1860 Class Annalist’s Letter
John S. Sheppard
Delivered: June 1910
Upon no one less conversant with the purposes of the Annalist letter could the honor of this occasion have been conferred by the honorable board. How to prepare an Annalist letter of any interest or even of usual form, is as novel and uncertain an effort as has ever been my occasion to make. I have never read nor heard an Annalist report save the one of last year by Dr. J.H. Peck of the Class of 1859, nor has much helpful suggestion been given me by members of the class whose semi-centennial anniversary of graduation is now being celebrated. Indulgence is, therefore, bespoken for these “annals,” as well as for your Annalist.
The report or letter of Dr. Peck, above alluded to, was an interesting one, but the class pride and spirit of 50 years ago survive and shone throughout, following too closely, perhaps, the lead of one who, prominent and useful as his life has been, was not, in those distant college days, at all modest in calling; out “Fresh and Under Classmen” to us of the Class of 1860. I realize that I may express a somewhat prejudiced view on this matter, but I am emboldened to give vent to such expression, because I know some of my auditors of the Class of 1860 once entertained the same opinion. Dr. Peck’s narration of events, which occurred during the time when both the Classes of 1859 and 1860 were in college together — at least after my joining the Class in April 1857, happily recalled many interesting memories of the seven terms of our association.
The first college year of the class was one of great financial stringency. The panic of 1857 was crippling the entire country. Nearly every student’s letters from home contained advice and caution for greater economy and an expression of uncertainty as to the ability of parents and guardians to continue the financial supply requisite for the attendance of the boys upon their college course. How well I recall, during all my first term, husbanding what little money I had. Just before the Commencement Week of 1857 there came advice from my father telling of the failure of our home bank. The nine $5 bills that I had on hand could not pay the balance of my board bill at “Fells'” nor pay car and stage-fare home. Dr. O.S. Williams’ ever-constant kindness to the boys came to my help, and I reached home with a shilling in my pocket. The College felt the scarcity of money for payment of salaries and other expenses, and soon Dr. Goertner was employed and began his campaign of soliciting aid, with such success that, when our class was graduated, even the bachelor professors had been fully paid. The efforts of the trustees and faculty during these years of hard times were strenuous, indeed, animated as they were by the determination that there should be no deterioration of the curriculum nor lessening of stimulus or impetus toward the most complete equipment of each student. The unselfishness of these efforts was, I am glad to say, in part appreciated then and happily exaggerated since.
It would not be of interest to give a lengthened resumé of incidents pertaining to the old-time honorable faculty or to normal or abnormal students of those distant years. I ask your indulgence, however, with my reference to incidents, which possibly with a “ghoulish glee” I have repeatedly recalled. Early in the administration of the beloved Dr. Fisher as President, a skirmish between two classes took place after dark on the campus, a little distance south of the front of the Chapel near a wire fence along the north and south road running through the College grounds. The dear Doctor Fisher felt that, as “Prexy,” he must stop the fun by his personal effort; so he started to chase and capture whatever fellow he could. The obstacle of the wire fence was not heeded and he fell over it. He was not really hurt, but his spectacles were lost and his discomfiture was an occasion of great joy to the boys. When a trio of the fellows returned the spectacles to him, a member of the Class of 1860 innocently asked him how and where he lost them. Education, fortunately, was not limited to the students even in those days of College life, for “Prexy” had learned that he was not to exercise that kind of police power. Some of our class — the last one to be graduated before the opening, of the War of the Rebellion — anticipating possibly their part in such war, had practiced to a wonderful accuracy shooting peas at Dr. Avert as he had the class of his lectures in the philosophical chamber. Truly “fond memory brings delight of other days around me,” though I trust the scenes have long ceased to be repeated.
Today we’re happy and proud in the progress and condition of our Alma Mater, when compared with its limited status, breadth, and equipment of a half-century ago. The broader opportunities, liberal education, involving special fitness for the practical to life’s work of each individual student, are expressed, not the in the strength, worth and thought of the faculty, nor in the endowment of collegiate institutions, but rather in the increasingly higher purpose and useful scope of such education and in the results of it as shown by useful service of alumni. The years 1909 and 1910 present brilliant instances of the excellence of the stimulus afforded by our Alma Mater to naturally bright minds and earnest characters in the honors so fitly bestowed upon Vice-President Sherman and Senator Elihu Root. The annals of 50 years as reviewed by those of us who have shared the hopes, fears, successes, failures, sorrows and joys of those years must surely include consideration and mention of the uplift to the world by those who, in humbler stations and along seemingly obscure walks, are stronger, truer, more helpful men by reason of the characters molded in college life.
I do not recall any events related to our Alma Mater since the Last Annalist letter, of greater cheer than the financial aid given her. May succeeding years witness a stream of such aid, even from small sums up to the larger gifts of our more wealthy loyal alumni! A timely suggestion, looking to the accomplishment of such a result; would be that each graduating class express the true class spirit by giving, as a class, to the College some fitting contribution to the endowment.
The half-century anniversary and return of the Class of 1860 are most expressively indicated by the affection so tender between its survivors, and are voiced in the awakened memories of the absent and deceased. No more heartfelt words of felicitation could we, of that class tender the alumni of dear “Old Hamilton” than those of the revered missionary; Kirkland, as in deeding the land where the College stands, he said:
Wishing that the institution may grow and flourish, that the advantages of it may be extensive and lasting, and that under the smiles of the God of Wisdom and Goodness, it may prove an eminent means of diffusing useful knowledge, enlarging the bounds of human happiness, aiding the reign of, virtue and the kingdom of the blessed Redeemer.
John S. Sheppard, Class of 1860
“The panic of 1857 was crippling the entire country. Nearly every student’s letters from home contained advice and caution for greater economy and an expression of uncertainty as to the ability of parents and guardians to continue the financial supply requisite for the attendance of the boys upon their college course. How well I recall, during all my first term, husbanding what little money I had. Just before the Commencement Week of 1857 there came advice from my father telling of the failure of our home bank. The nine $5 bills that I had on hand could not pay the balance of my board bill at “Fells” nor pay car and stage-fare home. Dr. O.S. Williams’ ever-constant kindness to the boys came to my help, and I reached home with a shilling in my pocket.”