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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1922 Letter

A. Ross Eckler

Delivered: May 27, 1972

A few years ago, Life Magazine undertook an analysis of college classes back to 1920 and identified 11 exceptional or vintage classes in terms of achievements of their members. As we would expect, 1922 was one of the 11 receiving the four stars accorded to outstanding classes.

We arrived on the Hill in the final months of a great war and were soon caught up in the drastic changes that profoundly affected all institutions and individuals. On Sept. 19, 1918, the date set for the beginning of our academic year, the front page of The New York Times was devoted solely to news about the war and the plans for expansion of the armed forces in the next year.

Thanks to the drawing power of the Student Army Training Corps, our entering class set a record for size (132) that was not to be broken until after we had been graduated. A more enduring record was that set for loss in numbers during our years in college. About 50 left in December, shortly after the Armistice, and only 68, a little more than half our number a year earlier, were on hand for the beginning of our second year. Further losses were not entirely offset by transfers into our class, and by the time of graduation we numbered only 63. For the first and only time since 1839, the number dropping out along the way exceeded the number who received their degrees.

One of the benefits of SATC was a period of grace from the traditional training program offered by sophomores each year to a new crop of freshmen. Their inability to perform this service, although generally deplored by members of 1921, may have speeded up the crumbling of tradition that had already begun with the earlier abolition of Paint Night. We were the last class to be given the opportunity of displaying our versatility on the hazing block, even though, as Al Throop reported a year ago, the sophomores were ready, willing and able to continue the program. The long-established institution of Paddle Day was another tradition to be dropped during our stay on the Hill.

We arrived here shortly before the outbreak of a severe influenza epidemic that was to prove fatal to one of our class, Albert S. Embler, Jr. Those of us who suffered in the infirmary in the Sigma Phi House learned first-hand that the 1918 strain was a virulent one, but the facts to put it into perspective became available much later. Eventually, the public health experts decided that the 1918 outbreak was to be classed as a flu pandemic, the first of its type since the 1890s, resulted in some 40,000 deaths in the United States. The first demonstration of our ability to exceed national averages was a tragic one, our mortality rate being about 20 times the national rate.

Recently, perhaps, we have become so accustomed to controlled prices that we forget the drastic changes in costs during our college years. Around the middle of our stay tuition increased one third, and board in Commons went up nearly 20 percent. As an indication of how long ago this was, the new tuition rate was $120 per year, and the new weekly rate for board in Commons was $6.50.

So numerous and extensive have been the changes since our days that it would be easy to deal exclusively with them. For example, in the light of some of the student attitudes of recent years, it is interesting to recall that a straw vote in the fall of 1920 gave Harding a high majority of nearly four-to-one. We were equally conservative in projecting the future size of our College. The great majority were in favor of a size of 400 to 500, with two mentioning 700, one 800, and finally a daring two, 1,000 or more.

Previous annalists have given much attention to reviewing the major developments during their College years. If I were to follow this precedent, the record of the class would be such a rich and rewarding source of material that the only difficulty would be the selection of the most appropriate items.

Those of us who like to recall the struggles between the classes would want a detailed account of our successes with the class banquets, including the entertaining details about raids and counter-raids, kidnapping of individuals and the like. Our freshman banquet at the Hotel Utica and our sophomore banquet at the Hotel Richmond in Little Falls were executed so skillfully that interference by members of our adversary classes were minimal, perhaps just enough to give zest to each occasion. On the other hand, when the 1923 freshmen held their banquet at the Hotel Yates in Syracuse, a considerable number of our group were on hand and succeeded in bringing about a substantial impairment of this function.

Others, with strong interests in athletics, would like to have some of our triumphs in this area recalled. The skills of our class were demonstrated in our sophomore year, when we won the inter-class track meet decisively, capturing near half of the total number of points. In baseball, our battery of Perry and Davis was well known, while in hockey the two Reeders were key elements of a team that went through the season of 1921 undefeated against such opponents as Army, Cornell and Colgate.

Still others would most appreciate a recall of the scientific and cultural opportunities they enjoyed here on the Hill long ago. They would wish to have some highlights regarding the activities of many subject clubs: biology, history, German, French and Latin, which so considerably enriched the studies in these fields. Perhaps a different group would be most interested in accounts of the triumphs of the musical clubs or the Charlatans or the debate teams, where Alfange and Hartness were key men.

Equally worthy of attention would be some of the unique opportunities we enjoyed. Now and then we had a chance to hear the Honorable Elihu Root, perhaps our greatest alumnus. At the outset, his remarks were barely audible, but as he warmed up to his task, he showed flashes of the power and brilliance that accounted for his remarkable career. Another opportunity that a few of us remember was the contact with a truly remarkable teacher of mathematics, President Ferry. If his administrative burdens had not prevented his continuing in this role, he would be remembered as one of our finest teachers.

And yet others would most enjoy reminiscences of the faculty of our time, a group of men whom we recall by such common words as Stink, Pills, Bugs, Supe, Flatfoot, Rocks, Smut and Baldy. Their collective impact upon us can never be measured, and I am sure that all of us can remember vividly the lasting contributions from one or more of these men and their colleagues.

Tempting as it is to follow traditional lines on this occasion, I decided that since the annalist is a chronicler, he should concern himself not with just the four college years, but all the years. This seemed to call for taking another census, and hence a questionnaire was set out to all members-graduates and non-graduates — for whom addresses could be obtained. Admittedly, this venture involved two kinds of risk: our members might not want to take the time to fill out another census-type form so soon after 1970, and they might be too modest to tell about their achievements. With the assurance that the individual replies would be held confidential, the rate of response was excellent, and most of the members gave at least a reasonable amount of information about their achievements.

Survival is, of course, the one indispensible ingredient for attendance at a 50-year reunion. About five out of every eight of our graduates have met this requirement; because of missing data on many of the non-graduates, a similar measure for them is out of the question. We have beaten today's life tables by more than ten percentage points, and in terms of the best life tables at the turn of the century, twice the expected number have survived to this time. As a matter of fact, in the period around 1900, when most of us were born, the life tables indicated that half of us would not reach our 50th birthday, let alone our 50th reunion. Although we should like to give the whole credit to the whole life on here on the Hill, in truth the major explanation is to be found in the major medical advances.

Regardless of how much we may have contributed to the problem of pollution, we definitely have not been responsible for the population explosion, even though the average number of children per member was slightly higher than the national average for college males born around 1900. Our average, at 1.7, was 20 percent below the average needed to maintain a stable population. Likewise, the average number of grandchildren, about three per member, is below the level needed for population maintenance. Here the record is doubtless not complete, if we are to judge from the reported ages of our children. At the time the returns came in, there were three great-grandchildren of 1922 members, but a new count as of today could easily be two or three times that number.

If our class, as a whole, did not contribute to the explosion of population in this country, one of our members did so in outstanding style. Without disclosing names, I note that one of us delivered a total of 17,000 babies, or about 400 for each year of his career. It is easy to estimate that equal industry on the part of all college graduates would be sufficient to meet the needs of a country as large as Mainland China.

When we received our diplomas, we accounted for about one per thousand of the total number of 1922 graduates for the entire United States. Although Hamilton has more than held the its own since then in terms of population growth, our graduates this year represent only about one in every 4,000 of the national total. Despite the lesser competition of our day, it was even then becoming clear for many kinds of careers, specialized training beyond the bachelor's degree was needed. About three out of every five reported some training after Hamilton, the majority achieving a doctorate, master's or some other degree as a result of their work. One of us who did not take any formal training reported 50 years in the school of "hard knocks," with the degrees of hot and cold.

Our class was one of the first of a series to be little affected by responsibility for military service. We were born too late to have a significant role in World War I and too early to be drafted in World War II, although a few did take part in that war. Many of us served for a few months in SATC, often referred to as Safe At The College. Let us note especially the fate of those below 18 were elected to be part of SATC, buying their own uniforms, enduring KP and the daily reveille calls, and yet acquiring none of the veterans' benefits available to those foresighted enough to have been born a few months earlier.

When we left here in 1922, whether for more education or to begin our working careers, we were fortunate enough to have a few years of economic prosperity before the Great Depression of 1929 to 1933. But we were not to receive a safe-conduct pass through that period, and we suffered seriously. One of our members lost his job and had his bank close its doors within a single year. Others were forced for a time into pursuits for which they had receiving no training. For example, one man was a cement helper, another was a jackhammer operator and still another served as a roustabout in the oil fields.

In view of the impact of the depression upon our early working years, the most meaningful guide to our careers is provided by the longest job held. Here we find evidence consistent with some of our preconceived notions that Hamilton graduates tend to go into the profession rather than business. Only one in three found his longest jobs in law, medicine, education and the ministry, while about one-half were in banking. In the case of the first job held, the proportion in education was significantly higher than it was later, and the proportion in business was a little lower. This suggests that some of us found it easier to get a job in education at the outset, and that later we found it advantageous to leave the field of education and get into some form of business activity. Some of the reported positions indicate the scope and importance of the roles played by our classmates; college president, corporation president, university or college professor, district attorney, bank president, judge, city newspaper editor, New York City police commissioner and curator.

Your responses to the question regarding the number of years spent at the longest job suggests that you have certainly not been addicted to rapid turn-over, once you got by the hazards of the Great Depression. On average, your longest jobs were held for 28 years, with 13 of them lasting 40 years or more. The longest job reported covered 53.5 years, presumably a report from a non-graduate who has not yet retired.

The next question pertained to where you lived and what traveling you undertook while you were carrying out your life's work. In view of the long period at one job, it is not surprising that about half the class remained in one state, and another 20 percent had only a second state of residence. Three, however, lived in as many as seven different states, and nine lived abroad for some period, usually in one or two countries only. At the extreme in job mobility, one of our classmates lived in six different foreign countries.

Traveling, both within and outside the United States, has been an important activity for all of our members. On the average, each of us visited more than half of the States, has made three trips overseas and has visited seven different foreign countries. Twenty of us have been in 35 states or more, and our most peripatetic member has not only been to all 50 states, but has played golf in all of them. Some of the extreme items on foreign travel are interesting too. While seven of us have not been outside the United States, five have made 10 trips or more overseas, the maximum being 30. One man with a total of more than 50 different countries, reports that he has played golf in 27 different ones, located on six continents. At least one of us should have a life membership in the jet set.

I know that some of our class gave an incomplete report of their honors, even though they were warned against being modest. Nevertheless, enough was reported to make us proud of our collective accomplishments. I wish I could do justice to the record, but honors come in so many different forms that they virtually defy summarization. Many have received awards from local; state and national associations, political groups and different kinds of non-profit organizations, testifying to the wide-ranging capabilities included in our class ranks. Some of our group has been honored by the college fraternities and other fraternal organizations, and by national service organizations. Directorships in companies, civic bodies, review boards and the like testify to the leadership and reputation of many of our members. Some have been recognized for their achievements in relation to foreign countries, where they brought both intellectual distinction and served as ambassadors of goodwill. Still others have received honors and special recognition from federal and state governments and from colleges and universities. In the aggregate, these honors ad awards constitute an impressive tribute to the dedication and public spirit with which our members carried out their tasks.

One possible index of class achievement is provided by the frequency of listing in Who's Who in America. An index based upon this frequency was the primary basis for selection of 1922 as one of the 11 four-star classes already mentioned. When the record for our class is set against that for all graduates in a comparable time period, we show a rate of inclusion at least four times the overall average.

If our honors are hard to summarize, the hobbies are virtually impossible — so great is the range of activities that are mentioned. There were reported some 40 different hobbies that could be separately identified. Some of the concentrations are along lines that could be anticipated. For example, the most popular hobby, hunting and fishing, was reported by 16 members, but I doubt if more than one of us regard the javelin as a quarry. The next most popular hobbies were golf and reading (11 each) but probably only one of us combined golf with traveling so effectively as to play on 550 different courses. To achieve this record, it was necessary to play on an average of 11 new courses each year for all the years since graduation. Travel, cards and gardening were reported as hobbies by five to 10 of our members. There were different kinds of watchers among us: three watching sports, two watching birds, and one watching his grandchildren grow. But why did we have no reports of girl watchers? I hesitate to guess whether modesty or lack of interest is the explanation. Some of the unusual hobbies reported were: conniving, resting, flying, splitting wood, horse breeding and model railroads. One of us had published his own operettas, and another has written learned literary reviews for French journals.

This letter should not be limited to those who have completed the first 50 laps around the track. Of our list of graduates of '22, we lost one in the 1930s, three in the 1940s, seven in the 1950s, eight in the 1960s, and two known so far in the 1970s. Among them are some of our dearest friends, whom we particularly wish could be here with us today. A number of them, had they survived, would have added much luster to the annals of the class. Even at the risk of offending the friends of some of those whom I do not mention, I venture now to note briefly a few of the losses: Ken Turner, brilliant man of medicine and recognized in Who's Who in America? in his 50s. Dick Reeder, hockey captain and goalie for the undefeated hockey team of 1921; Vince Smalley, outstanding mathematician, perceptive lawyer and College trustee; Tom Pope, track team captain and College record holder; and Dutch Stern, who successfully executed the end-around play that beat Union and helped us forget a string of defeats. Our most recent known loss is that of Ed Kelly, a buoyant lively spirit whom all of us remember with much affection. As you would guess, Ed did not give up without a struggle. In a telephone conversation last summer, just a few weeks before the end, he reported that cobalt treatments were helping him, and said that he hoped to be with us for our 50th.

One of the inalienable rights of every annalist is to offer an appraisal of the social, economic and technical developments of the past half-century, and to suggest what may lie ahead. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, such a task calls for a stouter character than the one serving this year. The best reason for avoiding this role is perhaps to be found in the following words of Mencken: "The older I grow, the more I distrust the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom." Regardless of our political preferences and our social and economic philosophy, we can agree that the problems of today's world are far more complex and sensitive than those of the 1920s. The burdens upon our leaders, whether at the national, state or college level are far heavier than they have ever been. I believe that most of us applaud the changes we see in the College, even though we may still have reservations about one development or another. Most of us see more clearly than ever before the need for a college like Hamilton in a country where so much of our education takes place in state and city institutions numbering many thousands and even tens of thousands of students. We rejoice that Hamilton remains a great college, in spite of, our perhaps because of, the trials though which it has passed, one that we would still return to for an education if we were given the chance to run life's course a second time.

And now, as we enter upon our second 50 years, and the College enters upon its 161st year, we feel confident that under President Chandler, and his administration, Hamilton will remain a vital force in American education, and will continue to be a college fully worthy of our love, our admiration and our warm support.