The University of Delaware: A History – Chapter 5
Chapter 5: A Coeducational Land-Grant College
When their hope for state aid failed, the Delaware College trustees, as they had before, sought the aid of religious denominations. They established a committee to negotiate with any person or group that might be interested in reviving the college, and in the fall of 1860 things looked hopeful. Both Episcopalians and Presbyterians showed an interest and sent representatives to a meeting of the board. The trustees preferred the suggestions brought to them by a committee representing the board of education of the Presbyterian Church, Old Style (the opponents of E. W. Gilbert’s New Style group), and declared their willingness to fill the next twelve vacancies on the board with nominees of this group in return for "patronage and support to the extent at least of the current expenses of the College." However, in two weeks the Presbyterians reported back that their board of education had decided against taking on responsibility for Delaware; they already had as many collegiate responsibilities as they dared accept.1
The Episcopalians were still a possibility, wrote one Newarker, adding "it will be a happy day for Newark if [the college] should start again as all business is almost at a stand except selling and drinking whiskey."2 Captain (later Admiral) Samuel Francis Du Pont and his wife took an interest in the college, as did the Episcopal bishop of Delaware, Alfred Lee, and Anna Brinckle, an active officer in the Female Bible Society, of Wilmington. Both Bishop Lee and Miss Brinckle thought the college should be moved to Wilmington, where beautiful sites could easily be found and, as Anna Brinckle wrote, possible supporters could be reassured by knowing it was under Bishop Lee’s supervision.3 Presumably plans for Episcopal control of the school would have found support from the interim president, Rathmell Wilson, who was an Episcopalian, though he would hardly have liked to see the college moved to Wilmington, where he had few connections. But nothing came of these plans, which were being discussed in the fall of 1860. Probably the great national crisis that resulted from Lincoln’s election and the secession of many southern states occupied men’s attention so fully that plans for the college were set aside.
In the long run the events of 1860 benefitted the college by removing Buchanan and his states-rights limited-government Democratic allies from power. The land-grant college bill that Buchanan had vetoed in 1859 was reintroduced in the House, with some modifications, by Justin Morrill, of Vermont, and in the Senate by Benjamin Wade, of Ohio. There was some opposition by western delegates who did not want to share their public lands with the eastern states; the only eastern senator who opposed the bill was Willard Saulsbury, a former Delaware College student and a states-rights Democrat. On its passage President Lincoln unhesitatingly signed the bill into law on July 2, 1862.4
This act, known as the Morrill Act for its first congressional sponsor, provided that the national government would donate land to each state to support colleges where the leading object would be to teach courses related to agriculture and the mechanic arts. The law specified that other scientific and classical studies were not excluded, and it required the inclusion of military tactics, an addition stemming from the existence of war that had not been in the 1859 bill.
Western states, with public lands within their boundaries, were to choose 30,000 acres for each member of their congressional delegation. Old states, like Delaware, without public lands, would receive land scrip, or warrants, for similar amounts of land. The landless states were expected to sell these warrants and invest the proceeds in bonds paying at least five percent, the investment to remain a perpetual endowment to support one or more colleges of the type described–except that a sum not over ten percent of the proceeds could be used to buy lands for an experimental farm. Not one cent could be used for buildings.5
Originally the states were given only two years in which to accept the terms of this act, but, fortunately for Delaware, the time was extended. Delaware did not respond for over four years, probably because Democrats of a strict-construction, states-rights stripe, like Willard Saulsbury, were in control of at least one house of the Delaware legislature throughout that period. Eventually, however, Delaware decided to take its share of the federal largesse. On February 7, 1867, without recorded opposition, the General Assembly voted to accept the terms of the Morrill Act, and less than two weeks later the trustees of Delaware College, who had not met for over six years, assembled in Old College to consider and approve steps by which to take advantage of the situation. This quick response of a previously somnolent board of trustees suggests that some one person or some group was pushing events from behind the scenes. It is said that rumors of a plan for a college at Dover reached the ears of the board through the governor and stimulated them to action.
The board set up a committee, headed by their president, Rathmell Wilson, to ask the legislature to designate Delaware College as the recipient of the funds the state would get from the land-grant act. In return the committee was empowered to offer the state a half interest in all the property of the college–land, buildings, library, apparatus, and endowment–and also equal power in its control through the right to appoint half of the members of the board of trustees.6
Different states took advantage of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act in different ways. Some used the money to found new colleges of agriculture and mechanic arts; some used it for existing institutions, public or private. Massachusetts even divided its money between an agricultural college (which eventually became the University of Massachusetts) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. What the local trustees proposed was that Delaware College take on a semipublic character in return for the funds that would soon be at the disposal of the legislature.
There was opposition to this proposal, but its basis is unknown. Elias Reed, ’55, of Kent County, who had just been elected a college trustee, was in charge of steering the proposal through the House of Representatives, where the decisive vote was taken on March 12, 1867. The college bill passed by 12 to 6, with four of the opposing votes coming from Sussex County and two from Kent, whereas all of the New Castle delegates, plus four from Kent and one from Sussex, supported the bill.7 The sectional nature of the opposition suggests that some of the downstate legislators would have preferred to see a land-grant college more centrally located than Delaware College was. In 1857 Sussex delegates had been friendly to the idea of a normal school program in Newark, but they apparently felt differently about an agricultural college.
On the other hand, the state, granting its reluctance to spend money on education, had little choice but to accept the Delaware College proposal. No land-grant funds could be used for buildings; why not then accept the gift of a half-interest in an existing, if moribund, institution?
No opposition was recorded in the Senate to this bill, entitled "an Act establishing a College for Agriculture and Mechanic Arts," which provided that the state treasurer would invest the proceeds of the sale of the land scrip and would pay the interest from the investment semiannually to the treasurer of the Delaware College board of trustees. The college, in its turn, would devote this money to the "maintenance of such course or courses of instruction…as shall carry out the intent of the act of Congress." It was also obliged by the law to offer free tuition to one student from each hundred, as nominated by the legislature.8 Everything considered, it was not a bad deal that the state received–a full half-interest in an existing, if inactive, college, plus free education for a number of young men. The only good alternative would have been to create a new college, which would have meant spending money on land, buildings, and equipment, all of which came without cost to the state through this arrangement.
Though Delaware College was designated the state land-grant college in March 1867, its trustees did not meet to reorganize until January 12, 1869. By this time Governor Gove Saulsbury had appointed fifteen trustees on behalf of the state, five per county. On this day six of the new trustees met with, as it happened, six members of the old board. They reelected Rathmell Wilson as both president and treasurer, and they also reelected George G. Evans as secretary, but probably to show respect to the new trustees chosen by the governor they chose one of them, John Hickman, to be vice-president of the board, a new office. To prepare for the reopening of the college, they then authorized sale of the major part of the small remaining endowment, stock in the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad, for the purpose of repairing Old College, for which none of the anticipated new funds could be used. Finally, they recommended changes in the charter, which the legislature quickly accepted, passing a re-charter bill on February 17.9
The new charter, which was to run for twenty years, beginning in 1871, merely incorporated into the old charter the terms of the act of March 1867 that had made Delaware College the state college for agriculture and mechanic arts. It was, for example, to have a board of thirty-two trustees, the governor and the college president serving ex officio; of the remainder, the governor appointed fifteen and the old board of trustees appointed fifteen, the latter group being thereafter self-perpetuating. The charter repeated a previous provision that had not been strictly enforced: the college was never to be conducted in the interest of any party, sect, or denomination. The new charter, like the Morrill Act, declared that "the leading object…shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes."10 It seemed to disturb no one that the first catalogue of the revived college watered down this requirement of the law, so that instead of being "the leading object," the teaching of subjects related to agriculture and the mechanic arts became "one of the leading objects."11
In the hope both of arousing interest in the revival of Delaware College and of celebrating the centennial of the charter of the academy, a grand alumni reunion was planned for June 1869. Responding to notification of it, Judge Willard Hall, the oldest member of the college board of trustees, sent his approval and his encouragement. At its inauguration, he recalled, the trustees had been reminded of a letter written more than fifty years earlier by Matthew Wilson forecasting that "Newark was the natural site for an Institution of learning." It seemed to Hall that the opening of the college in 1834 was "the consummation of the behest of a buried generation" but, he added, our "anticipation and promises" were "disappointed in a way not necessary to be thought of and spoken about." He looked now to the future: "we need…a plain and economical college placing mental culture within the reach of moderate means, in other words, of the masses from which come the industry and enterprise which…create wealth and prosperity."12
Alas, the state of the school system in Delaware–a system that Judge Hall had been instrumental in creating–was such that it would be decades before Delaware College could serve "the masses" of whom Hall wrote.
But all were hopeful in 1869. On reunion day, June 25, residents met "the down train" bringing alumni to Newark at 11:00 A.M. and a procession of carnages took them up Depot Road (South College Avenue), led by the Citizens’ Cornet Band. In the Oratory of Old College with, first, Governor Gove Saulsbury, and then, when he went off to a trustees’ meeting, his brother Senator Willard Saulsbury presiding, the alumni association was reorganized. Adjourning for dinner in early afternoon, former students took places at two tables, each 140 feet long, set under the lindens, with the governor at the head of one and the senator at the other. After dinner the band struck up a lively air, and then the distinguished speakers–Colonel William Henry Purnell, lately postmaster of Baltimore, George Cruikshank, ’55, editor of the Elkton Cecil Democrat, and Senator Saulsbury–in turn mounted a platform that had also been set up under the trees.13
While the college awaited a renascence, the academy prepared to resume its independent career. In July 1869 the only two surviving members of the academy board, Judge Willard Hall and William Thompson Read, of New Castle, met together and solemnly elected ten new trustees. Their action conformed to a statute of January 27, 1835, that had allowed the Academy of Newark to close its operations as a separate, independent institution and to use the income from its endowment for the support of the college as long as the college maintained an academic department. However, this statute also permitted the trustees of the academy to resume their functions at will and to reinstate the academy as a separate institution; it required them to do so if ever the college failed to maintain its academic department.14
It seems obvious that the trustees of the college felt that in view of its new status as a semipublic institution, the official connection with a private academy should be terminated. The friendly nature of this separation is indicated by an action that the new academy trustees took at their organization meeting in February 1870; they chose George G. Evans, secretary of the college board, as their president, and Rathmell Wilson, president of the college board, as their treasurer.15 An interrelationship of the two boards remained as the two sets of trustees prepared to take action authorized by the General Assembly in 1861 in the form of legislation empowering the trustees of Delaware College to transfer the academy lot and buildings back to the academy trustees. The college trustees delayed the transfer as they waited to be recompensed completely from interest on the academy endowment for the cost of the two new buildings they had erected on the academy lot in the early 1840s. By 1870 this condition had been satisfied and on May 4 Rathmell Wilson, for the Delaware College board, signed a deed conveying back to the academy the property–of about one acre–that had been acquired from the academy trustees by deed of January 15, 1847.16
In the functioning of the academy the transfer made no immediate difference. It had not closed in 1859 when college classes were suspended. Since 1860 it had been under the direction of Edward D. Porter, and he continued as its principal until 1873. As in the case of his immediate predecessors, Porter functioned as an independent proprietor of the school, hiring, firing, and paying teachers as he chose out of the income from students. Just before the college reopened, the Academy of Newark, the parent institution of the two, performed one last service for the college before their paths diverged. On June 2, 1870, citing "the long and friendly connection" of the two institutions and their continuing "deep interest" in the college, the academy trustees voted a gift of $500 as assistance in the reopening–$100 of this sum to each of the two literary societies to aid in refurbishing their halls, $100 for music and incidental expenses at the inauguration of a new college president, and $200 for any other need indicated by the college treasurer (who was, of course, also president of the academy trustees).
At the same meeting, the academy trustees, apparently emboldened by repossession of their endowment of $6,850, voted to erect a new building linking the two existing buildings on the academy lot. The new building, completed by 1872 at a cost of about $2,600 (amortized over a period of years), brought the academy buildings to their present dimensions.17 Though constructed in three stages, the Academy of Newark presented the appearance hereafter of one brick building, though temporary wooden structures, such as a gymnasium, existed at various times on the lot behind it.
By the terms of the Morrill Act, the state of Delaware, which had three members of Congress, received scrip for 90,000 acres of land. It sold this scrip in at least two installments to Gleason F. Lewis, of Cleveland, a financier who made a business of dealing in land warrants, buying and selling at a spread that was small but sufficient to allow him a profit. For the scrip held by Delaware he paid 88-3/4 cents an acre, a better price than most states received in the first decade after the Morrill Act (Kentucky got as little as 50 cents an acre) and a price exceeded by only a few states–including Virginia, which received 95 cents an acre.
Lewis disposed of the scrip he bought as fast as he could without flooding the market. It disappointed Delaware that sales were slow, but Lewis paid interest on unsold scrip, and eventually the state received a total of $83,000.18 Invested by the state treasurer in bonds that paid six percent, this new endowment fund eventually yielded the college an annual income of $4,980.19
Unfortunately, this modest sum was not available when the college reopened in September 1870, at which time approximately half the scrip remained unsold. Even if all the income had been available it would have been insufficient to pay salaries. The first salary scale was sufficiently modest, showing little or no increase over the salaries offered in the first decade of Newark College: $2,000 for the president, $1,000 for each of three professors, and $600 for the professor of modern languages, who had been similarly short-changed in times past. Besides operating costs, the college had gone in debt for building repairs needed before receiving students again after eleven years–a period when parts of the building had been rented out for various purposes, for a girls’ school, for artisans’ work rooms, for worship services. Only $2,500 remained of the old endowment; therefore the $4,000 bill for repairs looked especially large.20
After repairing the college the next necessity was to staff it. The first step to this end was taken by the trustees in May 1870 when they looked for a college president to the same source that the Newark College trustees had gone to in 1834–to their own membership. But times had changed, and so had the college; this time they chose not a Presbyterian minister but a layman, a Delaware College graduate of the class of ’46, William Henry Purnell.21 (Later in life, after he had left the college presidency, Purnell too became a Presbyterian minister.)
William Henry Purnell was forty-four years old when he was elected president of Delaware College. Born in Worcester County, on the Maryland Eastern Shore, he had studied law after his graduation from Delaware, served as state’s attorney in his county, and then was elected to three successive terms as state comptroller. A Unionist in 1861, he was appointed postmaster of Baltimore by President Lincoln and served in that post until 1866, except for six months in the first year of the Civil War when as colonel commanding the Purnell Legion, a volunteer unit of Maryland troops, he participated in the peaceful occupation of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
In 1866 he became an internal revenue assessor and within a few years returned to the practice of law.22 It was probably because he had been away from legal practice for several years that he was willing to accept the presidency of his alma mater. He had been a trustee of the college since 1858, and he had not only a love for his old school but a natural affinity for teaching and for working with young people.
Colonel Purnell, who became Dr. Purnell after Indiana University conferred an honorary LL.D. on him in 1874, was, by common repute, "one of the most amiable and engaging" of men, a proper old-time college president, "upright in carnage as in character." Sympathetic to the nature of boys, he was said to have had a happy and irresistible method of disciplining them and a magnetism that inspired students. "A man of distinguished presence and of great personal charm," wrote one of his successors who knew him, "he at once impressed upon the college its character for soundness in scholarship and refinement in culture. He brought to his new work a love for the old college, with all its traditions and observance, tempered with a breadth of vision for the enlarged usefulness that was now opening before it."23
Although the college was not to reopen until September 1870, Purnell was inaugurated as president in the preceding July on the occasion of what was planned to be an annual alumni reunion. In his address he called the Morrill Act the best and wisest statute Congress ever passed. No longer, said he, was education only for the so-called learned professions; revolution was sweeping the land and "universal education" was the cry. Classics and literature would be available to all, but science now would be pushed to the forefront in a college "religious, but not sectarian–patriotic, but not partisan." The old colleges are full, and it is not good to bring large numbers of youth together. "Idleness escapes in the crowd," and "vice lurks" there. Here each student will be known, and his difficulties, necessities, obstacles attended to; he will be made "a friend and companion as well as a pupil." "Circumstances," it seemed to Purnell, "could scarcely be more favorable to success."24
The great change that had overtaken Delaware College was emphasized by President Purnell when he attacked "narrow-minded sectarianism" as "the curse of this age" and emphasized the duty to provide "thorough practical training for the active duties of life." The other members of the new faculty were installed at the same time, their titles indicating a certain obeisance to the dictates of the Morrill Act. Edward D. Porter, who had taught civil engineering, among other subjects, in the old college, and was currently serving as academy principal, was made professor of "Practical Agriculture" and natural science. Porter, who had a farm east of town, was something of a politician (he was adjutant general from 1863 to 1875), and probably a better administrator than teacher. William D. Mackey, class of 1854, professor of mathematics and ancient languages, was, despite a lisp, a beloved teacher, said to make the world of Rome and Greece come alive in his classes. He augmented his meager salary by his services as a Presbyterian minister. The professor of chemistry, geology, and natural history was Charles P. Williams, who quit at the end of one year to become the first director of the University of Missouri School of Mines at Rolla. Jules Macheret, son of a French army officer, was professor of modern languages and military tactics. Unfortunately, Macheret was unable to control the students, who made his life miserable by many tricks, such as passing one clean rifle down the line behind their backs at inspection so the same rifle was inspected again and again. President Purnell was professor of moral philosophy and English literature, and a student who entered college in 1883 left a brief reminiscence of the president’s classroom methods. Purnell, he wrote, required his students–this refers to a class in political economy–"to commit the text to memory," four or five pages a day, three days a week. When they suggested that in reciting they might give the meaning in their own words, Purnell responded, "What conceit! Do you imagine you can improve on the author’s language? I doubt it. Proceed with the lesson." The formality of the class suggests how valuable the greater informality of the literary societies must have been, particularly with their encouragement of spontaneity and self-expression.25
When the college reopened on Wednesday, September 14, 1870, the schedule called for a three-term academic year, just as before the suspension–the first term running to December, the second from January through March, and the third from April to July. The tuition charge had been raised to $60 a year (it was only $40 in 1855), but students on legislative scholarships did not pay it. Room rents were as they had been, $4 for the fall term and slightly less for the other two shorter terms. The four-year classical course and the three-year scientific course that had been offered in the 1850s were available again, though the scientific element in both curricula was increased. A third offering was a three-year agriculture course, featuring practical work of one to two hours each weekday on the farm of Professor Porter and leading to a degree, which apparently no one ever took, of "Graduate in Agriculture." Courses in agriculture had been offered by S.S. Haldeman in the 1850s, but the attempt to give a three-year program was new. Undoubtedly this program was offered in compliance with the spirit of the Morrill Act; it is interesting that the three-year scientific program, which included some courses in civil engineering, as in the 1850s, was apparently felt to comply with the requirement to teach the mechanic arts.26
The trustees appointed by the governor were all Delawareans, as were almost all of those representing the old board; so was the majority of the students–twenty out of twenty-six who entered in the first term–in both cases a change from the situation before the Civil War. Only four of the students are known to have come on legislative scholarships, but three others were awarded scholarships by action of the faculty. Thirteen of these students were from New Castle County (including five from Wilmington and four from Newark), five were from Kent County, and two from Sussex. In age they ranged from fourteen to twenty-four, with seventeen as the median.27
The centerpiece and almost the only building on the campus was the refitted Old College Hall, adorned then with a "pagoda-like cupola of two stages…with ogival slatted windows," and topped by "a gilded weather vane in the form of a comet, and yet above that a large, gilded star." There was still no general heating or lighting system and "no toilet conveniences of any kind in the building." The Oratory was carpetless and unadorned, except for special occasions. In hot weather the bedrooms were like little infernos; in cold weather they tended to be either too hot or too cold. The chemistry laboratory was so cold in winter that students wore overcoats to class.28
The college could still brag in 1870 of its philosophical apparatus, much of it bought by William Norton in Europe, such as a sextant and "artificial horizon," as well as a "transit circle," all made by "Simms of London," a chronometer made by Molineux, a celestial globe, and a "very superior Achromatic Compound Microscope, made by Spencer" in the United States. The little wooden observatory in which Daniel Kirkwood had set up his reflecting telescope burned soon after the reopening. Although Dr. Thomas B. Wilson had reclaimed his natural history collection when the college closed, the Wilson family returned his mineralogical collection, though not his shells or stuffed birds, after the reopening. The college still claimed a "state cabinet" of natural history, but no details of it are known. The one large new acquisition, though only on loan, was the experimental farm, which belonged to Professor Porter and included truck gardens, vineyards, orchards, pasture, and meadow.29
Athletic facilities were limited. The major sport was baseball, but intercollegiate competition was still unknown, and games were played with local teams. A horizontal bar outside in an open space beside the wooden observatory was the only gymnastic equipment. The boys swam in White Clay Creek, kicked a rubber football about the campus, did a little fencing, and rode, usually two at a time, on a single antique bicycle with wooden wheels. They loafed on the steps of Old College or at the stile connecting the campus with Main Street, and they hiked, as boys had before them, through the village, up the creek, or to the top of Iron Hill.30
The revival of the two literary societies encouraged an interest in reading and in public affairs, and Edward Vallandigham, ’73, thought there was a greater literary interest among the little band of students in the early 1870s than when he returned as a professor thirty years later. The manuscript papers of the two societies were issued once again, with contents that varied but were seldom memorable. George Harter recalled a couplet from a student epic (probably of later date) called "The Flood," and inspired by a freshet on White Clay Creek:
Down came a hen floating on a rail,
Paddling with her feet, and steering with her tail.31
In the fall of 1873 the second printed student serial publication in Delaware College history began its brief career of two years. Called the Delaware College Advance, it was an eight-page monthly that grew out of a manuscript paper Edward Vallandigham had been producing for the joy of writing. Vallandigham, son of the local Presbyterian minister and nephew of the Copperhead congressman from Ohio, had just been graduated, but he contributed to the Advance. However, its editor and chief promoter was George Morgan, ’75, from Concord, Delaware. The contents of the Advance were mainly high-brow–stories and essays (including one on Sussex folklore), topical articles, some jokes and news of other colleges–because, as Morgan explained, the editors had literary ambitions.32 Both Morgan and Vallandigham later had distinguished careers as writers of articles and books, but particularly as newspapermen.
But the most famous writer of their day who had any Newark connection was the slightly older George Alfred Townsend. Son of a Methodist minister, Townsend knew the college well from his boyhood residence in Newark, when he attended the academy and his brother Stephen Emory Townsend went to the college. Probably George A. Townsend never attended Delaware College, though President Purnell was under the impression he had when introducing him as the main speaker at the 1871 commencement exercises.
With only one year gone since the reopening, there were no undergraduates prepared to take degrees, but master’s degrees were given to graduates of the last three classes before the suspension–in absentia, in all cases but one. Townsend’s reputation rested mainly on his newspaper reporting of the Civil War, but he was also a prolific writer in other fields, and he chose now to read a long poem on the history of the college, including reminiscences of his days in Newark:
My hasty muse, rouse up and once more show,
The scenes in Newark twenty years ago,
The morning prayer, the bell’s boom loud and sweet,
Swung down the one aisle of the village street,
"Day-scholars," hurrying on foot, in gigs,
Professors smoothing out their hairs or wigs.
Then Townsend described some characteristic students:
That marvel of all Freshmen in their turn,
The one queer boy who came to school to learn
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And, greater than all favorites of renown,
The boy whose pretty sister lives in town;
In all his woes rose dozens of redressers,
He was a favorite–even with professors.
Townsend also used the occasion to urge support for the reopened college:
Here on these classic stones again to thrive,
We seek our gracious College to revive
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And keep at heart, though northward we might roam,
The snugger precept: "Educate at home!"33
After only one year of operation Delaware College faced a serious crisis from lack of funds. The slow sale of land scrip meant that even the meager income due from this source was not yet fully available. A committee had been set up to buy an experimental farm, as the law permitted, with up to ten percent of the new endowment, but in view of the need of money for normal operations, the trustees decided to make out by continuing to use Professor Porter’s land. They received some encouragement when the legislature voted to reduce the number of tuition scholarships from thirty per county to ten per county and to appoint the professor of chemistry state chemist. This latter statute carried a welcome appropriation of $1,000 for apparatus and materials with which to analyze all fertilizers sold in the state; for each analysis the professor received a fee of from $5, if requested by a farmer, to $30, if performed for a manufacturer or vendor, the latter being required to get an analysis of each type of fertilizer offered for sale.34
Dual appointment as state chemist made the chemistry professorship at Delaware more attractive than it would otherwise have been. When Charles Williams left the post to go to Missouri in September 1871, the college replaced him with its first professor holding an earned Ph.D. The new chemist, Theodore R. Wolf, was only 21, younger than some of his students, but they all stood in awe of him when he arrived, not only because of his Ph.D. from Heidelberg but because he bore a German dueling scar on his forehead.
Wolf proved a godsend to Delaware. He was a plain, unaffected, modest man, with little gift either for diplomacy or for camaraderie. A graduate of Washington University, St. Louis, Wolf had studied abroad with the younger Bunsen and several other great chemists of the day and was said to have turned down an appointment at Edinburgh to return to America. Though he could have moved elsewhere he stayed at Delaware thirty-eight years, until his death, because he liked the quiet and leisure of Newark, which made few social or other demands on his time.
His gift to Delaware College was the high standard he set. He had little patience or time for the careless or indifferent student, but was infinitely painstaking with one who showed real interest. Forty-five years after his death a young professor was showing the campus to a graduate, a retired executive of a large chemical company who had become the head of a foundation and was in Newark to deliver a gift of money from that foundation to the University. He had not been back on campus since his graduation and when Wolf Hall (erected in 1917) was pointed out to him, he said, "It must be named for Professor Wolf." And, turning to the professor, he added, "He failed me in chemistry." The professor’s spirits sank; would the gift be canceled? But the executive continued, without smiling, "It was the best thing that ever happened to me!"
Many students came to Delaware from poor high schools, ill-prepared for college work, but the demands of Wolf and a few men like him often brought rewarding results. Wolf’s personal foibles, such as his impatience of manner and bluntness of speech, gradually endeared him to generations of students. When Wolf first came, according to Edward Vallandigham, "it was darkly whispered among the students and throughout the community that [he] was that awful new thing, an evolutionist, that as like as not he believed almost any fellow’s great-great-grandfather had been an anthropoid ape. He disappointed the censorious, however, by attending church and making no attempt at Darwinian propaganda."
Wolf had a good library of his own, introduced the lecture system, and took on, as had Williams before him, one or two graduate students each year as his assistants. This could be regarded as the beginning of graduate work at Delaware, though it really was similar to an internship and not a program or course of study, nor did it lead to a degree.35
The financial situation was such in 1871 that the trustees were about to drop one member of the faculty, when a new trustee saved the day, offering to pay the man’s salary for a year and also to pay an additional sum equal to the tuition income, minus $500, to be used for other salaries. The new trustee was Colonel Henry S. McComb, of Wilmington. A self-made man, McComb had left school and been apprenticed to a currier after his father’s early death. Before very long he owned a leather business, and in the Civil War he made a fortune as a supplier of goods such as tents and knapsacks to the government. He also raised and equipped the Fifth Delaware Regiment, which he commanded as colonel. After the war McComb became financially interested in the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad and used his government connections to secure an interest in the railroads running through Mississippi, connecting New Orleans with Memphis and the Ohio Valley. Known in the South as a "carpetbag" financier, he maintained his residence in Delaware while gaining control of a trunk line (later part of the Illinois Central) running north from New Orleans through Jackson into Tennessee. He created, in southern Mississippi, the town of McComb, where he built machine shops and saw mills, but he lost control of the trunk line in 1876. Among his other interests were a steamship line from New York to Bristol, Rhode Island, and, locally, the Delaware and Western Railroad, which he bought in 1880.36
As far as is known, McComb was the first trustee to make gifts of money to Delaware College with any regularity (several trustees, including John M. Clayton, had made gifts to the scholarship drive in the 1850s), and as a reward or, more likely, an encouragement to further giving, the trustees turned to him in 1872 when Rathmell Wilson determined to resign the post of president of the board that he had held since 1852.
Selecting McComb as successor to Wilson may have been a tactical error. McComb was a Republican and a carpetbagger, and neither fact would endear him to Delaware Democrats. Though this year, 1872, saw the Republicans carry Delaware for Grant in national elections, it was an unusual phenomenon; in all other elections from the end of the Civil War to 1888 the Democrats won overwhelming victories in Delaware. Furthermore the Delaware Democrats of these years were stridently pro-southern, anti-Reconstruction, anti-carpetbagger–in other words, against the very element that McComb stood for. Though this is never stated in the record, it was probably a political handicap for Delaware College to have two old Unionists, former colonels in the northern army, Purnell and McComb, in positions of authority in these years if the college ever needed to seek aid from the state–as it did.37
To make things worse, the trustees chose McComb over Dr. Gove Saulsbury, the former Democratic governor, who was brother-in-law of the current governor, brother of a senator, and brother of a chief justice. A former student, Saulsbury had been active in the alumni association and had probably used his influence in the legislature to promote the choice of Delaware College as the state’s land-grant college. A nominating committee of the trustees had really favored Saulsbury, but had decided to recommend two names, because one member, Dr. Lewis Bush, insisted on McComb, his relative by marriage. The twelve members (out of thirty-two) of the board who were present on July 2 chose McComb by a decisive majority, and then proceeded to reject Gove Saulsbury a second time by choosing John F. Williamson, of Newark, as vice-president on a second ballot, after a tie vote on the first. Neither Saulsbury nor Governor James Ponder, his brother-in-law, was present.38
The same meeting of trustees went on to another vote that was even more significant, as well as more divisive, since, as happened rarely, a record of the yeas and nays was ordered set down in the minutes. At the March meeting of the board President Purnell had proposed admitting women to the college as was being done in a number of the land-grant colleges–first in the West, at Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Michigan, and California, and more slowly in the East, notably at Cornell and later at Maine. By 1872 there were ninety-seven coeducational colleges and universities in the United States, and coeducation had helped save a number of small schools from extinction.39 Certainly Purnell looked to the admission of women as a prop to the resuscitation of Delaware College, which, after admitting twenty-nine students in its first year (twenty-six in the first term), had enrolled only fifteen new students in the second year. There were probably some people, however, who thought he looked to the education of his three daughters.40
The issue of coeducation, postponed in March, was vigorously debated in July, but in the end Purnell’s proposal to admit women on the same terms as men was adopted, 8 to 3, with one trustee (Dr. Lewis P. Bush) abstaining. The only trustee known to have left a record of the meeting wrote that the entire faculty supported the proposal and that he was not at all decided but finally voted for it in order to let the experiment be tried.41
The Wilmington Daily Commercial called this decision "an excellent and painstaking step," but its rival, the Every Evening, was noncommittal, merely noting, "it is understood that the ladies will not reside at the college, but board in the town, but that in all studies they will be placed on precisely the same footing as the male students." When the decision was announced at the Athenaean Society’s anniversary meeting, it "was received with applause." The next day, at the commencement exercises, Purnell asked "those who had pre- viously opposed the opening of the college to females, that they should not throw any obstacles in the way of the faculty, in carrying the wishes of the trustees into effective operation. If they only had a fair field he would vouch for the success of the experiment."42
Though women could in theory enter any course at the college, a new program was initiated with them in mind, a three-year literary course. It included fewer classes in the languages than the classical course, omitting the Greek requirement altogether, and it included fewer courses of a technical nature (such as mineralogy, engineering, and agriculture) than the scientific and agriculture courses, which were combined in 1873.43
Purnell’s hope that the admission of women would substantially increase the size of the student body was not realized. In fact, in the fifteen years of his tenure as president, the college never attracted again as many new students as the twenty-nine who entered in the year of the reopening. Probably this group represented a pent-up demand for collegiate study, but it was a blow to a college partly dependent on tuition income to draw so few students. Charles Williams, professor of chemistry in 1870-71, had foreseen this problem when he decided to leave Delaware for Missouri "With an inadequate public school system," he wrote, "our material is by no means abundant, nor of the very first quality, and the area from which we are to draw supplies is still further circumscribed by the fact that many of our best academies are controlled by graduates of other colleges, each of whom throws his influence in favor of his alma mater."44
In 1872 the trustees were encouraged to hear that Congress was considering a bill to add to the support of the colleges it had created. The support was badly needed, but many of the old private and sectarian colleges had become jealous and fearful of the land-grant upstarts and threw their influence against the bill. Once again (as in the time of Witherspoon) a Princeton president who was a native of Scotland, this time James McCosh, helped prevent appropriations that would have benefitted the institution at Newark, Delaware. President Charles Eliot Norton, of Harvard, also lobbied against further federal grants to what were being called the A & M (for Agriculture and Mechanic Arts) colleges.45
Disappointed by the failure of Congress to provide further assistance, Delaware College turned to the state legislature for help in 1873. Purnell and Professor Mackey prepared a petition requesting financial assistance, and there is evidence that Professor Porter went to Dover to lobby for the proposal, which was embodied in a bill that John Hickman, a representative from Sussex who had been vice-president of the board of trustees from 1870 to 1872, introduced into the House of Representatives.
In substance, the bill was similar to the proposal President Newlin had placed before the legislature in 1857. By its terms the state would appropriate $3,000 a year to Delaware College for two years, and in return the college would undertake to train teachers for the public schools of Delaware. Free scholarships would be awarded to thirty students, ten from each county, who would be appointed by the legislators. (Since there were just thirty members of the legislature, this measure allowed each member one appointment.)
The faculty petition to the legislature did not have unanimous support in the board of trustees, where two members, David Murphey and Benjamin Biggs, opposed it, though it carried on a vote of 8 to 2 on March 25, 1873. Perhaps the opposition reveals lingering ill-feeling from Purnell’s success in pushing the admission of women at the immediately previous meeting of the board. Biggs had been absent then, but Murphey and two trustees who were now absent had opposed Purnell.46
The Wilmington Daily Commercial was, however, friendly to the proposal, noting that Delaware College desperately needed help since twenty-two of its current thirty-seven students were paying no tuition. For two years, the paper said, a member of the board (McComb) had generously made up the deficiency in the college budget, but his generosity ought not to be taxed further.47
The legislature apparently agreed, passing an "Act to aid Delaware College and to provide therein for the Education of Teachers for the Free Schools of this State" on March 27. The preamble to the act explained that Delaware College was "the only State institution of learning of high grade" and that appropriation of the land scrip was "a virtual pledge on the part of the State to insure her success." The preamble continued by declaring that a supply of competent teachers was essential to the success of the public schools and that Delaware College could "command adequate facilities" to prepare students for a teaching career. To make sure that the appropriation did help the schools, recipients of scholarships must pledge themselves to teach in the Delaware school system for at least one year.48
This legislation was a real coup for President Purnell, for the faculty, and for all the trustees who were sympathetic to his plans. There existed alternative means of preparing teachers that the legislators might have supported. For example, a teacher-training school had been organized in 1872 in connection with the Wilmington public schools. Originally offering only weekly classes, it grew in only a decade to have a two-year part-time program that involved practice teaching under the supervision of an experienced teacher.49
Another alternative institution for teacher training was the so-called Delaware State Normal University, founded in 1866 by a man named John Harkness, a Bowdoin graduate with a master’s degree from Harvard who came to Delaware after the Civil War and secured a charter from the legislature in 1867 for a school he had already begun in Wilmington. Harkness offered training for business as well as for teaching and is said to have attracted a good number of students, with the support of, among others, the Reverend George F. Wiswell, once (in 1859) acting president of Delaware College. An aggressive, arrogant man, he started a magazine and sought a state appropriation for his school. His activities alienated some people, and the legislature withdrew his charter in 1871. Nevertheless he persisted with his school, which he moved several times, finally in 1875 to a four-story building that he built on the northwest corner of Tenth and Market streets (the later location of the Du Pont Building). Eventually, however, his health failed and his school had to close.50
It is not strange that the legislature chose to help Delaware College, in which it had a half-interest, rather than the "State Normal University" of a newcomer like John Harkness. Indeed, the legislature at last was making it possible for Delaware College to do what had been demanded of it in 1851, that is, to operate "a normal school connected with the college." This provision of the 1851 charter, with its authorization of a degree called "Master of School Keeping," had proved ineffective for want of funds and had been dropped from the new charter adopted in 1869. But even now the college was to prove too weak and the legislature too stingy to allow this provision for teacher training to become a success.
A normal course was instituted in 1873 and approximately twenty students entered it in the next four years. The course they took resembled the literary course except that it omitted the study of foreign languages, ancient or modern, and substituted, according to the catalogue, "instruction in the higher essentials of a thorough English education and in the best and most approved Methods of Teaching." A diploma was to award completion of this course, and a certificate of merit would signify completion of part of it. Six or seven students were graduated from the course, receiving diplomas but not a baccalaureate degree; five of the graduates were women, though about half of the students registering in the program were men.
It seems to have been expected that students would drop out of this course before completing three years of it; after all, with just one year completed they would have more college training than most of the Delaware public school teachers of that day. There is no proof that any course specifically in methods of teaching was offered, though President Purnell, who taught English, philosophy, psychology, history, political science, and law, or Professor Porter, whose specialties included, at various times, mathematics, science, engineering, and agriculture, might either of them have expanded their offerings to cover what needed to be offered to train teachers.
It was disappointing that not all of the thirty legislative scholarships offered in this program were taken up; the need for trained teachers was great, but apparently few would-be teachers thought a college education was necessary. According to a petition from the Delaware College faculty, there would have been more applications for scholarships in the normal course if the legislature had passed a proposed measure raising the qualifications for teachers. This measure, the faculty said, would have required teachers to take additional courses, which they were prepared to give.51
Without being required to go to college, few teachers, poorly paid as they were, could afford to devote a year or more to further study, which would also entail expenses–for board, room, laundry, fuel, and so on. Furthermore, many teachers probably did not feel prepared for college. Setting a minimum age of sixteen was undoubtedly intended to assure a degree of maturity on the part of entering students. However, there was feeling in the academies–or at least in Newark Academy–that the college was stealing students from them, admitting young men and women not really prepared for college work. In 1885 the Academy of Newark added "and Delaware Normal School" to its title.
By that time Delaware College had abandoned the normal course. Six students had entered it in 1873, and there were a total of nine enrolled in 1874, but the state refused to renew the appropriation in 1875, despite a personal appeal by President Purnell. Starved for students and still hoping for an appropriation, the college continued the normal course in 1875 and 1876 but thereafter admitted no new students to it. The program in teacher training at Delaware College was closed until the opening of a coordinate Women’s College in Newark in 1914.52
The evidence shows that some trustees had not supported Purnell’s efforts to keep this program alive. Two trustees, again Benjamin Biggs and David Murphey, refused in March 1875 to support a resolution that continuance of state aid was necessary to the "continued usefulness, if not [the] existence" of Delaware College. They were joined in June by John H. Bewley of Smyrna in opposing a resolution deeply regretting the failure of the legislature to renew the normal school appropriation.53
One of these three trustees had apparently written a six-page letter to the legislature opposing renewal of the annual $3,000 appropriation to support the normal school program. The contents of the letter are unknown. A newspaperman reported that it was shown around among enemies of the college, but when friends of the college wanted to see it, it could not be found. The author defended his actions by declaring his willingness to be one of thirty men who would subscribe one hundred dollars each to a fund to make up to the college what it was losing in the state appropriation, but, of course, the thirty men were never found.54
Of the three trustees opposing the resolution asking state aid, Biggs later became an ardent supporter of Delaware College–and of coeducation. Another of these trustees, David Murphey of Newark, had already quarreled with Purnell publicly in the columns of a Wilmington paper after an anonymous letter from Newark criticized the trustees for not sending their sons to Delaware College, noting that one of them was also a trustee of the Newark Academy, which he had similarly passed over in favor of a school in Massachusetts. Murphey responded, explaining that, although he was on both boards of trustees, he had sent his son to a purely classical preparatory school because he wanted the boy to have a classical education. Though feeling some obligation to home institutions, he doubted that Delaware College, so recently revived, could compare well with older, better endowed institutions, but he did not decide against Delaware College until Purnell persuaded the board "at a very slim meeting…and by only one majority" to accept coeducation, of which Murphey disapproved. He stayed on the board, however, to exert his influence in favor of directing the college "in the interest of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts…an object that deeply interests me."55
In a long letter to the same paper, Purnell denied that coeducation was adopted at a slim meeting by a bare majority; the attendance was better than usual, he claimed, the proposal was introduced at the previous meeting so the trustees had three months to mull it over, and it was adopted by a two-thirds majority. As far as Purnell knew, the absent trustees approved the action, and experience was justifying the wisdom of the decision.
Purnell claimed Murphey’s prejudice against coeducation, based on his personal experience of it, might not be a valid judgment–that Murphey might be remembering the experience incorrectly or have been in an unusual situation. As to the classical education of Murphey’s son, Purnell suggested comparing his knowledge with that of any member of the freshman class at Delaware on the basis of freshman subjects and those required for admission.56
By this response, which was less diplomatic than it might have been, Purnell created an enemy–unless they were enemies already. In June 1873, when the board voted to raise Purnell’s salary to $2,250, two trustees were opposed–Murphey and Biggs. Joined by a third trustee, they also opposed raising the salary of Edward Porter, professor of agriculture and engineering, but supported a similar raise (to $1,500) for William Mackey, the popular professor of ancient languages. Perhaps the objection to Porter was that he was also serving as pension agent, a political appointment. But he gave up the principalship of the Newark Academy and he continued to allow his own property to be used as the experimental farm of the college.57
To replace Porter the academy made an historic decision, which probably did not please David Murphey. In 1873 it too adopted coeducation, calling a woman, Hannah Chamberlain, to succeed Porter as principal. The students from Hannah Chamberlain’s Newark Female Seminary moved to the academy (a large part of them were Newark girls who lived at home), where rooms were made available now for female students attending Delaware College from out of town.
Relations between college and academy were not so harmonious in the four years of Hannah Chamberlain’s tenure there, 1873-77, as they had been when Edward Porter did double duty at both institutions. "Not one single student from beyond the vicinity of Newark," the college faculty complained in 1876, "has been received from the Academy into the College during the incumbency of the present Principal." The academy trustees were angry (was the influence of David J. Murphey in the background?) that the college was still accepting students "of Academical Grade of Scholarship, not withstanding the abolishment of the Normal Department" and was granting free tuition to many students not on legislative scholarships. Consequently, the academy trustees drastically reduced the rent Hannah Chamberlain paid (like her immediate predecessors, she operated the academy as an independent proprietor) and allowed each trustee one tuition scholarship to be awarded an academy student between the ages of twelve and twenty–obviously an attempt to divert some students from the college.58
Relations between the two institutions improved under Hannah Chamberlain’s successor, the Reverend J. L. Polk, who received an honorary Ph.D. from Delaware College in 1880 and sent his own daughters to the college. In 1873, however, before this friction with the academy began, all seemed rosy for the future of Delaware College. A state subsidy had been secured, the first class of three-year scientific students had just been graduated, and the admission of women seemed likely to raise attendance in the future. President Purnell and Professor Porter both told a reporter that they were quite pleased with the first year of coeducation at the college; "Indeed," said Purnell, "no consideration could induce me to make a change in this respect."59 Nor did he ever go back on his word.
Unfortunately, no one could truthfully say a very encouraging word about the development of agriculture at Delaware College. Edward Porter was surely a satisfactory man to be in charge of the program; his later success at Minnesota and Missouri is proof of that. But students were not interested. A three-year curriculum in agriculture was offered from 1870 to 1873, but not one student, so far as is known, ever enrolled in it. In 1873 the catalogue carefully listed the courses related to agriculture that were given in the scientific curriculum, and in 1880 the curricula were combined, but in the new arrangement the latter program was merely renamed the "Scientific and Agricultural Course." Agriculture was decidedly the junior partner, and eventually the program became known simply as the scientific course, though classes in agriculture were required, as they had been since the 1850s.60
The men in Porter’s class were required to do some practical work on his farm and were offered the opportunity of additional work for wages. Porter conducted experiments that were published in the 1877 catalogue. This report and reports of the analysis of commercial fertilizers by Professor Wolf, published regularly in catalogues beginning in 1875, constitute the forerunner of the later Bulletins of the Agricultural Experiment Station. Two sheep given to the college in 1874 were, as far as is known, the first college-owned livestock.61
By 1877 the college was exhibiting particular concern about the failure of agriculture to attract student interest. At request, Porter drew up a plan for a special winter course to run from November to February for the benefit of farmers’ sons, who would not be needed at home at this season. In his next report to the board of trustees, Purnell recommended this course, and the faculty authorized the printing of 1,000 circulars advertising it. They also appropriated $100, at their own expense, to send Porter on a three-week trip through the peninsula by horse and carriage (so he would reach the farms off the railroad lines) to advertise both the college and the agricultural short course.62
The results were very disappointing. In 1879 the trustees began to give special consideration to the problem of arousing interest in agricultural education; to encourage such an interest they set up a committee on agriculture, which became a standing committee of the board in 1882.63
By that time the board faced the problem of acquiring a new experimental farm. By the terms of the original Morrill Act, up to one-tenth of the sum realized by sale of land scrip could have been spent for a farm. The availability of Porter’s farm had saved Delaware this expense. When Porter resigned in 1881 for a better position in Minnesota, the trustees were in no mind to spend part of the small endowment. Fortunately they were able to rent a convenient two-acre plot just east of the campus from John Watson Evans, and they even received a small income–a very small income–from the sale of potatoes and buckwheat that they raised on it.64 In the next few years hope was expressed, at various times, of acquiring a farm through private gifts, without cost to the college. In 1884 the professor of agriculture thought he might have support – from James Hogg, of New York – for an experimental farm in southern Delaware, but none of these expectations were realized.65
Perhaps to demonstrate their interest in agriculture, the trustees voted an honorary M.A. in 1882 to Willis P. Hazard, the author of several works on this subject and a lecturer at Delaware College on practical agriculture, and in the next year they gave an honorary Ph.D. to Edward Porter, who was by this time professor of agriculture at Minnesota.66 Such measures did not prevent pressure by the State Grange (Patrons of Husbandry) for "a purely agricultural college" managed by the Grangers and training farmers and no one else, just as a law school would train lawyers and a medical school, physicians.67 This was an argument that did not easily die, and the failure of the college to secure students for an agricultural curriculum per se helped to keep it alive.
The agricultural department offered prizes, for itself and for an interested trustee, to young Delawareans for producing bumper crops of corn. The fact remained, as an early issue of a new student publication, the Delaware College Review, pointed out in October 1882, that Delaware College had a smaller endowment than any other agricultural college in the nation and its resources limited what it could do to popularize the teaching of agriculture.68
The same was true for instruction in the mechanical arts, but more interest was shown by students in engineering than in agriculture. Engineering, primarily civil engineering, had, like agriculture,been taught at Delaware College since the 1850s. When the college reopened in 1870, one man, Edward Porter, was professor of both subjects, as well as of natural philosophy (physics) and he was principal of the academy to boot. (He had also been a trustee from 1869 until a rule, probably aimed at him, was adopted in 1870 prohibiting any member of the faculty except the president from serving in this capacity.) little wonder that a student found Porter "brisk and brusque and always busy." In the winter of 1872, in an apparent attempt to comply with the land-grant status of the college, Porter gave lectures every Friday evening on subjects connected with agriculture and the mechanical arts. Middle scientific (second- year) students were required to attend such of these lectures as dealt with mechanics; attendance for other students was optional.69
The scientific course, which included agriculture and engineering, was in the Purnell years (1870-85) the most popular course, enrolling over forty-one percent of the students, including one or possibly two women. Normally the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy was awarded graduates of this course (as distinct from the Bachelor of Arts degree awarded in the classical course and the Bachelor of Literature awarded to graduates of the three-year literary course). In 1877 a woman was awarded a degree of Bachelor of the Elements, probably implying she had taken most of the scientific course requirements.70 Some graduates of these years made engineering their vocation, two of them with great distinction. John E. Greiner, son of the sexton of Zion Lutheran Church in Wilmington, entered college on a legislative scholarship in 1877. After distinguished service as an engineer with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, he became head of his own firm of consulting engineers; he received a C.E. degree from Delaware in 1884 and an Sc.D. in 1917. Andrew J. Wiley, of Red Lion, who entered Delaware in 1879, won distinction as an hydraulic engineer with the U.S. Reclamation Service in Idaho and later as an independent consultant on water projects; he received an Sc.D. degree at Delaware in 1930. Both Greiner and Wiley completed their college work in three years, which had been the norm, but in 1880 the scientific and agricultural course, in which they were enrolled, and the literary course were extended to four years, to make them the equivalent in years of study of the classical course.71
The third field required to be offered by the Morrill Act, military training, was first taught by Jules Macheret, who, according to a student, "shattered his excitable nerves trying to make us drill according to the manual of arms." The uniforms, of cadet gray cloth, were made in Newark by the firm of Dean and Pilling and were popular with the students, who were criticized in a newspaper for adopting "the military rather than the rural dress." When Macheret was dropped from the faculty, responsibility for military training was assigned to Professor Porter, who, since he also taught agriculture and engineering, was a land-grant college faculty in himself.72
Perhaps Edward Porter had at last taken on too much, for according to Edward Vallandigham, military training was suspended in 1875 for most of a decade. Suspended it may have been, but not for so long, since in 1882 the Review chided students for not being quiet and attentive at drill and announced that the faculty had required the wearing of uniforms. In the spring of 1883 Frederick Chester, professor of geology and mineralogy, was acting drill master until the trustees transferred this duty to Wesley Webb, then professor of agriculture. A way out of the problem of providing competent military instruction was understood to exist through the assignment of a regular army officer by the federal government, but the prerequisite was that the college have sixty students enrolled for instruction and Delaware College was a few men short of meeting this requirement.73
The enrollment through these years was a source of vexation to President Purnell. For a time after women were admitted in 1872 the matriculants increased–from fifteen in 1871 to nineteen in 1872 and twenty-one in 1873–but then the number of new students settled down to an average of nineteen each year, 1870-84, inclusive. In 1871 the trustees appropriated $100 to enable Purnell to travel through Delaware and the peninsula, lecturing and meeting with the parents of prospective students. Again in 1873, 1877, and 1878, appropriations were made to support faculty travel in canvassing for students. Purnell concluded that canvassing was less successful in advertising the college than representation at state educational conventions and authorship of speeches and articles on questions of the day; he lamented that the overworked faculty had so little time for these activities.74
Personally Purnell did all he could to aid Delaware College in this fashion. A new School Law of 1875 had created a State Board of Education, with the head of Delaware College as the board’s ex officio president. Through this post Purnell sought to create sentiment favorable to the public schools and especially to aid the first state superintendent, James H. Groves. When a State Teachers’ Association was organized at Rehoboth, August 28, 1879, Purnell was elected its first president. (Porter had been elected president of a similar organization in December 1875, but it had died in one year.) Purnell remained active in this association and also helped organize county teachers’ conventions, called institutes, that were intended to help keep teachers aware of the latest trends in education. Occasionally the institutes were held at Delaware College, and at all times Purnell showed his recognition of the importance of a good state school system to the future prosperity of the college.75
It was "an uncommonly wise law that connected Delaware College with the public schools of the State," declared the Review in its first year; and it called attention to an article in the New England Journal of Education that had praised the good influence of the college, and especially of Purnell, on the state school system. The Review called on the state to establish a chair of education, declaring that about one-third of all graduates engaged in teaching at some time. A trustee, Dr. David L. Mustard, of Lewes, introduced a bill in the 1883 session of the state Senate that would in effect have reestablished a normal school at Delaware College by appropriating $100 to each hundred in the state. Of this sum, $60 for each student would go to Delaware College and $40 to the student chosen, not by mere legislative favor but after a competitive examination. The bill cleared the Senate but was turned down in the House of Representatives.76
One other attempt had been made to train teachers at Delaware College. In 1878, with the approval of State Superintendent Groves, the Delaware College faculty conducted a six-week summer school. For $35, including room and board, they offered "instruction in the material branches for a teacher’s education, including the higher scientific and literary branches." Primarily for those preparing to teach, the summer school was also designed to be helpful to those preparing for admission to college. Twenty students were regarded as a minimal number, but though only fourteen pupils enrolled (one-half of them teachers), the summer school, the first in the history of Delaware College, was conducted anyway. It was some reward that three of the students entered the college in the fall. Blaming late announcements for the failure to attract more students, the faculty planned another summer school for 1879, hoping for a minimum of fifteen students. Perhaps enrollment was so low that the session was canceled; nothing is reported of it after the president’s announcement in June.77
The presence of a few graduate students also helped boost enrollment figures in the years of Purnell’s presidency. Besides a graduate student employed as assistant in the chemistry laboratory, there were often other students, usually Newark residents, continuing to study at the college after their graduation; there were six students, all women, studying English literature or (in one case) German in 1880. The award of the first American-earned Ph.Ds at Yale in 1861 and the opening of Johns Hopkins University in 1876 as primarily a graduate school indicated the growing importance of graduate studies. The M.A. degree customarily had been given to Delaware graduates practically automatically three years after they received the baccalaureate degree; it was a mark of the new emphasis upon graduate studies that in 1877 President Purnell was instructed by the faculty to write to graduates likely to apply for master’s degrees at commencement "with a view to ascertaining what progress they have individually made in useful knowledge since their graduation." Another step toward more formal requirements for the master’s degree was taken in 1883 when the trustees voted to require a thesis on a scientific subject from applicants for an M.S. degree. The other requirements for this degree had been adopted the previous year and were similar to those for the M.A.–good moral character and continued professional progress for three years after graduation–except that it followed the B.S. degree rather than the B.A. (The B.S. had become the normal degree in the scientific and agricultural course in 1883, supplanting the Ph.B. degree.) In March 1884 a thesis was made a requirement for the M.A. degree as well, and when three graduates of the class of ’81 were awarded this degree in June 1884, it was noted that one of them, John S. M. Neill, whose home was in Minnesota, was excused from presenting a thesis, notice not having been given him and "it having been shown that he had continued to prosecute his studies and improve in useful knowledge since graduation."78
Other devices used to increase enrollment were the awarding of scholarships by the faculty, permission for students, with consent of their parents, to select studies from any curriculum (though, as the 1880 catalogue stated, "a regular course is strongly recommended"), the admission of special or irregular students, and the lowering of admission requirements in mathematics and Latin because of the limited opportunities for study of these subjects in the public schools of Delaware. Automatic admission by certification of the preparatory school was instituted in 1880 when H. C. Carpenter, head of the Lewes public schools, was permitted to give certificates of exemption from Delaware College entrance examinations to any of his pupils he thought worthy. This privilege was extended to J. L. Polk of the Newark Academy and probably to some other school principals in the next few years.79
Still the number of students did not grow very much. Counting the fourteen students in summer school, Purnell was able to claim a total of sixty-three students in 1878-79. In 1881-82, after the largest entering class since 1870, the enrollment, without a summer school, was only fifty-three, of whom only nine paid tuition.80 It was discouraging.
Despite the fact that the students of this era were but a small band of, on the whole, ill-prepared young men and women, one of them testifies that "there was much earnest and rewarding study," there was real inspiration caught from the over-worked faculty, and there was pleasure and profit derived from association with each other.81 It is to this era that the Review dates its origins.
In the spring of 1882 appeared the only known number of a student journal called the Sun Flower, edited by Horace Greeley Knowles, ’84, of Lewes, and printed in Newark at the shop of the local newspaper, the Delaware Ledger. Largely consisting of jokes and advertisements of Newark and Wilmington businesses, it was less literary than its precursor, the Advance, of 1873-75. The Sun Flower apparently served to stimulate interest in a more comprehensive journalistic effort, for late in May a group of students met and formed a press association, electing officers and planning to issue a monthly "paper," as they called it, in the fall term. Without waiting longer, however, and with William Du Hamel, ’86, as temporary editor, they issued Volume One, Number One, of the Delaware College Review on June 1, 1882. In a brave gesture for students in a college with far fewer than a hundred persons, counting students and faculty both, they had 1,000 copies printed.82 "This paper was issued as a start," an editorial in it explained, "so as to give us a good headway when the college opens in the fall," and they hoped to receive subscriptions from graduates and from the parents of students. Advertisements paid for this first issue, in addition to two contributions that amounted, in total, to $5.50. News of the college, jokes, items from student publications of other colleges, an essay by a graduate (George Cruikshank, ’55), and a letter defending the loose discipline on campus–these, with editorials and advertisements, comprised the contents of the first Review.
In keeping with their word, the students began issuing the Review on a regular monthly basis in September, with Knowles, who had produced the Sun Flower, taking over from Du Hamel as editor-in-chief. To the confusion of bibliographers, the September issue was called Volume One, Number One, like the June issue. Its purpose was declared to be the promotion of Delaware College, and copies were sent to every trustee, benefactor, and former student whose address was known, with an invitation to subscribe for one dollar a year.
The contents were similar to those in the June issue–poems, essays, editorials, news reports of the college, jokes, and so on. Professor William D. Mackey, ’54, contributed a biographical sketch of William S. Graham, ’36, former college tutor and academy principal. An editorial vigorously defended the college against criticism by a former trustee. Though more like a magazine than a newspaper, it was not so ambitious a literary undertaking as the Delaware College Advance of 1873-75; perhaps it is better, said the Wilmington Every Evening, "to begin in less pretentious style."83 It is interesting that the Review started its long career without faculty sponsorship, supervision, or financial support, but with a strong sense of loyalty to the institution.
Such was the case also with organized athletics, except that the grounds to play on were provided by the college. The first team sport to be organized and played against off-campus teams was baseball. According to the recollections of graduates, the first baseball diamond was east of the linden trees, on the site later occupied by Recitation Hall. Early in the 1870s a diamond was established in back of Old College, but in 1885 it had to be shifted out of the path of the construction crews of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.84
In the fall of 1873 "the College nine" played several games against teams called Diamond State and the Agiles, probably on Saturday afternoons, and in the following years they played other teams from the vicinity, including a team from Glasgow and one from Corner Ketch. In 1882 a baseball club was organized with Harvey W. Ewing, ’84, as president (he was also president of the press association) and made plans to play against nine young lawyers of Wilmington. Gradually the distance covered for competition was being enlarged, but intercollegiate competition was still ahead.85 Probably the problem was as the June 1884 Review described it: although baseball was "the center and sum total of all the sports," there were no close, neighboring colleges to play and travel was too expensive for the Delaware team.
Football was apparently the second team sport to be played. "It seems as if all the students had lost all their energy," declared the Delta Phi Star of October 7, 1876. "There has been such nice weather for playing football, and yet not a game has been played….We should review some of the old interest and enthusiasm manifested when the game was first introduced. We should certainly get up a game soon or else those persons who contributed so liberally to our association will think we are a fraud…."
Who these contributors were is not clear. Perhaps they were students or townspeople or both, but it was not the college that was sponsoring team sports, though in 1884 a student thanked President Purnell for his generous contribution to the athletic association. Not all students belonged to the athletic association–just as not all students belonged to the press association–but those who did paid an initiation fee of twenty cents in 1884, plus five cents a week. Their money was used to buy baseballs, "a football," boxing gloves, rope for a tug of war, running shoes, and the like. Two members were appointed to direct and manage sports, one to manage baseball, football, wrestling, and boxing, and the second to manage all other sports.86
An editor of the Delta Phi Star declared himself pleased with the formation of an athletic association in terms that have a modern sound–because, he wrote, athletics can awaken interest in the college throughout the state and increase the number of students enrolling.87
By the fall of 1882 the students had what they proclaimed to be a good gymnasium fitted up in Old College, but they admitted they were making little use of it for want of any instructor or manager, for which they blamed their own association. After a few years, old benches, removed from the Oratory, were stacked up in the gymnasium, making the trapeze, bars, poles, and ladders virtually unusable.88
Among other games that appealed to students of the period were croquet, tennis (just being introduced in 1885), and pool. The faculty disapproved of students frequenting local pool rooms.
The Review editor, Horace Greeley Knowles, was also of a disapproving turn of mind. In 1883 he was elected president of a temperance society, the Good Templars, formed mainly of college students. They sought local option laws and pledges of total abstinence. Everyone in authority, especially President Purnell, opposed drinking, but editor Knowles went further: "You and I," he wrote, "may be able to play cards or dance and be none the worse for it, but our brother…may be weak [and] our indulging…may cause his ruin."89
Not all students spurned cards and dancing. A euchre club was formed in 1875 and a whist club in 1885, while commencement hops — held in the Exchange Building, near the east end of Main Street–became a feature of the graduation festivities at least as early as 1881. The first junior prom may have been held in 1884.90
The first music teacher ever listed on the college faculty, as distinct from that of the academy, was James L. Beggs, whose name appears as instructor of vocal and instrumental music in the catalogues of 1871-74, inclusive; he had taught music at the academy earlier than this. Organization of a minstrel company is referred to in the Review for January 1883, and at the end of the same year the Review for December 1883 reported that John B. Ritchie, of Wilmington, had organized an orchestra of college and academy students. The orchestra did not last long, however, for in December 1884 the Review referred to "instrumental music by all that remains of the lamented College Orchestra." By that time a glee club had been organized, but its life was probably also short.91
No art teacher is listed on the faculty in these years, but William H. Goodyear, of the Cooper Institute, lectured at the college on art history and architecture in the winter of 1877-78.92 Drama was taught as a part of English literature, which was the bailiwick of President Purnell, and when some students in 1874 decided to give a play for the benefit of their paper, the Advance, they asked Purnell to supervise the production. Besides undertaking this duty, Purnell chose the play–Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals–and assigned the parts.
As far as is known this performance in the Oratory on May 22, 1874, was the first full-length drama ever given by the students. George Morgan, editor of the Advance, played Sir Lucius O’Trigger and Mary Churchman, who later became his wife, played Mrs. Malaprop. George W. Marshall, ’74, later, as Dr. Marshall, for twenty-four years a trustee, played Sir Anthony Absolute. Seventy-five years later the students gave the play again, and on this occasion they had as their guest Harriette Hurd Curtis, ’75 (Mrs. Delaware Clark), who had played the part of the ingenue (Lydia Languish), in 1874.93
Plays were often staged hereafter as a device to raise money for the literary societies. These entertainments, like the debates and publications of the societies, seem to have originated with the students themselves and to have been presented by them, without such faculty supervision as The Rivals had, though possibly not without faculty advice. The literary societies furnished training in self-government, but no student government seems yet to have developed for the college as a whole. Class organization, with the election of class officers, and a wider scheme of student organization on the recent (1880) Amherst model was being discussed in the fall of 1883.94 The easy, gentlemanly style of the Purnell administration would seem to have been friendly to such organization, but it did not develop yet.
However, a third literary society was organized at Delaware in 1876 by nine of the women students and called the Pestalozzi Society after a Swiss educational reformer, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746-1827), who had written a novel praising the influence of a high-minded woman. Their plan at first met with "much opposition from their friends in Newark," but they persisted, their declared objects being "to excite interest in literary pursuits among the young ladies" and "to engender a social spirit." President Purnell assigned them a room in Old College where they met once a week. In the next few years they established a library of 150 selected volumes, issued a monthly paper (in manuscript) called the Pestalozzi No-Name, held debates (on topics such as "Resolved, that the fate of Sir Walter Raleigh was justifiable," and "Resolved, that the Native Savage possesses a Right to the Soil"), sponsored lectures (including Phoebe Cozzens on "The Old and New in Women’s Education," Belva Lockwood, a candidate for president, on "The Era of Women," as well as a lecture by Susan B. Anthony), and finally published a catalogue with a directory of their members and a history of the society. At least one editor of the Pestalozzi No-Name was particularly critical of the failure of the Delaware legislature to support a normal school at the college.
"The people of Delaware," she wrote, "could not possibly have chosen [sic] to make their laws a set of men more narrow-minded or pig-headed than those of the present legislature….They meet every two years to pass a few divorce bills and to defeat all bills tending to the good of the people." When a normal school bill is introduced, she continued, they are horrified and say every town will want one, or, if we have schools to train teachers, why not schools for carpenters, bricklayers, and so on. Education is of small importance to them, because they have so little of it themselves.95
Whether or not the charges of this Pestalozzian were justified, small-mindedness could be found on the college campus as well as in the General Assembly. Though in 1877 the faculty had been quoted as being delighted with coeducation and for many years there were no open complaints against it, eventually alumni and undergraduate dissent began to be voiced. In the November 1883 issue of the Review an anonymous "Alumnus" complained that the admission of women had harmed the intellectual life of the campus. "Justice" quickly and very ably answered "Alumnus," and the argument went on for several months.
Among the complaints against coeducation were allegations that (1) women were not capable of the intellectual attainments demanded of men, (2) they became unladylike by association with male students, and (3) their presence in class was distracting. "Alumnus" also claimed that the students had once been almost unanimously opposed to coeducation. The literary course established for the ladies was, in his view, subcollegiate and should be offered in an academy.96
Probably it rankled some of the male students that women in the three-year literary course took many of the honors. Women won first and second honors in 1876, second honors in 1877, first in 1878, 1879, and 1880, and second in 1882. (There were no women in the 1881 graduating class.) Unquestionably it was easier to make high grades in the literary course than in classical or scientific curricula. In the early 1880s four years was made the norm for all curricula, and in 1884, probably in response to complaints, the top prizes (appointment as valedictorian and salutatorian) were restricted to students in the classical and scientific curricula.
Any student could enter any program, of course. A woman graduated with an A.B. from the classical course in 1884 and another with a B.S. from the scientific course in 1885. Controversy arose, however, when the latter young woman, Grace Chester, daughter of a science professor, was appointed valedictorian. The salutatorian, Richard T. Pilling, complained that the appointment was unfair because Grace Chester had been excused from a number of required courses–in place of which she had taken a series of botany courses, probably with her father.
There may have been a largely unwritten feeling that the faculty were personally prejudiced toward coeducation by the opportunities it afforded their daughters. President Purnell’s daughter Elizabeth was the first woman to be valedictorian; two other Purnell daughters–and two sons–attended Delaware. (Caroline Purnell, ’79, later took an M.D. in Philadelphia and became a gynecologist of distinction.) Two daughters of Professor Mackey, two daughters of Professor Porter, and two daughters of Principal Polk, of the academy, attended Delaware College. So did five daughters–and one son–of George Evans, secretary-treasurer of the board, as well as the daughters of several other local trustees.97
We have daughters to be taught,
And it was no harm we thought,
That to recitations they be brought,…
were verses sung by a chorus of professors in a nasty satire on coeducation called "A Commencement Episode" published in the Review for April 1885. The spirit of the poem (as well as the range of the author’s prejudice) is exhibited by lines supposed to be sung by "weary students" after President Purnell, in iambic pentameter, had praised coeducation:
We affirm and declare
That for negroes to share
Our advantages offered for knowledge,
Would be no more absurd
Than this joke you have heard,
Of mixed classes reciting in college.
The one good argument raised against coeducation at Delaware College was the inadequacy of the physical plant. The college building (Old College) was the men’s dormitory as well as the classroom building. Only twice are disciplinary problems known to have arisen from this situation, once when complaint was made that male students were entering a lounge set apart for the women, and later, in April 1886, when a coed was found in a male student’s locked bedroom. She had been there for four hours in the afternoon, on a dare, it was said, before another male student informed on them. Both were "expelled forthwith," but the incident occurred a year too late to have any immediate effect on coeducation at Delaware College.98
Another complaint against coeducation was that its existence discouraged young men from enrolling at Delaware. It is difficult to assess the weight of this argument. The enrollment did not rise rapidly after coeducation was ended; in fact, it did the opposite, but there were special circumstances that might explain the decline in enrollment that occurred then. Certainly articles in the Review of 1883-85 are evidence of opposition to coeducation in the student body, and George Harter testified to finding coeducation unpopular among the male students–though accepted in the community at large–when he joined the faculty in 1885. It is interesting that almost no note is made –except by the Pestalozzi Society–of the fact that a woman taught regular classes at the college for the first time in the spring of 1885. The circumstances probably explain the casual acceptance of this unusual event; the very popular Professor William Mackey became seriously ill–probably it was the beginning of the disease that caused his death in 1886–and his daughter Sarah, an 1880 graduate, took over some of his classes in the classical languages.99
The great, serious problem of the Purnell years was financial. In parlous straits after the failure of the legislature to renew its support of the normal course in 1875, the faculty came to an agreement–an early example of collective bargaining–with the trustees in 1877 that lasted, with minor modifications, to the end of the Purnell presidency, a period of eight years. The agreement was that all income–from endowment, tuition, fees paid for chemical analyses–would be divided among the faculty after necessary expenses, such as interest on any debt outstanding and costs for printing, fuel, insurance, and repairs. All professors (there were then four besides the president) would be paid an equal sum except for President Purnell, who would get eighty percent more than any of his colleagues. Teaching schedules in 1880 were for Purnell, 19 hours; Porter, 16 hours; Mackey, 21 hours; Wolf, 8 (plus laboratory work); Jefferis, 19 (plus work as faculty secretary).100 Eventually Professor Wolf protested against being put on a par with other professors; he had special work to do as state chemist, analyses that kept him busy through much of the summer. After deliberating over the matter for several years the trustees agreed to pay Wolf $100 besides all the income that accrued from his work as state chemist; apparently this was palpably more than he would have received by the previous arrangement.101
Wolf was independent but loyal. A serious disruption occurred over a quarrel with Jacob A. Reinhart, who succeeded Edward Porter in 1881. Reinhart had received a Ph.B. degree at Delaware in 1876 and an honorary M.A. in 1878; he also had an M.A. from Syracuse, where he received a Ph.D. later. "A tall, hard-featured, black-bearded gentleman of enviable scholarly attainments," according to a reporter for the Wilmington Morning News of June 21, 1882, he was soon in trouble with both the students and the faculty. Students complained he was unfair and incompetent; among other irritants Reinhart sought to prevent one of the seniors from graduating but was outvoted at a faculty meeting. The seniors prepared a petition for his dismissal that was read at an alumni meeting on June 21, at commencement time, and forwarded, without endorsement, to the trustees.
A special meeting of the board was held at the Clayton House, Wilmington’s leading hotel, on July 13, 1882, to consider the charges against Professor Reinhart. They heard him speak in his own defense, and then they heard all the other members of the faculty, beginning with President Purnell, and finally all seven male members of the senior class, the initiators of the action, including Andrew J. Wiley, the valedictorian, and L. Heisler Ball, a future U.S. senator. There were also two women in the senior class, but it is unlikely that they had been in Reinhart’s class or had signed the petition; on the other hand, some underclassmen had wanted to sign it but had been turned away lest they get into trouble by the action.
The meeting lasted six hours, prolonged by a torrent of words from Professor Jefferis, who defended Reinhart and criticized Purnell, accusing him of doing nothing to influence the students to have respect for Reinhart and contradicting Purnell when he declared he had nothing to do with the petition. Except for Reinhart himself, the others interviewed seem to have been of one mind in arguing that the college would be better off without Reinhart. Andrew Wiley made a point of citing particular instances that he regarded as proving Reinhart’s incompetence.
One trustee, the Newark textile manufacturer, William Dean, vigorously supported Reinhart and, in anger, called on the whole faculty to resign, as not yielding adequate results. "If he owned a factory which yielded no better return for the money invested," according to a reporter’s indirect quotation of Dean, "he would very soon sell it out, even at a large discount." (Probably Dean thought that the nineteen hours a week that Purnell taught and the twenty- one hours that Mackey taught were too few.) Few trustees agreed with him, but needing to stop the meeting so some members could catch the downstate train, they adjourned for six days after passing an innocuous resolution expressing their belief that the faculty could work out their problems harmoniously.102
It was too late for faculty harmony. When the trustees met again, they had to take sides, and they did – with the majority (Purnell, Mackey, and Wolf) – and, incidentally, with the students – and against Reinhart and Jefferis. The board tried to settle matters smoothly, asking Reinhart to resign for the good of the school, but he refused. Thereupon they dismissed him, but softened their action by declaring their confidence in his character and efficiency. The dismissal resolution passed 13 to 2, with only William Dean and David Murphey, who had an old score to settle with Purnell, in the minority.
Dean was furious. He read the board his resignation in a brief sarcastic letter in which he satirized them as "uncomparably high, dignified aristocratic gentlemen [with a] high sense of honor which they assume to themselves owing to their superior fortune in having received a collegiate education, [who looked on him as] a more humble person whose walks in life have been among the lowly."103
The Reinhart affair probably hurt Purnell. Reinhart was gone, and, within a few months, his only faculty ally, Jefferis, also departed. A student described Jefferis as "little and ruddy and handsome and dapper," the only clean-shaven man on the faculty, competent, sarcastic, and conceited.104 The criticism these two men had leveled at Purnell was not easily forgotten.
Not by William Dean at any rate. "My opinion is," he told a reporter, "that the faculty want a leader who will keep his chains tight and not always have them slack on his heels." Purnell’s easy courtesy had won the respect of students for more than a decade, as they testified, then and later, but Dean was not convinced.105 "I am now a private citizen again," Dean said after he quit the board, "and if I don’t slow up that college and give it and its faculty and the board of trustees and everything connected with it hail Columbia, then it will be because I don’t feel well."106
As a result of criticism of the administration, the board had asked the president to make fuller reports to them than in the past–first submitting them to the faculty. The trustees wanted to know all faculty business, the hours each person taught each week, the number of classes he missed. They wanted to receive the minutes of regular, weekly faculty meetings, with a report, in writing, of any dissent on decisions that the faculty made.
With the troublemakers gone, faculty harmony was soon restored. But the perennial problem of inadequate financing would not depart. The death of Colonel Henry McComb in December 1881 had removed a benefactor who had given and loaned the college money to tide it over hard times. His successor as board president, Lewis P. Bush, a Wilmington physician, was not wealthy enough to play the part of a philanthropist.107
Dr. Bush does have one unique claim to a sort of fame in the annals of Delaware College. No other board president, no other trustee, had a son who performed (accidentally) such a dangerous physical feat and survived it. On April 11, 1873, James H. J. Bush, son of the physician, was climbing to the top of the cupola on Old College, as a prank, when one of the slates gave way and he fell, first to the roof of the main building, and then to the ground, a distance of 55 feet. He not only lived to tell the tale, but he did not break a bone and, though sore, was back in class in a short time.108
Gatherings of alumni liked to recall antics of their golden days, like the story of Bush’s fall, but hopes that they would raise money for the college or persuade the legislature to help it were long disappointed. Purnell felt that the long suspension of the college from 1859 to 1870 had caused alumni to lose interest and shift their affection to other schools. He urged the election of alumni to the board of trustees and welcomed signs of interest, as in the formation of a Delaware College alumni association in Philadelphia in 1881.109 Perhaps the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the college stirred the alumni to a greater than customary interest.
In celebration of that anniversary President Purnell delivered a long historical address at the 1884 commencement, which was held outdoors on the campus for the second year in a row–because the Oratory was too small to handle the crowd. He pointed to four major needs of the college: (1) an enlarged Oratory; (2) a more commodious library; (3) a better-fitted chemical laboratory isolated from the rest of the college building; and (4) endowed professorships and scholarships. After the awarding of prizes, William Causey, Delaware Secretary of State, spoke in high terms of the work the college did, but added (according to faculty minutes probably kept by Wesley Webb), "in a demagogical way that he did not believe in supporting educational institutions at the expense of the state."110
This was the sort of feeling that had to be overcome. In 1885, however, in what seems to have been a concerted effort of trustees and alumni and all friends of the college, the resistance of the legislature was at last worn down. The emphasis now was on repairing and enlarging Old College, particularly its auditorium, the Oratory, to make it large enough for public gatherings. In his message to the legislature on January 6, 1885, Governor Charles Stockley made two recommendations of aid to Delaware College: first, establishment of an experimental farm, as was also being urged by the State Grange; and, second, improvements to the college buildings. Observing that Delaware College "is and has from its foundation been considered and treated as a State institution," Stockley noted that the state in requiring free instruction for a number of pupils had made "almost nugatory" the gift to the college of the income from the Morrill Act, income derived from the federal government, not the state. The condition of the buildings and the need for modern facilities provided strong reasons for substantial state aid, which he believed would soon be supplemented–here the influence of alumni promises is evident–by voluntary contributions from friends.111
Taking advantage of the governor’s interest, the trustees held two special meetings in Dover in February. At the second they agreed to support a request for a grant of $8,000 for repairs and improvements to the buildings, grounds, and equipment of the college. A bill for this sum, pressed by Representative Theodore F. Armstrong, of Newark, soon passed the house with only four dissenting votes. The Senate held it up until a joint committee of five legislators could visit the college and report back on the wisdom of such an appropriation. Apparently they were satisfied with what they saw, for the bill was enacted on April 8, 1885. Three days later, on April 11, the college students celebrated the occasion with a bonfire, frequent repetition of "the College yell," singing, ringing the college bell, and a procession through town to the home of Representative Armstrong, whom they cheered roundly.112
Less than a month after the successful culmination of long efforts to get the state to help Delaware College–efforts underway almost continually since the state ceased its support for teacher training in 1875–President Purnell resigned. He denied a rumor that his resignation was a condition of passage of the appropriation bill. Not a word had been spoken against him by any legislator, Representative Armstrong told Purnell. Purnell also denied a charge that all of the students, except his own children, thought he should resign. The faculty told him they were shocked by this false report. Nor had any trustee expressed disapproval of his conduct, he said. He resigned to give the trustees a free hand to reconstruct the faculty as they desired.113
So many denials create suspicion–not that Purnell would lie but that his situation at the college was not as secure as he makes it sound. His resignation came just after the Review had published its nastiest attack on coeducation, which was indirectly an attack on Purnell. The concerted backing of alumni, trustees, and legislators for the $8,000 just appropriated to the college must have been supported by an agreement–probably never spelled out–that there would be some reforms in the conduct of the college. Reform to many of those interested in the college meant the abolition of coeducation, and Purnell’s advocacy of it was so strong that this reform could hardly be effected with Purnell remaining at the helm.
A special meeting of the trustees on May 12, called to consider reorganizing the faculty, set up a special committee to consider both a reorganization and the propriety of continuing coeducation. They had also one financial windfall to consider and one outstanding debt to pay. The windfall was $1,400 from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which had purchased a piece of the back campus for its new line to Philadelphia. The debt was to the estate of Colonel Henry McComb; it amounted to $1,500, and with the addition of $100 for interest it more than used up the windfall.
The trustees did not accept Purnell’s resignation at this meeting–nor did they reject it. In their regular meeting at commencement time, on June 16, no word is recorded about the resignation, or about coeducation; perhaps the special committee, which Dr. Bush himself chaired, was not ready to report. Through this period Purnell’s position was made increasingly difficult by student dissatisfaction over the choice of Grace Chester as valedictorian. On May 21 Bush’s committee had conferred with Purnell and a few members of the faculty (three others had resigned, one in sympathy with Purnell, apparently, but two for their own advancement and probably not for any reason connected with the problems of the moment). Precisely what Bush’s committee discussed is not known, though faculty reorganization and the status of coeducation were their charges. One member told a reporter that Purnell’s resignation had been prompted by criticism of the filthy condition of Old College Hall and an erroneous report that the legislative appropriation was made with the understanding that Purnell would step aside. But he added that the committee was inclined not to accept the resignation, feeling that it would be impossible to find a better man at Purnell’s salary.114
In view of strident criticism of coeducation and of the choice of a valedictorian, it seems worth noting that an anonymous student letter to a Wilmington paper at this time declared that the Delaware College students "almost unexceptionally respect President Purnell, both as a gentleman and as an instructor." They did find the grading system of some professors "incomprehensible" (this might be part of the criticism of the choice of a valedictorian) and they were "passive" on the question of Purnell’s administrative ability, believing it to be a question for the trustees. But, the letter-writer explained, it was "outsiders," not students, who originated and agitated the troubles in the college, "using the students as a blind without consulting them."115
The meaning of this is not clear, except that Purnell personally retained his popularity among the students. What Bush’s committee concluded is not known. It reported, finally, to a board meeting on June 24, but the report does not survive. At the same time the board received a note from Purnell dated June 20, asking that his resignation be accepted–and it was, though in doing so the trustees declared that Purnell was a man of character "without stain or reproach, respected and loved by all who know him." They then proceeded to tear his favorite program to pieces, though by no means unanimously. By a vote of 13 to 8 they abolished coeducation, agreeing only to allow those women already in college to complete their studies for a degree. David Murphey must have been happy to find twelve other trustees, including Dr. Bush, supporting his long-held prejudice. Governor Stockley, though present, did not vote. Some men of significance were in the minority. The man who would, in 1887, succeed Stockley as governor, former Congressman Benjamin Biggs, voted to keep coeducation, and so did the current congressman, Charles B. Lore, a future congressman, John B. Penington, and George G. Evans, the faithful secretary and treasurer of the board. William Henry Purnell, though remaining a trustee despite his resignation of the presidency, spared himself the trauma of witnessing the defeat of his plans by absenting himself from this meeting.116