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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1927 Letter

Frederick S. Marquardt

Delivered: Reunions 1977

Friends, classmates, Hamiltonians. Lend me your ears. I come to praise the Class of 1927, not to bury it.

Well, so much for Will Shakespeare. Also so much for Bill Marsh.

I don't know how Shakespeare would have reacted to those lines. But I am sure Professor Marsh would have flunked me if I had been delivering a freshman declamation. Not because what I said was "corn," but because I didn't "enunciate clearly." I didn't take a step to the right, or maybe to the left, between paragraphs.

It's easy to poke fun at Bill Marsh and Cal Lewis and the way they taught public speaking. The words "declamation" and "oration" have an archaic flavor to them. The idea of writing a speech and rehearsing it two or three times would be anathema today. But let it be said that the art of speech making was far different in those pre-electronic days. We didn't have sound systems that would turn a whisper into a roar. We didn't talk into microphones, which now bind a speaker to the lectern as though he were in chains.

In those days there was a reason for marching and counter-marching, for waving your arms and raising your voice. And if anyone thinks it wasn't effective, let him consider how far old-style oratory chats carried Mussolini and Hitler in our lifetimes. Fireside chats, with their homey informality, were waiting for President Roosevelt to invent and President Carter to embellish. We had not been exposed to long hours of nighttime radio talk shows, by which succeeding generations were enabled to pass the sleepless hours. Even farther in the future were the televised guest appearances that now let us see the marvelous creatures of Hollywood and Broadway as they discourse endlessly, pointlessly and inanely.

The subjects of our public speaking presentations were a mixed bag. Many of them have faded into history, including my own favorite debate subject: "Resolved: That the Philippine Islands should be given independence." Other popular subjects, such as whether capital punishment should be abolished, are being replayed today in state legislatures and the Supreme Court.

In our senior year the favorite subject for the Clark Prize Oratorical Contest was "Paul von Hindenburg, Soldier and Statesman." Berlin was a long way from Clinton, and Hitler was fresh out of jail in 1927, but the storm clouds gathering over Europe apparently were visible from this hilltop.

But let me get back to the more prosaic public speaking courses, which we all took. Probably declamations led all the others. They were memorized essays, frequently passed on from one class to the next. Occasionally some bold soul would use a poem as a declamation. This must have annoyed Cal Lewis because I once heard him say the next person to recite Rudyard Kipling's "Mandalay" would be required to sing it and provide his own accompanist.

We took at least one speech course each semester we were here. Somewhere back there; perhaps when William Jennings Bryan was objecting to crucifying America on a cross of gold, Hamilton College was called the Athens of America. Today, of course, the memorized speech is one with Nineveh and Tyre.

Was all that public speaking necessary? I don't know. But I do know one thing. Anyone who went through that regimen was able, later in life, to get on his feet and express an opinion. The rationale for so much compulsory public speaking in our day was that we learned English by speaking it instead of writing it. But we also wrote it. In freshman English, under the watchful eye of "Smut" Fancher, we each wrote a 300-word weekly theme. If we made three mistakes in spelling, grammar or punctuation, we flunked the theme. Today such teaching would be called unimaginative and sterile, stifling to the psyche of the undergraduate.

But no one in the Class of 1927 would have spelled appalling with one "l," accommodate with one "m," definite with an "a" in place of the second "i," masonry with an "a" between the "n" and the "r," or absence with two "s" s. All of these errors appear in this year's Spectator, Hamilton and Kirkland's undergraduate newspaper. It was perhaps the naïve belief of our college generation that the professors knew more about education than we did. We grumbled and groused about being forced to take Latin or Greek and at least one modern language in order to get a Bachelor of Arts degree. The math and science that we required fell heavily on some of us.

Without knowing how much we were suffering, we submitted to compulsory chapel seven days a week. After our graduation this requirement was steadily whittled down until it was finally abolished in 1965. Presumably that was part of the process in liberating the student.

Complain as we might among ourselves, we didn't believe we had a "right" to tell the faculty what they should teach us. Alternative schools, colleges without walls, automatic credits based on attendance — these were for a later generation, a generation that sought at one time to gain its ends by locking up deans, destroying school records and demanding the elimination of entrance requirements.

We used to watch, in our campus days, as members of the Board of Trustees came to the Hill for a couple of meetings each year. They would stroll around the campus, say hello to a student or two, and disappear into the administration building to do whatever they were supposed to do.

It never occurred to us that they should consult us. I doubt if any of us would have attended trustees' meetings if we had been asked to. There was no undergraduate "input," as there is now, in the administration of the College.

Professor Blackwood of Hamilton, in a study of the Class of 1976, found that 36 percent had never taken a foreign language, 43 percent had never taken a laboratory science, 47 percent never took a course in art or music, 53 percent never took a course in speech.

The pendulum may well be swinging back. This spring Dean Gulick and the Faculty Committee on Academic Policy recommended seven goals that must be attained by students prior to graduation. They were vague and generalized, with no such explicit statements, as "All freshmen will take public speaking, math, science and English."

Instead Dean Gulick suggested, as a requirement for graduation, "an ability to think, write, and speak clearly, with precision and cogency." He also suggested students become acquainted with systems of analysis, with a culture differing from the student's, with moral and ethical problems, with literary, artistic or musical expression, and with relative mastery of some particular field of knowledge.

These are all admirable goals, and I think they would have been accepted by educators of our day. But neither Little Greek nor President Ferry would have felt a need to submit them to a Student Curriculum Committee, which is what Dean Gulick did. The student committee approved Dean Gulick's goal, but The Spectator promptly declared, "Distributive requirements in any form, cloaked in whatever euphemism, represent a step backward for Hamilton." I suppose "distributive requirements" mean telling a student he must have more than one string on his academic bow.

To meet Dean Gulick's proposed requirements, students will select their courses with the help of advisors, and their success or failure will be monitored, first by the student's advisor, next by a troika of advisors, and eventually by the entire Board of Advisors. Assistant Dean James Traer told The Spectator, "The proposed system strengthens the advisor's role while allowing room for negotiation between the student and his advisors."

It wouldn't have occurred to any of us to "negotiate" with the faculty about the curriculum. And the using the right of an editorial writer to disagree with his peers, I would certainly disagree with The Spectator's editorial demand that the Committee on Academic Policy "should begin to seek a solution more palatable to students who value self-determination."

Whether student self-determination is a permanent fixture at Hamilton or not, I do not know. I am happy to report that, on recommendation of the faculty, the Board of Trustees in March approved the creation of "undergraduate students for written expression." So far, at least, there has been no campus rebellion at this decision, which, I believe, means undergraduates at Hamilton are going to be required to achieve a certain skill in writing.

For starters, how about a 300-word theme that is automatically flunked if it contains three errors in spelling, punctuation or grammar? The maybe even a memorized declamation or two. Well, I can dream, can't I?

Rich Guertin, a member of the Class of 1978, has been elected president of the Hamilton Student Senate for next year. I noted with interest that only one-third of the "Now" generation voted in that election. I would guess that all of us used to vote in comparable class elections. Mr. Guertin wasn't happy about the small turnout, but he announced that, in student relations with the faculty, "We're going to see issues in a spirit of cooperation, not antagonism." No officer of the Class of 1927 would have been so patronizing. We left faculty matters to the faculty.

Hamilton isn't the only liberal arts college that is seeking to tighten up its curriculum. Earlier this year a Manifesto of Liberal Arts College Presidents asked why students were leaving college "without the skills to read, to think critically and to express themselves." In 1974 Prof. Harvey Rosovsky of Harvard said the B.A. degree was becoming little more than "a certificate of attendance." And not, I might add, of attendance at chapel. Georgetown University has announced that a foreign language will be required on a graduated basis in the next few years.

At the risk of being accused of lacking sensitivity, I would say that allowing the students to re-establish curriculum standards is a lot like allowing the inmates to run the state hospital. To put it simply, as undergraduates we weren't expected, nor did we expect, to have any control over the curriculum or the administration of Hamilton College. We took the courses that were mandatory, made our selections among the courses that were elective, attended classes when we were told to, passed them or flunked them, and eventually were graduated or went to Colgate.

While the faculty run the classes, the undergraduates had more independence and responsibility than they do now. Or so it seems to me. Consider, for instance, the matter of student publications. Today there is a joint Hamilton-Kirkland Publications Board. It is composed of two deans, two representatives of the administrations of the two colleges, four faculty members, six students elected by their peers, plus the undergraduate editors and the business manager. The New York Times doesn't have that many people directing it. Nor, I am happy to say, does the Arizona Republic.

Subscriptions for The Spectator are collected by the College as part of undergraduate fees. The newspaper's income and outgo are funneled through College channels. The College makes up the debts, if any, of the College publications. It keeps the profits, if any.

In our day there was no supervision of publications by either the faculty or the administration. Students had total control of the yearbook, the newspaper, the humorous and literary magazines, even the news bureau. The responsible students sold the ads and the subscriptions, collected the money, paid the bills, made up any losses and kept any profits. There always were profits. Score one for private enterprise.

In athletics we had what we quaintly called ass managers. In those pristine days the adjective stood for assistant, not something you bet. Whoever did the best job as an ass manager became the manager. By the time we entered College the managers were no longer making out athletic arrangements for out-of-town trips.

Hamilton was a fraternity college. The system was far from perfect. Failure to make the fraternity a freshman wanted to join often left a scar. But it never occurred to us to say anyone had a "right" to join a fraternity. Like any other social grouping in any society anywhere, students themselves decided their own friendships. A hard system? Perhaps. But in my estimation no harder than the social system we endured after President Ferry handed us the diplomas, written in Latin, and told us we were thereby admitted to the society of educated men.

Since 1968, the diplomas have been written in English. Back when Hamilton was known for stressing the classics, the salutatory address was delivered in Latin. Most of us didn't understand it, I must confess, despite the liberal use of such phrases as "Sic semper tyrannis" and "E Pluribus Unum."

Was the loosening of fraternity bonds, which followed the return of the GIs from World War II, a step forward? The question could be argued endlessly. There is no question that neutrals, as the non-fraternity men were called, missed a lot. Nor is there any question that secret grips, passwords, and the abracadabra of college fraternities was a vestigial remnant of an earlier society. But I would say, 50 years later, that fraternities were an asset to the College setting I knew. Needless to say, each fraternity ran its own housing and eating establishment. The College didn't collect the money for board.

Hazing was on its way out when we entered College, largely due to the death of Stink Saunders' son when he was "dumped" out of bed and received a fractured skull in the process. But most of us, as freshmen, came up against the business side of the paddle, wielded by enthusiastic sophomores. Paddling, I am told, has disappeared from the College scene, which I think we would all agree is a step forward.

There was a strong sense of class loyalty when we were here. This was developed in our first year by the unwritten and quietly accepted requirement that we wear green beanies perched on our heads whenever we were outdoors. We said "Hello" to everyone we met on campus, stayed off the grass, and were called "Slimers." Today's psychologists would call this demeaning, I suppose, but our tender feelings survived.

There were class rushes in which physical contact was not unknown, and there was a tug-of-war in which the freshmen pulled the sophomores through the fountain, or vice-versa. As freshmen and sophomores we had class banquets, with the object being to attend your own and keep members of the other class away from theirs. No doubt there were some excesses. I remember accompanying a classmate to a hospital where, much to our relief, we learned his back was not broken.

Freshmen had to haul sleds up the hill so their betters could ride back down. So far as I know that didn't make any of us believe we were being put upon.

We were in college during the days of national prohibition. Every taxi driver was a bootlegger, and speakeasies were not hard to find. And yet I would venture a guess that we drank less beer and hard liquor than today's undergraduates. We smoked cigarettes without knowing they might cause cancer. But we didn't smoke marijuana and we didn't touch the hard stuff. In fact, we probably would have said a joint was a pool hall. The only people we knew who used cocaine were anesthesiologists.

We had an academic honor system, and it worked. During written tests and final examinations our professors gave out the questions and left, to return three or four hours later and collect our blue books. Students could leave the classrooms and go to their own living quarters during exams, being required only to stipulate in writing that they had neither given nor received aid during the test.

The same requirement was made for themes or other written work done outside of class. An honor court, made up of students, heard complaints about cheating and conducted investigations as to the validity of the charges. The honor court's decisions were not reversible by the president, the trustees or anyone else. Once, while we were in college, President Ferry took exception to an honor court decision but did not seek to change it and a few days later he admitted to the court that he had been in error.

Hamilton College still has an honor system, and it still works. When the West Point cheating scandal broke last year, Prof. Sidney Wertimer, Jr. wrote a letter to the New York Times praising the system. However, changes have been made since 1927. No proctors are presented during exams or tests, but students aren't allowed to leave classrooms. "The faculty keeps out of the process until the very final stages of confirmation and review," Professor Wertimer said in the Times. But the faculty, according to Wertimer, has not overturned a student decision in the 25 years he has been acquainted with the system.

Upon entering Hamilton, students now are provided a copy of the Honor Court Constitution and must sign an agreement to abide by the rules and regulations. There was no such requirement in our day. The system worked without it. The honor system pledge is now not required for "take-home examinations" or other work prepared outside of class. Our themes and our homework were under the honor system and bore the customary pledge.

Ours was a more structured existence than the one that prevails today. We were isolated from the world, back there when a trip from Utica to New York City took six hours by train and longer by car. There were no freeways, and in point of fact there were very few cars available to undergraduates. Autos owned by undergraduates could not be kept on campus. The occasional student who owned a car put it in a garage and rode the trolley, as we all did, to get to Utica.

But this was not a cultural desert. We had a harpsichord concert in Chapel at a time when very few New York City audiences had heard this instrument. We could hear Sousa's band in Utica. Also Madame Schumann-Heink. Anyone who took Ed Root's art course had a magnificent exposure to the great classical paintings. Little Greek ended his first year course with two weeks' teaching students to appreciate the ancient civilization he knew so well. Bugs Morrill taught us what esophageal ganglia were, and made us learn the names of the many trees on campus. He was not above putting acorns under an elm tree when he tested us on our ability to identify the trees.

Long before I ever heard of Vicks' nose drops, I made the mistake of sneezing in biology class, and Bugs came running over with his own nasal decongestant, which he administered despite my protests.

Bob Rudd, later to be known as "Bobo," could read romantic poetry as well as anyone in the country. No one who took Chubby Ristine's course in Shakespeare could ever forget it. Whether Prof. Super was a Spanish scholar I cannot say. But since taking Spanish under "Supe," I've never had trouble ordering a meal in Mexico. Gigi Wisewell was a pedant who was ridden so hard by Hamilton Life in our junior year that he begged me to leave his name out of Carpe Diem in our senior year. I agreed, knowing there was plenty of other material around.

Prof. Fancher not only taught English, but he gave Hamilton some of its great choirs and directed plays for The Charlatans.

Stink Saunders taught us chemistry when there were still a good many blank spaces in the Periodic Table of the Elements. He assured us that the blanks would be filled, and most of them have been. Stink raised those unbelievably lovely peonies, cross-breeding them much as he once crossbred wheat in order to reduce the growing season in his native Canada. He also brought chamber music to those of us whose musical appreciation had largely been limited to hearing the piano player at a strip-tease joint.

Enough of this rhapsodizing. I must confess that ours was really no Eden. In winter the thermometer went below zero far too often and stayed there far too long. The snow was piled high, although perhaps not so high as this past winter. There was no government mail delivery, and we walked to Clinton to get the mail.

In the spring and fall, when it rained a lot, the shale footprints made the carpet of every house a bright red.

Houseparties were the grand diversion of our years. Before Kirkland provided a yearlong source for dates, Hamilton men managed to escape the Hill's monasticism only during three weekends. In the fall, in the winter and in the spring — we celebrated a ritual called houseparty. Girls came from our hometowns, or were the sisters of our roommates. We met them at the railroad station in Utica and escorted them to Clinton by trolley or taxi. On Friday evening there was an all-night dance, frequently ended by breakfast. A few hardier females accompanied their dates to classes on Saturday morning. Only the most intolerant professor would reprimand the student who occasionally dozed off while listening to a lecture during a houseparty weekend.

Coeducational dormitories had not been thought of in those days, or perhaps I should say had not achieved official sanction. So the male students doubled up in dorms and the female visitors moved into the fraternity houses during our houseparties. We wore black ties; starched dress shirts adorned with black studs, suspenders, black silk socks and patent leather shoes. The girls wore long dresses, to say nothing of brassieres, and, I do believe, girdles. Maybe even corsets.

There was a quaint institution known as the chaperone in those days, but the Root Glen and the College cemetery, to say nothing of the unlocked classroom buildings, offered sanctuary of a sort. We were blessed with neither penicillin nor the pill, but let it be recorded for history that "making out" was not unknown way back then.

There was a colorful character named General Burton who was in charge of campus maintenances. He assured me, long after we graduated, that cleaning up the campus after a houseparty provided evidence that ours was not a sexless generation. One thing we never saw on the Hill, however, was a woman wearing pants — exterior pants, that is.

I must quickly add, however, that our houseparties were nothing like the one portrayed in The Sterile Cuckoo, written by John Nichols, a Hamilton graduate. It was filmed on campus. The houseparty in that film would have shocked Rabelais. Liza Minnelli was the female star in that picture, which has recently appeared on the late-late shows. She will be remembered long after her houseparty date, old what's-his-name is forgotten.

A description in contemporary Hamilton houseparties was contained in an editorial in The Spectator early this year. The writer called the modern houseparty a "spectacle of continuous consumption, waste of alcohol and orgiastic behavior. The editorial said houseparties offer "a concentrated period for the release of academic tensions." But "must not be used as an excuse to deviate from normal behavior."

Such a warning may make members of the Class of 1927 wonder if we weren't all born 50 years too early.

In our days sports writers were not statisticians and basketball players were not seven feet tall. The baseball team did its spring training in the old gym, learning to slide on a wood floor, often acquiring splinters in their buttocks in the process.

We did very well in fencing and hockey, thanks to Coaches Gelas and Prettyman. Once, while we were here, we beat Colgate in baseball. And once, after we left, Hamilton made the mistake of playing Colgate in football. But we regularly took on West Point in fencing and hockey.

History is about to repeat itself. Just as we were the benefactors of a brand new ice hockey rink, perhaps the first ever built for a college, the two lower classes now in Hamilton will be able to use a fine new field house before they graduate. If you haven't made your pledge in the current $16 million Priorities for Hamilton Campaign, President Carovano or Vice President Anderson will be happy to talk to you right after this meeting.

I had intended to end this half-century annal at about this point, hoping I reassured oldsters that things were not so bad 50 years ago. I also hoped to convince youngsters that Hamilton's history didn't start the day they arrived here.

Then it occurred to me that I might take a few more minutes to cite the achievements of some of those who graduated in the Class of 1927.

Although two of us rode bicycles from Dayton, Ohio, to Clinton when they entered Hamilton, most of our class came from New York State. Parenthetically, I have never believed Hamilton should seek students from Florida or Illinois or California, to say nothing of Indonesia or the Upper Volta. If anyone in those far-away places wants to come to Hamilton, well and good. But it has always seemed to me that plenty of people in New York could benefit from an education in the liberal arts — with or without public speaking.

Jim Fuess, who is mainly responsible for getting us all together for this reunion, says there were 85 graduates listed in the Commencement program for the Class of 1927. Of those 85, Jim reports, 54 were living a month ago. So if we did nothing else the majority of the Class of 1927 outlived the Biblical allotment of three score and ten years. At least 33 of our class said they would return to the College this weekend, which bespeaks a certain affluence as well as a modicum of health.

I have searched in vain for any Elihu Roots or Alexander Woollcotts or Fred Skinners in the ranks of 1927. Still, our class can claim some distinctions. Bill Mulligan is a lawyer's lawyer who has made a national reputation in divorce cases. Bill had uttered at least one unassailable truth. Writing for The New York Times, Bill said about divorce: "New viewpoints and new customs have outrun the ancient dogmas." You can say that again, Bill.

Cort Smith has written four books for editors and publishers.

Karl Hinke, chairman of the board of the Interbank Card Association, has put a Master charge card in umpteen million pocketbooks, which may or may not have been a boon for mankind, to say nothing of womankind.

George Taylor is a member of one of New York's most prestigious law firms, the one that persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the National Recovery Act in the New Deal days.

Jim Fuess, in charge of sales of organic chemicals for Eastman Kodak, has collected postage stamps from 120 countries with which he sought to do business.

Ham Bookout, who was a member of the Hamilton College Board of Trustees, held the unique distinction of being a member of the Headmistress Association.

Vin Burns manages the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs, California.

Johnny Allen was wise enough to stay in Clinton, where he runs a famous hardware store and looks after a network of apartment houses.

Bob MacGregor and Tom Hickok were members of the U.S. Foreign Service. They both served tours of duty in Jerusalem, but not at the same time.

Lauren Ackerman is a pathologist whose book on tumors is bigger than Roots. He once watched the president of the United States sign a bill granting $1.5 billion for the war on cancer, and then went out and helped spend the money.

It is generally believed that members of our class were too young for World War I and too old for World War II. Not so.

Ben Brink was a decorated chaplain in World War II.

Homer Waverly joined the Army, became a ski trooper, and liked the snow so much that he moved to Colorado when he retired.

Yours truly, who has been the editor of The Arizona Republic and The Philippines Free Press, was a civilian attached to General MacArthur's staff, and opened the first newspaper after the liberation of Manila.

Hux Pickard proved our durability by spending 51 months in the military before resuming his civilian life as an accountant.

Sid Britten conducted a private practice of medicine and then made a career with the naval medical corps and served in Guam, Japan, Naples and elsewhere.

Sandy Sanborn, a Presbyterian minister, felt the call of distant lands and did missionary work in Lebanon, Finland and Kentucky.

Carl Davis wrote advertising copy for Barton, Batten, Durstine and Osborne until he retired to pursue his hobby of collecting New Orleans jazz records. Someone said, of his career in advertising, that Carl was the root in Wildroot Hair Tonic.

Max Wylie, who claimed membership in the Classes of 1926, 1927 and 1928, taught in Lahore, where he gathered the material of his first book, "Hindu Heaven." He wrote for Time Magazine, produced several "Best Radio" anthologies and created The Flying Nun of television fame.

Ed Stanley kept up his interest both in hockey and in Clinton, and manages the Clinton Arena.

Most of us had hobbies, of some sort, and two of our class parlayed hobbies into fame.

Leon Lyons used to tune all of the fraternity pianos at houseparty time. After graduation, he taught school but also maintained his musical touch. He has tuned a $12,000 Steinway concert grand for Bob Hope and has performed similar tasks for Liberace, Laurence Welk, The Carpenters, Jose Iturbi and Frank Sinatra.

Clif Crist, who made a living selling books for Alfred A. Knopf, has probably the largest collections of limericks in the world. There are 10,000 limericks on 3x5 cards and 60 books in his collection. In 1964, he delivered the Norman Douglas lecture before the Society of the Fifth Line. Three years later the society appointed him its poet laureate. Playboy Press published his Playboy Book of Limericks in hardback in 1972. A paperback in 1973 has sold about 50,000 copies and a cheap hardback came out last year. The following is from Clif's Playboy Book of Limericks:

"Said a pretty young student from Smith
Whose virtue was largely a myth
Try as I can
I can't find a man
Whom it's fun to be virtuous with."


Clif once wrote in The National Observer, "…long live college, the only lengthy vacation most folks ever get in their lives."

I asked Clif to write a limerick for his (and our) 50th reunion, which unfortunately he is unable to attend. He wrote back, "A class reunion, even the 50th, just does not lend itself to the limerick form." But he sent one anyway, which I quote:

Ode to 1927
We began as a struggling young mass
Faculty yelling: "They Shall Not Pass!"
But by senior year
It became crystal clear,
'Twas Hamilton's most glorious class.


That's poetic license, of course. We weren't really glorious. I would say we were typically Middle American. Today's undergraduate would call us "square," I assume.

Our Glee Club would never have sung a song which the current Hamilton College Buffers render from time to time. It contains the line "and so our name is borrowed from a man who never lent, unless he had assurance of a modest 10 percent." If we thought Alexander Hamilton practiced usury, we kept it to ourselves. Come to think of it, 10 percent is modest by today's standards.

When Carl Davis prepared the Hamiltonian for our class he dedicated it to Wally Johnson, "who believes in Hamilton College." I am sure we all believed in Hamilton as we roamed its "homestead, glade and glen." We believed in both its massive walls and its classic halls. We believed in this College when we lived on this campus and we believe in it now, 50 years later, despite the changes that have come to it and us.

I said in the beginning of this Half Century Annal that I came to praise the Class of 1927, not to bury it. Time will do the latter job. But part of us will remain on this hilltop whose days will never end.