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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 107: Hamilton College.

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1542-1549 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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1798, Hamilton Oneida Academy, founded by Rev. Samuel Kirkland — 1812, Hamilton College — From one building to seventeen — Its library — Publications.

By Milledge L. Bonham, Jr.
Professor of History, Hamilton College.

Hamilton College owes its inception to the piety of the Reverend Samuel Kirkland, the apostle to the Oneida Indians. All through the latter half of the eighteenth century Kirkland labored amongst the Iroquois and prevented some tribes from joining the British during the Revolution, while he allied the main body of the Oneidas and a large part of the Tuscaroras with the patriot cause. Being given a large tract of land in the Oneida domain in 1788, Kirkland decided to use part of it for the education of white and Indian youths. The parcel of land he set aside for this purpose is situated on a magnificent hill top in the town of Kirkland in present Oneida County. It overlooks the valleys of the Mohawk and Oriskany, with the foothills of the Adirondacks barely perceptible in the distance. The original forest has been thinned out, and as the old trees have died, they have been replaced either by their own kind or by other species suited to the soil and climate, so as to make the campus one of the most beautiful and attractive in America. The college is a mile and a half west of the village of Clinton, New York.

[Photo: Statue of Col. Alexander Hamilton]

This village was settled in 1787 by seven families from New England and was named for Governor George Clinton. Six years later Kirkland made a trip to Philadelphia where he interested President Washington, Secretaries Knox and Hamilton and other notables in his proposed school. Hamilton agreed to serve as a trustee. That same year Kirkland secured a charter for "The Hamilton Oneida Academy." A vigorous campaign for funds secured pledges of labor, materials, and occasionally, money, enabling the promoters to begin the erection of the academy building in the summer of 1794. General the Baron von Steuben laid the cornerstone on July 1st of that year. Lack of funds, however, delayed the completion of the building and the opening of the academy until 1798. John Niles, an alumnus of Yale, was the first principal. Starting with a few pupils, by 1810 the academy had one hundred and seventy students.

The increase of population in the Mohawk Valley, with the success of the Hamilton Oneida Academy, led to its being rechartered in 1812 as Hamilton College. On October 20 the new college began its first session, under the presidency of Aziel Backus, D. D. He was assisted by two professors and one instructor. The early curriculum was that of most colleges of the time, mainly the classics, the Bible and some mathematics.

The first class to be graduated was that of 1814, consisting of two members, one of whom became a teacher, the other a clergyman. Both died in the same year (1867). Since 1814 Hamilton has never failed to graduate a class of young men equipped with a sound literary education and imbued with the spirit of service. In her one hundred and twelve years of usefulness Hamilton College has had ten presidents, all men of sound scholarship and high ideals. The second one, Henry Davis, D. D., (1817-1833) declined the presidency of Yale to accept that of Hamilton. All of the presidents but the present one have been Presbyterian clergymen. Though Hamilton was founded by a Presbyterian missionary and in the past has received considerable assistance from the Presbyterian Church, the college has never been under sectarian control. Today, as ever, it is directed by a non-sectarian board of trustees which includes men of several denominations. The present faculty includes representatives of the leading denominations in the United States, while the student body includes members of all Christian sects, a few Hebrews, and occasionally a Chinese, Filipino or Korean student adds another religious element.

More than fifty-five hundred men have received instruction at Hamilton. They have scattered to all parts of the earth, as bearers of Hamilton's message of light. Amongst them have been noted missionaries, physicians, surgeons, teachers, theologians, scientists, statemen, soldiers, sailors, diplomats, jurists, authors, artists, editors, college presidents, poets, bankers, farmers, manufacturers, inventors, business men and explorers. Undoubtedly the most distinguished living alumnus of Hamilton College is Elihu Root, the chairman of the board of trustees. Others of note include the poets Clinton Scollard and Ezra Pound, the novelists, Samuel Hopkins Adams and Henry Kitchell Webster, Dr. William M. Collier, Ambassador to Chile, ex-President W. A. Shanklin of Wesleyan University. Professor G. P. Bristol of Cornell, Judge F. B. Gilbert of Albany. This is but a random selection from the long list of worthy sons of Hamilton who have achieved distinction and are to be found, literally "from China to Peru".

As noted above, the first ten presidents were clergymen. From 1895 to 1917 Melancthon Woolset Stryker, D. D., LL. D., guided Hamilton's fortunes. The college had fallen upon evil days and was in need of funds and regeneration. Through the efforts of President Stryker these wants were supplied. When he signified his intention of retiring, the Board made a very careful and thorough canvass before electing his successor. Their unanimous choice was Frederick Carlos Ferry, Ph. D., Sc. D., LL. D., a distinguished mathematician, at that time dean of Williams College. Under President Ferry's administration the college has continued to develop in a most satisfactory manner.

From the one building of President Backus' day, the college has grown to seventeen buildings devoted to academic purposes, besides fourteen faculty residences and numerous fraternity houses. The buildings include a chapel, a splendid library containing over 103,000 volumes and more than 24,000 pamphlets, a commodious commons and the usual laboratory and lecture buildings, a Y. M. C. A. hall, and an infirmary. A new and thoroughly modern science hall is now in process of construction. These buildings, of a modest, dignified scholastic type of architecture are arranged about a large campus, upon a beautiful hill top, set about with stately trees, partly the remains of the original forest, partly planted by the college authorities. The athletic equipment includes a gymnasium, football, baseball and soccer fields, concrete tennis courts, golf links, running tracks and one of the finest hockey rinks and indoor tracks in the country.

The four instructors of 1812 have increased to thirty-two. The faculty includes the alumni of twenty-seven American, one Canadian and nine European colleges and universities. Nine of the professors are graduates of Hamilton. Many are distinguished in their several lines and are well-known in scholarly circles in both America and Europe.

Hamilton has never aspired to be a large, diversified college, nor made any pretensions to being a university. It is content to remain a small college devoted to sound scholarship and noble ideals. It is true that at one time (about 1853 to 1888) Hamilton did maintain a fine law school, directed at first by that able jurist and fine teacher, Theodore W. Dwight. Many of its graduates have achieved distinction at the bar and on the bench, notably Judges W. J. Wallace of Syracuse, and P. C. J. DeAngelis of Utica, J. C. Davies, former attorney-general of New York, Victor Metcalf, former secretary of the navy. For a few years Hamilton also conducted a summer school for teachers of English. This school did excellent service during its brief career, but never paid expenses. The World war caused its suspension, and_ after mature consideration the trustees decided not to reopen it.

Today Hamilton is a classical college with about three hundred and fifty students (1923-1924). Its aim is to give a thorough education to a group of reasonable size, rather than a smattering to a vast horde. One of the few colleges that still insist upon Latin or Greek as a prerequisite for entrance, Hamilton also requires the candidate for the degree of bachelor of arts to pursue one of the classical languages while in college. All but three hours of the freshman course is required. Thereafter the elective system prevails, but within definite regulations which the faculty and trustees have framed to prevent both narrow concentration and too wide a diffusion of the student's efforts. The courses are divided into three groups; language and literature, social sciences, exact sciences. The candidate for a degree must take at least one course in modern languages, besides his ancient language. During sophomore and junior years he must take work in all three groups, in senior year in each of two groups. This with the required English, mathematics, science and languages of the freshman year insure a fairly well-rounded course. Public speaking has long been a feature of the Hamilton curriculum. All the courses in the department (except an alternative course in dramatic interpretation) from freshman to senior year are required of all students. They comprise work in written and oral composition, declamation, debating and oratory. Students are trained to write original declamations and orations, and are drilled in their delivery. The results are seen in Hamilton's excellent record in intercollegiate debating and in the poise and ease of her alumni.

In the domain of "extra-curricular activities" or undergraduate life, Hamilton has athletic teams in baseball, basket-ball, football, soccer, hockey, tennis, track, cross-country running and fencing. The last named is a recent innovation, but already the college has taken a respectable place in intercollegiate fencing matches. The glee and instrumental clubs are well known and are frequently invited to appear in the cities of the vicinity, and sometimes farther afield. Besides these purely undergraduate activities, in the last few years Hamilton has developed a remarkable choir. Professor Paul A. Fancher gives a course in choral music, open only to members of the college choir. Well-trained in the best classical church and secular music, this choir has won not only the approbation of all visitors to the college, but its public concerts in Utica and elsewhere have attracted very favorable notice.

[Photo: Hamilton College Chapel]

[Photo: Kirkland and Sconondoa Monument]

Naturally the choir has most of its activity in the college chapel of which a word is appropriate here. The chapel is a building of fine old American colonial church achitecture, and has received the commendation of so competent a critic as Henry W. Kent of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Until President Ferry's advent, the president of Hamilton was also college pastor, and preached to the students on Sundays. Now distinguished clergymen of the various Protestant denominations are secured to conduct Sunday services, while the president and some of the faculty conduct week-day chapels. All students are required to attend week-day chapels, but Catholics are excused from Sunday chapel, and other students wishing to attend their own churches on a particular Sunday, for such a purpose as communion, may be excused upon application to the Dean. "The college church" is a voluntary organization of students, faculty and neighbors, under elders and a moderator of their own selection. The latter is a member of the faculty. This organization holds communion service several times a year, and cooperates with the Y. M. C. A. in fostering the spiritual side of college life.

The Y. M. C. A., it has been mentioned, has a suitable building of its own, and is a definite factor in college life. There is a club of students intending to enter the ministry, and a "Newman Club" of Roman Catholics. There are various departmental clubs, such as biology, German, etc., conducted by the students with the assistance of the heads of the departments concerned. Every three years, the Latin club presents a classical play in the original tongue.

At Hamilton, the honor system prevails. The term "prevails" is used advisedly, for not only was the system adopted at the instance of the student body, but it also works. Its maintenance is primarily in the hands of an "honor court", consisting of two seniors, two juniors, one sophomore and one freshman. This court may act upon its own initiative or upon the complaint of a student or the report of an instructor. All apparent infringements of the system are reported first to this court. Its recommendations ordinarily go to a discipline committee containing both student and faculty representatives. Without exception, in the writer's experience, the recommendations of honor court and discipline committee have been adopted by the faculty and approved by the trustees.

Besides seven national and three local fraternities, Hamilton has chapters of some of the national honorary professional fraternities such as debating and journalism. There are also class societies, such as the "D. T." amongst the sophomores, and others. The "Charlatans" is the undergraduate dramatic club, which is assisted by two faculty members. It does remarkably creditable work, as does the class in dramatic interpretation, which is by no means identical with the "Charlatans."

Phi Beta Kappa has an active chapter at Hamilton, and competition for the coveted "keys" is keen. There is an upperclassman council of ten which has "the regulation of all student discipline, exclusive of the honor system". Here "student discipline" means instruction in the traditions, fads, customs and the like so dear to the undergraduate heart. Athletic matters are directed by four athletic directors who are faculty members, and the "Undergraduate Association," which has a member of the faculty as president, another as treasurer, and some alumni members on its executive committee. An interfraternity council seeks to promote harmony amongst the fraternities, and between them and the non-fraternity students, as well as to uphold the standards of fraternity life. Perhaps the most coveted distinction at Hamilton is membership in the senior society called "Pentagon". Retiring members of this club, at the end of the college year, choose five juniors distinguished for "achievement in athletics and undergraduate activities, good character and scholastic ability". These men are charged with the upholding of the ideals and traditions of undergraduate life, are a link between students and faculty and a prime factor in the maintenance of student morale.

An annual, The Hamiltonian; a Freshman Bible, The Hamiltonian Handbook; a humorous quarterly, The Royal Gaboon, and a weekly, Hamilton Life, are the undergraduate publications.

It is hoped that this sketch will reveal why Hamilton men feel that whatever the storm and stress of life may bring, when Alma Mater calls, "We still will be thy boys".

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