THE CELEBRATION of Dickinson's 150th Anniversary is an eminently fitting time for the publication of an authoritative history, especially as no comprehensive one has been issued heretofore. The story of any institution which dates back to the closing years of the American Revolution is worthy of permanent record, and when that institution has occupied, and continues to occupy, so worthy a place in the record is imperative.
Dickinson is the twelfth oldest college in the country, based on a charter granting authority to confer the customary degrees. It might, following the example of some other institutions, claim its origin in the year 1773, when John and Thomas Penn deeded a lot in Carlisle for grammar school purposes, on which a building was erected and a school conducted until 1783, when the lot was transferred to the College and became the site of the College for the first twenty years of its operation; but despite the existence of the grammar school for ten years and its absorption into the College, the real history of Dickinson starts with the charter of September 9, 1783. This was four months before the ratification of the Treaty of Paris, acknowledging the independence of the American colonies. If the United States legally began on July 4, 1776, and the colonies then became states, Dickinson is not colonial, but if that independence began when Great Britain acknowledged the freedom of the colonies, the College is colonial. The point of view is a matter of choice, based on sentiment. In any event, when the College was founded the colonies were working under the Articles of Confederation, the chief draftsman of which, by an interesting coincidence, was John Dickinson. At the time the federal union was established by the adoption of the Constitution, followed by the election of Washington as the first President, the College was in full operation and had
graduated several classes. Colonial or not, the College is certainly pre-Federal.
No one is or can be so well qualified to write the History of Dickinson College as James Henry Morgan. Man and boy he has been intimately connected with the College since 1874, fifty-nine years less four years immediately after graduation first, as an undergraduate, then as an Assistant Professor, then as a full Professor, later Dean, and finally President. Add to this long association a lively interest in the previous history of the College, a wide knowledge of the developments in higher education, and a facility to transcribe his material into a narrative form which is at once historically accurate and easily readable, and add also access to and intelligent use of the early records, and the result is an astoundingly interesting history of the old College.
The published material was not voluminous. A comparatively brief history by Charles Francis Himes, LL.D., of the Class of 1855, was issued in 1879, one-fourth of which was devoted to the needs of the Scientific Department, as it was then called, and of which he was the head. "A Pioneer College and its Background Dickinson," by Charles W. Super, LL.D., of the Class of 1866, is an interesting, discursive sketch of one hundred pages, issued in 1923, written, as its author says, sine ira et studio, and with no pretense at being an exhaustive history. The alumni records which have been printed from time to time, especially the very comprehensive one of 1905, were useful only for the checking of dates. But there was a wealth of unpublished material. The records of the Board of Trustees and the correspondence of Nisbet, Dickinson, and Rush, particularly the voluminous letters to and from the last named, preserved in the Ridgway Branch of the Philadelphia Library, furnished mines of information.
Dr. Morgan's book has been written with an exacting fidelity to the facts. There has been no attempt to gloss over the series of administrative difficulties of the first fifty
years, or the comparative poverty of the next seventy-five. Indeed it was only during his own administration that the college's endowment began to be a substantial figure. Perhaps Dr. Morgan has refrained from fairly singing the glories of the College because he personally has had so much to do in bringing them about for over one-third of its history!
An introduction should not belie itself by attempting even a summary of contents. Suffice it to say that the main divisions of the book cover the successive administrations of the presidents of the College from 1783 to 1933. This is followed by an appendix dealing with various college activities the fraternities, athletics, publications, and the literary and other societies. By this method their records can be more readily located than if scattered at intervals through the main text.
The illustrations included are carefully selected from a vast mass of material going back more than one hundred years. The series of portraits of successive principals and presidents of the College now hanging in Old West have been drawn upon to illuminate the pages.
The aphorism attributed to James A. Garfield, that a college was a log of wood with a student at one end and Mark Hopkins of Williams at the other may not be applicable to Dickinson, but the fact that she has had great teachers, not one but many, the text of this history amply shows. The application of the phrase to Dickinson lies in the fact that despite early administrative troubles, despite lack of funds, despite the difficulties of the war between the states and the period immediately succeeding it, Dickinson has a unique and outstanding position among American colleges. From the very outset its graduates began to occupy positions of distinction in church and state, and this has continued to the present time, making due allowance for the enormous difference in the number of colleges and in the number of college-trained men between now and a century or more ago. This distinction has not
been an accident. The reason for it is one of those intangible things which can be sensed rather than isolated and indexed. There is also about the old College today a charm and tradition which are not eclipsed by the greater resources of larger institutions. A salient fact which has contributed to her prestige is the adherence to cultural education and her refusal to be diverted into a race for numbers by laxity in requirements or by the offering of so-called practical courses. The present success of the College is proof of the fact that there is a legitimate field for the first-class, small, liberal-arts college.
The completion of one hundred and fifty years of academic life is no small thing in the history of America, and while the exercises fittingly celebrating that event will naturally pass into the limbo of memory, this book, issued in connection with that celebration, will remain for many years as a comprehensive and authoritative history, for which all Dickinsonians will owe Dr. Morgan a debt of gratitude.
|BOYD LEE SPAHR|