Article VII. Beloit College.

Its Origin and Aims.

 

by A. L. Chapin

 

New Englander and Yale review, Volume 31, Issue 199, April 1872

 

pp. 334-345

JUST forty years ago, the famous Indian Chief Black Hawk, let loose the dogs of
war - his Sacs and Foxes - against the power of the United States. The military operations that followed were little more than a wild chase of the savages, from central Illinois up through the valley of Rock River into central Wisconsin and thence westward to the Mississippi, where the struggle terminated in the capture of the wily leader. In the midst of the region thus traversed, lies the site of Beloit College, once a favorite camping-ground of the Indians and a chosen, perhaps sacred, spot with the race that preceded them. Within the college enclosure are still preserved some fifteen or twenty earth-works of the mound-builders.
The brief strife of arms brought into notice the wonderful beauty and fertility of this
country, and steps were taken immediately to open it for the inflow of emigration and Christian civilization. The town of Chicago was organized in 1833, with only twenty-eight voters on the ground. The village of Milwaukee was laid out in 1835. In the same year, the first public sales of land within the boundaries of Wisconsin took place. Then through the two lake-ports a flood of settlers poured in to occupy the prairies and openings between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi river, with a rapidity up to that time unexampled in this or any other land. Wisconsin was organized under a distinct territorial government in 1836. Its whole population then numbered about 11,000. In 1838 it had become 18,000, - in 1840, 31,000, - in 1842, 47,000, - in 1845, nearly 120,000, and, by the census of 1870, it is over 1,000,000. The same movement filled up with like rapidity the northern part of Illinois, a tract of country homogeneous in all its physical features, and fitted also, by the homogeneous character of its incoming population, to be united with Wisconsin in one field for the work of higher education.
The course of emigration runs naturally on the lines of latitude, and Yankee eyes are
quick to discern the good chances as they open. Hence there was a large infusion of New England elements in the stream of human life which poured in and spread itself over this attractive field. Puritan ideas of the home, the school, the church, and the college, were thus transplanted and took root here with the first upturning of the prairie sod. Those sent out as missionaries to take possession of this goodly territory in the name of the Lord Christ, were especially moved by the rapid crystallization of society under their eye and the evident necessities of a very near future, promptly to organize as best they could all the forces of Christian civilization. Among these they regarded a Christian college of prime importance. So within ten years of the time when the Indian council-fires were extinguished by the Black Hawk war, we find these men in council, as did the New England fathers, praying together and thinking on a college a college, as Cotton Mather says, the best thing that ever New England thought upon.
These thoughts were deepened as these brethren met other ministers and
representatives of northwestern churches in convention at Cleveland, in June, 1844. They became defined and matured in four successive conventions held in that and the following year, for the specific purpose of considering what could be done to found a college. In these deliberations were heartily united the ministers and churches of Wisconsin and northern Illinois, who; in association, presbytery, or convention were joined to maintain the one pilgrim faith in this region, made one by its geographical necessities and the common characteristics of its growing population. The main question was settled in the third convention, which met May 27th, 1845. There were in attendance forty-two ministers and twenty-seven laymen, representing all the Congregational and Presbyterian ecclesiastical bodies then in this region. They were aided by the counsel of several college officers and pastors of churches from other parts of the country. If it is considered how feeble and scattered were the churches in that day, and how few and poor the facilities for traveling, it will be understood how deep and strong was the impression on their minds of the importance of the question brought before them. With great carefulness and prayerfulness, they studied the present and prospective wants of the field, and what the Lord would have them do to meet these wants in respect of means for high intellectual, moral, and Christian culture. It was an hour of thrilling interest, never to be forgotten by those present, when, with hearts enlarged and harmonized by contemplating the great common object, after an hour of special prayer, they gave expression to their unanimous judgment, approving and confirming the resolution of the first convention That the exigencies of Wisconsin and Northern Illinois require that there be a college and a female seminary of the highest order located in this region, one to be in Northern Illinois contiguous to Wisconsin and the other in Wisconsin contiguous to Illinois. In accordance with this action, Beloit College and Rockford Female Seminary were established.
Such was the origin of Beloit College. No individual ambition - no local interest or
money speculation - no partisan zeal - no crotchets of radicalism - no wild conceits of eccentric minds, called it into being. It was born of patient, thoughtful consideration on the needs of human society, the grand purpose of Gods redeeming providence, and the instrumental agencies by which Gods good-will to men is carried out in the progressive advancement of Christian civilization towards its final consummation of peace on earth and glory to God in the highest. It was the child of the churches - cradled in prayer and faith and the holy consecration of love for truth and right - for God and men. It stands, from its beginning, identified with the world-wide interests of Christ's kingdom among men. Like this, in all essential respects, was the origin of nearly all the institutions of these young States to which the Western College Society has extended its fostering care.
It is not our purpose to follow out, in detail, the unfolding of the enterprise thus
begun. A concise outline must suffice. A charter for the college was obtained from the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin in 1846. In the summer of 1847, the corner-stone of the first college building was laid, and in the autumn of the same year, the first class was received as Freshmen for the prescribed course of study. The central idea in the whole movement was to provide for the true work of an American college according to the main features of the New England model - that is, the thorough discipline and liberal culture of young men for four years in the transition period from youth to manhood. It was designed at first to hold the institution strictly and exclusively to this proper college work. But it was soon found that, for lack of classical academies or their equivalent in the region, a preparatory school must be provided as a necessary adjunct.
The commencement in July next will be an anniversary of special interest, because it
will mark the completion of the first twenty-five years in the life of the college. Leaving a full review of the period to be more fitly presented then, we may state now that during this quarter of a century nearly 2000 young men have been for a longer or shorter period under its culture. Nearly two hundred will have completed the full course and been graduated. All these, both the partial and the complete fruits of its direct work, may be reckoned as a clear addition to the results of higher education in the land. For in this time, partly through its indirect influence, as many young men, probably, have gone from this field to seek the benefit of older colleges at the East, as would, without the presence of this institution, have sought a liberal education anywhere. Nine-tenths of all who have enjoyed in any degree the culture of this college, have found their life-work in the West The remaining tenth are scattered over the wide earth, many of them filling places of important trust in connection with the pulpit, the public press, and the work of Christian missions.
During this period of twenty-five years, the financial resources of the college have
grown, from the gift by the people of Beloit, according to their early pledge, of a site and first building, in value not less than $10000, till, through the benefactions of many friends in the West and the East, the college has accumulated a permanent property estimated at more than $225,000, its running expenses having been, mean time, kept up, by close economy and careful management, without incurring debt This sounds small by the side of the millions set down to some of the New England colleges. But here, it is a sign of some strength. It answers well the purposes of the "dimension stones" at the bottom of a foundation, on which the walls of a goodly structure, yet to be builded up, may safely rest. Its value is enhanced by the consideration that a great part of the funds thus far gathered, is the fruit of real self-denying devotion to the great interests which the college represents; and rich spiritual blessings, above all price, have come in answer to the fervent prayers which accompanied and followed the gifts of Gods people.
But we must turn from this glance at the past to consider the future of Beloit College.
We shall attempt only a concise statement of a few thoughts respecting its ideal object, its embarrassments, and its wants.
The object of the college, distinctly contemplated in the outset, kept steadily in view
through all its history, and regarded in the policy of its administration now, with a profounder sense of its importance than ever before, is to make thorough work with young men in the training part of a liberal Christian education.
To expand and explain, we say, with young men, under the conviction, confirmed
rather than shaken by the prevalent discussions respecting the co-education of the sexes, that the culture of true manhood is best carried on in an atmosphere essentially masculine, as that of true womanhood is in an atmosphere essentially feminine. Whether or not individual exceptions need to be recognized and provided for, we will not stop here to discuss. We speak confidently of the general rule for the general quality in either case.
We say again, "in the training part" of young mens education, to distinguish a
period in the life and a stage in the process. The period of life referred to is the four years which immediately precede the time when the man, adult in body and in mind, is left to his own free choice and independent action. By common understanding and consent, a man comes of age on completing twenty-one years of his life. Peculiar circumstances may hasten or postpone the time which one shall give to college work; but for most, the best period, no doubt, is that which lies between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. And the process contemplated for this period is a systematic, widely varied, and precise drilling of all the powers of the mind by actual exercise in the great leading departments of human thought and learning. The end sought is not so much to make great acquisitions of knowledge, as to gain facility in the manifold operations of which the mind is capable, so that all its faculties shall be trained, brought under command, and made reliable for any purpose. Considerable knowledge will be acquired in the training process; but the best part of it will be in the form of fundamental principles and methods and general outlines - starting-points and guides for the more specific and exhaustive studies of a later stage. For, as there is presupposed a previous elementary education, through which some knowledge has been gained and the powers have been somewhat developed, so there is anticipated an advanced stage, when, in some defined line of effort, the man will furnish himself for his life-work of investigation or achievement. Such training all true leaders of men must and will get. If they have not opportunity to come under the prescribed regimen of a college, they will subject themselves to self-imposed task work, as did Franklin and Lincoln, to gain the same end, at considerable disadvantage. To make this training thorough and efficient, it must be carried on under a prescribed intellectual and moral regimen, close and severe. It properly belongs to that time of life when the man is under tutors and governors. It is not consistent with permitting its subject, to any great extent, to follow his own inclination merely and exercise his own option as to the branches of study and the kinds of practice he will attempt; for the object of the training is to bring out the neglected faculties and strengthen the weak ones, so as to secure a symmetrical development of the man, with a willpower that can, if need be, overcome aversion and cross inclination.
We speak of thorough work, referring not to the completeness of a finished result,
but to the process as involving work, mental exertion, strained up in each effort towards the limit of the minds ability. To accomplish this, the method of teaching must be chiefly by recitation in which the student is held to a daily accountability, to test both his faithfulness in application and the style of his minds action in appropriating, assimilating, and expressing truth. Only by thorough exercise are the powers of either body or mind expanded or strengthened. Only by such actual tests does one come to the knowledge and full possession of his own powers or acquisitions. No man knows that he knows a thing, till he can express it clearly to anothers apprehension. To habituate young minds to close application, to accurate investigation, to sound reasoning, and to clear statement, is a work of patience and perseverance with both learner and teacher. To consider and treat it otherwise is to encourage shams. They who go to college just to have a good time make an egregious mistake, and the regimen of the college ought to be such as to reveal and correct the mistake. But under the law of habit, that which is begun as task-work grows easy, till, at length, work itself becomes play, - the most satisfactory and enjoyable play to which a man can give himself. One has a good time in college just in proportion as he is by his own efficiency under its regimen molded to this habit, so that he can find pleasure even in task-work because he takes hold of it conscious of his power and with heartiness.
We speak of this as part of a liberal Christian education, recognizing the tendency
of this culture to bring the mind into its true freedom, and recognizing also the relation of Christian truth to all other forms of truth which are made the subjects of study, and the value of Christian precepts to keep the soul in all its action true and right under a sense of accountability to God, its Father. The soul gains freedom, not by breaking away from all law, not by declaring its independence of all external authority, not by casting aside, as of no account, the results of human thinking, accumulated through the ages; but by a full understanding of the laws of its own being and the free exercise of its powers in conformity with those laws, by willing subjection to the rightful authority of God, its moral governor, and by the grateful acceptance of that which the worlds masterminds have wrought out as food for its thinking, to be digested and assimilated and made part of its own life and growth. The fetters which need to be broken are the clogs of laziness, the bands of ignorance, the cramps of prejudice, the narrowness of restricted observation, the intolerance of self-conceit, the bigotry of exclusive devotion to particular research. With respect to his special line of work, the man loses nothing; with respect to the proportions of his character and the grandeur of his general movement and influence, he gains much by this liberalizing culture. To give the balance of complete development, the poise of noblest manhood, Christian truth and morality need to be infused through all the educational process. And we emphasize the word Christian in this connection, to indicate further the intent that the results of the culture given shall be, as fully as possible, consecrated to the propagation of the truth and the extension of the power of Christianity in the world, by directly increasing the number of able preachers of the gospel.
We are aware that these thoughts are not new - quite otherwise. As old ideas
perhaps, in the love of novelty which characterize our times, they have been too much set aside and lost from view. We cannot believe that the world has outgrown them, or can outgrow them, since they spring from the very constitution of mans nature and his wants. We bring them together here, to make definite the object which Beloit College aims at. It appears an object quite distinct from that of the common school or the academy on the one side, and from that of the professional, the technical, or the scientific school on the other. We cannot see that it is properly embraced within the purview of a true university. Because the object is so clearly defined and so important in itself and its relations, it may fitly be made the chief not to say the single object of an institution or class of institutions. It seems likely to be best realized when prosecuted as a specialty. Up to a comparatively recent period, this was the chief the peculiar work of Yale College, and great and blessed have been her achievements. Whether under the transformation which is changing Yale College into Yale University, just this work through which her glory in the past has been won, will be as well and fitly accomplished, remains to be seen. We feel sure it is not best that every college should be ambitiously pushing in the same direction. It would seem, too, that the object defined must be but imperfectly attained, when made, as it is in many institutions, only an adjunct to an immense variety of miscellaneous work, mostly of a lower grade. However it may be elsewhere, the aim at Beloit is steadily fixed on perfecting a true college work in the line indicated. If, in the future, the college shall be called to undertake some higher, broader work, it will be only as she shall have proved herself true to this her present mission. To success in this mission, she now bends all her energies, content with the work and with such honor as may come from its faithful performance.
There are embarrassments which hinder the attainment of this object, especially as
respects the numbers of those who come into and go through the full course of training. Prominent among these is the fact that the object itself is but partially understood or appreciated. On the proper field of the college, there is now probably a population of one and a half millions. It has grown to this number within thirty years, chiefly by immigration. The early emigrants were mostly young people, characterized by general intelligence, great energy, and indomitable spirit; but the proportion of liberally educated men among them was much less than was found among the early pilgrims of New England, or than is now found among the citizens of the Eastern States. Many strong, vigorous minds have been developed by a practical training under the pressure of immediate responsibilities thrown upon them. They have done well, and are highly to be honored for what they have made of themselves. Yet through the whole frame-work of society, there is an obvious lack of those ideas and sentiments which are the fruit of broad, liberal culture. Hence the aim of the college fails to be fully appreciated, and the value of its work is underrated. Not many parents seek its benefits for their sons. Not many young men set their aspirations in this direction, till they come within the direct influence of the institution.
The last remark suggests another embarrassment from the want of academies and
schools in which young men can be prepared for admission to college. If this region were dotted here and there, as New England is, with institutions like the two Phillips Academies and Williston Seminary, the embarrassment just referred to would be very much relieved. These would be so many centers of influence working all the time on the public mind, in full harmony and co-operation with the college, and sending year by year recruits for college classes already initiated in the training process. But this help is, in great measure, wanting. Four-fifths of all who have been graduated at Beloit, were dependent on the college for the preparatory as well as for the advanced culture. During these twenty-five years, public school systems of a high order have been established in each of the two States. These are doing much to promote general intelligence. The friends of the college have been foremost in helping on this movement, and none rejoice more heartily than they in the results. Yet it must be confessed that not much aid comes from this quarter to further the direct object of the college. So much are the teachers of all grades, even those in the High schools, under the general influences first referred to, that in very many cases a boys thought and desire for a collegiate education would be repressed rather than encouraged. Through the thoughtful and timely suggestions of teachers, hundreds of bright, active minds might be induced to seek that liberal culture which would expand and enrich their own souls and send into society trained leaders, whose influence would leaven the mass with elevating and refining elements.
We will name only one other embarrassment. It comes from the rapid development
and material prosperity of the region, in the form of a strong temptation to young men to cut short the time given to their intellectual training, that they may hurry into active business. Amid the distractions of bustling enterprise around them, with the prizes of wealth, office, and power, apparently within their reach, and laboring often under the embarrassment of scanty pecuniary resources, it is not strange that many, started on the college course, should grow impatient of the long road before them and turn aside, and that many others should be deterred from starting at all. It happens thus that college classes, on an average, lose half their numbers on the way, and it is sometimes difficult to sustain the interest and spirit of those who remain.
These are real embarrassments; yet there is a brighter side even to this condition of
things. The life and activity characteristic of a new country furnish excellent material for the college to work upon, when brought within its range. Those who come to college, come of their own accord and with a purpose, and they respond kindly and heartily to the efforts put forth for their thorough training. The people generally, if their ear can be gained and the merits of the case can be fairly laid before them, are quick of apprehension to take up right ideas; and many of those in prominent stations, to which they have lifted themselves without the benefit of early education, conscious of their own deficiencies, join with earnest zeal in commending and supporting a genuine college work.
Sustained by these encouragements, amid the embarrassments named, the college
has held on its way, true to its own ideal, confident that the surest way to success was to keep the standard well up. The results which already appear are very cheering, and exceed the brightest expectations of its founders. By the steady maintenance of its standard, and through the influence of its alumni and others who, in attendance on its instruction, have understood its aim, the community has been in a considerable degree educated to appreciate its object and divine its advantages. And now for its future enlargement and increased usefulness, its immediate wants may be indicated in a general way under three particulars. There is needed, first, the active influence of educated men, especially of ministers of the gospel, in the region, to give to parents and their sons right ideas of what a liberal education means and of its value. The work of the college has been much aided in this way, but vastly more would be done if all felt a personal responsibility in this matter. Why should not each pastor charge himself with the duty of seeing that his flock, however small, be constantly represented in the college by at least one earnest student? Why should he not enlist the teachers in the public schools to cooperate with him for this end? The effectiveness of such influence has been abundantly illustrated in the history of older colleges in the East. The considerations before suggested, make it of the highest importance for all true college work in the West.
The second immediate want of Beloit College is a distinct foundation on which its
preparatory school can be set up, separate from the college, yet under the direction and control of the college trustees and faculty. This is needed that the legitimate object of the college, as defined in this Article, may stand out to the apprehension of both students and the public in its distinctive characteristics. With such an arrangement, too, the restlessness which naturally springs from long familiarity with one set of instructors and one routine of duty, prompting the student to break off in mid career, will be relieved. Faculty and students will engage with more zest and zeal in the studios of the college course, the standard of scholarship will be raised and the thoroughness of the training will be enhanced. It is believed that the moderate sum of $25,000 will provide for this object. Is there not some one among the readers of this Article who will love to give his money and his name to such a foundation?
Then there is the great want, ever pressing, of additional endowments, for the
immediate relief and for the necessary enlargement of the college. With the closest economy, the current expenses of the institution exceed the reliable income by nearly $2000 each year. The deficiency has been met by the avails of outstanding general subscriptions and miscellaneous property - a resource which must be soon exhausted. Rightly to fulfill its object, the college must rapidly enlarge its operations: a foundation is needed for the support of a librarian and treasurer. Its corps of instructors must be increased, that the pressure on the members of the faculty of double duty in daily exercises may be relieved, so, that they can advance their own culture, and come with ever fresh life and interest to their work. Such enlargement is essential to keep the prestige already gained, and to give the institution steady growth, proportioned to the growth of all things around it. The very life of a college, as of all other living things, depends on such growth. To meet deficiencies and to provide for this necessary enlargement, that the college may have a fair start for its next quarter-century of living progress, the sum of $100,000, to be added to its permanent endowments, is imperatively needed, and earnestly sought for. What safer place for permanently productive investment can be found? What nobler monument can a faithful steward, entrusted of God with wealth, desire, than to have his name and memory identified with the life and growth, and perennial, precious fruits of such a Christian college?

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