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CGCL VII: Mark Hopkins

This is the first day of EphBlog’s Winter Study seminar on the induction speeches of Williams College presidents.

The most famous short sentence about Williams College is President Garfield’s aphorism that the best college is “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” Yet the most famous long sentence comes from Mark Hopkins’ own induction address (pdf), given when he was just 34.

[W]e are to regard the mind, not as a piece of iron to be laid upon the anvil and hammered into any shape, nor as a block of marble in which we are to find the statue by removing the rubbish, nor as a receptacle into which knowledge may be poured; but as a flame that is to be fed, as an active being that must be strengthened to think and to feel — to dare, to do, and to suffer.

But, as popular as that sentence has proven over the years (it was quoted twice at Adam Falk’s recent induction), the conclusion that Hopkins himself draws in the very next paragraph is almost always forgotten.

There is indeed, great temptation on the part both of teachers and scholars to pursue a course not in accordance with this principle. It is far easier for a teacher to generalize a class, and give it a lesson to get by rote, and hear it said, and let it pass, than it is to watch the progress of individual mind, and awaken interest, and answer objections, and explore tendencies, and, beginning with the elements, to construct together with his pupils, so that they shall feel they aid in it, the fair fabric of a science with which they shall be familiar from the foundation to the topstone.

Williams, with its small classes and tutorials, has much to be proud of in the attention that it pays to “the progress of individual mind.” Yet, given our great wealth, the shocking fact is how much we fail to follow Hopkins’ vision.
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When Williams Had a Medical School, Part 3: Mark Hopkins

Mark Hopkins sculpture, in the 'Hall of Fame' at Bronx Community College.

Continuing the series from Part I and Part II.

At commencement in 1824, Mark Hopkins graduated from Williams. Those in attendance could hardly have known that this was not the conclusion of his Williams days. And alongside Hopkins was a sign that even if he didn’t yet envision his lifelong association with the College, he wasn’t about to leave: the first medical degrees awarded by the President and Trustees of Williams College went to seven members of the Berkshire Medical class that began in 1823.

Hopkins was soon to follow them. He went to Pittsfield directly after his graduation to begin his course of study, but quickly departed to teach part of the year in Stockbridge. At the end of the year, Hopkins was invited back up to Williamstown to be a tutor at the College. But after two years, he took his leave of Williamstown once more, returning to his medical studies (and continuing to teach, mainly to pay the medical expenses of high school). At first, Hopkins resumed his medical studies in New York, but in the spring of 1828 he returned to Pittsfield, where Professor Dewey enlisted him in teaching high school at his Berkshire Gymnasium, a boys’ prep school Dewey founded and would soon leave Williams to run, in conjunction with his association with the medical school.

By 1825, the enrollment at the Berkshire Medical Institution had increased to 112 and 21 students would graduate. In his return to Pittsfield, Mark Hopkins roomed with a son of New York’s Governor Clinton, who may have been one of Professor Dewey’s high school students. Small glimpses of Hopkins’ experience in Pittsfield are recorded in his surviving letters, many written to his brothers. In May 1828, writing to his brother Albert, then in Stockbridge, Hopkins reported on his experience and requested some necessities:

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When Williams Had a Medical School, Part II: The Institution

Berkshire Medical Institution, circa 1835

In Part I of this series, we learned about the establishment of the peculiar adjunct of Williams: the Berkshire Medical Institution (or College), in the early 1820s, at Pittsfield. What was the medical school associated with Williams College like?

First, bear in mind that Pittsfield was not a short ride down U.S. 7 as it stands today.  To be sure, the roads between Pittsfield and Williamstown followed substantially the same routes: the most direct route ran through South Williamstown, along the route of the Green River and up over the pass at New Ashford, down through Lanesborough, and along the east side of Lake Pontoosuc into Pittsfield. But in the 1820s, it was a rugged route — in 1815, the sole scheduled rider carried the news and mail along this route but weekly. (A longer, slightly easier route ran around Mt. Greylock (still known as “Saddleback Mountain,”), through Adams and its “north village,” then down through Cheshire to approach Pittsfield from the east).

Pittsfield itself had recently seen significant development of Park Square, today’s Pittfield Common. Among that development was what would become the site of the medical school. In 1809, Simeon Griswold had opened “The Pittsfield Hotel,” a three-story establishment on the east side of Park Square, the right-most building in this picture. By 1821, however, it had failed to maintain the enthusiasm from its opening, its furniture was well-worn, and the structure needed repairs.

And so, Dr. Childs purchased the building in January, 1822, and soon converted the stables for use in anatomy. At its opening, the Berkshire Medical Institution therefore occupied a principal place in the heart of Pittsfield. In 1824, the old stables were removed and a new building and outbuildings constructed with the medical school in mind, while the former Pittsfield Hotel building was converted to lodging and boarding for the students. Given all this construction, it’s no surprise that the school renewed its request for funds from the legislature.

The campus buildings pictured at the top of this post would remain in use until the early 1850s, when one was destroyed by fire and the entire medical school was moved to a new building on South Street. Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge Vol. 1 is the source for the photo (also found in Pittsfield’s entry in the Images of America series of books) described the medical school as it was in the late 1820s or early 1830s:

This institution is located in Pittsfield, the shire town of the
county of Berkshire, in the state of Massachusetts; a large and
flourishing inland village, near the centre of that county, and in the
western part of the state. The institution is connected, in some
respects, with the college in Williamstown, in the north part of that

There are six professors in this
institution ; viz. of surgery and physiology ; general anatomy and
physiology; the theory and practice of medicine; materia medica,
pharmacy and obstetrics ; medical jurisprudence ; botany, mineralogy,
chemistry and natural philosophy. The number of students is from
eighty to one hundred.

The reading term begins on first Wednesday of February, and continues
till the last of August. During the months of February, March, and
April, practical anatomy with operative and demonstrative surgery are
attended to by the professor of surgery and physiology ; who also
hears recitations on the principles and practice of surgery. From
eight to eleven lectures a week are given. Recitations and a course of
instruction in the theory and practice of medicine, materia medica,
&c. by the professor of that department. Instruction is also given in
botany and mineralogy. Admission to the library, cabinet of anatomy,
natural history and mineralogy, is gratis. The annual lecture term
begins in September, 2nd Wednesday, and continues fifteen weeks.

Students were issued tickets to attend lectures — such as this one for anatomy: 

From the online collection of the American Antiquarian Society

 The Berkshire Medical Institution would issue a lot of these tickets over the next half-century, eventually graduating 1138 doctors. Among them was Mark Hopkins ’24, whose experience will be covered in the next installment of this series.

To Be Continued.


When Williams Had a Medical School, Part I

Many students of Williams history are probably aware that Mark Hopkins had more than one doctorate, including a degree in medicine. But I suspect that fewer realize that the source of his medical degree was the institution so central to his entire life — Williams itself. Yes, during a brief period that included the era of Hopkins’ studies, you could be more than a Williams pre-med — you could be a Williams med.

The story of the medical school connected to Williams begins in the dark year of 1821, but not with Zephaniah Moore or Edward Dorr Griffin. Although not as isolated from all of civilization as their neighbors to the north in Williamstown, Pittsfield was struggling with its remoteness as well. Led by Dr. Henry Halsey Childs, Williams class of 1802, a group of Pittsfield leaders prepared a bold proposal: to petition the legislature for a charter and an endowment with which to found New England’s eighth medical school — at Pittsfield.

With the backing of the newly-created Berkshire Medical Society, Dr. Childs enlisted two other early Ephs in the cause: Lanesboro’s illustrious Dr. Asa Burbank of Lanesboro, class of 1797, and Dr. Daniel Collins of Lenox (class of 1800). Dr. Burbank is best known as the first president of the Society of Alumni after its founding in 1821, and as one of the first Williams tutors, during the two years after his graduation. Although less famous in his own right, Dr. Collins was the son of the Rev. Daniel Collins, one of the twelve original trustees of the College, and a prominent doctor in the Berkshires for over half of the 19th century.

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Quote ID, #2

Which Williams graduate said the following? What was his/her name, class, and where did he/she say this?

We hear much said about self-educated men, and a broad distinction is made between them and others; but the truth is that every man who is educated at all, is, and must be, self-educated.

Hint: He was a member of the Class of ’24.


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