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

Miller, Russell


The third new degree program established by the College


during Miner's administration was in reality not new at all in view of the antecedents of the institution. The divinity school, which opened in the fall of 1869 with four students and two teachers, represented the realization of the hopes of some Universalists over a quarter of a century before. The very first agitation to found a theological school had assumed one located in Massachusetts, and when the parallel demand for a college was voiced, the latter was to have been located in New York State. The events of the 1850's had reversed these original intentions, and Tufts had opened as a strictly "literary" institution, with no formal theology offered in its curriculum. The event which brought the Tufts Divinity School into existence was the death of Sylvanus Packard in 1866. A provision in his will stipulated that part of the proceeds from his estate was to be used to establish a Professorship of Christian Theology in the College. Tufts, as the residuary legatee of Packard's substantial estate, was expected to receive approximately $300,000 in all. This posed a problem for the Trustees. They wished to keep anything that smacked of sectarianism - even of the Universalist variety - out of the curriculum. On the other hand, they had every intention of honoring the wishes of one of Tufts' most generous benefactors. The result was a decision to build a separate and quasi-independent theological school around the Professorship of Christian Theology required by Packard's will. The first conversations among the Trustees as to how to solve the problem were held in 1866. After much discussion they determined to establish the divinity school "in connection with Tufts College" but with a faculty and course of instruction distinct from the rest of the institution.

Pending the settlement of the Packard estate, no concrete action was taken until the early summer of 1869, except to establish the Packard Professorship and offer it to the Rev. T. J. Sawyer. Sawyer waited well over a year before he made up his mind. After having declined the presidency of Tufts twice, he this time accepted the theological post, with what for that day was the rather substantial salary of $2,500. Even then, he assumed the task with great hesitation. As he pointed out to Miner, he had served the denomination over forty years and had thought himself done with public responsibilities. But his devotion to Universalism was stronger than his concern for "temporal affairs," as he expressed it.


He knew that, in the last analysis, he could have obtained "much larger pecuniary returns" than Tufts College could offer him but he saw where his duty lay.

Sawyer promptly cautioned the denomination that the Packard bequest, however large it might be, was not to be interpreted as relieving Universalists of their obligation to support the new theological school. All that Packard had intended was to lay a foundation on which such a school could be built. It was up to the denomination to build the superstructure. Sawyer enumerated three immediate needs of the school. First on the list was an adequate library. The College library was respectable, "considering the circumstances under which it was gathered," but there were many deficiencies in the collection on theology, where the results of "the best scholarship of the day" ought to be available. Further, the great preponderance of theological students were, "if rich in faith, still poor as relates to this world's goods." Financial assistance to such students was indispensable. Finally, the shortage of ministers, no matter how trained, was chronic and becoming more critical as Universalism expanded.

Plans were outlined for opening the divinity school at the beginning of the academic year 1869-70, and the Rev. Charles H. Leonard of Chelsea was selected as the second faculty member. Leonard, grandfather of Leonard Carmichael, seventh president of Tufts, was highly regarded in the denomination. Elmer H. Capen, although thirty-one at the time, offered Leonard's name with some trepidation because Capen was "one of the younger members of the Denomination" and his suggestion might have been regarded as "impertinent or presumptuous." How much influence Capen had cannot be known for a certainty, but it is true that Leonard was elected Goddard Professor of Sacred Rhetoric and Pastoral Theology just a few weeks after Capen wrote his letter. Leonard had studied for the ministry under Sawyer at Clinton, New York, and when he came to Tufts had held his Chelsea pastorate for twenty-three years and achieved an exceptional reputation for his Sunday School work.

Before the divinity school was two years old. Sawyer requested additional staff, for by the end of the 1870-71 academic year the enrollment had increased to twelve, and twenty-one students had applied for admission the following year. Sawyer pointed out that


even with a new man the school was not as adequately staffed as the theological school at St. Lawrence University. His request was complied with, for the Rev. William G. Tousey was employed as Instructor in Psychology and Natural Theology in 1871. Tousey had been graduated from Tufts in 1869 and was a member of the first class in the divinity school. He jumped from instructor to professor in 1873, only one year after receiving his Divinity degree. It should be noted that he was twenty-three when he entered Tufts as a freshman in 1865 and had already had several years of teaching experience before entering college. He was also one of the many Tufts undergraduates who spent their winters between terms "keeping school" before that custom was abolished.

The school's offerings were expanded after 1875 with the addition of Rev. George T. Knight to its faculty. Knight, the second Tufts alumnus to serve on the divinity school staff, taught Rhetoric, Biblical History, Church History, and Greek. In the next year Moses True Brown, who taught Oratory in the regular curriculum, began to offer a similar course for the divinity school students.

Under the unofficial headship of Sawyer (he was given the title of dean in 1882) the school was fortunate in being able to supplement its classroom offerings by drawing upon a rich variety of ministerial talent off the campus. Each year lectures were given by leading clergymen who shared their ideas, learning, and experience with the students. The College was able to obtain the services of the majority at almost no cost except for travel. In accord with the liberal philosophy of the entire College, the divinity school not infrequently went outside its traditional Universalist ranks and brought in men from other denominations and faiths. For part of 1879-80 a Jewish scholar, Bernard Maimon, served as Instructor (without pay) of Hebrew Language and Literature. Students were also encouraged to take advantage of the "important instrumentalities of culture in the Boston area, including attendance at services conducted by the most noted Divines of New England."

The first curriculum established in the divinity school represented an attempt to provide theological training for students with a wide variety of backgrounds. The two requirements to be met by all students were that they furnish testimonials of Christian character and that they "believe in the Christian Religion, and have a sincere purpose to devote their lives to the Christian ministry." The


second requirement created considerable embarrassment when the faculty came to vote degrees in 1883. One candidate had completed the prescribed work but announced just as he was about to be graduated that he was not a believer in Christianity. If his attitude were allowed to influence the faculty's decision, they could do nothing else but withhold their recommendation for a degree. In their judgment the candidate was "not fit to be a minister of the Gospel in any Christian Church." The problem was dumped in the laps of the Trustees. The recommendation that the candidate receive a degree was tabled for one year; the student received his degree in 1884, after a clergyman who had know him for many years interceded in his behalf.

A three-year course of study for holders of the Bachelor's degree was provided, leading to the Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree. Such candidates were admitted to the divinity school without examination. Those who were unable, in the judgment of the faculty, to pursue the full course were "examined in those branches of learning which are usually taught in the best High Schools and Academies" and were placed in classes appropriate to their degree of attainment. They received a certificate instead of a diploma upon completion of three years of work. A fourth year of study under faculty direction was provided for such students, who could then become candidates for the B.D. In 1871-72 the "Junior" (first) class of six students elected to stay four years and did extra work in Greek, Logic, Rhetoric, and Natural Theology. By 1879-80 the elective subjects available to all students in the school totaled thirteen; the Syriac language and Egyptian hieroglyphics were among the offerings. In 1871 a "partial course" was authorized for those desiring to attend less than four years.

Students who entered the regular three-year program ("Junior," "Middle," and "Senior" years respectively) received a comprehensive training for their chosen calling. First-year students were instructed in the Hebrew language; Biblical archeology and geography; the Gospels (including Greek exegesis, using the books of Matthew and Mark in the New Testament); Hebrew history and law; and Evidences of Christianity. "Middle Year" students reviewed the literature and interpretations of the Old Testament; continued Greek exegesis (Luke and John); studied ecclesiastical history, systematic theology, and the history of doctrines; and were


instructed in the office and work of the Christian ministry. In this second year the students had their first experience in composing and delivering sermons. The senior year continued most of the work of the second year but also included instruction in church polity and administration, Christian Ethics, and pastoral theology. The "conditional" studies for those not able to pursue the regular program included logic, rhetoric, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Greek, and work in Elocution (Oratory). German and French were available in the "academical" (collegiate) part of the College. It was "earnestly recommended" in 1871 that all applicants for admission be able to read "some of the Latin Classical Authors, and the Greek text of the Gospels."

All theological students were required to attend daily devotional services and weekly prayer meetings, and to listen to each other's efforts at delivering sermons. One privilege set the divinity school students apart from their "collegiate" brethren: they paid no tuition or room rent, although the usual charges were made for board. It was universally assumed, as Sawyer had emphasized, that candidates for the ministry would be of modest circumstances, if not penniless. To assist needy students the Board of Trustees of the Universalist General Convention provided full scholarships (originally $160) in the form of loans payable to the students in three installments. The recipients of such aid (their names were never divulged) were to repay in five annual installments, without interest, after graduation. If they failed to enter the divinity school after being given aid, withdrew before completing the course, or decided not to enter the Universalist ministry after receiving aid, such recipients were expected to repay whatever amount had been lent them. At the end of each year the divinity school was required to make a report on each scholarship holder "as to piety, talents, diligence, scholarship, prudence, health, and general influence." Mere evidence of need was soon found to be inadequate as a basis for providing scholarship-loans, and in 1871 candidates for financial assistance were required to pass creditably an examination in Rhetoric, Mental and Moral Science, and English prose composition. A religious test was also added: each candidate had to affirm his acceptance of the Winchester Confession of Faith.

When the divinity school opened, its classroom facilities consisted of a small room on the second floor of the College Edifice.


The western half of the West Hall was assigned to the school when the dormitory was built in 1872. The first floor was used for classes and one room was fitted up as a chapel. The rooms on the upper floors provided housing accommodations. This location prevailed until the divinity school received a home of its own in Miner and Paige Halls in 1891-92. With no tuition or room rent to pay, divinity school student expenses were not expected to exceed $300 a year. Board was available through the College facilities, which in the 1870's and most of the 1880's were furnished through a student eating club. Theological students showing "sufficient maturity" were permitted to preach, under faculty supervision, for the last year and a half and in this way could "add to their pecuniary resources."

The creation of the divinity school met with immediate favor with the denomination. It seemed to be "admirably suited to the purpose," and clergymen who did not enjoy the advantage of systematic theological training were realizing how much they had missed. There was no longer any excuse for "young men rushing into the ministry, half prepared." One writer optimistically stated that the new divinity school marked "a new era" in the history of the Universalist Church, particularly in allowing those with no formal preparation for the ministry at all to avail themselves of the services of the school.

The liberal policy of opening the divinity school to practically all comers caused academic complications from the outset. Before the school was five years old a four-year curriculum was provided which attempted to combine a liberal arts foundation with ministerial training. Prospective students were strongly urged, however, to take "a full Collegiate course of study" before they enrolled in the school. As the catalogue statement put the matter, "the call is for men of liberal culture, and it has been found that Academic discipline is a great value as a preparation for professional studies." The faculty did not yet (in 1873-74) think it desirable to make an A.B. degree a prerequisite, largely because of the financial burdens it would impose on the students, but they did offer what they considered the equivalent of a collegiate course as the next best thing. In actuality, the new four-year program did not differ basically from the existing three-year sequence or from the optional additional fourth year offered in 1871-72, except for increased emphasis on


Homiletics and Pastoral Theology. The three-year program temporarily remained the regimen for those who held the first degree. The new four-year course apparently met a real need, for in 1876-77, three years after it was announced, seven of the thirty-one students were enrolled in it.

When the financial situation of the College became precarious in the late 1870's and continued so into the 1880's, the divinity school was as vulnerable as the "academical" departments. No action was taken at the time, but the Executive Committee of the Trustees recommended in 1877 that the school's new four-year program be cut back to three and suggested that standards of admission also be raised. Between 1877-78 and 1883-84, divinity school enrollment suffered a slow but steady decline, which was an additional source of concern to the Trustees. In the former year there were twenty-five students; in the latter, only eighteen. The Trustees established the Professorship of Church History in 1883, to which the Rev. George T. Knight was promoted (but without increase in salary). It was decided at first that the resulting vacancy in the instructorship would not be filled. However, the faculty of the school insisted that its needs required a replacement, particularly as Sawyer was forced to reduce his teaching and administrative load because of failing eyesight and other infirmities that came with advancing age. The Trustees again bowed to the wishes of the school by employing Rev. George M. Harmon in 1883, but only by following the rather drastic financial expedient of reducing the salaries of Tousey and Sawyer sufficiently to make up the new faculty member's salary. Sawyer was left with a college-owned residence and a salary of $650. As can be readily imagined, this evoked a lengthy protest from the elderly clergyman, who had come to Tufts as the first Packard Professor. Less than a year later, when he was relieved of all academic duties, his salary was further reduced, although he was permitted to live in his house rent-free.[4] 

Even before the financial difficulties facing both the College


and the divinity school were noticeably eased, the faculty of the school undertook to heed the recommendation of the Trustees to elevate "the standards of ministerial scholarship." Their resolutions, submitted to the Trustees in the winter of 1883, suggested that after a two-year transition period, "only graduates of some College, or persons who in the judgment of the Faculty have received an equivalent education, shall be admitted to the Divinity School as candidates for the degree of B.D." No person was to be admitted even as a "Special" student who did not have an education equivalent to that required for college. Accepting the general principles embodied in the divinity school recommendations, the Trustees added the requirement that all candidates for admission, degree holders or not, had to "pass such an examination as, in the judgment of the Faculty shall show that they are prepared to take up the work of the School with profit." The aims of the divinity school faculty were worthy, but the accomplishments of the students apparently continued to fall short of the ideal. There was continuing concern in the 1890's over the lack of maturity and preparedness of many entering students which dogged them even after graduation. The effect, according to one visitor to the school, was "to lower the theological school in the estimation of students in other departments of the College, and of educated men who see that these men are not fitted to cope with the problems which surround them." A special Trustee committee investigated the criticisms of the school and came to its defense. The committee found that the catalogue requirements were so strictly adhered to that many clergy complained. The fact that in 1896 degrees were recommended to less than half of the senior class was evidence that the faculty were attempting to maintain standards; but the high academic mortality rate reflected the basic weakness of an admissions policy that still allowed students with no college training to enroll in the school.

It is clear that the Trustees intended the divinity school to be kept as separate as possible from the rest of the College; it is equally clear that the attempt was far from successful for at least thirty years. The divinity school faculty was administratively distinct from the general faculty, kept separate records, and made its recommendations for degrees directly to the Trustees. When the Trustees provided Visiting Committees in 1869-70, a separate one was


provided for the divinity school. The curriculum was independent and led to the distinctive degree of Bachelor of Divinity. At first even the academic calendar was different from that of the College, and the students in the divinity school had their own "literary association" (the Zetagathean Society) corresponding to the Mathetican Society. Tufts undergraduates went to great pains to explain to the denominational journals that "young men from this institution who preach are not members of the College, but of the Divinity School." The students tried to disabuse anyone of "the idea that the College is a sort of Divinity School" and felt it "but justice to the few former professors to relieve them from the imputation of having attempted to give theological instruction in addition to their regular programs." The faculty "did not approve of any student thus dividing his time and attention between the College and the pulpit." President Ballou had been the only member of the early faculty qualified to teach theology, and he had "confined himself scrupulously to the duties of the presidency and to teaching the branches assigned to him in the college curriculum. The institution from the start was of no doubtful character, but strictly a college, in the true New England sense."

The divinity school did receive money earmarked for its own use. The Greenwood Scholarship was established in 1878-79 (from an income of $1,000) to be awarded for "excellence in such department of work as the Faculty of that School shall determine." In 1882 a gift of $500 was made to strengthen the library; the income was to be spent for books relating to subjects taught in the Department of Homiletics. Other early gifts included the Dockstader Fund of $6,000, which was established in 1889 "in aid of indigent and deserving young men, preparing for the Universalist ministry"; and the Warren S. Woodbridge Professorship of Applied Christianity, which was provided with the understanding that the donor would be the first incumbent. The divinity school also received a life insurance policy assigned to the College in 1894, of which $2,000 was to be used to establish the Benjamin H. Davis Scholarship for students who would take the prescribed course in the College and then enroll in the divinity school.

But no matter how distinct the divinity school might have been in theory, in practice the relationship to the College was inevitably close. The school and the College had a common Board of


Trustees, and the students and faculty shared the same campus, including the library facilities. The divinity school periodically used the services of the College faculty, as in the case of Moses True Brown and his Oratory courses. For many years, President Capen taught Christian Ethics in the divinity school, although without compensation. The experiment of having an academic calendar different from that of the rest of the College was abandoned after one year. The divinity school started out with its own Anniversary exercises, but they were combined with the College Commencement exercises in 1882. The divinity school students in 1897-98 even lost their tuition-free status and were charged the same fee of $100 as the other students. They did, however, receive rent-free rooms, and if they were unable to live in the dormitory provided for them, half of their tuition was remitted. When the new charges were announced, they applied even to those already in the divinity school. The students so affected immediately protested, but the Trustees denied their petition to be excused from paying the tuition. The Trustees did, however, vote them $50 a year from the Dockstader Fund until they had completed their course.

The decision to levy tuition charges on divinity school students was based on two arguments. Free tuition was thought to be bad on principle, for it created a privileged class of students who might not always deserve or appreciate such generosity or the advantages they were receiving. More immediate was the hard fact that the College had to support the school largely out of its general funds because the denomination had not stepped forth to support the theological school on the scale that had been hoped. In the nineteenth century the school never paid its own way. The finance Committee of the Trustees made a special report in 1896 indicating that the school had cost the College over $180,000 since it had been established. The income of the school itself in 1896 was only $5,000, and the operating expenses were estimated at $11,000. The $6,000 loss that year increased the total College deficit to over $18,000. The services of Anson B. Curtis, who had been employed as Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament in 1894, had to be dispensed with only two years later as an economy move. The device used was to abolish the professorship and distribute the work among the remaining faculty. When divinity school alumni inquired whether it would be proper to raise money to reinstate Curtis, the Executive


Committee replied that the financial condition of the school was such that if any appeals for money were to be made, they should be for the general endowment of the school and not for any one department within it.

The idea of a separate endowment for the divinity school was first recommended in 1884, after the Rev. Henry Rugg had surveyed the situation and had found the school severely handicapped by inadequate resources. The Trustees devoted much time in 1889 to discussions about the relationship between the school and the College, and approved a proposal that "at an early date" the school should be given "a distinctive name ... in order that there may be not only a real but also an apparent separation of that school from the College of Letters."[5]  The Trustees echoed the sentiments expressed by the students almost fifteen years before, when they justified their proposal on the grounds that there had been "in the minds of many persons an erroneous idea that Tufts College was only an institution for the education of young men for the ministry." Although this misconception was not as prevalent as before, there was "no doubt that at the present time it operates somewhat prejudicially to the college proper and does not advance the interests of the divinity school." The school, it was argued, should have not only "a particular name of its own, but it should also have funds specially appropriated and set apart for its maintenance." A special Committee on Finances did not, however, feel that the Trustees themselves should undertake to raise any large amount of money for such purposes, as it was apparent that "the needs of the school will not keep pace with the demands of the college itself." The money-raising should be a project for persons especially interested in the school. If they could raise "a perpetual endowment fund" of $100,000 for the benefit of the school (the income to be expended by the Trustees at their discretion), the Trustees would agree to furnish a separate building for the school "unless sooner provided."

Miner thoroughly agreed that separate housing should be


provided for the school. It was not so much a matter, he said, of anticipating a great increase in divinity school enrollment as of alleviating the pressing needs of the College for accommodating its own students. Further, "a wider separation of the School of Theology from the other departments of the institution" was "on many grounds greatly to be desired." It was Miner himself who was to provide the funds for the construction of a headquarters for the school during the 1890's, when the College greatly expanded both its academic activities and its physical plant.


[4] The house itself was old, and apparently needed constant repairs. It had been the residence of the Teele farm, which had been purchased by the College in 1863. On one occasion Mrs. Sawyer requested a new floor in the dining room, which had been the old kitchen. For over sixteen years the kitchen had been used for canning and pickling for market, and there is no doubt that the floor had been well seasoned.

[5] The designation "College of Letters" began to be used in 1882, after the by-laws of the Trustees were revised and a "General Faculty" had been created. The term "General Faculty" was only temporary, for the expression "Faculty of the College of Letters" prevailed; it did not, of course, include the divinity school.

  • 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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