When we consider the importance attached to membership in Phi Beta Kappa at the present time, it must be regarded as remarkable that for several decades its growth was very slow. Although organized in a Southern college, it did not have a second chapter in the South until 1851, when the University of Alabama became a member. The order of establishment was about as follows: (1) William and Mary, 1776; (2) Yale, 1780; (3) Harvard, 1781; (4) Dartmouth, 1787; (5) Union, 1817; (6) Bowdoin, 1825; (7) Brown, 1830; (8)Trinity, 1845; (9)Wesleyan, 1845; (10) Western Reserve, 1847; (11) Vermont, 1848; (12) Alabama, 1851. There was no chapter in Pennsylvania until 1887, when the Alpha was chartered at Dickinson, it being the twenty-sixth from the first, but more than a hundred years later. In the same year Beta was chartered at Lehigh University. These were followed by Gamma at Lafayette in 1890, and Delta at the University of Pennsylvania two years later. In the same year Epsilon was chartered at Swarthmore, and Zeta at Haverford. There seems to be some error in the record of the University of Pennsylvania, as the date of the charter is given as 1892, which would place it after the two colleges named later.
Great changes have been made in the courses of study at Dickinson since the middle of the last century. If we go still farther back, the changes are still more noteworthy. Both the subjects and the methods of teaching are widely different. Dr. Nisbet gave much of his time to systematic theology, the course in which consisted of more than four hundred lectures and required two years for their delivery. And they were not prepared for candidates for the ministry, but as part of the regular college course. How much attention he gave to private affairs when they obtruded themselves we have no means of knowing. There was need for a good deal of practical knowledge of certain kinds of practical mathematics, because of the necessity of making many surveys almost from the first settlement of the country. Little attention seems, however, to have been given to this subject by the colleges. Thomas Cooper introduced the study of chemistry, and from his time on both chemistry and physics seem to have been taught. The teaching was almost entirely by lectures. Although H. M. Johnson was professor of English literature, he did not teach it after he became president, if he ever taught it. Spencer F. Baird was a skillful teacher of natural history, but it seems to have been a subject of his own choosing and was not long continued. It was impossible to give instruction in either chemistry or physics effectively, even for the times, because of the difficulty of procuring apparatus. The conditions for admission to the various colleges in the country differed but little, if at all, in the North. Several young men were known to the writer either directly or indirectly to have been admitted ad eundem at Yale and Harvard from the Ohio University and Dickinson between the years 1850 and 1870. An examination of the course of study, as printed in the catalogues, shows them to have been virtually identical. The standard at Princeton was reputed to be exceptionally low when Dr. McCosh became president. When Dr. Eliot became president of Harvard, about the same time, he is reputed to have been instrumental in adding at least a year to the course. Yet two men could hardly be more unlike in their scholarship and their ideas of what constitutes a liberal education. The change in the attitude of the public towards higher education is also marked, in fact, almost revolutionary. A reaction has, however, begun in favor of the old order. Albeit, this is not a merely local matter and needs not to concern us here.
Among colleges the scholastic standard of Princeton was rated somewhat low, even within the memory of men still living. That scholarly but somewhat erratic Englishman, John Davis, mentioned on a preceding page, who visited Princeton in 1798, writes of it "as a place more famous for its college than for its learning." How much Davis knew about Princeton is a question; there is no question about his scholarship. The change in the attitude of the public within recent years is very marked, especially in the demand for instruction in the sciences, broadly speaking. It is, however, a question whether the attention given to the sciences and its minute subdivision is not being carried to an unwise extreme in our colleges that are designed to give a liberal education. The general trend is, no doubt, in the right direction. It is only by scientific methods that we are brought into intelligent contact with the world around us. We should indeed know the past by the careful study of history, because the past is the feet on which we stand. Albeit, our feet are not only to stand upon; they are of far greater use for walking. We can stand upon precedents; we can walk securely only when our path is illuminated by the torch of science.