Delivered: June 6, 1987
My classmates, alumni and friends of the Hamilton family:
On my first appearance on this platform as a freshman, I suffered from such violent trembling that I was certain that the audience could hear the rattling of bones. As a senior at Commencement, speaking in Latin, the trembling was gone, but the apprehension that little if what I said would be understood created a terror of its own. And now, 50 years later, while I still do not tremble, apprehension that what I have written will not fairly reflect upon our times at Hamilton causes this platform to shake beneath me. The material available is so voluminous and the time is so short that I began this hopeless task with a helpless feeling. Nevertheless, I begin with —
Pittsburgh's Old Frothingslosh.
In our 1937 Hamiltonian, it was written of me, in part, as follows: "Out from under the mantle of Pittsburgh's blackest dust came Bill. He still remains loyal to it." Assuming that "it" refers to Pittsburgh and not to dust, I must confess that the loyalty remains to this day. However, in more recent years, I find that I need no longer explain that I have come "clean" from Pittsburgh.
Recently, that loyalty provided an unexpected dividend in the form of a title for this letter. Some years ago, a Pittsburgh brewery began, on a seasonal basis, the production of an ale, which it named "Old Frothingslosh" and which it advertised as "the pale stale ale with the foam on the bottom." On reflection, those words seem appropriate for this task. Old are the times I describe. I slosh around in the froth of memory. The records I have consulted are beginning to pale with age. Stale, as descriptive of malt liquor, means having stood long enough to be clear and free of dregs; certainly, our recollections meet this test. Ale is light in color, and this letter will be on the lighter side. Having the foam on the bottom allows some time for serious reflection.
Some of you may choose to quibble with old as descriptive of the 1930s. If you so choose, please consider this: We came before nylon, television, credit cards, fast foods, ballpoint pens, freezers, pantyhose, disposable diapers and so many other things which are common today. However, we managed with what we had, and at —
We entered here in this physically isolated enclave in the fall of 1933 with 160 freshmen registered out a total registration of 469, at that time, one of the larger bodies in the history of the College. Thirty of our number came from preparatory schools, with the remainder coming from high schools. Quickly, we were swept into college life, losing the flag rush, two of the three wrestling matches, and the 440-yard relay race to the sophomores, winning only the tug-of-war through greater numbers. For this we were chased from the grass, restricted into the red clay paths, forbidden to wear knickers or red in any form until after spring recess, and required to wear the little green cap as the crown of our status.
We were entertained by Dr. and Mrs. Ferry at their annual reception for incoming freshmen in order to meet our fellow classmates. Here we were also introduced to some of the faculty. And, as reported in Hamilton Life: "Delicious refreshments were served after the reception. Mrs. Nelson C. Dale and Mrs. Edgar B. Graves poured."
The rush of these events, along with the beginning of classes, was enough to overwhelm some of us, who were coping with our first sustained absence from home. Still to come, six weeks later, was hectic fraternity rushing when 92 of us were pledged. It is yet a mystery to me how I survived, but I found my roommates to be congenial and, wonder of wonders, my professors not only approachable but even helpful. And so to —
The President and Faculty
Who were these men under whose supervision and guidance we lived during our stay here? Each of us had favorites, depending on the courses of study we followed, and for that reason we had little exposure to some of the others. But the stories about these men are legion.
I remember President Ferry as a fatherly figure, to me imposing in stature, gracious of manner, dignified of bearing, and firm in upholding the rules of the College. I was reminded by a classmate that he could be authoritarian with no hesitation. Witnessing a spring snowballing of open windows in Carnegie, he demanded that the activity be terminated at once; it was, of course, and the miscreants slunk away. He was, however, a good listener, as was proven in the spring of 1935 when a student committee convinced him of the unfairness and hypocrisy of the required weekday and Sunday chapel system. Knowing that it would take time for the trustees to consider changes in a long-standing system, he was instrumental in convincing them to allow the faculty to institute interim reforms, including a dean's list, pending final approval by the board. Who of us can forget him trudging up the Hill to his office, leaning far forward, as a classmate says he now does when faced with the same climb? Or who can forget him riding his sled down the Hill to lunch in the winter? There can be little doubt he was respected by other colleges, since by our graduation he had been the recipient of seven honorary degrees.
Dean Frank H. "Chubby" Ristine was always a puzzle to me. While his appearance was not stern, neither was it inviting. Consequently, I was never tempted to seek an audience with him, nor to be placed in a position where I was requested to appear before him. I did not realize, disciplinarian though he was, that there was humor in him. As a classmate related, the dean, meeting up with the students in Utica and offering them a ride to the campus, became aware as he approached his car that one of his garters (yes, he wore them then) was dragging in the snow. He responded with the motto of the British Order of the Garter—"Honi soit qui mal y pense." And much later I became aware of the respect in which he was held for his courses in Anglo-Saxon literature, Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era.
There are so many remembrances of the professors that I cannot possibly chronicle them all. But I must comment on two in some detail — Professors Graves and Bonham.
Dr. Graves, the scholar and the teacher, was the most thorough lecturer to whom I have listened. In his lectures on English and Renaissance history, old happenings lived. He wasted not a moment at the start, saying: "We found at the end of last hour…" It was he who helped me plan a graduation trip to Europe. From his courses, I was so familiar with Florence as a center of the Italian Renaissance that, arriving there after dark and taking a taxi from the railroad station to my room in a pensione, I recognized nearly all of the buildings along the way. It seemed that I had been there before. That this man was respected and loved by those who took his courses is not an exaggeration. I was amazed, at our 45th reunion, how many former students sought him out to express their thanks, almost adulation, to him. His answer, accompanied by a wide smile and a chuckle, was always the same — he loved teaching.
Dr. Bonham, more the scholar and less the teacher, but the perfect picture of a portly Southern gentleman, has been famous for his love of color in maps and notebooks. In fact, one of our classmates claims that he flunked one of Dr. Bonham's courses because he was not an artist and did not have the proper coloring pens for circling and underlining. Many and sundry things were discussed in class other than the lesson. Taking note of this, "Carpe Diem" included in one of his columns in Hamilton Life the following bogus news item: "Flash! Hamilton College, Clinton, New York (AP) – Professor M.L. Bonham, Jr. spent 46 of the 53 minutes in his History 1-2 course on January 8 talking about history."
Other brief recollections of professors are:
George L. Nesbitt — with that shy grin and self-conscious giggle, stumping his English class with questions based upon the footnotes to the text.
Robert B. "Bobo" Rudd — holding us spellbound with readings from Chekhov, his poodle beside him asleep on the dais.
Arthur J. "Stink" Saunders — a man of prodigious talent, developer (along with his father and brother) of the Canadian Marquis wheat, famous hybridizer of peonies, figure skater, accomplish violinist and violist, astronomer, geneticist, breeder of show dogs. Grinning with impish delight when creating an explosion or setting off a smoke bomb to emphasize a point in chemistry class; who also, I am told, could not understand why the alcohol yield on an experiment was so that year, since unknown to him a classmate was siphoning it off for an obvious purpose.
Cleveland K. "Trot" Chase — reading Latin poetry in a soft and almost lisping voice.
Ralph C. Super — who could be led away from the Spanish lesson for no more than half of the hour and whose hearing was reputed to be impaired (some say, not so!) to the extent that he once told a student in class to speak up because it was snowing outside.
George H. Perrine — who, in a Saturday morning French class during spring house party, had a student speak in French on the subject "La Housse Partie." He kept the fellow struggling for a couple of minutes before informing him and the class that the subject was the torn horse blanket, not what they thought.
Lewis H. "Fifi" Gordon — helping to serve refreshments at a tea given by the Horace Seely Browns for our class, was complimented by Mrs. Brown in her best Billie Burke gushing: "Oh, Professor Gordon, you pour with such aplomb!"
William P. Shepard — gaunt of appearance, frail of health and owner of the most ill-fitting and noisy dentures I have ever encountered. If idle moments occurred in his French class, I used these to speculate whether this would be the day those dentures would fall out. They never did!
Horace Seely Brown — a mathematician, but one whose patience was not inexhaustible. I recall most clearly a student trying to solve a set of equations on the blackboard, with Dr. Brown at his desk watching closely. After making a silly mistake, a student came to an obvious dead end, whereupon Dr. Brown turned to his desk and in complete frustration, rested his elbows on the desk, buried his face in his hands, and sadly shook his head from side to side. As I recall, that ended the class for the day.
William B. "Swampy" Marsh — Upson Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, for which his deep voice, precise diction and formal demeanor fitted him perfectly. Perhaps the last advocate of the formal oratorical style, but for those who knew him best a warm-hearted and kindly man. It is difficult to summarize the views of my classmates on the subject of the faculty. One summed up this way.
"At that stage in my life, the faculty that I encountered was tremendously exciting for me. Most of them were not intellectual giants in their fields, but they were serious, intelligent men who worked hard to teach us, succeeded astonishingly well in revealing new vistas, were probably underpaid, and treated me with humane friendliness. They commanded, and will still command, respect."
These opinions are not without dissent, however. For there are those who believe some were too old and resting on their oars, others were substituting hard marking for good teaching, and some who did not relate well to youth. Nonetheless, they never hid from us — acting as fraternity advisors, joining in faculty-student bridge nights, participating in College club affairs, putting on skits on student life, generally advising willingly on personal problems, often spending time with individual students socially, as well as a host of other activities that kept them close to student life.
However, the faculty and the administration were not the only spice to our lives here. There were other—
Flavors of the Times,
One of which was — Gals
When I informed my high school principal that I wish to enroll at Hamilton College, he, being an ardent advocate of coeducation, asked me bluntly if I wished to become a monk. I knew that this was not a religious question. However, when I informed my father of the principal's remark, I could see the steam begin to rise from the space between his neck and the stiff collar he was accustomed to wearing. How the two of them settled this matter is not a part of this letter.
I soon discovered that the men of Hamilton differed from other groups of the same age only to be in the long distances that they would travel to be with the girls. For those who had cars, trips to Wells, Skidmore, Sarah Lawrence and other distant points were not infrequent. For those of us who were not so fortunate in available transportation, connections were soon discovered in Utica and other nearby places.
There is ample evidence that many of us were interested in the opposite sex. In the little write-ups opposite our 81 pictures in the 1937 Hamiltonian, at least 33 contained references, direct or indirect, to pursuit of the girls.
There is even more tangible evidence of this. How else could one explain the appearance of the following in the Continental and Royal Gaboon issue of Dec. 16, 1936? This from one of our classmates:
My dear, there's passion in your eyes,
And in my palm your soft hand lies;
Though surely I did not insist
Upon my lips you placed a kiss.
Your eyes aglow and bosom heaving —
Just whom do you think that you're deceiving?
The crowning social events of the year, of course, were the spring and fall house parties. These required your best clothes, even formal clothes if you owned them, and the ladies were in long gowns for the Friday night dances. These were the days of the big bands, when the music had a strong melodic line to it in addition to a good beat. Dancing, with sufficient practice, was an art form with smoothness and grace — not simply a form of exercise. And then there were athletic events to attend on Saturday, and, of course, more dancing. These were pleasant weekends.
I cannot resist telling you this, even though I break a vow that I would not divulge student or fraternity names. This one-liner appeared in the February 1934 issue of the Continental: "It was intermission at the Deke dance and everybody came inside to rest." When boredom or mental exhaustion strikes, there is nothing that revives me more quickly than a touch of —
The "Carpe Diem" column of Hamilton Life was just such a touch for me, and my recent review of it did nothing to dispel that recollection. For example, this bit about Eliot Crim Burton, superintendent of buildings and grounds, which appeared early in 1935:
"General Burton, Bachelor of Science, Fire Chief, Detective at Large, and Handyman Extraordinary, has expressed in his characteristic style an apparently philosophical truism. His neophytes were clapping the storm windows upon the edifice which surrounds Doc Bryden — commonly called the gymnasium — when he happened along. Quit all that G____ D____ bangin' up there — set them windows in gentle or you'll knock the G____ D____ crate over!!"
I cannot permit that to be the end of the incident, however, since the College subsequently converted the crate to Kirkland Residence Hall. Were I able to send the General a message of assurance today, it would read: "Sir: The crate still stands!"
In the spring of 1934, the Charlatans' prize play for that year was announced in Hamilton Life. The play was called "Virgin at Large," and the headline for the article read "Virgin at Large Offered in April." In the following week's edition of Hamilton Life, Carpe took note of this headline with the following logical question — "To the highest bidder?"
Careless sentence construction can often lead to humor where none was intended. Such was the case, called to my attention by a classmate, concerning the announcement of a Clinton Garden Club meeting appearing in The Clinton Courier. This announcement was picked up about one year later by The New Yorker in its "Raised Eyebrow" department. While he could not guarantee the precise wording, the announcement went as follows: "The Clinton Garden Club will hold a meeting that will long be remembered by all the members who attend. The meeting will be held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Root. The host and hostess will demonstrate cross fertilization on the lawn."
Perhaps the above faux pas would underscore the need for the clarity of —
The Word—Written and Spoken
How we, as freshmen, struggled with English composition — the written word! We were forced to spell correctly, to write grammatically and with clarity, and to develop some facility with descriptive prose. We were always under the watchful eyes of Professors Fancher and Nesbitt. Lapses were seldom undetected in any compositions or examinations. Some of us succeeded to a greater degree than others, but few of us left Hamilton without the impression that the written word could be an ever-present aid in later life.
In its annual catalog from 1933-34, the College made this statement concerning English composition and public speaking: "The instruction in this department is based on the belief that, since the English of daily life is mainly oral, the greater amount of training in English should aim to develop undergraduates in speaking rather than in writing." It stipulated these elements of speaking to be studied — articulation, pronunciation, force, rate, pitch, emphasis, inflections, delivery, phrasing, gesture and action.
Small wonder, then, that my first freshman speech — a memorized one — was a disaster. I do not recall whether it was Swampy Marsh or Bob Hicks who heard it, but fortunately they were patient and understanding men.
I am certain that our graduation from Hamilton would have been delayed had we fallen into usage habits, which are commonplace today. Ungrammatical usage was not tolerated. Would you believe that George Shultz, secretary of state, could refer to recent conversations with the president as being "between the president and I"? A slip of the tongue? Not so, since a week later he was quoted as saying "There was considerable discussion between Mr. McFarlane and I about that…" Perhaps you would not be surprised that John Madden, the popular professional football analyst, would say that even Santa Claus "could've took" the ball through that hole. Or that Al McGuire, college basketball analyst, would say of a disputed foul call that it "could've went either way."
Even the Hamilton campus has fallen victim to the ungrammatical. In an article appearing in a recent issue of The Spectator concerning allocation of funds to student organizations by the budget committee of the Student Assembly, a member of the committee was quoted as saying: "That is when past reputation and planning comes into account." He also was quoted as saying: "We feel each of these clubs are doing a phenomenal job and deserve every penny." However, hope is not lost that correction will come, even from within the student body. I discovered that a member of the Class of 1990 (a freshman, mind you) in a letter to The Spectator decried the "Hamilton students' abhorrent use of the spoken English language." After giving examples of the improper use of "like" and "you know," he mentioned that such usage was present even in the classrooms and was not being corrected by the professors. Above all, he stated, he did not wish people to form the wrong impression of Hamiltonians.
But I would have deceived you if I did not admit that the ungrammatical did exist even in the professorial ranks during our time. One of my classmates informed me that Professor Hess, in the biology lab where the Chapel bell was nearly inaudible, would question: "Has the bell rang yet?"
Recently, I spotted a ditty titled "Poem for Oldsters" by an unknown author. It expresses longing for the days when the language was more simple, more direct in its meaning, used more grammatically, and certainly was more dignified. Since I need not ask the permission of someone unknown to change the title and add thoughts of my own, I offer the following:
Lament for the Language
Remember when hippie meant big in the hips,
And a trip involved travel in cars, planes and ships?
When "you know" meant you did know, no less,
Rather than a meaning to ponder and guess
When pot was a vessel for cooking things in,
And hooked was what grandmother's rug may have been?
When singular subject with plural verb was taboo,
The rule saying one versus one, not one versus two?
When neat meant well-organized, tidy and clean,
And grass was a ground cover normally green?
When none dared say or write "these kind,"
For fear of censure and flunking combined?
When groovy meant furrowed with channels and hollows,
And birds were winged creatures like robins and swallows?
When to split an infinitive meant absolute disgrace,
A need to find the adverb a more appropriate place?
When fuzz was a substance, real fluffy like lint,
And bread came from bakeries and not the mint?
When roll meant a bun, and rock was a stone,
And hang-up was something you did with the phone?
It may be groovy, man groovy, but English it's not.
Me thinks that our language is going to pot!
Thus far, all of the flavors have been pleasant to the taste. But there was one which became more and more disagreeable as the years passed. It was…
Hamilton and the International Scene
Our years were the later years of that period between World War I and World War II, which period Winston Churchill described as "How the English-speaking peoples through their unwisdom, carelessness and good nature allowed the wicked to rearm" and "How the British people held the fort alone 'til those who hitherto had been half blind were half ready." Hitler, under the guise of a national socialist movement, had begun to rearm Germany, had reacquired the Saarland through a favorable plebiscite, and had outlined his secret plans to the military for assaults on Austria and Czechoslovakia. In 1934 he had, through a bloody day of executions without trial, eliminated his internal opposition.
The internal national socialist movement apparently caught the imagination of two students of the Class of 1934 and the College Librarian Prof. J.D. Ibbotson. The students and Bibsy reported to a joint meeting of the Political Science and German clubs their observations on this movement as a result of their travels in Germany in the summer of 1933. Both students expressed favorable opinions of the Hitlerite movement and warned against accepting hostile propaganda, which did not present the true facts. One of them brought his presentation to a close with a plea for American tolerance of the Nazi movement. Neither, however, attempted to apologize for the persecution of the Jews.
At approximately the same time, a clergyman, in a Sunday chapel sermon to a fall house party congregation presented the decadence of the present generation toward Christianity. In his sermon, as reported in Hamilton Life, he expressed high hope for the Nazi movement, not as a movement against the Jews, but as rededication of the German people to something big, something toward which they could devote their lives and their energy and resources, in the hope that "some day religion and religious zeal will be again the heritage of men and women." It is quite apparent that if we did not sleep through the sermon, at best we were among those whom Churchill called half blind.
But Hamilton students were not unaware of the threat of war. For in early 1935, 11 juniors and seniors, with the aid of two professors, designed a questionnaire for student reply. With only 50 percent of the replies tallied, 38 students were willing to bear arms if called, 118 would bear arms if our country were invaded, and 72 were unwilling to bear arms in any war.
By the spring of 1936, a chapter of the American Student Union, opposed to war, had been formed on campus, and a regional conference of six college chapters met at Hamilton. Locally, a student strike was set for April 22 in support of a national strike of students planned by the Union. However, on the strike date only 60 students and several professors absented themselves from classes to meet in the Chapel "to work for peace."
A few short years ahead lay World War II, a time which most hoped would never arrive. When it did, 73 of our classmates entered the service, from which two were never to return. Before that, however, a day for which we had worked for four years arrived —June 14,1937 — a day called —
On that day of joy for us, and pride and financial relief for some of our parents, we were part of an academic procession with the faculty in their caps, gowns and hoods of many colors and shapes. We listened to the messages of salutation and valedictory, and to the Head Prize Oration, and to the awarding of departmental honors and prizes. And finally, although it seemed an eternity in coming, 76 bachelor's degrees were awarded, 55 in arts and 21 in science. And thus we left, many going on to graduate school to prepare for a chosen career and many to seek their first job.
But enough of the flavors of college! Share with me now for a moment the substance of a dried grape, commonly called —
The fraternity to which I belonged was presided over by an elderly couple, the husband being the chef and the wife the housekeeper. The chef loved his home brew, and to each bottle he added a raisin for additional power (wallop would probably be a better word). Periodically, in the storage room adjacent to the kitchen, there would be a muffled explosion, as a raisin would demonstrate its potency. He called this brew Raisin Jack. And so to this Old Frothingslosh I wish to add a raisin.
In the questionnaire to my classmates, I asked that they tell me what influence Hamilton had over their lives, and to be as specific as possible. I was particularly impressed with one which read: "Hamilton's education enhanced the ability to enjoy many things more deeply, to reason more clearly, to judge more fairly, and to communicate more effectively." Another wrote in part: "…but Hamilton enriched my life with a cultural depth that has been both a professional resource and a personal joy." Perhaps these two best summarized the feelings of those of you who answered my question in depth.
Characteristically, humans have seldom been given to introspection. Our physical eyes look only outward, and our minds generally concentrate on external things. Consequently, I was fascinated with the answers to the question concerning the contribution that Hamilton College has made to our lives. To those who have not yet undertaken this exercise, I urge you to begin. Realization of the values of a Hamilton education comes slowly over time. Enclose those values in your heart and mind and never forget them. When your heart beats faster for a cause you support, remember the influence of Hamilton in making you a thinking, caring, supportive and articulate booster of a cause. And of course, always let Hamilton gain access to your purse. Hamilton's philosophy of the development of the whole individual has not changed, and I trust it never will. If we expect Hamilton to do for present and future generations what it did for us, we must work for it and support it in any way we are able.
Ponder, then, these things, and if ye do, then truly I say unto you that Hamilton will remain that College on the hilltop whose days will never end.
Here endeth my Old Frothingslosh.
A native of Pittsburgh, William S. Beatty majored in English literature and history at Hamilton, earned a Phi Beta Kappa key and was graduated with his class. Two years later he acquired an M.B.A. from Harvard and began his employment with the Consolidated Gas Company. Except for service as a U.S. Army officer in the European theater during World War II, he remained associated with the company and its subsidiaries until his retirement as director of accounting research for the Consolidated System in 1980. Preparation for his long and successful career in the field of accounting included a six-week basic course taken at Harvard. However, it was from Hamilton that Bill Beatty derived not only a liberal arts education but also a lifelong love of education.