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

Miller, Russell



TUFTS COLLEGE ROUNDED THE CORNER of the twentieth century with solid accomplishment and with great hope. New men were coming to the fore. In 1901 death removed the senior member of the faculty. John P. Marshall had come to the Hill with the first president, had served temporarily as Ballou's successor, had laid the foundations for the impressive collections of the Museum of Natural History housed in the building donated by P. T. Barnum, and had taught nearly every student who had passed through the doors of the institution in his more than forty years of service. Only one member of the original faculty was still living in 1901; although William P. Drew had severed his connection with the College many years before and was residing in Pennsylvania, he was sufficiently interested to attend Tufts' Commencement exercises that year. He was probably a bit awed by what he saw and heard, for new buildings had sprung up everywhere, the campus had been fenced, many of the elms that he had seen planted as saplings had already attained great size and majesty and gave an air almost of antiquity to the once-barren hilltop. There were 312 students enrolled in the college of letters alone, and no less than 153 degrees were awarded that June day in 1901 as Professor Drew sat in Goddard Chapel - a building strange to him, and already taxed to capacity.

The members of the Board of Overseers looked "with pardonable pride" on the progress of Tufts. Most of them had been out of college long enough to have some perspective, and as the College entered the twentieth century they saw many grounds for congratulation. "In the increase of membership, in the higher standards of admission and graduation, in hospitality toward the changes necessitated by the advance of modern thought and disclosures of


modern research, in elasticity of the conditions of admission and constantly broadening courses of study - we see the proofs of a success as substantial as it has been surprising." As President Capen noted with satisfaction in his annual report for 1900-1901, the College had entered on a period of "substantial and steady growth." This was most heartening to those who had worked hard and waited long. The chief concern was that the growth might be too rapid.

Twenty-five years before, Capen had delivered his Inaugural as the third president of Tufts College. The address was entitled "The American University," and the major portion of it was devoted to the institution of which he had just been elected the head. No one had suggested that the charter of the College be amended to make it into a university; that would have seemed presumptuous and premature. Yet the transformation of Tufts into a university in fact if not in name was one of Capen's goals.

But you will say I am talking all the while of a university,when this is only a college. To be sure we have given it in ourmodesty that name. Its chartered rights and therefore its possibilities in the realm of intellectual culture are as broad as the boundaries of knowledge.... The principle, I am sure, is a just one, ofbringing together in one spot as many colleges as possible. Theyact and react upon one another. Especially does the college properexert an elevating and inspiring influence upon the professionalschool. It awakens within it the philosophic spirit, takes away ina measure the commercial and groveling desires which are too aptto engross its members, and leads them to regard their vocationsnot as temporary make-shifts by which they are to escape the drudgery of manual labor and keep themselves and their families fromwant, but as noble avenues through which they are to seize thetruth and apply it to the necessities of men. It is the college thatimparts a divine halo to the professions and enables them to beclassed not as trades, but as liberal arts. Logically, therefore, thecollege precedes the professional school.

Capen called attention to the fact that the American university was unique in one important respect: it established schools for professional training under the same governing board as the college. Tufts had already shown that it was entering the mainstream of university development by creating a divinity school. Other


professional schools were "yet to come. But they are coming, and I devoutly pray that somehow, through the providence of God, my hands may assist in placing their basal stones."

President Capen had reason to view his administration with satisfaction on that count alone. The medical and dental schools were already evidence of a partial realization of the aim of making Tufts more than a college. Some twenty years after he delivered his Inaugural, he was present at the opening exercises of new quarters for the medical school and heard Dr. Ernest W. Cushing, surgeon and gynecologist, make that very point. In referring to "the sagacious liberality of the Trustees of our University," Dr. Gushing said he was using the last word advisedly. With the addition of a school of medicine to its other branches of instruction, Tufts' had "become, and should be called a university."

There was even more justification to come in describing Tufts as a university de facto in the next decade. The Engineering Department went through such a phenomenal period of expansion that it became the largest undergraduate division on the Hill. Its resources were strengthened by the addition of a preparatory school that gave the College and its administrators a real taste of the problems of operating a university. Almost simultaneously, a graduate school was organized to grant the higher professional degrees becoming so popular and so much in demand in a society of increasing specialization and complexity. Within the same brief period at the turn of the century, the divinity school received its much-sought endowment, and under the name of the Crane Theological School offered augmented resources for the training of clergymen. All four of these institutional ventures at the turn of the century, whether initiated then or built on earlier foundations, proved sufficiently durable to continue into the era after 1954 when the institution had become a university de jure as well as de facto.

  • 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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