More Than Lore

Chapter 3: Amenities

Marion Talbot

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GENERATION passes in the public mind as a long period. A college generation is a different matter. One follows another very rapidly, and with each succeeding one the recent past becomes more and more indistinct and its achievements and characteristics lose reality and pass into the realm of tradition. This has happened in the case of the first president of the University, who at the age of thirty-four was officially elected to the position. In less than a normal generation President Harper has become practically a myth to the present college world. There are even young students at the University who do not know for whom the great memorial library building is named. Among others, the knowledge may be widespread that he was a man with profound educational insight

( 39) and imagination, seconded with organizing genius, creative energy, tremendous vitality and industry, and extraordinary skill as a teacher. But other traits, perhaps more human but which contributed to his success and also to the devotion and affection which he won from his associates, have passed almost wholly into the shadows. A few incidents showing these traits are worth noting. Although bred simply, and modest in his personal habits, he craved satisfaction for his aesthetic tastes in music and other forms of art. As a youth he played the cornet in his hometown band; and, even at the beginning of the University, he encouraged the establishment of an orchestra by the students. He not infrequently referred to his hope that the University might some day have a great graduate school of music under the direction of Theodore Thomas. He had a fine piano in his home; and friends, sometimes world-renowned musicians, often came to play to him. Even modest skill served to meet his craving, as the following note shows:


It is quite a lonely place over here. Could you not bring over some of your music, and play a little this evening? It

(40)  is more than probable that you have an engagement—but if not, perhaps you will come.

Yours very sincerely,


Of course, I responded at once. Armed with selections from Beethoven, Schubert, and Mendelssohn, I crossed the street from Green Hall and seated myself at the piano, which almost played itself, while he stretched himself out on a lounge, evidently in great fatigue; but a quiet adagio movement from Beethoven, very simply played, soon brought sounds of heavy breathing. A more skilled pianist and a different type of music would probably have had another effect. Greatly pleased, as well as amused with the effect of my performance, I did not dare stop even to turn a page of my music sheets, but played over and over the same sweet notes whose soft melodious sounds were accompanied by the gradually increasing noise of his breathing, which, after awhile—there is no evading the fact—changed to an actual snore! With this, the performance ended. He had awakened himself and, after he had thanked me warmly and apologized heartily, I left with the hope that life might bring me

( 41) many opportunities to render simple services so fruitful in good.

He had a remarkable way of stimulating one to attempt what seemed impossible. I recall his sending for me once and saying, "There is to be a meeting of about two hundred Baptist ministers here tomorrow. Would it be possible to have luncheon for them at Kelly Hall." Of course it would—there could no longer be a question in his mind or in mine, and it would be fun to do it—but how, with an equipment for forty, was my part of the question to be solved; but solved it was!

One characteristic of President Harper was not known generally to the world but was familiar to those who came in personal contact with him, and did much to establish cordial and friendly relations between him and his associates instead of the formal and perfunctory dealings which might otherwise have arisen from their official connection. His manner was always simple and kind and courteous, no matter how great the honors and responsibilities poured upon him by the world. And his acts did not belie his words. It seemed hardly credible that such a heavy load

( 42) of care could permit of so many deeds of kindness. When word came to me of my mother's death, he was with me in a few minutes after I had sent word that I was starting for the East, and his tender and sympathetic expressions were a great comfort. If I were to notify him that I was starting on a vacation trip, or going to a meeting of the Association of Collegiate Alumnae, back would have come the message, "Go and have a good time." When one accomplished something creditably, there was sure to come from him a message of commendation and encouragement. These are simple illustrations of his kindness. Many more important ones could be cited, but they would mean no more.

In the early years religious exercises were held daily in what was called the Chapel, which occupied the whole of the north end of the first floor of Cobb Hall. I was asked to be one of a group to take turns in officiating at these exercises. In great perturbation I went to President Harper and told him that I had never conducted religious exercises and I feared this new duty, added to the heavy load I was already carrying, would prove too much. He immediately reas-

( 43) -sured me and said that I might be excused. He added, "With all the experience I have had in the conduct of religious services, I never close such a meeting without feeling that I have been through a severe strain." And yet, this was the man whom 1 met all aglow as he came from a class and who said, "I have just had such a wonderful time. 1 could not carry this administrative work if it were not for my teaching."

A different type of illustration of his simple, direct manner is seen in his preference to be called "Mr." rather than "Doctor" or "President." Indeed, it was not until the next administration that the head of the institution was addressed generally as "President." But Dr. Harper had been called "Doctor" so much that the term clung to him after he became President, though his family, in general, kept to the simpler term. He established the custom that, although the University had established many different academic ranks (twelve, in fact), no social differences were recognized by title, and "Mr." was the term generally approved and commonly used when addressing the men of the Faculty. The University of Chicago Weekly, Volume I, No. 1

( 44) published two weeks before the day the University opened, contained this statement: "By mutual agreement between all the faculty and officers of the University now on hand, the uniform appellation of `Mr.' has been adopted in mutual intercourse, thus doing away with all doubts and mistakes as to the proper title of any man connected with the institution." Indeed, about the only times when one heard an inquiry about "Professor So and So" were when somebody visited the University and tried to find this "professor" and he proved to be a graduate student who had always been known as" professor" to his students in the high school. Perhaps President Harper had realized the way in which the term had fallen into disrepute, as shown by the man who said he couldn't address Booker Washington as "Booker," like "a common nigger," and of course he couldn't say "Mr. Washington," so he compromised by calling him "Professor."

In striking contrast to some of his qualities were his love of form, color, and ceremony. These were shown in the life of the University in the importance placed on academic costume, use of the University color, and the formalities in

( 45) public exercises, which were an innovation in the Middle West. The cap and gown were introduced at the beginning, the type being a modification of the usual English style. The following letter, dated October 12, 1892, was sent out by the President:

At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago, it was voted to request the wearing of the official cap and gown by the professors and students of the University on the following occasions:

1. On all occasions on which degrees are conferred or honors bestowed—by professors and students participating in the exercises.

2. At all final examinations for high degrees—by professors and students present.

3. At the regular chapel service—by those who conduct the service or sit upon the platform.

4. At all formal meetings of the Faculties, the University Council and the University Senate.

5. At all public lectures delivered by instructors of the University at the University, and at public lectures delivered by instructors of the University outside of the University in such cases as the instructor may deem best.

6. By students on all public exhibitions.

7. At all official University receptions.

It has been decided that there shall be five distinct gowns namely, (;) for head professors and professors; (2) for associate professors and assistant professors; (3) for instructors to docents inclusive; (4) for fellows; (5) for stu-

(46)  -dents. Inclosed will be found a statement of the prices at which gowns will be furnished by two firms, one in Chicago and one in Albany.

I remain,

Yours very truly,


It would be difficult to say how much influence the University had in bringing about a uniform system for the United States, but it was not long before the academic world adopted a series of colors designating different faculties, and styles of gowns, sleeves, and hoods showing different degrees, while the color of the lining of the hood indicated the institution from which the degree was taken. Gold tassels on the cap, showing administrative position, added a final touch to the picturesqueness of the system which, in the opinion of the unbelievers, was far from being a symbol of "Pure Thought." But there were some members of the Faculties, even very learned men, who took delight in the system, especially in proportion as, with the multiplication of degrees held by a single person, its application became more intricate. I shall never forget the intense absorption of Rabbi Hirsch in the problem

( 47) of how to combine in one costume the colors of the many degrees, honorary and others, he had received. Even with the help of the dealer's agent and several colleagues it was a puzzle, but it was finally solved to his evident satisfaction. Of course, the President's combination was intricate also.

As time passed, however, the regulations governing the use of the cap and gown were gradually relaxed. It would be more exact to say that they were ignored. It did not take many experiences like conducting a three-hour doctor's examination in a classroom with the thermometer over ninety degrees, or standing in the street under a broiling hot summer sun waiting to escort Mr. Rockefeller, to persuade the majority of the faculties that there were occasions when the wearing of ;he voluminous heavy robes was far from an ideal of comfort and not an essential factor in high scholarship. The expense also was a serious difficulty in the opinion of many. So it came about that the cap and gown were seen only on rare and the most official occasions; but to many friends and observers, next to the actual awarding of degrees, the most exciting feature of the

( 48) Convocation exercises has always been the colorful procession, especially when it included the scarlet robes of English or Canadian universities or the even more picturesque academic costumes of other foreign countries.

The color of the University was originally old gold, but how or when it was chosen does not seem to be on record. Newspaper jibes and other annoying circumstances made a change desirable, and in 1894 maroon was substituted. To the uninitiated it would not seem a difficult or important matter to decide. But it involved many meetings of committees and Council, correspondence with Harvard, Illinois, Wisconsin, and other institutions, to avoid conflict with their colors, consideration of the needs of the Athletic Department, the fitness of the name for song and cheering purposes and for decoration—in fact, a very serious and important step was involved. The result was satisfactory, especially when members of the University were not too particular about choosing for their purposes a shade of red that could hardly be called "maroon"

The original color for the lining of the doctor's

( 49) hood was royal purple, and an official sample was kept. It became increasingly difficult to match this shade, even when stores dealing in ecclesiastical goods were visited. Even the women of the faculty who had to do the buying found it difficult to realize how many shades of purple there could be. When the color of the University became the color for the lining of the hood, there seemed to be less difficulty, perhaps because the exact shade of maroon did not seem to matter so much.

Even from the beginning, a rather unwonted formality marked the different official functions. To some this formality seemed to verge on pagan ceremonial rites; but to most there was a sense of satisfaction in the dignity and order with which the functions were conducted. Naturally, well-trained assistants were needed to accomplish this; and as the number of participants increased, it was found that some help, other than that which the Faculty could give, was necessary. It was decided that the student body could be drawn from and the appointments made a mark of great distinction. At the Ninth Convocation, held June 2, 1895, one marshal, four assistant

( 50) marshals, and twenty-two ushers, all men students, served as aides. The ushers disappeared after the Twelfth Convocation. It was soon pointed out that the distinction might well be bestowed on women also. On the program for the Thirty-second Convocation, held April 2, 1900, the list of newly appointed marshals included the names of Marian Harmon Calhoun and Mary Ethel Freeman. Their names appeared on succeeding Convocation programs, including that of the Thirty-eighth Convocation, held on June 18, 1901, when they received their degrees; but during this time Miss Calhoun declined to appear as an assistant marshal. No small incident could show more vividly the social changes which were soon to take place in the position of women than the reason given, which was that the public appearances required were not in accord with the modesty and refinement which marked a well-bred lady! Following this experience, only men marshals were appointed until the system was adopted which differentiated the women from the men. At the Fifty-third Convocation, held December 20, 1904, in addition to ten college marshals, six women were appointed as college

( 51) aides. Somewhat later, the number of appointments became the same for both men and women, and the system has been continuous and very successful. The aides so greatly enjoyed their duties and privileges that an informal type of organization gradually developed. Annual reunions and dinners are held at which the newly appointed aides are introduced to the older ones and interesting personal and official experiences are recounted.

It must not be thought that life in the University, organized or unorganized, was altogether serious. Indeed, many persons will recall amusing incidents and fun-making events more easily than they will official or personal situations of a solemn nature. One of the first of these was a mock seminar given by the students in Cobb Hall on February 22, 1893. The program appeared in the form of a miniature of the official University bulletin. The subscription was announced as free, "single copies 15 cents." The accompanying cut shows the inside pages. It must be remembered that it was issued when preparations were going on rapidly for the World's Columbian Exposition and the study of

( 52)

University of Chicago Officers of Administration

( 53)

Graduate school fellows

( 54) Browning's poems was the fashion in women's clubs. But many of the sly pokes at doings of current interest will not be understood except by those who were alive at that time. The theme of the seminar was Washington as a sun myth, and this thesis was proved in a masterly way by Miss Myra Reynolds, then a fellow in the University, who drew upon a fund of etymological and anthropological lore to the complete satisfaction of the audience in the lecture hall on the first floor. The whole performance was a daring and amusing satire not only on the innovations of the University but on the personal peculiarities of some of the Faculty. The myth having been established, the program closed with a serious patriotic appeal given in his characteristically eloquent manner by Mr. Soares. The performance has never been surpassed for genuine cleverness, though there have been some close seconds. One of these was an entertainment in Kent Theater, the largest place of assembly until Mandel Hall was built. The outstanding number was dancing dolls, a forerunner of a popular number in modern shows. The long legs and arms, and their stiff angularity, of Phil Allen and Ray, known later

( 55) as Professor Philip S. Allen and Dr. Joseph E. Raycroft of Princeton University, brought down the house with gales of laughter and was an often sought-for and generously given feature of entertainments in later years.

Not long afterward came the first of a series of shows with lyrics and dialogue written chiefly, perhaps wholly at first, by members of the Faculty. Again satire and wit held sway, to the great amusement of large audiences; but in time the Faculty withdrew, leaving the field to the students who, organized as the Blackfriars, were often the object of discussion by the Board of Student Organizations, which steadfastly refused permission for performances at a city theater or out of town.

The orchestra, organized the first year, the two glee clubs, and small musical societies under one name or another furnished much pleasure as the years passed. Various persons produced individual stunts: long-legged Charles R. Mann going up and down a tower, Mr. Stagg with amusing songs, Agnes Wayman and Marie Ortmayer as the Cherry Sisters, an Irish story from me in costume, and even not too publicly, a fisti-

( 56) cuff match between Dean, and later President, Judson and me were exhibitions which were effective in removing the strain of hard academic and administrative work.


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