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

Miller, Russell


Tufts embarked in 1865-66 on a degree program combining liberal arts and professional training. A three-year course of


instruction in civil engineering was introduced which led to the degree of Civil Engineer (C.E.), with the requirements for admission the same as for the philosophical program. At first the faculty considered granting either the A.B. or the B.Ph. degree because of the substantial liberal arts content of the engineering curriculum; however, the first degree actually awarded under the new program was designated "Civil Engineer." The instruction in engineering was made possible by the Walker donations intended to strengthen the field of mathematics, particularly in its practical applications. The engineering curriculum included "most of the branches of an English education," but with a greater emphasis on mathematics. French was the designated foreign language and Rhetoric was required throughout the course. Chemistry (both inorganic and organic), botany, mineralogy, geology, and physics were included, together with the customary Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Logic, and Political Economy. Mathematics included trigonometry, surveying, descriptive and analytical geometry, differential and integral calculus, and mechanics. Drawing was required throughout the program. The same recommendation was made for engineering as for the philosophical course, namely, that the full collegiate course should be taken if possible, although the engineering program would offer "means of valuable discipline, and of a substantial practical education." Emphasis throughout the engineering course was on application of textbook principles. Hence much time was spent in surveying, drafting, and field work, which was concentrated in the second and third years. In 1871 the engineering classes under Instructor Charles Durlin Bray were given permission to be absent from the Hill approximately one month "to engage in the practical work of laying out a Rail Road." A course in iron manufacture included visits to the Bay State Iron Works in South Boston. Another special project in "field engineering" was the construction by students of a topographic map of the College grounds to be shown at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876. Among the other displays at the Exhibition was a Tufts catalogue in an elegant embossed leather binding.

The Engineering Department started without fanfare and with only tolerable success. Both equipment and library facilities in this new branch of instruction were inadequate, and for many


years a large amount of ingenuity and effort went to improvisation by both faculty and students. But this was turned to good advantage in the educational process. Until an actual steam engine could be obtained, students were required to design a complete engine in the drafting room. In 1894 the Electrical Engineering Department constructed, at a cost of less than $700, a Morday Alternating Current dynamo weighing approximately three tons. It would have cost some $2,000 if acquired from a commercial firm.

In the spring of 1870 the engineering student body was far from overwhelming in numbers. Five students had enrolled in September 1869 (one in the first year and four in the second year). But three of the five had dropped out before the academic year was over. Of these, one had resigned from school, one had transferred to the philosophical course, and one had been dropped because of inability to do the work. The two remaining students were handicapped by poor preparation and were having difficulty in maintaining passing grades.

Nothing daunted, the College in the 1870's attempted to make the program more attractive and at the same time appeal to more competent students. The three-year curriculum was retained, but in 1876-77 a notice was inserted in the catalogue that a fourth year of study was provided "for those graduate Engineers who wish to take up work in some branch of Engineering and in other departments of the College." Two years later it was provided that students in the "regular" course could so arrange electives that they could obtain the degree of Civil Engineer by a one-year postgraduate course in the Engineering Department. This opportunity to blend liberal arts and engineering training was extended in 1879-80 to those in the philosophical course. The blurring of lines between the "literary" and the engineering curricula is illustrated by the fact that "knowledge of the metric system" was added to the admissions requirements for the engineering course two years after it was required for the "regular" course.

The College had sufficient facilities by 1883 to announce another degree program in engineering. If demand warranted it, a three-year program in "Electrical Science" was to be offered, with emphasis on commercial applications in the fields of telegraphy, telephony, and electric lighting. Graduates of the electrical engineering program were promised a distinctive degree although, as it


turned out, by the time the Department of Electrical Engineering was formally created in 1890, the engineering degrees had been redesignated. The degree of Civil Engineer became Bachelor of Mechanic Arts in 1883-84 and the designation of "Civil" and "Electrical" was to appear on the diploma, depending on which course was completed. This degree gave way to the two separate degrees of Bachelor of Civil Engineering and Bachelor of Electrical Engineering when the engineering curricula were extended to four years in 1892-93. The faculty considered the possibility of allowing students to complete the program in three years, providing they maintained an average of 75 per cent, but this plan was not adopted. With the inception of the four-year program, the students, previously referred to as "first year," etc., received the same label (freshman, etc.) as the students in the College of Letters. The "Engineers" were never set apart as were the "Philosophicals" from the rank and file of the student body, being, for example, always assigned Commencement parts. A group of engineering students who presumably did not appreciate the classical tradition petitioned the faculty in 1900 that their diplomas be written in English, and a faculty committee was appointed to confer with the Trustees on the matter, but with no immediate results.

In rapid succession Mechanical and Chemical Engineering Departments were established (the first in 1894-95 and the second in 1898-99). To avoid proliferation of undergraduate engineering degrees and to minimize confusion, the uniform degree of Bachelor of Science in Engineering was awarded beginning in 1895-96, with the diploma stating the particular curriculum followed. The new degrees were actually authorized to be used the previous year, but habit was apparently too strong, for the Commencement program in 1894-95 still carried the old designations. The basic programs for the first two years of each of the four curricula were substantially the same. It was provided in some instances that students could take both electrical and civil engineering courses "with a view to taking degrees from both departments." The engineering departments had come a long way by the turn of the century from the faltering beginning made in the 1860's.

  • 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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