Delivered: June 1963
Mr. President, Alumni and
Friends of the College, Fellow Classmates of 1913:
My hope is that your regret will not be as keen as mine that the original appointee for writing of this half-century annalist letter, Cal Thompson, member of Pentagon, junior year class president, member of Phi Beta Kappa, and loved friend of all of us passed away and that the writer most reluctantly accepted this assignment within the past few weeks. Surely the records will show that I neither appeared on Clark Prize or was a member of the board of either Hamilton Life or Lit. In fact, thinking of public speaking brings to mind one Saturday junior year, which I wish I could forget. Assignments for public speaking that day were three sets of Antiphonal speeches and my assignment was Ulysses S. Grant, soldier, as opposed to Ulysses S. Grant, statesman. I had written what I thought was a rather flowery oration and had arrived at a climax thereof when unfortunately I either disturbed or awoke a senior in the front row, one “Spider Dorance,” by name, who sitting up in the front pew and looking up at me burst forth with “the Hell you say, Griz.” That was the end of my effort for that day and Cal Lewis in his usual pompous manner from the back pew invited me to sit down. Cal’s only response to my plea that a delinquency under such circumstances was unfair was that a public speaker should expect and be able to take care of heckling. So, gentlemen, if you find my reading today dull, it is perfectly alright with me if you take a nap or steal out quietly. Just don’t heckle.
As I comfortably drove up College Hill this morning there was the same depth of beauty, the same feeling of reverence, which the Chapel and its spire instills in the hearts of Hamilton men; the same breathtaking view from the summit of the Oriskany and Mohawk Valleys; the same feeling of serenity and peace I first experienced when trudging up the Hill as a guest during Commencement in June 1909. I had been headed for Amherst until invited to visit Hamilton that spring by Dr. George D. Miller, pastor of my church in Rochester. After two days on the Hill I changed my objective from Amherst to Hamilton because the spirit of college loyalty and friendship, which I found existed there on College Hill among both alumni and students, gave me the feeling that Hamilton was where I belonged. Today as one ascends the Hill one sees more students, new buildings, and increased activity on all sides; but I believe none of the above has dimmed the love and affection in the hearts of Hamilton men which has made Hamilton “Our beloved lady of the Hilltop.” As you wander down the campus among the stately trees, you come to the College Cemetery overlooking the Oriskany and Mohawk Valleys; surely a place to stop and ponder over the work, sacrifice, love and affection for Hamilton of those who have found a final resting place therein.
In the fall of 1909, 60 or more young men entered Hamilton College in the Class of 1913, the first class in the second century of the College. In June 1913, 36 men received diplomas. Of that number, three had previously entered with the Class of 1912, and one was a transfer from another college. Surely not an enviable record when one considers that today a truly large percentage of entering students are graduated. It was this mortality among entering classes, which for years through lack of consistent tuition fees caused a drag on the finances of the College. Coming to college as exalted high school seniors we were immediately plunged into the rigors of battle with the rusty sophs of 1912, only too ready and willing to vent on us their displeasure with the treatment they had received the year before from the Class of 1911. Believe me, in spite of what we had been in June we were “pea green frosh” in September.
Have we forgotten Paint Night? Guided by a few friendly juniors, and suitably clothed for what was to follow, we were led to a spot below the College campus, given our brushes and pails of red paint and surged forth to meet the sophs. It was surely an uneven uphill battle for a couple of hours and we absorbed plenty of green paint and so much water that the event was finally called off and we were herded into the gym to get as much sleep as we could on the exercise mats. It was an unforgettable experienced which knocked a good part of the conceit out of our system. The College was a real winner in that the two classes paid for a certain amount of repainting around the campus — especially the baseball backstop and benches on the athletic field. I imagine my dad wondered about the item “paint” in the following term bill.
The next morning we attended our first Chapel and as we emerged we found the sophs ready to do battle. I have no recollection as to who won in the general rough house, races and wrestling matches, but remembering that among their numbers were such stalwarts as Dutch Weinigmann and Cyclops Thompson, later to join our ranks. I feel we must have been on the losing end. From then until Halloween we found ourselves in the midst of Gym Shows, which were really a form of controlled hazing. It was then that we discovered something rather unique at Hamilton: full upperclassmen authority. Neither class could put on a Gym Show without at least one upperclassman, with his cherished cane, being present. If the going got too rough and the order to ease off was not carried out, the offender — be he frosh or soph — could expect some stiff raps from the upperclassman’s cane across his back and buttocks.
I believe strict upperclassmen authority no longer exists on the Hill and if so, I feel that something worthwhile has gone out of college life. Surely we heard little of discipline from the authorities of the College and life flowed along quite peacefully. The juniors and seniors gloried in their authority and took keen delight, if such authority was questioned, in wielding their canes.
I well remember two gym shows I participated in sophomore year. Our class continually admonished a longhaired frosh born in Japan to get a good collegiate haircut. When he failed to heed this admonition we took him into custody and gave him perhaps not a collegiate haircut but at least a good one. Several nights later, John Hahn, Ray Clapp and myself rooming on the second floor of South were having a noisy concert with guitar, mandolin and potato horn. We felt secure as we had an ax wedged under the door but for once the frosh used different tactics. Obtaining a ladder from DeRights Repair Shop and protected by the noise we were making, about 10 frosh climbed into our double bedroom and suddenly burst in upon us. What happened is duly recorded in our yearbook under our three names — “Lost his hair in a single night.” Frankly, I never saw the brutality, which Dr. Terry seemed to find. I felt Paint Night and Gym Shows cemented the bonds of friendship between members of both classes.
Student life in 1909 to 1913 was much more relaxed and easygoing than today. The urge for a college education was not as strong then as today. It was easy to get into college. Dr. Stryker in charge of admissions as one of his many duties, asked only that a student be a graduate of an accredited high school; a most elastic standard. It was also easy to get out of college if per chance you came here unprepared, found the work too strenuous, and a job waiting for you in your father’s business more attractive. As Dr. Stryker once said in morning chapel, “someone asked me the other day how many students we had at Hamilton and I answered about 20.” Surely a bit of an exaggeration but there were many who came for the ride rather than with the fixed purpose of a college degree. Let me again quote one of Prex’s pungent statements: “One gets out of college what one puts into it.” Certainly today when only the top group from any school is considered for admission, the College has a much more serious-minded group of students than there was at the turn of the century.
During the four years when we were in college, Hamilton was entirely a fraternity or society college. Of the four classes being graduated while we were here, I can only remember one man graduated in 1910 who was not a fraternity man. Today, the matter of fraternities in college is being batted back and forth at many colleges. In 1913, probably 80 to 90 percent of the men were either pledged or well on the way to being pledged to some fraternity when they arrived on the Hill. Today the ratio is probably 50/50 between fraternity and non-fraternity men, with rushing deferred until the end of the freshman year. Surely a healthier situation for new students if they decide to go into a fraternity knowing more about the men they propose joining with; for the personality and ideals of fraternity groups can change from year to year.
Just before leaving for winter vacation I received the history of Hamilton College compiled by Mr. Pilkington and that constituted my main reading while away. In 1913, we entered the College at the very height of the reign of Dr. Stryker. Why had he come to the impoverished College on the hilltop in 1892? Probably because of his affection for the College, as a graduate, and to meet the challenge of bringing about a brighter and better day. Prex was at all times a distinguished-looking man, a tough disciplinarian and an outstanding administrator. He certainly had definite ideas and never hesitated in expressing them.
Through the many contacts Dr. Stryker had with prominent businessmen, and by hard conscientious work, he acquired new dormitories, classrooms and laboratories, and renovated existing facilities. He brought the physical aspect of the College up to a par with similar institutions of learning. His insistence on sticking too close to the classics both in the College curriculum and in matriculation were I feel one of the reasons why he never achieved his goal of 300 students. My recollections of Dr. Stryker are that, able as he was, he could prove most eccentric at times though habitually fair. Can any of us forget his first-year Bible course on the epistle of Saint James? When the first one of us started to recite his final oral examination in English, Prex interrupted to ask whether the one reciting was in the course with Greek or Latin and to recite in one of those tongues rather than in English. “But, Dr. Stryker!” chorused the class, “You only asked us to learn the Epistle, nothing was said about the language.” The examination continued with the recitations in English only. As you may remember, Prex also often introduced much that was extraneous into his courses. One day in his Ethics course he suddenly called for a recital of the words of The Star Spangled Banner. The student got through about two lines and stumbled. “Alright,” said Prex, “The Star Spangled Banner is part of the course.” I remember we spent the last half hour before the examination under the trees in front of South College practicing the singing of The Star Spangled Banner and marching from there into the classroom singing the first verse only. It is my humble opinion that very few of us could have recited the last three verses, but fortunately we heard nothing more about the song. As I remember, a written examination that spring was the only written examination we ever had with Dr. Stryker and it puzzled some of us to the point where we stayed around after the examination. After most of us had left the classroom, those remaining witnessed Dr. Stryker take all of our folded papers with our names in the upper corner, carefully tear off each name and drop it in his green bag and toss the papers in the waste basket. There were no delinquencies that year; but just how Prexy graded us individually was his secret.
One further personal touch with Dr. Stryker came in my senior year when carrying the College mail. As you may remember, each fraternity, the YMCA, Dr. Stryker and several of the professors had duplicate mail pouches, which were hung on doorknobs near the outside door. It was the mailman’s duty to pick up the pouches with the outgoing mail, deliver it to the Post Office, pick up the pouches with the incoming mail and deliver them to the various houses. Just before Commencement, I hung Dr. Stryker’s pouch on the doorknob of his study and he called out to me to come into the study. He explained to me that the College stipend covered only the YMCA and fraternity mail, and that I should send bills to Dr. Stryker and half a dozen professors. I received a check right back from Prex. But from the tone of the protesting letters I received from some of the faculty, I feel certain it was the first time such a statement had ever been made to the College mailman.
It has always been my feeling that during my time at Hamilton we had an outstanding faculty. There were kindly men, able and dedicated to their work, and at all times ready to discuss and help outside the classroom. Dr. Brandt was surely an outstanding German scholar and teacher though I suffered personally for his extreme aversion to the translation of certain German words in accordance with their apparent English counterpart. Surely “Schmitz” saw red if one translated “Deutsch” as “Dutch” rather than German. My own downfall came in an oral examination when I had been going along fairly well, as German was not one of my strong points. I came to the German word “also” and blithely translated “and he also”; came a sharp interruption from Schmitz: “Mr. Griswold did you translate also, ‘also’?” “Yes, sir.” “Then you are plucked Mr. Griswold.” True to his habit on any delinquency examination, Dr. Brandt gave me a passage to translate with the word “also” in it. I had learned the correct translation by then and that ended my delinquency.
Cal Lewis, a tough drill master and disciplinarian did much to enhance the reputation of the College in rhetoric and public speaking. Dr. Fitch, Dr. Shepard and Dr. Saunders were outstanding in their respective fields of education. It is my belief that the nicknames “Little Greek,” “Bugs,” “Rocks,” “Pills,” “Stink,” “Woody” and “Ghost” to name a few were an indication of the affection felt by the Hamilton men who came under their teaching. About half of the faculty were Hamilton graduates; all wore Phi Beta Kappa keys and more than half had doctoral degrees, several from foreign universities.
I believe that a letter such as this should not attempt to list the achievements of the several members of the class, let it suffice to say that many of the class have distinguished themselves in the practice of law and medicine, in education, government service, industry and in promoting the cultural life of the community in which they resided. I make only one exception to pay tribute to Donald Edward Stone, our first year president, member of the Pentagon, Phi Beta Kappa and associated with many of the activities of the College, football, Life and Lit, boards and intercollegiate debate, to name a few of his activities. How he handled all of the above and could go to Utica for a good time with classmates will remain a mystery to me. I remember one Saturday when some of us including Don went to Utica to see a show. The two main theaters were filled and we ended up in a third-rate theater where they were featuring a fourth-rate production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Don lasted until the scene where Little Eva was on her deathbed; then rising in his seat and extending his hand above his head he burst forth; “Quiet! For God’s sake! Isn’t there a doctor in the audience who can save this poor child?” Down came the curtain and out went our group.
On another evening as the last trolley for Clinton pulled up, Don nudged a gum machine too strongly and it toppled into the street. The crash brought a policeman hurrying to investigate. We piled on the trolley followed by the officer. Don dropped off the front exit of the car telling the motorman to get going and keep going. The cop followed suit but the motorman followed Don’s instructions and pulled into high gear. Don swung onto the rear vestibule of the trolley but the cop couldn’t quite make it. The last we saw he was pounding down the street trying to catch the trolley. Don surely knew how to have a good time, as well as how to work. Don went into the Lafayette Escadville at the start of World War I and was the only graduating member of our class who paid the supreme sacrifice of giving his life for his country.
Life in the four years prior to 1913 was much simpler than it is today. Through our work in the classrooms (where we learned things which most of us have long since forgotten), our associations with our classmates, fraternity brothers and members of the faculty who were always ready to discuss many matters with us, we learned to think straight and acquired the ability to take on cold, cold world. We certainly spent much more time on the Hill than the students of today. In the winter, the cry of “Road” rang out as we coasted down College Hill, being always thankful if we reached the bottom without mishap. Today the automobile has changed all of this. As Dr. Stryker once said “Coasting has its drawbacks.” This was particularly true for the poor frosh who was sent down the Hill to replenish his fraternity’s supply of sleds. Can we forget the winter houseparties and the three-day Junior Prom when we initiated our best girl into the thrill of coasting down College Hill?
As we left Hamilton in June of 1913, there were rumblings of the coming war but most of us felt that a war in Europe would not affect us, separated from Europe by the Atlantic Ocean. However, no half-century has seen more changes than in the past 50 years. Two World Wars, the most devastating depression in history, the New Deal, the Fair Deal and now the New Frontier.
Unthought-of strides have taken place in transportation and communications. Medical science has lengthened our lives. The Atom and H Bomb have caused many of us to wonder whether the civilization which we enjoy can continue to exist. The rise of Communism poses a threat to the Democratic way of life in which we believe. The past 50 years have surely been far different than we looked forward to in 1913. However, I am optimistic enough to believe, as Winston Churchill said in the dark days of the Second World War that “we will muddle through.”
Today our pleasure in being here for our 50th reunion is only dimmed by thoughts of those who have failed to survive. The College has grown. There are more stately buildings: a new library, gym, the Sage Indoor Ice Rink, the Thomas B. Rudd Infirmary, the new Dunham dormitory, the biology building and now the old library together with another new building remodeled into a theater. The curriculum has been broadened so that Hamilton graduates find themselves equipped to pursue almost any form of post-graduate study. In June 1913, 36 were graduated, 18 of that number and 12 who failed to complete their courses for a degree are still living.
And now fellow alumni, I bring this letter to a close. I hope I haven’t bored you and that you will forgive my many personal references. I have tried to make this a letter of reminiscence rather than a treatise on the subject of the education 50 years ago. Do you not feel that the years we spent here at Hamilton were some of the happiest years of our life? Fifty years is a long time to wait for a free luncheon. It hardly seems possible that we marched up for our diplomas 50 years ago; and having received our diplomas, joined the ever-increasing body of Hamilton alumni. Hamilton is strong today because of the increasing number of unselfish, sacrificing, generous and loyal alumni and friends who are striving at all times to make this a better place for the education of coming generations. May I close with lines from two Hamilton songs. “Thy sons will never forget thee” and the closing line of Carissima, “We will still be thy boys.”
While a student at the College, Hamilton E. Griswold was a member of the musical club, the debate team, the bridge club and the Emerson Literary Society. Following law school, he formed his own law firm in the 1940s and had been involved in many community activities including the American Legion and the Presbyterian Church.