1920 Class Annalist's Letter
Edgar W. Couper
Delivered: June 1970
The 105th academic year of Hamilton College opened on Thursday, Sept. 21, 1916, with a Chapel assembly at 8:30 a.m. A large number of pews toward the rear were occupied by the incoming freshmen, the Class of 1920, with its 88 men. This was 13 more than the largest previous class, and comprised 40 percent of the total College enrollment of 220. I have been tempted to say that this occasion seems like "only yesterday," but decided that I couldn't make it sound convincing.
Four highly eventful years lay ahead of us; eventful not only in our individual lives but in the history of the College, of the nation and indeed of the world. Our College era was destined to be one of excitement and change.
Less than a month after our arrival, Melancthon Woolsey Stryker, president of the College since 1892, announced his retirement as of July 1917. Since to us green freshmen Prexy Stryker had seemed as permanent a campus fixture as the Chapel itself, this was startling news indeed. Shortly before Commencement in 1917 the trustees announced that Frederick Carlos Ferry, dean of Williams, had been chosen as his successor, and we soon became acquainted with him when we returned for our sophomore year.
In September 1916, President Woodrow Wilson was maintaining a precarious neutrality in the Great War which had been raging in Europe for over two years, and during the election later that fall, some of his supporters used the slogan "he has kept us out of war;" but early in our second semester, in February 1917, diplomatic relations with Germany were broken. Finally on April 6, Good Friday of all days, war was declared. We were at last caught up into the turmoil of the 20th century, which had been started by the guns of August 1914, and with which we were to be familiar all the rest of our lives.
Of what lay ahead of us we, of course, had no premonition on that first day of college nearly 54 years ago. We were busy living in the new and stimulating present, wondering, for example, whether we had successfully scrubbed off the paint we had acquired the night before during "paint night," and thinking of the "Chapel rush" which immediately followed the rather brief opening program. That event had a certain comic side since we outnumbered the sophomores by almost exactly two to one, so that when it came to individual combat, we had to take turns in dealing with them.
Later there were races between members of the two classes, wrestling matches and finally a tug of war with 10 on each side. The teams lined up on opposite sides of the fountain, and the object was for the winners to drag the losers through the water. A close struggle was taking place when suddenly the rope broke in the middle, leaving the event a draw with everyone dry.
From this account it will be obvious that much of the opening day was an underclassman frolic. If in looking back it all seems rather quaint, just bear in mind that in those days Hamilton was old fashioned in many respects; in its admission requirements, its curriculum, its previous lack of a recruiting program and its permissive attitude toward freshman hazing, as examples.
Virtually all of what I have been describing, together with the joint sophomore-freshman Halloween celebrations, which frequently had gotten out of hand, vanished in our time under the combined impact of the war and a new president.
Also abolished was the hazing of freshmen, which often had involved dumping some luckless youngster out of bed in the middle of the night and forcing him to perform various demeaning stunts. However, as Ralph Atwood has reminded me, freshmen sometimes turned the tables and dumped sophomores onto the floor. On one such foray after he and two other freshmen had successfully dumped three sophomores including their president, Jack Bratton, Ralph was captured and after several indignities was thrown into the gymnasium swimming pool, from which he returned to his room in early dawn clad in dripping B.V.D.'s.
An amusing account of paint night appears in an attractive little brochure dated 1916 bearing the simple title Hamilton College, a copy of which has been in my scrapbook all these years. It was, I suspect, the earliest promotional piece of its kind, prepared for the use of Heyl Nichols of 1916 when he went to work as the first field secretary for the College. Nichols' efforts helped secure the increased number of applicants for our class after the disappointingly small size of 1919. Here is what the booklet says:
"Everyone is busy at Hamilton, the freshman's activity beginning the night before college opens. Then, under the guidance of upper classmen, his class goes out with red paint in search of the sophomores, whose paint is green. They usually decorate the sidewalks with enough class numerals so that in the morning everyone knows that 'paint night' has come and gone."
Now that is not exactly the way I remember paint night. We were trying to paint each other, and anything else that was painted was incidental. Under the guidance of juniors, the freshmen assembled at the foot of the Hill and marched toward the campus. Like a bunch of raw recruits being led into an Indian ambush. They might encounter a delaying action here and there, especially at the Arbor, but the main engagement took place on the campus itself.
With previous experience and superior knowledge of the terrain, the sophomores always had a heavy advantage and all too often the freshmen being unacquainted, painted one another. Needless to say, all clothes worn on this occasion were useless for the future, except to pass on to next year's freshmen.
Paint night took place again as usual in September 1917 at the beginning of our sophomore year, but that proved to be the last. Under wartime conditions, the classes of 1919 and 1920 voted in favor of abolishing it, a move strongly favored by the new administration. Thus we were the last class to participate in two "paint nights," and the Class of 1921 was the last to take part at all.
As I think back over our four years, I would rate the first semester of our freshman year as the most normal, but perhaps it would be more accurate to say, most like the old Hamilton. The war situation began to make itself felt in the second semester and greatly affected our second and third years. In our senior year, a return to normal college conditions took place, but then the new Hamilton was beginning to emerge, better prepared to compete with its peers. The admission requirements had been somewhat eased, the insistence on Greek for the A.B. degree had been dropped, the College was more aggressively seeking worthy students, and it was beginning to grow.
Now back to our early freshman days: Who can fail to remember the famous 14-7 win over Columbia in October 1916, the second season after Columbia had resumed football. The winning touchdown came when a Hamilton end with the picturesque name of Mooch Meola picked up a fumble and ran 60 yards. The next day when our heroes returned via trolley from Utica the entire College met them in Clinton and, headed by the band, paraded back to the Hill. At the end of that season Bill Bolenius and Bart Gorman of 1920 had won their letters.
Until the Christmas vacation of that first year, the classes of 1919 and 1920 were on constant alert because it was the banquet season. Each class was obligated to hold a banquet during this period and each tried to learn the other's plans and to mar the occasion as completely as possible. In this rivalry 1920 scored an outstanding success.
Our dinner was held at the Hotel Utica on November 27 and almost everyone was there, although some sophomores belatedly followed us to Utica and waylaid a few freshmen enroute to the hotel. But the toastmaster and all seven speakers listed on the printed program were there — a printed program, mind you, but with no date, for security reasons.
The sophomore banquet was quite another story, in fact it approached disaster proportions. By a lucky break we received a tip as to their date 24 hours in advance. If my memory is correct it was Jim Parlon who found out, through a friend in Clinton who in turn had overheard a sophomore telephone call. As Hamilton Lit. delicately expressed it:
"On December 11 the sophomore class attempted to hold their annual feast at the Hotel Martin in Utica. Unfortunately for them, however, information concerning the expected festivities reached the ears of the alert freshmen, and as a result a good number of the Class of 1919 spent the evening on the Hill, imprisoned in dormitory rooms. Those sophomores who did escape insist that they did enjoy themselves nevertheless."
After this success I must admit that we were pretty cocky freshmen, but I want to pay tribute to our friends of 1919. In spite of their great disadvantage in numbers they cheerfully and effectively took on one for two odds at every opportunity. As time passed our two classes grew very close together, with many of their number receiving their degrees in 1920, just as many of our original members were awarded theirs in 1921 — this being due, of course, to the war.
Life was by no means all competition with the sophomores, however. There was plenty of work from all of the professors, and there was always the thought of Prexy Stryker's Monday morning Bible class hanging over us, making complete relaxation during the preceding weekend almost impossible. There was an assigned text, but Prexy's questions might range far beyond it, and were completely unpredictable. He was known to have asked how many trees there were along the west campus road between Truax, where his class was held, and Benedict; or how many front steps Truax had — questions which might indeed sharpen a student's powers of observation, but which would hardly seem related to study of the Bible.
One Monday morning Prexy asked a student to name the books of the Old Testament. The student after a fair start had to give up, and Harmon Morton was called upon to finish. Harmon did a perfect job, whereupon Dr. Stryker said "Very good, Morton, now name them all backward." Have you ever tried to do that?
I kept a diary of sorts during freshman year and was amused to find a plaintive entry reading "I am always glad when it is Monday noon."
We were fortunate in experiencing two highly successful Hamilton presidents, who were entirely unlike (who after all could be like President Stryker?) but both of whom did a great deal for the College. Between them they guided the institution for nearly half a century, Stryker for 25 years and Ferry for 20.
In Walter Pilkington's phrase "Prexy was it" during the Stryker regime. He did everything from answering letters long hand to preaching in Chapel every Sunday and conducting Chapel six week day mornings.
Some years ago Carl Carmer remarked that in his time in college, Melancthon Woolsey Stryker had already made himself a legend. One evidence of that was the number of stories that clustered about him. I always recall the one of the applicant for admission who wrote the President that he did want to come to Hamilton the worst way. Dr. Stryker promptly wrote in reply "I suggest you try the O&W."
Carmer went on to say that the students both feared and honored Prexy. That was also true with us, but I do believe that he mellowed during those last few months in office. In the spring he took a vacation of several weeks, returning for the June Commencement of the Class of 1917, when there was an outpouring of affection and appreciation for him and his work.
Already the Hamiltonian of the Class of 1918 had been dedicated to him and had told the story of his achievements in revitalizing the struggling, impoverished little college he had inherited in 1892. Then we realized how much he had strengthened the financial and physical position of the institution; that half the campus buildings we knew and had taken for granted had been built during his term of office with funds he had raised, while most of the others had been renovated. Incidentally, the James Library, now soon to be replaced by a much larger structure, was still new in our day, being the last of the Stryker buildings.
Due to Prexy's spring leave of absence we had our dreaded final exam in Bible early, on March 26 to be exact. Sterling Lee reminds me that prior to that time, Dr. Stryker had scolded the student body because we did not know all of the verses of the Star Spangled Banner. Sterling was so impressed that he at once memorized them all. Upon entering the Bible exam, Lee was frustrated by the questions, so he wrote out the complete text of the national anthem, handed in his paper and walked out. He passed and so did we all. Who can say that Prexy had not mellowed?
During the winter of 1916-17, the war came steadily closer to us. Funds were raised from the College community for a Hamilton ambulance to be sent to France, and Tom Orr '17 left to be its driver. In the early spring a military company was formed in which virtually the entire College body enlisted. After the declaration of war on April 6, class periods were shortened to provide more time for drill, the track schedule was cancelled completely and only the Saturday baseball games were retained.
In May students, especially seniors, began to leave for military service. The list included Jack Holland, Joe Baumer, Gerry Hyde and Lefty Farrar of our class. Fran Clarke and Ray Gapp had enlisted in the Naval Reserve, but had not yet been called. In the months ahead these members were to be followed by many more.
The October 1917 issue of the Hamilton Literary Magazine, to which I have already referred by its nickname of Hamilton Lit, stated that "the college year 1917-18 opened more auspiciously than most of us had dared to hope." The freshman Class of 1921 entered with 78 members, only 10 less than our total of the year before, to join 26 seniors, 29 juniors and 60 sophomores, the latter being of course our class.
The Selective Service Act passed by Congress in the late spring had fixed the minimum age at 21 and that doubtless helped. However, men kept leaving the campus to enlist during the year, and it began to be difficult to remember who had left and who remained.
President Ferry took over with an experienced hand. Whereas the earlier Hamilton presidents had been ministers turned educators, here was a man who had been an educator all of his career, a mathematician who had been dean of Williams for 14 years, and who had had a firm grounding in Latin and Greek, so that he understood and respected Hamilton's classical tradition.
For a time after he came to the Hill he was listed as professor of mathematics as well as president and he had hoped to teach one course. Due to the pressure of his administrative duties that proved possible for only a short period. I know that for one semester I was a member of a small group to whom he taught analytic geometry and I have never forgotten what a great teacher he was.
Another newcomer was Al Prettyman, long-time head of the physical training department and father of hockey at Hamilton. Even that first winter he flooded the tennis courts and began teaching hockey. Interest grew so rapidly that soon after our time the Sage Building was erected to provide a covered rink.
Prettyman's efforts to freeze the flooded courts were helped by a hard winter. Thirty inches of snow fell before Christmas and a temperature of 33 degrees below zero was recorded in early January. Due to war time conditions coal was in short supply, and as a result library hours were curtailed, and North, Benedict and Silliman were closed, together with three fraternity houses — Sig, Alpha Delt and D.U. Whenever I hear talk of tough Clinton winters, I think of that one.
This mention of winter leads me to add that in our era coasting was, of course, a routine activity, partly for fun, but more for transportation, especially for the Psi U's and Dekes, whose houses were then at the foot of the Hill. We used both the road and the sidewalk, the latter with a guide rail to help us through the Arbor. Flexible flyers were taking over from the old high sleds which were guided by the steersman feet and which are completely unknown today. I am told that for many years one of those high sleds, which had belonged to President Stryker, was kept in the museum in this building but it seems to have disappeared. Unfortunately, soon after we left the College, coasting became another victim of change, largely because of increased automobile traffic. In contrast to coasting, skiing was in its infancy when we were students. Only a few owned skis, and it was to be many years before the term "ski lift" would enter the American vocabulary.
The sophomore year of ours was a mixture of regular college work and military training. The latter offered as a course titled Military Art and Science, supervised by Professor Carruth, whose irreverent nickname was "Flatfoot." During the winter, Jim Fursman of 1918, who had had considerable army training, came back to the Hill to help with the work.
Class schedules were rearranged to make more time for drill, and remarkable to say, the cuts from compulsory morning chapel at 8 a.m. were increased from six to 12 per semester. Intercollegiate athletics were continued, but sometimes with shortened schedules.
And men continued to leave for military service. At the June 1918 Commencement there were 25 candidates for degrees, but several were already with the Armed Forces, including the valedictorian and salutatorian. It was a bit depressing, but not nearly so much as a graduation I attended here during World War II. That took place on a dark and dismal day in January 1943, when a small group of the Class of '43 had earned their degrees with accelerated schedules, and when they and many others were about to leave for military service. The setting was about as different from the usual Commencement as can be imagined.
While I have been saying much about the effect of the First World War upon students of our day, we must remember that the Second World War caused far greater interruption to the lives of our sons' generation. While some of us lost one or two years, most of them lost two or three.
In the fall of 1918, our third year, the military came directly to the campus in the form of the S.A.T.C. — the Students Army Training Corps. This was a branch of the United States Army for which men between the ages of 18 and 21 were eligible; it was planned to provide candidates for officers' training schools.
On October 1 some 180 men were sworn in, and two companies of infantry were formed, one stationed in South, and the other in Carnegie. A captain and five lieutenants had been sent to take charge and military life prevailed, from reveille at 6:30 a.m. until taps at 10 p.m. For this military post, the curriculum was tailored for immediate war needs: map making, surveying, military law, military chemistry, even war French and more — strange goings on for a liberal arts college. The program had been planned to extend for an indefinite period, but the signing of the Armistice on Nov. 11 led to an early demobilization of these S.A.T.C. units. At Hamilton this was completed on Dec. 17, 1918.
During this period of two and a half months, some 85 non-S.AT.C. students, largely freshmen, were on the campus, living outside the jurisdiction of the Army and trying to acquire a regular college education. As I look back, I realize what a difficult period this must have been for the faculty.
With remarkable speed, the administration set up an accelerated academic schedule extending from Jan. 3, 1919, until June 11, 1920. Those who could attend during that period received credit for a full year's work. Some who were in service were able to return in time; others had to wait until the following fall and be graduated a year or more late.
In spite of time pressure, most extracurricular activities were resumed during this six months' period in 1919. Baseball and track schedules, for example, were about normal; and the musical clubs went on a five day trip during the brief spring vacation, under the guidance of three 1920 members — Ted Turner as leader of the Instrumental Club, Jim Peters as leader of the Glee Club and Harmon Kneeland as manager. Harmon has given me a lurid account of that trip, when something went wrong everyday. At Tarrytown the traditional invitation was extended to the alumni in the audience to come to the platform and join in the singing of Carissima. As they did so, the stage collapsed. Luckily no one was hurt, but that is not recommended procedure for greeting alumni. In view of the fact that Harmon was the manager, I'm surprised that he hasn't tried to suppress the story of those five days.
From June 12 to 16, 1919, was held what was termed the Victory Commencement, which included a memorial service on Sunday afternoon in honor of the Hamilton men who had lost their lives while in service during the war. Among that number was a member of our class, Joe Baumer, who left us to enlist in April 1917 and died of influenza on Oct. 15, 1918.
The program for this Commencement weekend will well serve to illustrate the extent of the classical tradition at Hamilton in those days. Not only was the salutatory oration given in Latin, an ancient custom that lasted until 1941, but Carissima was sung in its Latin version beginning "Cara silvestris sedes stet." I wonder when that last happened!
Moreover, on Saturday afternoon a Latin play was presented, and I mean a play in Latin! Such an event happened about every three years during the earlier part of the regime of Professor Cleveland K. Chase — better known as Trot Chase — as head of the Latin Department. This one was the Rudens – the Rope – of Plautus. It took place on a hot summer day in the old gym, once known also as Middle College and nowadays as Kirkland Hall, where the temperature and the humidity were high. A half dozen of us from 1920 were in the cast. We sweltered and so did the audience, who deserved medals for staying with us to the end.
Now we come to September 1919 and to our senior year, at least for those fortunate enough to make it. With more returning veterans and with an entering class of just over 100, the College enrollment reached 298, a third more than when we had been freshmen. During this year and the next, President Ferry and a committee made a study as to what the optimum enrollment should be, and recommended 400. That figure was reached at the beginning of the academic year 1924-25.
Gradually the College returned to more normal life during the 1919-20 year and we as seniors claimed much of the credit. As had been the case during the accelerated program in the spring, there was an urge, especially among the upperclassmen, to make up for lost time.
After a season of ups and downs, the football team beat Union 6-0. To have that win in our last year on the Hill raised our spirits. Bart Gorman was the captain, and the other 1920 players included Ad Keeler, Hank Baumler, Johnny Johnson and Dick Kaiser.
On November 11 there was a stirring celebration of the first anniversary of the signing of the Armistice, which the faculty declared to be a holiday. Dr. Stryker returned to the Hill to speak in the morning. After that there was an all-college dinner at noon, with many speakers, both faculty and students, telling briefly just where they had been 12 months earlier, and other war experiences. It was a day to remember; Armistice Day could never again mean more to us than it did one year after.
In late 1919 the College published the service record number of the bulletin, listing in detail every Hamilton man who served in the Armed Forces during World War I. This showed that 62 members of our class had been in service, including 25 in the S.A.T.C.
To this point I have said little about the faculty, and due to limitations of time and space, will mention only a group who were senior in term of service, plus one other. The veterans were Herman Carl Geoge Grandt-Schnitz in German, and Edward Fitch " Little Greek" whose nickname reveals his field. They had joined the faculty before 1890.
In the next decade, 1890-1900, came Morrill "Bugs" in biology; Bill Squires in philosophy; S.J. Saunders in physics; Shepard-Bill "Shep" in French; Ibbotson "Bibs," the librarian; and A.P. Saunders-Stink in chemistry. If you will open a copy of the 1920 Hamiltonian you will see pictures of these men and all the others as we knew them, discussed them and respected them.
In addition, I list the name of one young faculty member who came to the Hill when we did and often referred to himself as a member of the Class of 1920. That was Paul Fancher, stimulating teacher of English, who very early in his long career here, compiled the little blue volume titled A Book of Hamilton Verse. In it are youthful poems of six of our number: Paul Coonradt, Sterling Lee, Ben Meritt, Sal Nino, Art Thompson and Randy Weaver.
I give a high rating to the teaching we received, and feel that our lives have been enriched by our Hamilton education beyond any easy reckoning — even though I cannot remember a single line of that Latin play!
Of course in those old-fashioned days we actually believed that the faculty knew more about their subjects than we did, and that it was the president's job, rather than ours, to choose faculty members and decided tenure!
I must not fail to emphasize the fact that in spite of the unusual period in which we attended college, we had plenty of fun. As we visit among ourselves this weekend, trying to realize that we are now the ancients who left here 50 years ago, we shall be reminiscing about the bull sessions, the rough houses, the inter class sports, the geology trips to such places as Trenton Falls and the Helderberg Mountains, the occasional meals or snacks at Mertz's where the hamburgers and French fries tasted better than they ever have since, and on and on. We shall indeed be chuckling over many an episode, which can seem funny only to us.
At last came the Commencement of June 1920, and what a marathon those Commencement weekends were compared with those of today. Just listen to the series of events:
On Thursday at 4 p.m., McKinney Prize declamation for members of the three lower classes; on Friday, Class Day in the morning, the prize debate in the afternoon and in the evening three one-act plays by the Charlatans, followed by the Senior Ball at 11 p.m. Saturday was alumni day, and for light entertainment in the evening there was K.P., the Clark Prize exhibition in oratory. Sunday was taken up by the Baccalaureate in the morning and a concert in the afternoon.
Commencement exercises took place on Monday morning, and the procession was led by a band from Utica. The program was followed by a luncheon and remarks by seven speakers, mostly honorary degree recipients, but including our own senior class president Dick Kaiser. Then all we had to do was to finish packing after four years of residence and go home, tired and more than a little sad, knowing that we would never be all together again.
Fifty-one degrees were conferred: five on men originally of the Class of 1918, 10 from 1919, and 36 on members of 1920. Next year in June 1921, 15 more from the Class of '20 received theirs, and one last one in 1922. That brings to 52 those of our number obtaining Hamilton degrees. In addition, at least 11, and possibly more, became graduates of other institutions ranging geographically from Yale and Columbia to Stanford. Considering everything, I deem the record highly creditable.
Creditable, too, is the contribution made by the members of our class to the life of our time. Since I decided it would be impracticable to assemble a complete list of the achievements of my classmates dead and living, I am limiting myself to a few general comments.
Among the professions we have contributed substantially to education and law, including the judiciary; and with representation also in accounting, engineering and medicine. A larger number have been engaged in advertising, agriculture, banking and finance, communications, journalism, manufacturing, public relations and real estate. We have been located from Florida to Seattle, Washington, and from Maine to Southern California. In fact it is surprising to contemplate how scattered a small group from a little Eastern college can become.
Nine have been listed in Who's Who in America. One has served as president of the New York State Bar Association. Three have received honorary degrees from their alma mater, and a dozen such honors have been bestowed upon members by other colleges and universities, the latest being to Ben Meritt in March of this year from the University of Athens, Greece, for his great contribution to the history of that city and country.
It is poor form, I am sure, to talk about one's own family in a paper such as this, but because I have had unusually close family ties this College over a period of seven generations, I hope you will allow me to make quick references to three of the seven. As you will see, there is a certain historical point to this.
The earliest ancestor to come here was a great, great grandfather, Charles Avery of the Class of 1820, later professor of chemistry at Hamilton for 35 years, and an effective money raiser for the College. Some time after I agreed to write this half-century annalist's letter, I was surprised to discover that he had done so for his class 100 years ago, in 1870. So in a sentimental vein, I am looking back today not only 50 years to 1920, but 100 years to 1870, and indeed 150 years to the earliest days of the College.
In the sixth generation, our son Dick Couper of the Class of 1944, served in recent times as an administrative officer of Hamilton for several years, including the task of being acting president during the period between Bob McEwen's death and the arrival of John Chandler. Inevitably I was drawn back more strongly to the College and its current history during that time, than would otherwise have been the case.
In the present generation, the seventh, we have a granddaughter in the first, the charter, Class of 1972 of Kirkland College, while a grandson is a member of the Hamilton Class of 1973; these being children of our daughter. Thus I have had a close view of the exciting first two years of Kirkland's history, as well as of current undergraduate life at Hamilton, and I wonder if these descendants will be here for their 50th reunions in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
So much for the comment about family, and now I turn to another kind of tie to the College. Somewhat over two years ago, I returned to membership on the Board of Trustees, and while I have much appreciated that honor, I am even more grateful for the opportunity it has given me to know John Chandler. Part of this time I worked closely with him due to a special committee assignment, and I have gained an increasing admiration for him as a man and as a leader of men.
As we all realize, these are difficult times for colleges and college administrators. We at Hamilton are fortunate indeed to have President Chandler at the helm, backed by a strong administrative staff and a dedicated faculty. It seems to me that we of the 50-year class should today be looking forward as well as back. As I look forward, the future looks bright for Hamilton.
The students of today are different from those of 1920, of course, but so were we from those of 1870; just as the students of 1870 were from those of 1820. We oldsters shake our heads over the student unrest of today, but perhaps we should recall the famous "bolt" of the class of 1884. In mid February of their senior year, risking loss of their diplomas, the members of that class "bolted" in the slang phrase of their day, meaning in today's parlance, went on strike. The strike lasted for a month, with most of the participants leaving the campus, before a compromise was finally worked out.
The strikers' argument with the president and the faculty resulted from the suspension of two of their number for an offense for which all the class members felt equally responsible; without admitting, however, that the offense deserved punishment anyway. So student unrest is not really new, although its present wide distribution certainly is.
I feel that there is an essential spirit which remains on this Hill from generation to generation, which I pray and believe will continue.
Elihu Root, the great elder statesman and long time chairman of the Board of Trustees, lived here in the Root Homestead during much of our four years. He was then continuing his lifelong interest in the welfare of the College, and we often saw him about the campus. In 1912, four years before we entered, Hamilton celebrated its centennial, and Mr. Root delivered a notable historical address. In it he had something to say on this subject, which has always impressed me.
He referred to "the spiritual succession by which the original qualities and standards of an old institution are transmitted through a long and continually changing series of individual members who differ widely from each other, but who coming find, and going leave, the institution always essentially the same." He then went to say:
"Great endowments, stately buildings, public favor and prosperity, cannot produce or take the place of that indefinable and mysterious quality which has been transmitted from a remote past, which has persisted through many changing years and many passing lives, and which gives to the institution a personality of its own, a continuance of the life breathed into it at the moment of its birth."
Edgar W. Couper, Class of 1920
Edgar W. Couper was born in Boonville, N.Y., a descendant of Hamilton alumni on both sides of his family to the fifth generation, beginning with his great-great-grandfather, Charles Avery, who entered Hamilton with the Class of 1820. Edgar Couper was graduated valedictorian from Binghamton Central School. In his freshman year at Hamilton, he was elected president of his class, joined Delta Kappa Epsilon and was elected president of the Honor Court. He also gained athletic distinction in track and captained the varsity team in his senior year. Elected to Pentagon and Phi Beta Kappa, he was the winner of the McKinney Prize debate and was graduated salutatorian with honors in Latin and French.
Following graduation, Ed Couper entered the insurance business, heading the firm of Couper-Ackerman-Sampson, continuing as its president until 1953. In 1954, he became president of the First National Bank of Binghamton. Named chairman of the board in 1964, he retired as the bank's chief executive officer and chairman. In addition to his impressive career in business and banking, he was instrumental in establishing Harpur College, which was the nucleus for the State University of New York at Binghamton. In 1951, he was elected to the Board of Regents, becoming the first regent ever to have won a Regents Scholarship.
A dedicated alumnus, he served as president of Hamilton's Southern New York Alumni Association. In 1937, he was named a charter trustee.