Albion Interactive History / Library / Albion College, 1835-1960 (1961)

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Research Documents

Robert Gildart, Albion College, 1835-1960, A History, 1961

One, Beginnings; Pilcher, Colclazer, Packard, 3
Two, The Land, the First Building, 31
Three, Stockwell, Hinman, 43
Four, Mayhew, Sinex, 61
Five, Jocelyn, 91
Six, Fiske, Ashley, 111
Seven, Dickie, Laird, 165
Eight, Seaton, 203
Nine, Whitehouse, 225

WRITING THE HISTORY of one’s alma mater is fascinating, especially if it happens to be the first book-length work on the subject. Plaques of bronze commemorating the work of this professor or that trustee, dignified portraits of presidents and founders, and other memorabilia come to life, or perhaps resume a life never really ended. But this renascence, I think, is not so likely to occur unless the work undertaken is intended to form a book, for only by immersing oneself in the lives and work of the institution’s leaders of a century and a quarter is it possible really to sense their actually having been living persons of lofty intent.

This book itself describes what previous work has been written on Albion’s history, but it should be mentioned here that early work consisted of quite brief accounts which appeared in pamphlets, various histories of Calhoun County, and histories of Michigan higher education. I have used these early accounts whenever they seemed appropriate, but tried not to regard them as sources of impeccable accuracy. I consulted primary and secondary sources originating with the college itself in an effort to seek accuracy. The nature of these sources, too, is explained in the text, but in much less detail it can be said in this preface that they were college catalogs, faculty meeting minutes, reports of committees of the Board of Trustees, reports given at various Methodist Conferences, reports of various Albion presidents to the Board of Trustees, and much other printed matter and many other documents.

Such sources certainly should yield a rather high degree of accuracy, but one must bear in mind that I do not submit this work as one purporting to be factually all-inclusive. I have omitted some material on Albion’s history in the interests of brevity. For example, much concerning student fraternal and social life could have been included. Much also could have been written about Albion’s prowess in intercollegiate athletics and in other similar activity. These aspects of a college history are interesting and informative but vary little from college to college and are related only incidentally to an institution’s intellectual vitality. I think the history of any aggregation of academicians ought to deal with academic affairs and with matters which have a bearing on the development of academic affairs. This attitude is especially important if attempts are to be made to confine the work to between 200 and 300 pages of print. Nevertheless, some entertaining anecdotes will be found, but they were included more to amplify academic, administrative, and financial matters than to entertain.

If the real significance a college attains stems from its academic achievements, an awareness of this truism should lead to detail in the treatment of academic affairs. It has done so here. It is probably true that some detail could have been avoided without distorting the academic phase of the story, but it seemed advisable to list a fairly large number of the facts on which conclusions were based to enable the reader to develop his own conclusions as to the meanings of those facts if he should feel inclined to do so.

My attitude toward financial matters was much the same. At a college, especially one which is privately financed, academic achievement frequently depends upon the financial resourcefulness of executives. What those leaders have done to raise money over more than a hundred years is an important phase of a college history. The story of financial hopes, the efforts to make hopes realities, and the failure and success in achieving those realities, particularly when such work might mean the life or death of the entire institution, can yield an interesting as well as an enlightening story, a story inextricably allied to academic affairs.

Some of the details I have given about Albion’s finances, too, probably could have been ignored, but they were included for the same reasons those dealing with intellectual episodes were included. Some of them are quite dramatic, quite personal.

A number of those which are dramatic and personal as well as financial have to do with buildings, mere buildings; but college buildings, although they are made of steel, bricks, and mortar like warehouses and garages, are really quite different in other respects. They, too, are dramatic and personal. This is because under their roofs and within their walls rapid human development takes place. Such structures are somewhat like incubators of the intellects of those who sometime may be called great.

Sentimentality? Not really. It is merely a consciousness of the extent to which buildings, or shelter, have had a part in history. It is perhaps such consciousness which prompts many institutional authorities to preserve with affection their early edifices. Perhaps it is why Northwestern University preserved “Old College,” why the United States preserves the White House, and why Albion preserves North Hall.

As elsewhere, buildings at Albion are significant because of their relationship to persons, for human beings are the agencies which evolve history. This book is about people, too, but it is about the people concerned with the year-to-year, semester-to-semester, day-to-day progress of the college. No attempt has been made to deal at length with alumni, Mrs. Kenneth J. (Ann) Hollinshead, in her book, Eminent and Interesting Albionians, has already done that. If an alumnus has directly affected Albion’s development, his work is described in detail; otherwise, it is not. I do not contend, however, that everyone worthy of mention has been mentioned. It is likely names of some prominence have been omitted while some of lesser prominence have been included. In either case I can do nothing but apologize in advance for such sins, express hope that they will not be committed again, and explain that they were wholly inadvertent.

It should be explained also that errors in judgment perhaps may be detected in the length of some chapters and the ~m of others. In some cases short chapters resulted from shortness of available material while some long chapters resulted from an abundance of it. I believe short material is produced by a virtue – modesty – transformed into a vice. Someof Albion’s most important men were too modest about their prominence in college history to leave much behind them for perusal by the historically curious. It is unfortunate that this is true, for it leads to incompleteness and possible error which can take years to correct. It is hoped future Albion leaders will provide a much clearer trail of documents.

Many of the school’s past and present leaders, faculty members, and alumni have been of great help as I sought information for this book and as I wrote it. Three men are outstanding in this respect. They are Dr. Joseph J. Irwin, professor of English and journalism and chairman of the English department; Dr. William Whitcomb Whitehouse, president of the college when the work was written, and Dr. Paul R. Trautman, college business manager.

Dr. Irwin’s assistance was significant because much of the research concerning early and middle phases of the college history was his work. It was carried on for a number of years before he turned it over to me. It saved a great deal of time. Dr. Irwin also read the manuscript and made important suggestions about its editing.It was at the behest of Dr. Whitehouse that the book was written. He made certain that much information was placed in my hands and that I was relieved of considerable academic work to enable me to devote much time to the project. He also made valuable suggestions based on reading the manuscript.

Pointed suggestions came from Dr. Trautman, many of them in the form of old college documents stowed for many years in the recesses of vaults and cabinets. Other assistance came from him in the from of verbal and written comments made from time to time as the work progressed.

I am very grateful to Dr. Wayne H. Fleenor, Albion’s director of public relations. He also made suggestions based on reading the manuscript as well as others concerning a number of phases of Albion’s past.Other acknowledgements of assistance must go with much gratitude to Ann Hollinshead, college director of publicity, for the help of her printed work concerning the school; to Jack C. Bedient, publisher, and George V. Mather, editor, of the Albion Evening Recorder, for use of scrapbooks, bound volumes, and microfilms of that newspaper; to Miss Norma M. Hammond, college librarian, who, before her death this year, made the staff and facilities of Stockwell Memorial Library much more than available to me; to A. Jefferson Sharp, director of alumni relations, for providing a great deal of material from his files and for suggestions; to Dr. Thomas M. Carter, professor of education and psychology and chairman of the education and psychology department, for the help supplied by his extensive work with Albion’s curricular past; to C. A. (Bert) Fiske, son of Lewis Ransom Fiske, who supplied a great deal of material about his father, and to many, many others.

June 16, 1960 303 North Hall
R. G.

Source: Robert Gildart. Albion College, 1835-1960, A History. Albion College. 1961.