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A Not-So-Small College

By James T. Herron, Jr.

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Originally published in The Jefferson College Times, Volume 126, Number 1, March 1993. Reprinted with the author's permission. The Jefferson College Times is a publication of the Jefferson College Historical Society. Society membership is open to all: Individual $10; student $5; contributing $15; business or institutional $25; sustaining $50; life $150. Send membership requests and fees to Joseph A. Solobay, 514 Craighead Street, Canonsburg, PA 15317.

Helen Turnbull Waite Coleman, in her history of Washington and Jefferson College, Banners in the Wilderness, lists the "forces [that] contributed to the union of the two colleges," Washington College in Washington and Jefferson College in Canonsburg: "public opinion and the trend of the times, the rise of the county seat, the social changes incidental to the Civil War, and financial necessity."'

The two colleges united in1865, just after the end of the Civil War. Among Coleman's reasons for the union of the colleges, there was no mention of size, but it would seem reasonable that the colleges were too small to survive the loss of students. Since the college is now located on the Washington College campus, probably Jefferson College was the weaker sister. Coleman was right; both these assumptions are wrong.

The 1835 Report of the American Education Society lists the colleges of the United States with relevant facts about each of them. The University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia) was the oldest and largest school of higher education in the state, but most of its students were taking the medical course. Penn's "collegeate department" had but 93 students. Dickinson College, the second oldest then in operation, had only 20 college students, Lafayette (Easton) and Pennsylvania (later Gettysburg College) were each three years old and still quite small.

There were four western Pennsylvania colleges in the 1830s: Jefferson, Washington, Allegheny, and Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh), Allegheny College (founded 1806) had only 10 graduates by the mid-1830s, and the enrollment was not listed. Western University had been founded in 1820 on the remains of Pittsburgh Academy and had 50 students. Washington College (1806), Jefferson's neighbor and rival, had 47 students. Jefferson College, with five professors, three instructors, and 404 graduates, had by far the largest college enrollment in the state, 175 students.

Jefferson College was small by today's standards, but so were all the colleges in the country. The largest college of the time was Yale, which had 354 students in 1835. Amherst was second, with 243; Union College (New York), third, with 232; and Harvard fourth, with 214. Jefferson College's  enrollment in this compilation was the seventh largest in the nation, following the University of Virginia (205) and Princeton (191). Transylvania University (Kentucky), which contests with Jefferson for the "First College West of the Alleghenies" title, had 30 students, and the largest college in Ohio was Miami, with 126.2

The American Almanac for 1847 (published in 1846) includes a table of 108 colleges. Jefferson was credited with 170 students, exceeded by Yale (424), Princeton (244), Dartmouth (331), Harvard (275), Union (232), Washington (191), Bowdoin (182). Although the table indicates that Washington College was larger than Jefferson, the college catalogs show that Washington's enrollment was inflated by including its preparatory (pre-college) students. The almanac for the previous year (1846) had reported Washington's enrollment as 76. Since some colleges included non-college students in their enrollment figures, the size of a college's graduating class is likely to provide a more accurate measurement.3

Table 1 shows the sizes of the graduating classes of Pennsylvania colleges during the 1840s, as well as three eastern schools that we think of as being much larger. For most of the decade, Jefferson College's graduating classes were the largest in the state, and Jefferson had the most graduates in the decade.  Toward the end of the 1840s, the size of Jefferson College's graduating classes increased, while those of the University of Pennsylvania and Washington College decreased.

Table 1.

 School Year

1841

1842

1843

1844

1845

1846

1847

1848

1849

1850

TOTAL

Jefferson

44

44

49

34

43

17

63

56

54

55

459

Univ. Penna.

53

39

43

43

47

59

45

43

36

38

444

Washington

19

21

17

25

34

38

33

36

36

21

280

Gettysburg

11

13

11

12

4

14

17

13

10

18

123

Lafayette

6

10

5

9

9

19

14

24

3

7

106

W.U.P.

3

13

3

6

17

21

12

7

6

0

88

Allegheny

16

9

5

0

2

4

10

10

10

10

76

Harvard

46

56

71

62

61

66

62

62

79

67

632

Princeton

60

45

62

67

53

68

62

76

78

80

651

Yale

78

105

96

104

72

82

123

87

94

79

920


Table 2.
 

1851

1852

1853

1854

1855

1856

1857

1868

1859

1860

1861

1862

1868

1864

1865

TOTAL

Jefferson

62

42

36

57

49

57

58

75

57

44

53

53

29

34

36

742

Univ. Penna.

33

37

32

28

30

37

40

32

52

46

42

42

45

53

48

597

Washington

30

18

18

17

11

9

18

19

19

21

24

30

16

17

12

279

Allegheny

13

22

17

11

21

18

22

24

18

22

17

18

14

11

8

256

Gettysburg

14

7

14

12

10

22

16

11

14

19

22

18

16

13

13

221

Lafayette

3

8

5

6

18

22

27

13

17

10

15

19

7

15

13

197

W.U.P.

0

3

0

0

0

0

0

3

1

2

0

0

0

3

4

16

Harvard

64

88

90

91

82

92

67

92

94

110

81

99

121

99

88

1358

Yale

93

92

104

98

91

96

106

100

105

108

97

98

102

109

95

1514


Table 3. Graduation Classes of the

 

Jefferson College

Washington College

Year

SR

JR

SO

FR

TOTAL

SR

JR

SO

FR

TOTAL

1850-51

57

62

30

29

178

37

33

23

20

123

1851-52

49

47

44

21

161

20

39

27

14

100

1852-53

36

72

48

40

196

21

20

16

17

74

1853-54

58

61

80

26

195

18

18

20

27

83

1854-55

52

60

41

29

182

 

NO

DATA

 

 

1855-56

56

54

60

37

207

10

21

18

24

73

1856-57

59

76

53

30

218

19

23

26

23

91

1857-58

87

78

51

34

250

20

22

30

23

95

1858-59

65

51

59

41

216

20

37

25

20

102

1859-50

48

62

63

38

209

31

30

17

30

108

1860-61

57

75

48

57

237

26

37

38

16

117

1861-62

52

44

48

27

171

31

40

26

26

122

1862-63

30

33

27

31

121

32

26

24

22

104

1863-64

36

38

40

24

139

18

15

14

14

61

1864-65

41

38

39

15

133

 

NO

DATA

 

 



Harvard and Princeton had more graduates than Jefferson College, but they were not greatly different in scale. Jefferson's largest class of the decade, 63, in 1847, was larger than Harvard's or Princeton's  that year, but Yale graduated twice as many.4

The size of Jefferson College's graduating classes increased during the 1850s (see Table 2), while the University of Pennsylvania and Washington College continued the decrease in class size that had begun in the late 1840s. The University of Pittsburgh alumni catalog lists no graduates most years.

A more detailed comparison between Jefferson and Washington Colleges is seen in Table 3, derived from the schools' annual catalogs.s

Jefferson College's enrollment increased during the 1850s, while Washington's was nearly the same at the end of the decade, with a pronounced dip in mid-decade. Both colleges were suffering financial difficulties, Washington more than Jefferson.   In 1852 Washington College put itself under the

control of the Presbyterian Synod of Wheeling and became increasingly sectarian. The Jefferson College trustees in 1854 refused a similar embrace from the Synod of Pittsburgh.6

For decades southern students had come north to attend Jefferson College and in the years before the Civil War made up about 4% of the enrollment. Washington College's  president during the period, John W. Scott (a Jefferson College alumnus), was a fervent, even radical, abolitionist. Because of this, combined with the sectarian influence, the two colleges attracted different sorts of students.

The departure of southern students affected only Jefferson College. The annual catalog for 1859-60 Lists 10 southerners in a student body of 209, and 12 attended the following year when the enrollment was 237. In 1861-62 there were none, and the enrollment was half that of the previous year.

The precipitous loss of students, from 237 to 171, involved much more than the departure of a relatively few southerners. A significant proportion of the student body of both persuasions had swapped books for bayonets. Washington College, where abolitionism was preached, did not respond so quickly. This may have been because a large proportion of the student body was preparing for the ministry. Washington College's enrollment increased the first year of the war.

A decreased size of the graduating classes during the Civil War, compared to the pre-war years, is seen for most of the state's  colleges (Table 2). The University of Pennsylvania was an exception. Penn's graduating classes were large throughout the war. There are two factors that bear upon this discrepancy. Penn's college students were unusually young, many entered at age 14 or 15, and would not have been old enough to serve.Those who were older and were drafted were graduated with their classes if they had been absent less than a year and received faculty permission.7

Table 4 shows the enrollments of Pennsylvania colleges during the war years. The statistics were published by the state in the annual Report of the Superintendent of Common Schools of Pennsylvania. Jefferson did not report its enrollment for two of the four war years. Washington College was reported only once, and that was wrong. The statistics for Jefferson and Washington Colleges are taken from the schools' annual catalogs.

The 1862-63 school year was the first complete year under wartime conditions. The University of Pennsylvania was smaller, with 108 college students. Allegheny was only slightly smaller, having gone from 78 to 70, but Westminster grew. Western University (Pittsburgh) had only 24 college students, but 112 in the preparatory department. Washington's enrollment was recorded as 122, but the college's catalog gives the figure as 104. This also is misleading, since this number included students who were serving in the array, and even former students who had died. Washington's actual enrollment for 1862-63 was 71.   Jefferson's enrollment of 121 agrees with the college's annual catalog.8

The 1863-64 state report (Table 4) shows the enrollment at Jefferson College was still the largest in the state. The figures for Pennsylvania College, in Table 4. Enrollment in Civil War colleges of Pennsylvania. Data, except those marked with asterisks, are derived from statistics published in the annual Report of the Superintendent of Common Schools of Pennsylvania. The year refers to the school year, e.g., 1862 is the 1861-62 school year. The Gettysburg, and Dickinson College, in Carlisle, are unexpected.The summer of 1863 was an eventful one for both towns, though the shelling of Carlisle and the Battle of Gettysburg, shortly thereafter, did not substantially damage either school.


Table 4

School

1862

1863

1864

1865

Jefferson

*171

121

139

*133

Univ. Penna.

124

108

104

105

Dickinson

80

82

93

90

Gettysburg

86

79

67

56

Washington

*122

*71

*61

- -

Franklin & Marshal

101

74

61

46

Westminster

54

61

58

63

Haverford

64

57

56

57

Lafayette

 - -

50

56

53

Allegheny

78

70

52

- -

Bucknell

52

43

48

55

W.U.P.

22

24

29

39

Waynesburg

- -

- -

19

'74


There were two incursions into Carlisle. During the first, in late June, the Confederates camped on the college campus and roasted appropriated cattle. They left with a wagon-train of supplies. The shelling, a few days later on July 1, resulted in two hits on college buildings. One shell wrecked a recitation room, the other tore a hole in a college building's roof but did not explode.5

At Gettysburg an infantry company that included more than 50 college students was raised to help repel the Confederates. Company A, 26th Regiment, Pennsylvania Militia entrained to Camp Curtin, near Harrisburg on June 17 for a brief period of training. Nine days later the company skirmished with an advance force of the Confederate Army. No students were wounded, but a number were taken prisoner.   Company A retreated to Harrisburg, saw no more action, and was mustered out on July 30.

Meanwhile, at Gettysburg the college remained in session until the morning of July 1, the first day of the battle. The campus suffered no battle damage, but the stench remained from its use as a hospital. The final six weeks of school were canceled and the students sent home. The college reopened the beginning of the next term, in September, but some who had been in Company A found that the military appealed to them and had reenlisted.10

Although the state's statistics for Pennsylvania College (Gettysburg) show a modest decrease in enrollment, Dickinson's student body increased in size.

The state statistics for the final school year of the war (1864-65) are incomplete, as Lafayette College is not reported and Washington and Jefferson Colleges are lumped together as Washington & Jefferson College. The colleges had united by the time the report was published, but they had operated independently during the school year.

The state report credits W&J with 42 seniors, 42 juniors, 43 sophomores, 28 freshmen and a graduating class of 48 (Jefferson graduated 36, Washington, 12). Since there were more graduates than seniors, there must be an error in the state report. However, taking into account Jefferson's enrollment (see Table 3} and Washington College's failure to publish a catalog that year, it is likely that the Washington College enrollment was low.

Jefferson College remained the largest college in the state in 1865, its last year of existence, and Washington College nearly become extinct. The University of Pennsylvania reported 105 college students; Franklin and Marshall, 46; and Dickinson 90. Western University (Pittsburgh) reported 24 students, with no seniors.

Visitors, many of them members of fraternities founded at Jefferson College, come to Canonsburg to see the Jefferson College campus. Of primary interest is John McMillan's  log school, which many think was Jefferson College, "I can't believe it was so small," is a common comment.

John McMillan's log school was a predecessor of Jefferson College, but had been abandoned by the time the college was incorporated. The log school had one small room, but Jefferson College's enrollment for much of its history was in the hundreds. The college's relative size depends on your perspective. In the terms of the colleges of today, it was small, but Jefferson College was not of our time and must be measured against its contemporaries.

Jefferson College is known as the first college west of the Alleghenies. It is also significant that, for most of its history, it was one of the largest colleges in the country.

 

Notes

  1. Helen Turnbull Waite Coleman, Banners in the Wilderness (Pittsburgh,  1956), 143.
  2. Nineteenth Annual Report of the Directors of the American Education Society... (Boston, 1835), 73-79. For the purposes of this discussion, only full-time college students will be considered.
  3. The American Almanac And Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1847 (Boston, 1846), 180-83; American Almanac, 1846 (Boston, 1845), 180-83. The American Almanac is an unreliable source of college statistics,    Some figures remain the same for years, and others (like Washington College's) fluctuate widely.   Many schools with large enrollments are listed as colleges, but never graduated a single student.
  4. In this table and the following one, the data for Jefferson and Washington Colleges are taken from Biographical and Historical Catalogue of Washington and Jefferson College (Phila., 1902).   The Allegheny College statistics are from Allegheny College Register of Alumni and Hon-Graduates (MeadviUe, Pa., 1915); University of Pennsylvania from General Alumni Catalogue of the University of Pennsylvania (Phila., 1922); Lafayette College from Biographical Catalogue of Lafayette College (Easton, Pa., 1913); Pennsylvania College (later, Gettysburg College) from Clyde B. Stover and Charles W. Beaches,  The Alumni Record of Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, Pa., 1932); Western University of Pennsylvania (W.U.P.) from Alumni Directory: University of Pittsburgh: 1787-1916, Vol. 2, (Pgh., 1916); 204-05; Harvard from Quinquennial Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates of Harvard University: 1638-1910 (Cambridge, Mass,, 1910), 197-236; Princeton from John Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey (Phila., 1817), 345. The Yale statistics come from Catalogus Collegii Yalensis (Novo-Portu [New Haven], 1865), 86-103.   Except for Arabic numerals, the Yale catalog is written in Latin, even the students' first names were transliterated.
  5. The Washington and Jefferson College Historical Collection does not have copies of Washington College's   1854-55 or 1864-65 catalogs, so there probably were none.
  6. Coleman, Banners In the Wilderness, 133-140.
  7. Edward Potts Cheyney, History of the University of Pennsylvania,   1740-1940 {Philadelphia, 1940), 249-51.
  8. Report of the Superintendent... (Harrisburg, 1864), 282.    The state recorded Washington College's 1862-63 enrollment as 25 freshmen, 26 sophomores, 40 juniors, and 31 seniors.   The college's annual catalog lists 32 seniors (one was irregular), but fifteen of them are listed with an asterisk and the notation "Entered the U. S. Army during the Junior year." Three of these are marked "Deceased." Discounting those who were no longer in school, or were listed as irregular (taking only a partial course), the enrollment was 16 freshmen, 19 sophomores, 20 juniors, and 16 seniors, an actual enrollment of 71.
  9. James Henry Morgan, Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pa., 1933), 314-17.
  10. Samuel Gring Hefelbower, The History of Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, Pa., 1932), 182-217.

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