Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
Crane Theological School, 1869-1968
The Tufts College Divinity School was established in 1869, and in 1906 changed its name to the Crane Theological School. The school was closed in 1968, one year before its centennial. For most of its existence, the school was dogged by problems of inadequate endowment and low enrollment.
The divinity school opened in 1869 with four students and two teachers. While the founders of Tufts College were thoroughly grounded in the Universalist faith, they had, in the interests of avoiding sectarianism in the college, resisted establishing a divinity school. The death of Sylvanus Packard, a trustee of the college, indirectly brought about the founding of the school. In his will Packard left approximately $300,000 to Tufts, of which a portion was to be used to establish a professorship of Christian theology. The trustees decided, in order to keep religious sectarianism out of the college, to establish a quasi-independent school of divinity associated with the college.
The course of study offered by the divinity school was initially a three year course of study leading to a bachelor of divinity degree. Students were encouraged to have completed the full course of study toward a B.A. prior to entering the school. Such preparation was not required, however, and the poor performance of some students both before and after graduation dogged the school's reputation for many years.
T.J. Sawyer was appointed the first Packard Professor in 1869.The Reverend Charles H. Leonard of Chelsea, grandfather of Leonard Carmichael, future president of Tufts, was the second faculty member, and succeeded Sawyer as dean in 1892.
The divinity school was initially housed in Ballou Hall, in a room on the second floor. With the construction of in 1872, divinity students were offered accommodation there.1891 saw the building of separate quarters for the school with the construction of Miner and Paige halls. Miner Hall was built to provide classroom and office space for the school while Paige Hall served as a dormitory and chapel. The divinity school at this time reached one of its peaks with forty-four students enrolled for the 1892-93 academic year.
The spacious new facilities added to the school were not long utilized to their full capacity, however, as enrollments showed a steady decline over subsequent years. After holding steady at approximately twenty students per year, enrollment dropped to a low of only nine students in 1906 with only one new student entering that year. Explanations for the lack of interest were sought and laid on the increasing secularization of American society, the waning of organized religion, and the call of other related vocations such as teaching and social work. Ongoing attempts to spur interest in the program by offering innovative courses in wide-ranging topics including psychology in ministry and molecular physics.
In 1906 the school received a much-needed gift of $100,000 from Albert Crane, A1863, in memory of his father, Thomas Crane, a trustee from 1852 until his death in 1875.The school was subsequently renamed the Crane Theological School.
Lee Sullivan McCollester became dean of the school in 1912 and brought the school through some of its leanest years, before retiring in 1932.During World War I, the school's buildings were taken for use as barracks and training facilities and Dean McCollester held classes for the handful of students enrolled in his living room for the duration of hostilities. By the mid 1920s enrollments were rising again, and in 1925 the school's name was officially changed to Tufts School of Religion - Crane Theological School. This name continued to be used until the 1960s when it was once again known simply as the Crane Theological School.
There was ongoing debate about whether or not the school should be graduate level only or accept students straight out of secondary school to study for the ministry. For most of its existence the school was an undergraduate professional school, though in later years it succeeded in attracting a growing proportion of students at the graduate level. The school's leadership was concerned that requiring a B.A. for admission would deter worthy candidates from entering the school, while others at the university felt that adequate preparation for a ministerial career required the breadth of a B.A. as well as the specialized training of the B.D.For many years the school offered a combined B.A./S.T.B. (Bachelor of Sacred Theology) degree which was in effect a combined undergraduate and graduate degree. In 1954 the school became strictly a graduate school.
Enrollment at the school reached an all-time high in 1937-38 with sixty students, and in 1941 the school hosted the annual Universalist Convention. Denominational representation in the student body had grown to encompass seven different faiths other than Universalism. While enrollment remained strong in the ensuing years, at roughly forty students, the school struggled to retain full-time faculty, with the majority of positions being filled by part-time faculty shared with the Faculty of Liberal Arts.
In the 1950s and 1960s, discussions were ongoing within the denomination to merge the Crane School with the divinity school at St. Lawrence University, another Universalist school. Tufts was skeptical of the proposal because of the increased role that the denomination would play in the merged institution. An agreement could not be reached, however, and the plan was abandoned.
The decision to close the school was reached by the trustees in June of 1967, to take place the following year. A number of factors contributed to the decision, though the trustees cited the school's failure to maintain its status in religious education. The continual deficit operations of the school undoubtedly also played a part at a time when the university as a whole was facing financial difficulties and the need for retrenchment. The closing of the school represented the growing distance of Tufts from its roots in the Universalist religion.
Over the course of its ninety-nine year history, the Crane Theological School granted a total of 485 degrees.
Source: LOH1; LOH2