|Chapter 26 Charles Collins 1852-1860. |
CHARLES COLLINS, who succeeded Peck, was born in Maine in 1813, graduated in 1837 from Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, was principal of the high school of Augusta, Maine, for one year, and then became President of Emory and Henry College in Virginia. From thence he came to Dickinson in 1852 at the age of thirty-nine years. Dickinson College had given him an honorary D.D. in 1851.
On his arrival in Carlisle, Collins had to face the continuing financial difficulties which, as previously detailed, had led the trustees to try the scholarship plan. He seems to have been so good a man for these difficulties that for two years, wonderful to say, he reported an annual surplus of $808 in 1853, and $1,282 in 1854. The new scholarships then in effect cut off all revenues from tuition, resulting in a deficit of $3,000 in 1855 and $1,200 in 1856, both clearly due to the operation of the newly issued scholarships. It was a tragedy that these scholarships, which were to relieve the College, really embarrassed it, but the reason is not far to seek.
The scholarship plan had been adopted in principle by the Board in 1851, being then referred to a committee to work out in detail; and a special meeting of the Board was held February 18, 1852, to consider this committee's plans. This meeting approved a plan to sell a large number of cheap scholarships in order to increase the endowment to $200,000. Scholarships for four years were to be sold for $25; ten years, $50; and twenty-five years, $100. These scholarships were to be accepted for tuition in the College. For its success the plan needed the approval of the Conferences, and the special February meeting of the Board as above was held, so that their scholarship plans could go to the spring Conferences
for approval. The plan was adopted by the trustees and presented to the Conferences, which heartily adopted it.
Straightway after the Conference approval in 1852, Conference agents began to seek subscriptions for scholarships in all their territory. No scholarships were to be distributed or money collected for them until $100,000 had been subscribed. By the time the Board met in 1854, this first $100,000 had been nearly subscribed, and the small balance was taken at Carlisle by the commencement visitors and trustees. Strange as it now seems, it was ordered that the plan should go into effect at once, so that even the following year, tuition might be paid by these scholarships.
This action was foolish in the extreme. No funds to take the place of tuition fees could possibly be available from the new source for a whole year. No scholarships had been delivered, and not a dollar of the additional endowment hoped for from scholarship sales had yet been secured. Much less could there be any added income from increase of invested funds, and from such income alone could the loss of tuition be supplied. Conference agents, it is true, at once began to distribute scholarships and collect money for them, but this required time. If all could have been collected at once, it could not have been invested so as to bring the quick returns needed for the next year's college needs. All but sixteen students who came to the College in September, 1854, and all but three the next term, had scholarships. Tuition fees had disappeared. Disaster faced the College.
The men responsible for this wretched business were sensible men of affairs, and it seems only fair to them to seek some explanation of their unfortunate action. A possible solution is suggested in the report of Collins in 1856. It seems probable that, in their joy at reaching the first $100,000 at this 1854 commencement, representatives of the Conferences present made unofficial promises of help from the Conferences promises not fully realized. The Conferences at their next sessions in 1855 took official action to raise $6,000 for the College, interest on the $100,000
They seem to have raised $3,000 instead of $6,000, and so the disaster. At any rate it was a bad situation.
Other evils followed, even worse, if that were possible, because of their permanent character. All the energies of the agents were at once necessarily turned to the distribution of scholarships and the collection of money for them. The additional $100,000 of the plan was neglected, with little it ever subscribed. They stopped halfway in getting subscriptions, and added to their investments less than half the first $100,000 subscribed. Their invested funds before the scholarship campaign had been about $32,000, at its close $70,000, showing an addition of $38,000. The expenses of agents had been heavy, and many scholarships subscribed for in the early campaign were never taken or paid for by the subscribers. Little was added to the permanent funds. Tuition fees practically disappeared for many years, and old scholarships even yet appear from time to time to worry college administrations.
Collins had two good first years financially, as already said, and two of heavy deficits during the change to the scholarship plan, while the College was without either tuition fees or increased endowment. To make conditions worse, living costs began to rise sharply. Increase of salaries, that the Professors might live, was absolutely necessary, and even during the disastrous first year of the scholarship plan $300 was added to the President's salary and $200 to that of each of the Professors. As Collins faced these hard conditions, he reported that he saw no way to make income meet expenses but through a larger return on their invested funds. He saw that much higher interest was paid in the West than in the East. In this extremity, therefore, he urged that the college funds be invested where they would command this higher rate of interest. Accordingly, the Conference Boards invested $42,000 in the West at 12 per cent instead of the usual 6 per cent at home, and this, Collins said, was equal to an added $42,000 of endowment on the old basis.
On the face of things, Collins was right, but then, as now,
abnormal returns were largely payment for the risk involved, and the investments were not safe. During the first year of this higher rate he had a surplus, but the next year he could meet expenditures only if some delayed interest was paid. The following year, 1859, he reported considerable unpaid interest, and in 1860 a loan of $4,300 was necessary to meet accumulated deficits, which could have been paid had overdue interest from the West been received. For many years these western investments were a source of worry, and the "Milwaukee" loans became almost a byword. In 1879 there was definite acceptance of the loss of $11,200 of this loan, and four years later the sum of $20,000 of these funds so long in jeopardy was collected and safely invested.
This unwise investment venture is not properly chargeable to Collins. The business men on his Board were much more to blame than he, and should have prevented the blunder. Collins was really an efficient man in the business of the College. He was active in gathering funds for specific purposes. For years there had been an annual wail over the dilapidated condition of the college plant, and he got permission to spend a little money on paint and carpenter-work to keep the buildings from falling to pieces. The following year, however, he reported to the Board that without using their grant for the purpose, he had spent an enormous sum for the time $2,200 to put the buildings in shape, and himself, by personal appeals, had raised the entire sum. He bought and paid for a telescope for the College, and built the observatory which surmounted South College for so many years prior to 1927.
It seems almost petty to speak of pavements about the campus as a major trouble, but such they were. In 1855 the Borough had ordered pavements, but the College had sought delay. Yearly thereafter came a repetition of the order to pave, and in 1858 notice was given that the Borough would proceed with the work and add 20 per cent to the cost as a penalty for failure on the part of the College. The year following, the work was done by the Borough, and the next
year, 1860, Collins reported that a lien of $1,200 had been entered against the college property, though he considered it questionable whether the property could be sold to secure the money. The trustees had no mone to satisfy the lien. They had already borrowed largely to meet annual deficits, and now instructed the local Finance Committee to care for the matter as seemed to them best. The debt was acknowledged by the payment of interest on it for a time, and was apparently paid from from the loan of 1861, when they borrowed from the two Conferences and funded their entire debt. In his report on this paving matter, the President said that the order to pave seemed to him "unnecessary and oppressive"; and it seems probable that the order was given with scant consideration for the institution struggling for its life, and without influential local backing. The cost was small in amount, as we see it today, but it added about 12 per cent to the whole annual budget of the College, and was a sort of "last straw," being possibly one of the things leading Collins to accept the opportunity to go to an offered position in the South, easier and more lucrative.
Two years after his arrival, Collins announced that he had secured the portraits of Nisbet, Emory, Caldwell, and Peck, had placed them in the college library, and that he hoped to secure others. Durbin and Allen, of the "others" meant, were in the Board to which he made the report, and he suggested that they might donate their portraits. Durbin's portrait came later from his daughter, Mrs. Fletcher Harper, of New York City. There are now portraits on the walls of "Old West" of all Presidents, some of them the gift of Boyd Lee Spahr, of the Class of 1900, now President of the Board of Trustees. President Collins initiated this movement, and President Filler completed it seventy-five years later.
Collins proposed an extensive building program, including a dormitory west of West College, and a Gothic chapel between East and West Colleges, to complete the row across the campus. He thought that the dormitory would accommodate 200 students at $10 per year, and this would
abundantly care for the interest on the cost which was estimated at $25,000. The building plans of later years have taken another direction, but friends of the College yet feel keenly that a chapel is much needed. When it comes, however, it is to be hoped that it may be colonial, as are the other characteristic buildings of the plant.
A second Methodist Church was built during Collins' time. It may be recalled that Dr. Crooks feelingly described Durbin's inaugural procession of 1834 to the Methodist Church in the alley, when apparently College and Church were on good terms. Division later arose on lines of "town and gown," and by 1854 college Methodism was worshipping in the college chapel, though commencement exercises continued in the church. In 1857, however, Collins reported to the Board that for some years permission to use the church had been given with increasing reluctance, and that it had been finally refused, so that the exercises would have to be held in the court-house. The reason assigned was that it would be a desecration of the church edifice. On this Collins said he would not comment. The old church had borrowed $1,550 of the college funds and had been paying $93 annual interest; but Collins reported at the same time that this interest had not been paid for three years and that the church proposed to repudiate the debt. Settlement was made several years later, but for a much smaller sum than the claim. Relations between the old church and the College were evidently very bad.
Growing out of these bad relations, a new church building project was entered upon, backed by the college people and in some ways by the college Board. The latter gave to the new church , Emory Chapel by name, some building materials lying unused on the campus, probably made small money contributions, later lent it money on mortgage, and finally took over the building, which it held for many years after the unfortunate venture was liquidated. The building was used for about twenty years for church purposes, a few years for the Preparatory School of the College, then for the Dickinson
School of Law. It was finally sold by the College to another church of Carlisle as the site for its own new building, with fairer promise than the one built there a half century before. Conditions may have forced action in this church enterprise, but the venture was unfortunate both in inception and outcome.
The principal track of the Cumberland Valley Railroad threads High Street in front of the campus, and its sidings in the western part of the town were a near-nuisance till very recent years. Attempts to get rid of them began in Durbin's time, but he reported to the Board that nothing could be done. There was in the early years a siding occupying a good part of what is now the sidewalk on the south of the campus, but this was finally removed. Another siding, however, was put down on the south side of the main track, and on this it was customary to load and unload freight cars. Against this there were almost annual protests on the part of the College during Collins' administration, with temporary abatement only until very recent years. Now all sidings have been moved to the west of the main college campus.
In 1855 it was stated to the Board that water had been brought to the town from the creek and had been introduced into the President's house in East College, and the laboratory in South College. The senior Professor asked that his house in West College also be connected. Shortly after this the two hydrants at the north of East and West Colleges were installed, and from these for many years successive generations of students carried water to their rooms. They had before obtained water from cisterns and from the old well near the southeast corner of West College. On this introduction of hydrants the well was closed, though a cistern at East College was kept in condition a few years longer.
General living conditions were very primitive, and little had been done in sanitation or the control of disease. A short time before this it was urged that the College open the middle of August, as it would bring students there before the malarial season had infected them at their homes; and
in 1853 an outbreak of smallpox in the College resulted in a requirement that students entering in future must show that they had been vaccinated. Probably few had this now almost universal protection.
In 1855 Collins announced the death of William A Biddle, a trustee living in Carlisle who had for twenty-two years served faithfully and wisely. He had been legal adviser of the Finance Committee, of which he was secretary; and had often used his name and credit to strengthen the notes the College was compelled to negotiate. All this he did without financial compensation, wherefore the Board acknowledged his services in unusual resolutions, recording them in an unusual way. The Finance Committee cancelled their claim for tuition or fees from his son, in College after his death. He was the grandfather of E. M. Biddle, Jr., Class of 1886, President Judge of the courts of Cumberland County, 1922-1932, and uncle of Edward W. Biddle, Class of 1870, judge of the county courts, 1895-1905, and President of the Board of Trustees for nineteen years, 1912-1913, resigning in June, 1931, shortly before his death.
Student numbers during Collins' time were about as before, but he seemed to handle them well. Tradition had it that he was chosen because he was such a disciplinarian as the College needed after Peck's administration, and he did take a firm grip on student life. Shortly after his arrival, the students tried to cry him down at evening chapel. He remained perfectly calm through it all, in no sense perturbed. The students, on the other hand, soon tired of their noise and grew hungry on the passing of the supper hour. Collins had his way, won the victory of the strong man, and put an end to such occurrences, which had been all too common during Peck's time. He met the fraternity question, as will appear under "Fraternities," and his first report to the Board told of his handling of a conspiracy of the students. He forbade all meetings of students, classes, or organizations unless permission had been granted previously. So firmly did he establish this rule that it prevailed for at least twenty
years. It would astonish students of today to be told that such regulations ever existed. His methods would not succeed today, but in a few years he was able to report that there was "great peace and quiet" in the College; and the records of the meetings of the Faculty show that this was true.
Collins seems not to have had much respect for a custom merely because of its age. He laid heavy hand on the very early morning chapel. In 1839, under Durbin's administration, chapel hour for winter was changed to 7 o'clock in the morning, having been 6 o'clock before. The change was made following a largely signed petition of citizens of Carlisle. Some wag said that some of the signatures were secured because the signers were disturbed in their morning slumbers by the profanity of students plowing their way through the winter snows to chapel. The 7 o'clock hour seemed to be accepted as a necessary evil, and one hour better than before. Collins, at the close of his administration, made the chapel hour 8.45. There was a temporary return to 7 o'clock under Dashiell, but generally, after Dashiell's time, the chapel hour was, for a generation, about 8 or 8.30, just before the first recitation.
Collins resigned in 1860, at the close of eight years of service. His going was greatly regretted by the Board, and they said in generous fashion that the College under him had "prospered in an eminent degree." A comparison of their reception of his resignation with that on the going of his predecessor shows that they accepted as true the latter's statement that he was leaving work for which he was but ill fitted. Collins, on the other hand, seemed fitted for his task, and is supposed to have gone that he might make better provision for a growing family.
He went from Carlisle to a ladies' school near Memphis, Tennessee. James F. Rusling of the Class of 1854, and thus one of Collins' boys, told of an interesting personal encounter with Collins in Tennessee. Rusling was in military command of the Memphis section late in the war, and those
wishing to travel through the section applied to him for permits to do so. Collins was one of these applicants, but did not recognize his old student, Rusling, until he made himself known to his old college President. Rusling said that it gave him great pleasure to make it easy for Collins to go and come.
One of Collins' old students said that the students generally considered him favorable to the South, and this may have led him to go to the South when he left Carlisle. Collins died in 1875, and a few years later the yellow-fever epidemic in Memphis decimated his family, taking a son, a daughter, and a son-in-law at one fell swoop.
Like Atwater of fifty years before, Collins came from afar and went far away on leaving the College. For this reason, probably, neither of them has been much noted or long remembered in college circles. Both of them, however, seem to have been manly men, able and willing to do a full man's part.