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3

Shaping a Modern College

Penn State University Seal

Nearly sixteen months passed between George Atherton's death and the naming of a new president. During that time, The Pennsylvania State College suffered internal dissension and restlessness of a degree not seen since the Calder era. The board of trustees had ample time to find a successor to Atherton, for he had served notice late in 1905 that he wished to be relieved of his duties and would tender his resignation as soon as the board agreed upon a replacement. Nevertheless, the trustees did not act swiftly to find a new president, partly because they believed that Atherton might yet recover his health. They were also preoccupied with reorganizing the College administration. By not promptly filling the leadership void created by Atherton's death, the trustees inadvertently allowed undercurrents of dissatisfaction that had been present for the last several years to swell to such magnitude that they nearly wrecked much of what had been accomplished over the previous two decades.

THE BEAVER INTERREGNUM

The board of trustees itself had only recently undergone reorganization. President Atherton had long held that the agricultural interests enjoyed more representation on the board than was warranted by the declining role of agriculture in Pennsylvania's economy and the minimal extent to which most local agricultural societies actively participated in the affairs of the College. In 1895 and again in 1897, bills were introduced in the legislature mandating the addition of more trustees elected by the alumni and appointed by the governor, but on both occasions they failed to win passage. In 1905 a law was finally enacted that increased the board's membership from twenty-three to thirty-one and made it more reflective of Penn State's constituency. The number of ex offico trustees was reduced from eight to four (the governor, the superintendent of public instruction, the secretary of the new Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, and the president of the College), while the governor gained the power to appoint six members (two annually) for three-year terms. The number of trustees chosen by the alumni rose from three to nine. The remaining twelve members of the board continued to be chosen by a group of electors composed of the executive committee of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society, the managers of the Franklin Institute, and representatives from state mining and manufacturing associations and county agricultural societies.

The new board convened in January 1906 to discuss reshaping Penn State's administrative hierarchy. Everyone agreed that the burdens of the office of the president, as it was then constituted, were too much for one man. Years of overwork lay at the root of Atherton's illness. General Beaver argued that there ought to be a clear delineation between the educational and the business activities of the College, and the president should be given subordinates to handle these responsibilities. His ideas met with favor from the rest of the board. When the trustees met in special session soon after Atherton died, they established a Council of Administration, consisting of all the deans and the heads of the English and mathematics departments, to advise the president on academic questions. The Council was also charged with such routine functions as approving additions to and deletions from the curriculum and disciplining violators of academic regulations. To oversee matters not directly related to instruction, the trustees reinstated the office of vice president, extinct since the death of James McKee in 1891, and merged into it the posts of business manager and registrar. Under this new administrative scheme, the president of the College would be freed from many detailed chores and could concentrate his attention on broad questions of policy.

The board also named James A. Beaver acting president. Beaver had been involved with Penn State continuously since his election as a trustee in 1873, in spite of the demands of other important positions he held. At the close of his term as governor in 1891 (the state constitution prohibited a governor from succeeding himself), he returned to Bellefonte and his law practice. In 1895, he accepted an interim appointment to the new Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Later that year he was elected to a ten-year term on the court and was reelected in 1905.

Yet none of his responsibilities captured his personal interest so much as his involvement with Penn State. Because of the nearness of his home to the College, he attended all important campus events and spoke at most of them. He was especially proud of his rapport with the student body, to whom his was a familiar and friendly face. Beaver took a fatherly interest in each year's incoming group of freshmen and made it a point to address the initial gathering of these new students, where he always made a lasting and favorable impression. "How well do I remember the night when our freshman class held its first meeting in the Armory," wrote one alumnus many years later, "and, as was his custom, General Beaver was the main speaker. I can still see him on the stage, supported by his crutches, and proclaiming, 'This is my class!'

Beaver enjoyed the affection of the students and got on well enough with President Atherton, but his relationship with the faculty was not a cordial one, particularly after the Great Strike. He blamed the student walkout on the teachers, whom he accused of denying his "boys" a "square deal" by refusing to yield even an insignificant measure of their prerogatives. Equally distressing to Beaver was the high failure rate of undergraduates, a condition for which he again held the faculty responsible. During the 1890s more than half of the members of the freshman class went on to receive their degrees. By 1902, 38 percent of the class entering as freshmen four years earlier graduated, and in 1906, only 40 percent.

Beaver wanted to reverse this trend. He first had to set the instructional staff straight on what he considered to be their professional responsibilities. At a meeting held in Schwab Auditorium the week before classes resumed in the fall of 1906, he gave the teachers a verbal thrashing that he hoped they would not soon forget. "Let the faculty understand this!" he thundered. "The teacher who flunks a boy proves by that one fact his inability to teach. I shall watch the grade sheets to find out the good teachers, and let it be known that we are not going to tolerate any bad teachers!" Beaver's angry voice continued to reverberate throughout the auditorium as he revealed his reason for concern over the large numbers of academic fatalities. "I often meet prominent men in the legislature, and I tell them to send their boys up to Penn State-then you flunk them! The sons of influential people-influential people mind you-and they become enemies of the College and vote against us!"

The speech proved to be the opening salvo in what one faculty member described as "a war of nerves." Most teachers did not much care for what they interpreted as Beaver's blatant attempt to cow them into submission. They blamed the majority of student failures on poor preparation for college studies. Professor of Botany William Buckhout, for example, complained that the School of Agriculture had for years admitted freshmen "practically on their own representation," without a careful scrutiny to determine whether their prior academic experience had adequately equipped them for college. In a similar vein, acting dean of women Sarah Cutts Lovejoy confessed that too many female students "show a lack of previous training that hinders their rapid progress." Perhaps the most vociferous critic of the quality of students then coming to Penn State was Fred Lewis Pattee, who in 1907 charged that "one hundred of the present freshman class should not have been admitted," because of deficiencies in English. The average student, Pattee said, "comes to the College without having written a theme in his life. He knows no practical, useful grammar; he has a pitiful little vocabulary; he spells like a child; and when he writes he loses himself in a maze of words." In Pattee's estimation, the fault lay mainly with the high schools and preparatory schools, which routinely certified that their graduates had the basic skills required for admission to college when in fact many students were seriously deficient in fundamental subjects.

Intensifying faculty dissatisfaction with the administration were the actions of Judson P. Welsh, who was named vice president at about the same time that Beaver took over the presidency. Welsh had served since 1890 as principal of the Bloomsburg State Normal School and before that had held the same position at the normal school at West Chester. At Penn State, he supervised the daily operations of the College while Beaver, true to the plan he had suggested to the trustees, contented himself with matters of policy. Hoping to become Penn State's next permanent president, Welsh tried to emulate the authoritarian ways of George Atherton. He succeeded only in widening the rift between the administration and the faculty, who believed him to be General Beaver's lackey and deeply resented his dictatorial manner.

Welsh began by making appointments to the faculty without even consulting members of the departments to which the new teachers were to be assigned. He rarely called meetings of the Council of Administration or the General Faculty, thereby effectively negating the teaching staff's opportunity to voice its collective opinion on academic matters. Even when these bodies did convene, little was accomplished. At one meeting of the General Faculty (a body consisting of all teachers above the rank of instructor), discussion centered on devising a better way of reporting and recording student absences. Someone suggested having all teachers put their daily list of absentees through a slot in Welsh's office door and into a collection barrel. Welsh opposed the idea, but the faculty nevertheless voted to adopt it. "All right," he said in a contemptuous tone, "I will put a barrel there, but that barrel will never be examined!"

The professor who invoked the wrath of the vice president did so at his own peril, for Welsh had introduced a new system of centralized purchasing. No longer could a faculty member purchase laboratory equipment or books or other supplies directly. Instead a requisition had to be sent to the vice president's office for review, and if approved, it was combined with orders for similar items for bulk purchase. This system was a sound one and, properly administered, could have saved the College a lot of money by getting lower prices through quantity orders and competitive bidding. However, Louis Reber recorded that Welsh "put the scheme into operation in such a way as to annoy everybody." Even more galling to the faculty was the new system for preparing budgets, in which all departments had to submit their budgets for the upcoming year directly to Welsh. Only after he approved them could they be sent on to the president's office.

Alert to the contempt the administration and the faculty had for each other, a few enterprising undergraduates were quick to take advantage of the situation, As if the teachers were not sufficiently worried by having Beaver's watchful eye on their grade sheets and Welsh's blue pencil poised above their budgets, there appeared in December 1906 a little yellow-covered magazine called The Lemon that lampooned them unmercifully. Subtitling itself "a squirt of astringent juice for everybody in State College," The Lemon was published anonymously by a group of seniors and sold for ten cents a copy. It took verbal pot shots at the Bellefonte Central Railroad, town shopkeepers, and other traditional student targets; but it reserved some of its sharpest barbs for the teachers. "Dear! Oh dear! Oh dear! What a copious amount of agitation has occurred in the noodles of our learned faculty!" wrote The Lemon's editors in the January 4, 1907, issue. "With all the before-named gentlemen's well-aired views on the question, the Lemonites still have been unable to arrive at any definite conclusion as to whether we are attending The Pennsylvania State College or Beaver University." A month later The Lemon held a contest to select "the biggest crab on the faculty." (It is not recorded on whom that distinction was bestowed.)

While a later generation of readers would find the publication tame, it was sufficiently impudent in its day to invoke the condemnation of a sizable portion of the student body as well as the teaching staff. The editors of La Vie, for example, denounced their counterparts at The Lemon as "guilty of a heinous offense which is not only ruining the reputations of individual members of the faculty and the cream of the student body, but also the entire institution. College men should have enough backbone to lift their heads above the stench of this mud puddle of gossip."

President Atherton probably foresaw the dissension that would plague the College after his death if a president were chosen who did not have the confidence of the teachers. No doubt that was why he stipulated to the trustees that he would resign only after they had agreed on his successor. Atherton realized that otherwise General Beaver was likely to become president at least temporarily, a choice he considered inappropriate. To his credit, Beaver at length saw that conditions were not improving under his leadership and especially that of Vice President Welsh. He and other trustees therefore began searching in earnest for a permanent successor to Atherton. In November 1907 they settled on Dr. Edwin Earle Sparks, a professor of history at the University of Chicago. Sparks accepted their offer and took up his new duties in May 1908, thus bringing to a close a brief but painful chapter in Penn State's history.

Both sides had some justification for the positions they had taken during the Beaver interregnum. Many faculty members were out of touch with the growing student desire for at least a modicum of self-government and blindly resisted change of any sort. Certainly the College had its share of incompetent teachers. This weakness stemmed largely from the meager salaries Penn State offered its faculty. Professor of German Carl Fahr stated the obvious when he warned the newly arrived Dr. Sparks that "a low salary drives away a good teacher and draws one that nobody else wants." The average starting salary for an instructor was about $600 a year, and few professors received more than $2,100, both sums below the averages typically paid by institutions of comparable rank in nearby states. Professors at Cornell University routinely earned $3,200, at the Michigan Agricultural College $2,300, and at Ohio State University $2,500. The teaching staff was also correct in calling attention to the admission of unqualified students and in complaining about the highhanded manner of Vice President Welsh. It was a time of trial for almost all members of the faculty. Professor Joseph Willard recollected that soon after the coming of President Sparks, "a man asked me why my hair had grown so white of late, and I told him that if any Penn State man's hair had not turned white during the past two years, that man had not been doing his duty."

To be sure, the Beaver interregnum was not without its achievements. The separation of the academic and business functions of the president's office and the delegation of routine tasks to subordinates marked the beginning of a modern administrative structure. Important curricular developments occurred, most notably in the School of Agriculture. Henry Armsby stepped down as dean of that school in 1902 in order to devote more of his time to research. (He was named director of the new Institute for Animal Nutrition, a post he held until his death in 1921.) William Buckhout served as acting dean until 1906, when Thomas F. Hunt, formerly dean of the Ohio State University's College of Agriculture and Domestic Science, was named Armsby's permanent replacement.

Hunt displayed a greater interest in undergraduate education than had his predecessors. By 1910, he had divided the school into the baccalaureate departments of agricultural chemistry, agronomy, animal husbandry, botany, dairy husbandry, forestry, horticulture, plant pathology, and agricultural education. (Prior to Hunt's arrival, there were no independently administered agricultural departments and all undergraduates took similar courses of study.) Another department, agricultural extension, offered programs for nondegree students. By offering a greater opportunity for specialization, Hunt's reorganization made college work in agriculture more attractive to prospective students. In none of the first ten years of its existence did the school ever have more than thirty-six undergraduates. By 1912-13, with 656 baccalaureate students enrolled, agriculture was the second-largest school in the College, and Penn State ranked as the fifth-largest agricultural institution in the nation.

The engineering curriculums still accounted for the majority of Penn State students, enrolling 608 of the College's 743 undergraduates in 1906-7. That was the year in which the trustees approved the separation of the Department of Mining Engineering from the School of Engineering and its subsequent establishment as the new School of Mines and Metallurgy, another notable event occurring during Beaver's stewardship. On the debit side, each of these schools lost its dean during the turmoil following the death of President Atherton. Both Louis Reber and Marshman Wadsworth were extremely capable and energetic administrators, and the College could ill afford their departure. Reber's efforts were second only to those of Atherton in bringing stability and growth to Penn State in the late 1880s and 1890s, and Wadsworth's unstinting labors had brought education in the mineral industries back from the brink of extinction. The two men were weary from years of trying to provide sound programs of instruction with uncertain and inadequate financial resources. The appointment as vice president of Judson Welsh, whom they soon came to detest, was the last straw. In the summer of 1907 both resigned to accept positions at other institutions.

In the realm of student affairs, the most significant event of the interregnum was the formation of the Student Board, the first official student government. Composed of six upperclassmen, the Student Board had the right to appear before the Council of Administration and the General Faculty when either of these bodies was discussing a matter pertaining to student discipline. The students were present in an advisory capacity only and had no voting privileges. The board was the creation of General Beaver, who had great faith in the wisdom and selfgoverning abilities of students. He believed that better communication between faculty and the student body was imperative if a recurrence of the problems surrounding the Great Strike was to be prevented. Beaver also lent his support to the founding of the "hat societies" that honored outstanding student leaders. The Druids were formed in 1907 to recognize sophomore men who had displayed leadership qualities as freshmen. A year later, Lion's Paw, limited to senior males, came into being, followed in 1909 by Parmis Nous, which cited men from all four classes. By 1913 Friars, Sphinx, and Skull and Bones had also joined the list of Penn State's honoraries.

Photograph of Edwin E. Sparks
Edwin E. Sparks

 

Beaver even presided over a modest addition to the College's physical plant. A three-story brick and brownstone Main Agricultural Building was dedicated on November 22, 1907, and a temporary wooden frame structure was erected to house the Department of Forestry. The demand for more space was most acute in the School of Engineering. In anticipation that Penn State might again tap the seemingly bottomless coffers of millionaire trustee Charles Schwab, Louis Reber had prepared an elaborate plan that would have doubled the size of the Main Engineering Building. When Schwab begged off, pleading business reverses, College officials took the plan to Harrisburg. After a hearing before a stone-faced appropriations committee, the plan met an equally disappointing fate. General Beaver then turned to a few personal acquaintances and raised $8,000, enough to pay for the construction of the Engineering Annex (a name that was soon to be changed to Engineering Unit F), a long gray wooden structure located a short distance to the rear of the President's house. Hardly an architectural masterpiece, the building did give the School of Engineering sufficient room to satisfy its most pressing needs for the next few years.

For the first time in Penn State's history, the board of trustees gave thought to the long-term expansion and improvement of the College property as a whole. Trustee James L. Hamill '80, a well-to-do corporate attorney who was born and raised within sight of the College, recommended that a professional planner be consulted and at his own expense retained the services of noted landscape architect Charles M. Lowrie of New York. Lowrie was not a Penn State alumnus, but he was familiar with the campus, having been reared in the nearby village of Warriors Mark. He prepared a scheme that had the buildings of the various schools as well as student dormitories located in their own sectors of the campus, each interconnected with the others by a network of walks and roadways, all within a park-like setting highlighted by attractive plantings of trees and shrubbery. The Lowrie Plan was expected to form the blueprint for Penn State's physical growth for decades to come.

Edwin E. Sparks' coming to The Pennsylvania State College in 1908 was more of a return than an arrival; he had been principal of the College's Preparatory Department for five years, beginning in 1890. A native of Ohio and an 1884 graduate of the Ohio State University, the 48-year-old Sparks had taught in public secondary schools for several years before joining the Penn State faculty. In 1895, he left to undertake graduate work in history at the newly opened University of Chicago, where he earned a Ph.D. and became an associate professor in the extension division. He proved to be one of the university's most popular extension lecturers, as well as a prolific writer. By 1908 he had published eight books and dozens of articles on nearly all facets of American history.

Sparks' scholarly accomplishments impressed Penn State's trustees, who also noted that he had shown himself to be a capable administrator during his tenure as head of the Preparatory Department. Equally attractive was his effectiveness as a public speaker. The trustees desired a president who could carry the message of Penn State's good work directly to the people of the Commonwealth and win friends for the institution. George Atherton's aloofness had prevented him. from being a forceful orator. Sparks, by contrast, possessed a magnetic personality, full of warmth and wit and charm, whether in informal conversation or addressing a crowd of hundreds. He agreed completely with Beaver's opinion that the time had come to make Pennsylvania aware of what the College could offer, if only it were given the necessary popular and financial support. Penn State would never be more than a center for engineering and agricultural studies unless it could convince the Commonwealth's citizens that a land-grant school should be a well-balanced facility for higher education in a wide range of fields. "The work being done in The Pennsylvania State College is good," Sparks told the board of trustees just before he became president, "but the scope and character of the work should be materially broadened until it meets the special aptitude and requirement of every young man and woman in the state."

Sparks knew of the discord that had been plaguing Penn State. He sent a note to the board of trustees in November 1907, carefully outlining the conditions under which he would accept the presidency. He concurred with the concept of administration advanced by General Beaver whereby the president should set general policies and leave details of finance and discipline to his advisors. Nonetheless, the president's powers must not be compromised. In a thinly disguised reference to Judson Welsh, Sparks told the trustees he would come to Penn State only if he could have sole power in matters involving the budget and faculty appointments and dismissals. And perhaps envisioning the role Beaver might wish to play in the new administration, Sparks insisted that the president alone be the official means of communication between the trustees and the students and faculty.

Edwin Sparks was an unknown quantity to all but the most veteran members of the teaching staff when he appeared on the campus in the spring of 1908. On May 14, he met with the faculty and talked frankly of the policies he expected to implement. He would tolerate no disrespect for or circumvention of his authority, he warned, either from teachers or from students. He was troubled over what he considered the excesses of the student body, particularly The Lemon and the hazing of freshmen, a practice that had become firmly entrenched at the College by the close of the Atherton era. His presentation made a good impression on the faculty. "We are all greatly pleased with Dr. Sparks," Fred Pattee confided in his diary. "He took us into his confidence and talked with us as if we were fellow workers. It cleared up the atmosphere greatly." The day before Sparks addressed the faculty, the students staged a gala parade to welcome him. The line of march featured horse-drawn floats, athletic teams, the military cadet band, and bringing up the rear, a steam roller the College had been using to improve its roadways. Sparks protested-possibly only half in jest-that this last unit of the parade should not be construed as a symbolic reference to the policies of his administration. Like General Beaver, President Sparks genuinely respected and admired the students. His concern for their welfare led him to proclaim early on that hazing must come to an end. The good-natured class scraps of the 1880s and 1890s had degenerated into violent brawls and dangerous personal harassment. Even when such activities as dunkings in the campus pond and midnight free-for-alls on Old Main lawn between freshmen and sophomores did not result in injuries, they often caused serious damage to property. In an incident only slightly out of the ordinary, one freshman, fearing the molasses and sawdust treatment he was about to receive at the hands of a gang of sophomores, fled from the campus and barricaded himself in a borough lodging house. The sophomores, growing in number and spirit, wheeled out a cadet corps cannon, filled it with vegetables requisitioned from nearby gardens, and began blasting away at the house, smashing nearly all of its windows before authorities arrived to lift the siege.

Hazing did not necessarily mean physical assault. C. Emory Myers, a member of the class of 1908, recounted how it could be carried on in an almost businesslike manner. Freshmen at that time were required to live in rooms on the upper floors of Old Main. "It was not uncommon at the opening of the college year to see a person appear with a pipe wrench in hand and proceed to remove the radiator," Myers wrote. "When asked why he was doing this, he would reply that he had occupied the room the previous year and had come to reclaim his property. After some discussion, the gullible freshman would agree to purchase it since he wanted to keep warm during the winter, and the sophomore would depart with the money and the wrench."

Photograph of a student parade along College Avenue
Student-organized parades such as this one along College Avenue were a highlight of Pennsylvania Day, an early version of homecoming.

 

In Sparks' estimation, hazing was more responsible than any other single factor for the high rate of dropouts among Penn State students. Still, surprisingly few faculty members had spoken out against hazing, perhaps because most of them had gone through similar ordeals as undergraduates and subsequently tended to view the practice with a "boys will be boys" attitude.

Class of 1916 flag scrap
The class of 1916 (as sophomores) emerged victorious from this flag scrap with their freshmen rivals.

 

A president who was not held in such high esteem by the student body probably would not have been so successful in putting a stop to hazing, but Sparks' popularity with the students was enormous. They did not feel so threatened by authority as they had earlier, and they respected Dr. Sparks as a fair man who was open to frequent, informal contact with students and was willing to hear their grievances. The students also appear to have realized that hazing and class scraps had gotten out of hand and were not in keeping with the growing sophistication of collegiate life. Although most scraps were not officially abolished by the student body until 1916, they entered a period of steady decline with the inauguration of the Sparks regime.

A series of whimsical customs was devised to make freshmen conscious of their untested status without subjecting them (and the sophomores) to physical harm and without playing havoc with the academic routine. Freshmen were expected to wear green dinks, refrain from calling on or conversing with young women, keep off the grass, smoke only in private, supply combustibles for athletic bonfires, and otherwise conduct themselves with an air of deference toward upperclassmen. To encourage these customs to take root, President Sparks approved the formation of a Student Tribunal, whose job it was to try any undergraduate accused of violating them. Those found guilty were sentenced to such punishments as wearing outlandish clothing to class or reciting doggerel in prominent public places. As limited as its functions may have been, the tribunal, along with the Student Board, did permit students to exercise some control over their own affairs, a privilege that would have been unthinkable just a few years before.

Female students were not involved in hazing, but they, too, gained a degree of self-government. Women formulated and enforced their own discipline code to regulate life at the Ladies' Cottage, even possessing, as the College catalog stated ominously, "the power of banishment through referendum."

If coeds posed few behavioral problems, that was not the case with fraternities, which were not only active practitioners of hazing but also sources of frequent complaint from townspeople. Hoping to curb abuses and divert more attention to the academic side of college life, Sparks (who Joined a fraternity as an undergraduate) met with leaders of the sixteen national fraternities at Penn State in 1913 to found the Interfraternity Conference. The president conferred on the new organization the responsibility for enacting more stringent rules of conduct for dances, house parties, and other social events, and established a cup to be awarded annually to the fraternity having the highest scholastic average.

One unmistakable sign of the student's satisfaction with the Sparks administration was the disappearance of The Lemon. It had been published regularly throughout the winter and spring of 1907 and had been issued again by a new crop of seniors the following spring. By then, the little magazine no longer caused much of a stir. Satire was out of fashion, temporarily at least, and the June 10, 1908, number of The Lemon was its last. In the spring of 1909, a new student humor publication, Froth, appeared. Froth was to be longer lived than its predecessor, but until the 1920s it had a comic book flavor. The editors' standing pledge to offer "the liveliest stuff the public and propriety will permit us to print" rang hollow amid page after page devoted to stale jokes, Gibson girls, and maudlin attempts at romantic poetry.

This is not to say that the student body was always happy with College rules and regulations. Male undergraduates living on campus voiced unanimous aversion toward the daily military-style inspections of their dormitory rooms. After continued protests, these inspections came to an end in 1912, when President Sparks assented to the substitution of student "house committees" in place of cadet officers to make periodic checks for cleanliness. The committees were given the added assignment of maintaining order in the dormitories, another concession to student self-rule.

Students en route from Morning chapel services to Ag Hill.
En route from Morning chapel services to Ag Hill.

 

The more conservative members of the faculty viewed the recent inroads made by the students with disfavor and breathed a collective sigh of relief as Sparks stood fast against attempts to have mandatory attendance at daily chapel abolished. In what was to become a yearly ritual, students sent petitions to the president and board of trustees asking that the compulsory aspect of these services be eliminated on the grounds that a state institution had no constitutional right to require a person's presence at a religious function. Sparks and most of the trustees regarded chapel devotions as essential to the spiritual well-being of the students, however, so the College refused to rescind its dictum that all students attend a brief chapel service before the first class Monday through Friday and a longer service on Sunday. Curiously, devotions were not held during the week of final examinations, a time when students were perhaps most inclined to turn to prayer. The instructional staff was free to worship at one of the churches in town, but, observed one professor, most faculty "preferred to go to the College chapel, where the preaching was better and where no collection was taken."

Penn State had its own chaplain since 1894. Usually a faculty member occupied the post, concurrent with his academic appointment. The chaplains were always Protestants, since 90 percent of the students affiliated themselves with Protestant denominations. The few Catholic and Jewish students were permitted to attend their own worship on the sabbath.

Student displeasure with compulsory chapel was not necessarily a sign of wavering faith, as over three-fourths of the student body by 1912 claimed membership in the Penn State branch of the Young Men's Christian Association, making it the second largest student YMCA (after Yale) in the United States. Much of the success of the Penn State "Y" resulted from the evangelism of one of its directors, Frank Buchman, who went on to win international prominence as a leader of the Moral Rearmament movement. Castigating the College as a "cesspool of sin," Buchman worked furiously for seven years to turn students away from drinking, smoking, and a host of other vices. Judging from comments he made on a return visit to the campus in the 1930s-he said Penn State was still pretty much the same "drunken hole" he had found in 1909-Buchman's triumphs were fleeting at best, the large YMCA enrollment notwithstanding.

If students expressed no more than a mild interest in their own salvation, they were positively fanatical in their concern for the fate of the College's athletic teams. By 1912, Penn State was fielding varsity athletic teams in baseball, basketball, track, tennis, wrestling, soccer, lacrosse, and cross-country running; but football remained far and away the most popular sport and generated the most excitement among students. Besides traditional rivalries with such intrastate foes as Bucknell, Dickinson, Penn, and the University of Pittsburgh, the College attracted the national spotlight by playing Yale, Cornell, Harvard, Navy, and other schools then having football teams considered among the best in the country. Under coach William M. "Big Bill" Hollenback, the team compiled undefeated seasons in 1909, 1911, and 1912. Because of limited seating at Beaver Field and correspondingly small gate receipts, visiting teams often preferred to meet Penn State on more remunerative neutral ground-Williams port, Altoona, and Wilkes-Barre were favorite sites. The construction in 1909 of the larger New Beaver Field in the northwest corner of the campus put an end to that practice.

old black and white photograph of football game
College football Hall of Famer E. E. "Shorty" Miller '14 races past University of Pennsylvania defenders in a game at Franklin Field.

 

In 1911, a new dimension was added to away games. In October of that year occurred the first "electronic broadcast" of a Penn State football game, as periodic updates of the game with the University of Pennsylvania were relayed by telephone from Franklin Field to a Marconi station on top of Philadelphia's Wanamaker department store building. There they were transmitted by wireless telegraphy to State College, where a station built by faculty and students of the Department of Electrical Engineering received the messages and conveyed them to a crowd of several hundred anxious students assembled in the old chapel in Old Main. (Penn State emerged victorious, 22-6, its first win over arch rival Penn in seventeen years.)

After the turn of the century, reflecting a trend occurring at colleges and universities throughout the nation, alumni began taking a more active part in supporting athletics at Penn State. In 1903 the College relied almost exclusively on alumni contributions to erect the Track House, containing living, dining, and training facilities for athletes of all sports. Alumni also donated money to build New Beaver Field. As a result of their financial involvement, alumni gradually assumed an important role in the formulation of athletic policies and practices. This connection was made official in 1908 when the students amended the constitution of the Athletic Association to permit formation of an Athletic Advisory Committee, composed primarily of alumni, to assist in organizing and financing intercollegiate sporting events. The amended constitution also provided for a graduate manager of athletics, who was to coordinate actions among alumni, the administration, and the students. The two men who held this post between 1910 and 1918, P. E. Thomas and Ray H. Smith, simultaneously served as the paid secretary of the Alumni Association, further solidifying the link between the College's athletes and its graduates. A majority of the faculty were also Penn State alumni; and consequently many teachers took a keen interest in the institution's athletic contests, sometimes to the distress of more academically minded professors. "I had never known a college," wrote English professor A. Howry Espenshade, a Dartmouth graduate, "where athletics were more highly favored and encouraged, particularly by the faculty, many of whom, like the students themselves, ranked successful athletes far above capable students, of whom we had too few."

Penn State track meet circa 1915
Introduced in 1891, track ranks as Penn State's third-oldest (after baseball and football) intercollegiate sport. This action dates from about 1915, the year the College won its first national intercollegiate track meet.

 

Edwin Sparks welcomed the alumni's participation. But fearing that an emphasis on winning at any cost might become the norm at Penn State, as it had at some other colleges, he persuaded the Athletic Association to adopt more stringent eligibility rules for athletes. Only those students who had enrolled in degree programs, who had been in residence at the College for at least one year, and who were passing all subjects could participate in intercollegiate sports. These standards were at least as strict as those of the new Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (forerunner of the National Collegiate Athletic Association), which Penn State joined in 1909, and won commendation from the Pennsylvania College Presidents' Association.

However, the Presidents Association criticized the College for "professionalizing" amateur athletics by awarding athletic scholarships. About twenty-five of these were given annually. Covering the cost of a dormitory room and the incidental fee, the scholarships amounted to about $85 per year per student. In defense of his institution, Dr. Sparks pointed out that students had to be in residence at least one semester before becoming eligible for athletic scholarships (thus discouraging "migratory" student-athletes from other schools), and had to exhibit the same qualities of scholastic aptitude and moral character as any other scholarship recipient. Furthermore, the College made no attempt to hide the fact that these awards were athletic scholarships. Unlike certain other schools, Penn State did not offer them under the guise of student employment or some other such ruse designed to circumvent the restrictions of the Intercollegiate Athletic Association.

EXPANDING THE CURRICULUM AND REORGANIZING ADMISSIONS

President Sparks may have differed philosophically from George Atherton in regard to the administration's proper relationship to the student body, but on curricular matters, specifically the place of liberal arts at Penn State, Sparks' views paralleled those of his predecessor. He believed that there was a mounting demand for more degree programs in nontechnical fields. If Penn State were to be truly, as he liked to describe it, "the people's college," then it had to broaden its academic horizon. In 1909, in a measure designed to bring greater efficiency to work in the humanities, Sparks consolidated the School of History, Political Science and Philosophy with the School of Language and Literature to form the School of Liberal Arts, with the president himself serving as acting dean. The new school also contained the Department of Mathematics, which had been a part of the old School of Mathematics and Physics until that school's dissolution after Dean Osmond's retirement in 1907. (The Department of Physics Joined the School of Natural Science.)

More than a simple reshuffling of the bureaucratic structure was needed, of course. Students had to be sold on the value of a liberal education, and the public had to be made aware of the College's commitment to it-formidable tasks, as President Atherton had discovered in his mostly unsuccessful attempt to popularize work in the humanities. Penn State had earned a national reputation for excellence in the training of engineers and was soon to attain similar distinction in agricultural and mineral education. It was understandable if students, their parents, and most other residents of the Commonwealth perceived their land-grant institution as mainly a facility where one could acquire a thorough technical education at low cost. Many Penn State faculty believed a liberal arts education too closely resembled the classicism of a bygone era. "Technology was in the air, and for a time the liberal arts courses seemed like old-fashioned stuff soon to be extinct," recorded Fred Pattee in his reminiscences of this period in Penn State's history. "The whole atmosphere was charged with criticism of everything that had been in the old college curriculum. The technical instructors were outspoken and emphatic; education should look only to the end for which it was a preparation. It should be intensely practical." Pattee found himself assigning themes in his English classes on such topics as "Barnyard Manure vs. Commercial Fertilizer" and "Trap Nests for Hens" in order to get his pupils to take an interest in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Everywhere the emphasis was on using the college degree as a means for economic advancement. "Students are here not for service or for culture, but for the selfish end of preparing for salary to come," admitted Hugo Diemer, an engineering professor. "Constantly I hear them asking, 'If I change over to your course, what kind of a job will it help me to get when I graduate?' Students are weighing every subject they take on the scales of jobs to come." The dean of engineering adorned his office walls with framed portraits of his most successful graduates. Below each, in large figures, he posted their current salaries.

The new School of Liberal Arts took on a distinctly practical orientation over the next few years. To its three existing curriculums-classical, modern languages, and mathematics-were added baccalaureate programs in education and psychology, pre-law (a modified version of the old history and political science curriculum), and commerce and finance. Nevertheless, the school faced an uphill battle in its quest for academic legitimacy. Samuel Weber, a University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. who became dean in 1910, described the students in his school as 11 outlaws on the campus [and] the butt of jokes on the part of students in the other schools" because so many had transferred to liberal arts after flunking out of the other schools and even of other colleges. Weber also noted that "there was a prevalent sentiment among other students and members of the faculty that students in the School of Liberal Arts had no right to be enrolled under the land-grant act of 1862." The school usually enrolled less than 10 percent of the College's undergraduate population. Only the School of Mines and Metallurgy had fewer students.

Curricular expansion was not confined to the liberal arts. In 1906, the Pennsylvania Federation of Women's Clubs held its annual meeting at Penn State, where members were dismayed to learn of the lack of instruction in subjects that might be considered especially useful to women. The federation subsequently adopted a resolution demanding that the legislature appropriate funds for the creation of a department of home economics. The women reinforced this call by endowing two scholarships for female undergraduates and pledging to contribute to the cost of enlarging the Women's Building (formerly known as the Ladies' Cottage).

The College responded in 1907 by creating the post of dean of women and a home economics department. About twenty institutions were then awarding degrees in home economics, but a lack of money delayed the start of a degree program at Penn State for several more years. The course of study consisted of instruction in cooking, sewing, household management, laundering, interior decoration, and similar subjects. Intended, according to the College catalog, for those students "who wish to teach home economics or who wish to become professional dieticians or institutional housekeepers," the curriculum included sessions in a laboratory in the Women's Building outfitted with electric stoves, refrigerators, and sewing machines, all donated by their manufacturers. Seniors were also permitted to gain practical experience by teaching various aspects of "domestic science" to girls in the local high schools. Thirty-one students initially enrolled in the degree program, and women in other curriculums were encouraged to take home economics classes as part of their general education. Sarah Cutts Lovejoy, an 1898 graduate of Mount Holyoke College, served simultaneously as the first dean of women and head of the Department of Home Economics.

Other additions to the list of baccalaureate studies by 1913-14 included botany, landscape gardening, and agricultural education in the School of Agriculture, and a pre-medical curriculum in the School of Natural Science. The largest number of new degree programs appeared in engineering, which since the 1890s had been the fastest growing academic discipline at almost all land-grant institutions.

Succeeding Louis Reber as dean of the School of Engineering was John Price Jackson, founder and former head of the electrical engineering department. Taking Reber's place as head of mechanical engineering was Hugo Diemer, a young professor from the University of Kansas whom Frederick Taylor, the noted efficiency expert, had recommended personally to his friend General Beaver. Taylor wanted Penn State to take the lead in engineering management education-a field that had not yet taken shape as an academic discipline-and believed Diemer was just the man for the job.

old black and white photograph of  female students cooking on gas stoves
Home economics students use gas hot plates in the foods laboratory of the Women's Building.

 

Diemer was eager to begin instruction in time and motion studies, plant layouts, advertising and salesmanship, engineering economics, and a whole range of topics not yet taught on a systematic basis at any other institution. In 1908 his ideas took the form of a two-year option in "industrial engineering" for junior and senior mechanical engineering students. These studies proved so popular that a year later they were expanded to a four-year program and formed the core of a new Department of Industrial Engineering-the first of its kind in the world. Professor Diemer described industrial engineers as persons "who are thoroughly familiar with the productive processes, with broad interests, and who are at the same time thorough accountants and businessmen."

Besides being in the forefront of the movement to add managerial training to the engineering curriculum, Diemer was among the first American educators to propose that manual technical skills (carpentry, metalworking, and the like) be taught in high schools and in special secondary institutions comparable to modern vocational-technical schools. He recognized that Penn State, with its long-standing two-year course in mechanic arts and its well-equipped shops, was in an ideal position to produce teachers for these manual training classes. With Dean Jackson's blessing, the Department of Industrial Engineering took over supervision of mechanic arts and renamed it the industrial education course. Seniors had the opportunity to do practice teaching in those few Pennsylvania high schools already equipped for shop instruction.

old black and white photograph of railroad locomotive and dynamometer car
The College locomotive and dynamometer car, both gifts from the Pennsylvania Railroad.

 

Two more innovative curriculums in the School of Engineering were architectural engineering, begun in 1910, and milling engineering, launched in 1911. The architectural engineering course, one of only two or three of its kind in the country and the only one in Pennsylvania, was distinctive in that it emphasized the technical aspects of building construction, a subject neglected by the more aesthetically oriented architectural curriculums. Milling engineering was even more uncommon. In 1910, the Pennsylvania State Millers' Association requested Penn State to begin systematic training of flour mill engineers, who heretofore had to learn their profession on the job. Sparks and Jackson gladly complied, since the Millers' Association underwrote most of the costs of setting up the new program. Its head, Benjamin Dedrick, a midwestern miller, converted part of Engineering Unit F into a flour mill, complete with grinding machinery, sifter, scales, and dust collector. In 1912 The Pennsylvania State College became the first institution anywhere to award bachelor's degrees in milling engineering.

The same year that studies began in milling engineering, highway engineering Joined the civil and sanitary curriculums in the Department of Civil Engineering, while railway mechanical engineering became a baccalaureate course within the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Railway mechanical engineering had started as a two-year option in 1906, when the College had acquired from the Pennsylvania Railroad an old but still serviceable steam locomotive. Coupled to a dynamometer car the PRR had also donated, the locomotive made occasional trips over the tracks of the Bellefonte Central Railroad between State College and Bellefonte, affording students ample opportunity to conduct tests and collect data for use in writing their senior theses.

Amid all this curricular expansion came the phasing out of the Preparatory Department, whose graduates for many years had comprised a significant portion of the College's freshman class. By the turn of the century, the number of high schools in Pennsylvania had increased to the point where maintaining the Preparatory Department was a money-losing proposition. The department continued to enroll many "sub-freshmen," but most of them were residents of nearby communities and often did not go beyond their preparatory education or went off to attend other colleges. Residents of the borough of State College (most of whom were connected in some way with the College) complained that the town high school would never amount to anything so long as students could enroll in the Preparatory Department. Even President Sparks, who felt special ties to the department, admitted that it had outlived its usefulness and was now only taking up space badly needed by the other collegiate departments. Therefore, in the fall of 1908 the trustees voted to eliminate preparatory education at the end of the current school year.

Had this action occurred ten or twenty years earlier, it might have caused a noticeable decrease in the size of the freshman class. By 1909, however, the College was setting attendance records each year and was hard pressed to accommodate all qualified applicants for admission. Enrollment first surpassed a thousand in 1908-9; it reached two thousand six years later. This upsurge resulted partly from the popularity of technical education and the new additions to the liberal arts curriculum, but it also mirrored a general increase in the desire and ability of America's youth to obtain a college education. The number of students attending all American institutions of higher education climbed from 157,000 to 355,000 between 1890 and 1910, while land-grant enrollments went from 23,000 to 73,000.

More women were among the college-bound graduates of the secondary schools. As rules governing the relations between the sexes were gradually relaxed, the lack of female undergraduates meant that the men were forced to "import" dates from back home for important social events, but apparently many men preferred this arrangement to having Penn State's image as a bastion of masculinity compromised. Some even went so far as to draw up a petition to be sent to President Sparks and the trustees asking that a ceiling be placed on the number of women the school would admit. "There is too much soprano in the College yell!" asserted a student leader at a rally in support of the petition. "Penn State's a he-man's college, not a nunnery!" Such protests were in vain. More women entered with each new freshman class. Sixty-eight "coeds"-the word was becoming a fixture in the collegiate vocabulary-were in attendance by 1913-14.

Not only was the institution receiving more applications for admission from both men and women, but more of those students who were accepted were successfully completing their four years of academic work. By 1912 Penn State was consistently graduating over 60 percent of its freshman class, compared with a national average of about 50 percent and an average for Pennsylvania colleges and universities of 48 percent. Possibly the faculty had decided to heed the admonitions of General Beaver, who continued to preside over the board of trustees until his death in 1914. A more likely explanation was Sparks' demand that the College entrance standards be raised and that officials exercise greater diligence in examining the records of prospective students. To this end, the president reorganized the office of registrar, whose duty it was to certify that students met admissions requirements.

Judson Welsh had been serving as registrar, but Sparks considered his presence in the new administration an embarrassment and banished him to a new post incongruously styled "Dean of the Colleges," which Welsh occupied until leaving the College in 1910. Sparks preferred a man of his own choosing for the job of registrar. In the fall of t908, he called into his office A. Howry Espenshade, since 1895 a professor of English and rhetoric, and spoke bluntly of the need to upgrade the entire administrative machinery of the College. "This institution of ours has begun to grow in earnest," said Sparks, "and some of us feel that our method of doing a good many things in our administration of the College and in the handling of students is antiquated, clumsy, inefficient, and unsuited to its present size and organization, to say nothing of the future." Would Espenshade be willing, Sparks went on, to make an extended visit to Columbia, Cornell, the University of Pennsylvania, and other schools to learn their methods of handling admissions records, certifying students' grades, and performing other prosaic but vital chores?

Espenshade replied in the affirmative and the next year presented a report to the president and trustees. He suggested that significant changes be made in the way the College admitted students, scheduled classes, issued circulars, kept track of attendance, and managed other administrative functions. Espenshade then consented to Sparks' request that he become the new registrar, provided that henceforth all new students meet Penn State's published entrance requirements before they were admitted, a procedure not always adhered to in the past. The president quickly agreed to this condition, provoking howls of protest from several of the deans, who argued that the College would surely suffer a serious drop in enrollments. It did not. Each year it received more requests for admission than ever before.

A rapidly growing student body and all that went with it heightened the sense of bewilderment experienced by incoming students and prolonged the time they needed to make the transition to college life. At first President Sparks thought of assigning upperclassmen to act as "big brothers" to the freshmen to help them adjust to their new role, a system used at many other institutions, but after conferring with teachers and student leaders, he abandoned the idea because he feared that Penn State's strong tradition of class rivalry would inhibit its operation. He turned instead to a faculty advisory system in which the freshman class was divided into groups of thirty and placed under the counsel of volunteer members of the faculty. This scheme, Sparks claimed in his annual report in 1910, reduced the danger that "the faculty will become like a machine, run by rules, regardless of the personal characteristics of the student."

Coordinating the system was Dr. Arthur Holmes, an ordained minister and former professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who in 1912 was appointed Dean of the General Faculty. (It was while presiding over that body that Holmes became one of the first to declare, in a statement now immortal in academia, that "there ought to be three types of faculty members: teachers, researchers, and those who love to attend committee meetings.") Holmes was best known in his capacity as President Sparks' informal "professor of personal administration." Besides overseeing the operation of the freshman advisory system, he advised students of all classes individually and collectively, on the campus and in his home, on College rules and problems pertaining to their personal lives. Much like James McKee a generation earlier, Holmes was in effect "dean of men," well before that post was officially established.

Another serious concern was the overcrowding that occurred on campus and in the town. Students who wished to live in McAllister Hall, one of the temporary dormitories, or in Old Main had to reserve their rooms by March or April of the preceding school year. Housing in the community was also at a premium, prompting a wave of new construction-over forty residential structures were erected during 1907-8 alone-as well as an increase in the number of fraternities. Sixteen national fraternities had chapters at Penn State by 1913. The College provided no food service other than that at McAllister Hall commons, where a private contractor furnished meals. This arrangement was discontinued shortly before McAllister was converted to a women's dormitory in 1915. Most men took their meals at one of the downtown eateries, while coeds prepared their own food, either in the Women's Building or McAllister Hall.

The soaring undergraduate population also placed heavy burdens on classrooms and laboratories. President Sparks did not hesitate to make Penn State's needs known in Harrisburg. Biennial allocations climbed from about $250,000 in 1905-7 to more than $800,000 six years later. Sparks claimed, however, that the phenomenal growth of the school made even an $800,000 appropriation inadequate. It provided enough money for only two new buildings: a temporary auditorium, officially known as the Chemistry Annex but popularly referred to as the Bull Pen, and Engineering Unit E, a starkly utilitarian brick structure situated near Unit F.

Penn State relied on three main sources of income: the land-grant endowment and other federal funding, most of which supported work in agriculture; student fees; and state appropriations. In a typical year, the Commonwealth's share amounted to far more than the combined sums of the other two. The level of federal income was relatively fixed, and the College had little discretion in how it chose to spend these funds. President Sparks refused to consider establishing a tuition charge on the grounds that it would provide insufficient revenue while preventing the institution from fulfilling its mission as "the people's college." (The absence of tuition was not uncommon among land-grant schools, although they all depended to some extent on student fees. With about 12 percent of its income derived from these fees, Penn State was only slightly above the national average of 10.8 percent.) Instead of raising fees or introducing tuition, the College began for the first time in its history to limit the number of freshmen it accepted. Of the approximately 800 prospective students who requested admission for 1913-14 and who met academic requirements, only about 600 were admitted.

But how could College officials be sure that those students accepted were more worthy than those rejected? The situation was unfair, Sparks contended. Pennsylvania ranked second among the forty-eight states in population, second in the assessed value of its property, first in the value of its industrial production, and fifteenth in per capita support of its state college or university. Could it not afford to be more generous with its land-grant institution?

The dilemma in which Penn State found itself was temporarily resolved during the administration of Governor John K. Tener (1911-15). Tener had never attended college, but he did recognize the value of education. He demonstrated a special interest in The Pennsylvania State College, becoming the first governor to deliver a commencement address there. Tener was instrumental in winning legislative approval for an appropriation of more than $1.2 million to Penn State for 1913-15. A third of this sum was to be used to construct such buildings as the governor and College officials deemed necessary, the first time ever that the General Assembly had given the College such discretion. Work commenced immediately, and by 1915 a horticulture building (Weaver Building), a stock judging pavilion, Engineering Unit D, a new mining building, and an addition to the Women's Building were completed. One wing of the new Liberal Arts Building (Sparks Building) was also ready for occupancy, and the liberal arts departments could at last begin to move out from their cramped and dingy quarters in Old Main. Work started on a chemistry laboratory (Pond Laboratory), which was opened in 1917. About this time, the College purchased several large farms adjoining the campus, bringing its total agricultural holdings to some 1,100 acres.

 

SERVING THE COMMONWEALTH THROUGH EXTENSION AND RESEARCH

Rapid expansion was probably inevitable for The Pennsylvania State College. That growth was certainly encouraged by the dynamic public relations campaign Edwin Sparks conducted on behalf of the institution-he traveled over 10,000 miles annually throughout the Commonwealth, speaking before farm groups and civic organizations, at high school commencements and county fairs, to professional educators and government officials. He made most of these journeys by car and in the course of his presidency wore out seven automobiles. Nevertheless, the College's undergraduate population would have risen dramatically had Sparks never set foot beyond his Old Main office. The trend was already clear at Penn State and across the nation in the later Atherton years.

Campus Mall, 1900s
The campus mall was still open to vehicular traffic (as a continuation of Allen Street) in this early 1900s scene.

 

But did a land-grant institution not have a responsibility to do more than offer the traditional four years of schooling and a bachelor's degree? Sparks and his associates believed that it did, and from their belief evolved the foundation of an extensive program of extension education and of non-agricultural research.

Extension was not a new concept among land-grant colleges when Sparks came to Penn State in 1908, although it was nearly always directed toward the interests of farmers. (About thirty-five land-grant institutions then were engaged in some form of agricultural extension activity.) Penn State along with Cornell and Rutgers had pioneered in agricultural extension in the Northeast, yet as time passed the scope of its extension activities remained constant compared to the work of its counterparts in neighboring states. The College continued to cooperate with the state agricultural officials, as it had since the 1880s, in staging annual farmers' institutes in most counties. These institutes consisted of lectures and demonstrations on practical agricultural topics given by faculty or prominent local farmers.

Penn State did not begin an extension program exclusively its own (aside from issuing bulletins from the experiment station and offering correspondence courses) until the coming of Dean Hunt, who wanted to imitate the methods used successfully by schools in other states, a few of which had gone so far as to place permanent extension representatives or farm agents in selected counties. Alva Agee, whom Hunt appointed the first director of extension, presided over Farmers' Week, a week-long series of talks, demonstrations, and displays held at the campus once a year. Agee prevailed upon the Pennsylvania and Bellefonte Central railroads to run low-cost excursion trains to and from State College so that as many farmers as possible could attend. As many as 1,200 persons a day participated in Farmers' Week thanks to these inexpensive arrangements. To accommodate those farmers who could not come to Penn State, Agee again made arrangements with several railroads in various parts of the Commonwealth to run special agricultural trains that had cars outfitted for lectures and exhibitions. These trains attracted an estimated 50,000 people yearly between 1907 and their discontinuance in 1911.

old black and white photograph of students in cramped room
Student quarters in a State College rooming house.

 

Unlike most other states, Pennsylvania did not provide public funds to support extension education of any kind, a handicap that stymied the College's further efforts to expand agricultural extension work. President Sparks repeatedly asked the legislature to help underwrite the cost of extension, pointing out that "the old interpretation which limited the obligation of the college to educate the students within its walls is inefficient at the present day so far as a state institution is concerned; to take the college to the people is to be the added duty in the future." The College and the School of Agriculture took the initiative in 1912 (ironically, the year Thomas Hunt left to become dean of agriculture at the University of California) by placing permanent farm agents in five counties: Blair, Butler, Mercer, Montgomery, and Washington. Costs were borne by the College, local farm groups, and the mail order firm of Sears, Roebuck, which did most of its business among the rural population. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was encouraging states to establish county agent systems, also contributed a small sum. In 1913, the General Assembly finally allocated $20,000 for extension education and authorized county governments to provide logistical assistance to the farm agents.

Meanwhile, agriculturalists and land-grant educators nationwide were lobbying for federal help. The Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations had created a standing committee on extension in 1904. Within a few years, the Association was recommending that there be a farm agent in every county in every state. In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which gave each state $10,000 annually for agricultural and home economics extension work and guaranteed larger amounts provided the state itself supplied matching funds. The act induced the Commonwealth to begin making regular appropriations for extension. Under the leadership of the new dean of the School of Agriculture, Ralph L. Watts, and the new director of agricultural extension, Milton S. McDowell, agents were placed in counties requesting them as rapidly as funds permitted. Agents were college graduates and were prepared to supply advice and information to farmers, pointing the way to better practices in areas as varied as insect pest control, dairy marketing, and soil fertilization.

The Smith-Lever Act made no provision for financing any type of extension education other than in agriculture and home economics. Engineering extension was unknown ill the United States, in spite of engineering's popularity at the undergraduate level. Faculty in Penn State's schools of Engineering and Mines and Metallurgy lectured on topics of interest to industrial groups in various sections of the Commonwealth, but no college or university had a program of formal instruction comparable to that of agricultural extension. Unlike agriculturalists, most of whom were owners of family farms, industrial leaders felt no need for job-related education for their employees and offered little encouragement for engineering extension programs.

Then in 1910, the school board of the city of Williamsport, a lumbering and railroad center about 60 miles northeast of State College, asked the School of Engineering to set up evening classes in elementary mechanics for high-school students. At about that same time the Pennsylvania Railroad requested the School to conduct classes in basic mechanics for engineering apprentices at the company's Altoona shops. These two events signified the beginning of the first organized extension program in engineering by any institution of higher education in America. In both cases, Penn State supplied the instructors and planned the lessons, and the sponsoring body paid all expenses. Classes at the Williamsport Vocational School, as it was called, proved very popular; but since they were at a high-school level, Dean Jackson arranged in 1912 to have the state Department of Public Instruction take over their supervision. The railroad classes also met with almost overnight success. Within three years the School of Engineering had organized classes for over a thousand PRR apprentices at five locations in Pennsylvania and at Wilmington, Delaware.

Boards of education, civic groups, and business firms soon flooded the College with appeals to bring engineering extension to their own communities, and before long classes were under way in Philadelphia, Chester, Allentown, Sunbury, Tyrone, Clearfield, Erie, and a half-dozen other cities and towns. Not all requests could be met, because engineering extension had to be financially self-sustaining. It received no money from either the state or federal government; hence, if a potential sponsor could not afford to cover the cost of an extension program, it could not be held.

Extension classes differed in several ways from classes taken by undergraduates. Most extension students held full-time jobs and could further their education only during the evening hours. Their objective was not to earn a college degree (extension courses carried no college credit) but to become more productive workers and in turn become eligible for promotions, pay raises, and other benefits. Consequently, extension education emphasized the practical as opposed to the theoretical aspects of engineering. When industrial firms sponsored the classes, content related to the activities of that firm, as in the case of the Pennsylvania Railroad's courses for engineering apprentices. When community groups such as the Young Mens' Christian Association sponsored extension, instruction was usually tailored to fit the economy of the local area. In Reading, for example, a course in shop management was geared to the needs of textile mill foremen, since these mills constituted one of the region's chief sources of employment and income.

Most engineering extension courses had relatively brief life spans lasting from a few days to several months. Students did not have much chance to take additional courses and build upon their previous learning. Dean Jackson and James A. Moyer, supervisor of extension for the School of Engineering, decided to put instruction on a permanent basis with a permanent faculty, so that students could enroll for a series of related courses over a longer period of time. The educational needs of the community could thus be met on a continuing basis, year after year. In 1912, an engineering "branch school" was opened in Allentown in cooperation with a local citizens' committee. Housed in a former elementary-school building, classes in engineering fundamentals were offered at night in order to attract as many employed persons as possible. Students who completed a program of studies over two or three years were awarded certificates.

Classes had barely commenced at the Allentown school when other communities began making known their interest in having permanent branch schools. In 1913, in addition to examining possible sites for more branch schools, the School of Engineering introduced instruction by correspondence, again stressing applications rather than theory and carrying no college credit. Only limited progress was made in this area, however, because of the increasing demand for extension class work. Engineering did not enjoy the luxury of a network of county agents or public funds. In 1915, when enrollment exceeded 3,100, the School of Engineering's extension staff consisted of only three field directors to coordinate activities over the entire Commonwealth. Extension instructors were secured from local areas on a part-time basis, and their salaries were paid by class fees or class sponsors.

Other institutions soon began to develop programs in engineering extension, and by 1920 about one-half of all land-grant schools were offering at least correspondence and short courses in engineering subjects. (One of the most active was the University of Wisconsin, where not coincidentally Louis Reber was in charge of the extension division.) Few colleges emulated Penn State by establishing branch schools, however, and many of the courses that were available were only token gestures. The problem was a lack of money. The colleges themselves did not want to risk having their resources siphoned away through engineering extension, and most states were reluctant to appropriate public funds. In 1929, state expenditures for engineering extension nationwide still totaled only $311,000, compared with more than $13 million for agricultural extension.

In research as in extension, agriculture had the advantages of an earlier start and more liberal financial support. Agricultural research had been carried on at Penn State since the College's founding, but the establishment of an experiment station with a full-time staff greatly increased the value and scope of the investigations. In 1907, for instance, 146 separate research projects were conducted at the station and the new Institute for Animal Nutrition. Much of the work concerned a long-time interest of Penn State's agricultural faculty, the development of better fertilizers. Other projects involved such topics as improving methods for storing corn and apples, preventing fungus and insect damage to fruit trees, and developing improved varieties of grains and vegetables. Some work was done in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. The department assisted William Frear, for instance, in conducting the most exhaustive tests undertaken up to that time in developing new strains of tobacco and more efficient growing methods on behalf of Lancaster County tobacco farmers.

Engineering research rarely benefited from such public support. Congress refused to broaden the terms of the Hatch Act to include engineering, the rationale being that the entire population profited from agricultural research, whereas engineering research was advantageous to only a narrow sector of private industry and had only secondary benefits to the public. The Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations showed little interest in engineering activities of any kind.

Nor were individual states disposed to support engineering research. As late as 1900, over fifty times as much state and federal money was being spent on agricultural research as on engineering research. This imbalance was of little consequence to large industrial corporations, which relied on their own testing laboratories, but small businesses and state and local government agencies could not afford to maintain such facilities, a definite handicap in an era of escalating technological progress. A precedent was finally set with the establishment of the first engineering experiment station at the University of Illinois in 1903. The idea spread slowly, and when in 1909 John Price Jackson and President Sparks asked Penn State's board of trustees to approve the creation of an engineering experiment station, only one other institution (Iowa State College) had followed Illinois' example.

The trustees approved the request even though a building, staff, and budget for engineering research were lacking. In 1911, under the direction of Professor of Mechanical Engineering Louis Harding, a small brick structure lined with cork was erected between Unit F and the Bellefonte Central Railroad Station and became known as the thermal laboratory. Investigations initially centered on heat transfer and the development of more efficient materials for building insulation. Soon the Engineering Experiment Station received its first research contract: a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Highways to assess the effect of temperature extremes on various types of pavement. Heat transfer was to remain the experiment station's primary research field for over a decade, and the thermal laboratory, with additions, the station's only building. The station had no full-time staff; faculty conducted research in addition to performing their regular teaching duties.

old photograph of a county agent speaking to farmers at a country church.
A typical scene in the early days of agricultural extension—a county agent addresses farmers gathered at a country church.

 

Ironically, the professor most active in pursuing research worked independently of both the agricultural and engineering experiment stations. Benjamin Dedrick, head of the milling engineering course, was awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture contract worth several thousand dollars in 1912 to devise means of preventing grain dust explosions in grain elevators. Explosions were a serious hazard in the Midwestern and Plains states, but no institutions there had the expertise in milling engineering that Dedrick and Penn State had. It was the first time the College received federal research money for purposes that were not strictly agricultural. Both agriculture and engineering personnel answered free of charge technical inquiries from individuals, local government bodies, and small businesses, a service that amounted to hundreds of letters every year.

Extension and research put the resources of the College to work for the Commonwealth on a grand scale, ultimately benefiting directly or indirectly hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians. This same desire to serve the educational needs of as many persons as possible motivated the Sparks administration to institute summer sessions in 1910. The College had remained empty and unproductive nearly three months of every year since the Calder era. A few members of the faculty did research or undertook graduate work, but on the whole they lacked the opportunity to apply their talents during the summer.

This enforced idleness had disturbed the puritan soul of George Atherton. During the summer of 1898, he introduced a few courses for high-school students who wished to prepare themselves better for admission to college, teachers who wanted to improve their methods and increase their knowledge of the subjects they taught, and young men desiring to acquire training in manual shop skills. Atherton persuaded the trustees to make available dormitory rooms in Old Main at no cost and charge no tuition, so that students would have to bear no charges other than those for meals and transportation. The president's hopes for a summer school foundered upon the rocks of fiscal adversity when the legislature reduced the College's appropriation by over 50 percent, leaving no money for advertising, salaries, or other expenses associated with the summer courses. The School of Engineering even discontinued its two-week post-commencement practicum in favor of having students get an early start on obtaining summer jobs that could give them practical experience.

The question of a summer session surfaced again soon after President Sparks arrived. In 1908, the Pennsylvania State Education Association adopted a resolution urging the Commonwealth to sponsor a summer school for teachers. The Association suggested Penn State be the site, because of its central location and its outstanding facilities for offering instruction in agriculture, home economics, and industrial arts, all subjects that promised to be of increasing importance in the high-school curriculum. About 30,000 elementary and secondary school teachers annually took summer courses at America's colleges and universities and in fact constituted the majority of students at these institutions during these months. In Pennsylvania, normal schools often staged short teacher institutes during July or August, but their programs were not coordinated and were deficient in the technical areas.

After Superintendent of Public Instruction Nathan B. Schaeffer endorsed the PSEA resolution, the General Assembly allocated funds for a session to be held at the College in the summer of 1910. One hundred forty-six teachers representing thirty-nine counties attended. Included in this number was a group of twenty-eight nuns from Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Scranton, who established collective residence in a fraternity house (an unlikely setting, even in 1910). With each passing year, the number of persons signing up for the summer classes continued to climb, thanks to the willingness of the legislature and local school districts to support the venture. Enrollment was restricted to public and parochial school teachers and the courses carried no college credit. In 1915, over a thousand persons, mostly normal school graduates, attended classes at Penn State in July and August. Few of these students held baccalaureate degrees, since completion of four years of college was not yet a requirement for state certification. Students chose from a curriculum that had expanded beyond agriculture, industrial arts, and home economics to encompass such subjects as chemistry, physics, foreign languages, mathematics, psychology, and physical education.

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Class Day ceremonies in the open-air theater below Old Main, about 1916. Held the day preceeding commencement, Class Day was an occasion for student oratory and recognition of scholastic achievement.

 

In almost every direction Penn State chose to advance between 1908 and 1915, it had attained at least partial success. The College was well on its way to achieving diversity of instruction in nontechnical fields while preserving its strengths in engineering and agricultural education. It had taken a place of leadership among land-grant institutions in the development of engineering extension and had implemented a more systematic and comprehensive approach to agricultural extension. Improved communication between faculty and students, the beginning of yearround utilization of the campus, expansion of the physical plant, and improved relations with state government officials stood as additional accomplishments of the first seven years of the Sparks administration. The stagnation of the previous decade had ended, as Penn State benefitted from more liberal financial support from the Commonwealth than it had ever before known and from a greater interest in higher education among the general population. The College had given Pennsylvania the kind of education so many of its citizens needed and wanted, and President Sparks and his faculty intended that it should continue to do so in every possible way.