“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 13.

John Chandler: Let’s look at the argument between Bascom and Garfield in the context of what was going on in higher education nationally during that period. I’m referring to movements and trends that you’ve written a lot about—the creation of the land-grant colleges, the development of research universities, debates about whether the Oxbridge classical model was still relevant, and growing interest in German higher education, with its emphasis on research and publication. New places like Johns Hopkins and Cornell were very different from Williams, and even nearby Union College developed a dual-track curriculum that enabled students to follow either the classical model or focus on science and modern languages. Were these matters being discussed at Williams?

Fred Rudolph: That kind of discussion did go on at Williams, but Chadbourne did not encourage it. In fact, one of the remarkable statements Chadbourne made in the context of what you’re talking about was, “You know, I could teach every subject in the curriculum.” When Ira Remsen, a newly appointed professor of chemistry and physics, asked if he could have some space for a laboratory, Chadbourne cautioned, “You must remember that this is a college and not a technical institute.”

Four years later Remsen was on his way to a distinguished career as a chemist, and later president, at the new Johns Hopkins University. Specialization was the new order, but at Williams deciding how to deal with it was pushed forward into the twentieth century. John Haskell Hewitt was named temporary president (1901-1902) and the trustees brought Mark Hopkins’ son Henry (Class of 1858) out of a Kansas City, Mo. pastorate to be president (1902-1908). The trustees were getting nervous about what the future of a place like Williams should be, given what was going on in the rest of the world. Williams became a wealthy college in the 1880s during Carter’s administration, and it might have chosen to go in different directions, but the Hewitt and Henry Hopkins appointments suggest that the trustees did not yet know in what direction they wanted to go.

Whatever you think of fraternities, they were intended to be instruments for fostering gentlemanly conduct. The Mark Hopkins era was still principally about students becoming good Christians. There was always an internal war at the College over the question, What are we here for?

What, indeed?

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