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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1900 Letter

Frank M. Weston

Delivered: June 1950

Following a practice of nearly 50 years I begin with a text, and hasten to add — this is to be a letter — informal and, I trust, informing — and the text is simply a point of departure.

It is written in the Book, “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid — neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”

Samuel Kirkland chose this hilltop, as a candlestick for a college — an ideal site for Hamilton.

For 139 years, it has meant a climb — a real effort to get here and to stay here. Hamilton has never been a rich man’s college. Many of our class worked their way through.

In our day, no student owned an automobile — and no member of faculty. There were only 8,000 cars in the country — to frighten horses and for dogs to chase. We walked up the Hill! — many times. I am told that a faculty member computed the distance he has walked up and down this hill — it totals one and a quarter times around the world.

Americans are long on education. It’s the basis of an enduring democracy.

The first public building erected by our Pilgrim Fathers was a church – the second was a schoolhouse, and we’ve never stopped building them. We may starve the teachers, but we never grouse over the school tax.

Not every boy and girl can afford the time or the money for a college education. But, in spite of this, our 2,000 colleges are now “bursting at the seams.” President Truman’s Committee on Education estimates four and a half million young people will be ready for college in the next 10 years. There is room for only those of highest scholastic standing. President McEwen is credited with the statement that one-half of these will be financially unable to pay their way. They have three alternatives: first to work their way through by babysitting, bellringing, mail carrying or laundry collection; second to borrow and pay later; third to compete for scholarship aid.

Look magazine tells how Yale University allots $400,000 a year for scholarships to eligible men, the largest amount of any college in the country. (Five thousand apply and 1,100 are admitted.) Hamilton could well use a similar fund!

What do you find when you get to Hamilton?

First, a wonderfully beautiful campus, “one of the loveliest in all America,” with century-old trees and buildings from one rock quarry. We will have one color scheme as they age and change through the years – a campus that gives a constant thrill.

No college should be hemmed in. What an outlook one has from this hilltop! You can see for miles the surrounding country and communities — a continuous reminder of the world into which graduates will soon go — to assume places of leadership, and the youth of these communities rejoice that Hamilton is here and aspire one day to share in what it has to give.

It was President Stryker who described Hamilton as “a little college of large men.” That has always been true of her faculty.

What is a college?

A Williams man answered — “A college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other end.”

What makes a college good and great? There is one answer — the teachers, the faculty.

There were fewer than 30 of them when we entered. There are 59 now, keeping the ratio of one to 10 students. I would like to call the roll — as we did then.

Prexy Stryker — 25 years president. That is the longest term up to now. President Ferry served for 20 years. President McEwen has something of a record to shoot at! Dr. Stryker was an autocrat — a czar, a dictator. He was an educator and a builder, a lover and planter of trees. To him, more than to any other man, we owe much for making and keeping this one of the most beautiful campuses in the land. How he would rejoice today in these new buildings — this chaste and beautiful Chapel. It is a gem. We stood in awe of him at first and then came to appreciate him and love him. He was great and good — one of the really great college presidents of his day.

Then “Old Greek” — kindly, gracious, gifted scholar — recognized as one of the best of his generation. To have had him for a teacher was a prized privilege and benediction.

Then “Old Hope” — Bill Nye, dean of the College — one of the homeliest men on the faculty and one of the finest — a brilliant scholar and teacher.

Then there were: “Square Root” — a dynamic personality, who made mathematics fascinating; “Snitzy Brandt,” “Little Greek,” “Bill Squires,” “Bugs Morrill,” “Sam Saunders,” “Bill Shep,” “Tom Nichols,” Smith and Ibbotson – Higbee and Baesche and Dudley and Elkins — Ward and Andrews and Stone.

All of them good men, many of them great men. They taught us much — they showed us more wisdom in the riches of personality and friendship.

“Prexy Stryker” was a great teacher. For two years he took over the elocution department after Professor Smith’s resignation. In my sophomore year he was my “drill” for an appearance on Saturday noon rhetoricals. There was a death scene in the oration, and I was not doing too well with it. Prexy said, “Weston, have you ever seen a man die? No — Well, you will have to see it if you are to speak this piece. Now look at me.” Here was the president of the College — stately, a large pompous man always immaculately attired — flat on his back in the dusty aisle of this Chapel, going through the contortions of a suffering, drying man. A truly great teacher. He was also a great preacher.

He was famous in New York State for his epigrammatic passages. I remember, as though it were yesterday and not 50 years ago, a sermon on “I Believe in God.” Here is one passage.

“The day is the time for work. The night is the time for wonder and for worship. Go out tonight under the stars and look up. How many can you see? Five thousand with the unaided eye (and now with Palomar – twice five hundred thousand). Remember they are planets (most of them larger than our earth) millions or billions of light years away, moving with a speed and precision that staggers the mind and imagination of man. But we can say, ‘My Father made them all.’”

And Bill Nye — one of the greatest preachers and teachers on this campus in our day, said in speaking of a man of great faith, “Where he walks seeing, we can walk blindly, if need be – till we see.”

What we got out of College was what we learned from books and teachers and what we caught from great personalities.

I don’t know what the faculty thought of us, especially when they first laid eyes on us. They never divulged that. I have a class picture I look at occasionally. I have never had it framed. Suffice it to say it does not look like a 1950 college group. Five wore sweaters (some were the turtleneck variety); 11 wore derby hats. There were some cutaway coats in evidence.

We began our career with two ciphers against us. Or better, we had this distinction — only one class in 100 years can use two ciphers for its numerals, and we are that class.

When Harvard (the oldest university in the country, founded in 1636) celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1936, the freshman class of that year carried a banner in the parade which read — “Harvard University has been waiting for us for 300 years.”

Anyhow – Hamilton admitted us!

Ours is one of the smallest classes — perhaps the smallest in the last 50 years, and yet the numbers have given a good account of themselves. All have married, happily and well — we trust, and 14 are fathers. But of the 37 children reported by these fathers, 25 are girls and 12 are boys. Two fathers report a son graduated from Hamilton or is in the present student body.

A number of the class carried Phi Beta Kappa keys with them, and many have master’s degrees, and a still larger number have their names in Who’s Who in America.

Seven of the class have been teachers in schools and colleges. deRegt was a professor in Rutgers College for 41 years. MacHarg, a teacher for years and then an inventor with Eastman Kodak.

Four have been businessmen — Holbrook taught and then went into the banking business. In time, he became vice president of one of Wall Street’s great banks.

Three have been or are lawyers — Spencer was a teacher, then a lawyer — a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association. He specialized in patent and trademark law, and had important cases from coast to coast for clients from both sides of the Atlantic. Ben Moore (we mourn him today) made an enviable record as a lawyer and became a judge. He refused twice the nomination for mayor of his city. In 1941, he was chosen Yonkers’ “Man of Outstanding Achievement” — a trusted and greatly beloved man.

Three are ministers — Sheppard has the record — father of six, and for 50 years a preacher and pastor. Henderson had several pastorates and then for years was associated with Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis at Plymouth Temple. He has been a prolific writer of religious articles for the Brooklyn Eagle Your annalist had three pastorates in 27 years and served as executive secretary and treasurer of the Rochester Presbytery for 16 years.

Thayer has been in YMCA membership and rehabilitation work.

Warfield spent his life in war service. He began as a private and went all the way up to brigadier general. He has a badge for “distinguished service,” the Silver Star, the Purple Heart and the Croix de Guerre.

We have never ceased to be glad we came to the College on the Hill, and to be grateful for the Hamilton training we received and the rich and rewarding friendships that accrued to us here.

What is the function of a college, and how is Hamilton measuring up?

To bring men on to maturity, as far as may be.
To develop and train men.
To teach men to think – to think straight – to think through, to evaluate – to form judgments – to make decisions.
To teach men to live well.
To teach men how to live together – happily and usefully.
To reveal to men the amenities of life.
To educate the whole man – to make him a worthy citizen – a well-rounded good life.

Hamilton is one of this country’s top classical colleges. Algo D. Henderson, New York State associate commissioner of state education, said of Hamilton, in introducing President McEwen at the 83rd convocation of the University of New York, “Its program has no peer in the great tradition of liberal arts.”

Man is a three-story structure. There is more to him than the part that eats bread and wears clothes, or as another says — from the neck up.

Education alone is not enough. Ben Franklin said, “Knowledge is power.” True – Power for what? Good or evil.

Remember they were educated men (shrewd, designing men) who obeyed Hitler at Munich – who organized the Nazi forces – who liquidated the Jews and made a shambles of Europe.

There is place for – and need for – the moral and spiritual in education.

Samuel Kirkland dreamed of an institution that would “enlarge the bounds of human happiness, and the reign of virtue, and the Kingdom of the Blessed Redeemer.”

Elihu Root said, “unless we can keep education linked with religion, education is doomed and democracy with it.”

Dr. Paul Johnston, chaplain of Leland Stanford University, said, “Man may be an animal, but he is a religious animal, and he cannot sluff off his religious nature.” From the beginning (139 years) the Chapel has been at the center of the campus life.

There has been a tendency of late to soft-pedal the ancient languages, especially in some universities, (the so-called “dead languages”) and to lean over backward lest they be thought religious. A college is not a theological seminary (it is not meant to be), nor is it a vocational or a finishing school.

“A liberal education that omits religion is not liberal at all.”

President Lowry of Wooster says, “Our American dream of peace and good will and plenty of leisure will be a nightmare unless Christian Truth can get a chance on the campus.”

President McEwen – “Hamilton College will continue to be guided by the spirit that has marked it from the first.”

When our class came to College (believe it or not, that was 54 years ago), we had a very different world than the one we have on our hands today.

The world was at peace. We were on good terms with the nations of the world and expected to so remain. The world was friendly and wished us well. There was no war cloud on the horizon – no fear or apprehension of danger. Living was relatively simple and cheap. There was work for all who wanted it. Unskilled labor received $1 a day, and walked to work, or rode a streetcar. A skilled clerk or bookkeeper received $10 or $12 a week – a school teacher a little more. Potatoes we 30 cents a bushel, eggs 12 cents a dozen, milk 5 cents a quart. Meals at commercial hotels and restaurants were 15 to 25 cents. Business was good, life was simple and good also.

Then this amazing 20th century dawned. Some say there have been more changes in the last 50 years than in the preceding 5000. We had what Churchill calls “The Golden Years” before the wars. To be sure there was much we did not then have. No mile-a-minute autos, nylon stockings, movies, Toni waves, Jack Benny, Rockettes, radios, television, Margaret Rose to astonish the Britains, Mary Martin in South Pacific, Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin.

Our today world is large — just as large as ever with five continents and the oceans between thoroughfares — not barriers.

It is small — so small that anything that happens anywhere is of import everywhere; the silk monopoly in Japan was broken by the discovery of nylon from cellulose in our research laboratories.

It is wonderful beyond words; what a world it is, and what a wonder world it can be.

It is precarious — we live in the atomic age. “The atom bomb is here to stay; are we?” Bound up in that bomb and the hydrogen bomb (if it be its successor) are unlimited potentialities of power for evil or for good, for all mankind. Is man good enough to use it aright? Or has the knowledge of men outrun moral and spiritual growth?

We have two worlds today — the USA and the USSR. We have seen the rise and fall of one Russia, of the Czars; and now the rise of another Russia, more sinister, more purposeful and ruthless than the other. Russia is out to dominate the world. Already she has her grip on one half the populations of Asia and Europe, and now in China and Tibet. The struggle is on for liberty, freedom and the good life for all men.

In the providence of God, the US is out in front – whether we like it or not. America is the leader nation of the world today. The eyes of the world’s teeming millions, the retarded, the underprivileged, the oppressed are on the US. They want what we have – liberty, democracy, the four freedoms — a chance for life without want and fear — life in fullness for all.

America is the leader nation of the world now, and there is no other in sight. We have the world on our hands. Not Great Britain – shorn of her colonies, wealth and power in the last war. With our help, she is coming back. And the United States has accepted the responsibility.

Surely the nations of the world know by now of our goodwill — that we do not want war — that we are ready and eager to establish lasting peace on the earth — ready at any price to enforce peace. This is a critical time in the world’s history, and this is our world in an appalling way.

Blessed are the peacemakers — to prevent war — by restraining any who would wage it.

I quote: “International friendliness is, of course, the best national defense. Pending the establishment of such friendship, however, and because we must deal with a powerful and predatory nation, always on a belligerent footing — and in view of our tremendous responsibility of establishing and maintaining peace throughout the world — let us speak with a strong and steady voice and exercise a firm and fair hand.”

It means vigorous and costly pursuit of peace. Let us be grateful for the power we have and use it for the benefit of all. Let us have wisdom and leadership to match it.

Out of our colleges and universities come the men who are to be the leaders. Oh for an Elihu Root in Congress now! Hamilton is on the right track.

President Rudd said, “This crazy world needs men of the kind that Hamilton can help you to be!”

Hats off to the past — coats off to the future!