Origins: The Land-Grant Vision

The snow that swirled and fell in huge flakes that late October afternoon in 1859 was unseasonably early, even for the rugged mountains of central Pennsylvania. It nearly obscured the view of distant Mount Nittany, as seen from the stone structure that was the main-and only-building of the new Farmers' High School. Buffeted by the wind-driven cloud of white, a carriage slowly made its way up the curving drive toward the building. It halted opposite the front entrance, and from it alighted a tall, handsome, full-bearded man not yet middle aged. Evan Pugh, recently returned to America from Europe, had arrived to assume his duties as the school's first president.  

Pugh was a man of vision and ideas. But he could be pardoned if he did not see in that unfinished mass of stone, and the rough lumber and sea of mud which surrounded it, the makings of one of the nation's largest universities. Nor in his first glimpse of The Farmers' High School could Evan Pugh realize that he was looking at the embodiment of a new and fundamental concept in higher learning-that a college education should be made available to any competent person, not just members of the social or economic elite, and that this education should have practical as well as cultural value.  


The notions that formal education should be more democratic and provide useful knowledge were not altogether novel by the 1850s. Many of America's founding fathers were convinced that as many citizens as possible (that is, white male citizens) should have the opportunity to obtain some degree of academic learning, for only by educating himself could a man utilize all his natural talents. And in a republic where the people exercised so much control over their own political fortunes, an informed populace was a prerequisite for the healthy functioning of the democratic system. A corollary to this was the belief that the citizenry, through its elected government, should provide the material support such a system of formal education required.  

Given the increasing fervor with which Americans pursued democratic ideals during the early nineteenth century, a move to establish free and mandatory public education was inevitable. Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, one state after another enacted legislation providing for free public elementary schools. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania passed its first public school statute in 1834. Secondary education remained mostly the work of private academies and was not considered essential for the general population. Nor was higher education thought to be essential, primarily because most Americans supposed colleges and universities to be centers of "book learning" that had little or nothing to offer the average citizen.  

The typical American college of the early 1800s was privately owned and church-related. Its student body was invariably composed of young men from well-to-do families, which had the money to send their offspring to school and did not need them to work in the fields or in the shop. The curriculum was comprised of rhetoric, philosophy, theology, ancient languages, mathematics, and other "classical" subjects. This course of studies had changed little since the inception of the first colleges in the English colonies during the seventeenth century. The classical curriculum had as its main objective the inculcation of mental discipline. The method of achieving this goal relied on extensive rote learning, for only through memorization and repetition, educators believed, could a finely disciplined mind be developed. Although by the early nineteenth century some colleges were including limited instruction in the sciences, rigid adherence to the rote method precluded any significant amount of laboratory work whereby the validity of a given statement might be challenged through experimentation. Similarly, most colleges shunned agriculture, mechanic arts, and other utilitarian subjects because they did not appear to contribute to the mental and moral improvement of the student.  

The classical colleges had served the nation well. They were society's primary source of learned professional men: physicians, lawyers, educators, ministers, and an occasional man of letters. But as the nineteenth century wore on, their elitist character clashed with the democratic values of the young republic. Americans had little use for the aristocratic trappings of higher education. On the other hand, many college educators feared that the wave of democratic reform that had swept over the primary schools might eventually reach their own institutions. These educators saw little reason to change a course of study that had functioned successfully for nearly two centuries.  

The spirit of democracy was only one force threatening change. A breach had occurred between the goals of the classical curriculum and the economic needs of the nation. The United States was hardly an industrial giant even by mid-century, but the trend was unmistakably clear. Commercial agriculture was replacing subsistence farming, while mining, manufacturing, and commerce were becoming increasingly important to the economy. More and more Americans were turning to technological means to conquer the vast natural environment that confronted them and to provide a material democracy to match the political democracy they enjoyed. Yet the vast majority of the nation's colleges were graduating individuals with scant knowledge of technical subjects and methods having practical worth. Rigorous training in philosophy and rhetoric might enrich the mind, but it did not make one more capable of surveying a railroad right of way or developing improved methods for harvesting wheat. The traditional sources of technically trained personnel—apprenticeships and on-the-job-experience—were not well suited to providing the high-level scientific or theoretical knowledge needed to solve increasingly sophisticated problems. That kind of knowledge, some educational reformers argued, could best be acquired in the classroom. And in any case, these reformers predicted, the day would soon arrive when these traditional sources could no longer meet the demand for people with technical expertise.  

The movement to teach utilitarian subjects at the college level was first manifested in agriculture. Although industry and commerce were gaining in importance, almost two-thirds of the American population in 1850 were still engaged in agricultural pursuits. A few desultory attempts had been made in the early 1800s to found schools devoted exclusively to the study of scientific agriculture or to include scientific agriculture in the course of studies at established institutions. However, it was not until the early 1850s that any substantive progress was made. By that time, agricultural societies dedicated to the economic improvement of the farmer through application of scientific knowledge had been established in a number of northern and midwestern states. In several states-including Pennsylvania-one of the chief alms of the societies was the creation of a collegiate institution for the instruction and dissemination of information of value to farmers.  


In Pennsylvania, agitation for a statewide organization dedicated to scientific agriculture resulted in the formation of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society in Harrisburg on January 21, 1851. Several hundred delegates from 55 counties attended. The moving force behind the new group was the Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, one of the earliest groups in America dedicated to the application of science to agriculture, founded in 1785. Frederick 0. Watts, a member of the Philadelphia society, was elected president of the state society. Like most of his fellow delegates, Watts could be most fittingly described as a gentleman farmer. An attorney, Watts practiced law in his native Cumberland County, had served a term as a common pleas judge, and maintained interests in railroads and other business enterprises. But it was agriculture that attracted Watts' most frequent and prolonged attention. At his Carlisle farm, he carried on a series of crop and soil experiments.  

Portrait of Frederick Watts
Frederick Watts

For twenty years, Watts had campaigned for the adoption of more scientific agricultural methods, and he was a vocal proponent of the establishment of an agricultural school where these methods could be studied. Watts resolved to make the founding of such an institution the state agricultural society's principal objective. At the society's second annual meeting in January 1853, he recommended that a special convention be held in March at Harrisburg to adopt a course of action with regard to the proposed agricultural school. The proposal won quick approval, with the understanding that the delegates were to be chosen from local agricultural societies and friends of agriculture throughout the state.  

At the convention, delegates heard a report from a committee chaired by Watts that outlined the basic organization and objectives of the school. It was to have convenient access to agricultural markets but should not be near a large town. Students should be required to perform manual labor, and their classroom studies should include not only agricultural subjects but a sampling of classical subjects as well. To demonstrate that this institution was truly different from its classical counterparts, the committee suggested that it be given the title of "The Farmers' High School." The name would allay the suspicions of farmers who might be distrustful of traditional colleges. But the academic work was to be of collegiate grade, and baccalaureate degrees were to be awarded.  

The convention endorsed these proposals. Legislative approval was needed in order to have the institution chartered, or incorporated. On March 11, a bill to incorporate The Farmers' High School was introduced into the State Senate but that body was nearing adjournment and did not have the time to consider the measure. It was reintroduced the following year and passed routinely. Governor William Bigler signed the bill on April 13, 1854.  

The charter specified that control of The Farmers' High School was to be vested in a board of trustees consisting of the presidents of the county agricultural societies and the president and vice president of the state agricultural society, about 60 persons in all. It also directed the trustees to meet in June 1854 to discuss the procurement of a site for the institution. The required quorum of thirteen trustees did not appear for this meeting, however, nor for a second one held the following month. Any further attempt to establish the school seemed pointless unless the number of trustees was greatly reduced. The General Assembly (the state legislature) repealed the old act of incorporation and issued a new one providing for only thirteen trustees. Four of them (the Governor and the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the president of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society, and the principal of The Farmers' High School) were to be ex officio members. The remaining nine were to be elected by a body comprised of the executive committee of the state agricultural society and three representatives from each county society. Governor James Pollock signed the new charter on February 22, 1855, a date that has since been commemorated as the birth date of The Pennsylvania State University.


Photograph of Mt. Nittany in the 1890s
The appearance of Mount Nittany and environs changed little between the 1850s and the time this photograph was made in the 1890s.


Obtaining a suitable location for The Farmers' High School was the main item of business at the first meeting of the board of trustees, held June 14, 1855, in Harrisburg. The board considered proposals from individuals in five counties who were willing to donate or sell 200 or more acres of land for the school. Among the offers was that of James Irvin of Bellefonte, Centre County. Irvin, a man of considerable substance in his community by virtue of his extensive interest in iron furnaces, forges, and rolling mills, was prepared to give any one of three 200-acre tracts from his large holdings. The trustees postponed making a decision until an inspection of all five locations could be made by a committee consisting of Governor Pollock, Judge Watts, and Dr. Alfred L. Elwyn, a Harvard-trained physician who preferred tilling the soil to practicing medicine. This committee completed its work during the summer months and the board reconvened on September 12. Irvin's proposition had in the meantime been made more attractive by the pledge of trustees Hugh N. McAllister and Secretary of the Commonwealth Andrew G. Curtin (both of Bellefonte) to join with Irvin in raising $10,000 for the school from local citizens. On a motion by Watts, the trustees voted to accept the Centre County offer.  

The school was to be situated on 200 acres of farm and woodland at the confluence of Nittany and Penn's Valleys, not far from Centre Furnace, an iron-making facility owned by Irvin and his brother-in-law, Moses Thompson. It was an isolated locale. The nearest town, hardly more than a village, was Boalsburg, which lay four miles east at the foot of Tussey Mountain. The county seat of Bellefonte was twelve miles northeast and could be reached only by the most rudimentary and circuitous of roads. The closest railroad connection was the Pennsylvania Railroad's main line at Spruce Creek, twenty-two miles and a thrice weekly stagecoach ride away. Yet the trustees saw virtue in this isolation. A more picturesque setting for an agricultural institution could not be imagined. Frederick Watts contended that the location possessed "the most essential advantages of soil surface, exposure, healthfulness and centrality," and there was no disputing the fact that youths forced to live and study in this virtual wilderness were unlikely to be disturbed by the temptations of the big city.  

The board of trustees next devoted its time to raising money to support the institution. The Farmers' High School by the autumn of 1856 had accumulated cash assets totaling $25,000: $10,000 in the form of a grant from the state agricultural society; $10,000 in a guaranteed subscription from the people in Centre and Huntingdon counties, and a $5,000 bequest from the estate of Elliott Cresson of Philadelphia, wealthy Quaker merchant and noted philanthropist. A request was also made for financial assistance from the legislature. Anticipating a Positive reaction from Harrisburg, the trustees doubled the size of the school's land holdings by purchasing an additional 200 acres from James Irvin.  

The responsibility of planning the school's physical layout was delegated to Watts, McAllister, and James Miles of Erie. The committee retained a professional architect to design the main building. It was to be a five-story stone structure composed of three sections or wings and providing rooms for up to 400 students together with faculty living quarters and classrooms. In May, a $55,000 contract was awarded to the Carlisle firm of Turner and Natcher for the building's construction. Other contracts were awarded for the erection of a barn, farmhouse, and outbuildings, all to be built according to designs prepared by Watts and McAllister. A local horticulturist, William G. Waring, was hired to lay out the grounds, trees, and shrubs.  


Photograph of the remains of Centre Furnace
The remains of Centre Furnace.


In May 1857 the General Assembly authorized an immediate appropriation of $25,000 to the school and promised another $25,000 if the school could raise an identical sum. The trustees expressed confidence that the money could be collected through statewide subscription. Unfortunately, they had not foreseen the economic recession that descended upon Pennsylvania and the nation later that year. The subscription drive failed. To compound the school's troubles, Turner and Natcher grossly underestimated the cost of constructing the main building and were on the verge of financial ruin. The farm school may well have been stillborn had it not been for the efforts of Hugh McAllister, who worked feverishly to stave off disaster. McAllister, Centre County's most distinguished lawyer and owner of a large farm on the outskirts of Bellefonte, had been in the forefront of the drive to establish an agricultural school in Pennsylvania since meeting Frederick Watts at a farmers' convention many years earlier. As the local trustee, he was expected to oversee construction at the farm school. After the state agricultural society met no success in raising more money for the school, McAllister stepped into the breach and gave $500 from his own pocket to cover some of the unpaid bills. He also personally canvassed the citizens of Centre County and managed to raise an additional $5700. McAllister could not prevent the bankruptcy of Turner and Natcher, however, and when the board of trustees convened in June 1858, nearly all work on the main building had come to a halt.  

The trustees refused to abandon hope. They decided to channel all resources into completing the west wing, or about one-third of the main building. (Only the basement of the structure had thus far been finished.) To finance the construction of the wing, members of the board pledged $5,000 of their personal funds and borrowed $20,000 more, using the institution's property as collateral. Confident that their emergency measures would have the desired effect, the trustees next turned to academic affairs and established admission requirements for the school. Up to 100 male students were to be admitted, apportioned from each county on the basis of population. All students had to be at least sixteen years of age, of good moral character, and carry the recommendation of their county agricultural societies. They were to have completed an unspecified amount of elementary education. The school term was to begin in February and run until December, thus allowing students opportunity to study all phases of planting, cultivating, and harvesting crops. Tuition and room and board charges were fixed at $100 per year, about one-third of the rate charged by most other colleges in the state. When the trustees met again in December 1858, they were sufficiently satisfied with the progress made since the June meeting to set February 16, 1859, as the date for admission of the first class.  

On that date, 69 of the 100 students who had been accepted for enrollment arrived at The Farmers' High School. They came not only from agricultural regions, but from all parts of Pennsylvania, from New Castle and New Hope, from Wilkes-Barre and Waynesburg. The scene that greeted them was one that hardly inspired confidence. Huge limestone building blocks and piles of boards were strewn about the muddy landscape. The east wing of the main building was little more than a hole in the ground. In the west wing, practically all space not used for instructional purposes was given over to dormitory rooms, forcing students to use a carpenters' shanty in the rear of the building as a dining hall. The living quarters, illuminated by smoky lard oil lamps and candles, featured the barest of furnishings and did not even include bath or toilet accommodations.  

Four faculty members were on hand to welcome the new arrivals: William G. Waring, who was appointed professor of horticulture in addition to being retained in his position as superintendent of gardens and nurseries; Jacob S. Whitman, professor of natural science; R. C. Allison, professor of English language and literature and moral and intellectual philosophy; and Samuel Baird, professor of mathematics. Waring, as acting principal, was the chief academic officer and administrator pending the arrival of a president. Born in England, Waring had emigrated to the United States in 1833 and had spent nearly twenty years as a teacher and principal at various Centre County academies before devoting all his time to growing and experimenting with trees, shrubs, and other plants at his Oak Hall nursery, near the base of Mount Nittany. The trustees believed he best exemplified the blend of traditional education and scientific agricultural experience that they wished to instill in graduates of The Farmers' High School. According to the first catalog, it was the duty of Waring and his colleagues "to develop a system of instruction which, while it shall be sufficiently thorough to afford a good mental discipline, shall also afford a larger share of practical knowledge peculiarly adapted to the necessities and calling of a farmer."  

Photograph of William Waring
William G. Waring  


Photograph of the Penn State campus in 1860, as seen from the rear of the Main Building
The campus in 1860, as seen from the rear of the Main Building, included construction shanties, the College barn, and—at far right—the William G. Waring residence (later Oak Cottage).

The trustees' success in beginning classes did little to mitigate the criticism that had focused on the school almost from its inception. Most critics were members of the state agricultural society, since few other persons yet knew about the institution. Some complained about its geographic inaccessibility. Others, discouraged by the school's financial misfortunes, argued that the trustees ought to discard their grandiose plans for an agricultural college and settle for a small vocational institution that offered only the most elementary and practical kind of instruction for farmers. Judge Watts and his colleagues realized only too well that The Farmers' High School stood on the brink of failure and that only strong leadership and a generous infusion of state funds would save it. 


Because the president of the school had to be an individual possessing sympathy for the ideals of utilitarian education at the collegiate level, as well as the ability to inspire his fellow teachers and students, the trustees weighed the candidates for that office with great care. At length they chose Evan Pugh, a 31-year-old native of Chester County with a Ph.D. in agricultural chemistry from Germany's University of Gottingen. The son of a farmer-blacksmith, Pugh had not been content to follow his father's trade. A year at a manual labor academy in New York and some subsequent teaching experience had instilled within him a passion for additional learning. In 1853 Pugh sailed for Europe, where he attended several universities and familiarized himself with the continent's agricultural schools and academies. Four years later, at England's Rothamstead experiment station, he launched a series of investigations in agricultural chemistry that won international acclaim. But his interest in higher education ranged beyond the confines of agriculture. He saw a need for colleges to offer instruction in a diverse array of practical subjects. He had already resolved to return to the United States to establish what he termed an 44 industrial college" when he received word that the new Farmers' High School was searching for a president. He applied at once for the post. Although he was named to the presidency in February 1859, Pugh first had to finish his Rothamstead experiments and did not arrive at the school until that snowy day in October.  

Photograph of Evan Pugh
Evan Pugh  

President Pugh realized that he could not think much about the academic aspects of the institution until its physical necessities were satisfied. Consequently, a bill granting it a $50,000 appropriation was introduced in the General Assembly in 1860. It received little support, however; the school was still not yet well known among the legislators. Early in 1861 Centre County Representative William C. Duncan reintroduced the bill. Local agricultural societies expressed strong support for it this time, as did newly elected Governor Andrew Curtin, himself a Centre County resident. The measure passed.  

Pugh and the trustees immediately took steps to finish construction of the main building. Because of the shortage of men and materials resulting from the onset of the Civil War-Fort Sumter was fired upon in April 1861-the entire structure was not ready for occupancy until December 1863. By that time, a large barn, blacksmith and carpenter shops, a granary, and other outbuildings had been erected. Work had also commenced on a president's house, financed by a $2,000 allotment from the trustees and $1,000 from Pugh's own funds.  

The war presented yet another obstacle to the development of the school. Heeding the counsel of President Pugh, only a small number of students chose to terminate their studies and enlist in the Union army during 1861 and 1862. Then in June 1863, a Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee invaded Pennsylvania and a mass exodus of both students and professors occurred as Governor Curtin called for men to serve for the duration of the emergency. Classes were suspended from June until September, by which time Lee had been defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg and had withdrawn to Virginia. One hundred ninety-six students and faculty bore arms during the Civil War.  

The Farmers' High School experienced little difficulty in attracting students during the war years (1861-65). Enrollment climbed steadily, reaching 146 in 1864. Nearly forty degrees had been awarded by then. The first graduation ceremonies were held in December 1861, when eleven students received the degree of Bachelor of Scientific Agriculture. They completed the normal four-year course of studies in three years because they (and forty-four others who did not complete degree requirements) were admitted in 1859 with advanced standing, having transferred to the farm school from other colleges.  

While student life bore little resemblance to the experiences of later generations of college students, it did not differ markedly from the regimen followed at other institutions of that era. The routine began at 6:00 A.M. (5:00 A.M. during the summer) with compulsory chapel services and then breakfast. The remainder of the morning hours were devoted to classroom studies, which were characterized almost exclusively by memorization and recitation. During the afternoon students fulfilled their manual labor obligations by attending to chores on the farm or around the main building. A second chapel service was held around 6:00 P.M. Following the evening meal, students were expected to study in their rooms until the bell rang for "lights out" at 10:00 P.M. Literary clubs constituted the only organized form of extracurricular activity, although a sizable portion of the student body preferred to indulge in the more informal pastimes of card games and liquor parties, both of which were forbidden by school regulations. These rules also prohibited leaving the grounds without permission, yet the attraction of Bellefonte with its easy access to alcoholic beverages often proved an irresistible temptation to some students, particularly on weekends. President Pugh and the faculty refused to condone such conduct, however, and did not hesitate to suspend or expel student offenders.  

Discipline was a chronic problem. The Farmers' High School seems to have been a kind of dumping ground for students who had been expelled from other colleges for academic or, more often, disciplinary reasons. Tellico Johnson, a member of the class of 1865, gave evidence of what was undoubtedly one of the milder forms of offense. "We had grace at each meal, and I sat at a table presided over by Professor Wilson," Johnson wrote years afterward. "During grace, I peeked and saw Professor Wilson with wide open eyes looking at me and saying grace as usual." After dinner, Johnson asked another student why Wilson kept his eyes open. The student "told me Professor Wilson used to close them during grace but a rough fellow threw a pat of butter at him, hitting him in the face, and he never said grace after that with his eyes closed."  

More in accord with the administration's ideas of proper entertainment were the dances that were held occasionally in the school barn. Inasmuch as females generally were not permitted on the campus, most of these affairs were strictly "stag," a feature that the students must have found to be more than a little frustrating and possibly contributed to their predilection for liquor and cards.  


Photograph of students doing farm work in front of the unfinished Main Building, 1860.
Students pause from farm chores to pose before an unfinished Main Building, 1860.


The relative stability that The Farmers' High School enjoyed during the early 1860s led Pugh to consider expanding the curriculum. In 1863 he established a preparatory department for those students who were either too young or lacked the academic background for college work. High school education was almost nonexistent. Preparatory classes thus enabled more students to meet freshman admission standards than otherwise would have been possible and were important adjuncts to many colleges and universities. Pugh also hoped that the institution could soon begin to offer instruction in the mechanic arts, as engineering was then called. An industrial college would be of far more value than a narrowly defined farm school to the citizens of a state whose economy was every day becoming more dependent on mining, manufacturing, and transportation. President Pugh had no intention of slighting agriculture, since farming remained one of the chief occupations in the Commonwealth, nor did he envision The Farmers' High School being transformed into a vocational school. Rather, he conceived of a college that could combine the best elements of classical education with those of utilitarian training.  

Evan Pugh was not alone in espousing the establishment of a new kind of college. Many leaders of other agricultural institutions and state colleges held a similar view. In Congress the chief spokesman of the industrial college concept was Representative Justin S. Morrill of Vermont. Like Pugh, Morrill believed that the existing scheme of collegiate education ignored the economic needs of society. He was also critical of the elitist inclination of the classical colleges, charging that it was nearly impossible for a person of average means to afford a college education. Only the federal government, said Morrill, had the capability to bring widespread reform to higher education. Accordingly, the Vermont lawmaker in 1857 introduced in Congress a bill permitting money from government land sales to be used as an endowment for the support of selected colleges that promised to include agriculture and the mechanic arts in their curriculums. The bill passed both houses but was vetoed by President James Buchanan, who contended that it was an unconstitutional extension of the power of the federal government.  


Photograph of Old Main in 1863
The Main Building (the original Old Main) nearing completion in 1863.


Morrill reintroduced the bill in 1862, again it was approved by both houses, and on July 2, 1862, it received the signature of President Abraham Lincoln. The Morrill Land-Grant Act had as its purpose:  

The endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts in such manner as the legislature of the state may respectively prescribe in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions of life.

States were to receive 30,000 acres of federal land for each senator and representative they had in Congress. States that had little or no federal land within their borders, such as Pennsylvania, were given land scrip entitling purchasers to locate their land in any available portion of the national domain. Money accruing from the sale of the land or scrip was to be held in perpetuity by the states; only the interest earned on the endowment could be spent. Each state had the right to designate one or more existing or new colleges as land-grant institutions.  

Evan Pugh had expected Morrill's bill to be enacted into law and realized its importance to the future of The Farmers' High School. He believed that the school could strengthen its bid to be selected as a land-grant institution if it changed its name, since Morrill's bill spoke only in terms of "colleges" and "universities." In the spring of 1862, the Centre County court approved the new name "Agricultural College of Pennsylvania."  

Only two institutions in the Commonwealth had curriculums that even remotely complied with the terms of the Morrill Act: the Agricultural College and the Polytechnic College of the State of Pennsylvania. Founded in Philadelphia in 1853, the privately endowed Polytechnic College had won renown for its mechanic arts courses. It was the first institution in the United States to grant baccalaureate degrees in mechanical engineering (1854) and mining engineering (1857). Both colleges made eloquent pleas to the General Assembly on behalf of their eligibility for land-grant benefits. Supporters of the Agricultural College pointed out that public money had been used to establish their institution and that President Pugh was convinced of the feasibility of introducing instruction in the mechanic arts, whereas the Polytechnic College had already tried and failed to interest students in scientific agriculture. The fact that the governor of Pennsylvania sat on the board of trustees of the Agricultural College was of little consequence, for by virtue of their original charters, he was also a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Lewisburg (later Bucknell University), Allegheny College, and even the Polytechnic College. The legislature, anxious to comply with the Morrill Act, decided the question with uncharacteristic dispatch. On April 1, 1863, Governor Curtin signed a bill naming the Agricultural College as the sole recipient of the Commonwealth's land-grant revenues.  


Photograph of the President's House
The President's House, official residence (with significant renovations) of Penn State presidents until 1970.


Pugh and the trustees (including ex-officio trustee Curtin, who in his relations with the legislature made no attempt to conceal his sympathy for the College) were elated over their victory. Even though the initial payment probably would not be made for another year or two, the income from the land sales was vital to the institution's transformation from a farm school to a full-fledged industrial college. Unfortunately, this transformation was not to be realized with the rapidity that Pugh imagined. As soon as the General Assembly reconvened early in 1864, it was bombarded with petitions from a half-dozen or more colleges demanding a share of the endowment. 


Photograph of Penn State's first graduating class, 1861
The first graduating class, 1861.


Pennsylvania then had about, twenty-five baccalaureate colleges, plus assorted seminaries and female colleges of lesser grade. The University of Pennsylvania, a private institution founded in colonial times, was the Commonwealth's foremost institution of higher learning. There was no state-owned university. A system of state normal schools was begun in 1857, but they were considered no more than secondary schools. The state government had provided modest amounts of financial assistance to many colleges until the 1840s, when the practice was discontinued because of depressed economic conditions. At the time of the Morrill Act, the legislature was again beginning to extend aid, but mainly to medical and "scientific" schools. The only way for traditional classical colleges to receive state funds, therefore, was through the landgrant legislation.  

The claims of the classical schools deeply disturbed Pugh and moved him to write a lengthy pamphlet in defense of his institution's status as Pennsylvania's only land-grant school. "None of these institutions before had attempted to develop departments of agriculture and the mechanic arts," Pugh declared, "and many of them had taken pains to show that all substantial education must be based upon the classic culture and that the modern ideas tending toward the substitution of scientific education for the study of Latin and Greek was a pernicious result of the too utilitarian spirit of the age." In his pamphlet Pugh argued that an industrial college could not succeed unless it enjoyed a steady and ample source of income such as the land grant would provide. Dividing this income among two or more institutions would so reduce the amount that no single college would have a sufficient source of funds.  

In March 1864 Pugh journeyed to Harrisburg to state his case personally before the legislators. "You are called upon to decide whether the future generations of our state shall have for the education of industrial classes one grand efficient system of education in our noble institution," he told them, "or whether the means with which such an institution might be founded are to be dissipated amongst a large number of institutions leaving all too poor and insufficient to afford thorough instruction in industrial education anywhere in our state." He failed to convince the Senate, which voted 23-9 to amend the earlier legislation and allow other schools to share in the land-grant endowment. The House stood fast despite the Senate's change of heart and voted 47-44 to postpone indefinitely consideration of any amendments.  

Evan Pugh did not have an opportunity to rejoice in this success. The twin burdens of overseeing affairs at the College and defending it against the assaults of its critics exhausted the president mentally and physically. A broken arm suffered the previous summer that had failed to heal properly further sapped his strength. His resistance lowered, he contracted typhoid fever in the spring of 1864. He died on April 29 at Willowbank, the Bellefonte home of Rebecca Valentine, his wife of less than three months.  

Pugh's passing was more than a personal tragedy. It dealt a severe blow to plans to broaden the educational base of the College. Pugh had seen this as his primary objective from the very beginning, although the need to win financial aid and political support for the institution demanded most of his energy. His wisdom, fortitude, and vision would be sorely missed in the years to come.  


The College had a vice-president, David Wilson, who had succeeded Samuel Baird as mathematics professor and who was also superintendent of the agricultural department. Wilson resigned shortly after Pugh's death, however, and Professor Jacob Whitman was then named acting president while the trustees sought a permanent successor. In June 1864 the board elected William H. Allen, former president of Philadelphia's Girard College, as the second president of the Agricultural College. A graduate of Bowdoin College in his native Maine, the 56-year-old Allen had taught chemistry and natural history for ten years at Dickinson College in Carlisle, where he also served a year as acting president. In 1850 he left Dickinson to accept the presidency of Girard College, retiring from that post thirteen years later.  

Photograph of William Allen
William Allen  

Two important tasks confronted Allen at the Agricultural College. First, he had to halt further deterioration of the College's financial strength. Second, he had to carry on Pugh's efforts to bring the school's curriculum in line with the stipulations of the Morrill Act. Allen discovered that the College had accumulated a debt exceeding $50,000, arising partly from the cost of completing the main building and partly from inadequate revenues from students. At no time were tuition and other student charges sufficient to cover the operating costs of the institution. Aggravating these fiscal woes were the difficulties the Commonwealth encountered in selling the scrip. When the legislature had accepted the terms of the Morrill Act in 1863, it created a board of land commissioners but neglected to make any provision for paying the expenses incurred in advertising the scrip and conducting the sale. This oversight, along with the more urgent demands of the war, caused the commission to remain inactive. When William Allen took office, Pennsylvania had not even advertised for preliminary bids oil the scrip. Moreover, with their main antagonist now gone to his grave, spokesmen for other colleges in the state were once again urging the General Assembly to designate additional schools as land-grant institutions.  


Photograph of students preparing for a botanical expedition to Bear Meadows.
Students prepare for a botanical expedition to Bear Meadows.

Sales of scrip finally began early in 1865 but there were few prospective buyers. Individuals who wished to purchase family-sized tracts could take advantage of the new Homestead Act to obtain land virtually without cost. Speculators and land companies, more likely to purchase large quantities of scrip, hesitated to do so because they believed most of the available land for which the scrip could be exchanged was located in the Dakotas and Nebraska, a remote and unappealing region in the eyes of most commercial investors. At the end of the first year, only 27,000 of the 780,000 acres had been sold. Despairing of receiving any substantial revenue from the land grant in the near future, the trustees in April 1866 persuaded the legislature to allow the College to issue $80,000 in bonds, paying 7 percent interest and maturing in ten years, as an emergency measure.  

The General Assembly also voted funds to advertise sales of the scrip, with the stipulation that no more than one-third of the 780,000 acres could be sold without further authorization. The lawmakers expected land prices to rise over the next year or two, now that the war was over, and the bulk of the scrip should be held until the market improved. Allen and the board of trustees were not so optimistic about future market prices and, fearing the bankruptcy of the College in spite of the bond issue, petitioned the legislature in September 1866 to sell all the scrip as soon as possible, regardless of the condition of the land market.  

In curricular matters, Allen's first step toward reorganization came in July 1865 with the appointment of John Fraser as professor of mathematics and astronomy and lecturer in military tactics. Now the College had adopted two-agriculture and military tactics-of the three courses of study mandated of all land-grant institutions. Only instruction in mechanic arts remained to be introduced. On that point Allen displayed a curious lack of initiative. There can be no doubt that financial affairs demanded much of his attention, leaving him little time to devote to the matter of curricular reform. Perhaps an indifference toward or even suspicion of mechanic arts was to be expected from a man who had spent his entire career at classical institutions. In the absence of leadership from the president, it was the faculty, particularly Professor Fraser, who worked to implement a program of studies in several fields of engineering.  

John Fraser immigrated to the United States from Scotland not long after graduating from the University of Aberdeen. After holding positions as a private tutor, head of a boys' academy, and professor of mathematics at Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Union army. In 1864, after having attained the rank of brevet brigadier general, he was captured by the rebels and spent nine months in Richmond's notorious Libby Prison. Fraser's ordeal as a prisoner of war had done nothing to diminish his reputation as a man of considerable ambition, a hard driver who set his goals high and then worked with unmatched zeal and enthusiasm to reach them.  

At a faculty meeting in May 1866, Fraser pushed through a motion declaring in blunt language that the educational policies of the institution had failed. He took the resolution, which represented a vote of no confidence in President Allen, directly to the board of trustees, who responded by naming Fraser head of a faculty committee to plan a restructuring of the curriculum. As presented to the trustees at their September meeting, this plan called for the establishment of baccalaureate courses in agriculture, general science, and literature. The general science course was in fact to be an engineering course, with classes in surveying, mechanics, mineralogy, and similar subjects. Another proposed change would replace the February-December academic year with the two-semester, August-June calendar found at most other colleges. The committee also recommended that student fees be raised to $260 per year.  

The board approved these proposals on September 4--the same day that it accepted the resignation of William Allen and elected John Fraser as his successor. Allen had found himself in an awkward position as trustees and faculty communicated with one another directly and virtually ignored the office of the president. Much of his discomfort was of his own making. Unlike Evan Pugh, Allen had no conception of the breadth of land-grant education and was unable to formulate any well-defined objectives for the College. The primitive conditions and isolation of the school offended his civilized nature and further tempered whatever ardor he might have been able to muster for curricular reform. To his credit, he did not obstruct the work of Fraser's reorganization committee and recommended its acceptance to the trustees. Yet as Allen himself evidently realized, he was not the kind of dynamic leader the Agricultural College required. He returned to the more refined surroundings of Girard College, where he served a second term as president until his death in 1882.  

John Fraser became president on November 1. He bore a remarkable similarity to Pugh in that both men were resolute in their desire to see the Agricultural College become an industrial college in the broadest sense of the term and at the earliest possible date. Enrollment had reached a peak in 1864 with 145 students in attendance, including 29 in the preparatory department. At the outset of the Fraser administration this number had declined to 114, 32 of whom were in the preparatory department. The new president maintained that unless the College added a curriculum in mechanic arts, the student body would continue to shrink. Many members of the General Assembly expressed this same feeling. In February 1867, the legislature voted to permit the immediate sale of all remaining land scrip, with the expectation that the College's income would increase sufficiently to underwrite Fraser's reorganization plans. The lawmakers also implemented a clause in the Morrill Act that allowed one-tenth of the receipts of the sale to be used for the purchase of experimental farms. The College was authorized to buy farms in Chester and Indiana counties and to obtain a tract of farm land adjacent to the campus itself.  

Photograph of John Fraser
John Fraser  

The faculty were generally pleased with Fraser's appointment. Professor of English language and literature Francis Fowler confided to an acquaintance that "President Fraser has been at the head of affairs only a few months, but we hope he. is the man for the place, and if the trustees are not clod hoppers. . . . thwarting and opposing his plans, we have reason to anticipate the establishment here of an excellent institution."  

The trustees initially gave no sign of wanting to thwart the president's efforts. They raised tuition, replaced the manual labor requirement with military drill, and approved the addition of courses in mechanical and civil engineering, mining, metallurgy, and mineralogy. The trustees also looked with favor on the most innovative of Fraser's proposals: the introduction of laboratory experiences or practicums to be coordinated with classroom work in engineering, science, and agricultural subjects.  

Had John Fraser succeeded in giving reality to his ideas, he would have placed the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania in the forefront of technical education in the United States. Many of the land-grant institutions that would one day become leading centers of applied research and learning, such as the Ohio State University, Purdue University, and Cornell University, had not yet been founded. Others were still in their infancy. Fewer than 20 colleges offered engineering degrees, and as late as 1872 barely a half-dozen supplemented theoretical studies in science and engineering with extensive laboratory work. Furthermore, Fraser had recommended integrating technical and liberal studies, whereas many of the leading technical colleges of the era—Dartmouth's Chandler Scientific School, for instance, or Yale's Sheffield Scientific School—were set apart from their parent institutions on the grounds that classical education should not be "contaminated" by more utilitarian studies.  

Inadequate revenue undermined Fraser's efforts to enlarge the scope of instruction. The maintenance of the experimental farms and interest on the bond issue amounted to more than $11,000 in 1867. Only $6,300 had been received that year from the land-grant endowment. Sales of the land scrip brought in less money than anticipated, selling at a disappointing average of 55 cents per acre. Contrary to expectations, the market for land was glutted, as institutions sold scrip under the Morrill Act, western railroads sold land granted to them by Congress, and the federal government itself sold land at sub-minimum prices to veterans or gave it away to homesteaders. By September 17, 1867, when the sale of all of Pennsylvania's 780,000 acres had been completed, total receipts amounted to $439,000, ten percent of which had already been used to purchase the experimental farms. Invested in government securities, this sum would yield no more than about $25,000 annually.  

Equally worrisome was the College's inability to attract students to the new curriculum, much to the chagrin of Fraser and other proponents of the industrial college concept. The student body continued to shrink until only thirty undergraduates were enrolled in 1868-69. Probably the high tuition was responsible for some of the decline. And in spite of the confidence exuded by Fraser, many parents must have balked at the prospect of sending their sons to a college whose curriculum embodied so many novel ideas. Perhaps students wishing to study agriculture doubted the commitment of the College to that subject, now that other courses of study were to be offered. In any event, by the end of 1867, the College had piled up $17,000 in debts and showed every likelihood of accumulating even more.  

Lack of money prevented Fraser from hiring the additional faculty and purchasing the laboratory equipment that the College needed to implement the new curriculums. For practical purposes, agriculture remained the only course of study. The College's failure to live up to the promises made previously gave rise to further doubts about the wisdom of the new mechanic arts and scientific curriculums and adversely affected enrollment for 1868. The president wanted to press onward with the new programs, but the trustees concluded that his curricular reorganization had failed. On March 14, 1868, citing "the irreconcilable differences with the board of trustees as to scope and policies of this institution," Fraser submitted his resignation. He later became chancellor of the University of Kansas, where again his ambition set him too far in advance of his colleagues. He eventually returned to Pennsylvania and served as a professor of mathematics at the Western University of Pennsylvania (later the University of Pittsburgh) until his death in 1878.  

Had the trustees supported him for a longer period of time, the new curriculum might well have won the confidence of the public, thus sparing the College from the tribulation it was to endure for the next decade. Conversely, Fraser's plan might have bankrupted the institution before it had a chance to prove its merit. Obviously, the trustees believed bankruptcy was the more likely outcome. They even discussed the possibility of admitting defeat and asking the Commonwealth to assume ownership of the College. Eventually the board decided to make one last attempt at reorganizing the institution. To save money, the faculty was reduced from seven to four members at the close of the spring semester. To attract more students, tuition was cut by $90. No more curricular changes would be made until a permanent successor to Fraser could be found. Professor of Greek language and literature James Y. McKee served as interim head of the school.  

Judge Watts invited Thomas Burrowes, one-time state superintendent of common schools and a close friend of former Governor Curtin, to assist the trustees in devising means of restoring stability to the College. Burrowes urged the institution to return to its original objective-teaching practical agriculture-and postpone efforts to introduce instruction in engineering and the classics. He also cautioned the trustees to select a man of proven administrative ability as the next president, pointing out that the lack of such talent had been a leading cause of the College's current troubles. Impressed with this advice, the trustees decided that Burrowes himself would make a suitable president; and in November 1868 they offered him the post. He accepted, but not until the board agreed to raise the president's annual salary from $2,000 to $3,000.  

A native of Lancaster County, Burrowes was serving as a state legislator when in 1835 he was appointed Secretary of the Commonwealth. In that position, he was ex officio head of Pennsylvania's public school system and developed a keen interest in education. After leaving office, Burrowes continued his involvement in the state's educational affairs. 

Photograph of Thomas H. Burrowes
Thomas H. Burrowes    

In 1852 he founded the Pennsylvania School Journal, which he was to edit until his death. He returned to Harrisburg in 1860 to serve another term as superintendent of schools and had just completed a five-year tenure as head of Pennsylvania's Soldiers' Orphan School when he was named president of the Agricultural College. Possessing a capacity for work that belled his 63 years, Burrowes shouldered his duties as head of the College in January 1869, undaunted by the formidable challenges that lay ahead.  

"The chief hindrance encountered has been want of confidence naturally resulting from the failure of the institution by a departure from its proper work," he wrote later that year. In returning the school to its "proper work," Butrowes turned back the clock and instituted a regimen of activities that resembled that of the old Farmers' High School. The FebruaryDecember school year was reinstated, as was the manual labor requirement. The president delighted in personally supervising student labor. He suspended classes for an entire week in May 1869, when three of the four faculty members were away from the College, so that he could direct his "lads" in refurbishing the campus experimental farm and relocating some of its buildings. He deemed the manual labor and the experimental farms essential adjuncts to the curriculum, which was now given over almost fully to practical agriculture.  

The return of the College to the bedrock of its original objective pleased many agriculturists, who previously looked askance at Fraser's and even Pugh's attempts to make the school an industrial college. William Waring, who had resigned after serving only two years under Pugh, wrote from his home in nearby Tyrone to assure Burrowes that "the institution is on the true track again, and I have great hopes now toward its usefulness and greatness."  

President Burrowes did not completely abandon the broader goals of Pugh and Fraser (and Justin Morrill), as evidenced by the new curriculum he formulated. During their first three years, students received a general education along with training in the principles of practical agriculture. At the end of this period, they received the degree of Bachelor of Scientific Agriculture. If they so desired, students could remain for a fourth year, which was to consist mainly of scientific and engineering subjects, and earn a Bachelor of Science degree. An additional year of liberal studies was also available, with the degree of Bachelor of Arts being awarded to any student persistent enough to have completed this fifth and final year of undergraduate education. The practicality of this unique system was never tested. On February 25, 1871, Thomas Burrowes succumbed to pneumonia brought on by an outing with his students in severe winter weather. His successor, unimpressed by the virtues of the five-year curriculum, quickly dismantled it.  

In addition to curricular changes, Burrowes also believed that the College needed more publicity. "Not many of the citizens of the state know of the existence of this institution and very few are aware of its large capacity and adaptedness to meet the great educational want of the day," he declared in June 1869 in a letter to Frederick Watts. The president proposed a kind of open house, at which time parents of students and prospective students, newspaper correspondents, farmers, and other interested persons could inspect the College and see firsthand the work being done there. The affair could also serve as a homecoming for alumni. The first "Harvest Home," as Burrowes christened the event, was held in July 1869. The crowd was small, due to the short notice given for the occasion. The following year, however, more than 2,000 persons visited the campus over several days, witnessing exhibitions of farm implements by day and attending lectures and other social festivities by night. Fifteen hundred candles illuminated the main building for the occasion.  

Attending the second Harvest Home was a small band of graduates and former students of the College who decided the time had arrived for the formation of an alumni society. On July 28, 1870, this group gathered for an organizational meeting in the chemical lecture room of the main building. A. A. Breneman '66, professor of chemistry at the College, was elected president and John 1. Thompson '64, secretary-treasurer. A committee was appointed to draw up a constitution, although four years passed before the group finally adopted the document and a College alumni association officially came into being.  

President Burrowes also traveled extensively throughout the state in an attempt to acquaint Pennsylvanians with the work being done at the College. But his campaign to restore popular confidence in the institution met with less than total success. Forty-six students were in attendance in the spring of 1869. At the time of Burrowes' death, enrollment had climbed to only 76, a third of whom were preparatory students. Critics continued to decry the geographic inaccessibility of the school, arguing that enrollments would not increase unless the institution were moved to a more populated area. Nor did the operation of the experimental farms win many friends for the College. At the campus farm, valuable experiments in growing grains, grasses, and potatoes under various soil conditions were conducted. The farms in Indiana and Chester counties, however, fell victim to petty rivalries and jealousy among the supervisory personnel, who quarreled among themselves while stubbornly resisting any attempt by Burrowes to exercise centralized control over activities at the farms. This internal strife and lack of coordination seriously hindered the two farms' efforts to make lasting contributions to agricultural research.  

While Thomas Burrowes averted complete disaster for the College, he left to his successor the job of making the institution something other than a farm school. That responsibility fell to James Calder, whom the trustees elected president on March 21, 1871. Calder came to the Agri cultural College from Hillsdale College, Michigan, where he had been president for the previous two years. Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 1826, Calder had entered the Methodist ministry immediately after graduating from Wesleyan College (Ohio) in 1849. He subsequently spent several years as a missionary in China before returning to pastoral duties in the United States and eventually the presidency of Hillsdale.  


Photograph of Old Main's chemical lecture room
Old Main's chemical lecture room, birthplace of the Alumni Association.


Under Calder's direction, the curriculum of the Agricultural College underwent its third reorganization in four years. The sequential degree program of the Burrowes administration was replaced by three traditional four-year courses of study: agricultural, scientific, and classical. A new academic year beginning in August was also implemented. The system of manual labor, never popular with the students, was gradually phased out. "By the enactments of Congress and our state legislature, we are to be as much a mechanical college as an agricultural one," the new president declared. He seemed to be taking the same view of the College's role as Pugh and Fraser had. Apparent proof of his eagerness to abandon the concept of the College as primarily an agricultural institution came in 1-873, when in his annual report the president formally requested the trustees to approve the name Pennsylvania State College in anticipation of a broadening of the school's curriculum. The board concurred and on January 26, 1874, the Centre County court gave its consent to the name change. The addition of the word "state" did not alter the institution's relationship with the Commonwealth, however. The College remained, as originally chartered, a private corporation.  

President Calder, the trustees, and other friends of the College also worked to ease the institution's financial burden. They won their first success in 1872, when the General Assembly added $61,000 to the money obtained from land sales to make the College's land-grand endowment an even $500,000. This sum was reinvested to yield about $30,000 annually. Emboldened by the prospect of receiving a regular subsidy of this magnitude, Calder persuaded the trustees in 1874 to eliminate all tuition except for instruction in music and a $20 fee for heat, light, and janitorial expenses. At the same time, the president launched a program of improvements for the physical plant of the College. A macadam lane was constructed from the campus gate on College Street (today's College Avenue) up the gently sloping hillside to the main building. Shade trees were planted along campus roads and paths and a neatly manicured lawn supplanted vegetable gardens surrounding the main building. The building itself underwent modernization, beginning with the digging of an artesian well to the rear of the structure. The new water supply permitted the installation of a modern plumbing system in the building. A reservoir fed by the well provided ample water for a centralized steam heating system that did away with a myriad of fireplaces and stoves. These and other improvements finally put an end to the unfinished air that had characterized the campus since the days of Evan Pugh.  


Photograph of James Calder with the 1877 graduating class, which included his son, A. Russell Calder (second from right)
James Calder with the 1877 graduating class, which included his son, A. Russell Calder (second from right)  

Enrollments were higher than those of any previous administration since Pugh's, with about 150 students in attendance in a given year. "The increase resulted partly from the College's decision to admit female students. President Calder saw no reason to exclude women from a college education. During his administration at Hillsdale, the first women were admitted to that institution. Penn State's first female undergraduates, Rebecca Ewing of Angola, Indiana, and Ellen Cross of Omro, Wisconsin, began their studies in the fall of 1871. Both had formerly been students at Hillsdale, and they came to Pennsylvania at Calder's invitation.  

Ewing became the first woman to receive a degree from the College, graduating with the class of 1872. Cross later remembered that "the professors were very kind and considerate. The male students, however, did not at first favor the innovation." It was indeed an innovation. Although a few state universities had experimented with coeducation, Penn State was among the first land-grant schools and among the first colleges in Pennsylvania (six years before the University of Pennsylvania and twenty-two years before the University of Pittsburgh) to admit women on a regular basis. Concurrent with the admission of women students came the appointment of the first female faculty members, Mary E. Butterfield, instructor in German, and Sarah E. Robinson, instructor in piano music.  

The College administration stipulated a strict set of rules governing the social relationships between male and female students. A typical regulation expressly forbade students "to walk or ride with students of the opposite sex or to meet with such students in the parlor or any other places, except by special permission of the president and preceptress." The preceptress, soon to be titled the "lady principal," was charged with overseeing both academic and social activities of women, all of whom were housed in upper floors of the main building's west wing, segregated as much as possible from the men. By 1878, Penn State had forty-nine women undergraduates in residence.  

Just as the women were settling down in the main building, some of the men were moving out. At Calder's urging, the faculty ended compulsory boarding in College rooms in 1872. Since not even what could be loosely termed a town yet existed on the other side of College Street, most of the students living off campus resided at one of several "eating clubs." An attempt to organize a chapter of Delta Tau Delta fraternity, and thus provide additional accommodations, was quickly squelched by President Calder, who categorized fraternities as "corrupting and mischievous."  

The elimination of tuition and the improvement of the College's physical facilities, while making the institution more attractive to potential students, worsened its financial condition. The College was unable to meet its obligations when the $80,000 in bonds issued by the Allen administration matured in 1876. Calder and the trustees prevailed upon the legislature to make a special appropriation of $80,000 to the College in 1878--the first direct allocation it had received from the Commonwealth since 1861. In return, the General Assembly demanded that all fifteen faculty members take a 10 percent reduction in salary. The teachers grumbled at this request, but it was a small price to pay for being rescued from the sheriffs sale that would likely have occurred had the College not been able to pay its debts.  

While James Calder brought much needed stability to affairs of the College, he nonetheless allowed the institution to lose sight of its true academic objectives. During his administration, increasing emphasis was placed on the traditional classical subjects, while agricultural studies fell into neglect and instruction in engineering was totally ignored. As the end of the decade approached, The Pennsylvania State College was rapidly coming to resemble the kind of classical college that it was supposed to have supplemented. The school's catalog proclaimed that "the aim of the institution is to combine practical with theoretical culture and to promote improvements in agriculture, the mechanic arts, and the application of those natural and abstract sciences which have the most direct bearing on the everyday affairs of life," but in truth only instruction in military tactics distinguished Penn State as a land-grant school. And until a regular army officer was detailed to the College in 1877, military instruction consisted of occasional drill sessions supervised by one of the civilian faculty.  

This drift toward classicism was attributable partly to the admission of women. Music, literature, and mental and moral philosophy were thought to form a more appropriate core of higher learning for women than surveying, chemistry, or botany. However, the neglect of practical studies resulted mostly from President Calder's own inclinations. As a minister, he was more the product of classical education than any of his predecessors; and unlike any of them, he displayed not even an avocational interest in agriculture. His administrative experience at Hillsdale College and his immediate availability, rather than any commitment to or understanding of land-grant education, were mainly responsible for his selection as Thomas Burrowes' successor. True, Calder had proclaimed his intention to promote the study of agriculture and the mechanic arts, but he never buttressed his words with concrete action. In 1873 the legislature granted a charter to an institution known as the Mechanics' High School, whose avowed purpose was that of "furnishing skilled workmen for our Pennsylvania workshops." It was only then that Calder became vocal about his own college's intention to offer work in the mechanic arts, undoubtedly with the idea of heading off any claims that supporters of the Mechanics' High School might make on the land-grant endowment. The appearance of this school probably influenced Calder to change the name of his own institution to the more inclusive Pennsylvania State College.  

As a college of the traditional mold, Penn State was fulfilling no particular educational need for the citizens of the Commonwealth, as enrollment figures proved. The student body did grow, but much of the increase came at the preparatory level. In 1875-76, for example, only 64 of the College's 144 students were undergraduates. After finishing their preparatory studies, many students went elsewhere to undertake degree studies or terminated their education altogether. Of those that remained to enter the freshman class, few stayed long enough to meet baccalaureate requirements. At no time during the Calder years did the number of students in the graduating class exceed seven. Nor did the College draw many students from distant parts of the Commonwealth. Over one-half the student body claimed residence in Centre or adjoining counties.  

If James Calder was oblivious to the ill-conceived direction in which he was taking the College, many of the trustees were not. In 1875, shortly after the retirement of Frederick Watts, the board underwent a reorganization which ultimately enhanced the representation of the public and the industrial interests. An amendment to the College charter boosted the number of trustees from 13 to 23. The Secretary of Internal Affairs, the Adjutant General, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the president of the Franklin Institute joined the Governor, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, the president of the state agricultural society, and the College's president as ex officio members. Twelve members were chosen by an electoral body consisting of the executive committee of the state agricultural society, the managers of the Franklin Institute, three representatives from each county agricultural society, and three representatives from each of Pennsylvania's mining and manufacturing associations. Alumni were permitted to elect the remaining three members.  

To succeed Watts as chairman, the trustees elected James A. Beaver. The son-in-law and law partner of Hugh McAllister, Beaver had been named to a seat oil the board upon McAllister's death in 1873. Born in Millerstown, Perry County, in 1837, he had graduated from Jefferson College in 1856 and moved to Bellefonte to read law under McAllister's tutelage. Beaver helped to organize a volunteer regiment after the outbreak of the Civil War and rose to the rank of brigadier general before losing a leg at the Battle of Spotsylvania. Given a medical discharge, he returned to Bellefonte to become, in the tradition of his father-in-law, one of central Pennsylvania's most able and widely known attorneys. Beaver was to play a leading role in Penn State affairs for the next four decades.  

Photograph of James A. Beaver
James A. Beaver  

Although some of the trustees were privately critical of President Calder's leadership, the first formal complaint against the College's classical leanings was registered by the state agricultural society which, at its annual meeting in January 1878, passed resolutions calling on the College to strengthen its course in agriculture and to reorganize the experimental farms into effective agricultural research stations. Such sentiments had been voiced for several years in the legislature, along with demands that the College launch some kind of degree program in the mechanic arts. Criticism from the Commonwealth's political leaders culminated in April 1879 with the appointment of a special Joint committee to investigate the College and its farms.  

The committee owed its existence more to partisan wheeling and dealing between rival political and geographic factions in the General Assembly than to serious interest in the College. The five-man panel, led by Representative Albert Ackerly of Luzerne County, arrived at the College on May 2 and spent less than four hours on the campus. None of the legislators talked with the students or faculty, entered a classroom, or visited the experimental farm. A few took a cursory glance at the treasurer's reports and other records. After briefly interviewing Calder and Vice President McKee, the lawmakers adjourned to Bellefonte to take testimony from General Beaver, former Governor Curtin, and several other trustees.  

The committee held additional hearings at Pittsburgh and Harrisburg before submitting its findings to the legislature in June. Ackerly and his associates concluded that "while evidence does not show actual fraud or disclose corrupt management, the institution has been very badly managed." They criticized the College for having neglected to develop adequate courses of study in agriculture and the mechanic arts and for having failed to reap positive results from the experimental farms in proportion to the expense of maintaining them. Their report also included the usual sniping at the school's location ("a very undesirable one"), the main building ("entirely unsuited to the purpose for which it was erected"), and faculty size ("out of all proportion with the number of students in attendance"). Ackerly then introduced a bill instructing the state treasurer to pay no more money to the College "until the legislature shall be fully satisfied that the agricultural and mechanical interests of the state are receiving from such College actual benefits which are commensurate with the amount of money expended for its support and maintenance." The House passed the bill, but it failed by a slim margin in the Senate.  

President Calder breathed a sigh of relief at the Senate's refusal to support the proposed suspension of funds, yet he knew only too well that political dissatisfaction with the College would be aired once more as soon as the next legislative session began. The trustees realized that as well, and pressed Calder for his resignation. If complaints from Harrisburg had been the only problem the president had to contend with, he might well have successfully resisted this pressure. However, Calder was confronted with an internal crisis as well. Some of the faculty, frustrated by the drift toward classicism, neared the point of open rebellion against the president. The same could be said for the student body. Calder was a stickler for proper conduct, and his students often chafed under what they regarded as a petty system of rules. Disciplinary problems were nothing new at the College, but now, as if taking their cue from the faculty, students began what seemed like a concerted campaign of disruption. Hissing and foot stomping during chapel, defacing walls, raiding orchards and gardens, putting the plumbing system out of commission, throwing water and even furniture from the upper floors of the main building-all reached epidemic proportions. Drinking and drunkenness became more prevalent than ever. As the new school year got under way in the fall of 1879, James Calder tacitly conceded that he had suffered an irreparable loss of respect among teachers and students. He announced his intention to resign, effective no later than June of the following year.  


Meeting in May 1880, the board of trustees selected Joseph Shortlidge, president of the Maplewood Institute, a private academy located at Concordville, Delaware County, to succeed Calder. The new head of the College lacked even the limited experience with higher education that Calder had when he came to Penn State. Born in Chester County, Shortlidge entered Yale University in 1859. He liked to give the impression that he held a degree from that institution, but in fact he withdrew before graduating. He founded Maplewood in 1862, after brief teaching stints at several other academies. The trustees knew that Shortlidge did not possess the experience desirable in a college president, but he was the only applicant to have the backing of influential political leaders from southeastern Pennsylvania, a region where support for Penn State was especially weak. Moreover, the faculty wanted to have the president's post filled by the beginning of the new academic year. Continuing the search for a more suitable candidate might extend well beyond that deadline.  

Photograph of Joseph Shortlidge
Joseph Shortlidge    

Shortlidge was not long at the College before he discovered just how large a gap existed between the objectives of land-grant education and the alms of the school's curriculum as it was then organized. He planned major revisions in the courses of study and was particularly eager to add an engineering course. Unfortunately, he did not choose his methods carefully. Ignoring the fact that the College was already in disfavor in Harrisburg, Shortlidge blasted the legislature for not giving it adequate financial assistance. No program in agriculture or engineering worthy of the name, he maintained, could be introduced without a special appropriation from the Commonwealth. He excoriated the Ackerly committee for criticizing the College when it had spent only a few hours at the campus.  

Equally tactless in his relations with the faculty, Shortlidge jealously guarded the prerogatives of his office. In an unnecessarily haughty and abrasive manner, the new president informed the teaching staff that he would not tolerate infringements upon his authority. He also shackled students with a series of regulations that made Calder's reign seem the height of liberality. Shortlidge was a firm believer in the use of corporal punishment to maintain order among the students. "He threatened them with the use of muscle, and did it in a very ugly way," James Beaver said later. "It was the kind of treatment that boys in a boarding school might, but no boy in a college would, tolerate. He never realized the difference between boys in a boarding school and boys in a college."  

Meanwhile, the trustees came under mounting pressure to rectify the school's academic and other difficulties. Eastern farmers, protesting the lack of an adequate agricultural course and the inept management of the Chester County experimental farm, prodded the Pennsylvania Grange and some Philadelphia newspapers to attack Penn State and call for renewed inquiries into its administration. By the time they had gathered for their semiannual meeting in January 1881, the trustees realized they could no longer expect Shortlidge to bring about any reforms. He had made too many enemies. Consequently, the trustees selected a committee from their own membership to investigate the curriculum and make recommendations for its revision. The panel was prevented from undertaking its work immediately, however, when its chairman, James P. Wickersham, resigned as Pennsylvania's superintendent of public instruction and thus ceased to be a trustee. Then the remaining four members agreed to postpone launching their investigation for several weeks, hoping that emotions aroused among the administration and faculty by the appointment of the committee would subside sufficiently to permit a more impartial inquiry.  

The delay disheartened that segment of the faculty that was eager to see the College return to academic ideals more in accord with those of the Morrill Act. One member of this reformist element vented his frustrations and anger in a March 5 letter to General Beaver: "After 22 years of experimenting, we are today the laughing stock of the state," he declared. "As an industrial college, we are a failure. When the complaint is made that we do so little for agriculture, the reply is that we are no longer exclusively agricultural. Unfortunately, we are not anything in particular." In a similar vein, another faculty member told Beaver that the agricultural course was "very incomplete indeed and also poorly arranged," while the scientific course "is not technical and fits a man for no particular thing." It was little wonder that in all courses only 29 undergraduates were enrolled.  

Before Beaver could respond to these and other complaints, the faculty took matters into their own hands. The chief spokesman for reform was newly appointed (1879) Professor of Physics 1. Thornton Osmond. He enlisted the aid of professors James McKee (Greek), C. Alfred Smith (chemistry), William A. Buckhout (botany), and Whitman H. Jordan (agriculture) in drawing up a plan of reorganization. This ad hoc committee was completely "irregular and without authorization," Osmond later recalled. Its meetings were informal and its work not publicized among the other faculty. Only Cyrus Gordon '66, one of the alumni trustees, was kept informed of its progress.  

The turmoil that had been brewing since Calder's resignation reached a climax at a meeting of the board of trustees on April 8, 1881. First on the agenda was a report from the Wickersham committee, which had finally completed its investigations. The report began by admitting that the College "has not done in the past and is not now doing the work that was intended by its founders." To remedy the situation, the curriculum should be expanded to include more technical courses, especially those in engineering. The committee also suggested selling the experimental farms.  

President Shortlidge believed the committee's findings reflected poorly and inaccurately on his own policies. The covert activities of Osmond's group further angered him. He submitted his resignation, evidently in symbolic protest rather than with a real desire to leave. The trustees, seeing the opportunity to rid themselves of this troublesome figure, accepted Shortlidge's resignation at once and gave him three months' salary in lieu of the three months of additional service to which he was normally entitled. Professor McKee was again named acting president.  

Cyrus Gordon then presented to the trustees the recommendations of Professor Osmond and his colleagues. As they were substantially in accord with those of the Wickersham committee, they were accepted in principle by the board with the understanding that they were to receive more detailed consideration later. Finally, the trustees voted to ask the state legislature to conduct another investigation of the College. They were confident that the school was about to enter a new era and believed that a public hearing would be an excellent way to inform the Commonwealth's citizens that henceforth Penn State would be more responsive to their educational needs. The General Assembly quickly acceded to the request. A joint committee of inquiry, headed by Centre County's Senator C. T. Alexander, was to begin its work in September.  

In June the trustees formally adopted the courses of study that were to carry the institution into its new era. To the three existing curriculums in general science, classics, and agriculture were added degree programs in natural history, chemistry and physics, and civil engineering. The new courses, as well as the one in agriculture, required students to complete a substantial amount of laboratory work. Sixteen faculty members were present when the new curriculums were introduced in the fall of 1881. Among the teaching staff were such notable holdovers as Buckhout, Jordan, McKee, and Osmond, as well as soon to be distinguished newcomers Josiah Jackson, professor of mathematics (actually a Shortlidge appointee), and Louis H. Barnard, Penn State's first professor of engineering. Only 47 undergraduates were enrolled but that number was expected to rise significantly now that the College had return to an emphasis on practical subjects.  

The reorganization would not be successful without strong leadership. Many trustees and faculty members urged James McKee to become president on a permanent basis. A friend and classmate of James A. Beaver at Washington and Jefferson College, McKee was well liked by nearly everyone at Penn State, even those who disagreed with his views on curricular reform. He was especially admired by the students, whom he served as unofficial counselor and, in the absence of any local financial institutions, banker. Yet he was too shy and self-effacing to be comfortable in the presidency and adamantly refused all suggestions that he remain in the post. As classes got under way in the fall of 1881, then, the search for a successor to Joseph Shortlidge continued. The trustees pursued the search in a very deliberate manner, determined to select the ideal man for the job even if many months passed before a satisfactory candidate could be agreed upon. They well knew that Penn State could not afford another mediocrity.