Volume II, No. 1, Fall-Winter 2000-2001
CELEBRATING PLEASANT LEE JOHNSON (1860 – 1949)
HASTINGS COLLEGE BUSINESS MANAGER AND TREASURER
BOARD OF TRUSTEES’ MEMBER 1902 – 1948, SECRETARY 1903 – 1948
CONTENTS [Access article in PDF]
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK [Access article in HTML]
FROM THE PRESENT VICE PRESIDENT FOR FINANCIAL AFFAIRS Dennis Krienert [Access article in HTML]
P.L. JOHNSON: THE MAN AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF HIS GRANDSON Robert L. Johnson [Access article in HTML]
THE BATTLE’S ON: A COLLEGE SONG BY P. L. JOHNSON [Access article in HTML]
THE "OLD" HASTINGS P. L. Johnson [Access article in HTML]
THE BACKGROUND OF MY LIFE AS RELATED TO NEBRASKA HISTORY AND TO THE HISTORY OF HASTINGS COLLEGE P. L. Johnson [Access article in HTML]
HASTINGS COLLEGE: A HISTORY, FOREWORD P. L. Johnson [Access article in HTML]
HASTINGS COLLEGE: A HISTORY–THE PERIOD OF BEGINNINGS P. L. Johnson [Access article in HTML]
AN EXAMPLE OF P. L. JOHNSON’S "MINUTES" [Access article in HTML]
PHOTOGRAPHS [Access article in HTML]
EDITOR ELINORE BARBER
ASSISTANT TO THE EDITOR SUSIE RAMBERGER
©2001 by Hastings College Archives
Produced by Cornhusker Press
HASTINGS COLLEGE: A HISTORY
EXCERPTS FROM P. L. JOHNSON’S
A HISTORY OF HASTINGS COLLEGE
[A Work Commissioned by the College Board of Trustees,
but Never Before Published]
The writer has been asked by the Board of Trustees and also by the Board of Christian Education of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. to write a history of Hastings College. The history should be written. The pioneer record is of peculiar interest to a great number of participants who are still living. It should be preserved, also, because of the value of the record to the ever-growing company of students, faculty, and friends. Indeed, any reader of these annals cannot but be interested if he catches the significance of the events. The writer covets a reading of the story.
The writer does not presume to know all the facts, nor is he able to lend to the story the charm of literary style. It was a good providence, however, to have had personal acquaintance with all the early actors in the drama and to have been closely associated with the students, faculty, and trustees involved. He confesses that the buildings going up on Hansen Field in the early 1880s, in a large measure determined his choice of a western town in which to live.
To become the Historian of the College is a joy, but the work is undertaken with misgivings. This history will be conspicuous for what it does not say. Incidents of importance and great interest will be left untold. Those here related are only such as, in the judgment of the author, serve to set the events in perspective, to indicate the spirit and genius of the institution, and to pay a tribute of love to the builders of Hastings College. It is his hope, also, that the facts narrated may serve to inspire new courage and devotion in public service and bring to the institution here, and to the cause of Christian education everywhere, greater fulfillment.
"The first fifty years are the hardest," they say in golf. Fifty-one difficult years have passed over Hastings College; every club in the bag has been used; the ball has been dubbed and sliced into the rough many, many times; but now it is coming straight down the course. It looks like a champion behind the drives!
Born of the will of the people to render a public service, the College has grown up with the country. It is not a one-man college. No great gift has ever been made to this work. A multitude of contributions founded and maintained it.
I acknowledge my debt to many reviewers and helpers. Without them this narrative would be poor indeed.
Laudator Temporis Acti,
Hastings, Nebr. P. L. Johnson
January 24, 1925
Nebraska became a state in 1867. Two years later the first homestead was filed in Adams County, and two years after that the first homesteads were established in the area that is now Hastings. One of the first filings was by Samuel Alexander, who later became a moving spirit in the establishment of Hastings College. Part of the original site of the Alexander homestead is now a park, Alexander Square, located just north of the First Presbyterian Church.
Settlement was rapid, made almost before men realized what was happening as the new frontier moved on, leaving behind villages and communities of families intent upon becoming established residents, occupied with breaking the sod, tilling the soil, planting trees, and building permanent homes for themselves and their children.
The railroads came: first the Burlington and Missouri, then the St. Joseph and Grand Island. The town of Hastings was founded at the intersection of the two railroads and was named for the chief engineer of the latter railroad, Thomas del Monte Hastings. The 1870 census gave Adams County a total population of nineteen; two years later, in the first county election for presidential electors, 133 votes were cast: 124 for Grant and 9 for Greeley–of course, these were only men’s votes–the votes of men over the age of twenty-one.
The character of a town in which a college is located is a matter of considerable importance; Hastings College is particularly fortunate in this respect. First settled in 1871, Hastings soon became a busy frontier trading post. Unlike many other newly established communities on the frontier, its restless period of semi-lawless activity was brief; it did not appeal to the misfits and failures who gravitated to many new villages now celebrated only in western legend. From the beginning, Hastings attracted a substantial class of citizens. Even before it was incorporated in 1874, the early settlers, coming from Iowa, New England, and the states between, were eager to establish institutions of settled community life – the church, the school, the American College.
In a chapel address given at Hastings College on April 19, 1939, Dr. Janet L. Carpenter told the reasons why her father, the late H. M. Carpenter, chose Hastings as his home when, with his family, he emigrated westward from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, first settling in Iowa, and then in 1886 moving to Hastings. A graduate of Hastings College in 1892, Miss Carpenter was a member of the faculty from 1906 to 1947. In speaking of the town and its college, she said:
The final ground for recommending the new town to my father was that young as the town was, it already boasted a college – a college, too, that had not been started as an economic enterprise to attract newcomers and sell city lots….Hastings College was born out of the devoted interest in Christian education on the part of a small group, mainly, as it happened, Presbyterians. Few towns in Nebraska, I feel sure, were so fortunate in the character of their founders as was Hastings. They were, for the most part, young, and of course enterprising, else they would not have been pioneering on Nebraska prairies.… These people had brought with them, from the states a little farther east, a surprising amount of education and culture. There were probably not many college graduates among them – college degrees were not so numerous in the 1870s – but there were few who had not had high school educations. And there was a surprising number – a larger number among the women than among the men – who had had one or two years in college. They had brought with them a belief in higher education and an ambition to make such an education available for their children. They had brought with them, too, a fairly well trained taste in music…. It was perhaps in the churches of Hastings that our family felt most definitely the cultural environment that we had missed since leaving Massachusetts.
Hastings College owes its origin to these pioneers whose first thoughts were in terms of education and religion. Thus, the founding of the town and the initial steps leading to the establishment of a college were contemporary aspects of a common purpose.
The origin, growth, and development of Hastings College constitute a fascinating story of personal interest to those many individuals who have had some part in the making of that history. Some have made their contributions as members of the Board of Trustees, others as members of the Faculty, or as friends or contributors; still others–some 20,000–have made their contribution to campus life as students.
The story of Hastings College may be divided into three main periods:
The period of beginnings, 1873 – 1895
The period of uncertainty, 1895 – 1912
The period of growth and development, 1912 to the present time.
THE PERIOD OF BEGINNINGS, 1873 – 1895
On a sultry August day in 1873, three friends, Samuel Alexander, A. L. Wigton, and A. D. Yocum, were talking in Mr. Alexander’s little frontier store, a frame building located on what is now the northwest corner of Hastings Avenue and Second Street. The store was one of seven buildings in the community, which was to grow rapidly enough within the next year that it would be incorporated as a town.
Mr. Wigton said to the other two, "Why not have a Presbyterian college in Hastings?"
As the other two considered the idea and discussed it further, he took mental notes. He was the Editor of the Hastings Journal, and in his paper on August 19, 1873, he presented the idea in an editorial. Immediately the subject was taken up by the community. Everybody thought it was a good idea and enthusiastically supported it.
Why was it that when the thought of a college in Hastings was first expressed, simultaneously the suggestion was made that it be a Presbyterian College? There are several reasons. Two of the three men who proposed the idea were Presbyterians, Samuel Alexander and A. L. Wigton being charter members and the first Elders of the Hastings Church, which had been organized the same week. They were undoubtedly full of missionary zeal and fervor about the plans and future development of their new church, and their enthusiasm made it only logical that their first thought was for a Presbyterian institution.
When the community as a whole endorsed the idea, many of the supporters of the college idea belonged to other congregations, but they too, supported the plans for a Presbyterian college.
The Presbyterians in the United States had the reputation of establishing more educational institutions than any other denomination. Of the 182 permanent colleges established in America prior to the Civil War, 49 were Presbyterian. This number was larger than that of any other church or founding agency.
The proposal to establish a college was presented to the Kearney Presbytery at its next meeting, held at Kearney Junction on November 19, 1873; a committee was appointed "to receive propositions for securing lands and funds to found a Presbyterian college under the control of the future Synod of Nebraska at Hastings, or elsewhere." The three committee members were the Rev. James A. Griffes, Pastor of the Hastings Presbyterian Church; the Reverend Nahum Gould, Pastor of the Kearney Junction Presbyterian Church; and Elder A. L. Wigton.
Mr. Griffes and his wife Eliza were stern, devout Calvinists, who had long been imbued with missionary spirit and zeal. Failing to pass physical tests for the foreign mission field of the Presbyterian Church, they sought to find in the national mission field an outlet for their crusading spirit. Even greater than his desire to found Presbyterian churches in new areas was Mr. Griffes’ yearning to establish churches and affiliated colleges.
Mr. Gould was seventy-three years of age when he came to Nebraska to settle, having served thirty-seven years in the ministry in Illinois. At the invitation of the Methodist minister in Kearney Junction, he preached to a combined congregation of Presbyterians and Methodists on alternate Sundays until the Presbyterian Church of Kearney was organized in 1873, and he became its first pastor.
A. L. Wigton came to Nebraska after the Civil War. He had attended Central College, in Ohio, and had taught in Ohio before his service in the war. After arriving in Hastings, he and M. K. Lewis established the pioneer newspaper of the town, the Journal, whose first issue was published on May 24, 1873. Mr. Wigton later became Adams County Superintendent of Schools, serving two terms, and after that became a member of the Nebraska State Senate.
Enthusiastic in their desire for a college and imbued with the Presbyterian philosophy of higher education, these men took their committee appointments seriously; and, with characteristic pioneer energy, they announced within a month "that the committee was ready to receive donations for the Presbyterian College" and that a Board of Trustees had been appointed.
At the spring meeting of the Presbytery, the committee on a "State Presbyterian College" reported that the two companies representing the Burlington and Missouri and the St. Joseph and Grand Island railroads [had subscribed to the drive for funds] and also that a large number of business and residence lots had been sold. The railroads also offered free transportation of lumber and other building materials. A conservative estimate placed the assets at $100,000.
Having stimulated interest, enthusiasm, and even financial support among the townsfolk for their college, the three earnest committeemen turned to church officials for permission to begin. Over the dusty trails of a Nebraska autumn, they drove their buggies the 160 miles to Nebraska City to appear before the first meeting of the newly-formed Synod of Nebraska on October 2, 1874, for the purpose of presenting their proposal.
Mr. Griffes, spokesman for the Committee, began: "Gentlemen, we present five reasons for locating the college at Hastings:
1. It is one-third of the distance from the east to the west end of the state.
2. It will, in an early future, be central to the population of the state.
3. It is accessible by the Burlington and Missouri and the St. Joseph and Denver Railroads from the east, south, and west; and in a few months it will be accessible from the entire north part of the state by the Union Pacific and the Grand Island and Hastings Railroads, the latter railroad being in process of construction.
4. It has the hearty support of the Presbytery of Kearney, which covers two-thirds of the state and has churches as far west as Plattsmouth is east of Hastings.
5. It has the enthusiastic support of the little Presbyterian Church of Hastings, now with fifty members and but one year old, and also of the entire community in the city and country adjacent, irrespective of creed."
In concluding his request for the "go-ahead" signal from the Synod, Mr. Griffes said that it was made "with due appreciation of the intimate relations of a thorough college training of youth to the growth of the church of Christ and of the general education, and of the moral, religious, and material interests of all the people of the State." He emphasized again that the college should be Presbyterian, but non-sectarian.
But the Synod’s reply the next day, made by the Committee on Bills and Overtures, was disheartening. The Committee thanked the citizens of Hastings for wanting the proposed college to be under Presbyterian care and influence and promised moral support for the project and first consideration if the Synod ever did decide to start a college. But the gist of it all was that the Synod, "owing to the financial embarrassment of the State, would respectfully decline to take any financial responsibility in that laudable enterprise."
It had been just two years since Otoe University, a Presbyterian college founded at Nebraska City in 1868, had closed its doors. The memory of that unsuccessful attempt to maintain a Presbyterian college undoubtedly had much to do with the Committee’s refusal to obligate the Synod to the responsibility of establishing another educational institution.
Discouraged, the men returned to Hastings, but they did not relinquish their dream. Throughout the next six years–years of hardship and heartbreak because of severe drought and a grasshopper scourge that laid waste to the state – they continued their impassioned pleas to the Synod of Nebraska. Then in 1880, the Committee on Bills and Overtures approved the founding of a college–at Bellevue: This was despite the Synod’s promise of 1874 to give the college at Hastings first consideration.
While Hastings supporters had been pressing their case with the Synod, similar groups representing Beatrice and Bellevue had also been trying to establish Synodically-supported colleges in their towns – all three towns offering about the same financial benefits. The reasoning behind the choice of Bellevue, in spite of the Synod’s prior obligation to Hastings, lay in its geographical location: it was felt to be closer to the population center of the state than either of the two other proposed locations.
Friends of Hastings, however, were unwilling that their plans and hopes of seven years should end in failure. The next year they turned again to Kearney Presbytery for help and asked that body to appoint a Board of Trustees for Hastings College. This was done on September 14, 1881, the men being charged "to institute a school of advanced grade at Hastings…and to secure endowment therefor." Throughout the long years of trying to establish a Presbyterian college in Hastings, the Kearney Presbytery was one of the staunchest, most determined groups of supporters. In almost every record of Presbytery meetings, held twice a year, there is mention of the "Presbyterian College at Hastings."
Why had the Hastings group been so dogged in their determination to have Synodical support, rather than Presbytery help for their school? As a state is made up of many counties, so in the Presbyterian Church the Synod is made up of several Presbyteries. Financial aid, moral support, and interest from the larger group, therefore, are greater and carriy greater assurance of continuity and stability. Such support is worth working for, but when it was obviously out of reach, the dreamers who envisioned "the College on the Plains" were content to settle for more localized help so that their plans could come to fruition.
During the long, disheartening years of delay, many changes had taken place in Hastings. The earlier offers of the railroad-sponsored land companies of lands and services in the amount of $100,000 had long since expired, and since the companies had largely completed their objective – that of attracting settlers – the offer was not repeated.
In the meantime, however, the town had grown substantially, with the result that the number of persons interested in the college was increased; likewise, the [number of ] potential subscribers and financial supporters had increased.
Many Hastings people took an active part in the establishment of the college, but the names of three men – Samuel Alexander, A. L. Wigton, and J. B. Heartwell – stand out clearly during this long period of delay, for they were leaders devoted to the idea of promoting a Presbyterian college in Hastings. Hastings College, however, was not founded by a few men acting alone, but rather in response to the urgent demand of many citizens of Hastings, who were willing to contribute generously for this purpose.
During the winter and spring of 1881-82, ninety-three men contributed a total of $11,050 in cash to be used toward the purchase of a site for the College, the construction of a building, and the cost of maintenance of the institution during the first year. Individual contributions ranged from $50 to $500. A tract of 100 acres one mile east of the center of town was selected, twenty acres of which were donated by Mr. Joseph H. Hansen. It is in recognition of his contribution to the College that Hansen [Football] Field is named.
When Mr. Hansen died in 1919, Hastings College took charge of the funeral services for one of its earliest benefactors. The minister was the Reverend Charles Arnold of Kansas City, a Hastings College graduate of 1896, and the Department of Music supplied music. Never a wealthy man, Mr. Hansen had given twenty acres of his own homestead as his share in establishing a Christian college in the community he supported, for Hastings and the church represented his two greatest interests.
The ninety-three men who assumed financial responsibility for establishing the College were referred to by its first President as "the Honor Roll of Hastings College." They represented the leaders in the business, civic, and church life of the community. Through succeeding decades their names have continued to represent that same kind of leadership. Hastings College was rightly named because it has always been an integral part of the thinking of the Hastings community.
Financial support assured, the next step was the incorporation of the College on May 10, 1882. Members of the first Board of Trustees, mostly Hastings citizens, were as follows: Samuel Alexander, R. A. Batty, A. L. Clarke, A. H. Cramer, T. E. Farrell, Jacob Fisher, J. B. Heartwell, O. B. Hewett, A. B. Ideson, C. K. Lawson, D. Lowman, W. R. McCully, Oswald Oliver, L. B. Palmer, G. H. Pratt, Walter Snook, A. H. Sowers, L. H. Tower, A. L. Wigton, Professor A. D. Williams, the Reverend E. L. Williams, Jacob Wooster, and A. Yeazel, all of Hastings; the Reverend George T. Crissman, Kearney; the Reverend John Fleming, Ayr; the Reverend Frederick Johnson, St. Paul; and J. P. Kernohan, Grand Island.
Hastings College opened formally on September 13, 1882, in a chapel service in the First Presbyterian Church. There were no buildings as yet, but the occasion marked the fulfillment of a dream by a group of tenacious, dedicated men. The church was filled to overflowing. There sat the faculty, consisting of J. M. Wilson, George E. White, and Miss Addie Brewer in the Literary Department and two part-time teachers of special subjects, Miss Lou Vance in Art and John Rees in Music.
There sat the student body, forty-four solemn young people, ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-one, all in the Academy.
And there sat the first President of the College, although no one knew it at the time. When the opening ceremonies were over, faculty and students went to their classrooms, six rooms in the Chilcote Building, located on the second floor of the post office building on what is now the northeast corner of First Street and Hastings Avenue. For the first two years of its existence, Hastings College held its classes there.
During the first year, on April 1, 1883, the Pastor of the Hastings Presbyterian Church – who had taken a leading part in the opening ceremonies in September – was invited to assume the presidency of the College on a part-time basis; within a few months he resigned his pastorate, for he soon found that the presidency of the young institution demanded his full time. His name was Dr. William F. Ringland, and for fourteen years he gave inspiring leadership of a high order to the cultural, educational, and religious life on the campus and in the community.
Massively built and smooth-shaven in an era when whiskers were the rule rather than the exception, Dr. Ringland was a man of commanding presence. He was dearly loved and respected by college folk and townspeople alike, and was an ideal president for the church-related college. An illustration of the esteem in which he was held by business men came in 1885, when they gave him a $400 purse, a fine horse and buggy, and a lap robe, pronouncing him "a statesman, a builder, a Christian nobleman, and an educational leader."
Dr. Ringland was a man of strong religious convictions. He summarized his educational philosophy as follows:
It takes much more than material equipment, buildings, and endowment to make a good college. A college is much more than a place for enlarging intellectual power and storing the mind with useful knowledge; a college that does only that is a failure. A college should have in it the spirit and character that will awaken right purposes and strengthen the will power along right lines; that will develop wholesome sympathies and affections to enforce and strengthen right purpose; that will secure a right well-balanced development of all our soul powers.
His basic philosophy holds true for the College today.
In May, shortly after he had assumed the presidency of the College, Dr. Ringland and J. B. Heartwell, President of the Board of Trustees, went to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Saratoga, New York. En route they stopped in Chicago to appear before the Board of Aid for Colleges and Academies, even before that committee was officially appointed by the General Assembly. There they presented a report on Hastings College: "its work thus far, its field, which is very large, and its hopes, which are still larger," according to Dr. Ringland.
The report went to Dr. Herrick Johnson, Pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago and Chairman of the Board of Aid, who was asked to present it to the new Board and thence to Cyrus McCormick, who would be solicited for $5,000 for the first building of the new College. Even while the Hastings men were still in session with the committee, word came that Mr. McCormick would give the $5,000 for a building. Within a few days the Board of Aid was officially created, and so it was that Mr. McCormick’s gift was the first money to go through the hands of that group.
Cyrus H. McCormick, who had gained great wealth through the manufacture of farm implements, was a devout man, a believer in higher education and an early philanthropist. It was logical that Dr. Ringland should seek him out for financial help. In recounting the story twenty-five years later, Dr. Ringland said that he had asked of Mr. McCormick the privilege "of naming the first building McCormick Hall, a name familiar to the farmer boys, many of whom we hoped would find their way to the benefits of that building and the College."
Ground was broken for the first building, McCormick Hall, on April 25, 1883; judging from contemporary accounts, it must have been a festal day for the entire community. Quite probably it was the most exciting single event in the history of Hastings College. Here was the first real, material evidence of a permanent campus for the College. The ground had been there, but until the spades broke the sod for the excavation and the bricks and stones were stacked there for use, the place was no different from any other part of the surrounding prairie.
What made this unique among ground-breaking celebrations, however, was the tree-planting activity, two years before Arbor Day became a legal holiday in Nebraska. "The people of the vicinity, including the ladies and the school children, assembled on the College grounds for the purpose of setting out trees," the Minutes of the Board of Trustees report.
The names of the 160 citizens, including women in ground-sweeping broadcloth skirts and youngsters in high-button shoes and black cotton stockings – and the varieties of trees they planted – have been carefully preserved. Planted with trees was not only the campus as we know it today, but also the rest of the College’s grounds and the Heartwell Park tract which adjoined it. So successful was this first tree-planting day that the following spring a similar day was observed by the citizens of Hastings. Many of the trees for this occasion were given by the Honorable R. W. Furnas, Presbyterian Elder and former Governor of Nebraska, from his nursery at Brownsville. In all, between five and six thousand trees, including 180 ornamental and flowering shrubs, were planted on the grounds on those two occasions.
The College grounds, which were located just inside the city limits to the northeast, covered a little more than ninety-five acres. Slightly more than thirty-three acres of the most easterly land were reserved for the campus, the rest being laid out for residential lots. At the time the campus was planned, the streets in the new division were platted and named: Seventh Street, southern boundary of the campus, was then Broad Street; and Ninth Street, on the northern edge of the campus, was then High Street. University Avenue, however, retained its original name, as did the majority of the north-south streets which were originally platted.
"The campus is laid out in the most perfect taste with walks and parks in the neatest design," said an editorial writer in the Weekly Nebraskan of July 19, 1883, commenting on the laying of the cornerstone of McCormick Hall. "All the streets and walks are lined with trees, and the whole tract is surrounded by trees. Little groves and parks are planted in every direction, and the entire campus has been seeded to blue grass."
In the meantime, while all the celebrating and tree planting were providing excitement for the city of Hastings, classes and academic work were progressing. The Hastings College Review of June 15, 1883, tells of the first "Commencement,"1 although there were no graduates of the brand-new school involved.
Visitors came into the examinations until anticipations were so far exceeded that the Professor in the examination of the Caesar class had to arrest the examination and bring in more seats for their accommodation. Quite a number of visitors attended the examination of the geometry class…. The examinations in the Classics were all good…. The reception in the Art Department was a surprise to everybody…. About twenty-five pupils in the Art Department were represented by work in the reception rooms.
Hastings College, being located in one of the most intelligent and enterprising communities in the West, has one of the essentials which go to make any institution of learning successful.
The interest manifested by the citizens, as shown in their large attendance of the closing exercises of the year, and the evident appreciation of good work done, is all in keeping with their past record in educational matters.
Another item in The Review, published by the Athenian Literary Society, indicates that music was early established in the curriculum of the new school.
The students and faculty would take occasion through the columns of The Review to return thanks to Professor Rees and the orchestra, to Mrs. O. Oliver, Miss Addie Renfrew, and Mrs. Rees for the excellent music furnished for the entertainment given on last Wednesday evening.
Now that the foundation for the first building in the design has been laid in solid masonry…the great work may well be regarded as commenced, and the day when Hastings will take rank as one of the educational centers of the land has already begun to dawn. Already ranking as a railroad and commercial center, she now begins to assume a place no less prominent in the educational world.
On July 12, 1883, the cornerstone for McCormick Hall was laid. Before McCormick Hall was ready for occupancy, in September of 1884, it became obvious that another building, a women’s dormitory, was needed. Accordingly, J. B. Heartwell, President of the Board of Trustees, made the following proposition: he would give $10,000 if the Board of Trustees would secure $2,500 more from the citizens of Hastings and $5,000 each from the Hastings and Kearney Presbyteries, within the next sixty days.
Thus challenged, the community went to work and within the time limit raised $20,000 – the second $10,000 coming mainly from Hastings citizens. Work on the second building was begun the following spring; the cornerstone was laid on August 19, 1884, and the building was completed during the 1884-85 school year. Called at first "South Hall," it was later named "Ringland Hall," in honor of the beloved first President of the College.
The students of these early days at Hastings College had a full schedule of activities: in addition to attending classes and doing the necessary studying, they had begun to organize various kinds of campus activities. In the early eighties, most of the students were registered in the Academy Department, which included two years of academic work, a standard not uncommon in many high schools at that time. The catalog of 1882-83 lists the following requirements for admission:
Students must pass satisfactory examinations in reading, spelling, arithmetic, geography, grammar, and United States history up to the time of the adoption of the Constitution.
For benefit of those who have not been able to make preparation in full, classes will be formed in those studies from time to time during the year.
In 1887, the Academy added a third year, and in 1895, a fourth year to its program. At the same time the College course was developed and divided into two regular divisions of study: the Classical and the Scientific. The catalog gives the following explanation of the courses:
As it is believed that the largest experience has sanctioned the use of the Classics as the best means of mental discipline, special attention and encouragement will be given to the Classical Course.
Instruction in Latin and Greek has been, and will be, attended with the most thorough drill in rules and forms, with the closest application of hard study from the beginning as the only effective means of making later study in the Classics both pleasant and profitable.
With a large enthusiasm and earnest endeavor for proficiency, the students have been found to pursue these studies in this manner with pleasure; and it is believed that only by the continuance of this spirit and this method of earnest study on the part of the student, and thorough drill by the professor, can these studies be pursued in such manner as to meet the final approbation of the students themselves, as well as the approbation of those of larger experience.
Latin will begin with the first year in the Academic Department and will be pursued continuously until the Junior year in the College.
Greek will begin with the second term of the first year and will be pursued continuously up to the Junior year in the College.
With the mental discipline acquired by the study of the Classics this early in the course, the other studies embraced in the Classical Course will be more easily mastered and will be pursued with greater relish
P. L. JOHNSON’S "MINUTES":
A "TOWN AND GOWN" MEETING AT THE COURT HOUSE
November 23, 1898
A number of businessmen responded to the call for a meeting at the Court House Wednesday evening. Both Mr. Parmenter and Mr. J. N. Clarke were nominated for Chairman. Mr. Parmenter withdrew and Mr. Clarke was elected. Mr. Madgett was elected Secretary. Mr. Clarke then said: "We are organized for business. What is your pleasure?"
Pres. Pattison said "I don’t know how far we should go in this matter before organizing; but I think I should speak of this: You are all familiar with the matter in hand. On the day of the blizzard the business men were all shut up in their offices and places of business. I took that occasion to interview the business men in regard to the proposition which has been in the town papers" – which proposition he then read. "That was the statement under consideration the last time we met here together. As the College now stands there is not sufficient money for an institution of the grade of Hastings College. We do the grade of work of many higher institutions. We have one year of work preparatory to the Academic Department, three years in the Academic Department, and four years of College work, making an eight years’ course in all. When our students have done that work they are very well equipped for the work of life. We have won a reputation among higher institutions of learning of which we have no cause to be ashamed.
Last year, Pres. Harper in a personal interview said to me, "Your students who have enrolled with us have made excellent records, and your College has a better standing with us than many institutions of higher grade. The men you have sent us, Mr. Moritz, Mr. Norlin, and Mr. Roelkoetter, have made fine records. You can be proud to know that as far as our judgment goes, we regard your men as superior to the students of certain other institutions we have mentioned." Whether at Chicago or at Cornell or at Princeton, we have recognition of work of a higher order. While attempting to carry on the very best work, it has been under a severe strain and pressure. Ever since the College has been organized, not only has the faculty labored for small sums of money, but from these sums they have suffered cuts and deductions which have been sacrificed for the welfare of the College.
If ever we expect to put the College upon a higher basis, we must enlarge our resources. What we need is more funds upon which the College can count from year to year. To do this, we need to have an enlargement of the endowment fund and an increased attendance. Our credit should be as good as that of any business man in the city. It must be, so that people may know that the institution can meet all its obligations. To do this, it is necessary to have larger funds. The interest taken by the citizens of Hastings in this matter has been very great. When I was talking to the business men about this, one man said that it was possible not only to raise $25,000 but to raise $50,000 if we would but ‘put our hand to the plow’ and go to work." Another said "I have thought over this matter for ten years, and I have come to the conclusion that there are two things of the greatest commercial interest to Hastings: one is the College and the other is the Asylum. The College brings more commerce to Hastings than any other one thing." There are other things of interest along this line, but I have no doubt that others here will speak of the other phases of the question. We have now enrolled 140 students. This we hope to increase to 300 students. This will bring an increase of expense to the College, which must be met. I must have my time to get out on the road and do the work of the College in a general way. The proposition is that if $25,000 is raised, one-half is to be paid when we secure 200 students and the other half when we secure 300, asking for none of that until $10,000 is raised outside of the state of Nebraska. We would then have the $25,000 raised by our citizens, $10,000 raised outside the state, and with the $15,000 that we already have, would create a $50,000 endowment. This would put us in a better condition than any other college in the state, outside of the State University.
President Kerr said to me some time ago that we have great advantages over Bellevue because their territory is so covered up by other institutions. There is at Peru, the State Normal; and in the vicinity of Lincoln, there is the State University; besides Wesleyan, Cotner, Lincoln Normal, and Union. These are all competing for the students of this section of the country. They have but two students from the city of Omaha, he said, while we have four. Besides, they are just far enough from the city of Omaha to be at a great disadvantage. Every institution receives a larger percentage of its students from a small radius immediately around it; this is true even of Yale. It is also true of our own State University. More than fifty percent of their students are from Lancaster County.
Every institution, within a radius of 100 miles of its campus, will take in all its students in this area. We have around us here a rich country, one that will develop more and more – a country with rich soil for agriculture. In it the city of Hastings is benefited by having the College. So far, Hastings has not developed many manufacturing plants. In some other ways it has not developed greatly during the past. But it remains for us to take hold of this and make it a great college town. In order to make something of this, we must advertise. We must take hold of this with earnestness and enthusiasm. The other day I presented these cards to the men on Second Street. And every man who signed one of these cards will do something. Out of the forty-nine that I talked to that day forty-six signed these cards. Some said they would give certain sums. Another said, "What will be my part?"; another said, "I will be there when you go to make up the money. You write that statement across the card." Another man said "A man is blind to his own interests when he thinks that Hastings College means nothing to him." If we can double the attendance it will mean an expenditure of $30,000 a year. Now there are not a large number of business men here, but it seems to me that we should have an opinion expressed from every one of these business men.
Mr. Oliver asked if they would take a man’s note payable for one, two, or three years.
President Pattison said, "Yes, payable to this association."
Mr. Clarke said, "Talking this matter over with President Pattison, it seemed well for us to have a number of committees. That is, a committee of merchants, another to see the men of this county, and another committee to take up the matter of non-resident property holders. In these committees we must have all the elements that make up the community. With this plan the movement must win. And it will be a financial help. And another thing: manufacturing plants we can’t have, but there are many people who are no doubt thinking of moving to Hastings to educate their children. I believe our public schools here have no superior in Nebraska, not even Lincoln and Omaha excepted. From the public schools there are many who will either go on to school or go into some business; but if we increase the facilities of Hastings College, many will remain to carry on their education. To us, therefore, it is eminently fitting that we have Hastings College in our midst. In the first place, there is no man in this house who has had experience in a large institution that can measure its influence. And there is no reason why we should not make a large institution out of Hastings College. For when we get to an enrollment of 200, we can go to 300 and from that to 400. It can’t stop. We can’t measure its influence for our town. I would like to have a canvass made to see how many men and families came here originally because it was a college town.
We ought to have this house packed tonight; but I have lived in Hastings long enough to know this: there are many men who are not here tonight, who, when presented with this matter, will do a great deal to help us.
Mr. Watkins asked if it would not be a good thing to go ahead and appoint committees.
Mr. Parmenter said "It means hard enthusiastic work, in which three or four must bear the brunt of the fight. We ought to have committees and subcommittees and set them to work. The Presbyterian Church raised $25,000 in less than a year; I don’t see why we should not raise this amount."
President Pattison remarked that the constituency of the College ought to be larger than that of the church.
Mr. Clarke said, "How would it be to have a committee of three or four or five at the outside and give to that committee the power to solicit others?"
Mr. Benedict moved that a committee of five be appointed to take up the work of organization.
President Pattison suggested that this committee have a president, secretary, and treasurer. Mr. Watkins seconded the motion.
Mr. Benedict changed the motion so that the chair should appoint three to select a committee of five to take up the work of organizing and detailing this work and pushing it forward.
The motion was carried.
The Chair appointed Benedict, Buchanan, and Parmenter.
They reported a committee as follows: J. N. Clarke, President; Mr. Lanning, Treas.urer; Mr. Parmenter, Secretary; Mr. Buchanan, and Mr. G. H. Pratt.
Mr. Clarke appointed a meeting of the committee at his office at nine o’clock on Sat. night. Meeting adjourned.
P. L. Johnson surveys his farm
(A "Home Photo" taken in 1943 by his grandson Richard Johnson)
1 Here "PL" is distinguishing between "Commencement" and "Graduation," as academic terms. Later in his History he described the initial "Graduation."