The Story of the University of Chicago
Chapter 9 The Opening Year
Thomas W. Goodspeed
THE first day of October, 1892, that great day so long anticipated, in preparation for which so many plans had been made and so many labors performed, the day on which the doors of the University were to be opened for receiving students and beginning that work of investigation and instruction which it was hoped would end only with the end of time—that great day was drawing near. The night before, President Harper and Dr. Judson worked together until midnight on the details of the opening. When all was finished the president, as Dr. Judson relates, threw himself back on the sofa and said: "I wonder if there will be a single student here tomorrow!"
After much consideration ít had been decided that the University should begin its work as simply and unpretentiously as possible. At 8:30 Saturday morning October I, 1892, the bells sounded in Cobb Hall, the professors were ín their classrooms, the classes were in their places, and the exercises proceeded throughout the morning as smoothly as if the University had been in session twenty years.
The chapel occupying the northern portion of the first floor of Cobb Hall seated several hundred. There, after the morning classes, at 1 2:30 o'clock, members of the University, faculties, trustees, and students, with some outside friends, assembled.
With a fine perception of what alone could adequately express the emotions of many present, President Harper opened the exercises by saying, "We will sing the doxology, `Praise God from Whom all blessings flow." He then led the assembly in the Lord's Prayer, and announced the hymn, "Nearer, My God, to Thee." Following the hymn, the president still leading, part of the ninety-fifth Psalm was read responsively, "0 come let us sing unto the Lord," and the hymn, "Oh, could I speak the matchless worth," was sung. Dean Judson then read parts of the first chapter of Genesis and of the first chapter of John, and verses 4-8 of the fourth chapter of Philippians. Prayer was offered by Professor Galusha Anderson, formerly president of the Old University. "Hail to the Lord's Anointed" was sung, a notice or two given, and the benediction was pronounced by Dean Hulbert of the Divinity School. Thus simple were the exercises of that really great occasion. At the October opening of every year for the third of a century covered by this volume substantially the same program, in all its simplicity, was repeated. It was known as the Commemorative Chapel Assembly.
Cobb Hall was not fully completed on the opening day and students passed under scaffolding to enter the classrooms. Workmen were still in the building and there was more or less noise. There were a few finishing touches to be put on the recitation hall and the dormitories, but the regular University work went right on.
There were in the faculty thirteen head professors, twenty professors, sixteen associate, and twenty-seven assistant professors, fifteen instructors, nine tutors, four assistants, seven readers, and nine docents, or 120 in all. In addition there were seven University Extension lecturers, engaged to give one or more courses of lectures. The total number of University students the first quarter was 594. In the Academy at Morgan Park there were ninety-nine boys and girls.
Everything was new and everything was incomplete. The site had received much attention from Daniel L. Shorey, one of the trustees, but in large part was still in its natural state. The western side was flat, but dry and covered with small oaks. The southeast quarter was like it. But these two sides were separated by low ground which was a morass in the spring, being lowest just east of where Haskell later stood, and here there was standing water for much of the year. There were a few board walks. There was no gymnasium for Mr. Stagg's athletes, and no buil-
( 105) -ding for what was already a great library. A gymnasium and library building, temporary in construction, was under way and became available at the end of the first quarter. Half a dozen other buildings, the Kent Chemical Laboratory, the Walker Museum, Foster, Kelly, Beecher, and Snell dormitories, were being constructed and the campus was covered with piles of earth, and with brick, stone, iron, lumber, every kind of building material, and swarming with workmen as well as with young men and women going to and from their recitations. The professors made their way about as well as they could, dodging teams, avoiding derricks, but rejoicing in the promise of increased facilities. They needed these badly. The scientific departments had none whatever on the campus. A four-story brick building on the southwest corner of Fifty-fifth Street and University Avenue, divided into storerooms below and apartments for flat-dwellers above, had been rented for them, and into these narrow quarters the biological departments and Physics, Chemistry, and Geology were crowded, and here they tried to do their work through the whole of the first year. As one of the professors said some years later at the laying of the cornerstones of the four biological laboratories: "Our earlier days in the University were spent in the garrets and kitchens of a tenement house." But somehow the departments were housed, and the great enterprise was got under way.
The opening released at once activities of every sort. The intellectual life of the University in all its departments began immediately to assume definite form. During the first quarter departmental clubs began to be established, and before the end of the year there were fifteen or more. The Christian Union was organized. The professors organized the Philological Society. They were, also, socially greeted and welcomed by the Men's Union of the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, by the Baptist Social Union at the Grand Pacific Hotel, and by the trustees in Cobb Hall.
The establishment of a college paper being one of President Harper's cherished plans, the newspaper men found negotiations easy and the University of Chicago Weekly greeted the students on the day of the opening. Two weeks later the first number of the University News appeared. In December, 1892, the Arena began an existence which was terminated with the second issue. The News survived until April 19, 1893, but the Weekly held on triumphantly.
The first meeting of the faculty on October 1, 1892, took up the matter of Greek-letter societies which were already organizing and, after much negotiation, the policy of sympathetic regulation was adopted. This arrangement continued and under it the fraternities flourished.
The men students in the dormitories boarded in the Commons in the basement of the Divinity Halls,
( 107) it not having been possible to find any other place. As no place could well have been worse, there was dissatisfaction and the entire management was turned over to the students, which helped some, but not much.
The year being one of beginnings, someone was continually starting something. In addition to the departmental clubs there were more than twenty societies, clubs, associations, bands, choruses, and companies organized. The first month saw the birth of the Volunteer Mission Band, the Missionary Society, the Dilettante Club, a literary club of men and women instructors and students, the Glee Club, and the University Chorus. In November the University College Association, the Freshman Class, the Sophomore Class, the Students' Express Company, and the Young Men's and the Young Women's Christian Associations entered the field. In the same month the women graduate students, with a prophetic vision of the new opportunities and duties the still distant "votes for women" would open to them, organized the Parliamentary Law Club, "to familiarize its members with the proper mode of procedure in public meetings." And so the good work went on, graduates of colleges forming alumni clubs, lovers of games uniting in chess and checker clubs, those ambitious to speak well organizing the Oratorical Society, and the undergraduates ambitious to write well the Athenaeum
( 108) Literary Society. On the average, at least one new club or society was organized each week.
There were other activities in bewildering variety. Mr. Stagg got his work under way without delay. Football practice began on the day the University opened. Mr. Stagg called his prospective warriors together in Washington Park and began to teach them the game. On October 22, the first college game was played with Northwestern. It was a tie game. Neither team scored. Eleven days later the two teams met again and Northwestern won, 6-4. Five more college games were played. On November 15 the team won its first, and, for that year, its only college victory, winning from Illinois 10-4, but on Thanksgiving Day Illinois avenged itself by a victory, 28-12. Football was a new game to many in the West in 1892. It commanded instant favor and at once awakened the interest and enthusiasm of the students and faculty and the public. But football could not be played without a college yell with which to cheer the team. A general invitation to the University for a "yell" brought out more than one, but the one that fairly earned the title of the Chicago yell was proposed at the very outset, and most happily, by Mr. Stagg himself:
Go Chi-ca, Go Chi-ca
( 109) Like other college yells this was soon carried round the world. During this year Mr. Field gave the use of ground north of Fifty-seventh Street and east of Ellis Avenue for the University games, and it became famous as Marshall Field. Football preceded tennis by a few days only. The tennis players started early and the first tournament was held in October. Although there were no courts on the campus the followers of the sport got out early in the spring, doing their playing where they could. Four courts were begun, however, by the authorities and the Tennis Association was organized in June, 1893, to maintain and manage them.
The temporary gymnasium was finished in December, 1892, and eager candidates for basket-ball began to appear. The first team was organized in March and the games awakened great interest.
In April the first track team got together, though there had already been track practice and contests on the new running-track of the gymnasium.
It was to be expected, from Mr. Stagg's fame as a pitcher, that the boys would be eager for baseball under his leadership. The nine was organized in April and played fourteen games, ten of them with college teams. Of these ten Chicago won seven. In the disorganized state of western college athletics, no objection was made to the playing of Mr. Stagg. It was understood that the new University was just begin-
( 110) -ning its athletics. The conditions prevailing were described in an early song called "1893," by Steigmeyer, '97:
Then Stagg was catcher, pitcher, coach, shortstop,
and halfback, too;
For in those days of "Auld lang syne" our good athletes were few.
The final baseball game was played in June, during Convocation week, and was especially noteworthy because it marked the dedication of the new Athletic Field, a victory of 8-3 over the University of Virginia, and the triumphant close of the first baseball season.
In those days bicycle races were a recognized part of intercollegiate contests, and in January of the first year the University Cycling Club was organized and developed some champion cyclists.
Although a little more than half the students were theological students and graduates, they were a very human, genial, social crowd. Receptions abounded from the very beginning—receptions in Cobb, in the Beatrice, an apartment house rented as a dormitory for women, and in the president's house. There were receptions for the college classes, from the Freshmen up, for the graduates, for the theologues, for the professors, for the wives of the professors and students. There were parties and sleigh rides. Every meeting of the forty clubs was a social event. The one great meeting of the University Union closed with a prome-
( 111) -nade concert in Cobb Assembly Room when the whole University gathered.
Most of the recitations being held in Cobb the students were thrown together in its halls several times daily, and these large assemblages of young people were naturally very social in their nature. An observer could not fail to be impressed with the perfectly natural, unconstrained way in which the young men and women mingled. They acted as though it was the most natural thing in the world that they were in the University together. All went about their daily business in a simple, straightforward manner, and the life on the campus was as natural as in any village community.
Through the Christian Union, the two Christian associations, the missionary societies, and the churches of the city the religious life of the University found expression and was vigorous and active. There was no University chaplain the first year, and the pastors of the city were freely drawn upon for chapel addresses. Eminent preachers, not only from Chicago but from other parts of the country, spoke at the Sunday evening services of the Christian Union.
Music came in to help the social life and gratify artistic tastes. At least two series of "chamber cońcerts" were given in Cobb.
As the second quarter wore on, the first of the new dormitories, Snell Hall, approached completion. It
( 112) was built for men, but the women of the University were given the right of way, and they left the Beatrice and moved into Snell on April Is, 1893. The very last number of the University News told the story of their flitting from the one to the other.
The World's Fair was opened in the spring of 1893 and the famous Ferris Wheel went round just over the fence from the new women's dormitories. The Fair and the Wheel brought moving remembrances to the author of "1893":
Oh, there were more profs than students, but then
we didn't care;
They spent their days in research work, their evenings at the Fair.
And life upon the campus was one continual swing;
We watched the Ferris Wheel go round, and didn't do a thing.
The first Convocation was held in the Central Music Hall, which stood on the southeast corner of State and Randolph streets. The date was January 2, 1893. It was a notable event because there, for the first time, the University as a whole, president, trustees, faculty, and students, met the people of Chicago and its friends and patrons in a great public function. Then was instituted the ceremonial, since become familiar, of the Convocation procession, students in academic cap and gown marching down the main aisle, followed by the professors also in cap and gown, their various bright-colored hoods lending animation to the scene, the trustees in cap and gown, with prominent
( 113) visiting educators, the chaplain, the speaker, and the president closing the procession.
The. first Convocation address was delivered by Professor von Holst to a noble audience filling the hall, on the subject, "The Need of Universities in the United States." The president's statement followed. He contrasted the conditions existing twelve months before with those prevailing at the time he spoke, gave an account of the work of the quarter, closing with a statement of the urgent needs of the University. President Harper . was always interesting, and never more interesting than in this first Convocation statement.
At the third Convocation, the last one of the opening year, President Harper said that while, one year before, in a published official forecast, the number of students estimated for the Graduate School had been placed at 100, the number actually enrolled the first year had been 210, that the enrolment in the Divinity School had been 204, and that the total attendance in the colleges and higher departments had been 742. The president also announced that friends of the University, quite independently of the University itself, had organized "The Students' Fund Society," the purpose of which was to collect funds and distribute them, in the form of loans to students who gave clear indications of scholarly ability. This society continued its beneficent work year after year. The work
( 114) of the University Extension had been instituted with large success. Through many difficulties the University Press had been got under way.
Such were some of the educational, athletic, social, religious, and literary developments of the opening year. The year was so full, so crowded with new things that little justice can be done to it in these few pages.
No one saw more clearly than President Harper that he had organized the University on a scale of expenditure not warranted by its resources. He had done this with his eyes open in the confident expectation that the resources could and would be found. But no man was ever more anxious than he was and no man could work harder to find a way of deliverance. The story is too long to tell here, but two men finally opened that way. On Christmas Day, 1892, there was received from Mr. Rockefeller a third $1,000,000 subscription, payable December 2, 1893. This was a great gift, but unfortunately it was not enough; it would not be available for a year; it was for endowment, and not even its income could be used for meeting obligations which were clamoring for payment.
It was under these circumstances of distressing need that Martin A. Ryerson made a subscription of $100,000 on condition that $500,000 could be secured to "meet the exceptional expenses of organization and the pressing demands for general improvements and equipment." This proffer was made at the beginning
( 115) of February, 1893. The president and secretary lost no time in beginning to seek subscriptions to fulfil Mr. Ryerson's offer. The panic of 1893 defeated them. Mr. Ryerson more than once gave them an extension of time. Mr. Rockefeller generously subscribed $ 150,000 toward current expenses. Mr. Ryerson advanced his $100,000 to meet pressing obligations. The half-million was finally secured, but not till after the close of the first year, which thus ended with a long struggle with debts and deficits impending.