Sunday, May 26, 2013

From 1863: Commencement Of The Wesleyan University

Rev. Jos. Cummings, D.D.
President of Wesleyan, 1858-75

The following article is from 150 years ago, published in the New York Times on July 19th, 1863, 7 months after the Emancipation Proclamation, and 2 weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg.

This article, as were many in those days, is written in the style of a letter from Middletown to the readers of the New York Times; it was submitted by "H.W.R." I have subdivided an original two into multiple paragraphs.  

 The "troubles in your city" probably refer to the New York City draft riots, in which 120 were killed and 2000 wounded. The Dodworth Band was a very prominent brass and percussion band based in New York City, in the middle part of the 19th century.
Of course, in busy stirring war times like these, the interest usually felt in a College commencement must necessarily be somewhat lessened, but I feel sure that such an occasion can never entirely lose its prestige, and accompanying excitement.

In connection with Commencement Week, a few facts with regard to the history of the Wesleyan University may not be amiss. The Wesleyan University was founded in this place in the year 1829, under the control of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Rev. Wilbur Fisk was the first President; since whom there have been three others, the present incumbent, Rev. Jos. Cummings, D.D., being the fourth. In 1833 the Graduating Class numbered six members; the Graduating Class this year has twenty-six.

The amount of the present endowment is $160,000, and measures are in progress for its increase. Numerous scholarships have been endowed, securing free tuition, and indigent students are aided in their other expenses. the College and Society libraries amount in the aggregate to 14,000 volumes. The whole number of Alumni, according to the last triennial catalogue, is 707, of whom 329 are living. The Faculty consists of a President and seven Professors.

The present Commencement was attended with unusual interest throughout. Swarms of visitors were constantly arriving from different places.

On Sunday last, the Baccalaureate sermon was delivered by the President in the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was crowded to its utmost capacity, in spite of the heat. The sermon was a most finished and beautiful address to the Graduating Class. In the evening, Rev. R. Durbin, of New-York, addressed the seniors.

On Monday night, an oration by Rev. Mr. Peabody, and a very humorous poem by the venerable and reverend Dr. John Pierpont, of Washington, was delivered in the same place before the Literary Societies of the College. The church was well filled, as it ought to have been, and the speeches were frequently interrupted by applause.

On Tuesday evening, George Wm. Curtis, Esq., was advertized to speak before the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity, but owing, it is supposed to the troubles in your City, at the appointed hour Mr. Curtis did not appear. In his place, however, the audience, whom Mr. Curtis' fame had attracted thither, were agreeably entertained by remarks from Rev. J.L. Dudley, of this place, and several others.

But the days the most looked forward to were Wednesday and Thursday. On Wednesday a grand concert was given, under the auspices of the graduating class, by Dodworth's Band. That was a rare treat, and long before the appointed hour the large hall was filled to its utmost capacity by an appreciative audience, including, of course, a goodly portion of the fair sex. The performance was excellent in every respect, and the band, numbering fifteen performers, under the leadership of C.R. Dodworth, was everything that could be desired. Time and space will not allow me to notice any of the pieces in particular; suffice it to say that they were all good.

In the evening, the Alumni of 1838, had a grand supper at the McDonough Hotel, to which a limited number of friends were invited. Prominent among the members present was Mr. Rich of Boston, a gentleman whose benevolence has indebted the Wesleyan University to him in a manner hard to repay.

But Thursday was really the great day, and though it comes regularly every year, it is seldom greeted with as much pleasure as it was this year. At 9 1/2 o'clock the procession left the college, headed by Deputy Provost-Marshal Putnam, and the band; the President in his robes of State, attended by the [illegible] Board of Trustees, and the graduating class, followed. They proceeded to the church, which was thronged inside and outside, and at 10 1/2 A.M. William P. Hubbard delivered the Latin Salutatory. The others followed in quick succession, but it was not until 1:50 o'clock that the Valedictorian, Chas. Albert Barnard, of Maine, delivered his oration.

The speakers, to the number of eighteen, all alluded more or less to the present troubled state of the country and of your City. The orations deserving special attention were those of John Rand, of Massachusetts; Alfred Wright, of Rhode Island; Truman Klimpton of New-York; Joseph Puliman of New-York, and Chas. A. Hids of Connecticut. The degree of B.A. was conferred on George R. Adams, Charles Albert Barnard, A.Bunt, D.C. Wesley, G.C. Cook, E.K. Dexter, G.L. Edwards, O.H. Gernald, R.H. Gidman, J. Hanlon, C.D. Hids, G.P. Hubbard, C.F. Johson, M.M. JOhnston, F.H. Kimpton, A.W. Kingsley, G.A. Newcomb, J. Puliman, J.C. Rand, M.S. Scudder, J.E. Smith, W.S. Smith, T.E. Steele, A.C. Stevens, G.P. Tower and A.A. Wright.

After conferring of the degrees the President spoke a few words with reference to the affairs of the College. He said that the College was never in a more flourishing condition; that $10,000 had been raised for an increase of the library; that Mr. Rica, of Boston, had endowed a professorship, and Mr. John Cutts, of New-Rochelle, had done the same, each giving $25,000 for that purpose. In the evening the President held a dance at his house, which was numerously attended.

And thus ends Commencement week. What it is to New-Haven it also is to Middletown, only on a more limited scale.


newpawta said...

I did not know that Matthew McConaughey played the role of a minister in the 19th century. He is just SO versatile and timeless! :P

Biff Shaw said...

A fun and fascinating recounting of what was a grand and glorious week of celebration. The final event seemed a bit too long and, I'd suspect, a bit tedious but in those days the corps of students was probaly more patient (and polite) than the current generation might be. Noted that the Reverend Dr. Fisk first name was misspelled ...properly it has a double "L" .. Willbur, but that can be forgiven. And, my, how far $25,000 would go in those days. It would take approximately 100 times that amount to fully endow a faculty position today. But then, $25,000 was a great deal of money. Thank you for sharing this grand memorabilia.