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by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher

History of Cornell
Chapter VII.

The question of providing State Scholarships in colleges founded under the National Land Grant Act was agitated very early. The State of Connecticut in the act establishing an agricultural and mechanical college in connection with the Sheffield Scientific School provided for gratuitous instruction to students especially selected under certain regulations to enjoy this privilege. "The number of pupils to be so received gratuitously into said school shall be in each year such a number as would expend a sum equal to one-half of the said interest (on the income of the National Land Grant) for the same year in paying for their instruction in said school, if they were required to pay for it at the regular rates charged to their pupils." The State of Rhode Island in bestowing the Land Scrip upon Brown University provided that it should educate scholars each at the rate of one hundred dollars per annum, to the extent of the entire annual income from such proceeds, subject only to the provision permitting one-tenth part of the income to be expended in the purchase of lands. The senators and representatives from the several towns in the State were constituted a Board of Commissioners to present to the governor and secretary of state the names of worthy young men to be educated as State beneficiaries, and the commissioners were instructed after one candidate had been presented from each town in the State, to select the candidates, as far as may be, from the several towns in the ratio of their representation in the House of Representatives and from that class of persons who otherwise would not have the means of providing themselves with the like benefits.

In New Jersey, students of agriculture and the mechanic arts were to be admitted to the proposed college upon the recommendation of the board of chosen freeholders of their representative counties; and the number of students which a county should, at any one time, be entitled to have in the college, was to be equal to the number of representatives in the Legislature to which the county was entitled, or, in proportion to the same, and the trustees were required to furnish gratuitous instruction to pupils, the number of which each year should be such as would expend a sum equal to one-half of the said interest (on the National Grant) for the same year, in paying for their instruction, if they were required to pay for it at the regular rates. Some of the States in which agricultural colleges already existed provided for free instruction for all students from the State, as in the case of Iowa and Michigan. Others, like New Hampshire, provided for free tuition to indigent students. The provision which most nearly affected the charter of Cornell University was a section in the act assigning the Land Scrip to the People's College, passed May 14, 1863, which ante-dated all others, providing that, from the year 1868, or whenever in the opinion of the Regents of the University the income arising from the investments provided for in the act should warrant the same, the People's College should receive students from every county in the State, and "give and furnish to them instruction in any or all the prescribed branches of study pursued in any department of said institution, free from any tuition fee or any additional charges to be paid to said college; and the Regents of the University shall from time to time designate the number of students to be so educated; but they shall be selected or caused to be selected by the chancellor of the university and the superintendent of public instruction, who shall jointly publish such rules and regulations in regard thereto as will in their opinion secure proper selections and stimulate competition in the academies, public or other schools in this State." It was also provided that the Regents should determine from year to year in accordance with the income of the college the number of youth who should be exempt from any payment of board, tuition or room rent; but in the selection of students preference should be given to the sons of those who have died in the military or naval service of the United States. This provision regarding preference to be shown to the sons of those who have died during the war appears also in the charter of other institutions, as in the case of the States of Connecticut and Wisconsin, which provisions were adopted subsequent to this date. Cornell University, in receiving from the State the Land Grant Fund, assumed the obligation which had been imposed upon the People's College, but with a more definite specification of the number of those who should receive gratuitous instruction, it being provided that it should receive annually students, one from each assembly district of the State, that such free instruction should be accorded to students in consideration of their superior ability as a reward for superior scholarship in the academies and public schools of this State. It differed further from the act appropriating the proceeds of the Land Grant Act to the People's College by providing that the school commissioners of each county, or the Boards of Education in each city should select annually the best scholar from each academy and each public school of their respective counties or cities as candidates for the university scholarship, which candidates should meet, and after a special examination, the best scholars, one from each assembly district in said county or city should be selected and receive certificates entitling the students to admission to the university, subject to the examination and approval of the faculty, which selection in the previous act was to be made by the chancellor of the university and the superintendent of public instruction or under their direction. Under this provision Cornell University entered into a direct obligation with the State by which it was bound to educate contemporaneously four students from each assembly district, should that number apply for admission, making a total of 512 students, who should be drawn from the public schools and academies of the State. The free instruction, thus provided, secured the education of a larger number of students than the entire number upon the catalogues of several colleges. This act placed an advanced liberal and technical education at the disposal of the most meritorious scholars from all parts of the State. It also brought the university into direct relationship to the courses of study in the high schools and academies of the State, and it has become indirectly, through its powerful advocacy, and directly by its standard of requirement, an important factor in elevating and directing the entire system of public instruction throughout the State. All parts of the State did not share at once and equally in the advantages thus presented. Owing to the indifference of educational boards, in many cases examinations were not provided for students who desired to avail themselves of the benefits of the State law. Some of the most populous cities of the State took no action for years to admit the pupils of their public schools to this important advantage. By an act amending the charter of the university, the immediate responsibility for the execution of this law was entrusted to the superintendent of public instruction, by which it was further provided that, in case any county was unrepresented in the university, or the scholarship was not claimed by a student of that county, the State superintendent might, after notice had been served on the superintendent or commissioner of schools of said county, appoint a candidate from some other county, whose rank entitled him to such recognition. The superintendent was required also to prepare the examination papers upon which appointments were based, and also to retain the papers presented by the different candidates, and to keep a record of the standing of candidates, and to notify them of their rights under this act. He was also charged with the general supervision and direction of all matters in connection with the filling of such scholarships. Under the wise provisions of this act, the full quota of scholarships allotted to the State was filled, and the number of students availing themselves of the privileges of the university increased rapidly, the number admitted rising from 375 in 1886-7 to 442 in the following year, and 562 in the succeeding year. To these public provisions for scholarships should be added the fact that free tuition has been accorded to students who pursued the full course in agriculture, and also to graduate students, so that the number receiving free tuition at the present time is not far from 700 students.

On October 27, 1884, the trustees of the university set apart the income of a fund of one hundred and fifty-five thousand dollars for the establishment of scholarships and fellowships. The origin of this fund illustrates one of the noblest acts of generosity in the history of the university. The cost of administration and equipment had exhausted the income for successive years; a debt of more than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars threatened the serious embarrassment, if not the abridgment, of the work of the university; the large plan outlined in its establishment had been proved to involve an expense far in excess of the available funds. At a meeting of the Executive Committee, after serious debate respecting the financial difficulties in which the university was placed, President WHITE made a proposal to pay a proportion of the university debt according to his property, provided the whole debt could be paid in the same manner by individual members of the Board of Trustees. Mr. CORNELL offered to give fifty thousand dollars to discharge the debt, and finally increased his gift to seventy-five thousand dollars, provided the balance could be raised. The proposition awoke much enthusiasm, and confidence was expressed that the difficulties which beset the university could in this manner be overcome. Messrs. John McGRAW, Henry W. SAGE, Hiram SIBLEY and Andrew D. WHITE gave each twenty thousand dollars, which, with Mr. CORNELL's generous gift, enabled the university to discharge its liabilities. There seems to have been an understanding at this time, or subsequently, that in case the university revenue should ever be sufficient, to devote the income of this sum to found scholarships and fellowships for meritorious students. It seemed possible, at the meeting of the Board of Trustees on October 27, 1884, to carry out the proposition which had been formed so long before, and it was voted to establish twenty-four scholarships, six to be awarded each year, of the value of two hundred dollars each, to be assigned to the students passing the best examination for admission, after special examination. Three scholarships were also established from the Sage fund, which were to be increased to twelve after the year 1887, three of which were to be open to each class upon entering. These scholarships were to be awarded to women, one of which was to be bestowed upon the woman passing the best examination for entrance to the Course in Arts, and two to women students entering the freshman class in any other course. It was provided that these scholarships should be tenable for one year, and at the end of the first year the faculty should decide who should retain or receive the scholarships for the remaining three years of the course, either by the record made by the students through the first year or by competitive examination, or in whatever manner it should be deemed best. There were also established at the same meeting seven fellowships of the value of four hundred dollars each, to be awarded to graduate students of Cornell University, or of some institution of equal rank, who had distinguished themselves in some special department of study. Since this time one additional general university fellowship has been established; also three Susan Linn Sage fellowships in philosophy and ethics, and six graduate scholarships in the School of Philosophy, according to the terms of Mr. SAGE's endowment, and also two President White scholarships in History and Political Science, two fellowships in Political Economy and Finance, two fellowships in Latin and Greek, and one fellowship in American History. At the meeting of the trustees held October 8, 1893, ten additional graduate scholarships were established of the annual value of three hundred dollars each, and five additional fellowships of the annual value of five hundred dollars each were established. At the same time the value of each of the existing graduate scholarships and fellowships was increased by one hundred dollars per year.


In the act passed May 1, 1784, at the close of the Revolutionary War, changing the name of King's College in New York to that of Columbia College, and erecting a university within the State, it was provided that no professor should in any wise whatsoever be accounted ineligible for, or, by reason of any religious tenet or tenets that he may or shall possess, or be compelled by any by-law or otherwise to take any religious oath. In the act of May 13, 1787, in the famous report recommending a revision of the charter of Columbia College presented by Alexander HAMILTON, it was stated that the erection of public schools is an object of very great importance, which ought not to be left to the discretion of private men, but be promoted by public authority. On April 13, 1787, a law embodying the views of the Board of Regents was passed establishing a State university, the general provisions of which still remained in force, and which has formed the basis of the present system of collegiate and academic instruction in the State. This act repeated the provision of the original law in different words, stating that no president or professor shall be ineligible for, or by reason of, any religious tenet that he may or shall profess, or be compelled by any law or other wise to take any test oath whatever. Under this clause it was held that it was impossible for a college to be converted to sectarian purposes. The men who formed the Constitution of the United States were resolute in upholding the separation of Church and State, and in making the educational system of this country as free as its political. In the petition for a charter for Union College presented December 18, 1794, the second provision of the proposed charter provided that a majority of the Board of Trustees shall never be composed of persons of the same religious sect or denomination. In the formal charter of the college this principle was fully incorporated. The first principle of religious equality contained in any college charter in this country is perhaps that in the charter of Brown University, which was adopted on the last Monday in February, 1764: "Provided, and furthermore it is hereby enacted and declared, that into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests; but on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute and uninterrupted liberty of conscience, and that the places of professors, tutors and all other officers, the president alone excepted, shall be free and open for all denominations of Protestants, and that youth of all religious denominations shall and may be freely admitted to equal advantages in the emoluments and honors of the university, . . . and that the sectarian difference of opinion shall not make any part of the public and classical instruction." Views like these constituted hereafter a part of the educational system of the State of New York. Similar views received recognition in the University of Michigan, where the policy in matters of religion was declared to be identical with that of the common schools. Persons of every religious denomination were capable of being elected trustees, and no person, president, professor, instructor, or pupil, was to be refused admission for his conscientious persuasion in matters of religion. In the charter of Cornell University the principle contained in the charter of Union College was stated, with the additional limitation: "But at no time shall a majority of the board be of one religious or of no religious sect." This principle, therefore, corresponded to the enlightened provisions of the charter of our State University and to the broad and liberal spirit in matters of religion which pervaded the founder of the university. In the inaugural address of President WHITE it was stated: "Into these foundation principles-that is, the union of the scientific and the aesthetic with the practical-was now wrought another at which every earnest man should rejoice: the principle of unsectarian education." Higher education in America had been begun and fostered in all institutions by Christian men, and had it not been for such support, no provision would perhaps have been made for many years for higher education in the United States. To education as a factor in social order was joined the desire to train men for the ministry and to Christianize the savages. A second provision was that persons of every religious denomination or of no religious denomination should be equally eligible to all offices or appointments. And further, President WHITE in his inaugural address said: "We shall not discard the idea of worship. This has never been dreamed of in our plans. The first plan of buildings and the last embraces the University Chapel. We might, indeed, find little encouragement in college chapel services as they are often conducted,-prayers dogmatic or ceremonial, praise with doggerel hymns, thin music and feeble choir; the great body of students utterly listless or worse. From yonder chapel shall daily ascend prayer and praise. Day after day it shall recognize in man not only mental and moral, but religious want. We will labor to make this a Christian institution; a sectarian institution may it never be."

This limitation upon the choice of trustees has probably never been seriously considered in the election of any member of the board; and doubtless at no time has it been possible for any one to state the proportion of trustees who were members of any particular religious denomination or of no denomination.

At the opening of the university, the large lecture room on the fourth floor of the south university building, now Morrill Hall, inconvenient as it was of access, was called the Chapel and religious exercises, to which attendance was voluntary, were held every morning at eight o'clock. Services were conducted by Reverend Professor W. D. WILSON, consisting of the reading of a passage of scripture, the Lord's Prayer and certain collects from the Prayer Book. These exercises were conducted with great faithfulness by Dr. WILSON for five years. As few of the students were accommodated in the university buildings, and many had no recitations upon the hill at the first hour, attendance upon morning prayers was very limited. The veteran chaplain, after continuing them for several years, stated with assurance that he had always had one present. Inquiry did not elicit the fact whether that one constituted the reader or a solitary worshiper.

In the erection of the Sage College, it was proposed that the present large botanical lecture room should constitute the University Chapel. The erection of the present chapel is immediately due to the pure and beautiful suggestion of Mrs. Henry W. SAGE. As the plans for the new college were hastily examined in Brooklyn one evening, she inquired: "Is that the only provision in that great university which is made for religious services?" On the following morning Mr. SAGE called upon President WHITE and stated that, if he would go with him and select the site of a chapel, he would give the same to the university. This occurred in 1872. Professor BABCOCK was the architect of the new chapel, which was erected during the year 1874-5. It was designed to accommodate 500 students, the number of students then in the university being about that number. The small chapel was designed to be occupied for morning prayers, but prayers were only held there a few times if at all. The number of students who resided upon the hill had gradually become smaller, as the needs of the university made it necessary to use rooms in the two dormitories for purposes of instruction. The University Chapel was formally dedicated by the Rev. Phillips BROOKS, of Trinity Church, Boston, who preached from the text; "What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light," on June 13, 1875, in a memorable discourse. But after the erection of the Chapel, no funds were available for the support of preaching or of a university pastor. Under these circumstances, Mr. Dean SAGE, of Albany, made possible the realization of the noble purpose of his father in the erection of the Chapel, by the gift of thirty thousand dollars, the income of which should be spent in paying the salary of a university pastor, or the expense of university preachers. The question of how the best results were to be obtained in the use of this fund was one which received serious consideration. President WHITE was familiar in his own college experience with the institution of a college pastor, with obligatory attendance upon religious services. He opposed energetically the idea of compulsory attendance at morning prayers and at chapel services, believing that worship, to be acceptable and successful when associated with a university, must be voluntary. His own visits to the services connected with the English universities and his fondness for music led him to desire that the musical feature of the chapel service should be made prominent, and he has always advocated the establishment of a musical professorship in connection with the university, the holder of which should be musical director of the university. During the years past the most eloquent representatives of the various denominations have preached in the Chapel, and whatever eloquence and ability could contribute to make the present plan a success has been realized. The absence of a church organization in connection with the Chapel constantly leads large numbers of students to connect themselves with the churches in town, the services of which they attend. It is obviously necessary that preachers who are called to the university chapel should be gifted as pulpit orators, but above all that, that they possess the power to appeal to young men. Mere theologians who have appeared in the university chapel have, as a rule, failed to secure the attention of the students or produce a lasting impression. It is also necessary that the preachers should be known, men of recognized ability and reputation; for in no organization, perhaps, does the reputation of the individual preacher exercise so important an influence upon his audience as in the voluntary system of chapel services. Men of great excellence ,and ability, but unknown, have constantly failed to attract an audience. It must be admitted that a pulpit thus conducted, without a church, has the character of a religious lectureship, and students are prone to regard attendance upon it as, in part, a matter of indifference. A chapel which will seat five hundred people has proved adequate, as a rule, to accommodate a university population which numbers at least two thousand. It may well be queried, after an experiment extending over twenty years, whether the system in vogue has been so successful that the Chapel has become, as it properly should, the center of the religious life of the university, and has acquired a constantly increasing hold upon the students? Preachers come, fulfill their engagement, and disappear; they are often unknown, and after a few hours return to the local eminence from which they came, leaving little or no impression upon the university world. On the contrary, preachers who are well known, and who possess a genuine sympathy with young men, seldom fail to meet a responsive audience and to receive cordial recognition. Peculiar gifts are demanded of those called upon to address students. The question has been solved of late in different ways. Harvard has probably attained the most satisfactory solution, with a resident college pastor of recognized ability as a preacher, who possesses an interest in all questions which concern thoughtful students. He is in permanent residence, to whom all students may go for counsel. To him are joined clergymen of different denominations, who are in residence for four weeks at a time. These are men of marked eminence, and chosen distinctly for their power to influence young men. These five preachers, in conjunction with the professor of Christian Morals, arrange and conduct the religious services of the university. Each one conducts daily morning prayers for about three weeks in the first half of the year and about three weeks in the second half of the year, and preaches on four successive Sunday evenings. The preacher who conducts morning prayers is in attendance every morning during his term of duty, and is at the immediate service of any student who may desire to consult him. This arrangement places at the disposal of the student a greater amount of pastoral service than most ministers can give to their own parishes. On Thursday afternoons, from November until May, vesper services are held in the University Chapel, largely musical, with full male choir of forty members and with an address from one of the staff of preachers. College conferences are also held, at which addresses are delivered by the professors upon the Bible, in its literary, ethical and religious aspects. Under this system there is a permanent pastor, and, at the same time, the pulpit services are conducted by clergymen whom the students come to know, and who alike know their audience and can adapt their service to them. Its success has been so great that in many colleges where there is a permanent pastor the essential features of this plan have been more or less fully adopted. The University of Virginia, also an undenominational institution, has a college resident for a fixed number of years, and chosen in turn from several of the leading denominations of the State. Either system promises more success than a series of disconnected preachers, with varying subjects, arranged without consultation, and acquiring during the few hours of their residence in Ithaca slight acquaintance with the needs of the student world.

The absence of a dormitory system, through which students find a home upon the university grounds, has been a serious obstacle in the development of systematic attendance upon chapel services. An overwhelming majority of the students reside in the city, at a distance from the university, and thus are not favorably situated to attend daily services, and are nearer to the churches of the city whose able preachers prove a stronger attraction to them than unknown preachers in the Chapel.

The Christian Association was one of the earliest societies formed in connection with the university. The first number of the Cornellian, in a list of five hundred and seventy-one students, contains the names of forty members of the association. For many years, a devoted body of students met on Sunday, and for a Bible class or prayer meeting on week days, in the Society Hall in the north building, now White Hall. Later, under energetic leadership, it undertook the elaborate enterprise of raising funds to erect on the university campus a building for the use of the Christian Association. It had proceeded a certain distance in this enterprise, when Mr. Alfred S. BARNES of New York offered to give a sum sufficient to complete the proposed building. This building was designed to contain lecture rooms, Bible class rooms, reception rooms, parlors, library, and rooms for a permanent secretary and others. This beautiful structure, which was erected in 1889, has proved the center of the religious life of the university. Its rooms are freely at the disposal of all the religious societies. One recent feature of the religious life of the university has been the formation into societies, or circles, or unions, as they are variously called, of the students of the several denominations. Thus the Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Unitarian, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic and other students have been united into guilds or organizations, the main purpose of which is to cultivate mutual sympathy, and to perpetuate the associations with which they are familiar at home. The greatest catholicity exists in the relation of these various organizations to one another, and they frequently participate in receptions, lectures and excursions in common. The religious activity of the students manifests itself in very beneficial ways: in the reception and care of new students arriving at the university; in a watchful interest over sick students, and in holding religious meetings in various communities at a distance from Ithaca, where no other religious services are held. Systematic and classified schemes for Bible study are presented each year, and numerous classes for the study of different portions of the Bible, its antiquities, literature, history, and of practical ethics, are arranged. Special lectures and addresses from clergymen, and often from members of the faculty, are held during the winter term when there is no preaching service in the chapel. The number of members at the present time is about five hundred, making the association as it is said the largest university Christian Association in the country, possibly in the world. The association has, supported for several years a graduate of the university in Japan, who is at work in that country in founding similar organizations in connection with the young men of the cities and universities of that country.

History of Cornell - Chapter VIII

Carl Hommel donated this material and transcribed into digital format.
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