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

Miller, Russell


The Departments of Biology and Chemistry had taken the early leadership in offering graduate work, and a strong faculty had helped account for this. There were such men as John S. Kingsley, who succeeded John P. Marshall as Director and Curator of the Barnum Museum in addition to carrying on his research and teaching activities in biology; Fred D. Lambert, who joined the faculty in 1900 after having served as an assistant in the Biology Department since 1896; Herbert V. Neal, who succeeded Kingsley in 1913; and Arthur Michael. The latter served on two occasions as


Professor of Chemistry between 1882 and 1907 and raised numerous eyebrows because he spent much more time in the laboratory doing research than in the classroom teaching undergraduates.

Laboratory resources were also steadily strengthened in both chemistry and biology. Bona fide laboratory work had been made possible for students of chemistry for the first time in 1875-76, with the purchase of considerable apparatus from Germany. President Capen had enthusiastically approved the move, for he was insistent that the College had to keep pace with the trend toward greater amounts of practical work to supplement traditional instruction by textbooks, lectures, and demonstrations. In the same academic year (1875-76) the first summer school in the history of the College was held.[29]  Courses were offered in both physics and chemistry and were intended primarily for graduates who were preparing to become science teachers. A second summer school in chemistry was operated for six weeks under the direction of Professor Durkee in 1896. Sixteen students were enrolled, and the experiment was considered sufficiently successful to repeat in subsequent summers. Enrollment had increased to twenty-one in the summer of 1899. Most were Tufts undergraduates, but there were also high school teachers and students. Four courses were offered at the college level, and Professor Durkee was confident that by concentrating on only one or two subjects "the same student accomplishes more in a course taken in the Summer School than he does by taking it in the college year."

The Biology Department was equally active in supplementing the classroom instruction of the regular year. Its first summer sessions were rather unique, for they were conducted a considerable distance from the campus and became research as well as teaching enterprises. In the summer of 1898 a school was opened at South Harpswell, Maine, on the shore of Casco Bay. A cottage which served as a laboratory was acquired, and supplies and apparatus were brought from the College. The laboratory, furnishing facilities for ten workers supervised and assisted by three members of the Biology Department staff headed by Dr. Lambert, operated from


late June until early August and was considered a complete success. The sea yielded great quantities of marine life and an opportunity for research at firsthand. As a result of the first summer's efforts, nearly 100 specimens were added to the collection of Barnum Museum and supplemented the material for dissection that had been obtained from the marine laboratory at Woods Hole on Cape Cod since 1892.[30] 

The experiment of summer work at South Harpswell in 1898 was so successful that it was continued on a semiprivate basis for over a decade. Land was purchased and a laboratory was constructed and equipped by a combination of private contributions and small allotments from the Olmstead Fund, which had been given to the College to encourage work in natural history. Thirteen students were enrolled in the summer of 1901, drawn from half a dozen institutions besides Tufts. As word of the laboratory spread, graduate students and faculty members from several colleges tended to replace the Tufts undergraduates, and in a few years the installation became almost exclusively a research center. President Hamilton considered the laboratory so important that in 1908 he called for an endowment of $10,000 to provide increased accommodations. The funds were not forthcoming, and the buildings and equipment deteriorated visibly over the years. The College had expended only $800 on the project by 1913 but was in no financial position to erect a new building or even to put the existing one in usable condition. The laboratory had become so useful to so many biologists that a plan was devised to continue it as a joint operation, owned and supported by several institutions including Knox College, Columbia University, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1913 the Harpswell Laboratory became an incorporated body, and the Tufts Trustees deeded the property to it with the understanding that the College would have representation on the governing board and the use of


the laboratory. The arrangement lasted until the early 1920's, when the facilities were transferred to other owners.

The same fund that had helped to establish the laboratory of marine biology was also used to strengthen the sciences at Tufts in other ways. The Olmstead Natural History Fund financed the first fellowships in the graduate school in the 1890's. It also made possible the existence for several decades of an agency frequently associated with a university rather than a college, namely, a means for publishing scholarly research. In 1893 the Trustees allocated part of the Olmstead Fund to launch a series known as the "Tufts College Studies." The faculty created a five-man Board of Editors in 1894 and announced an ambitious plan for publishing papers in four fields: language and philology; history, civics, and philosophy; physical and mathematical science; and natural science. The president served ex officio, and one faculty member was elected to represent each of the four fields.

The College was able even to publish under its own imprint beginning in 1901 and for many years to boast its own press on the Hill. Arrangements were made with H. W. Whittemore of the Class of 1886, who did much of the College's printing. He at first rented space in the basement of Curtis Hall and operated the "Tufts College Press" as a branch of his commercial printing firm, which had headquarters in Malden.[31]  Business was so brisk that in 1908 he erected a one-story concrete-block building off College Avenue below the Boston and Maine Railroad bridge and on the site of the original Tufts College railroad station.[32] 

The so-called Scientific Series was the most prolific and successful of the Tufts College publications. During the first decade (1894-1904) eight issues were published, and by the time the series became a casualty of the economic depression of the 1930's fifty-seven articles had been published.[33]  Most of the early publications


were master's theses, doctoral dissertations, or faculty projects. After the First World War the series consisted mostly of reprints of articles by the Tufts faculty that had originally appeared in scientific journals. One of the most valuable by-products of the series was the exchange service that it made possible. Even before 1900 the transactions of over 100 scientific societies throughout the world were being received.

Publications in the other series that had been projected fared less well, for preference was given to subjects in natural history. Only one article appeared in the language and philology series, and none at all were published in the physical and social science series.[34]  The faculty editorial board had little to do after 1937, although it continued to exist as a standing committee of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences until the committee system was reorganized in 1953-54. During its period of greatest activity the Tufts College Press, besides doing most of the printing required by the College and offering its facilities to the faculty, helped spread the word of Tufts' research endeavors in science. In the 1960's requests were still being received for reprints of some of the titles in the Tufts College Studies series.

The activities of the science departments in the 1890's prompted experimentation in another direction besides publication. The summer schools first conducted by the Biology and Chemistry Departments in 1898 were so successful that consideration was given to extending the idea to other fields. Among those suggested were foreign languages, mathematics, and history. Summer classes were actually conducted in the latter two subjects, although the enrollment was not very large.[35]  Occasionally an inquiry was received from outside organizations to see if College buildings could be used for special courses. One such request (which was denied) was made in 1901 by the American Institute of Normal Methods through Professor Leo Lewis to offer a three-week program in music for teachers.[36] 

The first serious consideration to conducting a summer school under the auspices of the College was given in 1902 when faculty opinion was solicited. The consensus was negative, but before the decision was made to continue the practice of allowing individual departments of instructors to offer courses (with the approval of the president and the chairman of the Executive Committee), almost every argument for and against summer schools was aired. On the plus side were "advertising the College, attracting to it teachers and others who might thus learn what we are trying to do and our facilities for doing it"; using a plant which ordinarily lay idle for a quarter of the year; and helping "some of the instructors to add a few dimes - possibly dollars, to their incomes." Among the arguments on the negative side were the extra expenses required by an augmented teaching force and the opening of the library and possibly the dormitories. The most basic objection centered about the quality of the instruction. College credit had been allowed for degree candidates by precedent rather than by any formal vote. But if summer school courses were developed to any great extent, this policy might lead to trouble, "for there would be a tendency to lower the standards to the level of the non-matriculated students who might form the majority of the summer attendance." [37]  After weighing It was pointed out that at the time Harvard gave no credit for work done in summer courses.the pros and cons, it was decided to continue the existing policy whereby those offering summer school courses assumed all financial responsibility and "quietly pocketed the profits." It was not until the period of the Second World War that Tufts went on a year-round academic calendar, and not until 1945 that a regular summer school program was offered as a matter of College policy.


[29] A special Summer School of Oratory was conducted in 1883 and 1884 by Professor Moses True Brown, who also operated the Boston School of Oratory on Beacon Street. These summer offerings were a special project of the instructor and cannot be said to have established a precedent for operating a more or less continuous summer school in one department.

[30] During the 1880's and 1890's, the collections of the Museum grew by leaps and bounds. No one could complain that they were not diversified, for along with specimens of fish from Puerto Rico and dozens of gifts continuing to pour in from Barnum himself (including "a large giraffe" and "a fine stuffed baby camel" which undoubtedly aggravated the housing problem) came semiprecious stones from Canada, Confederate money, and fragments of battle flags from the Civil War.

[31] The Executive Committee had suggested that he use the designation "College Press and Printing Office" but he elected the name indicated.

[32] The building remained the headquarters of the College's limited printing facilities. For many years the Tufts Weekly was printed there. In the 1960's some of the printing for the institution was still being done at the same location under contract with a private firm.

[33] The last of the series, written by Professor Kenneth D. Roeder of the Biology Department, appeared in 1937.

[34] The single publication in the so-called Literary Series was a study of Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (1899) by Professor David L. Maulsby of the Department of English.

[35] The first summer course in history, in 1900, enrolled two students.

[36] The sessions were to have been sponsored and financed by the publishing firm of Silver Burdett Company and would have cost the College nothing. The Trustees failed to approve the plan because they were afraid that legal complications might arise; one of the project's provisos was that no student rooms would be occupied without the express permission of the occupants.


  • 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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