Select Page
... documenting the history of the University of Delaware

The University of Delaware: A History – Chapter 4

Chapter 4: A Scholarship Scheme and a Spurious Prosperity

According to a Wilmington newspaper, the new president of Delaware College, James Patriot Wilson, was "considered one of the most learned men in the nation." Grandson and son of distinguished Presbyterian ministers, Wilson was a child prodigy said to have corresponded with his father in Latin when only ten years old and was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at seventeen.

Some years passed before he decided to follow the ancestral path into the ministry, but after making his decision, the first congregation he served was at Neshaminy, Pennsylvania, an historic location as the scene of William Tennent’s Log College.1 In the major Presbyterian schism of his day, he became affiliated, like Gilbert, with the New School, and could be expected, therefore, to keep up the connections his predecessor had made for Delaware College.

Arriving at Delaware, however, he not only faced financial problems that had finally discouraged Eliphalet Gilbert but he also came in the middle of a faculty imbroglio that seriously damaged the reputation of the college and thereby hampered the success of his administration. The trouble arose from a sermon that Benjamin Wallace, professor of Latin and Greek, preached on Sunday morning, March 7, 1847, before the faculty, the students, and some local residents. Precisely what he said is unknown, but the faculty felt he retaliated for an inquiry they had made into his credentials by "deliberately and systematically" attacking the private and religious character of some of them, endorsing slanders contained in certain recent anonymous letters (of which nothing more is now known), and reiterating charges he had previously made. To prevent such "outrageous" conduct, as they viewed it, four of his colleagues, William Norton, John Porter, Walter Scott Graham, and Matthew Meigs passed a resolution, against Wallace’s lone dissenting vote, that he should not again conduct Sabbath exercises for the students.2

The issue did not die. Possibly charges raised by a student against the principal of the academy–and soon dismissed by the trustees–bore some relationship to Wallace’s complaints. The trustees concluded, on July 20, 1847, just as they were welcoming the new president, to ask Wallace to resign, not because they lacked confidence in him but because the turmoil in the faculty hurt the reputation of the college. When Wallace refused to resign, the trustees censured the existing spirit of discord and asked the faculty to promote a "unity of spirit among themselves."

The trustees’ hopes were not realized, and at their next meeting (August 25, 1847) they voted by a narrow margin (President Wilson abstaining) to dismiss Wallace, and they accepted the resignation of John Addison Porter. Wallace was not easily fired. He stayed in town seeking a reconsideration of his status, which the trustees refused, though they did finally vote him an extra $200 in compensation for his expense in keeping his family in Newark. Apparently his subsequent action irked the trustees, since at their next meeting, on December 21, they rescinded the resolution to pay Wallace an extra $200. It is probably a measure of the financial straits of Delaware College that the money had not been paid three months after it was voted.3

Years later those who remembered these events said they had seriously damaged the Wilson presidency. Though Wilson himself "had the warm personal esteem and admiration of all those who were brought into contact with him…the prosperity of the college was…seriously affected" by the bickering within the faculty.4

There was one more resignation in 1847, that of Eben Norton Horsford, who, though only employed part-time as a lecturer, had proved a born teacher and had made his mark in the college by the interest he showed in the boys.5 Most seriously, the result of what sound like savage charges leveled by some faculty members against others was a great decline in enrollment. Only six new students entered the college this fall, and not one of them was from Delaware, where the charges were most likely to have been circulated. No one of the new boys was from even close to Newark, except for S. R. Graham, of New London, probably a nephew of Walter and William Graham. Two of the other boys were from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, one was from Rockingham, in western Virginia, one from West River, Maryland, below Annapolis, and the sixth boy was from Indiana.6

The resultant shock to the finances of the college–and to the spirit of its trustees and administrators–must have been great. No money was coming any longer from lotteries, none from the state, the endowment was shrinking; a decline in enrollment was peculiarly damaging at this time. The academy, however, was the one encouraging element. Under Matthew Meigs and a staff of four assistants, two of them undergraduates in the college, seventy-six boys were enrolled in the year 1847-48, and as the year progressed a few Newark boys entered the freshman class of the college, bringing the total enrollment there to 38, with the freshman class–of eight, at the year’s end–the smallest.7

In the late winter the trustees bravely, but not without opposition, took the unusual step of voting $2,000 to send a faculty member, William Norton, to Europe to buy needed "philosophical" apparatus. They declared their "unbounded confidence" in Norton’s "scientific attainments and discretion," but this action probably reflects the spirit of President Wilson and his desire to improve instruction in the college.8

It may have encouraged Wilson to see the enrollment improve in the next two years, with twenty-two new students in 1848 and nineteen in 1849. The failure of the college to attract Delaware students is, however, striking, for in both years new students from this state formed only a small minority. Such a situation could not encourage an appeal to the legislature for further aid.

The largest number of new students in these two years came from Pennsylvania, where Wilson was best known. A peculiar feature of this enrollment is the age of the matriculates, which rises from an average (and a median) of below 17 in earlier years to 18 in 1848 and 19 in 1849. Apparently Delaware College was not attracting the children of wealthy Delawareans who could send their boys through school to prepare for the professions at an early age. These boys probably were being sent to college in other states. Only one student from Wilmington, the largest and wealthiest community in Delaware, entered Delaware College in the Wilson years.9

The students who did come were probably from backgrounds where educational opportunities were limited and where it took them longer than rich men’s sons to acquire the requisite knowledge–in Latin and Greek, especially–for college. Presbyterian church connections apparently drew them to Delaware College, even from rural Pennsylvania and western Virginia, and the same Presbyterian influences may have motivated them to seek a college education.

Among the new students of the Wilson years none came from a farther distance or represented a more exotic background than a group of young Indians who appeared on the Delaware campus in 1848 and 1849. Most of them–five in 1848 and another arriving in 1849–were of the Choctaw Nation; a seventh was a Chickasaw.

They came under the terms of an 1830 treaty, which provided a twenty-year annuity to the Choctaw for the education of their young men. The Indians who came to Delaware had first attended Spencer Academy, a school run for the Choctaw by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. Since this board had its headquarters in Philadelphia it is likely that its agents were well acquainted with President Wilson, if not with Delaware College itself. The selection of Delaware College is said to have been made by Peter Pitchlynn, a principal chief of the Choctaw, who preferred an unpretentious school to the better-known Princeton, Yale, and Harvard, which he thought were "dissipated and full of wild fellows." Since Pitchlynn was in Washington from 1847 to 1849 on an official mission for his people, it is even possible that he visited Newark before choosing the school.10

One of the Indians was Pitchlynn’s oldest son, Lycurgus; as many as two of the others may have been his nephews. At Delaware these students seem to have mixed in fairly well. Four became members of the Athenaean Literary Society, and two, including young Pitchlynn, joined Delta Phi. The seventh Indian student, Frederick McCall, the one Chickasaw, entered the academy rather than the college, probably because of deficiencies in his preparation. He apparently came, like the Choctaw, with the aid of treaty money.11

Despite the fond hopes of his father, who asked Lycurgus to "keep up the name of Pitchlynn" and assured him he looked "forward to the day when my dear son will stand by my side in the councils of the Nation and in all that is noble, good and praiseworthy," the young Pitchlynn was a disappointing student. "He is of good abilities and perhaps the best scholar of them all," wrote President Wilson, "but utterly destitute of stability or principle."12

One Choctaw (William Howell) died tragically in March 1849, of the results of a fall after being shoved down the stairs; he is buried in the Methodist Cemetery.13 Four of the others transferred to Union College in the spring of 1850, boarding in the home of the venerable president, Eliphalet Nott. One of them, Allen Wright, wrote to a young lady in Newark, a week after he departed, to tell her, "There is not a day passed over my head without thinking of you since I left blessed little Newark and those who are in it."14

Wright, who was a full-blooded Indian, in contrast to Pitchlynn, who was partly white, distinguished himself in later life. After graduating from Union College, he went to Union Theological Seminary, possibly under the influence of James Patriot Wilson, who taught there briefly and was for a long time a trustee of the seminary. Married to a white woman from Ohio, Wright rose to positions of responsibility; in 1866 he was elected principal chief of the Choctaw. While his reputation was damaged by charges of profiting from his tribal responsibilities, he remains famous for suggesting the name of Oklahoma (a Choctaw term for "Red People") for the Indian territory.15

Allen Wright and about fourteen other students transferred from Delaware College to Union College in the spring of 1850 because the future of Delaware College became very doubtful. The endowment had shrunk by July 1849 to $28,880, and though a Wilmington paper reported that at the time of the commencement exercises on July 18 the college "seems to be flourishing," the fact that only two men received baccalaureate degrees (in contrast with six in 1848, seven in 1847, and ten in 1846) gives the lie to this statement.16 According to the schedule then observed, the fall term should have begun six weeks after the July commencement, but college classes seem to have been late in beginning, since the first fall registration of new students in the matriculation book occurred in December.

On January 24, 1850, at a special meeting of the trustees, Wilson tendered his resignation, having apparently concluded that the situation of the college was hopeless. One of the trustees, George Brydges Rodney, a former congressman, proposed that the collegiate classes, but not the academy, be suspended at the end of the term, when Wilson’s resignation would take effect. Charles Long, professor of Latin and Greek since 1847, added to the gloom by tendering his resignation.

The resignations, Rodney’s motion to suspend the college, and some suggestions relative to continuing were all sent to a committee of five that included Rodney and President Wilson, with orders to report in February.17 The committee avoided making a decision; instead it resubmitted to the board a plan from President Wilson and a second from Professor Norton, this latter involving "the engraftion" on the college of "a scientific or high school." The board of trustees chose the latter plan and elected Norton president, to take office at the end of the term. At the same time it accepted Long’s resignation and also permitted Walter Graham to resign his post as adjunct professor of languages, by these actions crippling the classical curriculum and probably leading to the withdrawal of many students.18

Some notion of what Norton, the first nonminister to be president, intended to do can be learned from a letter he wrote to Charles I. du Pont, urging the latter to attend the board meeting just mentioned. "I have concocted a plan," Norton wrote, "for reorganizing the College and ingrafting a High School upon it, similar to the one in so successful operation in Philadelphia. This is in some danger of being defeated by a scheme [Wilson’s probably] which contemplates reducing the College nearly to a level with the Academy. I feel little personal interest in the matter for I have strong inducements to go elsewhere, but I should deprecate such a result for the sake of the College."19

From this letter it seems clear that the Delaware High School, as the innovation by Norton was called, was to be considered as a continuation of the college, a school superior to the academy. Norton, trained in engineering at West Point, had recently been abroad purchasing scientific apparatus for the college. That assignment indicates the high esteem in which he was held locally–as he should have been. A member of the college faculty since 1839, when he was one of Mason’s several good appointments, he was highly regarded both as a teacher and as a scholar. In the year he came to Delaware he published a textbook, An Elementary Treatise on Astronomy, that went through four editions in his lifetime. According to Noah Porter, a president of Yale who knew him there in the latter part of his life, Norton "kept himself fully abreast of the speculations and science of the times."20

Of educational developments too, it might be added, as his reference to the high school in Philadelphia suggests. He was undoubtedly thinking of Central High School, which had opened in 1838. Shortly thereafter it came under the direction of Alexander Dallas Bache, who was influenced by German models he had studied abroad. Central High School bore some relationship to the German Gymnasium and Hochschule, which were schools of a higher order than American high schools or academies. It came to have several programs, including a classical curriculum lasting four years and a more elementary curriculum lasting only two years. Becoming known as a "poor man’s college," it gained the power to grant degrees in 1849, the year previous to Norton’s assumption of authority at Delaware. Eventually Central High School relinquished most of its collegiate pretensions and became famous as an elite secondary school. In a somewhat similar situation in Baltimore, a high school took the name of Baltimore City College, though remaining a secondary school. On the other hand a "free academy" that opened in New York in 1848 actually made the transition to collegiate level, becoming the College of the City of New York in 1866.21

Norton’s plan seems adapted to the current of educational thinking of the times. A high school movement in Wilmington dated back at least to 1847, and was quite alive early in 1850. "Why should we in Wilmington lag behind," asked the Delaware State Journal on January 18, 1850, after praising the high schools of Philadelphia.22 As could be expected from this comment, the State Journal greeted word of the innovation at Delaware College enthusiastically. It would "increase the scope of usefulness of this excellent institution," the paper said, before printing the prospectus of the "Scientific, English and Classical School to be called the Delaware High School" that was to "be engrafted upon the College" and opened on April 24.23

The college course was to be taught as heretofore, the paper said, but when a faculty list was published the post in ancient languages, the mainstay of the old curriculum, was unoccupied. Science was in better shape, because besides Norton, there was, according to Norton’s plan, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct professor who assisted Norton in mathematics, a teacher of rhetoric and elocution, and a professor of modern languages and drawing who was also adjunct professor of chemistry. The occupant of this last-named position was a recent immigrant who hid his identity and his romantic past under the pseudonym of Dalson.

Dalson’s real name was August Fredrik Soldan, and he was by birth a Finn, but had become an officer in the Russian army. From 1843 to 1847, when he was thirty years old, he taught chemistry at the St. Petersburg School of Engineering. In 1847 he was given leave for advanced study at Giessen, in Germany, where he met John Addison Porter, a fellow student who had formerly taught at Delaware College. When the so-called July Revolution broke out in Paris in 1848 and aroused friends of republicanism throughout western Europe, Soldan was caught up in the excitement and went to Paris. Here, through Porter, he met William Norton, Porter’s former colleague at Delaware, come to Europe to purchase laboratory equipment.

After some time spent wandering through England and Scandinavia, Soldan, who dared not go back to Russia because he would have been regarded as a deserter, succumbed to the persuasion of several friends and came to America. In October 1849, after three weeks in New York, he secured, through Norton, a teaching appointment in Newark.

At first Soldan was quite unhappy at Delaware College, which he knew only in its most desperate time since its founding. Only thirty students were in the college, which he found more like a Finnish gymnasium than a European university. For the first term he was especially unhappy, occupying a small, untidy, incommodious room in Old College Hall, where he was nearly asphyxiated by coal gas. Lonely and homesick though he was, his journals show that he was trying to reconcile science and religion and to some extent was anticipating Darwin. In the spring term he was happier because he moved out of the college and met some young people of the community, including a daughter of former President Gilbert, who often accompanied him on the piano while he played the violin.

When Soldan left Newark in the summer of 1850 he secured a post as assistant to another ex-Delaware teacher who had studied at Giessen, Eben Norton Horsford, now a professor of chemistry at Harvard.24 By that time William Norton had also left Delaware.

At first Norton had been encouraged about the prospects of his new venture, "Thus far the good cause moves on well," he wrote Charles I. du Pont in March; "it is only necessary that all friends should lend their aid and hearty cooperation to secure a glorious triumph."25 One great object of reorganizing Delaware College, Norton explained in a newspaper article, was "to make it emphatically a State Institution," meeting the needs of almost every student "above a certain grade" and divested "of every trace of sectarianism."

Norton had a number of ideas for special projects. He proposed a winter course from November 1 to March 1 for farmers’ sons, who would have leisure to study then, and then only. He proposed a course of lectures on the application of chemistry to agriculture, intended to acquaint "agriculturalists" with the discoveries of Liebig and other chemists. He offered half scholarships of $25 a year in "the Scientific and English course" to six students from the district schools of each county; the total expense, excluding textbooks, would consequently be under $110, which Norton claimed was about $30 less than at respectable academies in the area.26

Much can be read of Norton’s plans, but his achievements appear to have been nil. Norton toured the state to drum up interest in the new Delaware High School, which was due to open on April 24 with a faculty of five professors.27 Presumably it did open on schedule, but Norton’s experiment was almost a catastrophe for Delaware College.

Though there had been talk of continuing the regular college course, along with the new experiment, the regular program, at least for upperclassmen, had obviously been abandoned and there were no candidates for graduation either in 1850 or in 1851. By July 1850, Norton himself was discouraged and was corresponding with his old colleagues, Porter and Horsford, seeking their support for a professorship at Brown.28 "The duties of president," wrote one of his successors, "were entirely foreign to his taste or talents, for he was almost wholly destitute of disciplinary power, and gladly resigned the office."29

This is the only known testimony suggesting disciplinary problems. Faculty minutes, which would reveal such problems, are lacking for this period.30 It is clear, however, that Norton’s reorganization of the college did not alleviate its deteriorating financial condition. Less than $20,000 was left of the endowment in the summer of 1850 after the remaining Pennsylvania state bonds were sold, and the proceeds, after debts were paid, were invested in the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad.31 The one flourishing department of the institution was the academy, which boasted of 103 students in a catalogue issued in 1850. It is no wonder that when Norton tendered his resignation to a special meeting of the board, on August 19, 1850, they chose the successful academy principal, the Reverend Matthew Meigs, to be the new president of Delaware College.32

In turning from Norton to Meigs the trustees were reestablishing the tradition of having a clergyman as president. They were also ending their first experiment at taking a president from the faculty ranks. The scholar not having proved a good president, the trustees turned to an administrator, proven by his success with the academy.

A graduate of Union College, Meigs had once planned to become a missionary in the Middle East and had studied Arabic and Persian, along with theology. Instead of going abroad, however, he had accepted a teaching position and then a Presbyterian pastorate in Michigan before entering the field to which he devoted most of his life, and with considerable success–the direction of private academies. His first post as an academy principal was at Winchester, Virginia, and from the recommendations he brought with him to Newark, he seems to have done well there. And so he did in Newark, where he persuaded the board to give him an independent hand with the academy–so much so that he reported directly to the board of trustees and, after Norton’s appointment, was freed of any supervision by the college president.33

On becoming college president himself, however, Meigs retained responsibility for the academy. He had, in his own words, "the most sanguine expectation of success," though the trustees expected him to make the college self-supporting, as apparently the academy had been under his direction. In fact, he declared he "refused to take any portion of the funds [that is, endowment] until I had made an…experiment."34

The experiment he had in mind was probably the offering of courses that would attract a larger student body to the college than it had had in the past–an attempt to duplicate the success he had enjoyed at the academy. He agreed, before his election, to continue the course of studies "heretofore pursued" besides "the additional studies imbraced in his plan of Instruction submitted to the Board…without receiving any of the income of the College funds."35

The course "heretofore pursued" probably meant the standard four-year classical course; nothing more is heard of the Delaware High School. What additional studies Meigs suggested to the trustees are not exactly known, but it seems likely that Norton’s ideas had not fallen as seeds on barren ground. Meigs moved quickly to recruit a faculty of six professors, largely in traditional fields such as mental and moral science (philosophy, ethics, politics, and so forth); the classical languages; mathematics and natural philosophy (physics and similar fields); rhetoric, elocution, and belles lettres; chemistry and geology; and modern languages and drawing. But college announcements also promised courses in mercantile subjects (defined as penmanship, arithmetic, and bookkeeping), agriculture, civil engineering, and preparation for teaching. Some of these subjects had been included in Norton’s plan for the Delaware High School.

All students, Meigs announced, would reside on campus, and so would the professors and their families, who would "eat at a common table with the students." He bragged of the "Philosophical Apparatus…superior to that of most colleges," much of it lately acquired in Europe (by Norton) at a cost of $3,000. Instruction in music, vocal and instrumental, would be available at an additional fee. The academy, already enjoying more popularity than ever before, was said to have an intimate connection with the college, some students being permitted to study with college professors.36

Success seemed to come rapidly to Meigs. Thirty-three new students, largely Delawareans, entered the college in October 1850. The median age of the new students was seventeen; a student publication noted that the members of Delta Phi were younger than they had been a short time earlier.37 It seems likely that Meigs successfully recruited from the academy for the college, as his predecessors had generally failed to do.

A major problem facing the college in 1850-51 was renewal of the 1833 charter, due to expire after twenty years. The state legislature met regularly only in alternate years, so it was desirable to get renewal in 1851 in order not to risk the uncertainty of renewal in 1853, at the last moment. Apparently no serious difficulty impeded passage of a new charter on February 16, 1851. One interesting change was deletion of the requirement, established to satisfy Eliphalet Gilbert, that the president of the college should also be president of the board of trustees. Andrew Gray, who had died in 1849, would have been pleased to see this change. The college president, however, did remain a member of the board, ex officio.

The only other significant change in the charter was provision for one of Norton’s innovations, a program to prepare teachers for the public schools. "There shall be a normal school connected with the college," the statute read, "into which pupils shall be admitted from the District Schools of this State at reduced rates of tuition" on their written pledge to serve at least one year as teachers in these schools if called upon. Students in the normal school would be eligible for a new degree, "Master of School Keeping."38

At its next meeting the board put the new charter in operation, freely electing one of their members as their president, the first time they had been able to do so since Gray had been superseded as president by Gilbert in 1841.39 The new board president was Rathmell Wilson, a Philadelphia businessman who had inherited a fortune made in the Philadelphia-Liverpool iron trade. Married to a Newark woman, he had built a country house called Oaklands on a hill just to the west of the village of Newark, as it then was. In this respect too the new president resembled Andrew Gray, whose stone home east of Newark still stands at the foot of Polly Drummond Hill.

Since Meigs had agreed not to use any of the existing endowment, he was given a relatively free hand in running the college. It must soon have become apparent to him that the college, unlike the academy, could not be conducted on tuition alone. In the spring he presented the trustees with a plan for accumulating a new and sufficient endowment that involved the selling of scholarships. The trustees accepted it on March 18, but then, suddenly, Meigs resigned.40

He is said to have concluded that his health would not permit him to continue as president; possibly he had become discouraged with the prospects of the college. He turned back to academy work, at which he had been very successful, and opened a boarding school for boys at Pottstown, Pennsylvania. So many boys followed him there from Newark that he had to enlarge his school immediately. This was the beginning of the well-known Hill School, but here too Meigs withdrew after a few years, leaving the responsibility to his wife and, eventually, to one of his eleven children. Though "a splendid disciplinarian and…a most effective teacher," according to his son’s biography, Meigs "was sensitive and nervous, and his habit of intense study and the late hours to which he read at night contributed to make him irritable and restless under the burden of the school routine."41

At Newark the trustees had immediately elected to Meigs’s place, as president of the college and principal of the academy, the Reverend Walter Scott Finney Graham, a man "of genial temper, attractive manners, and abundant tact." The first graduate to become president, he was the brother of William S. Graham, a former principal of the academy, and had himself been connected with the college from 1845 until 1850, at least.42 Graham accepted the plan already adopted to raise a new endowment by selling scholarships.

The new plan brought Delaware College an apparent prosperity, including a record enrollment that was not to be matched for decades to come, but it was a spurious prosperity that soon plunged the school to ruin. Similar plans were being tried–at Dickinson, Lafayette, Oberlin, Denison, Columbia, Wesleyan, and Indiana, for example–and the results were practically always disappointing, if not catastrophic.43

From 500 to 1,000 scholarships were to be sold at 100 dollars each, entitling the purchaser to send twenty students to the college or the academy tuition-free for one year or to send a succession of students, one a year, tuition-free for twenty years. Unless at least 500 scholarships were sold by November 1852, the money was to be refunded and the plan abandoned. All of the proceeds from the sale of scholarships, $50,000 to $100,000, were to be invested, and the income to be spent, but only on faculty salaries. If the institution closed for any reason before the scholarships were used up, the purchasers were to be refunded.44

One hundred dollars spread over twenty years (or, for twenty students, one year) allows only five dollars for each year’s tuition, and though tuition was very cheap it was not this cheap. Of course, the original hundred dollars was not to be spent, but the income at five percent a year would also amount to five dollars. This was very little, even though all other expenses–board, room, laundry, books, fuel, and so forth–would be paid by the student. If 500 purchasers of scholarships appointed one student each for the first year, there would be 500 students to be taught, with the only income for salaries being the interest collected on $50,000–say, $2,500 at five percent. This would be enough to pay the salaries of two or possibly three professors, but Delaware College had six professors for less than 100 students. Perhaps it was thought that students would enter the academy, where faculty salaries would be smaller. Certainly it was hoped that the scholarship purchasers would not send students immediately; the twenty-year limit on the use of the scholarships began only when a subscriber first sent a student.

There was, of course, an existing endowment of over $20,000–counting both the college endowment and the old endowment of the academy–and some of the income from this fund might be used for faculty salaries, but first it had to be used for the other necessary expenses, especially for repair and upkeep of buildings. There would also be tuition income from students not the recipients of scholarships, and it is probable that this figured largely in the minds of those adopting the new scholarship-endowment scheme.

Perhaps the flaws in this scheme helped bring about Meigs’s sudden resignation. Yet it may have been a scheme of his devising. He had presented the trustees with a plan for a permanent endowment on March 4, 1851, but the details of his plan are unknown. Perhaps some significant change was made before the scholarship-endowment plan was adopted on March 18, two weeks later, and less than three weeks before Meigs resigned.

In adopting the plan the trustees also hired a salesman for the scholarships, a Presbyterian minister named Isaac W. K. Handy. Handy, who was to be paid $1,000 a year, was to spend full time canvassing Delaware, the Eastern Shore, Philadelphia, Baltimore, the District of Columbia, and any other area he chose, until November 1, 1852. Thereafter he was to assume a post on the faculty as professor of mathematics.45

Before accepting the presidency in succession to Meigs, Graham set his terms. He was to employ all the faculty, in both college and academy, at his own expense. He was to receive the residue of all endowment income, new and old, after necessary expenses were met, such as repairs, the treasurer’s salary ($100), publishing catalogues, and other incidentals. The old endowment then amounted to only $21,930, and a sizeable portion of this belonged strictly to the academy and predated the establishment of the college; it was the college endowment that had been reduced by expenditures in the previous decade.46

Graham and the trustees agreed that a scientific course was to be offered in addition to the traditional programs of the college and the academy. The scientific course was an extension or amplification of the curriculum modifications proposed by Norton through his Delaware High School, with this important difference–under Graham the new course was put in operation beside the traditional classical course, and it really worked. A three-year program instituted in 1851, it graduated ten students in 1854 as its first class. With six students completing the four-year classical course at the same time, this constituted a graduating class of sixteen, the largest to date and the largest in the century. Not until 1901 was the size of this graduating class matched or exceeded.47

In an 1851 circular the college declared that the new scientific course was authorized by the legislature in the new charter granted February 10, 1851, and described the course as offering study in mathematical, English, mercantile, agricultural, civil engineering, and modern language departments, as well as in a teachers’ department. What the new charter had provided for was a normal school; it said nothing whatever about a scientific course.48 Since the traditional college course was based on Latin and Greek and primarily intended to prepare men for the professions of the law, the ministry, or medicine, it was not a necessary preparation for teaching in the district schools, where an English education was enough. The scientific course at Delaware College eliminated Latin and Greek and added only a few subjects, mainly engineering and agriculture. Modern languages were not part of the required curriculum, but instruction in French, German, Spanish, and Italian was offered (both in college and academy) for a special fee of $20 a year, a sum that seems substantial when added to the tuition charges of $40 a year in the college and $30 in the academy.

Though the existence of the scientific course was apparently felt to allow the college to conform with the requirement of the 1851 charter that "there shall be a normal school connected with the college," the faculty never awarded the degree of "Master of School Keeping," which they were empowered but not required to grant. They did, however, award a new degree, "Bachelor of Philosophy," to students completing the shortened scientific curriculum.

Whereas students in the traditional curriculum were called freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, those in the "scientific department," as it was labeled, were referred to as being in the junior class (in their first year), middle class (second year), and senior class (third year). A "junior scientific" was the equivalent of a freshman in the four-year program. And except for engineering (in which a full-year program was offered, but not required of anyone) and agriculture, the additional scientific content in the scientific program was minimal.

Scientific study at Delaware College undoubtedly did profit by the use of the apparatus purchased abroad by Norton, which was still being touted in the 1855-56 catalogue. Another adjunct to study was a cabinet (or collection) of natural history, loaned by Dr. Thomas Bellerby Wilson, of Oaklands, brother of Rathmell Wilson, president of the board of trustees. The Wilson collection consisted of 300 specimens of shells, 500 of birds, and 2,000 of minerals. A state cabinet of natural history, of unknown quality, also was transferred to Delaware College in the 1850s.49

Another asset to the scientific program at Delaware College was the presence of Daniel Kirkwood, who was brought to Newark as professor of mathematics by Graham in September 1851 to replace the Reverend I. W. K. Handy, who had chiefly been employed in selling scholarships. Kirkwood also taught astronomy, a field in which he published many papers and won national distinction. Thirty-seven years old when he came to Delaware after teaching in several Pennsylvania secondary schools, Kirkwood was already developing the reputation that later made him a leading figure on the Indiana University faculty.50

A younger newcomer was Edward D. Porter, appointed to the faculty in natural philosophy and civil engineering in 1851, the year of his graduation from the University of Pennsylvania. Porter was employed at Delaware College in a variety of capacities for most of the next thirty years and was awarded an honorary doctorate by the college in 1883. As a youth he had been reared on dairy and grain farms in the Newark area and his professional work was entirely in agriculture, at the state universities of Minnesota and Missouri, after he left Delaware in 1880. When Porter died in 1895 he was dean of the agricultural college and director of the experiment station at Missouri.51

When he entered college in the fall of 1851 George Barnes, who was from Washington, found Newark "a very neat little place" and the college "a fine large building." There were only forty students then, none of them seniors or juniors, because of the losses occasioned by the experiment with the Delaware High School. Since there were six members of the faculty (not counting the academy staff) he thought he stood "a very good chance to learn something." President Graham was "very lively for a preacher, full of anecdotes…a very smart man and a very good one."52

There were then three terms in the college year, though only two in the academy. A dormitory room was described by another boy as "six feet by nine, stove, book case, table, and bed jumbled into that space."53 Each boy furnished his own room; among his purchases one boy mentioned "l coal shovel for 25 cents, 1 stove for $2, 1 lamp for 50 cents, 1 half gallon can to hold fluid in for 50 cents, 1 blacking brush for 21-1/4 and 1 box of blacking for 10 cents." He engaged a woman to do his washing "at 40 cents a dozen"–pieces, evidently.54

Most of the college students in the 1850s were still from out-of-state but the proportion of Delawareans in the student body had increased sharply, to about forty-seven percent from less than thirty percent in the preceding decade. Whether this increase resulted from the sale of scholarships or from a new emphasis in recruiting is not clear. Maryland and Virginia, which had provided forty-one percent of the students in the 1840s, were now sending only thirty-seven percent of the total, but the proportion of Pennsylvania students fell off sharply (from fifteen to five percent), possibly because the Reverend Isaac Handy peddled scholarships in a southerly direction.55

College students had three classes a day, five days a week, and usually one class on Saturday. There were also required daily morning and evening prayer services at the college; on Sunday each student was required to attend church service wherever he (or his parents) chose. Students were examined in each course at the end of every term; at the end of the third, the spring-summer term, they were examined in the presence of the faculty and a committee of the trustees on the work of the year.56

Students were expected to be studying most of the time they were not in class. Saturday evenings for a time were reserved for exercises in speaking and composition. Among the great events of the year were the annual "exhibitions" of the classes and the two literary societies. What was exhibited was the forensic ability of the students, for the event consisted of a series of speeches or readings to which the public was invited. At Delaware, as at most colleges in this period, the Junior Exhibition, held in March, was especially popular, with large crowds coming to an illuminated Oratory.

The topics of the Junior Exhibition held in March 1853 were "Pleasures of Imagination," "Examples of Illustrious Men," "Mind," "The Indian," "Our Country’s Destiny," and "Practical Energy."57 Class rivalries led to the custom of ridiculing the affair through the printing and circulation of a burlesque program making fun of the speakers and their subjects. A student brawl over these burlesque programs led to a tragedy in 1858.

The effort put into these parodies shows that students did not spend all their time in study, as is also made clear by the records of faculty meetings, often devoted to discipline problems, and the evidence of student diaries, such as the interesting record kept by Joseph Cleaver, Jr., of Port Penn, who graduated with a Ph.B. degree in 1856 after spending three years in the scientific course.

Despite the legislative ban on sale of liquor to students, alcoholic beverages did get into the college. Stephen Emory Townsend, son of a minister, was suspended in October 1852 for setting off firecrackers and being intoxicated. In November he was expelled, since his conduct was thought to give no hope of reform.58 He joined William Walker’s filibustering army and was killed in Nicaragua at the age of twenty. Mourning his loss, his younger brother, George Alfred Townsend, declared the tragedy came about from taking up with a bad crowd of boys in college.59

The scheduled day began when the bell rang for morning prayers at six. In 1854 breakfast was at seven and recitations at nine, eleven, and four.60 In 1852, however, a student diarist reports that he went to his first recitation (class) after prayers and before breakfast. After eating, he studied for his second recitation. He had time for a game of ball before dinner; when a bell rang he went to his room to study for his third recitation of the day. Then came prayers, supper, and more study before retiring.61 Little is reported of what went on in class, but there is one short picture of Professor William A. Crawford (an alumnus of the class of ’44) "catechizing" his moral philosophy class after roll call with his textbook inverted on the table before him.62 As the term recitation indicates, the procedure in class was to recite to the professor, as called upon, a memorized lesson.

Through the Athenaean Society library, Joseph Cleaver was led to read Scott’s Kenilworth and The Antiquary, Nicholas Nickleby, and Bulwer- Lytton’s Eugene Aram. On looking into a copy of Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, he wrote, "I get on poorly with new books at first and it is that way with this." After vacation he saw a copy of Sartor Resartus in James Bunker’s general store and purchased it, starting once more at the beginning. "I find it very imposing," he concluded, "and am glad to have it in my library as the first book I ever bought."63 He was probably referring to a purchase with his own pocket money rather than required textbooks, which his father paid for. Cleaver’s interest in music, like his interest in literature, was stimulated extracurricularly. For instance, on March 28, 1854, Cleaver commented that at the Junior Exhibition "the music was very fine and I should like to hear it more often. There was a piano which sounded wonderful in the Oratory and up through the halls. It took six men to bring it in. Flute and fiddles and others and eight players one a lady up from Wilmington. The lady played a harp herself beautifully….I mean to hear another concert of music whenever I can."64

It seems sad that a piano could not have been left in the Oratory as part of the permanent furniture. Efforts of the college students to organize a choir seem to have failed, but students frequently went out serenading, and were occasionally invited into a house for milk and cookies. When young women at the local seminary invited the science students to a picnic "up the Creek Road," Cleaver enjoyed "lemon punch and chicken and pickle pears and almond sponge cake." We "sang and talked," he wrote, "and told foolish stories and stories about the college…and played games in the woods." At another picnic three days later Cleaver bought "Miss Alexander’s basket and saw her safely to the Seminary," but decided "she is too full of lesson talk; she springs to the first opportunity to talk about the proper way to remove spermaceti or clean decanters or take the scorch out of linen." Presumably Josephine Reybold, whom Cleaver eventually married, was not full of "lesson talk."65

Besides the debates (Athenaean topic, March 17, 1855: "Should bonds and mortgages be taxed?") and papers written for presentation at literary society meetings, students had other opportunities to learn outside of the scheduled classes. Professor Kirkwood sometimes had students with him when he sat up late at night in his "quaint little wooden observatory" using his telescope on the heavens.66 There were magic lantern shows and talks by visiting lecturers–by Neal Dow, for instance, on temperance. One student wrote a paper we might like to see today on "labor in the weaving mills" after he had visited William Dean’s mill on White Clay Creek. A committee of students enjoyed good coffee at Professor Talleyrand Grover’s home when they met to choose commencement speakers. The Deer Park occasionally offered such extracurricular exhibitions as a phrenologist and a company of dwarfs, the latter "a poor show and a seedy audience." A ventriloquist, forbidden to use the Oratory, entertained privately in one of the rooms.

Attractions of the town included a bowling saloon, an ice cream saloon, and an oyster saloon. Fights occurred with, at different times, mill workers and town boys, as well, of course, as between different groups of students.67 At the Junior Exhibition in 1853, "There was a little disorder from the town boys who never come for any other purpose and a few of ours went out to beat them and then came in and fought each other but it did not spoil the exhibition as they say it did last year."68 Sometimes the constable, the security officer of the day, had to be called in to restore order.

Faculty members took turns serving as hall police, particularly in the evening. Yet there were, of course, instances of raucous parties, with liquor flowing freely, of bawdy talk, and even of concealment of a young woman named Gerty. Joseph Cleaver "got Katie" (slang for a reprimand) for playing pitch in the hall, for playing cards, for standing at the stile, smoking, but the boys who put chickens in the belfry, brought a horse into the dormitory, and led a white bull up the stairs were hard to find.

More innocent amusements included walks to the end of town, up the creek, or to Cooch’s Bridge, snowballing, pitching horseshoes, playing ball in the yard, butternutting, fishing and swimming in the creek, and playing chess. Boys who were out late sometimes sneaked in with the aid of a ladder and an open window. Mosquitoes, ants, and cockroaches were minor annoyances. So much stealing went on that Joseph Cleaver and his roommates put a lock on their coal box. They played tricks on each other like knotting bed clothes, removing door handles, even shaving one boy’s head. But to their credit they also hid and clothed an escaping slaveboy–who was caught soon after.69

A great effort was made through most of 1852 to bring the scholarship drive to successful completion. A large crowd, including John M. Clayton, Governor William Ross, ex-Governor Charles Polk, Congressman George Read Riddle, ex-President James P. Wilson, and a military hero, Colonel Samuel Boyer Davis, attended commencement in July and heard that $21,000 had been collected and $25,000 more pledged toward the minimum of $50,000. At the trustees’ meeting Clayton "made a practical speech," as a newspaper reported, "in favor of sustaining the college and doubled his subscription, an example which was followed by many others," including Congressman Riddle, Charles I. du Pont, Senator John Wales, Reverend I. W. K. Handy, and David C. Wilson. Possibly carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment, Governor Ross and Chauncey P. Holcomb, of New Castle, pledged a subscription to twelve scholarships if the college established a professorship in agriculture.70

In theory, there already was a department of agriculture, for it had been mentioned in the Circular and Plan of Endowment of 1851 and again in an advertisement that President Graham authorized in April 1852, which said that "in the Agricultural Department special attention is given to Agricultural Chemistry."71 But both sources also mention a "Teachers’ Department," and there is otherwise no sign that either department existed.

A special meeting of the trustees was held in October 1852 to take such action as the "present successful appearance" of the fund drive called for. Assured the necessary funds would be available shortly, the board approved a needed new roof for Old College and agreed that a professor qualified to teach analytical or agricultural chemistry should forthwith be obtained, inasmuch as money had been subscribed to the endowment drive on condition that an agriculture department be established. This seems an admission that no such department existed despite the claims of its existence made in two successive years. But now the enthusiastic trustees decided that one professorship was not enough; a professor of the "other agricultural branches"–they stipulated geology, entomology, botany, and agricultural mathematics–should be hired within one year.72

The decisive date was November 1, 1852. If at least $50,000 worth of scholarships (they hoped for close to $100,000 worth) had not been sold by this date the trustees were supposed to cancel the subscriptions and return the money collected. Despite the brave expectations voiced in October the campaign would have failed had not the president of the college (Graham) and the president of the trustees (Rathmell Wilson) subscribed to the sum needed at the last moment.73 Wilson was wealthy, but it is unlikely that Graham, son of a Presbyterian minister at New London, had much money. Probably what they did was pledge themselves to take up scholarships.

Such pledges could be called the Achilles heel of the endowment drive, were it not that the whole scheme was weak. If the minimal $50,000 had been collected, it would not have been a sufficient endowment to support all the scholarships that were authorized. But the $50,000 was not there. Probably no more than $25,000 had been collected, and the rest was merely pledged. In October the trustees asked each subscriber to give his note for the amount subscribed, to be paid in two years, with interest, but they seem to be referring only to new subscriptions, for this money was to be earmarked to support the two agricultural professorships. Already there was a sum of at least $25,000 pledged that had to be collected. The weak financial condition of the college was apparent when on the day the trustees declared the new endowment drive a success they agreed to sell some stock from the old endowment to pay for the new roof.74

By the spring of 1853 the trustees felt compelled to hire an agent (Isaac Handy once again) to try to collect unpaid subscriptions. To pay him his salary of $200 a month and $50 expenses (a good bit more than any professor, or even the president, was paid) the trustees authorized a further sale of stock from the old endowment. Still another expense arose when the committee to repair the roof found a new cornice was needed and decided to top off the repair work with a fancy cupola, thus demonstrating what a flourishing, up-to-date institution Delaware College was.75

And, indeed, in terms of student enrollment, it was flourishing. Numbers of students were coming, many on scholarships. According to the catalogues there were 153 students (77 in college and the others in the academy) in 1852, 185 students in the school year ending in September 1853 (91 of them in the college), and 238 in 1854 (118 in the college).76

The college faculty through these years consisted of six or seven men, with about four more teaching in the academy. Talleyrand Grover, professor of modern languages, taught those who paid special fees for work with him in both divisions. In the 1853 catalogue the name of David Stewart, M.D. (a resident of Port Penn, Delaware), was listed as professor of agricultural chemistry. But in most copies of the catalogue that survive Stewart’s name is neatly clipped out, suggesting that a planned appointment had not been carried through. In this catalogue, as in the one for 1852, appears the following statement of pious intent: "As the Agricultural are the great interests of our country, it is intended to make this department the centre of Agricultural knowledge." Finally, in 1854, the vacant professorship–now described as in geology, agriculture, and natural history–is given flesh and blood with announcement of the appointment of Samuel S. Haldeman. Since Edward D. Porter had been listed as professor of engineering (later modified to civil engineering) and natural philosophy since 1852 (and probably had taught these courses since 1851), two fields that later became important divisions of Delaware College were now recognized as separate departments–or parts of departments. Though Porter and Haldeman were the first to occupy chairs in engineering and agriculture, it is probable that some elements of these fields had previously been taught as part of other courses–for example, surveying as a part of mathematics.

The apparent, though false prosperity of the college, received a serious blow on March 10, 1854, when the able young president, Graham, was struck down by consumption, a malady that had already killed most of his family. Like Meigs and Norton before him, Graham had been running the college like an independent entrepreneur, hiring and paying the faculty, dispensing the income, except for that arising from the old endowment, and now members of the faculty proposed to take over the same responsibility collectively.

Five professors signed a proposal sent to the trustees. First, they asked the board to confirm them and two more professors in the positions to which Graham had appointed them. The two additions were Haldeman in geology, agriculture, and natural history, and the Reverend William A. Crawford in moral philosophy. Crawford, who was taking over the course Graham had taught, was an alumnus, as was also Dr. Charles E. Ferris, the professor of chemistry and mineralogy. The petitioners also requested that one of their number be named "Proctor" to run the institution and that the board turn over all income–after retaining what was needed for repairs and board expenses–and let the faculty divide it as they thought best, pledging themselves to carry on all the college and academy work, as heretofore planned.

The board responded by electing Daniel Kirkwood, the most distinguished professor, to be president, and then appointed a committee to draw up a detailed contract with the faculty.77 This contract was accepted by the board at its next meeting and was signed by six professors–all except Haldeman. In return for receiving all the income semiannually, minus the board’s necessities, the faculty agreed to pay all salaries, buy all equipment, and offer all the customary courses, including agriculture. Though they would do all hiring, approval of the trustees would be needed within six months. As to Haldeman, who had accepted the professorship of agriculture and natural history in the spring term, he had given interesting lectures and had proved "decidedly popular with the students" but the "payment of a competent or even a respectable salary" was "out of the question." Still they hoped to arrange to use him part-time, as indeed they did.78

To have Kirkwood at the head of this collective faculty leadership was natural, for he was the most distinguished professor Delaware College had known, in terms of purely scholarly achievement. Though his own formal educational background was meager, he had published in an "Analogy between the Periods of Rotation of the Primary Planets" a formula for planetary rotation that had brought him such attention that he had been elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1851 and awarded an honorary LL.D. by the University of Pennsylvania in 1852, the first member of the Delaware faculty ever to receive such an honor.79

"I like Delaware very much," Kirkwood wrote, "but my salary is entirely inadequate" especially for the responsibilities he bore as president. His administration began with marks of success, at least in terms of numbers, since the largest class in history was graduated in July 1854, the largest number of students to be enrolled in any one term (165) was reported in the winter of 1855, and still a higher number of students (209, though not all at one time) was reported for the year 1855-56.80

Another distinction of the Kirkwood administration was the appearance of the first printed student serial publication, a monthly called Our Sunbeam, or The Light of College Years. The first number was dated October 1, 1854, and other numbers followed through this school year. Hal Howard is listed as its editor, but since no student of that name is known, it was apparently an alias.81 An advertisement of Miss Hannah Chamberlain’s "Newark Female Seminary" in the December issue (the only one that survives) stated that her students, accompanied by their teachers, could attend literary and scientific lectures at Delaware College. This did not mean a step toward coeducation; the lectures referred to were those offered in the evening for the general public, such as a series offered by a "Shakespeare Club" in the winter of 1856-57. The name, incidentally, signified only an interest in cultural affairs, not especially in the works of Shakespeare. The Newark Female Seminary also boasted that some members of the college faculty "and other gentlemen" formed an examining committee at the end of the term and visited the school during the term.82

In the Kirkwood years the first essay prizes for students were inaugurated at the suggestion of John M. Clayton, who proposed as a topic the epitaph to the Greeks who died at Thermopylae: "Go, Stranger–tell the Lacedemonians that we died here in obedience to the Laws." He agreed to award the prize, a copy of Shakespeare’s works, at the commencement in person.83 A year later another trustee, the Reverend John C. Smith, of Washington, offered a prize of twenty dollars for the best essay on the topic: "Our national greatness: What is it? How may it be safely extended and how perpetuated?"84

Whereas Our Sunbeam and the literary prizes offered in 1855-56 were both short-lived, an event of more lasting significance occurred in February 1855 when, in response to a petition from a committee of Delaware College trustees, the state legislature amended the college charter by adding the governor, ex officio, to the board. Probably, in view of the sad state of college finances, the trustees were thinking of the fact that the state treasury, as revealed in Governor William H. Ross’s recent message, was showing a surplus.85 If so, however, it was a long-range benefit that they had in mind. Ross, whose term had just ended, had been elected a trustee in 1854, and his successor as governor, Peter F. Causey, had been a trustee since 1849. But since governors, under the state constitution in force from 1831 to 1897, were limited to a single four-year term, it seems likely that the trustees wanted to establish an official relationship with the state.

This proposal "is not made at this time as a political move," board chairman Rathmell Wilson declared, unconvincingly, to State Senator Charles I. du Pont; "I…have very little kindred feeling with the slippery…party amalgamation now in power [the Know Nothings]–and hope to see some day a pure Whig or Democratic governor a member."86

It was time to look to the state or elsewhere for aid, because the resources of the college were giving out. Despite their brave effort to support the institution from its income, the faculty were facing disaster. That they managed at all was only by self-sacrifice. Their salaries are unknown because the faculty divided up the income themselves and no payments to them in these years appear in the ledgers of the college. But probably it was at their cost that the institution stayed open as long as it did. In March 1855, however, they appealed to the board for aid, and the board took the only response it could, short of closing the doors; it sold some more of the securities held as endowment.87

The scanty assistance thus afforded–$1,800 a year for two years–allowed the college to carry on, but after one year the burden was too much for Kirkwood, who was worried by the serious illness of his only child, a daughter. Another professor resigned outright, but Kirkwood asked only to be relieved of the presidency. The trustees, sympathetic, left Kirkwood in temporary charge as vice-president while they sought a successor. Their first two choices turned them down, but finally, in October 1856, after Kirkwood announced he was leaving to go to Indiana University, they found a candidate who would accept, the Reverend Ellis James Newlin.88

Electing Newlin was returning to the custom of having a Presbyterian minister as president. Born in Wilmington, Newlin is said to have attended the Newark Academy–and possibly, briefly, the college–before going to Amherst, where he was graduated in 1841. He had no known teaching experience but had served several churches and was at Alexandria, Virginia, when chosen by the Delaware College trustees.89

Before Newlin was chosen the trustees admitted, in July 1856, that the scholarship-endowment plan had been a failure. Though in November 1852 they had announced the successful disposition of $50,000 worth of scholarships, they now were forced to face the fact that the $50,000 they had talked about had never been realized. The faculty, who bore the brunt of a record enrollment, largely of free scholars, had already been discussing abandonment of the scholarships, but they had no recourse except to resign their jobs, as Kirkwood soon did. J. W. Weston, principal of the academy, also resigned, but the academy enrollment was holding up very well and the trustees made a special and successful effort to keep Weston. They removed him and the academy from control of the college faculty and guaranteed to pay Weston the full tuition fees for all students entering the academy on scholarships before March 1857, by which time they evidently hoped to have found some way out of their scholarship predicament.90

Probably the trustees could make special provisions for the academy because it was a low-cost operation (the teachers need not be college graduates) and there was a small income-producing academy endowment (of about $6,630) that had not been touched through these difficult years. And probably the fees collected for board, fuel, washing, and special instruction, as in music, drawing, and French, went far toward taking care of the academy’s running expenses.

After considering the possibility of calling a convention of scrip-holders (that is, those having the right to designate free scholars), the trustees decided to write or call on them "with a view to their relinquishment of the whole amount of their scrip for the benefit of the College" or at least to some modification of the terms so as "to relieve the College of its present embarrassments." At the same time the trustees yielded to a faculty request to void the old contract in favor of definite salaries: $1,200 for President Newlin, $600 to the professor of English, and $800 each to the three other professors.91 Possibly the apparent discrimination against the professor of English meant that he doubled as professor of modern languages and picked up extra fees, both in academy and college.

At this desperate moment the trustees were encouraged to hear news of a legacy, the first important one in the history of the college (as distinct from the academy). The source was the estate of Benjamin Naglee, a young man from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, who had entered the college in 1848 but had left, as almost all in his class did, without graduating. There was hope that Naglee’s bequest, one-third of his estate, might amount to several thousand dollars, and the trustees for several years modestly listed $1,000 due from the Naglee estate among their assets. In the end, after litigation, the sum realized was $800, and no cent of it came until 1877.92

Even more encouraging was the possibility of state aid. The Know-Nothing governor, Peter F. Causey, included in his message to the legislature of January 6, 1857, a paragraph that gave hope of a new basis of support for Delaware College. After noting a "large surplus in the treasury" of the state and after praising the common schools, the governor proposed that one graduate from each district school should annually be sent to Delaware College, with "his tuition charges there defrayed by the State," thus opening a door "for the most meritorious and promising children of the poor to a classical and collegiate education." This was a remarkable suggestion, for there were over 100 district schools in Delaware–two in Newark alone–and if the state were to subsidize over 100 new students each year at Delaware College, the impact on the institution, which had never had 100 students in the college program before, would be tremendous. Perhaps Governor Causey’s secretary of state, James R. Lofland, an 1845 graduate of Delaware College, had helped with this suggestion, but Causey himself as a trustee was aware of the expectations and the problems of the college.

Governor Causey did not mention the preparation of teachers; his hope, as he stated it, was that "from…a band of picked scholars Delaware would be able to present in the future, as she has heretofore drawn from humble sources, men who shall reflect honor upon the State which fostered them, and assume a leading part in the national councils."93 Perhaps it was part of Causey’s creed to believe that the long-settled white Protestant husbandmen of Delaware (as a Know-Nothing he was theoretically anti-immigrant and especially anti-Catholic) could, if encouraged in this way, provide leadership; perhaps as a Know-Nothing he was turning away from the sophistication of wealthy aristocrats who could afford to go outside the state for their education. "From the last message of the Governor," declared the Delta Phi Gazette of January 10, 1857, "we see interest in this place and a desire to make it a first-class institution. If all the plans which are made be carried out, before the close of another year there will be 100 students in the Institution."

But the legislature was not of Causey’s party. A reaction against the Know-Nothings had allowed the Democrats to carry the state in 1856, and the Democratic legislature paid no attention whatever to Causey’s recommendations for the higher education of Delawareans. They did attend, however, to petitions from the "Faculty and Trustees of Delaware College, and many…citizens of this State." Apparently the petitions called on the legislature for funds to support a normal school for the training of teachers at Delaware, a project that was more practical than Governor Causey’s proposal. On February 17, President Newlin was invited to lecture in the State House, at Dover, on the subject of normal schools, and a few days later in the state House of Representatives a committee reported a bill providing an annual appropriation of $3,000 "for the support of a Normal School for the preparation of teachers for the common schools."94

The 1851 charter of Delaware College had called for the establishment of a normal school, but despite brave talk about a "teachers’ department," nothing had been done beyond the establishment of a three-year scientific course, which was, by 1857, declining in popularity. Nor was anything more going to be done for the present. When the bill came up for passage on March 2, it commanded the support of only nine representatives. Since nine opposed it, the bill was lost. Called up for reconsideration the next day, it lost more decisively, by a 12-8 vote.

The sponsors of the normal school bill were William C. Lodge of New Castle County, John B. Pennington of Kent County, and Dr. Hugh Martin of Sussex County. It is interesting to note that the chief support of the bill in the House of Representatives came from Sussex County, while the chief opposition was from New Castle County.95 Perhaps the small villages in rural downstate Delaware felt more need for a normal school to train teachers than the more compact urban community of New Castle County. Certainly it was easier for New Castle Countians to look to neighboring states for the education of their children and as a source of their teachers than for Sussex Countians. From Wilmington, after all, a student could commute to Philadelphia daily by train.

The trustees supported Newlin’s efforts to establish a normal school. In March 1857 they granted him $300 to use the vacation period and such other time as he could to lecture on "Popular and Collegiate Education" throughout the state–they mentioned Seaford, Lewes, Milton, Camden, Frederica, Milford, Dover, Smyrna, New Castle, Stanton, Newport, Christiana, and Wilmington–and on the Eastern Shore. A year later they still retained some hope, voting their approval of Newlin’s efforts "to elevate and establish Delaware College on a permanent basis by lectures and otherwise, in connection with a Normal School."96

But by this time a tragedy had darkened the reputation of the college. In the spring of 1858, at the end of the winter term, the faculty ruled that the usual Junior Exhibition was this year to be a combined sophomore-junior affair, probably because of the small number of juniors in college. A program listing the topics and the names of the eight students in the classical course who were scheduled to speak was stolen by Samuel M. Harrington, Jr., a senior and the son of the Chancellor of Delaware.

Harrington and some confederates prepared a sham or burlesque program that they called the Drovus Juniorum Donkey-orum et Eorum Ape-pendage-orum Delavariensis Collegii. All this was a customary student prank; every year a parody of the Junior Exhibition program was prepared. The joke, repeated every year, was to insult the speakers in a sham program that would be circulated in the audience on the night of the exhibition. The humor, even if the work of seniors, was sophomoric. Anthony Higgins, later to become a United States senator, was described as "All-gass" Higgins; Charles I. du Pont Breck was called a "powder monkey"; and a sophomore named John Edward Roach, from Annamessex, Somerset County, Maryland, was a "Maryland hedge-hog," one-half cannibal and one-half orangutan.

Harrington had the sham program printed in Philadelphia, and when he brought the copies to Newark on the evening of March 29, the eve of the exhibition, word of what he had done soon circulated among the boys. At noon on March 30, while Harrington was at dinner, a group of juniors and sophomores who were scheduled to speak broke into his room, found the programs in his trunk, and took them to Anthony Higgins’s room on the main (second) floor, where they began burning them in his stove and, to speed things up, in the stove of an adjoining room.

A boy who had been left to guard the programs and had been pushed aside now ran down Main Street, calling his friends from several boarding houses where they ate (the commons being closed). Boys from both sides rushed to Old College, where Harrington and his friends tried to rescue programs, pulling them out of the stove. About twenty boys were in Higgins’s room, fighting, for fifteen minutes, while the room filled with smoke as smoldering programs were thrown about, the rug caught on fire, and a can of igniting fluid was upset.

Suddenly John Edward Roach, who had been in the middle of the fight, left the room with blood gushing from his neck above his collar. He sank down on the sill at the main doorway to Old College while aid was summoned. President Newlin and Dr. James Cooper reached Roach fairly quickly, for they were in the building attending a meeting of the trustees. But there was a deep stab wound in Roach’s neck, his jugular vein was severed, and Dr. Cooper was unable to staunch the flow of blood, though it was thirty minutes before the young man died.97

After a coroner’s inquest, three students were put in the county jail in New Castle, two who had been seen fighting with Roach and one who had been seen with a Bowie knife. The first two were soon released, but the third, Isaac Weaver, was indicted and tried for murder in New Castle on May 17-19. An immense crowd jammed the courtroom, where the young attorney general, George P. Fisher, later a congressman, prosecuted the case, while an experienced New Castle lawyer, George B. Rodney, who was a former congressman, and David Paul Brown, a Philadelphia attorney famous for his eloquence, had been hired to defend Weaver.

The defense hammered home the point that nobody had seen Weaver, who was short, barely more than five feet tall, strike a blow at Roach, a taller boy, though Dr. Cooper said the blow was made by a downward thrust. When Roach had been asked who did it he whispered the name of Harrington, but though Harrington had fought with him, no evidence linked Harrington with a knife. Weaver had been seen in the room with Roach, but while he was inside the room no one had noticed a knife in his hand; he said he dropped it outside. The jury’s verdict was "not guilty," and Weaver went free.

There was widespread feeling in Newark, however, both then and later, that Weaver was guilty. Weaver had frequently been in disciplinary trouble, and on March 29 the faculty had finally decided to be rid of him, voting to have his parents and those of several other students notified to remove them from the college so they would be spared the shame of public dismissal.

Weaver may have been made reckless by knowledge of this faculty action. He had been angered by Roach in December at a meeting of Delta Phi, of which they were both members, when Roach scolded him for neglecting his duties to the society; he had called Roach a scoundrel and a rascal. He was known to have a Bowie knife and was seen running toward the fracas on March 30 with the knife in his hand. Shortly after the murder, the knife was found stuck under some clothes in his portmanteau by Rathmell Wilson, president of the board, and George G. Evans, its secretary, who searched his room because they had heard he was seen with the knife; their testimony as to whether there was blood on the knife or whether it had recently been wiped off was not clear. A local pharmacist whom Weaver called to Roach’s aid said Weaver confessed striking Roach, asked him to retrieve the knife, and then later took back his confession and offered to pay the man’s bond if he did not show up to testify.

Newark felt there was just retribution some years later when Weaver died in an explosion near Baltimore, bleeding to death from a wound in his neck.98

After the murder the college reopened on schedule for the summer term, but to anyone aware of its financial condition it was obvious that the situation was grave. The trustees had determined to admit no more students on scholarships after March 1858, and in the preceding year Newlin traveled through the state negotiating with the holders of scholarships to have them surrendered to the college as a gift or for a fraction of their face value. He and the president of the board, Rathmell Wilson, were asked by the trustees to draw up a plan to establish Delaware College on a permanent basis with an endowment of $100,000; whether they did or not is unknown.99

The excess of expenditures over income gradually sapped the resources of the college. The faculty were reduced from five to four in 1857 when the trustees took advantage of Professor William Crawford’s trip to Europe to drop him, though with assurance of continued high regard. The discouraged academy principal, J. W. Weston, resigned again in November. Another professor, Dr. Charles Ferris, was dropped in July 1858, though only, he was assured, for economic considerations. By this time the college endowment was reduced to $4,000.100

Occasional flickers of encouragement occurred even in the gloom of these years. Newlin had a gymnasium put up back of the college in 1857 at a cost of little more than forty dollars.101 A reporter for the Delaware Republican in September 1857 saw nine students, all from Laurel, en route to Delaware College on the Delaware Railroad, which had recently been extended south to the Maryland line. This indicated, he wrote, increasing patronage from downstate people; if only the facilities available in Newark were made better known, the old school there "would become what it was designed to be, a Delaware College."102 A month later the same newspaper reprinted a flattering account of the college from the Peninsular News, of Milford. "All it needs now," the correspondent thought, "is the support of all the people of the State." He particularly praised the "refined and cultivated" society of Newark, the "large and well selected library" of the Athenaean Society, and "the order and regularity maintained among the students" "never," he wrote, had there "been a more quiet, studious and agreeable set of young gentlemen" in attendance.103 This comment was made in the year of the murder!

Perhaps President Newlin was a friend of the editor of the Republican, who, in November 1858, reporting a board meeting that had commended Newlin, wrote that Newlin’s interest in the college and "his uniform kindness and courtesy to the students" had "placed all officers and pupils under a deep sense of gratification." "I am happy to know," the journalist concluded, "that his kindness is reciprocated."104

Newlin seems to have made a good impression when he first came to Newark, but William H. Purnell, an 1846 graduate who was elected to the board of trustees in 1858, remembered him as an unsatisfactory president who could neither unite the faculty nor win the confidence of the students. Yet, as Purnell added, it was hardly Newlin’s fault that the college ran onto hard times.105

Under Newlin, a debating society was organized in 1857 that considered such questions as "Can mankind obey the Law of God perfectly?" The subject may have been chosen under Newlin’s influence or it may give support to his comment to the trustees in July 1858 that "considerable religious interest was manifested" on campus, leading many students "to change their course of life."106 Newlin’s comment was made three months after the murder, which may have contributed to the religious interest he mentioned.

The brightest hope for the future was noted by Samuel M. Harrington, Jr., in his valedictory address on July 7, 1858. Addressing the trustees at one point in his speech, he lamented the "want of public sympathy" with their efforts. He and his classmates knew, he said, that the distinguished list of its alumni proved Delaware College had not been a failure, and they looked to the trustees, and its guardians, for persevering efforts on its behalf, and to the legislature, where President Newlin almost succeeded in getting support for a normal school and through it of revitalizing "the worse than dead district school system." People of substance do not send their children to these schools, so in each district the wealthy and the unmarried are arraigned against the poor, voting against school taxes and thereby destroying the public schools "and through them, the college, which necessarily draws on them for pupils."

But he saw hope in the Congress of the United States, where a bill had been introduced to do "justice…to the old States" by appropriating lands for the support of colleges, as had customarily been done for a number of years in the case of new states. He referred to the land-grant bill sponsored by Representative Justin Smith Morrill, of Vermont, and eventually passed by Congress, only to be vetoed in 1859, as Harrington could not know it would be, by President Buchanan. And finally, as assurance that Delaware College would not be a failure, he looked "to the absolute public necessity of a college and its inseparability from the future prosperity of Delaware."107

Harrington’s lively and intelligent speech was almost the last hurrah for old Delaware College. The faculty was so reduced in number that it kept no minutes after June 1858. Announcements for the fall term bravely boasted that special attention would be given to agricultural chemistry through the services of Professor S.S. Haldeman, geologist and chemist of the State Agricultural Society of Pennsylvania. Haldeman, who had been lecturing off and on at Delaware for about five years, was indeed a remarkable scholar in a variety of fields, ranging from etymology to mineralogy, and young men were fortunate to have a chance to study with him, but the reason he was hired now was not so much because of his genius as because he, who had never graduated from college but had some independent income, could be secured part-time for less money than a full-time professor.108

The same announcement of the fall term that told of Haldeman’s appointment announced that students preparing to teach and those wishing to perfect themselves in some one branch of learning could be accommodated. Newlin and his colleagues of the faculty were desperately trying to attract enough students to keep the college open in the hope that some assistance could be found somewhere.

"Alas, what a change!" wrote an editor of the Delta Phi Gazette in the fall of 1858. "From a room full we have dwindled away to a mere handful."109

President Newlin despaired too. On January 18, 1859, the trustees met to receive his resignation, effective immediately. No respectable college, he told them, could exist on tuition alone, no matter how many students it had. It differed in this respect from a private enterprise; it must have outside aid or endowment enough to ensure one competent instructor in each department, besides meeting other necessary expenses. Gradually the small endowment of Delaware College had wasted away; with this constant reduction "you can calculate with mathematical certainty when the college must close." The difference between attracting twenty or fifty students would only prolong its life for one year.

On resigning, Newlin went off to a pastorate in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and he remained in pastoral work for the rest of his life. The trustees apparently had no hope of more success with the legislature this year than they had had in 1857. Student numbers were so reduced that there was only one candidate for graduation. Reluctantly they notified the two remaining members of the faculty that they would not be needed after the end of the term, in March 1859. Until that date, a committee of trustees would consider the condition of the college and the steps that should be taken. The Reverend George F. Wiswell, chairman of this committee, would serve as acting president, without salary.110

In March, when the winter term ended, the last two faculty members, Talleyrand Grover, who had been teaching at Delaware since at least 1852, and William H. Savage, who had been hired in 1858 as professor of mathematics and physics (the first time physics was named in a title), were dropped. Wiswell did not attend the board meeting, and whether he had ever officiated as acting president is not known; his committee on the status of the college reported that it felt it had no function, since the board had dismissed the faculty. Rathmell Wilson, the board chairman, was thereupon elected acting president of the college, without salary, in place of Wiswell. Oddly, the Reverend James Vallandigham, a Presbyterian minister in Newark, was named professor of Latin and Greek, without salary. Perhaps this step permitted him to give further instruction, for a fee, to W. Edward Reynolds, the graduating senior, or anyone else who wanted it.111

For as an institution, Delaware College was not closed. The academic department, directed at least since 1858 by the Reverend Whitman Peck, continued functioning. In 1860 Edward D. Porter, formerly a professor in the college and then principal of the New London Academy, took over from Peck and ran the academy until 1873, three years after the college had reopened.112

When the collegiate department suspended classes in March 1859 the academy, which had only two terms a year, was in full swing. Its principal was appointed librarian and also given charge of all the scientific apparatus. Dr. Thomas B. Wilson reclaimed his cabinet, and only parts of the collections of apparatus and books survived after being hauled off to the academy, but the Athenaean and Delta Phi libraries were preserved, thanks to the board secretary, George G. Evans, who lived across Main Street from Old College and kept the keys to the two literary society halls that were located in the wings of the main floor."113

In the quarter century of its operation 456 students had enrolled at the college and 126 had received earned degrees, an average of five a year. Based on a private academy of sectarian origin, the college was begun by the state, which provided funds for its construction and operation by a series of lotteries that were run over a period of twenty years. The college sought other means of augmenting its income, looking first to the New School Presbyterians and, when their support proved insufficient, trying to raise additional endowment from private donors, who could designate scholars to come to college tuition-free. When the scholarship scheme collapsed, the only recourse was to turn again to the state, which had given no help since 1845. President Newlin spoke the truth when he said no respectable college could survive on tuition alone. His failure to secure additional state aid meant that the college had to close.

Delaware College, in its first twenty-five years, had some very good faculty (including men who went on to splendid careers at Pennsylvania, Indiana, Yale, and Harvard) and some very good students (including future congressmen, professors, judges, and ministers of distinction). Probably its failure lay in its neglect of the constituency that it finally turned to in vain, the state of Delaware. The state needed Delaware College, as young Samuel Harrington said in his valedictory address of 1858. Perhaps he stretched the truth when he said that the state "wastes more money in keeping up a bad district school system than would be required to support a good college and make the district schools good schools," but he was right in speaking of "the absolute public necessity of a college and its inseparability from the future prosperity of Delaware."

It was not just the college but the cause of education that failed in Delaware when Ellis Newlin’s pleas for a normal school failed of acceptance in the General Assembly. Perhaps if John M. Clayton had lived past 1856 he might have rallied enough support to win the day. But his party was in eclipse at the time of his death, and the surprising fact in Newlin’s failure was his lack of support in New Castle County. If the decision had been up to Sussex County, Newlin’s bill would have carried. It was in northern Delaware, in its own county, that Delaware College failed to win a proper response.

There had always been some jealousy of the Newark institution in other parts of New Castle County. Perhaps there was some feeling that a normal school should be established in Wilmington, the center of population. But in the last analysis, the failure of the state to help Delaware College in these critical years must be laid in large part to the errors in policy that Andrew Gray had seen more than ten years earlier when he railed against the policies of Eliphalet Gilbert. Filling the board with Presbyterian ministers, largely from out-of-state, was all very well for a private denominational college. But Delaware College, unlike Newark Academy, had been created by the state, subsidized by a state lottery, and it was unwise to pay the state as a whole so little heed as the trustees did.

For example, in the critical years after 1854 when it should have been evident that the state would offer the most likely chance of rescue from financial calamity, seven of sixteen new appointees to the board were from out-of-state, three of them from so far away as the District of Columbia and Virginia. In the same period the college awarded seven honorary degrees and only two of them went to Delawareans.

The failure to cultivate a close relationship with the state can only be blamed on the leadership. Probably President Daniel Kirkwood, himself a Pennsylvanian, had little sense about political realities in Delaware. His connections were likely to be with the world of science, with men interested in mathematical astronomy, and to him Philadelphia was the cultural center, where his learning had won him honors. Kirkwood’s successor, Ellis Newlin, a native of Delaware, did tour the state and appeal to the legislature, but too late.

Apparently neither Kirkwood nor Newlin received much help in this regard from the president of the board, for Rathmell Wilson, born and reared in Pennsylvania, maintained a home in Philadelphia as well as in Newark. He was active head of a Pennsylvania coal mining concern at Broad Top Mountain and of a railroad serving it, with offices in Philadelphia.114 He was, moreover, a Whig, and after 1850 his party in Delaware was disorganized.115

As for the rest of the board, though a majority of the members were Delawareans, much of the intellectual leadership came from the minority of members who were ministers, several of them from out-of-state. Otherwise it seems unlikely that four of the seven honorary degrees given after 1854 would have gone to ministers (three from Virginia and one from Pennsylvania). A fifth honorary degree, an LL.D. awarded to Isaac McBurney, of Glasgow, Scotland, also suggests denominational–Presbyterian, that is–influence.

Probably the collapse of Delaware College in 1859 occurred because the institution had too long nurtured a Presbyterian connection that was too weak to provide proper financial support. When finally the college turned to the state for rescue it was, narrowly, turned down. Public education in general was in a sad state in Delaware, but the college was slow in showing interest in the situation. When finally, with its own salvation in mind, it did offer to help through a normal school, it found only a tepid response. The groundwork had not been laid. Delaware College had not become the college for the whole state that it might have been.

Chapter 4 Notes