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 of Leadership.
    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.