More Than Lore

Chapter 1: The Trek

Marion Talbot

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LIFE will always be full of adventures as long as human perspectives change with age and values vary with experience. It was certainly very exciting to have Santa Claus write me a real letter and tell me that he was sending me a new doll and that I must be more careful and not smash its china head, as I did my dear old dolly's head. Another great adventure into a rich field was the Christmas gift of a set of the Rollo books, twelve in number, bound in green and gold and packed in a box, the most sumptuous Christmas gift I ever had, not excelled even by the Davenport desk which was my birthday present when I was ten years old. And life went on, and year after year brought thrilling experiences. One might perhaps become blasť, as it is said the present generation early becomes.


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But no lapse of years or train of interesting happenings in travel, education, or social life could deaden the sense of adventure when the call came to help organize the new University of Chicago. Stories of the new educational venture in the West had reached Boston. Its novel features—such, for example, as unprecedentedly large salaries, continuous instruction throughout the year, the organization of Extension Work, a Press, University Affiliations, Junior and Senior Colleges, and many others—gave rise to ridicule and sarcastic comment; but underneath, the educational world felt very real interest in the venture.

The gifted young president, William Rainey Harper, scoured the academic world for great scholars who would dare exchange comfortable and safe positions for the hazards and excitements of a new undertaking. Among those whom he most strongly urged were George Herbert Palmer, of Harvard University, to be head of the new Department of Philosophy, and his wife, Alice Freeman Palmer, formerly president of Wellesley College and at the time in the forefront of the chief educational movements in


( 3) Massachusetts, to be professor of history and dean (of women) in the Graduate School and College. For a long time Professor and Mrs. Palmer were unable to reach a decision, swayed as they were, on the one side by the many opportunities and inducements offered, and, on the other, by the strength of long-established ties and enterprises already undertaken. Mrs. Palmer and I had worked in close and intimate accord in the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, which had been founded ten years previously and in which she maintained an active part to the end of her life. This experience began the year after I received my Bachelorís degree from Boston University. As secretary for a long period, I had an unusual opportunity to study collegiate and university conditions in the United States. This experience was supplemented with study which led to the Masterís degree at Boston University and a more specialized degree in science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with the secretaryship and later presidency of the Massachusetts Society for the University Education of Women, with membership on the Board of Visitors of Wellesley College and later an in-


( 4) -structorship at the same college, and with a term of service as alumni trustee of Boston University.

In April, 1892, Professor and Mrs. Palmer visited Chicago and met with much encouragement from influential men and women. Still in doubt, Mrs. Palmer wrote me, "Remember, if I come West you must come too—I mean it, my dear friend." Later on, in July, when the arrangement was made by which Mrs. Palmer would take an active share in the administration and be in residence at the University during twelve weeks of each year, she wrote me again, "I made my going conditioned on yours. Dr. Harper says that he distinctly wants you and will try to get you to Chicago for the start." When finally, in the late summer of 1892, the appointment came to be assistant professor of sanitary science and dean (of women) in the University Colleges, I had mingled feelings of interest and hesitation. The work at Wellesley in domestic science which I had started was full of promise. The secretaryship of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae brought important duties. My home ties were becoming increasingly close, and my circle of friends was large. My mother, however,


( 5) had taken joy in training her children for service according to their several gifts. Moreover, she had been in Chicago--a rather unusual experience in those days for a Bostonian—and had been greatly impressed with its spirit. She was convinced that I should cast in my lot with the new University and the growing city. So, though it cost her many a heart pang, she encouraged me to accept. My father also, to whom I was giving clerical assistance in his medical and philanthropic work, set aside his wish to keep me near him and set his mind on the opportunities the future would bring to me. Chicago seemed a very wild and woolly place to my friends, and they were almost horrified at the idea of my leaving Boston, even though some of them had a glimmer of an idea of the honor and responsibility involved. Many of them expressed the hope that I would soon return, and some were quite certain that I would get enough of the West pretty soon. But preparations went on for my departure. There were clothes to be bought, suitable for many kinds of occasions and enough to last several months, and even seasons, for there would be no time or strength for shopping or dressmakers.


( 6) The outfit seemed almost like a modest trousseau. To add to the impression that I was about to change my state, not only Massachusetts for Illinois, but spinsterhood for matrimony, kind and thoughtful friends provided me with silverware, attractive dishes and bric-a-brac, and even linen.

At last came the time for departure. Mrs. Palmer and Mr. William Gardner Hale were to be my traveling companions, and quite a crowd of friends assembled at the station in Boston to see us off on September 19, 1892. Florence M. Cushing, an honored graduate of Vassar College with whom I had done educational work for several years, pressed into my hand a small carved box. In gentle and rather solemn tones she said, "It contains a piece of Plymouth Rock." I felt the gift was rather symbolical of the attitude of Boston educators to the new undertaking. Those were shifting and perilous sands out there on the edge of the prairie, as it seemed to the dwellers on Beacon Hill. I must be reminded that the United States, at least my part of it, was founded on a rock; I might forget that four of my ancestors landed from the little ship "Mayflower," and be


( 7) tempted to follow strange gods unless I had some forceful, though symbolical, reminder close at hand.

We carried our friends' good wishes for us in our undertaking, even though some of them quietly intimated that the pioneer conditions of life and education in the Middle West, for such they were supposed to be at that time, would not hold us long from the well-tried and highly approved mores of the Athens of America. But we were confident and light hearted. Even Mr. Hale's remark as we sped through the Berkshire forests, "Goodbye, Trees," failed to give us concern.

When we reached Hyde Park station the following afternoon, we were met by J. Laurence Laughlin, our old friend and associate. He waved a magazine in the air as he approached us on the platform, and said, "We have a real University; here is the student paper!" Ten days before the University opened!

We drove to the Hotel Monroe on Monroe, later Kenwood, Avenue, just north of Fifty-fifth Street, where we found a few of our new associates had already arrived; and soon we were all


( 8) settled at dinner, one of the most extraordinary combinations of food I ever saw. We had barely finished when President Harper arrived and I met him for the first time, for he had appointed me on Mrs. Palmer's advice. There was, of course, no opportunity for intimate talk. One reason was that he had brought with him a student who had just appeared at his house, Elizabeth Messick. She had arrived that afternoon at the Union Station from Memphis, Tennessee. As was the custom, not only in Memphis, but in Podunk and Boston, she took a "hack," had her trunk strapped on behind, and told the driver to take her to the Hotel Beatrice at the University of Chicago. Then the journey began. They drove and they drove. Night began to fall. City sights gradually disappeared and were replaced by bits of open country. Fully aware of the perils lying in wait for a young girl in the wicked city of Chicago, she made eager inquiries of the driver as to how much farther they had to go; but his assurances that they would soon arrive, even though frequently repeated, did not deter her from making ready to leap from the vehicle, speed across the prairie, and disappear in the dusk. In about


( 9) an hour, the driver thought they were somewhere near the University, but he had to make inquiries, as he had never been there. It was, in fact, several years before the University actually got on the local map—years before it was on the academic map. Having located the University, consisting then of four unfinished buildings—Cobb Hall and three men's residence halls, or "dormitories" as they were called—the next problem was to find the Hotel Beatrice, the only clue being that it was on Fifty-seventh Street. The first attempt proved, on inquiry, to be the Hyde Park High School, which later gave way to a series of other schools, public and parochial. Of course, the schoolhouse was closed and dark. Finally, the Hotel Beatrice was located; but it, too, was closed and dark and not even completely finished. What could be done? The young southerner, with a wit which justified her attempting to enrol as a student in a great University, said, "Let us find out where the President lives—it must be near here." A drug store was found at the corner of Fifty-seventh Street near the railroad, and it was learned that the President lived just around the corner on Washington, later


( 10) Blackstone, Avenue. Soon the journey was over. The President was somewhat disconcerted to discover that an actual student, an attractive young woman at that, had deposited herself on his front doorstep. Even if never again, he took great satisfaction on that occasion in the fact that he had two women deans at hand to help him out of his difficulty. And so he came to call on his new Faculty, not alone, but with a tall, slender young girl, clad in a circular cape and small cap with a patent-leather visor, her cheeks glowing with excitement and her large dark eyes nearly popping out of her head. There was no room in the little hotel for her, but she had to be housed, so the landlord said he would put a cot for her in the alcove in my room. This suited her so well that, taking advantage of the intimacy thus started, she hardly let .me out of her sight for days except when I was at a Faculty or Council meeting or peremptorily engaged in some University duty where she would have been distinctly de trop.

It was not long before we moved into our new quarters, the Hotel Beatrice on Fifty-seventh Street. Our experiences there make a tale in


( 11) themselves and a unique feature in the establishment of a University. While Mrs. Palmer and I were trying to get some order out of the domestic chaos in which we found ourselves, the little group of students busied themselves by day, and even by night, getting ready for their entrance examinations, just as students were accustomed to do in the old-time colleges of the East. These examinations were an innovation in the Middle West, but it did not take much time or effort for the students to create the conventional atmosphere of dread and excitement or to adopt very foolish and wasteful ways of preparing themselves to meet the tests. The examinations were taken; and after a due period of suspense, word came that all of our group at the Beatrice were admitted to the University.

Notes

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