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

Miller, Russell


Commencement in June 1891 had a special significance, for it was the twenty-fifth such event in the College's history. It was even more memorable for Tufts' oldest professional school. The announcement was made at the dinner following the ceremonies that former President Miner had made a gift of $40,000 for a building


to house the divinity school, which had shared the cramped classroom and office quarters of the main College building since 1869. Miner placed one limitation on his gift: that at least $12,000 be raised to provide a separate dormitory for the divinity school students, who were still being assigned to a section of West Hall. Two persons at the dinner, Trustee Charles Robinson and James T. Perkins, immediately pledged $1,000 apiece in response to Miner's request.

T. J. Sawyer, who retired as dean of the divinity school in 1892 and was replaced by Rev. Charles H. Leonard, saw one of his dreams finally come true. The cornerstone of Miner Divinity Hall was laid on October 25, 1891, and construction had progressed sufficiently to permit use of the main floor for the dedication ceremony. Paige Hall, as a dormitory for divinity school students, was ready for occupancy in 1892. In one way, the divinity school by the turn of the century was more fortunate than any other part of the College, for it had the most commodious physical facilities of any department. Unfortunately, however, it lacked more fundamental assets: an endowment, and a growing and flourishing student body who met the educational standards of the rest of the institution. The latter deficiency was no reflection on the caliber of the faculty but was the result of a combination of circumstances arising out of the state of the ministerial profession over which the College had no immediate control. Likewise, efforts were not lacking to solve the three chronic problems of financing, increasing the quantity of the student body, and elevating the standards of both admission and academic performance.

The divinity school had reached one of its peaks at the time the two new buildings were provided. Student morale was high, for in 1889 the graduating class had successfully petitioned that their ordination take place in Goddard Chapel.[38]  Appropriate arrangements were made with the Massachusetts Committee on Fellowship and Ordination, and the ceremony took place one week before Commencement.[1]  Dean Leonard noted with satisfaction in his


annual report for 1891-92 that all thirty-six spaces in the new dormitory were occupied and that yet another building might soon be needed, as well as a chapel for the use of the school. The completion of Miner Hall made possible the beginning of a departmental library and the transfer of the Universalist Historical Society Library from Middle (Packard) Hall to new quarters. There were forty-four students enrolled in 1892-93, representing twelve states. Dean Leonard was in a reminiscent mood after the twenty-fifth anniversary of the school was "silently celebrated" in August 1894; he "found it good to count up into result the work done." The divinity school had begun with two professors and three students in a small room with one window in the original College building. Twenty-five years later it could boast of a faculty of nine resident teachers and three non-resident lecturers and a student body of forty. It was many years before such a glowing picture could be painted again.

Dean Leonard's predecessor had always expressed concern that so few young men were entering the liberal Christian ministry. At the time when divinity school enrollment was averaging twenty a year (in the 1880's), Dean Sawyer had seen the entire Universalist


denomination increasing its clerical force by only ten a year when thirty would have been more appropriate. The enrollment after 1895 seemed to justify Dean Sawyer's fears. It dropped to below twenty and remained there almost without exception. In 1906-7, only one student entered the school, and in the following year the total enrollment was only nine. No wonder the Board of Overseers was unhappy to see the "excellent facilities" so little utilized.

The steady drop in enrollment was not only discouraging but alarming. Almost everyone had an explanation or a suggestion to make. The Overseers thought that more special courses should be provided to appeal to individual needs and interests. But the majority of those concerned with the decline in enrollment looked outside the school for an explanation, if not a remedy.[40]  They found it in the increasing secularism of American society; in the failure of organized religion to adjust to new conditions; in waning interest in the technical aspects of theological education, and the corresponding failure to provide divinity students with a broad, humane education; and in the enhanced appeal of other vocations and professions such as teaching and social work.

Certainly the decline in enrollment could not be blamed on an overly traditional or hidebound curriculum. Divinity school students were kept abreast of developments in many fields outside the strictly religious. Professor Dolbear of the Physics Department delivered a series of twelve lectures in 1882-83 to the divinity school on molecular physics. Dean Leonard did his best to keep the divinity school curriculum up with the rapidly changing times. Society needed clergy who could "do something besides write and preach fine sermons." He suggested training in settlement-house work and courses in the (then) new discipline of sociology as appropriate, and President Capen in the 1890's offered a course in Political Economy required of divinity school students.

President Hamilton, himself a Universalist clergyman, displayed particular interest in the theological curriculum when he took office in 1905, and urged the school to remain alerted to new


areas of activity germane to ministerial training. Investigations in medicine and psychology by 1908 had brought to public attention the new subject of psychotherapy - "the cure of diseases of certain types by influences brought to bear upon the mind of the patient, and through that upon the physical organism." What a later era might call "psychosomatic therapy" was thought to have particular effectiveness "when associated with the religious interest and religious sentiments." This was considered by Hamilton "directly to concern the College" and particularly the curriculum of the theological school. He recommended that a one-term course be offered jointly by a clergyman especially competent in this field and by a neurologist. It would be open only to divinity students and to others by special permission. The basic course in psychology was to be a prerequisite. Some of the Trustees were dubious about such a new course, and one Trustee, who was not able to be present when the proposal was voted on, sent a letter expressing his disapproval of such a newfangled idea. The course was finally authorized by a vote of eight to seven and went into the catalogue for 1908-9.[41]  The students journeyed to the Tufts Medical School on Huntington Avenue twice a week to hear Dr. Morton Prince and spent part of an additional day in a clinic held at the Boston City Hospital. New courses in parish administration and "The Application of Psychology to the Work of the Christian Ministry" were added in 1907-8.

The problem of endowment dogged the divinity school for almost all of its first fifty years, and the decline in enrollment merely aggravated the problem. President Capen expressed his concern with annual regularity. A few special funds had been provided up to 1900, but they covered only a fraction of the total expense of the school. A bequest of $60,000 from Mrs. Mary T. Goddard in 1899 had helped, but half of it was earmarked by her will for the use of the college of letters, and the principal could not be touched. Enrollment in the divinity school had declined so significantly by 1900 that there was talk of closing Paige Hall and accommodating the few students in other dormitories. The eventual decision was to fill the building with non-divinity school students. The burden


of operating the school was "causing a permanent disablement of the other departments." There was no expectation (or intention) that the College would ever be operated at a profit; but somehow it had to break even. The income from the $10,000 remaining of the Miner gift and from the residue of his estate in 1901 were also used for the school but failed to solve the problem. A bequest of $20,000 from Mrs. Mary A. Richardson in 1904, with a second $20,000 to be added, was welcome but likewise inadequate.[42]  Something approximating Capen's hopes for substantial endowment came in 1906.

The donor of $100,000 to the divinity school was Albert Crane, of the Class of 1863. The gift was made as a memorial to his father, Thomas Crane, a Trustee from 1852 until his death in 1875. The benefaction was immediately accepted by the Trustees, and the suggestion was made that the divinity school bear the name of Thomas Crane. After consultation with the son, the Trustees voted to designate the divinity school as the Crane Theological School. Welcome as this gift was, it served only to accentuate the need for even more, for the College found itself in the most serious financial plight in its history. Even the release of funds for use elsewhere that the Crane bequest made possible represented a palliative, not a solution.

Another problem at which President Capen had hammered away was the admission standards of the school. Only a year after assuming office he was upset to discover that of the eleven students who had entered in 1876-77 not one was a college graduate. Even after due allowance was made for those with excellent natural ability who could not for some reason attend college prior to undertaking professional training, there were entirely too many admitted who were not qualified. Capen was afraid that the academic standards and reputation of the entire College were in danger when it undertook "to give a second degree to those who could not take the first degree." According to Dean Leonard, of the twenty applicants in 1888-89, one-half were rejected "on account of imperfect preparation." Only four students were graduated in 1889 in the regular course, and only two of these earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree because the Trustees refused to vote such degrees unless the recipient also possessed a baccalaureate degree.

As has been pointed out earlier, some effort had been made to remedy the situation by requiring higher standards for admission, but the system somehow tended to fall short of the ideal when put to the test. Capen had insisted in 1877 that requiring a three-year course for holders of the A.B. and only four years for non-degree holders was not a proper arrangement, even if admission examinations were required for students in the second category. Four years in a professional school alone was no substitute for a combined seven-year collegiate and professional school course. Yet the conditions of admission did not really change until 1903-4. There were actually two interrelated aspects of the problem. One was the raising of standards for admission; the other was the relationship of the divinity school and its students to the rest of the College.

Capen argued for some time that the divinity school needed a separate endowment "so that it may stand apart from, and be independent of, the College" and that the students should be removed "from close and immediate contact with the College" - hence his justification for separate buildings. But over the years he modified his stand, realizing more and more clearly the desirability of closer liaison between the school and the College. One move in that direction was discussed by a joint committee of the college of letters and the divinity school in 1900. It was decided to require all candidates for the B.D. to earn also an A.B. No immediate action was taken on this proposal, for it was feared that the student body of the divinity school would be reduced still further or that it might disappear altogether.

A compromise was worked out, effective in 1903-4, that seemed to answer several criticisms that had been leveled at the school from inadequate admission standards and degree requirements to the growing complaints that the curriculum was too narrowly focused and the students "too completely fenced off from the other departments of the College." The revamped admission and degree requirements did not affect those who entered the school with an A.B. degree.[43]  They did provide specifically that undergraduate candidates for the Bachelor of Divinity degree had to conform to the regular conditions of admission to the college of letters. The


most important single change was the introduction of a combined A.B.-B.D. program in which the students would matriculate in the college of letters and spend a terminal (fifth) year in the divinity school after completing four years of liberal arts courses selected for their relevance for the ministerial profession.[44] 

The new curriculum had a larger significance than providing another way to meet degree requirements. It was a conscious effort to integrate the divinity school more effectively into the context of the whole institution. Dean Leonard had suggested this two years before the new program went into operation when he prepared a statement for the 1901-2 catalogue stressing the fact that those entering the four-year course of study were required to take work in psychology, logic, literature, and history "in addition to the strictly theological subjects." The new curriculum was based on a twofold philosophy: that theological students should be exposed to as wide a range of liberal arts preparation as possible, and that some courses in the divinity school were "properly regarded as culture studies" and should be open to all students in the College. Tufts, according to President Capen, had an obligation to give all of its students "the stamp of university training" by breaking down departmental barriers.

Capen had explained the new degree program to the Board of Overseers in the fall of 1902, one year before it went into operation. Novel as the plan might have been, the Overseers saw nothing but advantages from the program. It would more closely articulate the College and the school, tend to turn toward the ministry a larger number of college men, broaden the theological student's preparation, bring the studies taught in the divinity school into the college curriculum and make them available to a wider range of students, and eliminate overlapping and duplication of course offerings in such fields as philosophy. The combined degree program, if properly administered, would achieve a desirable balance between integrating the two sets of students and maintaining distinctiveness in aims and training for ministerial candidates. A practical benefit of the combined five-year program would be the shortening of the time between college entrance and receipt of the Divinity


degree. The timing of the new divinity school program was particularly good, for in 1903 the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was created, and the divinity school staff became one of the Associated Faculties. Closer relations between the parts of the College resulted at the faculty as well as the student level. Ten of the fifteen instructors involved in teaching theological school students in 1905-6 were members of the faculty of the school of liberal arts.[45] 

The new degree programs by no means solved all of the problems besetting the Crane Theological School. Enrollment failed to increase significantly and remained, as President Hamilton expressed it in 1910, "pitiably small." When the school opened for the academic year 1911-12, only ten students remained; there was no one in the entering class. In spite of the Crane bequest and other smaller benefactions, the school continued to be a financial liability. The five-year combined course for undergraduates had to be extended to six in 1907 because students could not complete the shorter program satisfactorily.[46]  In short, the Crane School was faltering badly by 1910. Only one new professorship had been created in a period of several years (the chair of Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis in 1910), while another (the Woodbridge Professorship of Applied Christianity) was left vacant upon the holder's resignation. Dean Leonard was ready for retirement after forty-one years of continuous teaching; Professor Knight was seriously ill.

The Trustees reviewed the situation and found it not to their liking. They authorized the use of part-time instructors to fill gaps, and President Hamilton agreed to do the administrative work until a new dean could be selected. A committee was appointed to confer with representatives of the Universalist General Convention about the whole future of the Crane School. Rev. Frank Oliver Hall, a graduate of the school in 1884, prominent Universalist leader, and later a member of the Crane faculty, offered consolidation of the denominational theological schools as the best long-range solution. He felt that there was need for but one such school in the


denomination and suggested that those at Lombard University and St. Lawrence University be joined with the Crane School at Tufts. President Hamilton also recognized the problems facing the school. In 1906 he had sent one of numerous personal appeals to several clergymen to interest youth in the ministry and circulated a plea from Dean Leonard that had appeared in the Universalist Leader. Hamilton pointed out that "no one would think of dropping the Theological School. . . . We remember . . . that the School is intimately related to the original purpose of the founders of the College, and that its graduates have been among its most active, enthusiastic and efficient supporters. If the influence of the Universalist ministry were withdrawn the College would suffer severely." This statement was made on the eve of Hamilton's own departure from the College. He resigned in 1912, the last clergyman to hold the office.

There was one ray of hope for the Crane School in a situation that otherwise looked bleak indeed. One of Hamilton's last acts before he left office was to invite Rev. Lee Sullivan McCollester to become dean of the school. The man chosen to succeed Dean Leonard was an alumnus of Tufts and of the divinity school, having received his A.B. in 1881 and his B.D. in 1884. He had started his college career at Buchtel College in Akron, Ohio, when his clergyman-father was president. The son transferred to Tufts at the end of his sophomore year. After serving his first pastorate in his native New Hampshire, he accepted a call from the Church of Our Father in Detroit. He had been there for some twenty-four years before accepting the deanship of the Crane school in 1912.

For several months there was doubt as to whether the College would be able to secure McCollester's services. He held an eminently successful and well-paid post in a large urban church and was reluctant to take on a new set of responsibilities for a theological school with a depleted staff, four students, and an uncertain future. But he accepted the challenge, after reviewing the potentialities of the school and after heeding the importuning of alumni. He made it very clear, however, that he would accept only under certain conditions, in which he would accept no compromises. He was to have a completely free hand to carry out any policies he considered essential to the rehabilitation of the school, insofar as finances would allow. He was to have freedom for outside work in the


Universalist denomination to recruit students, to create interest in both the school and the ministry, and to assist churches whenever called upon; he refused to be "a recluse teacher of theology." Finally, he was to receive a specified salary, plus moving expenses. Even then, he reminded the Trustees that he was making a sacrifice. He added that he planned to buy or build his own house on the campus and that he would throw it open to theological students to foster their social life and solidarity.[47]  McCollester's quid pro quo on salary was too much for the College to meet, but Trustee Austin B. Fletcher, who was much interested in the theological school, offered to guarantee personally $1,000 a year until it could be provided from other sources.[48] 

Dean McCollester stated in his first annual report that he had been working out a new program to be announced for the next year and that he contemplated changes which would give the Crane School "a new place among professional schools in the training of men for efficient religious leadership." The combined A.B.-B.D. course was temporarily abandoned, although students were still encouraged to work for the A.B. Parish and social settlement work were emphasized in the final year of both programs. Undergraduate theological students continued to take their preparatory courses (English, science, history, philosophy, and psychology) and a limited number of electives with students in liberal arts, but the Crane faculty was responsible for all professional training and the programming of all theological students.[49] 

In crisp and businesslike fashion the new dean introduced two revised curricula in 1913-14 which emphasized the practical rather


than the academic. They were intended "to turn out, not men distinguished for varied and curious learning, but men thoroughly informed as to the problems of the hour, in sympathetic touch with modern needs, trained and equipped for moral and religious leadership in the seething life about us." The Crane School continued to offer the three-year course for college graduates but allowed substitutions for the traditional Greek or Hebrew. The undergraduate B.D. course was returned to five years, with increased emphasis on strictly professional subjects.

For the next several years, Crane experimented with various modifications of the undergraduate B.D. program, in which virtually all the students in the school were enrolled. The old A.B.-B.D. course was revived as a six-year program, and the freshman year was designated as a "try-out" or "professional guidance" period. Rev. Clarence R. Skinner's appointment to the faculty in 1914 greatly strengthened the school. The aggressive student recruitment campaign announced by Dean McCollester in 1913 increased the enrollment only slightly. It appeared that Crane was destined to remain small. There were only fifteen students enrolled on the eve of the First World War, and in the years immediately after 1916 the school almost disappeared. It survived largely through the efforts of its capable dean, who held classes in the living room of his home after the theological facilities had been assigned to military units during the war. The handful of students dispossessed from Paige Hall lived, appropriately, in the home of the late Charles H. Leonard, the second dean of the school. Plans for an expansion of Crane were postponed until the mid-1920's, when renewed hope for an enlarged school, both in numbers and in buildings, could be made into a reality. There was something a bit ironic in the fact that Tufts' first professional school became its feeblest.


[38] The precedent for this had been set by T. 0. Marvin, who wanted to be ordained where he had received his training.

[1] The first such ceremony was especially noteworthy because it was attended by the venerable Lucius R. Paige, who had served in the Universalist ministry for sixty-six years.

[40] Dean Leonard blamed part of the decline on the charging of tuition. This does not seem to have been a major contributor to declining enrollment, for no charge was made for either tuition or use of rooms for divinity school residents of Paige Hall beginning in 1905, and the student body still continued to shrink.

[41] The course, listed as Philosophy 18, was described as follows: "Psycho-Pathology--The mental and moral origin of functional nervous disorders, and their treatment by methods of suggestion."

[42] Unlike the Goddard bequest, the income of the entire gift, known as the Richardson Theological Fund, was to be used for the divinity school.

[43] The number of A.B. degree holders in the school always remained small; until 1913 the student was required to have studied Greek as an undergraduate.

[44] It is frequently difficult to ascertain the single person responsible for initiating new policies, but the evidence seems clear in this case that the idea emanated from President Capen himself.

[45] During the transition to the new program that year, five of the fifteen theological students were under the old program, seven were enrolled in the new program, and three were already holders of the A.B.

[46] The Divinity degree had, in 1903, been temporarily redesignated Bachelor of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.); it again became B.D. in 1905, and the S.T.B. was reinstituted in 1915-16.

[47] After he arrived at Tufts, he proposed to construct his residence next door to Miner Hall, near the top of the Hill. Officers of the College dissuaded him from that somewhat unorthodox plan, but he did live as near the campus as he could. He purchased the house on Professors Row built by Professor John P. Marshall in 1857 and used since 1941 as the home of the vice-president.

[48] Rev. Alfred S. Cole, a member of the Crane faculty from 1931 to 1955, wrote a brief history of the school in 1947 in which he reported a conversation with Dean McCollester. The latter had said that Fletcher went so far as to outline a plan for a new theological unit to have cost $500,000, which he would presumably have donated. He did not change his will, however, and his substantial benefactions to the College went to other sections of the institution.

[49] This accounts for most of the students listed twice in College enrollment statistics.

  • 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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