The University of Delaware: A History – Chapter 3
Chapter 3: Years of Great Expectations
On Thursday, May 8, 1834, in the auditorium–later called the Oratory–of Newark College, an eloquent young professor named John Holmes Agnew addressed "a large and respectable assembly" gathered together for the formal opening of the college.1 "Few events have transpired in the history of Delaware," Agnew claimed, "more interesting than the foundation of Newark College." After comparing this event with the valorous conduct of Delaware troops in the Revolution and with the exciting battle waged in 1777 by the armies of Howe and of Washington nearby on the Brandywine, Agnew declared that the events of this day were but "the sowing of a seed" that, "by fostering care and gentle nurture," might well become a great tree "overshadowing the land and scattering around its nutritious and wholesome fruits."2
The trustees in the audience found the address "appropriate, instructive and elegant."3 The speaker declared that to a large degree it depended on them whether the school withered or prospered, whether it imbued students with anti-Christian and politically subversive opinions, or whether, by calling to its service "those who love the Bible," it elevated the youthful mind, producing "a generation of moral and useful citizens, an honor to their Alma Mater, and a rich gift to their government."
But, he warned, the board must provide properly for faculty and students. "A stinted system of economy" had damaged many institutions. Faculty expect proper compensation; students want the same standards of neatness and comfort they knew at home. He was sure, however, "of the liberal and appropriate views of the Board," as witness "the provisions already made, with those yet prospective."
Possibly the trustees paid little attention to Agnew’s suggestion that except for a few clear rules the government of the college should be left to the faculty, which he thought should take the Bible as its code of moral law and govern the students as if associated with them "on principles of law and order," avoiding "aristocratical distance…and despotic dictation" but through persuasion seeking to attain "a dignified authority." "Firm, decided, and consistent we must be…unawed by frown and uncourted by favor." Students should "maintain a mild, tender, submissive course of conduct," putting away "tumultuous thoughts" and curbing "the reins of passion"; their influence on college government should be like that of "the loving wife [who] controls her husband by the cords of devoted affection." Parents had a role too; they should establish decent standards of conduct, upholding the decisions of the faculty except when they have "the most indubitable evidence of wrong," remembering always that young men who are without restraint at home will be difficult to keep in order in college.
Whether any students were present as Agnew spoke on May 8 is not clear. Their term did not begin until Monday, May 12. But if they were present they heard him declare that there were three elements to be considered in their instruction. The first was "moral culture," for without morality the college might create monsters. The second element was "intellectual education," and in this respect teachers should seek to make students think, avoiding mere memorization of facts. But, he warned, "if you send us base material, we do not promise, and you must not expect, genuine coin. We have no machinery for converting blockheads into philosophers…."
Agnew thought the third element of instruction, physical training, was "all important." "You cannot debilitate your body," he argued, "without proportionately cramping the operations of your mind." Proper diet, sleep, and exercise were essential. Young boys retain good health because they play "upon the green…jumping, running…tossing the ball, rolling the hoop, kicking the bladder, and giving full play to every muscle in the body." Exercise is necessary to the college student too, as well as proper diet and sleep.
With all elements contributing to the welfare of the college, "we may hope to rear an institution which shall be an honor to its founders, a blessing to its pupils, and a glory to the state: and when we shall all be silent in the grave, generations yet unborn will look back with grateful emotion to the events of this day, and call us blessed, as the originators of so benevolent and useful an institution."4
When school began on Monday, May 12, there were but two members of the faculty to greet the students. One was the orator of the previous Thursday, John Holmes Agnew; the other was the principal, Nathan Watson Munroe. There had been sentiment among the trustees in favor of a larger faculty. Andrew Gray, who had three sons ready to attend the institution, was particularly pertinacious in urging more teachers; he finally won board approval to hiring a third man, but not till it was too late for the May opening.
The trustees did declare their "inviolable obligation" to employ "sufficient teachers," but as a beginning they thought two would be enough–one to teach mathematics and science and the other the languages and history. They insisted on hiring college graduates who would give full time to their work (unlike the dismissed academy principal, Andrew Russell), and they pledged themselves not to employ ushers, who were usually underpaid assistants with little experience. Room, board, and not over $1,000 salary were offered to the teacher who should be made principal, the second man was to get not over $700, and when at the last minute a third teacher was authorized, $500 was allotted for him.
Munroe was actually paid only $400 a semester, or $800 a year, slightly more than Agnew’s $700 salary. Originally Munroe was hired for the second professorship, presumably at $700; when another man who was first offered the principalship rejected it, Munroe was promoted and given a slight raise.5 Both he and Agnew satisfied the trustees’ requirement that the faculty be composed of college graduates who would give full time to the job. A contemporary newspaper declared that both men were "accomplished scholars [and] experienced teachers,"6 but their experience was obviously limited because they were both young. Munroe was from Andover, Massachusetts, and had been graduated from Harvard in 1830. Little is known of his subsequent career except that he was an ordained Congregational minister in Bradford (now part of Haverhill, Massachusetts) in the 1850s and 1860s and received an M.A. degree from Harvard in 1864; he lived until 1890.7
Agnew, at 30, was probably the older of the two. Born in Pennsylvania, he was graduated from Dickinson College in 1823. After attending the Princeton Theological Seminary he was ordained a Presbyterian minister and for four years served as pastor of a church in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Before he came to Newark he had gained experience as a teacher at Washington College, in Pennsylvania, and possibly at one or more other small colleges. Later he taught for seven years at the University of Michigan. He gained some renown as an editor of magazines–of the Eclectic Magazine, which reprinted articles from foreign journals; of the American Biblical Repository; and finally, from 1864 to 1865, of The Knickerbocker, or American Monthly, an old New York journal that he turned into a Democratic organ of opposition to Lincoln and the Republican policy in the Civil War.8
It is not exactly known how Munroe and Agnew divided teaching responsibilities, but William Whiteley, who came as a student in May 1834, remembered Munroe as a professor of belles lettres and Agnew of languages. Mathematics was entrusted to Nelson Z. Graves, a graduate of Union College, Schenectady, who had taught that subject in the academy under Russell, and now, after the term began, received appointment to the college faculty as the third professor.9
When Munroe and Agnew began examining the forty-five students who entered Newark College in May 1834, they found only one prepared for college work, and they judged him ready to enter the sophomore year; all the others were relegated to the academic, or preparatory department. (Many other colleges were similarly selective. When the University of Kansas opened in 1866 its faculty decided none of the forty beginning students were ready for college, so all were put in a preparatory school.)10 The fortunate youth, Alexander Gray, was the son of trustee Andrew Gray, but it is unlikely that the earnest young professors were showing favoritism, for they put Alexander’s two brothers John and Charles in the lower department, even though John Gray, at 17, was three years older than Alexander. Twelve other sons of trustees entered Newark College in its first term, and all were assigned to the academic department.11
Students were permitted to enter the school at any time in the term, as had been true in the old academy and remained the practice for a number of years to come. Nineteen more students entered before the first term ended, eleven in June, seven in July, and one as late as September. Most of the students, thirty-seven, came from New Castle County; of these, nineteen gave Newark as their home address and four were from Wilmington. By the 1830 census Sussex County had almost as many people as New Castle County, but only two students came from Sussex, both sons of trustees. Four were from Kent County, the same number as from Philadelphia. Just under one-third of the students came from outside Delaware, with far the largest out-of-state representation, twelve, coming from Maryland, all but one of them from the Eastern Shore. Though no similar student statistics survive for the Newark Academy, it too drew many students from this area, which explains why the college trustees had ordered announcements of the opening to be placed in newspapers in Chestertown, Easton, Cambridge, and Princess Anne, as well as in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and all Delaware papers (the only ones known to have existed then being two in Wilmington).12 For the rest, three students came from New Jersey, one from Virginia, and one from New York.
Most of the students were quite young. George Russell, of Newark, was twenty-five, but no other student was over nineteen, and the youngest, Charles Gray, was only nine. The median, as well as the average, age of the students in this first term was fourteen, which was also the most popular age. Though nineteen new students entered after the first month, some students left during the term, so there were never as many as sixty-four students in school at once. Some of these departures were because of ill health, or perhaps because of homesickness disguised as a health problem, but many came about as a result of a fracas known as the Parson Bell affair.
Forty-two of the students lived in the college in the first term; local boys could live at home, and a few others also had permission to live with Newark families. On the night of Sunday, August 31, the faculty, who also resided in the one college building, planned to be away, and a local minister, Samuel Bell, who ran a girls’ seminary in town, was asked to take charge for the evening. Worship services were held daily in the morning and evening, at 6:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M., but on Sunday students were ordered to attend public worship wherever their parents desired them to go. Possibly this obviated the usual 6:00 P.M. weekday service; at any rate on the evening of August 31 Parson Bell, who was a trustee of the college as well as father of a twelve-year-old student (who, of course, lived at home), attempted to hold an evening prayer service in the auditorium.
He was, unfortunately, unpopular with the boys, but the reason is not clear; possibly it arose from his being assistant treasurer or maybe from the way he conducted his seminary for young ladies. The Sabbath was a difficult day for the college students to put in, anyway. They were forbidden visitors, forbidden to leave campus without permission, forbidden to indulge in games, sports, or "unsuitable reading," forbidden to do anything that might "profane the day."13
On this Sunday evening some of the boys took their feelings out on poor Parson Bell. Cat-calls and derisive cries broke up his prayer meeting. In some fashion that the records do not specify–probably by a shower of sticks and stones and epithets–he was assaulted on his way home. Naturally Bell reported the affray to Munroe when he returned, and on the next day the faculty met to investigate.
The investigation fixed the blame on six students. One of these–the future Judge Leonard Wales, who was only ten years old–was ordered confined to his room for ten days, but the other five, who were between fourteen and seventeen, were suspended for periods varying from three months to one year and were ordered home at once. Four other boys immediately said they would leave in sympathy with their friends, and the faculty voted that they too must be considered suspended. Any contact between the remaining students and those suspended was strictly forbidden; when two boys disregarded this regulation they were also suspended, bringing the total of suspensions to eleven. Since five boys had already left school for other reasons, this was a sizable loss–almost one-fifth of the student body.14
Though the trustees had withheld for themselves the power to expel students from the school, they had given the faculty the right to suspend. Nevertheless, these suspensions soon made trouble for the professors. Among the students suspended were several sons of trustees. It is not known whether their complaints were the critical ones, but when the trustees held their regular semiannual meeting on September 22 dissatisfaction with the faculty action soon came to the forefront. After Munroe, as principal, made his report, including a brief statement about the suspensions, the outspoken Andrew Gray moved what amounted to censure of the faculty for precipitating events by asking a man they must have known to be unpopular to officiate in their place on August 31. He thought a milder reproof was in order and called for cancellation of the suspensions, as well as of all nocturnal religious meetings, and, in future disciplinary cases, consultation of the faculty with an executive committee that the trustees had recently established.
Cooler heads sent Gray’s resolution to a committee chaired by Louis McLane, which conferred with Munroe; he gave them a detailed, verbal account of the whole affair and referred them to the faculty minutes for more data. They asked for a full explanation in writing so they could file it in their archives, and they thought Munroe agreed. But when they met again the next morning they received only a brief letter declaring that the faculty had met in the evening and voted to refer the committee to the minutes and to ask to be allowed to appear in person before the committee to reply directly to any charges of maladministration. The faculty saw no reason to submit a copy of their minutes, which were open for inspection, and did not wish to furnish "a random statement in writing, without being apprised of the particular points…in reference to which information is desired."15
Though little is known of Munroe, he seems to have been a very independent Yankee, not given to acceding easily to requests. When appointed, for instance, he had been asked to attend the trustees’ next meeting on April 17, but when they met on that date the only sign of Munroe was a letter saying he would arrive on May 1. They then agreed to have him make the inaugural address on May 8. Whether he refused or made some excuse is not known; in any event, it was not Munroe, the principal, but Agnew, the second professor, who delivered this speech.16
This latest act of recalcitrance was about all the trustees could take. McLane’s committee, though rejecting the severe censure implied in Andrew Gray’s motion and agreeing that the faculty was right in investigating and punishing student actions that were entirely reprehensible, proposed that those given the shorter suspensions–for three or six months–be readmitted next term if they made a suitable acknowledgement of their fault. They also recommended readmission, on receipt of an apology to the faculty, of three of the students who had quit the school in sympathy with those suspended. Two students whom Munroe had described as especially refractory troublemakers were carefully excluded from the committee’s resolutions.
The trustees accepted these resolutions readily, and also two more that came from the committee. One was a rule disallowing religious meetings unless conducted by the faculty, with an additional proviso that there be no religious exercises at night. This rule may have been unpopular with the Presbyterian ministers on the board, but they could have been mollified by the outcome of one final resolution from McLane’s committee, a resolution to elect a president for the college, superseding Munroe.
No sooner was this resolution accepted than the trustees proceeded to an election.17 Except for the result, little is known about it; the choice may have been made on the spur of the moment, or it may have resulted from prior planning, for at least some of the trustees were disenchanted with the faculty’s administration of affairs before this semiannual meeting began. However arrived at, the choice of Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert as the first president of Newark College was logical. As president of the board of the Newark Academy and then of Newark College he had presided over the founding and opening of the latter institution. After almost seventeen years of service he had resigned his position as pastor of Hanover Street Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, in April 1834 and become an agent of the American Education Society, a joint Presbyterian-Congregationalist body that raised money to provide scholarships and loans to young men in colleges and seminaries preparing themselves for the ministry. The post necessitated a lot of travel and after five months Gilbert was willing to give it up.
But he was a man of strong convictions–his insistence on his own opinions had already been evident in church affairs–and he did not immediately accept the presidency. Apparently he had not been pleased to see the board interfering in the conduct of the institution.
To a committee of trustees deputized to confer with him after his election he sought to make his position clear. There had to be confidence shown in the faculty, he declared; they alone should control discipline and the trustees should interfere only in the most extreme case. "The very nature of southern character," he wrote, would make "the frequent exercise of discipline, and of severe discipline too…inevitable in the first years of the Institution, and nothing but an independent unchanging impartial course, sustained by the trustees…will enable the college to live through the first 5 years." (Gilbert was born and educated in upstate New York; he probably thought of Delaware as more southern than Delawareans did, though the presence in the student body of a large minority from the Eastern Shore gives some validity to his opinion.) "If the Faculty can be thwarted and weakened by successful appeals to the trustees, in mitigation or reversal of sentence," he continued, "successful government is out of the question;…no Faculty fit to govern such an Institution would consent to hold so painful a place."
It was enough, Gilbert argued, that trustees had the power to remove faculty. It might be well to order that the faculty should suspend students only to the end of the term, leaving it to the trustees to expel or to continue the suspension. He also questioned the restriction on "night meetings"; this "has deeply wounded the existing Faculty, those meetings having been, with one melancholy exception, the most orderly which the students have been called to attend." To forbid them seemed adverse to the religious growth of students.
He wondered also about the power of the executive committee of the board, which had been set up only recently. Were its powers intended to coincide with those of the faculty? Unless questions such as these could be cleared up, he could not accept the presidency.
The board capitulated. Willard Hall, a member of Gilbert’s former church in Wilmington, reported for the committee set up to confer with him. They agreed that discipline should be left to the faculty within the limits of guidelines set by the board–for example, limiting suspensions in the manner Gilbert suggested. They recommended that the executive committee be replaced by an advisory committee, to which the faculty could apply for advice when they wished. They did not care to remove the resolution against night meetings, though they recommended modifying it to permit prayer meetings held by students of their own volition with a faculty member and also worship services called by the faculty on Sunday evenings for all resident students. No doubt this was intended to appease the "deeply wounded" faculty.
The board adopted the recommendations of Hall’s committee, clearing the way for Gilbert’s acceptance as soon as they decided upon a salary of $1,000, without board or allowance. Gilbert then resigned from the board, as the charter, which forbade faculty membership, required, and Willard Hall stepped into Gilbert’s place as board president.18
"Dr. Gilbert is all head," a close acquaintance said. Short, slender, with "a clear hazel eye" and a "womanlike nose," he had a "squeaky voice, which once heard was never forgotten."19 He wrote hastily, with little revision, because he was always eager to get on with other business. He was an omnivorous reader, carefully digesting at least one new book almost every week and delighting in newspapers, which, like his books, he read with an atlas beside him. He read the Bible so frequently, said an associate, that he was "mighty in the Scriptures," which he approached with a pure and absolute faith in his God. Several revivals occurred under his leadership and he entered enthusiastically on missionary tours, but he was systematic and analyzing rather than emotional. Gilbert was nearer to pure intellect than any man he had ever known, declared the associate quoted earlier.20
In the 1899 yearbook, the first ever published by students of the college, Gilbert’s statement in September 1834 of the proper relationship between trustees and faculty is reviewed and praised; "if he had done nothing else for Delaware College than to prepare and submit that paper," the editor avows, "he would be entitled to lasting gratitude."21 Perhaps a proper relationship between trustees and faculty would have emerged even without Gilbert, but with little doubt he is, after the founder, Francis Alison, the most important person in the history of the institution in one hundred years and more after the opening of the academy at New London in 1743. For Gilbert is, in a sense, the second founder of the institution–president of the board of trustees when the college was built and opened, and then, after a brief interval when trustee-faculty friction might have wrecked it, the first president of the college.
When he became college president, Gilbert was forty years old. A native of one of the old Hudson River counties of New York, Gilbert was partly of Dutch ancestry and was educated at Union College, in Schenectady. He came to Philadelphia to be with an uncle but soon left there to prepare for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, where one of his teachers was a notable native of Delaware, the Reverend Samuel Miller. Perhaps it was through Miller that he received a call in 1817 to the pastorate of the Second Presbyterian Church, Wilmington, which despite its name was the premier church of its denomination in the area. In this position he succeeded Thomas Read, and some years later he also succeeded Read as president of the board of the Newark Academy, with which he had another tie by his marriage to the daughter of Dr. George Monro, an alumnus of the academy who was also an officer of its board.
Presiding over one major revival and attentive especially to the conduct of Bible classes and the Sabbath school, Gilbert led his congregation to construct a new church at the corner of King and Sixth (then Hanover) streets, though the move to the new church caused some dissension and a division in the congregation. (After the move the church took its name from its new location on Hanover Street.) Gilbert gained a measure of fame for debating theological questions with a Wilmington Quaker, Benjamin Ferris, their exchange being published as the Letters of Paul and Amicus in 1823. As a new schism developed in the American Presbyterian church, Gilbert became known as a leading member of what was called the New School, and he became permanent clerk of the General Assembly, the ruling body of this group, in 1838.22
Gilbert’s service as an agent of the American Education Society, though of brief duration, gave him a good overall grasp of the state of college education in the area for which he was responsible, roughly the middle Atlantic seaboard below New York. He felt strongly that in this area east of the Alleghenies, including the cities of Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, Washington, and their environs, and extending into Virginia, the Presbyterians should have a college of their own that was decidedly first-class. Just how he viewed Princeton is not clear, but it is certain that he thought of Newark as a proper seat for the college he had in mind, "a college that should provide a ministry for [the] Church and assist in sustaining its intelligence."23 In accepting the presidency, he was continuing the work in preparing ministers that he had begun with the American Education Society.
With Gilbert firmly in control, Newark College quickly recovered from the aftermath of the Parson Bell Affair. Most but not all of the suspended students were readmitted. Almost half of the academic students were promoted, after examination, to the collegiate department. Most but not all of the first-term faculty stayed on, apparently satisfied with the manner in which Gilbert had defended them against trustee interference.
The one member of the faculty who left was Munroe. He was not dismissed, but by October 9 the trustees had not heard what his plans were for the coming term. Apparently he remained dissatisfied with their treatment of him and declined to return. But John Holmes Agnew and Nelson Graves remained and were augmented by another professor besides Gilbert, who would, of course, teach, as presidents did then, plus an usher to help in the preparatory department.24
The reputation of the institution had not suffered in the wake of the Parson Bell affair; the student enrollment increased at an encouraging rate in the second term. In a total of eighty students, thirty-two were new, a very decent increase, and among them such able young men as David Holmes Agnew, who became a distinguished surgeon and professor in the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania; William S. Graham, the best student in the class, who became head of the academic department as well as Gilbert’s son-in- law; Amos Slaymaker, who became a lawyer in Lancaster; George C. Jones and George Read McLane, who became doctors in Illinois and in Wisconsin, respectively; and Louis McLane, Jr., who was expelled during his first term, but who became a distinguished naval officer in the Mexican War and later was president of the Wells Fargo Express Company and of the Bank of Nevada of San Francisco. Among the boys already in school before Gilbert became president were George Read Riddle, a future United States senator; George Cummins, future founder of the Reformed Episcopal Church; and William G. Whiteley and Isaiah Clawson, future United States representatives from Delaware and New Jersey, respectively.
Over twenty of the students were in college classes. These students gave no serious disciplinary problem, but some of the small boys in the academic department caused disturbances until leading offenders were suspended in February. Partly owing to these suspensions, Gilbert reported, "and partly owing to a special religious influence, a most remarkable change took place." He recommended that all boys under fourteen be excluded from living in the college and that the charge of the preparatory department be centralized under a principal instead of under the faculty as a whole.25 Gilbert got his way in at least one of these recommendations, for an announcement for the summer term of 1835 declared that the college building was full, so pupils under fourteen would have to board with private families.26
It is not clear to what extent his recommendation regarding the government of the academy was carried out at this time, but this evidence that it had not been wise to vacate the academy building and move all of the students into the college may have sufficed to delay a movement to sell the academy lot, with the old building on it, which had been approved by the legislature on January 27, 1835.27 Eventually the trustees were glad to utilize the academy property for their preparatory department, though by that time the old building had to be replaced.
Aside from the fact that the collegiate department was now in reasonably full operation (whereas in the previous term it had but one student), the most memorable event in Gilbert’s first term as president was the foundation of two literary societies, the Athenaean and the Delta Phi, which were to be major influences in the intellectual and social life of the campus through the nineteenth century.
Literary societies were a feature of life in colleges of that day. Though they shared some of the aspects of a twentieth-century fraternity, they placed far more emphasis on contributing to the intellectual development of their members, and they rarely, if ever, had formal connections with similar societies at other colleges. "The student Literary societies," one scholar has written, "engrossed more of the interests and activities of the students than any other aspect of college life. Elaborately organized, self-governing youth groups, student literary societies were, in effect, colleges within colleges."28
There was a long quarrel between the two societies in Newark as to which was the older, but it seems likely that the Delta Phi met first, in the fall of 1834, under the influence of Professor Nelson Graves, who had been a member of a similar society at Union College. It was academy students, however, who met to form Delta Phi, though it came to be a college organization as these students were promoted into the collegiate department. The Athenaean Literary Society was collegiate from the beginning.29
In any event, faculty interest apparently led to the creation of both societies–a notable difference from the modern fraternity–for on November 7, 1834, shortly after the beginning of the winter semester, the faculty formally recommended their formation.30 The professors evidently knew from their experience at other universities just how useful an adjunct to classroom work these societies could be. Besides furnishing a social bond to link boys who were away from the warmth of family relationships for the first time, the societies gave practice in speaking, in writing, and in reading. One student speech survives that was given before the Delta Phi Society as early as March 25, 1835, and we know that the same society later that year was debating the question, "were the English justifiable [sic] in banishing Napoleon to St. Helena."31
Set speeches, debates, and written essays, circulated through manuscript journals or gazettes, were a feature of the society meetings, which occurred weekly in rooms set aside by the college for the societies at either end of the second floor of the original college building. Through dues paid by the members or contributions that they solicited from parents and friends, libraries were developed by each society. These collections were contemplated from the beginning, because in the same meeting at which the faculty recommended formation of literary societies it also ordered that in the event of either one being suspended or dissolved, its library should go to the college, not to the individual members.32
There were at least three libraries coexistent from close to the beginning of the college–those of the two societies and the library of the college itself. As early as May 8, 1834, the trustees appointed a committee to solicit gifts of books, money, and mineralogical specimens for a library, for scientific apparatus, and for a cabinet of minerals. On July 9 the trustees appropriated $1,000 for books and apparatus. The early library was probably in a room opposite the president’s, just inside the main (second-floor) entrance to Old College. In February 1835 a Philadelphia paper noted that President Gilbert was "anxious to build up a library for his institution" but because he lacked funds for the purpose he relied on "the liberality of the public."33
Each of the societies provided for the office of librarian in its constitution, and in 1836 the Athenaean catalog listed 293 volumes. By 1845-46 each society had about 1,000 books, fewer than the college, but more readable, for the college library included such items as Latin classics and government documents. As late as the 1890s, according to W. Owen Sypherd, ’96, a student did most of his reading for pleasure in a society’s library, housed in the Delta Phi or Athenaean hall; the college library was a dull place, open only a few hours a week. After the academy moved into a new building, it too had a library, and for a time, at least in the 1850s, there was a fifth library, belonging to an academy literary society.34
At the end of its first year of operation in the spring of 1835, Newark College, which seemed to be well established, ran into trouble over the moral scruples of its president and many of its trustees. These scruples concerned lotteries, the principal means of building and operating the college. The Lottery Act of 1825 expired in 1835. It had served its purpose, providing about $50,000, of which $30,000 remained invested in Pennsylvania bonds, after the college had been built and equipped. The legislature thoughtfully provided a second lottery, this one for $100,000, of which half was for the college, one-fourth for the state treasury, and one-fourth for the state school fund, the last to be invested in the Cape Charles Canal and Transportation Company. The five managers of the lottery–all trustees of the college–quickly drew up a contract with a lottery sales company that covered ten years of operations, as in the case of the original lottery, of which three of these five men had been managers.35
Through the last decade Presbyterian opposition to lotteries had been solidifying, and as a result, Senator Arnold Naudain, an active Presbyterian layman, proposed, when the trustees met on April 20, that they respectfully decline to be beneficiaries of the new act because "the lottery system [was] a public evil, highly demoralizing in its effects." Though supported by the president of the board, Willard Hall, and many other members, Naudain’s resolution was vigorously opposed by a minority of those present, including Andrew Gray and Henry Whiteley, who succeeded in getting the issue postponed to a special meeting called for June 23, when all members were to be notified of the subject.36
Excitement grew as the meeting date neared. A boy at college wrote to his trustee father, "Tomorrow the trustees meet and decide the fate of New Ark College. If they accept the lottery the College may prosper, but if not she goes down."37
There was a larger attendance at this meeting than at the previous one, and the prevailing sentiment now was favorable to the lottery. Henry Whiteley suggested that if a new lottery were to be rejected as evil, consistency demanded that the college building, campus, equipment, and $30,000 endowment should be turned back to the state, since they were all acquired by the proceeds of a lottery. Instead of adopting this draconian measure, the trustees voted 13 to 0 (the seven irreconcilables refusing to vote) against Naudain’s motion to reject the new lottery. Three of the anti-lottery trustees, including Senator Naudain and the secretary, Allan Thomson, resigned immediately, and the president of the board, Willard Hall, gave notice of his intention to resign. Oddly, one Presbyterian minister, Dr. James Magraw, head of the West Nottingham Academy, in Maryland, voted with the majority.38
The action of the trustees precipitated similar action by the faculty. Everyone except Graves resigned–President Gilbert, Professors Agnew and William Dodd (Munroe’s replacement), and a man named Hoffman, who was employed for the summer term as tutor. Some other trustees resigned later, including Parson Bell.39
The remaining trustees were confident, however, of their ability to carry on, and they assured the students before they left for home in September that the institution would open as planned after the between-semesters vacation. Their assurance rested on the financial situation. Newark College had $30,000 invested as an endowment and had every prospect of raising almost twice as much more from lotteries in the next ten years. Perhaps Gilbert, Agnew, and company would not be missed.40
When Newark College reopened in October 1835, more than just change in the personnel of the faculty had taken place. The puritanical Presbyterian leadership was gone with Gilbert and his allies, like Willard Hall, among the trustees. The new president of the board was a popular politician, Chief Justice Thomas Clayton, a former U.S. senator. The new president of the college was Dr. Richard Sharpe Mason, an Episcopal clergyman. And with Mason there came to the faculty two new professors, a new usher, and even a new janitor-steward, for the food had been reported to be incredibly bad.41
On the face of it, Mason seemed an excellent choice. He was just short of forty years old in the fall of 1835, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he had also received an honorary D.D. in 1830. After eleven years as rector of a church at New Bern, North Carolina, he had gone to Geneva, New York, first as rector of Trinity Church and then, in 1830, as president of an Episcopal institution, Geneva College, which changed its name later to Hobart College. His salary at Geneva College was to be "three- ninths of the clear income of the college which is collectible." This probably turned out to be a meagre sum that made the flat promise of the $1,000 plus a house offered by the Newark College trustees very appealing, especially as the launching of a new lottery made the financial prospects bright.42
A salary of $700, plus free room and board in the college, sufficed to attract two new professors to join Mason and the loyal Nelson Graves. In hope of more palatable food, the steward, for whom the trustees had previously ordered a meat house and an ice house, was permitted to raise the price of meals from $1.25, first to $1.50, and then to $1.75, a week.43
There must have been a change in the atmosphere of the college when "old Prexy" and his faculty of Episcopalians, as a student remembered them, took over, but the same student remembered his time at Newark College, both under Gilbert and under Mason, as "the happiest portion" of his life.44 The course of study under Mason was probably much the same as it had been under Gilbert. Latin and Greek were basic to it, supplemented by English composition and declamation or elocution. The trustees had declared, in 1834, that they thought "the Mathematical and Natural sciences have not their proper place in the…colleges of this country," but they seem to have had fair attention at Newark College in Mason’s time if the catalogues are to be believed. The first two years of the four-year curriculum emphasized the classics, but always with some mathematics: algebra and geometry in the freshman year, trigonometry and analytic geometry in the sophomore. Science began in the junior year, when calculus was also studied, along with logic and "moral philosophy," or ethics. Physics, geology, and mineralogy came in the fourth year, with astronomy and some politics and other social sciences. Rhetoric and theology appeared in the sophomore year; the only history emphasized was the history of the classical world.45
The Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad passed within a mile of Newark in 1837, allowing the college to boast of combining "the great advantages of perfect retirement with ready access." As in the days of the academy, the "uncommon salubrity" of the climate, the "intelligence and good morals" of the population, and the absence of "temptations to vice and extravagance" were subjects the college authorities liked to dwell upon. Tuition was $25 a year in the college and $20 in the preparatory department, but ten students could have this fee waived. Room rent of $5 a semester, a fuel charge of $11 for the winter term, plus janitor’s fee and incidental expenses of $2 a year each, a library fee of $1.50 a year, and board at $1.75 a week ran the total for a year in the college to $125. A new student also paid an entrance fee of $5, and $6 to $10 a term had to be allowed for laundry.46
President Mason boasted that the course of study at Newark College was "as elevated…as that of almost any other of repute in our country; certainly higher than that of many colleges of fair reputation." Though glad to claim possession of one of the best reflecting telescopes in this country, Mason recognized a need for further equipment, such as books and maps and laboratory apparatus; "no college," he told the trustees, "can rise to a high degree of reputation with an inferior library." And though he felt a need for professors of modern languages and of belles lettres, he had succeeded in bringing some very good men here.47
Mason personally recruited William Nelson Pendleton, a graduate of West Point who had previously taught there and at the short-lived Bristol College, in Pennsylvania. He was followed here by some of his students from Bristol, including two sons of the Wilmington printer Moses Bradford, and he also attracted to Newark a few boys from his native Virginia, including his wife’s brother, John Page, father of the writer Thomas Nelson Page. Pendleton was persuaded to come to Delaware as professor of mathematics and science ("natural philosophy") by a salary of $1,000 plus a house, instead of the $800, "tardily paid," that he was receiving at Bristol, as well as by the forceful tactics of Mason, who sat down in the midst of boxes the Pendletons were packing (preliminary to moving from Bristol to Virginia) and declared he would not move until his offer was accepted. While at Newark College, Pendleton was ordained an Episcopal priest, and in 1839, after two years, he left Newark to become first headmaster of the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Much later, in the Civil War, he became famous as the commander of General Lee’s artillery.48
Another able professor recruited by Mason was George Allen, who came of a family quite as distinguished in his native Vermont as was Pendleton’s in Virginia. The son of Congressman Heman Allen, he was graduated from the University of Vermont, where he taught for two years before entering on a legal career. After conversion to Episcopalianism, he gave up the law for divinity and was ordained a priest in 1834. He was rector of a church in St. Albans, Vermont, for three years before Mason brought him to Delaware as professor of ancient languages and literature at $1,000.
A student not only of Latin and Greek but of music, military science, Shakespeare, and chess, Allen brought luster to the faculty at Newark until 1845, when he moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where he is said to have become the best-known member of the arts faculty and was awarded an LL.D. in 1868. Influenced by the writings of John Henry, Cardinal Newman, he followed Newman in 1847 into the Catholic Church and eventually became papal representative in Philadelphia. A chair in Greek at Pennsylvania was endowed in his name.49
To Pendleton’s place, in 1839, Mason attracted another West Point graduate, William A. Norton, who had been teaching in New York City since leaving the army in 1833. Norton, a man of great personal charm, gained a reputation as both scholar and teacher. After eleven years in Newark he went in 1850 to Brown and in 1852 to Yale, where he became an outstanding figure in the early years of the Sheffield Scientific School as professor of civil engineering.50
Another notable addition to the faculty, although in a lesser role than professor, was William S. Graham, who was appointed a tutor in 1836. He was valedictorian in that very year, at the first commencement exercises of Newark College, and thus he was the first graduate of the college to be appointed to its faculty. Five years later, when Nelson Graves left Newark, Graham was appointed his successor as principal of the preparatory department. Son of one Presbyterian minister, Graham later married the daughter of another, the Reverend Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert, and became a leading figure in the intellectual life of the Newark community in the early 1840s. After he left Newark he became principal of an academy in Harrisburg, but he died of consumption like most of his numerous family. Some of his essays and poems were published after his death, edited by George Allen, as The Remains of William S. Graham.51
That an Episcopalian, like Mason, should hire a young Presbyterian, like Graham, fitted Mason’s idea of what was proper, for in his inaugural address he had declared his opposition to making Newark College "an engine of sectarian influence." It was not founded, he said, for the benefit of one religious sect, but for the community. He talked also of discipline, stressing his preference for "persuasion and affection" rather than "fear and coercion."52 The catalogue took a similar line, stating that the object of the faculty was "to join…mildness with effectiveness; to prevent rather than to punish offences; to govern by the inculcation of correct principles, more than by mere coercion."53
Apparently, however, Mason’s disciplinary methods were not wholly successful. Stoves were thrown down the stairways, plaster and woodwork were scarred, and the building in general so mutilated that Mason suggested encasing the pillars on the front portico with sheet iron. Drunkenness was responsible for some of the damage; animal spirits for the rest. Mason recommended asking the legislature to forbid the sale of liquor to students; at faculty request two local shopkeepers agreed to refuse it to students. But basically Mason’s problem was, said a man reputed to know him well, that "he knew no more about a boy than about a kangaroo."54
Largely for the sake of discipline Mason recommended putting the academy boys in a different building. Gilbert’s rule that students under fourteen were not allowed to room in the college had been adhered to; "they need," the 1837-38 catalogue declared, "the superintendence which results from boarding in a private family."55 The issue was discussed by the trustees for two years before they decided to make the separation complete and either move the preparatory department back into the old academy building or construct a new one for these students. On October 9, 1839, the trustees inspected the old academy and concluded it was too "dilapidated and ruinous" to be worth repairing. Parson Bell suggested he might close his ladies’ seminary and use his building, which would accommodate forty to fifty students, for the preparatory department if he were given charge of it, subject to the trustees. Perhaps recollecting his unpopularity with the boys, the trustees rejected his offer and decided to build on the site of the old academy, utilizing as much of the old material as possible in the new building, which was to be occupied in the fall of 1841.56
Gradually, through these years, the trustees lost confidence in President Mason. He had spoken at the end of his first term of anticipating a rapid growth in reputation and numbers, but though the addition of men like Pendleton and Allen had improved the reputation of the school, the growth in numbers had been disappointing. The enrollment (using an average of the winter and spring terms), had been fifty in 1835-36 (Mason’s first year as president). For the next two years it changed very little: forty- nine in 1836-37, 51.5 in 1837-38. Then in 1838-39, perhaps with the prestige Pendleton and possibly Allen too added to the faculty, it rose to 65, but in 1839-40, a year of economic depression, it fell to 44.57
These figures must have been disheartening to the trustees, who were forced to spend a sizable part of the funds being produced by the lottery, funds that might otherwise have been added to the college endowment, which, with the academy endowment, produced only slightly more than $2,000 a year.58 They also found fault with Mason’s administration, feeling he did not supervise either faculty or students properly. In September 1839 Mason, having heard complaints, asked the trustees for a thorough examination of his conduct. They agreed, interviewed faculty members, and concluded, not without disagreement, that the complaints of maladministration and neglect of duty were unjustified.59
But the issue would not die. In the spring of 1840 Mason urged the trustees to take positive steps to improve the college, which should, he said, as the only college in Delaware, "be made to take as elevated a position as possible among the institutions of the neighboring states." The small enrollment, he declared, resulted from a rumor that the trustees were considering suspending all operations; spending money on improvements would restore public confidence and increase enrollment.
Mason’s opponents among the trustees were not impressed. The Reverend Alfred Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister, stated flatly that the best way to improve the college was to get a new president.60 His motion to that effect was voted down, but when the enrollment for the summer term in 1840 reached the lowest point in Mason’s administration, opposition to him grew.
He was still hopeful, however. "The college," he explained to the trustees in September 1840, "was never in a more healthy condition, or more deserving the Public Patronage." The trustees could help it best by publishing in the papers their confidence in it "as at present conducted." He knew they expected him to visit classes, as part of the required supervision, but he saw no point in it, except in the academic department; in fact such visiting might have "unpleasant consequences." Since some trustees criticized him for lack of supervision, he asked to be told "explicitly and imperatively" what more was required of him.
A majority of the trustees present at this meeting were not sympathetic. They did defeat a motion from the executive commitee that they consider the suspension of classes, but they agreed to ask Mason to resign at the close of one more term. They unanimously agreed on having "the strongest confidence in [his] talents, learning, and ability" and respect for his character but they voted 12 to 6 against retaining him.61
Mason’s resignation was immediately proffered and accepted. But this was not an end to the matter. The supporters of Mason, including Andrew Gray, now president of the board, rallied a larger attendance for an adjourned meeting on October 12. With the support of seven trustees who had previously been absent, Mason’s friends secured a reversal of the request for his resignation as well as of their acceptance of it. The reversal did not matter, except that Mason could now leave with greater dignity. He had, he explained, intended to resign for more than a year–apparently since soon after he began hearing complaints about his leadership–but he wanted to do so under circumstances that were honorable for him and not injurious to the college. Perhaps those circumstances had arrived; at any rate, he did resign.62
The "learned and eccentric" Dr. Mason, as Professor Pendleton’s daughter called him, could honestly point to real achievements under his administration whatever his faults in supervision.63 The academic standing of the infant college had certainly improved. Mason left behind when he departed the making of a strong faculty in the persons of Allen and Norton, men worthy of places, which they eventually attained, on the faculties of more prestigious institutions than Newark College. He had rightly pointed to a need for more professors, specifically in modern languages and belles lettres, and for limiting the teaching assignments of each man to not over two courses. He had urged the need for more books and more equipment. Under his administration steps had been taken to separate the academy students from the collegians by constructing a new academy building.64 He had presided over the first commencement of the college in 1836, when its first four graduates were awarded degrees, and he had seen the number of graduates rise to eight in 1839, a number not to be exceeded for five years.65
Through most of his term Mason could look for little help from the president of the board of trustees because this gentleman, Thomas Clayton, occupied first as chief justice and then, from 1837, as United States senator again, rarely attended a meeting; indeed he appeared only once from his election in October 1835 until he was replaced in 1839 by Andrew Gray. An especially knowledgeable friend of the institution was lost when Andrew Kerr Russell died in February 1839. The wound Russell suffered by being dismissed in 1833 must have been somewhat assuaged when he was elected to the board in June 1835. Several times in the following years he served as temporary chairman of the board. Faculty and students attended Russell’s funeral as a group and in his memory the faculty wore mourning crepe on their left arms for a month.66
On October 12, 1840, immediately after Mason’s resignation, the trustees voted on a new president. The highest vote, a bare majority of the total, went to Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert, the former president, who was nominated by one of the veteran trustees, Henry Whiteley.67
Gilbert’s continued interest in the institution must have been known. He had remained nearby, having been called back to Hanover Street Church shortly after he resigned the presidency. He now told the trustees he was willing to return to Newark if the board would meet four demands: 1) that the president–that is, Gilbert–be made an ex officio member of the board; 2) that the lottery scheme, which had five years to go, be abandoned or so changed that the proceeds would no longer come directly to the college but to the state, which would then appropriate a similar amount; 3) that the college gradually be brought under Presbyterian control by the appointment of Presbyterians to the board as vacancies occurred; and 4) that the salary be satisfactory.68
There is something so extravagant as almost to be absurd about Gilbert’s demands, just as there had been about his resignation in 1835 over the issue of a lottery that, while he was president of the board, had allowed the college to be built. The college charter forbade faculty membership on the board. The charter further stated that "no religious test shall be required from the trustees, Faculty, officers, or students."69 And was it not an unworthy stratagem to accept the proceeds of lotteries past and future but ask that henceforth the money be cleansed by going first to the state treasurer?
Gilbert was demanding no less than a Presbyterian takeover of the college. He looked upon it, of course, as a recapture of an institution that Presbyterians had founded and nurtured from colonial academy to college, which then had been wrenched from them by an unsympathetic board of trustees, but which now could be reclaimed and restored to its original purposes. An ardent New School Presbyterian, he felt that Newark College had great potential.
If his demands were met, "all Constitutional Presbyterians will," he wrote, "take a special interest in Newark College, as their own College. It is to make it theirs I go there, contrary to my own interest and comfort. We need a College and must have one. Let us have one."70
This was the heyday of Presbyterianism in America. Whereas in the eighteenth century theirs had been the church predominantly associated with a group of none-too-popular Scotch-Irish immigrants, Presbyterians by the nineteenth century had become the bulwark of the American middle class, especially if considered in connection with their Congregationalist allies in New England. In 1839, for instance, when most American college presidents were clergymen, (fifty-one of the presidents of the fifty-four oldest colleges), forty of the fifty-one minister-presidents were Presbyterians or Congregationalists. Despite the rapid numerical gains being made by Methodists and Baptists, who dominated the less literate classes, Gilbert and his fellow Presbyterians had attained a position of intellectual and, to some degree, social leadership that could lead to the extravagant claims Gilbert made on Newark College.71
And he got his way. The trustees accepted his proposals as a way of saving an institution that, he declared to them, is "dear to Presbyterians, and dear to me, as having had more or less to do with its foundation." They appointed a committee to ask the legislature to divert the lottery proceeds so that they would come to the college only indirectly, and to change the charter so as to make the president a trustee.72
The legislators were thoroughly compliant. They provided by statute that lottery proceeds heretofore apportioned to the college should be paid to the state treasurer, who would pay an equivalent sum to the college trustees. And by another statute they amended the college charter to provide that the college president should not only be a trustee but the president of the board of trustees.73
By the one act Gilbert’s hands, in his way of thinking, were cleansed of the sin of handling lottery receipts. By the other act he gained power to avert conflicts between the trustees and the faculty such as had occurred in 1834, in 1835, and now again in 1840. The trustees satisfied his salary demands by paying him $1,500 a year, fifty percent more than Mason had received.74 His demand that the college be brought gradually under Presbyterian control through new appointments to the board of trustees was a matter for the future, but not a distant future; at the very meeting where Gilbert succeeded Andrew Gray as chairman of the board, in April 1841, three Presbyterian ministers, two of them from Philadelphia, were added to the board.75
More Presbyterians soon followed these men on to the board. In March 1842, Dr. Arnold Naudain and Jacob Faris, who had resigned in 1835 when Gilbert quit, rejoined the board. In September 1842 three of four new trustees were Presbyterian ministers, and at the same time four trustees, all apparently Episcopalians, were removed from the board for nonattendance.76 Thereafter appointments were more balanced, as far as religious connection was concerned, perhaps because of some criticism and perhaps because Presbyterian control was now secure.
Gilbert also employed honorary degrees to gain support where he wanted. The first such degree the college awarded was a D.D. granted in 1841 to the Reverend John Mines, of the District of Columbia. Two more doctorates of divinity were presented to Presbyterian ministers from out of state in 1842. In the next four years the college was more circumspect in its awards. Nine more D.D.s were awarded (two to Delaware Methodists), but they were mixed in with a number of honorary M.A.s and LL.D.s.77 Gilbert made no bones about the fact that he was using honorary degrees to attract support. Of the two degrees granted in 1842 (to ministers from New York and Virginia) he wrote, "These were as many as (at our present age and modesty) we dared confer…We are young, weak, seeking patronage, and other things being equal, must look a little at the `mainchance,’ as the Kentuckians say….We want help from Virginia…and have thrown our hook in that sea."78
When Gilbert took on the presidency he began soliciting help from other ministers. "Will not your Presbytery…take order in our favor," he wrote to the Reverend C.H. Mustard, of Lewes. "Wilmington Presbytery has pledged its patronage. The 3rd Philadelphia…has pledged its help. If we can only be united in this thing the Institution will rise rapidly."79
Benjamin Wallace, a Presbyterian minister who had succeeded George Allen in the chair of ancient languages, was commissioned by the faculty in 1845 to draft an appeal for support to the synods of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and in January 1846 Wallace went to Washington to appeal personally for the college. In that same winter William S. Graham, no minister but son-in-law to Gilbert, spent three months visiting congregations in Virginia and the District of Columbia trying to raise contributions of $1,500 to establish scholarships.80 In an attempt to involve the Pennsylvania and Virginia New School synods in the work of the college, the faculty invited them to send a member from each presbytery to attend the annual examination and commencement.81 But these efforts brought little response.
While seeking money from the Presbyterian sources he counted on for support, Gilbert also worked steadily to improve the college and make it worthy of aid. He appointed the first professor of modern languages (French, Spanish, Italian, and German were offered), though most of the man’s income was to come from fees paid by students interested in an addition to the classical curriculum.82 He brought in a special and well- qualified lecturer in chemistry, Eben Norton Horsford, who later was made wealthy by the manufacture of baking powder. Thanks to Horsford’s special interest, the first gymnasium was fitted up in the college building in space vacated by the academy boys.83 Gilbert sought to establish a professorship of English (composition and elocution) and history, and took an immediate interest in the library, procuring election of a faculty member as Librarian.84 What may have been the first extension course (that is, what is recently called "continuing education") was offered in the fall of 1841, when a public course of ten lectures on English literature, for which a fee was charged, was advertised.85 In 1844 a new schedule began, replacing the old two semesters with three terms, a fall term running to Christmas, a winter term to mid-March, and a spring term that lasted until summer. Commencement hereafter was held in June or July, instead of September.86
In 1843, probably in order to show what resources were available, Gilbert had a fifty-one page Catalogue of Books Belonging to the Library of Delaware College printed in Wilmington. Thirty-four private benefactors of the library are listed, of whom Matthew Newkirk, a Philadelphia investor, is credited with the largest gift, $100. Among approximately 600 titles were numerous Latin and Greek classics, histories by Hume, Smollett, Lord Clarendon, Guizot, Thiers, and several Americans–Bancroft, Ramsay, Sparks, and Henry Lee. In science there were works by Newton, Liebig, Thomas Nuttall, Count Rumford, and Benjamin Rush, as well as a recent geology of Delaware by James Booth. Bacon, Locke, Voltaire, Swedenborg, and Erasmus were represented, along with many volumes of state papers and laws and works of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Boswell, Burns, Longfellow, Prescott, Irving, Cervantes, and William Cullen Bryant. In modern foreign languages, writings in German–by Goethe, Heine, Lessing, Schiller, and so on–far outnumbered all others put together.
Not least important of Gilbert’s innovations was a change in name. Newark College officially became Delaware College on February 7, 1843. At last the institution would live under the name planned for it in the largely repudiated charter of 1821. "Delaware College is now the College of the State," wrote an enthusiastic friend, "deeply enlisting the feelings of our citizens and destined by their protection and patronage to become an honor to the State and to take its place beside the proudest of the institutions of our country."87
Such enthusiasm was by no means justified. Yet there was an intellectual ferment within the college in the Gilbert years that caused them to be looked back on later as a golden age. The small faculty contained some men of remarkable ability: George Allen, the classicist; William A. Norton, who taught mathematics, astronomy, and surveying; Eben Horsford, in geology and chemistry; and John Addison Porter, a Yale graduate, who came in December 1844 to teach rhetoric and history and after later study in Germany returned to Yale as professor of chemistry and became one of the founders of the Sheffield Scientific School. And then there was Gilbert himself, whose lectures on mental and moral philosophy and on criticism were described by a former student as "original, attractive and fruitful."88
Despite Gilbert’s slight form and squeaky voice, "no one," according to one of his students, "dared take any liberties with him." As he sat up late, reading, light "from his study window always greeted the belated student." Every Tuesday evening he presided over a circle called "the Conclave" that gathered at his home. Those attending were principally the members of the faculty, accompanied by their wives, who "of course took no part in the proceedings," according to George Allen. Usually "an original article occupied the first hour of the meeting," and then it was discussed. But almost every evening there was some similar gathering in Newark of the faculty and their wives, together with "a few families of the village remarkable for their sprightliness, hospitality and intelligence." "Linguist,…philosopher…and mathematician mingled their various stores" of knowledge, "and the gossip of a country village died in an atmosphere too elevated to furnish it with food."89
Such were Professor Allen’s memories, just four years after he left Delaware. Perhaps he wore rose-colored glasses, but Lyman Powell wrote in 1893, after talking with those who remembered the Gilbert era, that "the high character of the work done, the high tone of the students, the cosmopolitanism of the college," and the quality of the faculty made it a memorable time.90
Such cosmopolitanism as existed applied not merely to the faculty, drawn from various colleges, such as Union (Gilbert), West Point (Norton), Vermont (Allen), Yale (Porter), and Rensselaer (Horsford), but also to the students, most of whom came, through the Presbyterian connection, from outside Delaware. Maryland led as the origin of out-of-state students, with as many as eighteen boys from Baltimore alone, in college or academy, at one time. Predominantly, the registration was from the Middle States and the Upper South. The first two foreign students, Cuban brothers named Cabrera, arrived in 1843, and the first foreign teacher, a Frenchman named B. Hoffay, joined the faculty in 1842.91
Once the new academy building was completed in 1841, the younger boys were separated from the college. Under the direction of William S. Graham, principal from 1841 to 1845, the academy prospered, increasing in enrollment from a low point of five students in the winter before Graham took charge to sixty-four, with fifty-two of them boarders from out of town, in the spring of 1845, the last term before he left.92
A school building and a market house had been removed from the academy lot before the new building was constructed, but public hay scales were left there, by demand, even when a second academy building, a dormitory, was erected in 1842, east of the first one but not joining it. Shortly afterwards a frame gymnasium was put up in the academy yard.93
An academy library was begun with books removed from the college library. Though at the college musicians from out-of-town were hired for every commencement from the days of President Mason, the academy had a vocal and instrumental music program under L.W. Mason in 1843.94 Occasional visiting lecturers also appeared at the academy, as at the college; college students went to the academy on the evening of December 23, 1843, to hear Edgar Allan Poe lecture on American literature as part of a course of literary and scientific lectures that the principal had announced in November. According to the reminiscences of William Henry Purnell, an Eastern Shore boy who later became college president, Poe, who had probably been drinking, fell on arrival in town when descending from a carriage. Since the street was very muddy after ten days of rain he had to borrow clothes from Principal Graham, a smaller man. An account of the lecture in a Wilmington paper reports that Poe "charmed" his audience but does not mention his tight-fitting coat.95
In 1846 President Gilbert twice took the unusual step of submitting his annual report to the faculty and securing their approval of it before he presented it at a meeting of the trustees. In the same year a separate report to the trustees was made by the new principal of the academy, the Reverend Matthew Meigs, whose predecessor, William Ferris, an alumnus, had quarreled with the faculty and left less than a year after he succeeded William Graham.96
The alumni association is reported to have been organized in 1846, and by 1847 it was meeting on the afternoon of commencement day.97 In earlier years, alumni of the old academy had been very important in bringing about its evolution into a college. By its second decade, the college realized the importance of cultivating alumni support and beginning in 1843 issued a standing invitation to the alumni to dine with the faculty, members of the graduating class, and the trustees at commencement time.98
The flourishing literary societies helped attract alumni back to commencements by holding anniversary ceremonies, featuring speeches by members and graduates. The first known student publication, if it can be called that, dates from this period. At least four numbers exist of The Athenaean, a handwritten, four-page sheet that can best be called a journal of opinion. Intended to be a weekly, the first number is dated May 18, 1844, and it includes an autobiographical segment modeled on Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (a popular pseudo-biographical novel of the time), an essay on dignity, a satire on the rival society, and a poem. Though the three editors were anonymous, George W. Bagby, a student from Virginia who later became a distinguished journalist and lecturer in his native state, was apparently the chief figure among them.99
Apparently there was a second and similar publication produced by the Athenaeans at the time called The Spectator.100 These journals solicited contributions from society members and were circulated among them, perhaps by being made available in the society’s hall in the college. The University Archives has many numbers of two similar publications (the Gazette and the Star) of the Delta Phi Literary Society from a later date. Probably only one copy of each issue was produced, since no more than one is known.
At the request of the faculty, the trustees in June 1845 voted to give each year small prizes, amounting in all to only $30, to students excelling in different departments.101 Besides rewarding merit and encouraging achievement, the trustees probably hoped they were encouraging enrollment, which had been somewhat disappointing.
There had indeed been improvement over the low enrollment of thirty-three in academy and college combined during the fall-winter semester of 1840-41, the first after Mason’s departure. There were, for instance, ninety students enrolled in the 1841-42 school year according to the catalogue–thirty-two of them in the college–with a slight majority from outside Delaware. In terms of graduating seniors the college numbers rose from two in 1841 to a high of twelve in 1844, a number not to be equaled or exceeded for ten years.
In 1843 the total enrollment was up to 107, but this was much below Gilbert’s expectations.102 As one student reported, there were but forty in the college in the winter term, when at least a hundred had been expected; only eleven freshmen where they expected thirty or forty. He did not blame conditions on the president, for he found Gilbert "an excellent man and popular among the students." The college building itself was in poor shape–"though comparatively young [it] seems to have lived through centuries." But he found the faculty able and effective, the students "quiet and talented"; "upon the whole I am satisfied with the college," he wrote.103
It was not a want of talent, but hard times that thwarted Gilbert’s hopes for the college. After a temporary panic in 1837, a depression began in 1839 that lasted about five years. Parents who might have sent their children to college were strapped for funds; churches that might have supported Gilbert by contributions were unable to redeem their pledges of patronage. Endowment income suddenly dwindled when Pennsylvania ceased paying interest on its bonds, in which most of the college money was invested.104 Lottery funds were slow to arrive; some were tied up, as were some securities, in the estate of Judge James R. Black, deceased ex- treasurer; other funds were apparently taken by the lottery managers as commission. Then in 1845 the lottery law expired, and Delaware, lagging after neighboring states, decided not to license any more lotteries.105
When hopes were high at the beginning of his administration Gilbert encouraged expenditures he thought necessary to attract good faculty and students and make the college worthy of the support he was sure was coming, especially from New School Presbyterians. At the first meeting after he assumed the presidency, the board suspended operation of a resolution recently adopted–in the waning days of Mason’s administration–to limit expenditures to income, or, in other words, to balance the budget without borrowing or dipping into the endowment.106 The suspension was meant to be for three years, but it was easier to suspend the resolution than to reinstate it. A course of borrowing, of hypothecating bonds (that is, pledging them as security for a loan), and of selling securities began then that had no ending until the college was stripped of its resources.
Besides appeals to Presbyterian churches and efforts to recruit students, various other means were sought to prop up the faltering finances of the college. In 1843 salaries were cut for all from janitor to president–an across-the-board cut of $300 for professors, which hurt Gilbert less than Professors Norton and Allen.107 The motivation for this step was the conclusion of the college treasurer, Thomas Blandy, that there was, at the beginning of the year, a deficit of at least $3,500, a large sum in those days.108 In this dire situation, Gilbert hoped the state legislature would come to the rescue, and the most influential politician in the state, John M. Clayton, sought to help.
"Do, I beg you," he wrote a close ally in Dover, "look with a favourable eye on poor Newark College. She is about to stop!! next summer if she can get no relief….If our Legislature would now pay the interest in arrear to the College [from Pennsylvania bonds] and take an assignment of it to indemnify this State, you would have the eternal honor of saving the College and I verily believe in the end, the State would not lose a dollar. If you did lose it, you would gain ten times the worth of the money."109
But there were those who thought it better to close the college at once, before its endowment was entirely spent. One of these was the immediate past president of the board of trustees, the man Gilbert had superseded in 1841, Andrew Gray. Apparently he acted in concert with a former trustee, James Rogers, of New Castle, and they sought an investigation of the college, accusing the board of mismanaging its funds.110
Gilbert, furious at what he saw as a plot to close the college temporarily and move it to New Castle, memorialized the legislature, wrote to friends, and traveled to Dover for help, despite his own personal worries about the condition of his mortally ill wife. From the lottery, he declared, there had been gross receipts of $76,000, of which $36,000 had been spent on buildings and equipment–$24,000 on the college building, over $6,000 on the new academy buildings, and $5,000 on library, apparatus, and other equipment. This left $41,000, but the trustees actually had $42,000, having added to it slightly from income. In investing in Pennsylvania state bonds, they followed advice of "the best and wisest financial heads." Trustees, Gilbert argued, had a right to sell or dispose of the funds, but they had actually sold investments only to build the new academy buildings, which were badly needed. And they were in debt only because of the failure to receive funds owed to them from their Pennsylvania bonds and from the lottery.111
On the day that Gilbert wrote this memorial, his wife died.112 This loss did not quiet his adversaries. On February 14, Andrew Gray, who had once lost his seat in the legislature because of his advocacy of Delaware College, presented a counter petition asking for the revocation of the college charter. As a trustee for over thirty years, he claimed to know the condition of the institution and he declared its academy was prosperous but the college was not. When Mason resigned it should have closed until the income augmented the endowment sufficiently to allow it to reopen, even with a small attendance. The Pennsylvania bonds had now fallen to forty percent of their par value of $35,000 and paid no interest. The other $7,000 of endowment, invested in bank and railroad stocks, had fallen below par and yielded little. Tuition and other charges were as high as they could be. But his major charge was leveled at "the New School Presbyterians [who] have got the ascendancy on the Board." Though the charter specified no religious test, the college had become "a New Ark New School presbyterian seminary" for which the name Delaware College "what it originally was and ought still to be" was a misnomer. Three New School Presbyterian ministers from Philadelphia were on its board and only one person from Kent County, not one from Sussex. At his suggestion each county had been assigned at least three members in 1833; even though trustees from lower Delaware "might not be punctual in attending…yet they would attend whenever convenient [as indeed they did] and exercise their influence in procuring patronage."
Gilbert, Gray wrote, had held up "magnificent views of patronage to come from the New School Presbyterians," but they proved deceptive. Most of the college students were of other sects; the academy students generally did not continue on to college. This "was intended to be a State Institution–not a local, sectarian one." It was now in debt for $7,000 and should be forcibly closed while it still had some endowment to be saved.113
To this point Gilbert had been hoping the state, which had a treasury surplus, would rescue the college from the burden of its present and prospective debts. John M. Clayton had advised the college to petition the legislature and promised to assist by going to Dover and speaking before the legislature if necessary. While Gilbert was writing friends in the legislature, a series of anonymous newspaper articles supported the college. If Delawareans sent their sons out of state to college, each boy would cost $200 a year plus $40 for the traveling expenses, or approximately $12,000 a year for fifty boys. If half this sum were spent at home Delaware could have a college comparable to the best in New England.114
Another article argued that only a college in the state would give poor people a chance at an education. Without it, artistocracy would be encouraged. Even the common schools were dependent on a college to furnish teachers. "The teacher must be superior to his school…he must have gone farther." For too long Delaware parents have "been compelled to pick up every stray foreigner who has ever been in sight of a European college–every broken-down Doctor or Lawyer or Preacher who was worn out in his own profession–every worthless collegian whom dissipation had driven from his sphere and commit to them the education of their children."115
But once Gray’s attack began, the college was on the defensive. Gray’s petition was referred to a committee of five that included his supporter, William Booth. While Gilbert was at home after his wife’s death they examined Thomas Blandy, of Newark, a trustee since 1835 and treasurer of the board since 1839. An Episcopalian himself, he denied it was sectarian, noting that no religious test was applied to the faculty or students; of the latter, only two, one an Episcopalian and one a Methodist, were receiving assistance as candidates for the ministry. To answer charges of mismanagement of finances Blandy exhibited his records of expenditures.
A bare majority of the committee agreed that Gray’s charges were unmerited. They found the expenditures had been from accrued interest; they deplored the use of endowment for current expenses but declared the trustees had a right to take this course if necessary. They felt that the college was to some degree under the control of New School Presbyterians but that for a college to be administered by one denomination was commonplace; it would be hard to find a college not more or less under some sectarian government.116
The major attack on the college was thus turned aside. But it had succeeded in destroying Gilbert’s hope of financial aid from the legislature. He did succeed in getting one favor that the faculty requested, a statute forbidding the sale of liquor to any student within two miles of the college. The seven faculty members who signed the petition for this action were undoubtedly gratified, for, as they wrote, "of all the evils with which the Faculty have to contend…the use of intoxicating drinks is by far the most difficult to detect and repress."117 But this, and the act changing the name to Delaware College, were the only actions Gilbert won from the state in 1843. He was left to face his financial problems as best he could.
Gray did not make Gilbert’s lot easier. Angered by the assembly’s rejection of his petition, he continued his attacks on the college in the press. As documentary support for his charge of sectarian control, he noted that the New School Pennsylvania synod had voted on October 29, 1840, to pledge "our special patronage and (so far as we have any influence) the patronage of our Churches" to the college in Newark, providing that its trustees are willing "to give constitutional Presbyterians [as the New School called themselves] a predominating influence." They then set up a committee that included Gilbert to nominate trustees for Newark College. The ascendancy they sought has been gained, concluded Gray, but the New School Presbyterians have not given the support Gilbert expected; Gilbert "has been deceived…and he has himself deceived the board."118
Deception may be too strong a word, but unquestionably Gilbert had promised too much. By the end of 1846, after six years of effort, he was ready to give up. In December of that year he noted, in his report to the trustees, that a spirit of discouragement had spread among the students.119 Gilbert must also have been discouraged by a dispute that arose in the faculty over a sermon, not surviving, preached in the academy by Professor Benjamin Wallace–a dispute that eventually led the trustees to demand Wallace’s resignation.120
In the same winter new concerns arose in the legislature that gave charters to two institutions that seemed possible rivals to Delaware College. One was St. Mary’s College, essentially an academy, founded by Father Patrick Reilly, a young priest, born in Ireland, who had come to Wilmington in 1835. Within six years he founded an academy, which flourished so well that his bishop suggested he turn it into a college. The college was chartered on January 29, 1847, but almost immediately a movement began to have the charter revoked. Though the movement was unsuccessful, one of the arguments raised against this new college was that it might detract from the success of Delaware College.121 There is no indication that Gilbert or any of his colleagues at Delaware took part in this quarrel (though there was a rumor in Dover to the contrary), but they must have been hurt to read Father Reilly’s rejoinder to his critics in which he asked, somewhat ironically, why his critics thought his new college could "captivate the minds of his fellow citizens and prevent them from seeing or appreciating the superior excellence of that noble edifice that has for a quarter of a century been bountifully fed on State pap."122
St. Mary’s College graduated one class of four students (two of them Delawareans) in 1850 but then reverted to its previous status as a preparatory school, especially attracting a clientele of young Catholic boys from the southern states and the West Indies, until its closing in 1868.123 A more direct attack on Delaware College was made by friends of the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Institute. This institution began in February 1843 with the chartering of the Wilmington Literary Institute, which was led by the Reverend Corry Chambers, rector of St. James Episcopal Church, Stanton. Chambers’s desire to get degree-granting powers disturbed the college faculty. It is not clear that this Wilmington Literary Institute ever opened, but in 1847 the original charter was amended and a cooperative endeavor was planned by Chambers and Captain Alden Partridge, a former army officer who had founded Norwich University in Vermont and a host of short-lived military schools from New Hampshire to Virginia.124
A series of letters in the Delaware Gazette proposed moving Delaware College to Wilmington and uniting it with the planned American Literary, Scientific, and Military Institute. A so–called "Friend to Delaware College" said that Newark was out of the way, as little known to people downstate "as Orange Harbor, in Tierra- Del-Fuego," and "A Friend to Education in Delaware" added that Newark was fit "for a Monastery, a Friary, or a Nunery [sic], but not for a College"; a combined institution in Wilmington could be "the Delaware University." The college looks, one of these writers claimed, "as if the building materials, fifteen years ago, had been blown together in a storm." "Delaware College," stated still another letter, "can be compared to the last flickering of an expiring candle, showing momentary evidences of life," but only as a "short interruption of its final extinction."125
In spite of these brave words the American Literary, Scientific and Military Institute never amounted to anything–perhaps the name was too much for any fledgling institute to bear. Captain Partridge did open a school at Brandywine Springs in 1853 that he called the National Scientific and Military College, but it burned down within a year and was never rebuilt.126 The only other college operating successfully in Delaware through these years was the Wesleyan Female College, in Wilmington, which had been established in 1837 by a Methodist minister, Solomon Prettyman. Its buildings, on Sixth and French streets, stood until the midtwentieth century, and the college itself flourished for over forty years.127 But, of course, having a different clientele, it offered no threat to Delaware College.
It was not the threat of competition but the deteriorating financial situation and his failure to attract a large student body that wore Eliphalet Gilbert down. Early in January 1847 he told members of the board of trustees that he intended to leave at the end of the academic year. He formally turned in his resignation at a meeting of the board on May 4, moved, he insisted, by no sudden impulse but in furtherance of a desire he had felt for a year or two. The unusually large number of trustees present–twenty- one–accepted his resignation with a unanimous vote of appreciation for his able and faithful service. The real purpose of this special meeting was to elect Gilbert’s successor, which they were able to do, thanks to the advance notice Gilbert had given.128
Gilbert spent the rest of his life–he lived to be sixty, dying in 1853–as pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church at 17th and Filbert streets, Philadelphia. He remained a trustee of Delaware College and an important figure among New School Presbyterians, serving as permanent clerk of the New School Presbyterian General Assembly and as coeditor, with Benjamin Wallace, the dismissed Delaware professor of languages, of the Presbyterian Quarterly Review.129
On Wednesday, July 21, 1847, Gilbert delivered a farewell address as part of the commencement proceedings. Newark was crowded for the occasion. On the previous evening the junior exhibition (a series of speeches by members of the junior class) was held. On Wednesday morning, before Gilbert’s farewell, each of six graduates spoke–three from Delaware, two from Maryland, one from New Jersey. (Strangely, one, Alexander McRae, of North Carolina, did not speak.) Then, in the afternoon the new president was introduced–the Reverend James Patriot Wilson, Jr., grandson of the onetime tutor in the academy, Matthew Wilson.130