“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 14.

John Chandler: Fred, take us back to the period right after Carter’s twenty-year tenure ended and the trustees apparently were having difficulty appointing a successor. The New York Times reported that the trustees were unable to select anyone. The vote was split about five different ways, and no candidate came close to having a majority. That’s when Hewitt became acting president. And then after Hewitt, Henry Hopkins was chosen at the age of sixty-four, which even today would be extraordinary. What was going on that they apparently were having such a hard time agreeing upon Carter’s successor?

Fred Rudolph: Hewitt was even older than Henry Hopkins, and that may be why he wasn’t named permanent president. In any event, my guess is that the trustees had to decide whether they wanted another Carter or needed breathing time while they decided how they were going to deal with the clear ascendancy of the American university. During that period Dartmouth, under the leadership of William Jewett Tucker (1893-1909), decided it was not going to be a small college any more. Williams, by contrast, decided that it was going to be a good, small, Christian college and, I would say, one that catered to rich men’s sons. Nothing much happened during the Henry Hopkins era. It was a holding operation. Whether the trustees were considering Harry Garfield at that time I don’t know. When Garfield was chosen president in 1908, he had been on the Princeton faculty only four years. When Henry Hopkins was named president in 1902, Garfield was a politician in Cleveland. But he also taught law at Western Reserve, and some people may have viewed him as a possible president of Williams when Hewitt and then Henry Hopkins were chosen.

The speeches at Hopkins’ 1902 induction made clear that the College was sensitive to the challenges it was being asked to meet. The retiring acting president, Hewitt, assured the audience that Williams had no university ambitions and did not believe all studies were equal. The trustee speaker, apparently reassuring an audience that was aware of all the new fraternity houses on Main Street, asserted that Williams was not an aggregation of social clubs nor a pleasure resort. The alumni speaker declared as how the future of the small college was about to be determined: a liberal arts college or a university prep school. Whatever the future, the student speaker was pleased to applaud Franklin Carter for having given Williams “the mark of patrician gentility.” Henry Hopkins himself came down on the side of “the well-rounded man,” on the side of athletics and Christianity. Above all, I believe, the trustees thought they had to be very careful. The big question was, “How are we going to define ourselves in this new environment?” The eventual choice of Garfield seems to me to be a decision to move forward in important ways.

Here are the speeches given at Hopkins inaugural. (When/why was the terminology changes from “inaugural” to “induction?”)

UPDATE: Alas, the link is broken. Does no one at Williams care about our history?

Which do you like the best?

The student speaker, George Frederick Hurd ‘1903, began his speech:

It is not often that the undergraduate perceives the institution of the College in its real proportions. We see one part of the structure, one manifestation of its life, and think that we are in touch with the whole. Our interest in the curriculum asserts that this department of activity is supreme in its usefulness and importance. The exultation of the athletic triumph cries that proficiency in the sports is, after all, the greatest thing to be achieved, and that to this end we owe our first duty. It is only on some great occasion, when the several elements which compose the real College are brought together, and each appears in its proper place and relation, that there rises before us as a novel thing a concept of the largeness and dignity of the institution. It is then that we are moved with a great enthusiasm and a great spirit of loyalty; and so on this great day, in this gathering of the officers, faculty, alumni, and students, all the elements which together make up the unit Williams College, we are profoundly moved, and the words which we speak come from our hearts.

Will there be a student speaker next month? (I hope so.) What should she say?

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