Centennnial History of the University of Nebraska, by Robert Manley

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the mill levy would not be necessary once the landed endowment began to pro duce an annual dividend. The University possessed 136,080 acres of land from the statehood grant and the Morrill grant, and University officials did little to discourage the optimistic assumption that the income from the sale and rental of the lands would support the institution. Considering the grasshopper incursions, the recurrent droughts, and the general hard times that afflicted Nebraska's fron tier in the late 1860's and early 1870's, good public relations demanded that the taxpaying public be assured the financial burden of supporting the University would be a temporary one. From 1868 to 1872 the one-mill levy had brought in approximately seventy-seven thousand dollars, and it was widely believed that this was more than enough to support the University. As a consequence of pressure to reduce the mill levy, in February, 1871, the regents prepared a bill for the legis lature suggesting a cut to one-half mill. When the legislature went further, slicing the levy to one-quarter mill, the regents protested. Even the one-mill levy had been considered only adequate; it had never produced the anticipated income, because substantial portions of the taxes were never collected. Adding to the University's problems, the Omaha Herald in September, 1871, mounted a major attack upon its financial policies. The Herald called upon Acting Governor William H. James to protect the University from the unrepentent henchmen of the recently deposed Governor Butler, who had swindled the University fund openly and with im punity. The Herald's chief target was John L. McConnell, one of the "profes` sional bunglers to whom this State is already indebted for the actual loss of millions." The regents refused to remove McConnell and stated that no financial irregularities had accompanied the first two years of the University's administra tive existence. Whereupon the Herald replied that the regents were "guilty of plain, patent, criminal neglect." No issue encouraged public distrust of the University more than did the questions which kept arising over the handling of the University's funds. During June of 1871, as the University's small staff made final preparations for its opening in the fall, a constitutional convention convened in Lincoln. The delegates gave over a great deal of time to University affairs, and their debates provided a sample of the trends in public opinion at that time. Much of the discussion was negative. Early in the session, on June 20, J. C. Campbell from Otoe County said that the state had forfeited the lands that had been withdrawn from the public domain for agricultural college lands in 1868 because the filing fee had not been paid, and that private entries had been made on the land by "a few members of the Legislature and persons connected with the land office" who knew of the forfeiture. A committee was formed to investigate the matter, with Experience Estabrook of Douglas County as the chairman. The next day Esta brook reported that the filing fee did not have to be paid, and the private entries would be withdrawn. On July 12 there was again considerable discussion about the agricultural college, during which Campbell remarked: "I see no use of that law which was passed by the Legislature establishing this University.... I don't believe there are enough boys in the State to establish a freshman class, and yet under that law the first thing that these regents did" was to hire a chancelllor and faculty whose salaries totaled thirteen thousand dollars. Furthermore, Campbell wanted the agricultural college to be independent of the state university. Others supported him, and a long and bitter discussion ensued. O. P. Mason, also from Otoe County, spoke eloquently to the point:

Mr. Chairman, I want lands around our agricultural colleges, as well as these experimental farms. I wish my boy to go from the field with sweat still on his brow, to his books. I would take him from practical farming ... to the school


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room; from the toil of the muscle, to the toil of the brain, and for that reason I would have my building upon a farm. Therefore, I am for the planting of our agricultural college - not in Lincoln, not in Nebraska City, not in Omaha, not anywhere except in the country which God has made and the farmer is to inhabit.

The convention was also plagued by the question of whether the Unviersity, at presently established, fulfilled the stipulations of the Morrill Act. On July 12, Estabrook stated that Congress required a building for the agricultural college to comply with the law, and suggested that the building already erected "should be deemed the Agricultural College....so as to show that we had in good faith complied with the provisions of the acts of Congress." Others agreed with him, but after much discussion the delegates decided to drop the subject. All references to the agricultural college were deleted from the constitution; but the confusion over its status continued to perplex Nebraskans. Through all the discussions touching upon the University ran several questions: What should be the role of the regents? What should be the relation of the BOard of Regents to the legislature? What powers should be given to the governor? Some convetion delegates, dissatisfied with the system which allowed the legislature to name most of teh members of the BOard, wanted the popular election of a "Board of Education" by judicial districts. D. J. McCann of Otoe County made the point that "those who have the management and care of the univeresity and agricultural college should be above the suspicion of being influenced by party or political considerations." When the delegates discussed the powers to be given to the regents, acrimonious debate was the rule. Some said the regents should have control of the University's finances, and others were just as convinced that the legislature must reain control of the purse strings. A spokesman for the latter group said it seemed to him "that more than actual necessary expenses have been incured," thus implying that the University's finances could not be entrusted to the Board. The delegates defending the regents were in the minority, and J. C. Myerse from Douglas County expressed the predominant sentiment: "Upon the general principle of abolishing the BOard of Regents, I believe it is eminently wise and proper. I have for some time regarded it as an incubus on the State. Many complaints were made during the last session of the Legislature as to their extravagance, and want of foresight in administering [the] affairs [of the University]." Myers cited one rumor that the regents had estimated twelve thousand dollars wouldb e needed to furnish University Hall, but when Benton arrived he found it could be done for only one thousand dollars. "A board that is no reckless as that on this one single item is certainly open to just animadversions," Myres said. The argument that the government of the University should be taken from the regents raised another question: If the BOard of Regents should be abolished, who would run the University? Some believed that the governor, the superintendent of public instruction, and the state treasurer should comprise the governing board; others believed it should be made up of a legislative comittee. Rumors that the convention had decided to make changes in the method of electing the regents and in the powers assigned to them were deeply disturbing to Chancellor Benton. On July 12, 1871, he wrote to his father: "Our Constitutional Convention now in session will make considerable changes in our University organization. So that we shall have a new Board of Regents or the control will be put in the hands of State Officers." He was getting alone "finely" with the present Board, and "if a new one comes in, I do not know what may happen. I shall try and be prepared for any change at the end of the year."


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For the time being, however, the Chancellor's fears were unjustified. Despite the general dissatisfaction with the work of the Board of Regents, there was no unanimity in regard to solutions for the problem of alleged maladministration. In the end the committee submitted a plan whereby the regents would be elected by the people on the basis of one regent from each of the state's judicial districts, and the authority and powers of the Board were left to the discretion of the legislature. Although the 1871 constitution was rejected by the voters, essentially the same provisions were written into the constitution of 1875, which the people did accept.

The University Opens

During the summer of 1871 Nebraska newspapers carried a lengthy adver tisement of the University. "A corps of competent and skilled Professors has been selected to fill the various chairs of Instruction," it read in part. "Apparatus, Library and Cabinet will be fully supplied." At the bottom appeared the informa tion that tuition was free, a five-dollar matriculation fee alone being required. Anyone contemplating a college career was invited to attend the Chancellor's inauguration on September 6 and to register the following day. After a visit to University Hall, a reporter wrote that preparations for the opening were almost complete. "Probably no institution of this kind was ever organized under more favorable auspices," he opined, "and we are pleased to learn that an unusually large number students will be in attendance at the opening." Where the reporter obtained his information cannot be determined. Certainly not from the Univer sity's leaders, for neither the regents nor Chancellor Benton could be sure that any students would appear when the doors of University Hall opened. At any rate, a crowd was on hand for the inauguration of Benton, which was held in the University's chapel. "The desk of the chapel was decorated with large and fragrant boquets of flowers," reported one observer. "The day was unusually fine, and a very large concourse crowded the Chapel both afternoon and evening." Shortly after two o'clock a column of dignataries filed to the platform. Acting Governor James opened the ceremony and a choir sang "How Beautiful Are Thy Dwellings." The Reverend L. B. Fifield pronounced "a fervent and appropriate prayer," and Governor James returned to the lectern to deliver his charge to Chancellor Benton. "Here the State shall look in future for the educated and trained citizen," he declared. Then, anticipating what would be a major contro versy--the question of the proper relation of religion to a state-supported univer sity--he said that the University had been founded upon "broad and unsectarian grounds." Its doors were open to all young people, for "science, scholarship, letters, are of no sect." As the motto of the new university, he suggested "Above all sects, is truth." Before presenting the keys of University Hall to Chancellor Benton, James also commented on the public's changed attitude toward him. Virtually unknown in Nebraska when he was appointed, Benton had labored so effectively that opposition to him--at least personal opposition--had greatly diminished. As the reporter from the Nebraska Advertiser phrased it, "There was some considerable doubt last winter when the Regents elected Mr. Ben ton...Since he has been with us...confidence has been steadily increasing and this afternoon dispels every fear of the success of the University." A cultivated and effective speaker, Benton in his inaugural address indicated he was in sympathy with the traditional patterns of American higher education. He dwelled upon the time-honored values of higher education and pledged the University of Nebraska to the perpetuation of those values. The Nebraska Adver tiser said that Benton had shown himself to be "the fearless expositor of the true


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doctrines of Christian education," and Plattsmouth's Nebraska Herald reported that the speech "was received with great enthusiam and without qualification." That evening the inauguration-day audience returned to hear an address by J. Sterling Morton, who had been something less than an enthusiastic supporter of the University up to this point. Morton emphasized the relationship between the Unviersity and the state and called the University of Nebraska "the school of the people," a phrase which Mr. Morrill would have applauded. "The University," Morton said, "vitalizes the State with learning, furnishing scholars for her law-makers, and men of mental strength and training for governors and her udges." In his cocluding remarks, he reffered to the very important religious question: "Public sentiment throughout the State is united in friendship for this most beneficent enterprise. Neither political nor denominational prejudice dares utter one word to dishearten or weaken that sentiment." As will be seen, Morton proved himself a poor prophet. "By the favor of a kind Providence, the University was opened with prosperous indications, and its general prosperity during the year has equaled, if not surpassed te expectations of the most hopeful." So Benton reported to the regents in the spring of 1872. Benton was especially gratified by the number of young people who came to Lincoln to take up University and preparatory work. He wrote his father that the University had enrolled "100 students of a very good grade, which surpasses the expectation of all." On September 16, the Nebraska City News reported that eighty students had "already entered from various parts of Nebraska. The Michigan University, now one of the most influential in the West, had not that many after ten years." According to the final official figures, 130 studets matriculated, but of that number 110 were enrolled in the preparatory department. Only 29 students pursed regular college course work during this first year. The University had not been selective in admitting students. Although official anouncements said that all students would be required to take both entrance and proficiency examinations, in practice the examinations were perfunctory, as the following anecdote indicates. One Nebraskan, whose parents moved to York Count in 1871, remembered that when they made a trip to Lincoln for supplies, the propietor of a lumberyad happened to mention that his osn had taken the Unviersity's entrance examination. "Next trip my father asked if the boy passed. They hadn't heard yet but didn't think he would. On the third trip father inquired again. The answer: "Oh yes, I think they let them all pass-they didn't have any students." Optimistic spokesmen for the University predicted at least 300 students for the second year; but conditions in the state-grasshoppers, depression, and drought-militated against this kind ofincrease, and only 123 students sigend the rolls. During the year 1873-1874, enrollment dipped to 100; the following year it climbed to 132. During Benton's last year in the University, 1875-1876, approximately 200 men and women were in attendance. Benton did not try to conceal the usatisfactory situation. In 872 the University held its first commencement exercises, even though there were no candidates for graduation. In his address the Chancellor compared the University of Nebraska with other schools which attempted to produce a large number of graduates as quickl as possible. "All such charlatanism is beneath the diginity of


2: The official Anouncement reads: "Applicants for admission to the Latin School should be at least fourteen years of age; must be of good moral character; and if from other institutions, should bring certificats of honorable dismissal. Candidates of both sexes for advanced standing will be examinder in the studies already passed by them in the course selected; or must present satisfactory evidence of having completed studies." 3: For commo on enrollment figures, see the section on Sources.

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an Institution founded by the State and laboring for her highest interest," he said. In the absence of baccalaureate candidates, the University awarded its first hon orary degree, that of Doctor of Laws, to Bishop Robert H. Clarkson of the Methodist Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska.

The First Graduates

In the spring of 1873, at the end of the University's second year, two young men were eligible for graduation: J. Stuart Dales of East Rochester, Ohio, and William H. Snell of Lincoln. Dales, who had known the Benton family in the East, followed the Chancellor--or more accurately the Chancellor's eldest daugh ter--to Lincoln. Benton thought highly of the serious, intelligent young man and was delighted when Dales and Grace Benton announced their engagement. At this stage of his career, Dales showed an interest in law: but in December, 1875, he joined the administrative staff of the University to begin a remarkable and valuable association with the University which stretched over more than fifty years. According to the Hesperian Student,4 the first graduating class "is about eleven feet one inch in height, and weighs nearly two hundred and sixty pounds." As was the custom of the day, both graduates delivered commencement orations; they "were given with impressive effect, and were of a good order of literary merit." In 1874 diplomas were conferred on Frank Hurd of Tecumseh, Uriah H. Malick of Camden, an Wallace M. Stevenson of Nebraska City. At a meeting in Lincoln a few weeks later, the five University alumni formed an alumni associa tion with Dales as president and Hurd as secretary. In 1875 there were no gradu ates but in 1876, the last commencement conducted by Chancellor Benton, there were five: Alice M. Frost of Lincoln, the first woman graduate; Harvey Culbert son5 of Moorefield, Indiana, the first recipient of a degree in agriculture; Clarence W. Rhodes and John F. E. McKesson of Lincoln; and George E. Howard of Laona. During the exercises Chancellor Benton announced that the faculty had voted to bestow master's degrees upon Dales and Snell, both of whom had "pur sued professional studies for three years." During Benton's administration the University graduated a total of ten per sons. This in itself was a remarkable achievement; but in the opinion of many Nebraskans, the University's progress had been most disappointing. That the University had not grown as rapidly as its supporters had hoped, Benton ascribed primarily to the economic dislocations that fell upon Nebraska in the early 1870's.6 He said that the panic and depression of 1873 drove some students away from the University and also kept prospective students away. University officials were hopeful that the economic situation would improve, but in 1874 and 1875 drought and grasshoppers came again. Benton reiterated that the University had done as well as could have been expected, considering the circumstances. He lauded the students who stayed in school, honoring them for their willingness to make sacrifices in order to continue their education, and he appealed to the people of Lincoln to keep board and room charges at a minimum so that as many young people as possible could attend the University.


4 This student newspaper and literary magazine began publication in the fall of 1871. The name was shortened to the Hesperian in July, 1885. See Chapter Twenty-Three. 5 On June 23, 1875, the regents conferred the degree of Bachelor of Agriculture on Harvey Culbertson, but he received his degree officially at the 1876 commencement because he was the only 1875 graduate. 6 Gilbert E. Bailey, who joined the faculty in 1874 as an instructor of chemistry, recalled in 1923: "Part of my duties [in 1874] was killing buffalo for the grasshopper sufferers, hunting on the Republican river; and helping Professor Riley give a grasshopper banquet at Lincoln."


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