DEATH OF THE ELMS
When President Hughes resigned in 1927 to become president of
Iowa State College, it was almost inevitable that his successor would
be Alfred H. Upham. President Upham had spent eighteen years at
Miami, as undergraduate, principal of the Academy, professor of
Greek and Latin, professor of English, director of the Centennial,
secretary of the Alumni Association, university editor, and acting
vice-president. He had written the Alma Mater and the
nostalgic story of Old Miami. He knew the university, past and
present, as though it were his own life. Apart from graduate study at
Harvard and Columbia he had acquired experience in the East and
West, as a professor of English at the Utah Agricultural College and at
Bryn Mawr. He returned to Miami after seven years of
accomplishment as president of the University of
"Upham weather" was a phrase coined at Idaho for the charmed weather that came with public exercises during his years there. It was Upham weather in Oxford when he was inaugurated on Homecoming Day in 1928, a blue and golden day with the long procession moving across the leaf-strewn campus. His inaugural address was not about college administration or the complex world of modern man; it was an essay on "The Art of Teaching." President Upham was at heart a teacher and a scholar. A naturally literary man, reserved and reflective, he had developed other capacities, political and administrative; he could deal with alumni, trustees and law-makers. But he never forgot that the real business of college was in the study and the classroom. He was a graceful writer, a composed and charming speaker, with personal warmth partly hidden by his formality.
The Miami he presided over was a very different institution from the little college he was home-sick for, and he tried in many ways to make the two the same. He had a conception of Miami as a growing, vigorous, expanding university enriched and integrated by its memories of a simple, mellow college in an unworldly setting. Throughout his tenure he saw the institution grow more diverse and worldly, but he still held up before it the values of the small college that he cherished.
In 1929 he established the Adviser System, bringing all students into a personal relationship with the faculty. Especially valuable for freshmen, this plan placed resident advisers in all the men's and women's halls. The advisers were also teachers, with a modified classroom schedule. They could offer both personal and academic counsel, and could hope that it would be heeded. Here was an endeavor to meet the need, each year more pressing, that had led both Presidents Hughes and Benton to wish for a Professor of Individual Attention.
Through the years of growth and increasing diversification President Upham tried to keep the college unified, homogeneous, and personal. He retained a semblance of the traditional chapel exercise, requiring a rotating attendance at weekly assemblies where the university was drawn together. He held out for the small, informal classes of the past. Meanwhile he developed the new schools of Business Administration and Fine Arts. The School of Business Administration was a natural outgrowth of the business courses that had been introduced into the Liberal Arts College in 1923. The School was formally established in 1928 under Dean Harrison C. Dale, newly-arrived from the University of Idaho. To its original faculty, including Professors Todd, Shearman, Beneke, Dennison, and Glos, would soon be added a sequence of vigorous young instructors; this faculty has tended to be younger than the divisional staffs. The School of Fine Arts was established in 1929 under Dean Theodore Kratt, another Upham colleague from his years at Idaho. Its first faculty, including Professors Hiestand, Hodgin, Carter, Mead, Foster and Miss Lyon, was soon augmented by other accomplished musicians, painters and architects. In the growing School of Education E. J. Ashbaugh was appointed to the dean's office in 1929.
In President Upham's first year the historic Oxford College for Women was merged with Miami, and the old college hall became a residence for freshman women. This was a merger already familiar in Miami families; President Upham himself had married Mary Collins McClintock, an Oxford College graduate. In honor of Caroline Scott, the daughter of the founder of Oxford College and the wife of Benjamin Harrison, the Daughters of the American Revolution gave $70,000 toward the remodeling of the building, which was officially called the Caroline Scott Harrison Memorial. But the official name did not take. For nearly a century the long verandahed hall on College Avenue had been Oxford College, and when the Miami girls moved in, it was "Ox College" still.
In 1931 the University Gardens were laid out beyond the chain of ponds of the Fisher Hall campus, and a nature path led from the formal terraces through primeval woods along the Tallawanda. After half a mile of rustling shade and rustic bridges the path climbed into sunlight near the mounded old Lane tomb behind The Pines. It soon became a favorite walk for Sunday afternoon, but its full mystery and charm were reserved for a winter morning after a long snowfall when the virgin path and the heaped white bridges waited for the first soundless footprints. The college bell, ringing from the upper campus, came from another country.
In this same year, as a gift of John R. Simpson, '99, Miami acquired the Rogers cottage, next door to Lewis Place. A hundred years old, the house was full of local tradition. It had been the home of Professor Clement Moffatt, poet and classicist, and of Professor Joseph Francis James, collector of lichens, geodes and trilobites. For years after he returned from missionary labors in India it was the home of Reverend William Rogers, one of whose granddaughters became the wife of President Hughes. In 1937, remodeled and entirely rebuilt with its seasoned walls, it became the Simpson Guest House, its doors open to artists, lecturers, and other official visitors to Miami.
In 1929 President Upham announced the development of a new fraternity square on Tallawanda Road across from the dense pine grove that bordered the Botanical Gardens. Soon four fraternities selected sites and began their building plans. Along Tallawanda Road, amid some ragged rows of shrubs and saplings that comprised the old "Forestry Experiment Station," builders staked out the lines of a new gymnasium. Construction began the next year, and in 1932, to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, the first Commencement procession filed into Withrow Court. At the same time the new chemistry building, to be named Hughes Hall, was rising southeast of Stoddard Hall.
The new gymnasium had been long awaited, and by no one more impatiently than Harry S. Thobe. A brick-layer by trade and exhibitionist by nature, Thobe boasted that he had laid the first brick and the last in Herron Bym; he meant to do the same in Withrow Court. An aging, agile, irrespressible man, Thobe was conspicuous at all athletic events in his red-and-white pants, coats and shoes, with his red-and-white megaphone and umbrella, his hula dance and his string of fire-crackers. "I had a dream last night!"--he always dreamed Miami victories and was ready to predict the score. Freshmen found him the perfect theme subject, sophomores tolerated him, seniors jeered. Dean Brandon abominated him and even tried to chase him off the football field. Ralph McGinnis, alumni editor in the '30s, wrote some Thobe copy which deserves to be remembered: "Misled, misunderstood, goofy, or loyal, whatever he might be, Thobe loves Miami in his own particular way and has given a great deal of energy, some money, and the best years of his life unselfishly to her. His methods may have lacked dignity but never sincerity. . . . A half dozen times a year Thobe and Dean Brandon have put on an act which alone was worth the price of admission at football games. This act was a remarkable exhibition of dignified pursuit of Thobe. Mr. Brandon, fully conscious of the dignity of his position demanded, and Thobe with no dignity at all but an unlimited zeal for the home team, curving around the track in front of the east stands was a sight few can forget. Both alike, Dean Brandon with his cigarette getting shorter and shorter and his neck getting redder and redder, and Thobe with is feet getting more and more out of control were oblivious to the wide variety of advice, encouragement and just plain abuse and emanating from the delighted crowd."
President Upham was generally on the side of "Thob"--for some reason he gave the name one syllable instead of the customary two--and thought Oxford would be poorer and plainer without him. The president was pleased to greet all the distinctive villagers--"Whispering" Logan Peake, booming a greeting above the clop-clop and rattle-rattle of his horse cart; Old Forbes, thick as an oak trunk and Scotch as a briar, always ready to set down his wheelbarrow and philosophize about God, gardens and the virtue of boiled greens; lean, limping, tobacco-chewing Dad Wolfe, the campus watchman, eager to advise president, faculty or students on any subject; benign old Peter Bruner, once a slave, who in a silk hat and former president's long-tailed coat, opened the door for every official religion reception. Dr. Upham valued all the old town characters and regretted their passing from the changing scene.
In the year of Miami's 125th anniversary, 1934, with the encouragement of President Upham and the combined efforts of the dramatics, musical and literary organizations, the Pageant of Miami was presented on Miami Field. Under a full moon, with floodlights playing across the field, hundreds of students acted out scenes in the University's past, and at the end all joined in singing Old Miami, New Miami.
President Upham prized all the University's traditions, but there was an emerging tradition in the 1930's which he deplored. For years the Miami women had held a May Day ceremony at twilight in front of Hepburn Hall--at which officers of the Women's Student Government Association were presented. At the climax of the affair they crowned the May Queen and twined their colors around the May Pole. In burlesque of this ritual the Miami men, on the last night of April, held their Crowning of the April King. It was a wholly native and spontaneous tradition, which expressed the restlessness in the spring night and recalled the years when Miami was a man's abode. Their travesty of the May Day began robustly, and within a few years it grew bawdy. It ended in a raucous parade up High Street, with rolls of toilet paper arching into trees; some of those streamers defied the reach of the grounds department for days afterward. President Upham had the help of the elements in putting an end to this burlesque. For several successive springs, April ended in sodden weather, and both the men's and women's ceremonies were rained out. Then the Women's May Day was permanently moved indoors, and the men had nothing to travesty. So ended the ribald Crowning of the April King.
In 1931, amid the gathering economic depression, came a troubling occurrence which the courts and newspapers labeled the Jean West Case. Early in April Jean West, 19, through her father in Portsmouth, filed suit in the Common Pleas Court of Butler County to enjoin Miami University from dropping her for scholastic failure. Miss West, a freshman in the School of Education, was dropped at the close of first semester. However, because she had shown some ability in art, she was allowed to enroll for the second term in a changed curriculum. Again, in April, she failed to make the required grades and was again dropped from the college rolls. Through her father she petitioned the University Senate to set aside the action of the Academic Council. The Senate upheld the action and Miss West was permanently dropped at mid-term of second semester. It was then that the suit was filed in the Court of Common Pleas.
Hearing was held in Hamilton on April 20th. The judge allowed attorneys for both sides eight days in which to file briefs. Meanwhile Miss West was permitted to attend classes as a spectator--an agreement reached in private conference by the attorneys. On May 12th the judge ruled that according to the statute authorizing Miami University--"the benefits and advantages of the State University shall be open to all citizens within the State"--the institution had no right to drop Jean West from its rolls. Attorneys for the University filed an appeal.
By this time newspapers throughout the state and region had the story. Editorials were divided, some asserting that an orderly and aspiring student should be allowed to pursue her studies although she could not pass them, others arguing that college attendance was not a right but a privilege reserved for those who could meet required standards. At issue was the principle of mass education in public institutions.
The court had declared that schools supported by the state have a
right to expel students for immorality, insubordination, or infractions
of rules and regulations of conduct, but not for failure to meet
scholastic requirements. "Why should not people who are mentally
slow have the right to go to school?" Until the Legislature makes legal
provision for dropping students for scholastic failure, the decision
concluded, the University cannot deprive a student of the right of
On December 1, 1931, the Circuit Court of Appeal in Cincinnati reversed the previous decision and affirmed the right of Miami University to drop a student for scholastic failure. President Upham, with a long-drawn sigh, summed up the position of the University: "Public education is not a privilege for those who show an aptitude for intellectual pursuits." Miss West's father stated that he would carry the case to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile in September, 1931, Miss West had entered Ohio University at Athens. That was the end of the Jean West Case, but some hard questions about higher education and lower intellectual abilities remained. Those questions would grow more urgent as the tide of students swelled in years to come.
Oxford was out-of-the-way but not out of reach of the depression. By 1932, with millions of Americans unemployed, prospects for college graduates grew dim, and it was believed that the "mature economy" of the nation could not make use of the current flow of college-trained youth. At the same time crowded conditions were reported in the state mental hospitals. In Columbus the House Finance Committee recommended abandoning one of the four Ohio normal schools (at Kent, Bowling Green, Ohio and Miami universities) and using its facilities for more important purposes. "With the saturation point in the teaching profession reached six years ago," stated an editorial in the Cincinnati Times-Star, "the committee says that one of the schools can well be converted to a hospital for the insane."
This blow never fell, but depression was a state of mind as well as a state of business and for five years its shadow lay across the colleges. What should trouble them was not the flight of the dollar but, as Archibald MacLeish said, the flight of the American idea. In those years college had its greatest chance to shape the minds and aims of a new generation, to press a search for the way to use nature's wealth and man's science to make a just and enlightened society. Nothing less than that was the task of the colleges in the twilit thirties. Miami, always conservative, did not raise new banners of political and economic change. But it introduced into old courses some new search for an understanding of America's problems, capacities and prospects.
Enrollment held steady in the early thirties, around 2200, ten per cent of whom were subsidized by the federal government. The Federal Emergency Relief Act made funds available to two hundred twenty students for work at thirty cents an hour, with a maximum payment of $15 a week. Thus the faculty got some research and clerical assistance and the depleted grounds force got student help for raking leaves, shoveling snow, and mowing the new season's grass. This work was assigned to students who could not otherwise meet the minimum college expense of $400 a year. Miami had always been an inexpensive college with many opportunities for student employment. The program of FERA, later conducted by the National Youth Administration, fitted easily into the Miami tradition. In 1934 with a state appropriation of $450,000 Miami was educating one third more students on one third less money than in 1928.
In the fall of 1934 a new federal policy ruled that subsidized students must not replace workers normally employed at the college and that they must perform tasks not normally performed. This rule took student help away from grounds force and the clerical staff, though it left a number of faculty members with student research assistants. Other socially useful tasks were found in welfare, health and recreational agencies in Oxford, Hamilton and Middletown. In this year six hundred students applied for financial relief, with assignments going to a quota of two hundred sixty-six, twelve per cent of the University enrollment. During the year the federal government spent $4000 a month to keep these students in college.
In 1936 under a grant of federal funds from the Public Works Administration--the University paying fifty-five per cent of the cost--the historic South Hall was rebuilt. The century-old brick structure stood, but all the interior was new. Down came the old walls with bricked-up fireplaces and stove-pipe openings, out came the battered old stairs and hallways. The new building, still redolent of the past, was ready for use in the fall of 1937, and in that year a similar reconstruction began on North Hall. Newly built and joined by a terrace court, the halls were given new names--Stoddard and Elliot--from old associations. Both buildings had two fronts, one facing the library quadrangle and the other looking into the woods where a new quadrangle would develop.
By 1936, while federal construction was improving the campus, there were signs of a general economic recovery. Enrollment that fall jumped to 2600. Fourteen new members were added to the University staff; one of them, George F. Barron, would become a future dean of Fine Arts; another, F. Alton Wade, had just returned from exploring the Antarctic with Admiral Byrd. In this year The Pines was leased by the University, with purchase to follow, as a girl's dormitory. So ended the Oxford Retreat, a hospital for mental and emotional disorders, whose patients had been led on daily walks through the lower campus. Now The Pines, like Fisher Hall its predecessor, was filled with college songs and voices, and the Oxford Retreat sank back into memory.
At Commencement in 1936 the Alumni Association awarded the first Bishop Medals. They went to a country doctor, a Y.M.C.A. secretary, and a woman teacher of the deaf. So began a new tradition of University recognition for graduates who fulfilled in life the Miami motto Prodesse Quam Conspice.
Meanwhile Dean Howard Robinson of the College of Liberal Arts had resigned, and William E. Alderman came from Beloit College as his successor. Under the foresighted direction of Dean Alderman the college would expand into the College of Arts and Science, keeping pace with a changing culture while it retained its position as the academic core of the University. In 1937, called to the presidency of the University of Idaho, Dean Dale resigned from the School of Business Administration, and Dean R. E. Glos took charge of the most rapidly growing of Miami's divisions. Two years later Joseph W. Clokey, Miami 1912, replaced Dean Kratt as head of School of Fine Arts. Already a noted composer, Dean Clokey managed to carry on creative work along with his administrative office.
On a mild moonlit evening in April, 1938, a spontaneous gathering of students and faculty at Lewis Place welcomed the Upham family home from a sabbatical trip around the world. The next evening a faculty reception in Ogden Hall repeated the welcome and a few nights later President Upham gave an informal report of his travels to a faculty club meeting in the Ogden Assembly Room. He surprised and delighted his colleagues by reading a series of rhymed impressions of Japan, India, Egypt, Italy and Spain, all mingling humor and shrewd observation. Along with a traveler's impressions of storied lands
"The pageant that is India is passing by today, With bullock-carts and camel-trains along the dusty way"
there were some somber notes of the approaching war--
"Here's an old road wendingPublished a year later, Rhyming Round the World was a unique account of an educator's holiday.
Over meadow and hill and glen;
Whenever you listen you hear the sound,
The tramp of marching men."
Less than two years ago the Navy band ushered you in--100 of you.
You were curiosities to us then. All our fingers-- and yours-- were crossed. But we soon came to know you and appreciate you.
There is no "type" Wave: bounding main and tiny ripple, silent eddies and "loud sounding sea."
A cross-section of the better sort of American girl--what we like to think our civilian girls are.
I don't know what Miami has taught you. Maybe I'd better not inquire.
You have taught us--
Neatness and precision
Courtesy-- The man nobody knows
Good spirits--"40 singing seamen"
Loyalty to a great purpose.
Miami is your Alma Mater now and she bids you "God speed."
Oxford is an old town, Miami an old college. But for nearly a century and a half they have cherished youth in their bosom and have bidden it venture forth to respond to a high calling.