THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
In his commemorative oration delivered on the semicentennial anniversary of the founding of the University in June, 1887, President James Burrill Angell said: "We might in a very just sense celebrate this year the centennial of the life of the University." Just one hundred years before, the Ordinance of 1787 had proclaimed that throughout the Northwest Territory then in process of organization "schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." This advanced educational policy rested upon sound precedents in the administration of education in the Colonies, where most of the colleges, particularly in the beginning, had received active support from the public treasuries, although by the time of the Revolution, the administration of most of these institutions had come under what was practically church control (see Part I: The University of Michigan and State Education).
The Ordinance of 1787 was inspired by the liberal and even free thinking spirit of that period and in its provisions for education proclaimed, despite the generally accepted view, that the maintenance of schools was a function of the state. This conception of a public responsibility for education formed one of the really constructive policies inaugurated by the weak and ineffective national government in the era before the adoption of the Constitution, though it was to be many years before its implications were to be realized in Michigan or in any other of the states to be established.
Aside from outlying trading posts the only settlement in Michigan at that time was Detroit, a little village of French and Indian fur traders. It was situated strategically, however, on the highway of the GreatLakes, and, like many frontier communities, it attracted men with a talent for leadership as soon as it became a part of the United States in 1796. Among those who rose to prominence in Detroit were three significant figures. The first was Father Gabriel Richard, a French Sulpician missionary priest who came to the Territory in 1798 and almost immediately set about developing means of education for a community in which the inhabitants, we may assume, were almost wholly illiterate. He founded elementary and trade schools, imported the first printing press in the Territory, and even looked forward to an institution for instruction in the higher branches.
With the coming of Augustus A. B. Woodward as the chief justice of the Territory, after its organization in 1805, Father Richard's efforts received strong support. Woodward was a classical scholar, something of a pedant, with a tendency toward extravagant theories, and he saw in the movement toward the provision of educational facilities for the Territory an opportunity to put into effect some of his own pet ideas. He had long been engaged upon the philosophical task of dividing and subdividing human knowledge into appropriate categories and published a book on the subject in 1816. The classification of knowledge was also one of Jefferson's hobbies and it may well have been a friendship between the two men based on these ideas that led to Woodward's appointment (Isbell, p. 182).
A third figure who comes actively into the picture was the Reverend John Monteith, a young Presbyterian clergyman who had been ordained at Princeton in Page 271817 after his first visit to the Territory. It is evident that a strong friendship sprang up between him and Father Richard, for in Monteith's journal for October 28, 1816, we read, "visit Priest Richard, who is out of health. I think he loves to have me visit him" (Early Records, p. 178). The liberal spirit of these two friends is evidenced by a tradition that it was in Richard's Catholic church of St. Anne's that Monteith held the first Protestant service in Michigan. Other men of outstanding personality who had a part in the plans for the University were Lewis Cass, Governor of the Territory, afterwards candidate for the presidency of the United States, and William Woodbridge, Secretary of the Territory, who gave Richard's and Monteith's efforts effective political backing.
The result of the efforts of these men was the curiously named Catholepistemiad of Michigania, chartered by the territorial government, the governor and the judges of the Territory, on August 26, 1817. In this overwhelming title can be discerned Judge Woodward's pedantic turn of mind. He followed his system of universal knowledge as set forth in his book in the plan for a system of instruction from primary levels to a university, which was to be divided into thirteen didaxiim, to be taught by "didactors" of such teaching subjects as anthropoglossica, or literature, mathematica, or mathematics, physiosophica, or natural sciences, astronomia, or astronomy, chymia, or chemistry, iatrica, or medical sciences, polemitactica, or military sciences, and ennoeica, or intellectual sciences. The thirteenth subject was catholepistemia, or universal science, and the instructor in this subject was to be president of the University.
This is the extraordinary and bizarre side of a plan which was, as a matter of fact, a sound program for a state system of education that had, as might be expected, many elements in common with Jefferson's plan for the University of Virginia. The president and didactors were to form a governing board in control of all educational agencies of the state and empowered to charter schools and colleges. Financial support was to come from the Territory and from student fees (see Part I: Regents).
Steps were taken to put the plan into operation almost immediately; Monteith became president and sevenfold didactor, with an annual salary of $25, while Father Richard was to teach the six other subjects for $18.75 (Early Records, p. 6). On September 12, the trustees passed a series of enactments setting up primary schools in Detroit, Monroe, and Michilimackinac, and a classical academy in Detroit, including a provision for the erection of a building. Less than a month later, on October 3, a further act was passed "to establish the First College of Michigania," evidently as part of the general program for education embodied in the University or Catholepistemiad. It is significant to note that in all these early measures the institution was uniformly known as the "University of Michigania" and that only once, in a report of the meeting of the Board of Trustees and Visitors of the Classical Academy and Primary Schools, held on June 11, 1818, was the term "Catholepistemiad" used officially. It is quite evident that Judge Woodward's terminology was far from popular.
The question of financing the construction of the University building was a serious one. The sum of $5,100 was quickly subscribed by residents of the Territory, though there is no evidence that it was all collected, while a contribution of $960 remaining from a fund raised for the sufferers of the fire which destroyed Detroit in 1805 was also appropriated for University purposes. The first report of Monteith, as president, in Page 28November, 1818, indicates that the cost of the building rather exceeded the amount of the first and second years' subscriptions and the donations for the fire sufferers. This would make the cost of the building a little more than $3,000. It stood on the west side of Bates Street near Congress and measured twenty-four feet by fifty feet. The first floor was used for the elementary school, while the second floor was reserved for the classical academy. Though the progress of construction was slow, Monteith's report of November 19, 1818, indicates that the classical academy had been in operation for about nine months and the primary school three months. Apparently neither of the "didactors" ever gave courses of collegiate grade.
The primary, or Lancastrian, school had been placed under the charge of Lemuel Shattuck, a native of Massachusetts, who was engaged by the Reverend John Monteith and seems to have arrived in Detroit early in June, 1818. Mr. Shattuck, who also acted as the first secretary of the Board of Trustees appointed in 1821, left Detroit at the end of that year. He won some prominence in his later years as the author of laws in Massachusetts relating to school organization and the recording of vital statistics, and as chairman of the commission to make a sanitary survey of the state. His successors in charge of the school were John Farmer (until January, 1824), later distinguished as a map maker and local historian, Ebenezer Shephard, and a Mr. Cook from Albany, who died in 1827. After that time, both schools became, practically, the private venture of the teachers in charge, and little is said about their management in the surviving records.
Hugh M. Dickie, a graduate of Jefferson College, was the first teacher of the classical academy, and began his work on February 2, 1818, in a house at the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Griswold Street, pending the completion of the University building. He died on February 16, 1819, and was probably succeeded by John J. Deming, although the matter is not entirely clear. It is, however, recorded that the trustees and visitors of the academy elected Ebenezer Clapp as teacher on February 17, 1821. In that year the new Board of Trustees of the University of Michigan superseded the "University of Michigania" and dispensed with the Board of Trustees and Visitors of the Classical Academy and Primary Schools, making themselves responsible for the conduct of the school. There was dissension over the proposed reappointment of Mr. Clapp in 1822, and the Reverend Alonson W. Welton became his successor (1822-24). He in turn was succeeded by Ashbel S. Wells (1824-26) and Charles C. Sears (1826-27).
On October 30, 1827, the trustees voted to discontinue financial aid to the academy, but invited the teacher to continue at his own risk. There are records of at least sporadic use of the building for school purposes after this time and prior to the first appointment of Regents in 1837. In 1830 the city of Detroit asked for the use of the rooms for the establishment of common schools, and in May, 1831, such a request was granted. In 1834 the academy building was rented to the masters of the two schools in it, John N. Bellows and D. B. Crane. The Reverend Mr. Elens took a lease of the upper room in 1836 for a classical school (Early Records, pp. 6 ff.).
The original act had provided for an increase of 15 per cent in the territorial taxes, as well as lotteries, for the support of the program. There is no evidence, however, of any resort to these methods of support, nor were plans set up for the utilization of the government lands, which, in so many states, were the impelling Page 29factor in the establishment of educational institutions, although one section had been set aside for an institution of higher education in 1804.
One contribution to the University had an important as well as a romantic significance. This was a gift from the various tribes of Indians — Wyandot, Potawatomi, Shawnee, and Chippewa — who in 1817 met Lewis Cass and General Duncan McArthur beside the rapids of the Maumee south of the present site of Toledo to negotiate a treaty for the settling of land titles. In this treaty was included a specific grant by the Indians of six sections of land to be divided equally between Father Richard's parish of St. Anne and the "college at Detroit." It may be that it was in order to qualify for this donation that the University of Michigania passed the act of October 3, establishing at Detroit the First College of Michigania. These lands were eventually allocated and sold for the benefit of the University, but the specific identity of the gift has been lost. The only definite evidences today of this interest in a white man's education on the part of the Indian peoples of Michigan are five scholarships established by the Regents in 1932 for American Indian students.
After four years of experiment Judge Woodward's original plan proved to have certain defects. These were remedied through a new charter from the territorial legislative council, which changed the official name to "the University of Michigan," and provided for a board of twenty-one trustees to hold office at the pleasure of the legislature, instead of the earlier plan for government by the faculty. This board retained the power to establish "such colleges, academies and schools … as they might deem proper" and were also empowered to grant degrees and to elect a president. Though its educational functions became increasingly attenuated, this body represented the corporate organization of the University of Michigan until the University in Ann Arbor was established in 1837. By a decision of the Supreme Court in 1856, it was held to be the corporate predecessor of the Board of Regents of the University later established in Ann Arbor (see Part I: Constitutional Status).
Without doubt the Board of Trustees appointed in 1821 included the most distinguished citizens of the Territory. They were headed by the governor, General Lewis Cass, later to be United States Senator, Secretary of War under Jackson, and Secretary of State under Buchanan. The others originally named were John Biddle, Register of the Detroit Land Office and congressional delegate in the years 1829-31; Nicholas Boilvin, Indian agent for the region; Daniel LeRoy, the first attorney general of the state; Christian Clemens, the founder of Mount Clemens; William H. Puthoff, of Michilimackinac; John Anderson, influential citizen of Monroe; John Hunt, a justice of the territorial Supreme Court, 1831-34; Father Richard and the Reverend Mr. Monteith, of Detroit; John R. Williams, first mayor of Detroit; Solomon Sibley, United States District Attorney and Judge; Henry J. Hunt, Detroit's second mayor; John L. Leib, Chief Justice of the Wayne County Court; Peter J. Desnoyers, Detroit silversmith and holder of numerous public offices; Austin E. Wing, three times territorial delegate to Congress; William Woodbridge, Secretary of Michigan Territory and later a member of the Supreme Court; Benjamin Stead, of Detroit; Philip Lecuyer, a justice of the Wayne County Court and a director of the Bank of Michigan; and Dr. William Brown, one of the earliest Americans in Detroit, very influential with the Indians, and a highly respected citizen.
Page 30Among the later members of the board were Major Jonathan Kearsley, also a mayor of Detroit and a prominent member of the Board of Regents of the University after its removal to Ann Arbor; Ross Wilkins, territorial Supreme Court and United States District Judge, also a Regent of the University; and John Norvell, United States Senator and Regent. Charles C. Trowbridge, their secretary from 1821 until 1835, became a bank president, railroad president, mayor of Detroit, and Regent.
Although the trustees of the University gave valuable aid to the educational program of Michigan in its early stages, it is likely that their activities as custodians and managers of the University lands and other properties were fully as important. Aside from the building in Detroit the institution was the beneficiary of two land grants, the first comprising three sections given to "the College of Detroit" by the treaty of Fort Meigs, and the second the federal grant for the support of a "seminary of learning," originally fixed at one township by the act of March 26, 1804, and increased by the act of May 20, 1826, to two townships. The trustees were empowered both to locate and to sell the Fort Meigs lands, but of the federal lands they had only the "control and management," and were specifically forbidden to sell them or to lease them for more than seven years.
This difference in status influenced subsequent action. The Fort Meigs lands were selected after a personal inspection by Austin E. Wing and Philip Lecuyer, and sales to individuals were made. As for federal lands, on one occasion only did the trustees dispose of any of them, in a transaction with Major William Oliver, of Ohio, which, historians have agreed, was on the whole unfortunate. It involved, first, the exchange of the University's right to two entire lots on Swan Creek, applied for but not yet granted, for other lands in the neighborhood, and later the sale back to Major Oliver of the lands received in exchange. The price was $5,000 and interest. In the interests of legality, the trustees' resolutions on the sale provided that it should be sanctioned by Congress. All of these lands were within the present boundaries of Toledo, the lots on Swan Creek, first mentioned, being in the heart of the city. Altogether the Toledo lands eventually brought only about $17,000 instead of the very much larger sum for which they could have been sold if they had been held for a longer period.
The trustees, however, were responsible in 1836 for securing congressional permission to locate the federal lands in tracts less than a full township in size and for giving the state control of their selection, administration, and even their eventual sale. This was a stroke of business which was very much to the advantage of the University, since it enabled the institution to select much more valuable areas, section by section and in various parts of the state, than could have been found in tracts the size of a full township, although it did make the administration of these lands the responsibility of the state rather than of the Regents. By 1836 all but twenty-nine sections of the University lands had been selected.
When the Board of Regents came into existence in 1837, the trustees authorized the payment of $5,249.85, with interest, the proceeds of their sale of land to Major William Oliver, to the Regents, but other actions of their final meeting, such as the decision to adjust the treasurer's accounts and invest the balance in some bank, and the giving of authority to their president pro tempore to "lease or otherwise grant" the academy lot to the Regents in order to establish a branch of the University in Detroit, Page 31clearly show that they did not regard their trusteeship as completely terminated. The decision of the Supreme Court in the action of The Regents v. The Board of Education of Detroit, in 1856, finally settled the matter and established the Regents as the lawful successors of the original corporation (see Part I: Constitutional Status).
Little more need be said of these first two incarnations of the University. When the control of the Territory by the governor and judges came to an end in 1825 and the territorial legislature was set up, the new body assumed, through the trustees, ultimate control of the institution.
In the twenty years that intervened between the first organization of a university in Detroit and the final establishment of the present University in Ann Arbor, a great change had come in the population of the state. Not only had it increased from a few thousand souls, largely French, huddled about Detroit and in a few settlements along the Detroit River and the Great Lakes, to nearly 100,000 inhabitants, scattered throughout the great forest areas of the Lower Peninsula, but this increase represented newcomers of predominantly New England background — Yankees — for the most part young, energetic, and enterprising. These settlers recognized immediately the value of education and took measures to provide for it almost from their first days in their new home.
Thus, when the question of the organization of the Territory as a state arose, the provision for schools and for a higher education became a subject for special consideration in the constitutional convention of 1835. The spirit of the new Territory was democratic and progressive, and the leaders in the convention were aware of the significance of the earlier provision for a state system of education embodied in the Detroit plan. Moreover, the two men most responsible for the educational provisions were graduates of Eastern colleges — John D. Pierce (Brown '22) and General Isaac Edwin Crary (Trinity College, Connecticut, '27). Pierce was a missionary in the service of the Presbyterian Church, and in his home in the tiny backwoods settlement of Marshall lived General Crary, with his bride. Both men were interested in public questions and gave particular thought to the development of education in the state that was in process of formation. They were familiar with the development of a state system of education in New York and undoubtedly were more or less familiar with the Napoleonic system of education in France. We also know from Pierce's own statement that a translation of M. Victor Cousin's Rapport sur l'état de l'instruction publique en Prusse impressed them with the opportunity for the development of a state system of education in Michigan. The two final sections of Cousin's Report, dealing with secondary and higher education, were not, however, included in the edition they used (Hoyt and Ford, pp. 19, 53). Crary became a member of the constitutional convention of 1835 and was made chairman of its committee on education.
The constitution called for the appointment of an officer new in the field of education, a superintendent of public instruction; it also provided for a system of common schools and the administration of the government land grants for a university. The first legislature convened on November 2, 1835, and elected Stevens T. Mason, then a young man of twenty-three and formerly Acting Governor of the Territory, as governor of the state in process of organization. No laws affecting education were passed, but during an extra session called in July, 1836, the committee on education introduced a bill recommending the appointment of a Page 32superintendent of public instruction, in accordance with the provision in the constitution, and on July 26 confirmed the Governor's appointment of John D. Pierce to that position. Pierce was directed to submit a plan for common schools and for "a university with branches" at the next session of the legislature. He immediately sold his home and spent some months in the East studying educational theories and practices (see Part I: Superintendent of Public Instruction).
The plan presented by Pierce on January 5, 1837, has been called "the most important and far-reaching document ever presented to the Michigan legislature." It carried on the broad and progressive educational policies first set forth in Judge Woodward's plan for the Catholepistemiad, but gave them a more practical and realistic form. In Pierce's scheme for a university, he defined the powers and duties of his office, and drew up a comprehensive plan for schools in the state, including branches of the University. In accordance with his suggestions, a board of eighteen Regents was created, six ex officio and twelve to be appointed by the governor, empowered to enact laws for the government of the University, appoint the prescribed number of professors and fix their salaries, erect suitable buildings, and, together with the superintendent of public instruction, establish branches in different parts of the state. The University was to consist of three departments: Literature, Science, and the Arts; Medicine; and Law. A board of visitors of five members was also to be appointed by the superintendent of public instruction to make an examination into the state of the University and report results to the superintendent, suggesting such improvements as they deemed important.
There were several communities in the state that proclaimed their advantages as locations for the future University, but the enterprise of an Ann Arbor land company in offering forty acres of land for a campus was the determining factor in the choice of the site. Practically all the Regents were residents of Detroit, and it was the necessity of choosing the actual forty acres that brought them to Ann Arbor on June 5, 1837, by stage, or possibly on horseback, for their first three-day session. The chronicle of their sessions is tantalizingly brief and summary. For some reason they chose the Rumsey farm on a hill on the outskirts of the city, back from the river, as the place for the University, instead of what would seem to us today to be the far more beautiful location offered by the Nowland farm, bordering the hills to the north, overlooking the river, originally recommended by the committee. For some years the campus remained what it was originally, a bit of farm land upon which stood one University building and four professors' residences (see Part VIII: First Buildings).
At this first meeting the Regents took preliminary steps toward the organization of the University in accordance with an action of the legislature on March 18, 1837. They passed a resolution asking the legislature for the power to elect and prescribe the duties of a chancellor o the University and to establish branches without special sanction of the legislature, indicating some uncertainty as to their powers in these matters (R.P., 1837-64, p. 2). They also asked that the governor of the state be made president of the Board. They provided for four professorships, including natural philosophy, mathematics, languages, and law; a librarian was appointed; and the superintendent of public instruction was requested to furnish an "outline of a plan for the university." An important provision in the organic act of March 18 was the creation of branches of the University, Page 33and the establishment of eight, "as soon as can conveniently be done," was ordered by the Regents on June 21.
In subsequent meetings of the Regents held in Ann Arbor, or more often, in Detroit, the outline of the future University gradually developed. An elaborate plan for buildings was drawn up by an Eastern architect, but these were finally rejected on the insistence of Pierce, since no funds were available for their construction, and the branches were absorbing all the resources of the University. In fact, the income from the state lands proved to be far below what had been expected, and the Regents were forced to borrow from the state the sum of $100,000 to meet their mounting expenses. This loan indicates that the question of financial support was serious.
The money received from the loan was used for the erection of University buildings and for the immediate support of the branches which were to provide the students for the University. Eventually, the branches tended to absorb all the University's slender income, and after 1841 the support was progressively withdrawn until it ceased altogether four years later (see Part I: Branches).
On several occasions financial difficulties almost led to the closing of the University, and the failure of two banks in 1838 which were custodians of some of the University funds precipitated a crisis which was met by an agreement on the part of the state that the depreciated warrants of the state should be taken in payment for the University lands. In turn, these warrants were supposed to be accepted in liquidation of the University's debt to the state. In addition to this adjustment the state accepted a lot in Detroit which had been received as part of the settlement with the defunct Bank of Michigan.
This friendly action on the part of the legislature reduced the loan negotiated by the University to $20,000 by 1848, and by 1852 the whole debt had thus been paid (Price, p. 23). But the point was raised that a trust fund granted by the government had been illegally and improperly diminished. The auditorgeneral was therefore directed, in 1859, to pay the University "interest on the entire amount which had been received for University lands," and this action, in effect, restored the fund. This practice was continued until 1877, when, through adjustment of the state accounting system, the $100,000 was finally added to the University fund on the books of the state, and the loan, in the end, may be regarded as a gift from the state, though this matter has been the subject of considerable controversy.
Superintendent Pierce, moreover, was firmly convinced of the value of the branches, and in his last annual report in 1841 expressed a deep conviction as to their importance in the entire school system and a belief that the University could not succeed without them. This reflected the popular view of these institutions; in fact, the people were more interested in them than they were in the University. But the Regents felt that the welfare of the University was paramount and that the institution could not be established on a firm footing as long as the branches were continued. Accordingly, in 1841, they limited the appropriations to the branches to $500, later reduced the amount to $200, and in 1846 withdrew the support altogether. While these measures were sufficient to enable the University to open its doors, its finances during the first few years were precarious and the reports of the Regents for 1842 and 1843 were gloomy. Practically the entire income of the University was absorbed in the payment of interest on the 1838 loan of $100,000.
Immediately after the University was officially established the superintendent Page 34of public instruction was authorized to sell University lands up to the amount of $500,000 at a minimum price of $20 an acre. The amount actually received from sales in 1837 was $150,447.90, an average price of $22.85 an acre. With this beginning, expectations ran high. Pierce estimated that the University would have an endowment of $1,000,000 with an annual income of $50,000, one-half to support the branches while the remaining half he considered adequate to sustain the parent institution. His estimate, excessive as it appears in the light of subsequent experience, was conservative in comparison with the popular estimate. The Ann Arbor Land Company, in a handbill advertising the lots to be sold in the neighborhood of the University, estimated a fund for the institution of $5,000,000.
These grandiose expectations were, unfortunately, not to be fulfilled. When the University lands were thrown on the market many of them proved to be occupied already by settlers, and since these squatters were voters the legislature hesitated to remove them. In 1839 pressure became so strong that the legislature enacted a law for the relief of these squatters by authorizing a sale of the University lands at $1.25 an acre. The superintendent and the Regents appealed to the governor to veto this confiscatory bill, and Mason, "the boy governor," courageously did so, stating in his message that such legislation would be fatal to the University fund.
But the legislature was composed of politicians who, not comprehending the vital bearing of this fund on the future success of the University, openly violated their pledge to maintain the price of these lands at a minimum of $20, and consequently they were sold at varying prices, some as low as $6.21 an acre. The price was fixed at $12 an acre in 1841, and made retroactive, with the result that the sum of $35,651 was actually returned to purchasers, and many years later the University received a little over half the amount estimated by Superintendent Pierce. Even so, Michigan was more fortunate in the amount realized from these government lands than were most of the other states, although the story of their administration is far from edifying.
When the last lands were sold in 1881 a total fund which now amounts to $548,744.40 remained in the hands of the treasurer of the state. This endowment, however, was absorbed in the state's general funds and has never been set aside for the exclusive use of the University. Interest is paid on it at the rate originally established, 7 per cent, and returns annually to the University between $38,000 and $39,000.
The University received no appropriations from the state until 1869, when the proceeds of the first mill tax, originally granted in 1867, became available, although the original loan of $100,000 formed in effect the first support given to the University by the state (see Part II: Financial Support).
The first buildings erected for the University on the Rumsey farm were the four houses designed to accommodate the faculty, two on each side of the campus, of which one survives as the president's house. The others were removed eventually to make place for the Chemistry and Natural Science buildings on the north side and the Clements Library on the south side. The single University building first authorized by the Regents was not completed until the fall of 1841, a tall, gaunt structure with only a few struggling trees about it. It is now known as Mason Hall and forms the old North Wing of the present University Hall. This single building provided recitation rooms, a chapel, a library, the "cabinet," as the University Page 35Museum was known in the early days, and accommodations for students.
The first step toward a library was made in 1838, when the Regents made an appropriation of $5,000 to be used by the distinguished botanist, Asa Gray, for the purchase of books while he was in Europe. The result was a collection of 3,700 volumes. Gray was the first man to be appointed to the faculty, although he never taught in the University and soon became a member of the Harvard faculty. The first accessions were the six volumes of Brockhaus' Konversations-Lexikon, a gift from a fur trader of the Upper Peninsula, and a purchase of Audubon's famous Birds of America, both of which the University still possesses.
The Museum was inaugurated with the purchase of a cabinet of minerals collected by Baron Lederer, later supplemented by collections from the distinguished geologist, Douglass Houghton, the second man to be appointed to the faculty. He never held regular classes in the University, but met an untimely death by drowning in Lake Superior in 1845.
As a matter of fact, the University had apparently been considered as the custodian of the scientific collections of the state almost from the beginning, and in an act of May 11, 1846, the legislature provided that "the various specimens of geology, mineralogy, zoology, botany and all other specimens pertaining to natural history belonging to the state and now deposited in the University buildings be … transferred to the Board of Regents of the University."
Moreover, many of the first gifts to the University from its supporters throughout the state, and eventually from the alumni, were in the form of contributions to the Library and Museum (see Part I: Gifts).
Seven students presented themselves at the University in September, 1841, six freshmen and one sophomore. The five known freshmen were: Judson D. Collins, Lyndon; Merchant H. Good-rich, Ann Arbor; Lyman D. Norris, Ypsilanti; George E. Parmelee, Ann Arbor; and George W. Pray, Superior; the sophomore was William B. Wesson, Detroit. They were greeted by a faculty of two: the Reverend George Palmer Williams, an Episcopalian, formerly the head of the Pontiac branch, who taught mathematics and later, natural science; and the Reverend Joseph Whiting, a Presbyterian, Professor of Greek and Latin Languages.
The distribution of the professorships among different denominations was also carried out in the appointment of the librarian, Henry Colcazer, a Methodist clergyman. This practice of denominational representation was not always followed, for Abram Sager, appointed Professor of Zoology and Botany in 1842, who was later to head the faculty of the Medical School, was named on the basis of his scientific attainments. Edward Thompson, however, who came as Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy in 1843, was a Methodist, and Andrew Ten Brook, who followed him in the same professorship in 1844, was a Baptist. Dr. Silas H. Douglass, who was appointed the same year as an assistant to the professor of chemistry and succeeded to the professorship in 1846, was apparently appointed solely on the basis of his scientific qualifications, although thirty years later the fires of sectarian controversy were to rage around his head. Upon the death of Professor Whiting in 1845 another Presbyterian, John Holmes Agnew, was chosen to take his place, while the Reverend Daniel B. Whedon, a Methodist, became Professor of Logic, Rhetoric, and History in 1845.
Throughout the University's first years the Regents took no steps to appoint a president, and each member of the Page 36faculty, following the Prussian rectorial system, served in turn for one year, possibly to avoid giving too much influence to any one religious persuasion. This system imposed heavy responsibilities upon the small and overworked faculty and was a factor which contributed to the difficulties of the University's first decade.
The gradual growth of the faculty was paralleled by a similar modest expansion of the student body. Two years after the University was founded there were fifty-three students, and in 1847 eighty-nine were enrolled, although the number dropped to seventy-two two years later. But in 1850-51 the number rose to 159, when the Department of Medicine and Surgery was opened, and the facilities of the institution were increased by the erection of a second building exactly like the first, which now forms the South Wing of University Hall.
The program of studies followed by this little group of students was in most respects similar to the current curriculum of the older colleges in the East, which in turn were directly derived from the courses pursued in the medieval European universities. The classics, logic, rhetoric, and religious philosophy were the main subjects, with history at first only ancient history.
Michigan, nevertheless, made several significant departures from this time-honored program. Courses in modern languages were quickly inaugurated and a professor of modern languages and literatures, Louis Fasquelle, was appointed in 1846. The early appointment of Dr. Sager and Dr. Douglass to teach the sciences also was a significant departure from current educational practice. This broadening of the curriculum, which seems in truth very slight today, indicated that the emphasis of the college training for the youth of Michigan was not to be entirely for the ministry. Moreover, in the first plans for the University the establishment of professional schools was foreshadowed, and in thus increasing the scope of instruction offered, the little institution was laying the foundations for its subsequent development as a university in fact as well as in name.
Although instruction in medicine and law had been foreshadowed in the first plans for the University, it was not until 1850 that a department of medicine was opened, and not until ten years later was instruction in law offered. The Medical Department came as the result of a memorandum submitted in 1847 to the Regents by Dr. Abram Sager, at that time Professor of Zoology and Botany, and Dr. Silas H. Douglass, Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology, and strongly supported by Dr. Zina Pitcher, a member of the Board. Dr. Sager and Dr. Douglass became the first two members of the medical faculty. The erection of a medical building was begun in 1848 on the east side of the campus under the supervision of Dr. Douglass, who was at that time Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds (see Part V: Medical School).
College life in those days was pursued under what would appear today a Spartan regime, although life for the students was no harder in Ann Arbor than in most of their farm homes. They were expected to procure their own wood from a woodpile behind the campus and to take care of their own rooms, for which they paid the University the munificent sum of $10 a year, including tuition fees. Chapel exercises were held from 5:30 to 6:30 in the morning to avoid the expense of illumination. Meals were secured from various Ann Arbor residents near the campus, who charged the students from $1.50 to $2.00 a week (see Part IX: Student Enrollment and Fees and Expenses).
Page 37In many ways the first ten years were a critical period in the University's history. Despite the tradition established as far back as 1817 and re-enacted in the new state constitution, emphasizing the character of the new University as a state institution, this public responsibility was not always recognized. The state, aside from its first loan to the institution, recognized no financial obligation toward it, while strong church bodies endeavored, although in vain, to control policies. The lack of sufficient funds, which kept faculty salaries at a starvation point, as well as intrafaculty rivalries, resulted in a long series of dissensions which disclosed very apparent weaknesses not to be remedied until President Tappan took the reins in 1852.
In recounting the difficulties of that period Professor Ten Brook spoke from personal memories when he said (p. 185): "There was nowhere any enthusiastic, or even hopeful feeling in regard to the University." Nevertheless, it is probable that the attendance, slender as it may appear today, was actually all that could be expected in that early period. The people of Michigan were, for the most part, bitterly poor and engaged in a heroic struggle with the half-conquered wilderness around them, and only a few had time or the means to think of higher education. Under these circumstances the gradual expansion of the University's facilities and student attendance can only be considered an evidence of the underlying strength and vitality of the principles upon which the University had been established.
Despite the simplicity of student life, college fraternities, which had been developing rapidly in the Eastern colleges, came to Michigan almost immediately; in fact, tradition has it that the first building devoted to fraternity uses was built in Ann Arbor by the Chi Psi fraternity in 1843. It stood in the woods east of the campus near the present Forest Hills Cemetery. These organizations from the first year were looked upon with disfavor by the faculty, as undemocratic and exclusive, as well as leading to student excesses and depredations.
The faculty eventually took strong measures against the fraternities and finally insisted on their discontinuance, but the students refused to accept the ruling and contested the jurisdiction of the Regents and faculty. The struggle assumed statewide proportions by 1848, with the legislature and the community of Ann Arbor deeply involved. The result was the expulsion of the members of the leading fraternities, most of whom left the University never to return. This summary action by no means ended the struggle, and in the final result the fraternities were reinstated. In essentials, the whole question was a struggle between the paternalistic and parochial attitude of a narrow, clerically-minded faculty and the self-reliant, individualistic, strongly democratic youth of the period (see Part IX: Fraternities).
There were several vigorous and even aggressive personalities included among the members of the early faculty — Dr. Whedon, particularly, was a center of disturbance. A strong abolitionist, his advocacy of what he called the "higher law" brought him into disfavor with some of his colleagues as well as people of the state.
These disputes within the faculty and between the students and the faculty became so acute that Professor Andrew Ten Brook felt compelled to resign. The terms of three other professors — Whedon, Agnew, and Williams — were ended by the last appointive Board in 1851, just before it was succeeded by the first Board of Regents elected under the provisions of the Constitution of 1850. How much this drastic action was due to the sectarian influence within the faculty Page 38and how much was a real effort to bring about a new regime in University matters is difficult to determine, but the final result was a new period of development and growth which has continued from that day to the present time.
One of the members of the faculty who had been removed was at once reappointed — Professor Williams. Professor Ten Brook, whose resignation had precipitated the struggle, returned to the University thirteen years later as Librarian of the University and its first historian. The other new appointments to the faculty were: James R. Boise, Professor of Greek Language and Literature, and the Reverend Erastus O. Haven, Professor of the Latin Language and Literature.
The new president, Henry P. Tappan, assumed the professorship of intellectual and moral philosophy. His appointment was the result of a growing feeling within the state that all was not well with the University and that a strong hand was needed to guide its policies. Accordingly, in the new constitution passed by the convention of 1850, the appointment of a president was made mandatory upon the Regents (see Part I: Tappan Administration).
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