George W. Atherton papers, 1837-1950

86

Collection Overview

Title:
George W. Atherton papers
Dates (Inclusive):
1698-1989
Creator:
Atherton, George Washington, 1837-1906
Abstract:
Political scientist, historian and Pennsylvania State College's seventh president (1882-1906). The collection consists of personal and presidential papers, pamphlets and clippings, photographs and memorabilia, diaries and personal journals collected by Atherton, his secretary, and his daughters. Subjects include: biographical sketches, Atherton's civil war activity, his tenure as professor at Rutgers and on the New Jersey Tax Commission, and his presidency of the American Association of Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations. Other materials include family correspondence, Pennsylvania State College reports and information, state and federal legislation, and published pamphlets. Frequent correspondents includes Henry E. Alvord, Henry P. Armsby, James A. Beaver, Theodore B. Comstock, Andrew G. Curtin, Henry H. Goodell, Abram W. Harris, William T. Hatch, Justin Morrill, Selim H. Peabody, Edwin E. Sparks, Harry H. Stock, and Charles W. Stone.
Collection Number:
86
Size:
28.08 Linear Feet
Size:
(27 containers)
Location:
For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the  library catalog.
Repository:
Special Collections Library. Pennsylvania State University.
Languages:
English

Biographical Note

Born Boxford Mass., June 20.
August 1862; 1863 served two enlistments with the 10th Connecticut Volunteers; discharged June 1863 with rank of Captain.
Attended Topsfield Academy (Mass.), Philips Exeter Academy, and graduated from Yale.
Married Frances Washburn, December of eight children, four survived to adulthood.
Instructor, Albany Academy, Albany, N.Y.
Instructor, St. Johns College, Annapolis, MD.
Member of first faculty of the State Industrial School of Illinois (now the University of Illinois).
Voorhees Professor of Political Economy and Constitutional Law at Rutgers College, New Brunswick, N.J. (also military superintendent).
Member of Labor Commission resulting from passage of Hoar Bill.
Member of the Board of Visitors, U.S. Naval Academy.
Member, Red Cloud Commission to investigate the situation at the Red Cloud Indian Agency.
Chairman, Republican state convention, New Jersey; unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Congress.
Efforts made to obtain U.S. diplomatic post in South America (Brazil; Peru and Chile; Mexico).
Chairman, N.J. Special Tax Commission; passed N.J. Bar Exam and opened small practice in New Brunswick.
President, Pennsylvania State College, State College, PA.
LL. D. from Franklin and Marshall.
Member of Commission appointed by Governor J. A. Beaver to report on industrial education.
Trips to Europe to study condition of technical instruction.
Resigned presidency, PSC, December.
Died, State College, PA., July 24.

George W. Atherton was a member and officer of the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations, organized after the passage of the Hatch Act, 1887 and its first President, 1888; Association of Land Grant Colleges; National Irrigation Congress; Colleges and University Council (Pa.); Association of Colleges and Preparatory Schools of the Middle States and Maryland; and Pennsylvania Society (Centre County Representatives).

List of Biographical Sketches

Armsby, H. P. Memorial Address, at the 20th Annual Meeting of the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations. Gill, Benjamin. Moulded by an Idea, May 26, 1907. In Sermons and Addresses of Benjamin Gill. Runkle, Erwin. President Atherton and the Pennsylvania State College. Pennsylvania School Journal (January 1908). Dictionary of American Biography. Cyclopedia of Contemporary Biography. Prominent Pennsylvanians. Who's Who (back files). La Vie (Penn State yearbook, 1908), contains tributes and memories.

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Collection Overview

The George W. Atherton Papers consists of personal and presidential papers, pamphlets and clippings, photographs and memorabilia collected by Penn State's seventh president, his confidential secretary, and his daughters, Helen Atherton Govier and Harriet Atherton Buckhout. His career as a Civil War officer, scholar, and college president can be gleaned from biographical sketches and a chronology listed in the Biographical Note. His importance in Penn State's history, however, is critical. His role as a "second founder" is described in the following excerpt from Wayland F. Dunaway's History of the Pennsylvania State College (1946).

A summary view of the Atherton Era, spanning nearly a quarter of a century, or more than a fourth of the life of the College, will serve to reveal the extent of changes taking place in this period. When it began, the foundations of the College were shaky and its prospects far from bright. Even visions among the Trustees and the faculty, the morale of the institution was low, and its reputation was unsavory. It had never been widely advertised and most people in the state were unaware of its existence, while those who did know about it, except for its few friends, regarded it as a local agricultural school receiving from the Commonwealth money for which it made no adequate return. The attitude of the public toward the school was critical, not to say hostile. The legislature had never accorded to it due recognition, nor taken seriously its covenant with the Federal Government to support it; no appropriations had been made for maintenance, and but few for other purposes. It was everywhere the object of misunderstanding and prejudice. The physical plant was inadequate and unattractive, practically all the activities of the institution being carried on in one gloomy-looking building unsuited to its purposes. The student body numbered only eighty-seven, the majority of whom were in the Preparatory Department. Except on paper, no provision had been made for instruction in the mechanic arts and in the liberal arts. The College had no library worth mentioning, no regular chaplain, and no suitable living accommodations for the faculty or the women students. From the student viewpoint almost everything dear to the hearts of students was lacking; there were no fraternities, no organized athletics, no student musical organizations, and, sad to relate, not even college colors or college song, or college yell. Furthermore the place in which the College was located was a straggling village of about a hundred people, without churches, without a public school, and without civic improvements.

By the close of President Atherton's administration the institution had undergone a complete transformation. The Atherton Era was a turning point in the history of the College--the beginning of a forward movement which gathered momentum with each passing year. It marked the transition from a period of drifting and experiment to one with a sound and enlightened policy, well understood and clearly defined. Its guiding principles, based on a true interpretation of the Morrill Act, were to go far toward shaping College policy for all time to come. The foundations were made secure, the public misconceptions were removed, and public prejudice overcome. The Legislature, hitherto indifferent, was induced to redeem its pledge to the Federal Government by making generous appropriations, not only for buildings but also for maintenance as well. No longer was the college to be regarded as a stepchild, neglected and left to shift for itself, but was recognized as the own child of the Commonwealth to be supported liberally and with a growing pride in its work and progress. The school was indeed increasing rapidly in numbers, equipment, and reputation. The faculty increased from 17 to 66; the student body, from 87 to 800. The physical plant underwent a complete change: Old Main was renovated and a dozen major buildings, besides a number of professors' residences and other minor buildings, were erected. The courses of study were increased in number, broadened and liberalized. The technical courses were greatly expanded, and the work in the liberal arts was developed. Everywhere were seen evidences of a strong, growing institution, with high morals, increasing prestige, and promising outlook. Such were the results of the forward movement which began with the coming of the President Atherton in 1882 and continued to gather strength to the close of his administration in 1906.

In this guide, George Washington Atherton is abbreviated GWA; his wife, Frances Washburn Atherton is abbreviated FWA. Their daughters, Helen Atherton Govier is abbreviated HAG, and Harriet Atherton Buckhout is abbreviated HAB.

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Collection Arrangement

The collection is organized into twelve series: I. Pre-Penn State Personal; II. Penn State Personal (three subseries: Diaries and Personal Journals, 1884-1906; Personal Finances, 1882-1906; and Family and Personal Correspondence); III. Penn State Subjects (three subseries: A. 1882-1904; B. 1873-1907; C. 1906-1950); IV. Legislation, 1862-1906; V. Pre-Atherton Penn State Administration; VI. Penn State Buildings and Property; VII. Pamphlets (six subseries: A. History, Literature, Texts, Science; B. History, Literature, Science, Texts; C. Trade and Finance; D. Education; E. Government, Politics, Military, Legal; F. Agriculture, Land Use); VIII. Clippings and Postcards; IX. Photographs, ca. 1845-1950 (four subseries: Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Tintypes, Pictures); X. Objects; XI. Autobiographical Vertical File Extension; XII. Books.

The series are arranged by subject and form of material

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Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Collection is open for research.

Copyright Notice

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], George W. Atherton papers, PSUA 86, Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University.

Processing Information

Processed by Special Collections staff.

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Controlled Access Headings

Genre(s)

  • Audio
  • Microforms
  • Photographic
  • Artifacts

Subject(s)

  • Universities and colleges Pennsylvania. United States History Civil War, 1861-1865 Sources

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Collection Inventory

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