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

Miller, Russell


THIS HISTORY OF AN INSTITUTION OF HIGHER LEARNING is undoubtedly typical in many ways of dozens of others that have appeared in the past and presumably will continue to appear in ever-increasing numbers. Yet in some ways the writer believes (and hopes) that, if it is not superior to some of its prototypes, it is at least in some respects unique in both its conception and execution. The idea, of which this work is the concrete expression, was suggested by the author rather than by the officers of the institution. It was not commissioned in any sense as an "official" history, although it received a welcome blessing. The decade of the 1960's witnessed a veritable cascade of histories of public educational institutions, on the occasion of the celebration of the centennial of the Morrill Act of 1862, which made possible the land-grant college and university. This particular history is of a private, independent, non-sectarian school and was not written to commemorate any particular event or anniversary. It was not intended even to raise money. The author did not become an alumnus (honorary) of the institution until 1983 and in fact had not laid eyes on it until 1948. The story is also brought, by the canons of most writers of history, perilously close to the date of its publication. No one is more aware than the author of the snares and pitfalls that are built into any attempt to record what is usually called "contemporary history," involving as it does the consideration of events still fresh in mind, and personalities that have not yet retired from the academic stage on which the history of this particular institution has been played. There is also the danger of implying that, once recorded, the history of an educational institution has come to an end. Nothing could be farther from the truth in the case of Tufts.
The year 1952 was selected as a terminal date for this work
because it marks the centennial of the chartering of the College, because it marks the end of the presidential administration of one of its most prominent alumni, and because it gave an opportunity to record some of the manifold changes that occurred in one of the most significant periods in Tufts' history.
A word should be said about the use of the terms "college" and "university." Tufts officially became a "university" in 1955 in order to describe most accurately what the institution had been in actuality since it opened an engineering department in 1865, a theological school in 1869, a graduate school in 1892, a medical school in 1893, a dental school in 1899, a graduate school of international law and diplomacy in 1933, and added a number of associated undergraduate professional schools thereafter. But to many generations of alumni, faculty, officers, and friends, it has always been, and will probably remain, "Tufts College."
The writing of this history, like most such endeavors, brought both satisfactions and frustrations. One of the most gratifying experiences was the enthusiastic and wholehearted response of President Nils Y. Wessell to the suggestion that Tufts had had a sufficiently long and distinguished history to make it a worthy subject of a formal account. His willingness to make accessible any and all information that might be relevant may not have been surprising, but it was most certainly a great source of satisfaction. His faith in the author's ability to use the material wisely probably represented a calculated risk. It is the author's sincere hope that the risk was worth taking.
Likewise most heartwarming both to the University and to the writer was the generous and completely unsolicited contribution of the Class of 1959. The members of this group demonstrated their enthusiasm by donating toward the publication of this history the money remaining in their class treasury when they departed from the Hill as alumni. It was not only the gift but the spirit which prompted it that merits a special note of appreciation. An even more generous donation by the same class in 1984, together with the enthusiastic support of the Alumni Council, helped to make possible the reprinting (without change) of the present work.
The policy of the administrative officers of the University in throwing open the files of the institution also generated its own problems. There is too much material rather than too little. The collegiate Founding Fathers, and their successors, were excellent record-keepers. The passage of time, the accidents of fate, and the ravages of flood have taken their toll. But what has remained for the historian has been more than ample. So the story has been put together from the many sources available.
Compilers of college and university histories are also faced by the basic problem of selection of material. Too often they include not only trivia but material of such localized interest that the general reader is, if not bored close to tears, frightened away from works that might have some value beyond institutional walls. The author of this particular history has attempted to strike a balance between the general and the specific that is admittedly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. How successful has been the attempt, the reader must judge. The writer hopes that, if this history serves no other purpose, it will give an enhanced awareness of the complexities of an academic enterprise, regardless of size or age. This is not meant to imply that Tufts has had more than its share of problems, but certainly it has not escaped the fate of other colleges in this respect. Hopefully, its story may be instructive to some outside its walls as well as to some within.
The writer knows that this history may not be to everyone's taste. There may be those who wish to quarrel with the relatively large amount of space devoted to what is commonly called "background," especially evident in the early chapters. Others may complain that there is too much space devoted to "problems"; still others may be unhappy because some favorite professors, or outstanding alumni (of whom there are many), or winning teams, or student pranks, have not been mentioned. It would have been manifestly unfair to have omitted them all; this would have dehumanized a very human institution and would have distorted historical actuality. But the writer throughout has attempted to keep his focus on the main functions of a college: the organization, preservation, transmission, and promotion of knowledge and learning in a community of scholars.
Among those who contributed to the finished product, directly or indirectly, were three graduates of Tufts who heard of the project while still pursuing their undergraduate studies and who volunteered many hours of service, not with any expectation of compensation in dollars and cents, but because they were interested and because they thought the effort was worthwhile. To these go special thanks: Carol Sudalter Herman, A.B., Jackson, 1954;
Harriet Weitzman Rosen, A.B., Jackson, 1961; and Warren Wheeler Baker, B.S. in Chemical Engineering, 1962. It would be impossible to list all of those associated with the University who furnished encouragement, advice, materials, and facilities, but the following should be singled out for special mention: Leonard C. Mead, the University Provost; Miss Marie Donnelly, Assistant Secretary of the Board of Trustees; Miss Margaret Lovejoy, of the Provost's office; Professor Albert H. Imlah, of the History Department; and Professor Joseph Komidar, University Librarian, and his staff. Besides a long-suffering spouse and various colleagues upon whom were inflicted varying quantities of manuscript, the author owes an incalculable debt to Mrs. Ruth H. Stirling, who devoted, on a part-time basis, over five years to assist in organizing and filing the archival material out of which much of this history has been written; and to Mrs. Carolyn MacVicar, for secretarial (and editorial) services that extended well beyond the line of duty.
In 1896, the junior class of Tufts College wrote a history of the institution. They felt it had "reached a point in its career when its history is worth writing. ... At some future day . . . someone will take up the work and give to it the time and care which it deserves. Both time and care will indeed be requisite fifty years from now, for history is being made almost faster than it can be written." The author hopes that he has complied with the wishes expressed there, even though more than half a century has passed since those words were put on paper.
Russell E. Miller
  • 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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