University of Rochester Library Bulletin: Professors Make Good Citizens

Volume V · Spring 1950 · Number 3
Professors Make Good Citizens

Among the distinguished visitors who assisted at the inauguration of Rush Rhees on October 11, 1900, was Seth Low, president of Columbia University. President Low's address, on "The City and the University," drew upon his own experiences in New York City, but it must have reminded many in the audience of the close and fruitful relationships that had developed during the previous half-century between the city and the "university" of Rochester.

The local situation was in fact as unusual as it proved to be agreeable. Only two or three American cities of the 1850's enjoyed the stimulus to be derived from a resident faculty, for most of the colleges of that period (and until many decades later) were located in quiet villages far from the distractions of urban life. Yet John N. Wilder, president of the Board of Trustees, had sufficient vision at the opening ceremony on November 5, 1850, to congratulate the city of Rochester on its relatively unique opportunities; moreover the experience of the years was to bear him out. The city and the college have grown up together, each helping to sustain the other and to enlarge its vision. No history of the University can overlook the extent to which the city's needs and desires have influenced its development. No student of the community's civic or cultural history can neglect the large contributions made by individual faculty members as the following review of the first fifty years will partially demonstrate.

The very insecurity of the college during its early years helped to merge its affairs into the life of Rochester. The commencement ceremonies and other public meetings were held at Corinthian Hall, the city's own cultural headquarters, or in one of the Baptist churches. Baptist and other Protestant churches made frequent use of faculty talents, both in their pulpits and their Sabbath schools. The choice boardinghouse where (as revealed in his Life and Letters) John H. Raymond and other professors dined, was a favorite as well of talented young clerics and lawyers. The inspiration for and main strength of Rochester's first men's literary and social clubs came from the city, but leading members of the faculty were included from the start.

Some of the first professors were in fact more closely identified with the city than with the college. Thus Dr. Chester Dewey, former head of the Collegiate Institute, had become a leader in local religious and intellectual circles long before the University was established. E. Peshine Smith, one of the city's most brilliant sons, taught only briefly at the University and made his most important contributions in other fields. Henry A. Ward, another famous son of Rochester, retained his connection with the faculty for a longer period, but as his voluminous papers in the Rush Rhees Library reveal (and as their donor, Roswell Ward, has disclosed in a biography of his grandfather) Professor Ward's great work was not in the classroom, nor for that matter in Rochester either, but as a natural science collector and museum builder.

Perhaps the prototype of early faculty participation in community affairs was Professor Asahel C. Kendrick. Certainly in popular esteem he stood next to President Anderson (whose larger administrative responsibilities and more adequate biographical records exclude him from consideration here). Just over forty at his arrival in 1850, the new professor of Greek and Latin quickly won friends in the city. The unfortunate death of his first wife, leaving him with four young daughters, attracted neighborly sympathy and led eventually to his second marriage to Helen M. Hooker of Rochester. His knowledge of Hebrew and his earnest study of the Scriptures brought him many invitations to local pulpits while his equally zealous study of the Greek classics gave his sermons a breadth of spirit which helped to free the community from denominational rivalries. When in the seventies Professor Kendrick was named as one of the experts engaged in the revision of the King James version, church folk in Rochester were further encouraged to regard the Bible intelligently as a human document full of history as well as inspiration.

The most important of Professor Kendrick's contributions to the city's life were of this somewhat intangible character. His home on Chestnut Street (later on Alexander Street) became one of the early centers of literary interest where former students and other citizens gathered to enjoy the conversation and congenial companionship of the professor and his attractive daughters. "His sparkling wit, his whimsical turns of thought, his quick appreciation of sentiment or humor, his simplicity and candor, his easy strength, his ready admiration of what was nobly said. . ." inspired the creative talents of Joseph O'Connor, who later penned this tribute, of Rossiter Johnson, and many others. Although the Professor's frail health kept him from assuming large civic responsibilities, his contributions to the Pundit and Browning clubs and his other informal relationships, together with the quality of his writings, provided much stimulus to Rochester's intellectual life.

A younger generation of professors, arriving in the post-Civil-War period, developed an entirely new pattern of citizen relationships. Professors Lattimore and Gilmore, both appointed in 1867, and Morey and Forbes who joined the faculty several years later, each played significant roles in the establishment or promotion of important local institutions, and together they laid the foundations for adult educational programs in Rochester.

The appointment of Professor Samuel A. Lattimore, who had recently completed postgraduate studies in chemistry at Harvard, launched a separate department of chemistry at the University. As the facilities for his work in Anderson Hall were limited, Lattimore was encouraged to seek other outlets, and in January, 1874, a course of free lectures on science for workingmen was commenced in the Court House. Its popularity spurred a drive for funds to cover incidental expenses and assured a repetition of the course in the new City Hall during subsequent seasons. A scrapbook filled with the extended press reports of these lectures was later presented to the Rush Rhees Library by Miss Alida Lattimore.

Sickness in his family compelled Professor Lattimore to discontinue these lectures after the fourth season, but his scientific knowledge was by this time much in demand. The appearance of a fishy odor in the water delivered by the recently completed Hemlock system caused considerable consternation in Rochester during the late seventies until Professor Lattimore allayed fears of pollution by discovering a microscopic alga which, as he explained, periodically infected lake waters without harmful effect. This investigation was but the first of a long series of official services, most of them rendered to the courts as an expert scientific witness. A lengthy paper originally read by Professor Lattimore to his associates in the Pundit Club and recently deposited in Rush Rhees Library by his daughter, Florence, presents a lively account of his interesting activity. Not only did the professor's scientific testimony determine the outcome of a case involving asphyxiation, fix the guilt of a postmaster-blacksmith in a nearby village who had been accused of opening a neighbor's love letters, and establish the shoddy character of a shipment of allegedly all-wool goods in which the presence of cotton fiber was scientifically detected, but he was also prepared to protect a straw-paper patent and contributed telling evidence in a half-dozen similar cases around the turn of the century. The many uses of science and of other technical knowledge had long since become apparent. Professor Lattimore's effort to establish a Microscopical Society in 1879 was so widely supported by enthusiastic amateurs that the society was reorganized two years later as the Rochester Academy of Science.

The community activities of Professor Joseph H. Gilmore were likewise numerous. Indeed his service as pastor of the Second Baptist Church for two years prior to his appointment to the faculty had established strong ties in the city, while his reputation as the author of the inspiring hymn, "He Leadeth Me," opened many channels for service in local churches. His activity in this field is clearly revealed by the extensive file of his lecture notes now preserved in the Rush Rhees Library. These include outlines for talks before his regular weekly classes at the Park Avenue Baptist Sunday School, the People's Rescue Mission, and for other special occasions.

As a devout churchman and a member of the choice literary clubs, Professor Gilmore's contributions were not unlike those of other faculty members of the day, such as Professor Albert H. Mixer of the modern language department. But "Gilly," as his students fondly remembered him, had a taste for more mundane affairs and a talent for popular lecturing. He was a thirty-second degree Mason and a life member of the Rochester Consistory. He took an active interest in the Railroad Y.M.C.A. and participated in successive teacher-training institutes. And when, in the fall of 1879, he undertook a series of nine public lectures on English literature at the Free Academy building, the response was so enthusiastic that he was persuaded to continue for twenty lectures, the last four on American authors. The next year, after a visit by A. Bronson Alcott had stirred local interest in his new design for intellectual "Conversations," Professor Gilmore prepared a paper of his own on that subject which contained so many humorous illustrations (mostly at the expense of garrulous females, as the copy now on file at Rush Rhees Library reveals) that he was invited to repeat it before thirty-five different audiences during the next few years.

It is not surprising to find Professor Gilmore among the founders of the University extension program of the nineties. President David Jayne Hill, interested in enlarging the University's services to the community, especially to school teachers and women not otherwise reached, called a meeting at the Music Hall on January 8, 1892, to consider the project. Over seven hundred responded and, when asked to express their course preferences, voted predominantly for American history and English literature. As the university had no American historian on its staff at the time, Professor Mace was brought from Syracuse to conduct a ten-weeks' course in that field. Professor Gilmore was the natural selection for the course in English literature, which attracted such favor that he was induced to repeat it a year later. Only a small proportion of the students, twenty-three out of as many as eight hundred who attended some of the lectures, bothered to take the examinations at the close of these non-credit courses, yet their educational value was widely appreciated.

Other faculty members contributed to the extension program, notably Professors Burton and Forbes, whose lectures were extensively reported in the daily press in 1893. Perhaps the unusually full coverage given to the lectures that year resulted in part from the timely character of the series on "Money" given by Professor George M. Forbes. Certainly that subject was full of interest to many business men, disturbed as they were by the financial panic which had broken out in April. The laws governing or explaining fluctuations in value, extensions of credit, and the relations between gold, silver, and paper currencies were carefully considered. A question period preceding each lecture helped to keep the discussion on a popular level, as the professor's answer on one occasion indicates. Challenged to explain why the value of a product does not always equal the cost of the labor it represents, Professor Forbes cited the case of a warehouse full of hoopskirt frames (a fitting example in Rochester, center of that industry two decades before) which had lost all value because of the change in styles.

The clarity and objectivity with which Professor Forbes handled this difficult subject merited appreciation, yet his major civic contributions occurred in other fields. His election in 1884 as president of the city Y.M.C.A. commenced a tenure of six years during which that institution outgrew its predominantly evangelistic stage and acquired educational and recreational functions of a broad character. It was under his leadership that a fine new building was erected and opened on South Avenue in 1890, equipped with a gymnasium and lecture hall and other appropriate facilities. Perhaps his practical experience in the development of a serious study program at the "Y" in the late eighties and his interest during these years in the early struggle of Mechanics Institute had as much to do as his own study of educational theory in preparing him for his great service to the city as a member of the reformed Board of Education from 1900 to 1911. A full review of his contributions in these years is beyond the scope of this paper, yet it should be noted in this connection that no other citizen did more than Professor Forbes to raise Rochester's public educational system from second- to first-rate standing.

Of similar importance in the development of the Reynolds Library were the contributions of Professor William C. Morey. A trustee from the Library's incorporation in 1882 until 1896, Professor Morey served during these formative years as chairman of the library committee which determined the program of book acquisitions, selected the head librarians, and supervised the development of library facilities. When in 1896 these tasks became increasingly heavy, a special post of Library Director was created for Professor Morey, who himself devised a new system of book classification and an ingenious shelving arrangement. He was without question the most active promoter of the library during its first two decades.

Although Morey's scholarly work, even after his appointment in 1883 as the University's first professor of history and political science, continued to center in the classical period, he began at that time to develop a new interest in American governmental institutions. Several of his papers before the Pundit Club treated constitutional origins and trends. Others dealt with such subjects as "Herbert Spencer in the Light of History," the nature of "Scientific Socialism," and the growth of arbitration in labor disputes. While the scholarly character of these papers, preserved today in the Rush Rhees Library, was not especially suitable for public lectures, Professor Morey did have one subject which he was ready to expound to general audiences -- his experiences under General Grant during "The Last Campaigns of the Civil War," the title of an address delivered frequently before veterans' conventions.

Some of the other professors at the University did not remain long enough to participate effectively in the wider community, but two younger men were just beginning to exert an influence as the century drew to a close. Professor Herman LeRoy Fairchild, appointed in 1888, began almost immediately to map the geological characteristics of the area. Students and interested citizens frequently accompanied him as he drove about in his buggy locating pinnacle hills, drumlins, extinct glacial lakes, and subterranean valleys. It was largely through his efforts that the Rochester Academy of Science was reorganized on a more scholarly basis in 1889. His leadership as president during the next decade fostered numerous research projects and a publication program of high merit. Field trips added zest to his extension courses during the nineties, and while the city fathers rejected his proposal that the underground river be tapped for a supplemental water supply, neighboring villages ultimately took advantage of this opportunity.

One additional example of faculty service to the community should not be overlooked. News of Behring's discovery of an antitoxin serum for diphtheria reached Rochester in 1893 just as an epidemic threatened the community. When the Board of Health learned that its order for serum could not be filled in Europe, Professor Charles W. Dodge was named a special bacteriological assistant and sent to New York City to study the preparations being made there to produce serum in America. Returning to Rochester with the necessary toxin, Professor Dodge inoculated five old fire horses assigned to this use and bled them in a temporary laboratory set up for the purpose in the basement of Anderson Hall. More than a hundred bottles of serum were successfully produced, sufficient to tide Rochester over its emergency, but the crude circumstances under which the work was performed, as described by Professor Dodge in a paper now in the files of Rush Rhees Library, vividly recall the difficulties against which scientists both in the city and the University had to contend as late as the 1890's.

Thus the contributions of individual faculty members to the city's development during the University's first half-century were many and varied. Fifty more years of great expansion for the University and solid growth for the city have come and gone, and the fine tradition of collaboration has gained expression in new and ever more fruitful relationships. Moreover, many cities now support resident college faculties, for it has long since been widely recognized that professors make good citizens.