After the great fire of 1899, the Centenary community worked hard to rebuild the campus and revive its spirit. Benefactors of Centenary provided the means for a new school, one bigger and better than before. Students and staff wanted to remember the devastation of that night and express admiration for those whose hard work and perseverance helped reestablish the school. Within a few years of the fire, Centenary Collegiate Institute had developed a tradition to do just that.

This artwork was included in the 1909 Hack Yearbook.

This artwork was included in the 1909 Hack Yearbook.

The anniversary of the fire was commemorated with a ceremony they called the Salamander Celebration. Salamanders have long been considered mythical creatures, as it was believed that they were created from fire. The belief stated that a salamander would ascend from the flames a more magnificent being and be better equipped for life than it was before it entered the fire. It’s very fitting that C.C.I. would choose to use that name for its new celebration.

The New Main Building as viewed from Jefferson Street

The New Main Building as viewed from Jefferson Street

October 31st was no longer just for Halloween. Students would assemble at the back of the campus, where two students would preside over the ceremony: one male and one female. The male student was designated the ‘Fire Orator’, one of the most remarkable honors a Centenary student could receive. He would spend a great deal of time preparing a speech about bravery, pride, devotion, and how these ideals pertained to the old and new Centenary Collegiate Institute.

This calendar shows the events for the year of 1909. Notice, this shows the calendar year from January to December, instead of the school year, from September to June.

This calendar shows the events for 1909. It’s clear that the Salamander Celebration was one of great importance, as it is one of the only non-academic events to be included. Also, notice that this calendar runs from January to December instead of September to June, and consists of three terms: Winter, Spring, and Fall.


The female student was named the ‘Vestal Virgin’. Vestal Virgins were priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth. She presented a speech about Vesta and fire, and then, using a torch, ignited a small model of the old school building. The burning of the miniature symbolized the rekindling of school spirit and fidelity to the institute. Students sang songs and yelled school cheers until the fire burned out. “As the salamander came forth from the ashes, more brilliant than ever before, so Centenary rose again from the ruins in even greater glory (Spilled Ink, 10/22/1942 1:1, pg 2).”

This article about the Halloween party and Salamander Celebration was included in the 1908 Hack Yearbook.

This article about the Halloween party and Salamander Celebration was included in the 1908 Hack Yearbook.

The Salamander Celebration disappeared around the same time as the boys. The last mention of the event is in the 1910-1911 Hack yearbook, the first year as an all-girl’s school. The October 1942 issue of the student newspaper describes former traditions of Centenary Collegiate Institute, and includes this sentiment about the Salamander Celebration: “This was one of our traditions. Some may wonder why it faded or was forgotten. Perhaps someday it will live again.”


The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The original Centenary Collegiate Institute main building.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Centenary Collegiate Institute would prove to be a critical year for the school, testing the dedication and determination of every member of Centenary’s community. Shortly after midnight on the morning of October 31st, 1899, a fire started that demolished the main building, leaving students and staff without dormitories, classrooms, or possessions.


The origin of the fire is unknown, but was attributed to the spontaneous combustion of painters’ supplies stored too close to a boiler room in the basement. A night watchman discovered the fire but was unable to fight the flames by himself. He alerted Mr. Terrill, the College’s bookkeeper, and brother-in-law to current president, Dr. Wilbert P. Ferguson. The two men rushed from Mr. Terrill’s room on the fourth floor back down to the basement, accompanied by three professors who had detected the faint smell of smoke. The men, seeing the basement engulfed in flames, abandoned their idea of putting the fire out themselves, and quickly created a plan for rousing the building’s sleeping occupants. One went to notify the president’s family, another to the teachers in the ladies’ halls, the third to the teachers in the men’s halls, the fourth to the servant’s hall, and the last ran to summon the fire department.

Within minutes all were awake and exiting the building. The ladies were assembled and organized by their heroic preceptress, Mrs. Hoag, and Mrs. Ferguson, the President’s wife. At some point the ladies were sent across campus to the gentlemen’s gymnasium, where Mrs. Hoag called attendance from memory. The professors visited the gentlemen’s halls until they were certain that every young man had escaped. There were no casualties and no serious injuries, save for one young man with weak lungs who suffered minor smoke inhalation.


At 2 a.m. the bell in the clock tower tolled for the last time, falling to the ground after the final chime. By 4 a.m. the destruction was complete. Nothing remained of the building but sections of brick wall. Two gymnasiums, the chemical laboratory, the barn, and the icehouse survived, as they were located across campus. The fire department, town citizens, and C.C.I. students and staff tried valiantly to put out the fire, but the flames traveled through a pipe organ shaft and empty stairwells, consuming the chapel and library. Soon after the whole building was ablaze. Every student, professor, and employee lost some of their possessions, and many lost everything but their bedclothes. That morning the building lay in ruins. Students and staff assembled in the Methodist Church, where they were given permission to go home.



All seemed lost, but the Board of Trustees and President were not willing to give up on Centenary easily. As early as November 7th, announcements were sent out that the school would continue its Fall Term. Classes reopened on November 20th. Local hotels and resorts offered their facilities to the Institute, and C.C.I. gratefully accepted the hospitality of the citizens of Hackettstown. Private homes were turned into dormitories and classrooms. Each home was dubbed a hall, and to tell them apart, each hall was given a professor’s name. The chapels on Main Street offered space for meals and recitation. Life continued at C.C.I. in unfamiliar settings, but it continued nonetheless. A class of forty-three graduated that year.

After the year concluded, the Board of Trustees and Dr. Whitney again began the daunting task of fundraising to rebuild Centenary. A new president, Dr. Charles W. McCormick, was inaugurated, and plans were set in motion to reformat the Institute as a day school until construction could be completed. All other departments were shut down in order to focus on the College Preparatory program. A hall was rented in town for recitations, and students boarded with private families. The day school only had two teachers, Miss Hannah Voorhees and Professor Hammond, who each taught eight classes a day.

Funds were raised to begin the construction of a new Institute, and the cornerstone for the new building was laid on December 1, 1900. The college reopened on September 23, 1901, although the chapel and recitation rooms were still under construction. The new structure was completed before the end of 1901, and Centenary was off and running once again.


The new Centenary Collegiate Institute main building, with dormitories in separate buildings on either side of the school.




Centenary College is always developing new programs for our students to pursue. Within the past 6 months, Centenary announced the addition of a Master of Health Administration program as well as a Pre-Veterinary program. Have you ever wondered what kinds of classes students took back in the early days of the school?

    This is the first page of the first class catalog from CCI. The name of this yearly catalog was the Bulletin, and it held quite a lot of information. The Bulletin acted as a handbook, yearbook, course listing, academic schedule, and history of Centenary Collegiate Institute.

This is the first page of the first class catalog from CCI. The name of this yearly catalog was the Bulletin, and it held quite a lot of information. The Bulletin acted as a handbook, yearbook, course listing, academic schedule, and history of Centenary Collegiate Institute.

Classes may be extremely different now than when CCI first opened, but they still catered to a wide range of interests and pursuits. The main feature was a program for high school age students. At the time of its opening, there were only four recognized high schools in all of New Jersey, and a quality high school education was in high demand. CCI offered a two-year academic course intended to cover high school subjects. Many classes common for the time seem strange now, including Declamation, Bookkeeping, and Physiology.

As you

As you can see, this academic schedule was more in line with a high school, where all students are in class at the same time and take specific subjects at specific times.

Centenary started out as a model high school that also offered college level work. The founders chose to name the school Centenary Collegiate Institute because it wasn’t quite a high school, nor was it quite a college.  Aside from the high school program, the school offered two college level programs: “College Preparatory for Gentlemen” and “The Ladies College”. The gentlemen’s course was intended to prepare young men for the next step in life, whether it was higher classes in college, the seminary, or a career. Gentleman had Classical, Scientific, Commercial, Literary, and Aesthetical courses of study. Within the Ladies College, two courses were offered: Classical, for which young ladies would earn the degree of M.L.A. (Mistress of Liberal Arts), and Belles-Lettres, for which the degree M.E.L. (Mistress of English Literature) would be conferred.

Interestingly, the Ladies College Classical program was a four-year program, consisting of Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years. The Belles-Lettres and Gentlemen’s College Preparatory were only three-year programs, labeled Junior, Middle, and Senior year. Of the original ten departments, Music was the most popular, with 159 of the 251 students enrolled. Centenary Collegiate made sure to offer a comprehensive education in order to give its students every opportunity for success, and we still strive for that today.

Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.

Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.


Our fall semester started about a month ago, and our new freshman have settled into new routines with ease. Just as our new students are looking forward to the next chapter of their lives, the first students at Centenary Collegiate Institute were also filled with anticipation about their futures. There were few schools in New Jersey in the 1870s, so many students were younger or older than traditional college students. On opening day, 108 students registered as boarders, and many others registered as ‘day students’. The first student to write her name in the original record book was a high school student from Orange, New Jersey named Flora Green.

A day student's tuition

Here is a bill from one of the first day students at CCI. According to this, ‘commuter’ tuition for the first term was seventeen dollars!

As they were registered, each student was asked his or her ‘aim’ in life. Female students expressed interest in becoming teachers, missionaries, and journalists. Some desired to ‘be good and do good’, and some were ‘undeclared’. The male students sought to become ministers, businessmen, farmers, physicians, teachers, and bankers. One student wanted to become an undertaker. Registrants also listed their ages; of the female students, the youngest was thirteen and the oldest, twenty-two. The male students ranged in age from only ten years old to thirty-two.

Summary of student population

A breakdown of the student population. Latin and Music were the most popular courses of study.

The first and only issue of the first student newspaper. The editor, Thomas J. Bass, was expelled during the first year.

The first student newspaper. Articles were devoted to President Whitney’s inaugural speech, the music program, and looking towards the future.

[ A quick aside: Students "were apparently very much impressed with the work of the music department for they devoted to it a very large proportion of space in the first publication called 'The Scroll'" (Through Golden Years p. 34). The music program steadily grew and remained a popular course of study at Centenary for decades; The Scroll, however, fizzled out after one semester. The editor-in-chief was expelled before the year was out.]

After the students had all been registered, they were shown to their rooms. Students were in such awe of President George H. Whitney that he had to personally escort nearly every student to his or her own room. With all the students situated, the school year began and Centenary entered her first year as a functioning school.

Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.

Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.



The 2015 Miss America Pageant is this month, and the contestants are in Atlantic City right now, participating in pageant festivities.

It might surprise you to know that Centenary College had its own Miss America! Her name was Bette Cooper, and she was Miss America in 1937. The story of her reign is an interesting one.

Bette Cooper in costume during a C.J.C. theatrical performance.

Bette Cooper in costume while performing at Centenary Junior College.

Life was uncomplicated for this girl from Hackettstown, New Jersey. She attended Centenary College when it was called Centenary Junior College1. She excelled in school, loved to play sports, and enjoyed participating in theater productions. In the summer of 1937, she went to Lake Hopatcong’s Bertrand Island Amusement Park with some friends. As a joke, the girls dared Cooper to enter the park’s beauty pageant. She entered for fun but got the shock of her life when she won! Winning this title also guaranteed her a place as a contestant at the Miss America Pageant.

Bette Cooper and three fellow students in a nativity scene at Centenary Junior College

Bette Cooper and three fellow students in a nativity scene at Centenary Junior College.

This is where the story starts to get complicated. Cooper had entered that first pageant on a lark. She didn’t expect to win, and she certainly didn’t want to compete for Miss America. Her family was humble and religious; they didn’t approve of beauty pageants. Although her family was reluctant to support something they considered distasteful, they chose to travel to Atlantic City for the pageant, expecting nothing more than a nice vacation.

Upon arrival, Bette Cooper met Louis Off, a young man who had signed up to be a bachelor escort. Each Miss America contestant had been paired with a gentleman who would accompany her to and from pageant festivities. When the contestants were given an afternoon off, Cooper and her escort took a drive. Cooper confided in Off, telling him that she hadn’t anticipated winning the first pageant, and didn’t want to compete for Miss America. Off, who had already seen the other contestants, accurately guessed that she stood a good chance of winning.


Bette Cooper with all the adornments of a proper Miss America.

Bette Cooper won Miss America that night. She sang a song (A Star-Ledger article states that she sang “So There”, but internet sources state that the song was called “When The Poppies Bloom Again”) while wearing an evening gown purchased for her by a female chaperone. The excitement of winning wore off very quickly, and by the next day Cooper and Off had disappeared, leading many to believe the two had run away and eloped.

Bette Cooper and Louis Off walk the boardwalk in a publicity shot. Cooper's fur coat was one of the prizes from the Miss America Pageant. She refused the coat and the other prizes when she decided to return to school

Bette Cooper and Louis Off on the boardwalk in a publicity shot. Cooper’s fur coat was one of the prizes from the Miss America Pageant. She refused the coat and the other prizes when she decided to return to school.

In truth, Bette Cooper was a 17-year-old high school student and panicked at the thought of leaving school to perform her Miss America duties. Photo shoots, public appearances, screen tests, and interviews held no appeal for her. Cooper called Off in the middle of the night distraught over winning, and he and a friend hid her on a boat until after pageant crowds scattered.  She slept while the gentlemen fished, and after returning to shore, the men drove Cooper back to Hackettstown.

Bette Cooper decided that to remain in school, and was able to strike a deal with red-faced pageant officials that entitled her to “all of the benefits, none of the negatives” of being Miss America, according to Louis Off. She kept her title and stayed in school, participating in only a fraction of the expected duties. Off escorted her to appearances and guarded her from the press. The events of the 1937 Miss America Pageant prompted officials to institute new rules: They created a hostess program and prohibited contestants from spending time alone with any man during pageant week. They also started requiring contestants to sign agreements acknowledging their understanding of the duties of Miss America.

After Bette Cooper’s reign ended, she distanced herself from the pageant and focused on her schooling. She graduated from Centenary Junior College’s Academy in 1938 and then from C.J.C. in 1940. She was a dedicated student, participating in several school activities.

From the 1940 Hack Yearbook:

Bette Cooper's senior year photo. [note: The Kin Klub is mentioned on a later page of the yearbook as the Kin Club. The club was comprised of members of the student body who were relatives of former students.]

Bette Cooper’s senior year photo. [note: The Kin Klub is mentioned on a later page of the yearbook as the Kin Club. The club was comprised of members of the student body who were relatives of former students.]

After graduation, she married and moved to Connecticut, where she still resides. In 1953, she attended Hackettstown’s Centennial Celebration to crown the Centennial Queen, but that may have been the closest she’ll ever get to acknowledging her involvement in beauty pageants. She does not publicly discuss her time as Miss America.

Bette Cooper at the Hackettstown Centennial Celebration

Bette Cooper at the Hackettstown Centennial Celebration in 1953.

1 At this time in Centenary’s history, the college educated two distinct student populations: the Academy, which was the equivalent of the latter years of high school, and the College, which provided more traditional college instruction. Both ‘schools’ were two-year programs. Freshmen and Sophomore classes attended the Academy and Juniors and Seniors attended the College. You’ll see two graduation dates for Bette Cooper, one for each school.

Braun, Jenifer. “The night Miss America ran away from the throne.”
Star-Ledger [Newark] Sept. 1997: 1+. Print.

“On Campus.” The Bulletin of Centenary Junior College Winter 1953: 5. Print.

Pageant Center. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Sept. 2014. <;.


Our fall semester will begin soon and we can’t wait for the students to come back! The first days of every semester are filled with excitement (and for new students, maybe a little apprehension).

Seniors welcoming arriving freshmen. Circa 1950s.

Seniors welcome arriving freshmen. circa 1950s.

This student is getting some help moving in her things.

This student gets some help moving in! circa 1950s.

Centenary College has always worked hard to make our incoming classes feel welcome. Every year freshmen participate in the “Community Plunge”, and this year they will also take part in a common book discussion. Community Plunge is a community service project that was introduced in 1990. First-years volunteer their time with different local organizations, introducing them to the area and their fellow freshmen while also giving back to their new community. The common book discussion allows students to engage each other in conversation over a common book. This year, freshmen read Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katharine Boo. They’ll spend the afternoon before classes begin in small group discussion, which will give them a glimpse of academic life here at Centenary. 

Students participating in the Community Plunge

Students participating in the Community Plunge 2014

The student newspaper (called Spilled Ink - what a great name!) from the mid 1900s is filled with articles about freshmen orientation. [At that time, the college was called Centenary Junior College and was a two-year school.]

Three excited freshmen

Three excited freshmen. circa 1940

One of the long-standing traditions of this era was the Big Sister-Little Sister program, where each senior girl (the Big Sister) was paired with a new freshmen girl (the Little Sister). One student wrote,

“We meet our own ‘lil sister and our roommates’, and through them their friends, and in turn they meet our friends. Why, before we were given little sisters, we passed in the halls without a word, or at most only a “hello” was exchanged…but now, we’ve managed to know one another and we’re just one big happy family!”

Every year, several seniors headed an orientation committee designed to introduce freshmen to every facet of college life.

Freshmen Picnic - September 20, 1964

One of many orientation events. Freshmen Picnic, 1964

Welcome Freshmen

Judith Field, class of 1966, holds a Welcome Freshmen cake at the President’s Reception Tea.


The orientation committee of 1964

Throughout the years, they enjoyed teas, picnics, dances, teacher introductions, tours of campus (not to mention outings to favorite local shops), and the highlight of every orientation: a variety show called the Ice-Breaker.

President Seay at the Ice-Breaker

President Seay joins the fun! From left to right: Susan Walker – 1965 senior class vice president, Mrs. Helen Seay, Dr. Edward W. Seay – President of Centenary College, and Susan Tannenbaum – 1965 senior class president.

Seniors staged skits, organized games, and presented freshmen with a tub of ice, to remind them that it’s up to them to ‘break the ice’. And so they did!

Break the Ice

Susan Tannenbaum ’65, Pamela Mitchell ’66, and Susan Walker ’65 breaking the ice.

After several days of reception, new students were regarded as members of the Centenary family. As the years passed, orientation events grew smaller. Although we don’t have an extended orientation period like we use to, we still can’t wait to meet the class of 2018 and welcome them to the Centenary family!



The faculty of CCI

 The faculty of CCI

This list of the faculty was taken from the first Centenary Collegiate Institute catalogue, issued for the 1874 – 1875 school year.

Interesting fact: A lady was always called a teacher. Only a gentlemen could be called a professor.

Another interesting fact: Those abbreviations after the female teacher’s names stands for Mistress of Liberal Arts (M.L.A.) and Mistress of English Literature (M.E.L.). At the time, women were just beginning to be considered ‘college material’, so ladies earned one of these two degrees.


Custard, Leila Roberta. Through Golden Years: 1867 -1943. New York: Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Inc, 1947. Print.


Centenary Collegiate Institute. (April 28, 2014). 1874 – 1885 Catalogs.