Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles about the former College of Emporia, a private Presbyterian institution that operated here from 1883 through 1973. Alumni will be in Emporia this weekend for their annual reunion, related tours and activities.
Offering incentives to attract new businesses and industries is not a new idea. It’s been happening in Kansas and in Emporia since at least the late 1800s, and is one reason why this city for 90 years was home to two colleges.
According to records, the idea of establishing a Synodical college in Kansas originated in 1877 with the Rev. Robert N. Overstreet, then-pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Emporia and chairman of the Education Committee of the Kansas Synod.
Emporia, Salina, Peabody and Marion all were under consideration as possible sites.
The City of Emporia responded to Overstreet’s plan by offering the Presbyterian Synod of Kansas a package deal — $35,000 and 38 acres of land — which the Synod accepted in 1882, and appointed Overstreet to be in charge of raising a $50,000 endowment fund, according to historical records.
Sen. Preston B. Plumb, one of the city founders, donated $2,000 and became a member of the board of trustees, and other members of the community joined in the effort.
Plans were made to build the college outside the city’s western boundary, which at the time was at West Street. The campus spanned an approximate area between what would become 12th and 15th Avenues and Chestnut and Lincoln Streets.
Classes, however, began Nov. 1, 1883, in the college’s first temporary home, the upstairs of the Addis Building at the northeast corner of Sixth Avenue and Commercial Street, now the site of Capitol Federal.
The Rev. John F. Hendy, pastor of Emporia Presbyterian Church, served as college president and taught religion; Greek, Latin and mathematics also were part of the curriculum. By the following year, Hendy was devoting all of his time to C. of E., and moved the “campus” to Eighth Avenue and Commercial Street, according to a history of the college written by Minnie Miller and William Edwards and published in The Gazette in June 1982.
Classes moved again in 1886, this time to the partially-completed Stuart Hall at the college’s permanent location. Mrs. R. L. Stuart of New York had donated $10,000 for the building, according to historical records.
College and cattle
The setting was distinctly rural, with the College Dairy operating on the north side, and much of the remaining land to the north and west being used for pasture.
Until cinder paths from town were laid about 20 years later, students trudged through all kinds of weather from homes and boarding houses across Emporia to reach classes on-campus.
The college’s first commencement ceremony, with two graduates, was held in Austin Chapel in Stuart Hall, according to a C. of E. history written by Minnie Miller and William Edwards and published in The Gazette in June 1982.
The chapel had been named for Emporian William J. Austin, who reportedly had inherited money from an “unnamed source” in Europe and who built a mansion near the Neosho River just north of town. In addition to paying for the chapel, Austin paid to plant trees and lay out walkways around the college.
C. of E. was the “fashionable” school, as a history article headline noted in the June 7, 1982, article.
Princeton University graduate, the Rev. John Dunbar Hewitt, in 1891 succeeded Hendy as president. Hewitt blended sacred and secular learning with a well-developed liberal arts curriculum and mandatory Bible study classes and daily chapel attendance.
Co-eds “never went downtown without hat and gloves.”
“Dancing, card playing and smoking were prohibited,” the article stated. “The use of liquor was so unthinkable that it was not even mentioned.”
Promotional pamphlets and posters touted, “Your daughter will be safe at C. of E.”
Quality over quantity
The administration also placed considerable emphasis on its science program. When city water lines reached the campus in 1894, C. of E. opened a laboratory.
The little Presbyterian college and Kansas University were the only two schools in the state that had X-ray equipment, the article stated.
By that time, interest in athletics also was blooming on campus. Emporia banker Major Calvin Hood helped furnish a gymnasium for the students in the basement of Stuart Hall.
War, as often happens, interrupted studies for young men of that era. In 1898, three men were granted degrees in absentia because they already had left to serve in the Spanish-American War.
The town’s population and the college’s reputation grew in spite of the war. By 1905, students had petitioned the city to install street lights as far as the campus, but it wasn’t until 1911 that Kansas Power and Light Company ran its street cars to C. of E., the history series said. That year, Harry Tang of Canton, China, became the college’s first foreign graduate, according to the C. of E. alumni website.
First Carnegie in the west
C. of E. not only held the first Carnegie Library built west of the Mississippi, it was the first Carnegie Library built on a college campus. C. of E. also was closely affiliated with John Anderson, Andrew Carnegie’s former boss for whom the Anderson Memorial Library was named.
According to the Miller-Edwards series, Carnegie as a young man had worked for Col. John Anderson, a division superintendent for a Pennsylvania railroad. Anderson had allowed Carnegie access to his private library, where the young man learned to love books and libraries, the Miller-Edwards history series stated.
Anderson later moved to Kansas and became a trustee for the College of Emporia.
Carnegie, in the meantime, had become extraordinarily successful, both as a leader in the expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century and as a philanthropist.
“After (Anderson’s) death, Carnegie wrote Mrs. Anderson with an offer to build a library in Anderson’s memory,” the Miller-Edwards series stated. “His widow suggested that the library be placed at C. of E.”
Carnegie donated approximately $30,000 for the library, with the stipulation that the college must eliminate its $18,000 debt.
The Kansas Synod donated $13,000 and Emporians contributed the remaining $5,000 to satisfy the requirement. The native-hewn limestone Anderson Memorial Library was completed, then dedicated at the 1902 commencement ceremony.
Trial by fire
The college continued to flourish and grow during those early years, despite a destructive fire, brouhahas over organization memberships and a controversy involving then-President Henry Coe Culbertson, who served with “missionary fervor” from 1907 to 1917.
Fraternities and sororities traditionally had been banned on-campus, so a bit of an uproar resulted when in 1908 six football players were accused of belonging to a fraternity.
Three of them were expelled, three were suspended, and “such organizations came to an end,” according to the Miller-Edwards history series. Literary societies, however, were allowed to continue because they provided both entertainment and opportunities to practice public speaking.
On Dec. 2, 1915, disaster struck when a fire consumed Stuart Hall.
President Culbertson and Dean Daniel Schaffner had entered the building in an attempt to save at least some of the records being destroyed in the flames.
“The two just missed being struck when the college bell, donated by Major Hood, crashed to the ground,” the Miller-Edwards report stated.
A grand piano, the pipe organ, and a Stradivarius violin owned by a new music teacher, Adolph Kramer, all were lost in the blaze.
“The next morning, after the authorities had placed barbed wire around the smoking ruins, a sign appeared there with the school’s rallying cry: ‘C. of E. (still) Fights,’ “ the report said.
Only $32,000 of the $100,000 loss was covered by insurance, so Gazette editor/publisher and college trustee William Allen White — a former C. of E. student — headed a rebuilding committee. C. of E. students pledged more than $2,000; the Normal School (now Emporia State University) faculty gave $1,000.
“The campaign would have been successful,” Miller and Edwards wrote, “if it had not become bogged down by the problems of President Culbertson.”
Culbertson had been perceived as a “human dynamo,” often refusing to drive his carriage to work because he could walk faster. Despite his accomplishments at C. of E., there were those who were dissatisfied with his performance.
Several trustees accused him of mismanaging college funds and of “unchristian behavior.”
“He refused to resign until he was exonerated by the board of trustees, which was done on June 1, 1916,” the report stated.
The trustees’ vote failed to satisfy some local Presbyterians, however, and after a trial held in church, Culbertson was sent a letter of admonition.
A White golden parachute
W.A. White, who considered the situation “quite silly,” already had arranged for Culbertson’s next career before the trial began.
Through his friendship with President Herbert Hoover, White had secured a job for Culbertson as secretary of the U.S. Food Administration. Culbertson later became president of Ripon College in Wisconsin and ultimately served as minister for two churches — both of them Congregational, not Presbyterian, the report emphasized.
White’s funeral in 1944, the article noted, was held in Kenyon Hall on campus.
“Not only was Kenyon Hall an appropriate place for the funeral of a man who had done so much for the college, it had an auditorium capable of seating over a thousand people,” the article said. “Many distinguished guests as well as numerous Emporians attended to honor the town’s leading citizen.”
Beginning of the ‘Glory Days’
The Culbertson episode had no long-term effect on the college. In fact, it ushered in “The Glory Days of C. of E.” with President Frederick W. Lewis at the helm from 1917 until 1928.
Enrollment had climbed to almost 500 students; graduates were completing master’s degrees quickly at “such universities as Kansas University and Columbia University in New York,” the report stated.
The campaign to rebuild Stuart Hall was moving along well, with the basement and chapel of the main building completed by Commencement 1919. Dean Hirschler had designed a $30,000 organ for the chapel, and another fundraising campaign, the “Million Movement,” was approved by the trustees in 1921.
Achieving the $1 million goal would allow completion of the administration building, elimination of the debt and the creation of an endowment fund.
The Carnegie Foundation donated $50,000 to the cause; John D. Rockefeller’s General Education Fund added $100,00, and so did the C. of E. Board of Trustees. By June of 1924, all of the money had been donated or pledged.
In 1951, C. of E. was included in “Scientific American” magazine’s article titled “Origins of United States Scientists.”
The magazine listed 50 colleges and universities, and ranked them according to the number of prominent scientists who had graduated from those schools. The University of Chicago ranked No. 16, the Miller-Edwards article reported. Johns Hopkins University of Baltimore was No. 19.
The College of Emporia ranked No. 20 on the 50-school list.
In 1926, John Brewster and Orlo Choguill won the national Pi Kappa Delta debate championship, competing against students from more than 60 larger colleges and universities.
In 1927, Reggie Carter and Louise Lawrence placed first in the Men’s and Women’s State Oratorical contests.
Those types of academic successes continued throughout C. of E.’s existence and extended into athletics as well. The college became known for its small but solid programs that attracted students from other parts of the country and occasionally the world.
The college had recovered from a dip in status when, during the Great Depression, it had lost its accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The accreditation never lapsed again.
Student numbers continued to grow steadily and reached their pinnacle during the 1960s, when an influx of students primarily from the East Coast found their way to the C. of E. campus because they were unable to attend institutions in their home regions. The high numbers of college-age “baby boomers” were crowding onto higher education classrooms across the country.
Within a decade, the phenomenon had passed. Student numbers at C. of E. plunged in the 1970s and, coupled with a heavy debt load, creditors forced the closing and the sale of the campus.
Details of the collapse will be a series topic later this week.
As often happens, students come to college to earn academic degrees, but it is athletics that often unites the student body into one voice. C. of E. and its Fighting Presbies were no exception.
A rivalry between the College of Emporia and the Normal School surfaced not long after the new college was established. Records show football games between the College of Emporia and the Normal School had been played as far back as the 1890s.
In 1901, C. of E. for the second time won the Mit-Way Silver and Gold Cup, affiliated with the Mit-Way Hotel in downtown Emporia, and consequently claimed permanent ownership of the cup.
It was the Thanksgiving game, however, that became a town event beginning in 1915. Dinners were planned around the 2 p.m. kickoff time, with game sites alternating between the Normal School and C. of E. stadiums.
Football Coach Gwinn Henry had opened the door to what became known as the “great days” of C. of E. football. His successor, Harold Grant, built on the program and continued the successes that included multiple conference championships and an enviable win-loss record, despite a tragedy that struck in 1930.
— Wednesday, Part 2 of the C. of E. series will focus on sports.