Chapter XIII


   In the cool September midnight voices carried across town and all the villagers knew that another college year was beginning. It was the nightshirt "walkaround," a noisy procession circling through the Western College campus and then heading up High Street. "Hail, hail, the gang's all here"--the chorus swelled as they crowded onto the lawn at Lewis Place. A light flickered in an upper window. Then President Benton stepped out on the railed porch roof, wearing a nightshirt and holding a candle. He made a short and comprehensive speech, commending the unity of the students, the traditions of Oxford, and "the spirit of the institution." With a cheer the parade moved on toward Oxford College.
   The spirit of the institution had never been so high. President Guy Potter Benton had come in the summer of 1902, a short, stocky man with a big head, a ringing voice and vibrant energy. A native of Ohio, he had come to Miami by way of the West; for fifteen years he had been in school and college administration in Kansas and Iowa. From the day of his arrival in Oxford he believed in Miami's future and he made others believe in it. During nine years at Miami he never grew tired, doubtful or disheartened.
   Dr. Benton liked ceremony; to the rural campus with haycocks under the trees he brought academic regalia and the formal academic procession. His inaugural, on September 18, 1902, also inaugurated the use of academic robes. Unfortunately it was a threatening day, with a fitful sky and gusts of leaves blowing across the speakers' platform. When the gowned and hooded faculty began the march from the campus gate, the band was silenced by a crash of thunder. A sudden downpour turned the procession into a rout. Visitors, alumni, faculty and students broke for the shelter of Old Main.
   In the crowded chapel the ceremony went on--Dr. Hepburn speaking for the faculty, President Thompson of Ohio State representing the Ohio colleges, and Governor Nash, his rheumatism aggravated by the weather, speaking with grace and feeling for the State of Ohio. Outside the rain diminished but the sky was darkening to evening. In a solemn twilight, Dr. Benton gave his address, earnest, confident, idealistic, on "Education for Manhood." He ended on a familiar note: "Miami University has a glorious history because it has insisted on quality rather than quantity. It must so continue."
   But for many years Miami had needed more students than had come, and no president could resist the desire for numbers. In the previous June the college had closed with one hundred seventy-five students. When the September roll was counted, a few days after Benton's inaugural, there were two hundred seven, the largest enrollment since the Civil War. In chapel the jubilant new president promised the students a half holiday when the figure reached two hundred fifty, and a full holiday if it ever touched three hundred.
   When the freshmen hung their flag from the tower and rang the college bell, the sophomores came storming. All afternoon the battle raged through the towers of Old Main. At 6:30 President Benton called the leaders out. He organized a final five-minute rush on the campus, and the ragged classes went to supper. That was the last year of the bruising, dangerous struggle on the steep stairways and disputed landings. The next fall a stocky frock-coated figure in the midst of a tattered melee refereed a pole-rush in the college yard. Benton considered himself the students' best friend. "The president knows his students. Professors may address them the as Mr. or Miss, but the president knows and calls them by their given names." He wanted his home to be a refuge of every tired, homesick, or restless student; he would rise at any hour of the night to give counsel or sympathy to a student in need. "My boys" was his phrase for the student body.
   One of Benton's innovations was a horse-drawn mower, which put an end to the campus haycocks. It was symbolical of the modernizing of the old college. Standard furniture was supplied for all the dormitory rooms. The Miami Student was assigned an office in Old Main, and the monthly paper was enlarged. A full-time music instructor organized the first musical ensembles and with the gifted Professor Loren Gates came the first organization of college players.
   On a gray February day in 1905 the villagers voted saloons out of Oxford, ending a problem that had plagued every Miami president. That fall the first Junior Prom was held at the Oxford Retreat, the couples strolling past a flock of stately peacocks on the autumn grounds. In 1906 came the first full-time football coach, and in that year President Benton proposed developing a fraternity row on High Street, University lots to be leased to fraternities that would build stone or brick houses costing not less than $6,000. To Miami, as to other colleges, these years brought a proliferation of "activities," and President Woodrow Wilson of Princeton found it pertinent to declare: "The real purpose of a college is its academic program and not its sideshows." Academically Miami was broader and freer, if not more rigorous, than in years past. By 1910 more than half of the studies were elective.
   With his sense of ceremony Dr. Benton began a tradition at Commencement of 1903. The academic procession, students leading, marched across the campus to the tent-covered speakers' stand. There it formed a double rank through which President Benton and the speaker, Bishop MacDowell of the Methodist Church, led the way to the platform, the entire procession reversing. One of the graduating seniors in that line of march was Robert Hamilton Bishop IV, great-great-grandson of the man who had presided at Miami's first Commencement.
   Since the red cottage on the site of Brice Hall in President Bishop's early years, Miami had not had an official president's home. On their arrival in Oxford Dr. Benton, his wife and two daughters moved into the Deke house on Walnut Street, and there Benton was concerned about "the right social standards being established and maintained by your president." While the trustees considered building a president's mansion on campus, an alumnus offered the use of Lewis Place.
   The handsome spacious house on High Street had been built in 1838 by Romeo Lewis of Connecticut. Here his wife, Jane North Lewis, reared her nephew, Philip Moore, who was graduated from Miami in 1870. In 1903 Philip Moore, after a prosperous career as a mining engineer in Kentucky, Colorado and Montana, offered the use of Lewis Place as a president's residence. That fall the Bentons moved into the many-chimneyed house; there was a fireplace in each of its sixteen rooms. In 1929 the state bought Lewis Place as a permanent president's mansion.
   During his first year Benton enlarged the faculty and the course of study. Departments of history and of economics and sociology were added. Physics and chemistry were made into separate departments, and plans were begun for enlarging Brice Hall. To the ranks of Hepburn, Brandon, Johnson, Williams, Hughes and Upham, President Benton added Professors Hayes, Hadsel, Culler, Powell, Handschin, Bradford, Gates, Fink, Burke, Davis, Todd, Young, Clark, and a name known abroad--Frederick William Stone. If not the most important member, "Cap" Stone was easily the most famous. For ten years, 1874-84, he had been "champion athlete of America." Holder of world's records in the high jump and the 100-yard dash, he had won contests all the way from England to Australia. A lean, bald, free-striding man with up-turned mustache, he ran a lively physical education department in Herron Hall. Every time he stepped outside, a string of village boys fell in behind him.
   Benton had arrived at Miami at a propitious time: in the spring of 1902 the State Legislature passed the Sesse Bill, establishing normal colleges at Miami and Ohio universities. "The girls are coming," Dr. Benton announced in September. He was sanguine enough to accept fifty of them, and all at once seventy-eight girls were lugging their baggage from door to door in the village, begging for rooms. It was worse next the June, when Miami's first summer session opened. Two hundred and fifty summer students were expected; four hundred sixty-nine came, and Oxford's homes were overflowing. Benton tried to rent Oxford College as a dormitory but the Oxford College officials would not agree; that arrangement, however, was made two years later. Now the long drowsy Oxford summer, with grass going to seed on the campus and an occasional farm wagon stirring up the dust of High Street, was only a memory.
   With a third of the students women, Miami needed a new residence hall. Dr. Benton proposed using one of the men's dormitories, but the trustees preferred to wait for state funds for a new building. Hepburn Hall was built in 1905 and Elizabeth Hamilton, a graduate of Oxford College and a teacher there, was appointed dean of women. Generations later, looking back to the first years in Hepburn Hall, Miss Hamilton recalled: "I didn't really know what a dean of women was supposed to be, or know, or do." But she filled the office with humor, dignity and distinction for forty years, while the women's enrollment grew to two thousand.
   Hepburn Hall could not have been less appropriately named. Andrew Dousa Hepburn, staunch foe of coeducation, was nearing retirement, and the trustees, apparently with no sense of irony, chose his name, over Hepburn's "vehement protest," for the first women's building. He was still opposed to women at Miami, though he had grudgingly acknowledged them in his chapel prayer: ". . . Guide, direct and bless all these young men--and bless too these young women. Thou knowest, Lord, that thirty-five per cent of them are women." In ignorance or charity the girls hung a large crayon portrait of him in their main parlor. A handsome likeness of the robed and snowy-bearded patriarch, it dominated the reception room. But it is not recorded that Dr. Hepburn ever stepped inside the hall.
   In June of 1905 the Commencement procession marched past Brice Hall, which was being enlarged to three times its former size, and paused at Hepburn Hall to dedicate the building. Then it moved on to the broad Commencement tent, on the site of Irvin Hall, where Secretary of War William Howard Taft gave an address on "The Duties of Citizenship." Among the straight-backed chairs on the platform a sturdy new settee from the Hepburn Hall parlor was provided for the speaker. Taft was the son-in-law of John W. Herron, president of the Board of Trustees.
   Two years later when enrollment had passed seven hundred, a library and an auditorium were under construction. And that winter came the only serious fire in Miami's history. On a bright cold January afternoon in 1908 workmen on the new auditorium saw smoke pouring from the attic of Hepburn Hall, three hundred feet away. When the volunteer fire department arrived, the upper part of the building was aflame. There were no casualties, but that night a hundred homeless girls were on the town. Professor O. B. Finch and his wife took nine of them for the remainder of the year. By the next fall Hepburn Hall was rebuilt and reopened.
   When Harvey C. Minnich, superintendent of schools at Middletown, became dean of the Norman School in 1903, President Benton had an able and congenial administrative colleague. Together they gathered a strong Normal College faculty, including Anna E. Logan, Frances Gibson Richard, Professors Whitcomb, Davis and Heckert, and Alice Robinson. Dr. B. M. Davis, a pioneer teacher of agriculture, started a forestry nursery on the site of Withrow Court. Miss Robinson, gifted, charming and twenty-two, made art so exciting that no room was large enough for her classes. Together Benton and Minnich sought an integration of the Normal School and the College, with only the "methods" courses being offered separately.
   With men and women together in most classrooms, some resentment and rivalry developed. There were the Old Miami traditions to remember and the new courses to jeer. A snide letter in the Miami Student stated that a certain Miami man was about to change his course and "take up music, nature study and basket weaving in the normals." Though a unified institution was desired, it was clear that the Normal School would lack identity and independence until it had a building of its own and some measure of separation from the College.
   In 1902 a landscape architect had been asked to choose a site for a future Normal School building. Benton's own suggestion was that it be "across the road"--a location that later became the Fraternity Row on High Street. But when in 1908 the Legislature voted $45,000 for a building, it was placed on the main campus, in the dense locust grove at the southwest corner of the original "University Square." The locust thicket was cleared, the land drained, and the south wing of McGuffey Hall went up along Spring Street. It was opened in 1910.
   For seven years the Normal School had made unsatisfactory use of the Oxford public school for practice teaching, with some added use of the Miami preparatory department. The preparatory department was closed in 1910; by then high schools were preparing students for college. In that year the "William McGuffey School" was opened in McGuffey Hall as a University practice school.
   At the beginning of the twentieth century, thanks to the offices of a Miami man, the name Andrew Carnegie meant libraries. Prompted by John Shaw Billings, director of the New York Public Library, Carnegie offered to build a public library for any English-speaking community in the world that would contribute, for its maintenance, ten per cent of the building's cost. In twenty years this offer produced 2811 libraries, for which Carnegie paid a total of $60,000,000. In 1906 Andrew Carnegie offered $40,000 to build a Miami University library, provided that sum was matched from other sources. The amount was raised, after some strenuous alumni efforts and a pressuring of the faculty, and the building was completed in time for the Centennial celebration of 1909. An imposing if not very practical building, it contained stacks, reading rooms, reference rooms, and on the heavy balcony under the great dome six useful seminar rooms--one of them became a McGuffey Museum. It was named Alumni Library, though a more interesting and appropriate name would have been that of John Shaw Billings. A member of the Class of 1857, Billings remembered that "the Miami library was open for the drawing of books every Saturday, and as the allowance of two books would by no means last a week, I used to get other boys to let me draw books in their name, so that I usually took out as many as I could carry." Forty years after the dedication of the Alumni Library, the name of John Shaw Billings, who had been a distinguished surgeon before he turned librarian, was given to Miami's natatorium. In 1923 the Carnegie Corporation gave $50,000 to enlarge the library building.
   First occupied in the winter of 1908 was the auditorium and administration building. The president, dean, and business manager climbed to offices on the second floor; the main floor provided a registrar's office, a Y.M.C.A. room and an office for the Miami Student. The Recensio staff was given the old president's office in the Main Building. The auditorium had a spacious stage where Professor Gates was soon producing fine performances of Shakespeare. Here the Miami Glee Club, organized in 1907, gave regular concerts. The room seated 1200 and was large enough, it was supposed, for all Miami's future.
   Into the new building moved new officers. Hepburn, retired in 1908, had three titles: head of the English department, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and vice-president, Hughes became dean, and Upham headed the department of English.
   As early as 1906 President Benton anticipated the approach of Miami's hundredth anniversary in 1909. As a reminder of the past the college published in 1907 a facsimile reproduction of the first University catalogue of 1826. Professor Upham, chairman of the Centennial, made plans for a gathering of educators and alumni for the Commencement week of 1909. Meanwhile the rotund Bert S. Bartlow of the Class of 1893, perennial bachelor and Deke, gathered data for an Alumni Catalogue with biographical sketches of every trustee, teacher, graduate and student of Miami during its first hundred years.
   In planning the program Professor Upham wanted his classmate Ridgely Torrence to contribute a Centennial Poem, but Torrence begged off.

New York City
July 18th, 1908
My dear Upham:
   You are wise and you are kindly of heart and I love and cherish your personality but for once your goodness has over-stepped your wisdom. I am not the man. To you and you only the laurels belong. I am remote, melancholy, slow. With all my real affection and admiration for Miami I could not for the life of me utter one strophe on this subject. I have no faculty for occasional verse. I never wrote such things in my life and I shouldn't know know to go about it. I could never get a sufficient head of steam. Then too I have gotten so far away from lyrical writing during the past year or two that I hardly know what it looks like. I have been so steadily devoted to playwriting. No I cannot do it although I am deeply grateful to you for the honor and kindness of the offer. But thou art the man, and if alma mater can't rise up in you in song then the poetry of earth has ceased. I wrote to Bartlow [Secretary of the Centennial], the silver-toothed orator of Tallawanda, that my hand and my heart were for you in the cause, and from where he sitteth on the brazen floor of Olympus I know he will stretch forth his hand bearing the bays of your poll. Then sing and may the Nine play their splendors about your skull and lips until Aeolus himself enters The Retreat. And I expect to be present to listen. It was good to hear from you but I should like to have a long talk. We will have much to tell each other the next time we meet. I want to hear your experience a the helm there with Heppy taking his grog in the cabin. Please present my best wishes to the lady--

And believe me
Faithfully yours,

   So there was no Centennial Poem, but its absence could not have been missed in that third week of June, 1909.
   The celebration began with a "Students' Night," the undergraduates parading with humorous and historic floats through the town and campus. The following days were filled with receptions, exercises, concerts and reunions; the senior class play, Twelfth Night, was a grateful respite from the rounds of speech-making. On Centennial Day twenty speakers filled the platform under the trees--including Governor Harmon of Ohio, five past presidents of Miami, and a dozen eminent educators. On the hot and cloudless Commencement morning Professor Brander Matthews of Columbia and the Reverend Lyman Abbott, editor of The Outlook, addressed the crowd, and incidentally the fifty-five members of the Class of 1909, the largest in Miami history.
   In that graduating class were six future members of the Miami staff: W. S. Guiler, H. H. Beneke, C. S. Bunger, Vernon Lantis, and the Misses Florence Kerr and Nellie Finch, as well as a future bibliophile and benefactor of the Miami library, O. O. Fisher.
   After the speeches were forgotten and the reunions but a memory, there remained three lasting souvenirs of the Centennial. The three thousand biographical sketches in Bartlow's Alumni Catalogue showed how Miami men and women had entered into the life of their times, Professor Upham's book on Old Miami looked back at the fading past, and President Benton's The Real College discussed the responsibilities of the small college in the twentieth century. The Upham book, happily illustrated by Alice Robinson, preserved for New Miami the lore and luster of the Miami that was gone. Better than a Centennial Poem, it was a wise, warm and charming narrative of the famous old college.
   President Benton had established a plan for sabbatical leave for his faculty, and the first leave of absence was granted to him in 1909-10. With his family he spent the year in Europe. He returned to Miami for another year and then, in 1911, became president of the University of Vermont. His later career took him to Europe as head of the war-time Y.M.C.A. and educational director of the American Army of Occupation, and to the presidency of the University of the Philippines. In Manila his endless energy began to fail and he fell victim to an obscure Oriental disease. After a prolonged illness in the Minneapolis home of Professor and Mrs. Dwight Minnich (his older daughter had married the son of Dean Minnich of the Miami Normal College), he died in 1927. His funeral was held in the Miami auditorium, newly named Benton Hall, and he was buried in the University lot in the Oxford cemetery.
   In the crowd at graveside on that warm June day were many who remembered the vigorous young president of 1902 and the new vitality he brought to an old college. A few of them recalled his fortieth birthday. When the chapel bell rang, on the 26th of May, 1905, President Benton was detained by visitors in his office. Several minutes late, he rushed up the stairs and into the doorway. "Cap" Stone gave the signal. A burst of cheers greeted the president who strode, pleased and puzzled, to the platform. There a spokesman for the students presented him with an oil painting. Dr. Benton responded with a becoming speech and announced the chapel hymn. But Miss Logan asked him to sit down, and Professor Culler presented a cut-glass pitcher as a gift of the faculty. The president made a second response and again announced the hymn. But a procession of students came marching down the aisle carrying the old pulpit which had disappeared from the chapel, to the president's distress, a week before. Again Benton made an acceptance speech, after which he succeeded in announcing his favorite hymn, "A Charge to Keep I Have." There was no time left for the regular chapel sermon, but President Benton commended the spirit of the institution and declared a holiday.
Return to Table of Contents Go to Next Chapter  Go to Previous Chapter