|Chapter 28 Robert Laurenson Dashiell 1868-1872. Student Troubles|
SEPTEMBER 8, 1868, following the death of Johnson in April, the Board in special meeting for the purpose of electing a President, chose Robert Laurenson Dashiell of the Class of 1846. He entered on his duties at once, and began an administration of somewhat less than four years. Dashiell was the first alumnus President of the College. He was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and, after graduation, taught a short time in Baltimore. He then served several pastorates twelve years in the Baltimore Conference and eight years in the Newark Conference. This wide acquaintance he at once began to use for the advantage of the College. The house of the President had not been renovated for many years, and was doubtless, as Dashiell said in his first report, "untenantable." This he repaired, and while not all the expense had been met the first year, he assumed the entire cost, as also that of other minor repairs about the plant. He proposed to raise funds for the purpose by appeals to individuals, and thus conserve the regular income for ordinary current expenses.
During his four years the college property was probably improved more largely than it had been since Collins fairly well went over it. Dashiell left the old property in good shape, had practically rebuilt the "tower and belfry," as he called it, on West College. He erected on the campus the "pagoda," which was for fifteen years the center of outdoor college gatherings. It was a simple structure in a grove of trees nearly south of the eastern end of West College and about two-thirds of the distance to the south wall of the campus. Many alumni of the period from 1870 to 1887, when it disappeared, will recall it with unfeigned pleasure. In his first report he referred to the need for additional buildings and some jester said the pagoda was the outcome Mons ruit, mus fuit. Apart from the improvement in the college
plant, but little change was made in its material affairs. In 1871 Dashiell reported that a gentleman, not of the Methodist Church, had promised at some time to endow a professorship, and at a later date gave the name of Thomas Beaver of Danville. Nothing came from Mr. Beaver for many years, but in McCauley's time he did endow a professorship. Another subscription of somewhat likecharacter was announced by Dashiell, this one from Hon. Simon Cameron, Lincoln's Secretary of War for a short time, but nothing ever came of it, though the Finance Committee in 1870 urged the President to press the matter. The troubles of the second Methodist Church in Carlisle, Emory Chapel, built in Collins' time, came to a head in 1870, and it developed that the College had lent the Church $1,900 on mortgage, that the Church owed $1,560 besides, and that it was unable to meet its obligations. On Dashiell's recommendation the College paid off the balance of the church debt and took a mortgage for all its obligations, assured that the property would soon be turned over to the College by the church trustees. An appropriation of $100 was made to fit the church for commencement exercises and other college occasions, and it was so used by the College for some years, while the title was still held by the church trustees.
The Grammar School, in operation since 1773, was closed in 1869, and remained closed for eight years, though a few
preparatory students were allowed for a time to pursue their studies under college students as tutors. On the discontinuance of the School, the Principal, William Trickett, who had graduated from the College in 1868, became Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and English in the College. He continued in this relation for two years, went to Europe for two years' study, and returned as Professor in January 1873, destined to become the center of a unique and serious college controversy which will be later reported.
In 1870, Henry M. Harman began his connection of twenty-six years with the College, as Professor of Greek and Hebrew. He was especially noted as student and author, and brought to the College no little reputation. He was unique character in many ways scholarly, lovable, gullible. One has said of him, "Dr. Harman was a scholar; as teacher, informative but undisciplinary; as a man, kind hearted and easy to impose upon; ignorant of student human nature, though constantly living with it." His name is borne by one of the women's literary societies.
Dashiell's particular troubles were not financial, as with most of his predecessors, nor with war and finances, as had been the lot of his immediate predecessor, but with students. He probably thought at times that his lot would be a happy one could he have a college without the troublesome students ever present!
The trouble may have been with the students; those of his time may have chanced to be a little more restive and difficult to handle than other generations, or the trouble may have been in the handling. The hand at the helm may have been either uncertain or weak. His first report on the order of the College suggests that he may have been tempted to interfere with discipline when wiser and more experienced educators would have stayed their hands. This report said that the student order had been generally good, that his associates thought it very good. "Perhaps I have looked at their conduct from the standpoint of the pastorate, and my judgment has been not so favorable as theirs. One thing I
am happy to state, the few violations of order have been generally the outcroppings of mischief and playfulness." At the same time he speaks of the disorganized habits of study growing out of the war [now more than four years past], and the troubles he was having in raising the standards and enforcing attention to study. "This has caused some friction. The President has not escaped the usual maledictions and imprecations which are the perquisites of the office. But already an increased promptness and accuracy encourage us to hope for the best results."
During his first year he was conscious of restlessness of the college body under discipline, but while there were frequent individual cases, there was no outstanding trouble. Toward the close of the second year, however, occurred "The Rebellion, " so called by the students involved in it. It was on this wise: April 26, 1870, two classes asked Professors Trickett and Stayman to excuse them to see some event of interest in the town, and on being refused permission, cut the two classes and saw the event. The Faculty met at once, and, apparently without conference with any of the absentees, imposed "minus marks," in the parlance of the time, in very large numbers, as much as 500 to a single student. As minus marks counted against standing, this was almost as much as 25 per cent of the marks some students would make in the year. Three days later committees from the two classes met the Faculty and apologized and explained their action, asking also an amelioration of the penalty. The Faculty thereupon changed their penalty, assessing 300 minus marks on some, 200 on others, and 100 on yet others. The purpose of the varying penalty for the same offense seemed to be that they might avoid any horizontal reduction of grades, so as to leave all in the same relative position in class standing. The students involved objected to this kind of penalty, and the following paper from them was before the Faculty the next day. "The junior and senior [it should be sophomore] classes have notified the President of the College that whilst entering
their protest to the action of the Faculty, they, to prevent all further aggravation, will absent themselves from all duties until the Faculty and the students come to an understanding." And so the war was on.
This paper was considered at a Saturday night meeting of the Faculty, but the President was instructed to inform the committees that night "that the duties of the College will go on as usual, and that the determination of the Faculty ... will be made known on Monday morning in the chapel at morning prayers." It is probable that church attendance and worship for both Faculty and students was only formal on that Sabbath! Feeling was doubtless intense, with students because of uncertainty, and with the Faculty because of the grim fight they must have known was on their hands. Their announcement on Monday was that any member of the Sophomore or Junior class absent from any exercise without excuse handed the President the same day "shall be and is hereby suspended from the College until the first Thursday in September [the opening of the next college year], to be restored at the end of that time only on making satisfactory acknowledgment to the Faculty; and that any student so suspended is required to leave town for home on Tuesday before 5.20 P.M. under penalty of expulsion." On the following Wednesday the minus marks were taken off the record of one student who had been absent from the two classes in question for other reasons than this class conspiracy. The President was authorized to grant permission to any suspended student on his personal application to be present in Carlisle for the commencement exercises a little over a month later. This permission was not necessary, for though the members of the two classes retired from College and went to their homes, the matter was settled before commencement, when all were again in good standing.
The settlement was thus brought about: The suspension occurred May 2, and presumably all went home not later than the following day. Just two weeks after the suspension, May 16, a committee from the classes involved, two of them
living near the College, presented the following paper for faculty consideration. "Whereas, it is evident to us that there have been misunderstandings of the communication made to the Faculty by the students; and whereas, we have shown, we think, a proper spirit since our suspension; and, whereas, we are satisfied that in the matter of minus marks the Faculty will, on a proper and full consideration of our complaints, do us justice, we respectfully request that you will repeal the penalty of suspension now in force against us, in order that we may resume our relations with the College." The Faculty replied, in part: "Whereas, the classes have ... expressed their confidence in the purpose of the Faculty to do right; and, whereas the Faculty feel that the ends of discipline contemplated in their original action, have been secured, they accordingly order that the penalty of minus marks be freely and fully remitted."
So closed "The Rebellion," though there remained, doubtless, many sore spots in the College and in the minds of individual students. Edwin Post, valedictorian of the Class of 1872, was one of these. He was a great teacher of Latin, and for many years Dean of De Pauw University. His letter on the subject not many months before his death says:
You ask me for what information I may be able to give you about the college "rebellion" that occurred in my time. I am not sure that I can recall all the details, though they were enough in evidence at the time.
The facts were about as follows: The colored folk of Carlisle planned to celebrate the adoption of the fourteenth amendment, and some well-known speaker (white) was to speak. The classes of 1871 and 1872 requested Professor Trickett to excuse them from one recitation that they might hear the address. He refused. Nobody save John Wilson put in appearance at the recitation. Neither class held any meeting and voted to cut, nor was there any "conspiracy," as the Faculty charged. Doubtless groups said to each other they were going to hear the address. The Faculty met at once, and through Trickett's influence, as we understood, from 300 to 500 marks were placed on the rebels. Had these marks been assessed equally, peace might have been made. But it was given out that the marks were loaded on the men in the class who presumably stood highest, on the theory that they presumably had the influence to control the class. Then the classes voted not to attend classes further unless the injustice was righted. We were then notified to go home within 24 hours
under the sentence of indefinite suspension or suffer expulsion. This we did, of course. Subsequently the trustees in some way interfered and we received notice from the Faculty, that "in view of the fine spirit shown by the members of the two classes" ... whatever that meant ... We were at liberty to return the subsequent year. Out of about 40 of my class, but 16 came back, though two persons joined our class later, so that we graduated sixteen. I should not have returned, but for my father, who did not wish me to graduate at a Presbyterian college. I expected to enter Princeton. My experience long rankled.
I well remember purposely avoiding Dr. Himes on the grounds of the Centennial Exposition in 1876, because I did not wish to meet him, and when I returned to Carlisle for the 45th anniversary of my graduation did not care to meet Dean Trickett.
The Senior class had no thought, apparently, of taking part in the trouble; their graduation was too near to be jeopardized; or less likely, they had no sympathy with the two classes. The Freshman class, however, was in a turmoil and, as shown by extracts from another letter from a member of that class, came very near going out on a sympathy strike. The letter says: "1870 stood aloof, being too near graduation. The class of 1873 (my class) held a meeting in the old pagoda on the campus (a favorite meeting-place) and after three hours wrangling decided by a close vote not to join (we had no grievance). Many thought we should, but the majority decided no. Prominent amongst those who wanted to join the rebellion were G. E. Wilbur (Pop) and Jim Dale. The conservatives were Bender, Hillman and Biddle. The matter was compromised. After 1870 took their recess before commencement the old college was lonely, only 23 members of 1873 in attendance."
During the next college year there were student troubles again, though this time of students with students. The Union Philosophical Society had internal troubles; they were not able to hold meetings without coming to blows. There is no record of the cause, progress, or close of the trouble. A member of the college Class of 1872 who was engaged in the trouble has given an account of it. It seems that the non-fraternity students of the College found that fraternity men so managed college politics as to get all
desirable offices in the two societies of the College. They came to a secret agreement, therefore, that all non-fraternity men of the Belles Lettres Society should resign. Their fellow non-fraternity men of the Union Philosophical Society would hold a hastily called meeting of their society, and admit the resigned Belles Lettres non-frats to the Union Society. They would thus be all together, and able to get some of the offices for themselves by weight of numbers. The plan was discovered, and a quarrel between the fraternity and non-fraternity men of the Union Society occurred in the Union Hall, and resulted in physical violence a real fight to prevent the carrying out of the proposals of the non-frats. Members of the Union Society were expelled and admitted to the Belles Lettres Society, so that there was also an intersociety quarrel. The Faculty tried to settle the trouble, but, with the usual result for those who mix in family brawls, their actions were resented by both sides. The local trustee Finance Committee was called in to help, but to no avail. The Union Philosophical Society was finally closed by faculty order, and their case was referred to the next meeting of the Board, also to no avail. After another year, however, Dr. Dashiell was able to report that the Society had in some way composed its own difference. "It will gratify you to know that the troubles in one of the literary societies, which met you on your last assembly, have passed away. The combatants have worked together pleasantly."
This announcement of the President was followed by reference to another phase of organized student life. There has never been any formal repeal of the 1852 ban on fraternities, but at the close of Dashiell's term several fraternity chapters were in full swing in the College, and an antifraternity organization existed, called the Independents. In his final report, Dashiell recognizes the status quo, saying, "The young gentlemen of the Independent persuasion have organized a new Fraternity, and wear with proper pride a beautiful badge, as the symbol of their new order. This, I think, will finish for some years the war....