THE establishment of a fellowship in creative art at the University of Michigan was a notable event in the first year of the administration of President Marion LeRoy Burton. It was his belief that the presence of a creative artist on the campus would be stimulating to the whole college community. Even though he taught no classes, the continuation of his own work under favorable circumstances would be a great inspiration. President Burton proposed the creation of such a fellowship at a conference of the deans on December 15, 1920. On the next day the Regents gave formal approval to the plan and expressed the hope that some gift would make its establishment possible. It was also suggested that it might be possible to offer the proposed fellowship to the poet Robert Frost as the first incumbent.
A little later this was made possible through a gift of five thousand dollars from the Honorable Chase S. Osborn, of Sault Ste Marie, former Governor of the State and Regent of the University. A similar gift by an anonymous donor extended the fellowship through the following year and enabled Frost to spend a large part of the two academic years 1921-23 in Ann Arbor, where he carried on a program of informal but highly stimulating conferences with a large group of students. The response to the poet's striking personality and original and highly individual approach to the art of writing was evident in a great increase of students interested in creative writing, especially in poetry. As part of the program a number of distinguished American poets came to Ann Arbor during this period to give lectures and to meet with Frost's students.
A letter quoted in the President's Report for 1921-22 (p. 91) characterizes the experiment in these words:
… No single influence at Michigan has been … more significant or more beneficial than the presence of Robert Frost… We are very certain … that the Frost stability, the Frost honesty, the stray, quiet spirit of the man, is leaving its mark on the student body …
Robert Bridges, the English poet laureate, was invited to Ann Arbor to be the holder of the fellowship for the third year, 1923-24, funds for which were made available by a donor in Detroit. Bridges, however, because of his advanced age, was able to spend only a few months in Ann Arbor, from April through Commencement, when he returned to his home in England. During his residence in Ann Arbor he met many students, to whom he gave a new and somewhat different interpretation of the creative spirit in writing. He was given the honorary degree of doctor of laws in June, 1924.
During his two years' residence in Ann Arbor Robert Frost had not only endeared himself to the students and to friends on the faculty, but had proved a real inspiration to literary endeavor. An effort was accordingly made to bring him back to the University once more as the holder of a fellowship in letters which was to be a continuation of the fellowship in creative art. This fellowship, by action of the Regents, was supported from the University's general funds, and the appointment was for an indeterminate term rather than for a single year.
Frost's appointment to this new fellowship was announced November 20, 1924. He remained, however, for only the one year 1924-25, though he received the Page 287appointment for the year following. He resigned to accept a similar appointment at Amherst College, where he had made his permanent home for some time. The fellowship for the year 1925-26 was held by Jesse Lynch Williams, well known as a dramatist and writer of fiction. His year with the students of the University was in some respects a productive one, particularly through his effective help and suggestions in the practical details of authorship and creative writing.
No appointments were made to the fellowship in the following years, though Robert Frost returned for a short period in the spring of 1927 for lectures and consultation.