obligations to Ancient Greece." An abortive attempt was made by the faculty in 1863 to have all Orations delivered in English; but the classical heritage prevailed, and a Latin Oration (summa cum laude) was duly delivered that year on Catiline. The students considered the Junior Exhibitions of sufficient importance to petition the faculty in 1863 that nominal parts be assigned those students away on active duty during the Civil War, so that their names (and class standing) might appear on the program. But the faculty ruled that students had to be in residence if their names were to appear on the printed program.

Such an important occasion as the Junior Exhibition required - at least according to the students - a social event following the formal exercises. So in 1858 the junior class petitioned "for liberty to have a social gathering" at American Hall in Medford on the evening of Exhibition Day. After understandable hesitation and due deliberation, the faculty gave its assent, but with certain reservations that would "relieve the College of all responsibility, and not establish a precedent from which evils might arise in future time." The "precedent" was set, however, for the annual festivities in Medford, and President Ballou saw fit in 1859 to issue a "Special Order" giving permission but under certain restrictions as to behavior. No intoxicating drinks were to be permitted on the premises where the social event was being held.

A second by-product of Junior Exhibitions was the surreptitious appearance of so-called Mock Programmes, prepared by fun-loving students. These, too, were elaborately printed, but their contents were far from sedate. Their exaggeration or distortion of both faculty and student personalities made their creators likely candidates for legal action for libel, slander, and defamation of character. The first false program appeared in 1858, only one year after Junior Exhibitions began, and was headed "Second Irregular Commencement of Tough College," with contents to match. A subsequent mock program labeled the institution the "Tufts Foundling Hospital" and inferred that it was for juveniles only. The faculty naturally discouraged the publication and


distribution of mock programs and eventually forbade their appearance. Suspension from the College was automatically provided for
any student detected authoring these spurious editions. Aside from their sometimes scurrilous contents, the faculty feared that the programs might fall into the wrong hands and leave an erroneous impression of what went on within college walls.

The situation had become so serious by 1864 that the Trusteestook a hand and suspended a student for several months "for beingconcerned in the preparation of a false program of the exercises atthe annual exhibition." The faculty finally saw fit to discontinuethe Annual Exhibitions, the last one being held in the spring of1871. But the students were not to be so easily discouraged andfound other outlets for youthful energy. Among them was theconduct, from 1872 until 1879, of mock funerals (complete withprinted program and processions through the campus) of AnaLytics. These gleeful celebrations marked the end, for seniorsat least, of formal training in mathematics. Junior Day ceremonies, Junior "Horribles" (in costume), and campus Mayoraltycampaigns of later days bear witness to the simultaneous arrival ofspring and of final examinations and term paper deadlines.

Students and faculty alike were required to attend religious observances. At first, attendance in the College chapel at both


morning and evening prayers and the hearing of readings from the Scriptures were expected of all. Evening prayers were abandoned after the first year, but public worship in the chapel on Sundays, Thanksgiving, and Fast Day was mandatory. However, from the time the College opened, students were allowed to go to the church of their choice according to an election made by them or their parents at the beginning of each school year. An optional religious activity was attendance each Saturday evening at a "Biblical Exercise." In order to provide effective supervision over students attending public religious services off campus, for a brief period beginning in 1860-61 it was specified that the students were to attend Medford and Somerville churches. This limitation was soon dropped because so many students came from other towns in the Boston area. Although geographical boundaries may have been set, the policy remained quite liberal. This permission covered attendance at the services of "any other denomination of Christians . . . such worship being that in which [the students] have been educated, or which from conscientious motives they are desirous of attending."

Besides maintaining their class standing and attending religious services, students had certain other obligations to fulfill. Even before admission, every degree candidate was required to give a bond of $200, "with two sureties," to protect the College's investment while the student was in attendance. Tuition was $35 per year (two terms) until 1870-71, when it was raised to $60, and room rent ranged at first from $7.50 to $15 per year, then up to $20 by 1864-65. A fee of $1.00 was levied for a brief period for the privilege of using the library. Board (not including washing and fuel) was $2.50 a week when the College opened but was reduced to $2.00 within two years and varied up to more than $3.00 as the cost of living fluctuated. Students were allowed at first to make private arrangements for board if they chose. They were responsible for furnishing their own rooms. By 1864-65 the estimated annual total College expenses, exclusive of personal necessities and fuel, amounted to $187, including a levy of $1.00 for the privilege of being called to academic duty by a paid bell-ringer and of being supervised by a dormitory monitor. Wear and tear on College property required "average damages" assessments from time to time. Members of the Class of 1868 were assessed $1.00 each in


their senior year. The Trustees disclaimed any responsibility, legal or otherwise, for loss of clothing or other articles by students. Minimum estimated annual expenses in 1874-75 were $244, with board at $3.50 a week. The treasurer's paper work was complicated from the very first by the fact that, except for the second term of the senior year, College charges were payable in two installments in 1875-76. Seniors had up to twenty-four hours before Commencement to settle their accounts.

Providing boarding facilities satisfactory to both the students and the College proved to be a chronic problem. A series of private families was employed at various times to supply food service, with uneven success. The annual deficit, ranging in the early 1860's from $600 to over $1,500, made the Trustees unhappy; the allegedly plain and monotonous fare, "permanently seasoned with the contingency of increased charges" made the students equally unhappy. This problem was by no means confined to a minority of the student body; in 1864-65, forty-four of the forty-six students boarded at the College. President Ballou once commented on the uninspiring diet in a delightful poem, "Salt Fish," which begins:

Staple Food on Walnut Hill! Victual fund for drafts at will! Ready in all exigents, Minute-man of esculents! Substitute for every dish, Hail, all hail to thee, Salt Fish.

The students then took matters into their own hands and organized their own system for board in the spring of 1870. The College was delighted to have them assume responsibility for a thankless task. "The experiment of the students boarding themselves in a club has proved a marked success. It has cured most of the evils formerly complained of." The Adams Club, as the organization was known from its student founder, J. C. Adams, lasted less than a decade, for it encountered the same problems faced previously by the College. In 1878 an alumnus (U. H. Squires, of the Class of 1878) undertook to provide boarding facilities. From time to time thereafter the College provided meals, but when a Commons Building (Curtis Hall) was constructed in 1894, the Trustees ceased their direct responsibilities for boarding the men and leased part of the


building to private individuals and firms who agreed to operate the dining halls. After Tufts became coeducational in 1892, a somewhat different arrangement was made for the women, whereby the College furnished a separate dining hall under management distinct from that for the men's facility. In 1893 the Trustees found it necessary to forbid "under any circumstances . . . the maintenance of clubs for the purpose of providing board or lodging for men and women together."

Student expenses climbed slowly but inexorably over the years. In 1875-76 the combined tuition and incidentals fee reached $74. Like the increase in 1870, this one was initiated by the faculty rather than by the Trustees. Only two years later the combined fees were increased to $100, reflecting a period of financial stringency which was more than local in character. The Panic of 1873 had nation-wide reverberations.[12]  In an attempt to soften the blow of increased student costs, a note was inserted in the College catalogue for 1879-80 that "the College is, practically, free to those whose circumstances necessitate it." Except for divinity school students, who did receive free tuition for many years but paid most other expenses, this was not literally true; in 1885 the Trustees voted that the statement be deleted. Nonetheless, some of the Trustees had from time to time considered the "feasibility of making the college free of tuition to all its students." But the financial condition of the institution never warranted such generosity. Every fund-raising drive on behalf of the College included pleas for scholarship assistance for meritorious students.

By and large, the economic status of the early student bodies at Tufts was as modest as the College which had been established to serve their intellectual needs. Most came from what are usually called "middle-class" homes and promptly applied for whatever financial help might be available. There were several sources of assistance by the 1860's. The first was three annual scholarships of $50 each, established as a part of the agreement by which Tufts


received a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the filled-in Back Bay lands in Boston. The three state scholarships were increased to $100 in 1869 when tuition was raised from $35 to $60. These so-called "state scholarships," like all others awarded, covered the past year rather than the current one. The second source was a revolving loan fund of $1,000 donated to the College, the income of which was, for a few years, lent to deserving students in individual sums not exceeding $30. Student employment was also provided wherever possible, and the first such positions were as monitors in the dormitories and as bell-ringer. By 1864-65 they garnered annual stipends of $20 and $40 respectively and were much sought after. Satisfactory academic progress and avoidance of "grave College censure" were among the prerequisites for eligibility for these posts, as well as for scholarships and other financial aid.

Four scholarships of $50 each were provided in 1865-66 from a bequest of $10,000 made by Edwin Howland, Esq., of South Africa, and five mathematical scholarships of $100 each were established in honor of Dr. William J. Walker. By the time tuition was raised to $100 in 1877-78, there were twenty-seven scholarships "in the gift of the College," ranging from $60 to $100 each. In view of the fact that only eighty-three students were enrolled in the College proper that year, student needs seem to have been fairly adequately covered. Other efforts were made to recognize the financial problems of students (and their parents), for in 1889 the treasurer was authorized to accept the notes of any student for balances due on term bills, as long as the president certified the need. There were, of course, a few students who let their unpaid bills accumulate rather alarmingly, and authority was given by the Trustees to place some cases in the hands of an attorney for collection. It was reported to the Executive Committee in the spring of 1896 that $5,000 was owed by students who had left the College since 1892. At one time in the 1890's an annual fee of $10 was levied "for the rent of space for study purposes" on all students not residing in a dormitory or fraternity on the Hill or not living with their families. This levy was soon rescinded.

There was another way besides loans and scholarships by which students could be assisted or at least rewarded, even if not always in cash or credit. Student prizes were first announced in the


catalogue in 1862-63, after the Goddard Prize Fund was established. The first prizes provided, one for a member of each class, consisted of books of scholarly character. Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic and History of New Netherlands were given to the senior who wrote the best dissertation on "The Comparative Value of Contemporary and Subsequent Narrations of Historical Events." The junior prize, a copy of Muller and Donaldson's History of the Literature of Ancient Greece, was awarded for the best prose composition (in Greek) on "De Origine et Usu Oraculorum." The sophomore prize, the two-volume set of Smiles' Engineers, was to be earned for the best examination in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. The winning freshman received Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography for the best Latin translation of a particular chapter in Gibbon's History of Rome (Boston edition, 1864) ending on page 413. A ceiling was placed on the length of the dissertation and the Greek prose composition. The first was not to exceed the equivalent of fifteen pages of the North American Review, and the second was to be limited to three pages comparable to those in Felton's Greek Historians. Vagueness played no part in academic assignments, for prizes or otherwise. The monetary equivalent was awarded in books, and of course the subjects of the dissertations and compositions varied from year to year. "The Social Problem in England" might be assigned for a senior dissertation, or a Latin translation of extracts from William Pitt's "Abolition of the Slave Trade" for the freshman prize. Frequently the faculty, who selected the winners, considered no one worthy of one prize or another, so not all awards were made in any given year.


[12] At no time in the history of Tufts, or of comparable privately endowed institutions known to the writer, has tuition paid more than a fraction of the operating expenses. An analysis of the Tufts Treasurer's Reports for the ten-year period 1857-67 can be taken as typical of the ratio in the nineteenth century. In 1858, operating expenses (with the figures rounded off) were $6,400 and tuition receipts were $1,850; in 1866, $14,000 and $3,400 respectively.

  • 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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