The Class of 1934: Instability In The Office
Of The Presidency
The class of 1934 experienced a lack of Presidential leadership unequal
to any other time period in Dickinson College’s Proud History. The
events which occurred, within the office of the Presidency, between March
of 1931 until May of 1934 would leave an indescribably disconcerting impression
upon its Graduates as they approached a world outside the College’s limestone
walls, a harsh world met with depression and war. Beginning with
the saddening death of President Mervin Grant Filler and ending with the
permanent resignation of Dr. James Henry Morgan, the members of the class
of 1934 were confronted with “uncertain economic conditions of the world
which created a devastating effect on business and institutions”(Board
of Trustees). The class of ‘34’ was forced to tolerate changes, within
the office of the Presidency, on four separate occasions during their time
here. Such a series of events tended to discourage campus morale,
“Dickinson, without a leader, seemed indeed in a most unfortunate condition”(Board
of Trustees), and such a dilemma would have a lasting effect on its graduates.
The class of 1934 would be remembered for the same hardships that affected
the outside world, they were a symbol of an era.
In August of 1928 Mervin Grant Filler, class of 1893, was appointed to
the Presidency of Dickinson College upon the resignation of President James
Henry Morgan. Dr. Filler Chaired the A.J. Clark Professorship of
Latin Language and Literature for 28 years and was currently serving as
the Dean of the College, a position he held for 14 years, upon being elected
to the Dickinson’s office of the Presidency. Dr. Filler served distinguishable
for close to three years before suffering from a “virulent attack of influenza
which culminated into chronic nephritis”(Board of Trustees) and caused
his death on the morning of March 28, 1931 at the University of Philadelphia
Hospital. Upon Dr. Filler’s recommendation, with the best interests
of the college always at hand, an executive committee of the Board of Trustees,
headed by Judge E.W. Biddle, was called into session that same morning
to establish a replacement for the School’s progressively sickening leader.
The school, desperate for dependable leadership, unanimously elected and
turned to the venerable Dr. James Henry Morgan. Dr Morgan had already
served the College in practically every capacity, “For fifty-four years
Dr. Morgan had been associated with the College-as a student, professor,
dean and then President, and his whole life had been entwined with Dickinson
and Dickinsonians”(Board Of Trustees). Dr. Morgan reluctantly accepted
the post although felt a deep seeded concern for the College’s welfare
and eagerly assumed the institutions most eminent role of leadership, and
did so demanding that he receive no salary or compensation for his duties.
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Boyd Lee Spahr, was chosen to head
a committee of five members of the board to recruit and elect a new President
of the College. The committee nominated Dr. Karl Tinsley Waugh, elected
by the Board of Trustees as the College’s Twentieth President in October
of 1931, who later assumed Presidential duties on January 4, 1933.
Dr. Waugh was an innovative and progressive leader who strove to modernize
and reform many of the College’s policies during his tenure, unfortunately
such change was not conducive to meeting the needs of the College’s current
Board of Trustees and Waugh was asked to resign on June 24, 1933, after
only serving as President for roughly over fifteen months. The removal
of Waugh greatly contributed to the dispiriting nature of the student’s
morale and the grasping of effective leadership in a time of such economic
and social instability. The Board again elected Dr. Morgan as its
interim President. A further examination of the turbulent times regarding
the Waugh Presidency can be found in Waugh,
Morgan, and the Board of Trustees: Dickinson College at the Crossroads
The Board of Trustees was unable to find a permanent replacement for Dr.
Morgan until October of 1934. The honor was bestowed upon Dr. Fred
Pierce Corson, a President who was able to restore the College to some
degree of normalcy in the following years.
It was rather unfortunate that the Class of 1934 was forced to endure such
frequent changes in the College’s leadership during their years of education.
It can only have prepared them for the instability of the world to which
they were entering, immersed in an economic depression and thrust into
the Second World War. Thankfully their education was not deterred
and they entered the world as graduates who had taken on disappointment
in leadership firsthand, walking down the steps of Old West in May of 1934
as tested leaders themselves, ready and willing to conquer the odds of
the outside world as Proud Dickinsonians.