Centenary Collegiate Institute



A group of students from the 1910s

It’s probably very hard for a Centenary student of today to imagine what it was like to be at the school one hundred years ago. Here are a few of the Senior Privileges a student of that time could enjoy:

1. Seniors could study on campus or porches during regular study hours, if quiet.

2. Seniors could sit on the steps of the front porch after dinner and return to their dormitories by the front entrance.

3. Seniors could go to the farm between church and dinner on Sunday.

4. Seniors could walk to the farm with young men guests on any afternoon after three o’clock and on Anniversary Sunday between 1:30 and 3:30, remaining not longer than one hour at any time.

5. Seniors could have senior tables the last four weeks, without chaperone and with privileges of arranging groups of seven at each table, changing groups each week (This privilege could be forfeited by the entire class if any table was unduly noisy).

6. Seniors could, for the next to the last change of the year, choose a table from among those at which the senior had not sat during that year.

7. Seniors could go to the village every day except Saturday and Sunday unchaperoned. This privilege was forfeited for an entire week following any week in which the senior had one unexcused meal absence, a meal tardy, which is the third one, three misdemeanors, or one ‘cut’ on the corridor or elsewhere.

8. Seniors of the Honor Roll were permitted to go to the village on Monday morning between 10:30 and 12:00, and during vacant periods in the afternoon of school days, in place of the regular time.

9. Seniors could cut breakfast on Sunday morning if they followed these conditions:
a) Must be quiet on the corridor
b) Must be ready for church on time
c) Must have room in good order
d) Must not have prohibited things to eat
e) Must do no cooking unless by special permission from Miss. Breckenridge

Austin, Olive10. Seniors could keep their lights on until 10:00 PM on Sunday.

Students residing on Senior Hall were on their honor to respect the privileges given to them and, if they did not, risked losing those privileges for their whole class. It was very important for the students, then, to stay out of trouble! These privileges were signed by Olive L. Austin, Dean of Centenary Collegiate Institute, and teacher in Bible Studies, Ethics, and Psychology from 1911 to 1917.




There was once a time at Centenary when male and female students were not allowed to freely socialize. Today, it seems crazy to think that boys and girls attending the same school would only interact a handful of times a year, but that was a reality for the students of Centenary Collegiate Institute. A student from the 1880’s recalled their lack of social contact with the girls, saying, “We had a scant hour at meals…a signal tossed perhaps across the chapel; a ‘kerchief waved from a window, little else except a real ‘Parlor Social’ two or three times a year…”

Mealtimes were strict business in those days; students had to attend every meal and sat in assigned seats. The girls sat on one side of a long table with the boys opposite them.

Dining Room 1880s

Dining Room, 1880s

At the beginning of the school year, the girls chose their seats. Returning students took their old seats, and new girls took unclaimed seats. Then the boys entered and chose seats in the same fashion – with one exception. As a boy went to take an empty seat, he would have to quickly determine the level of interest of the female sitting opposite – if she smiled, he could take a seat. If he was met with indifference, he had to keep walking.

In later years, the custom was for boys to rotate seats every two weeks. That system could be (and often was) easily circumvented so that a boy could dine opposite the lady of his choice for much longer than two weeks. The result of these occasional social interactions, combined with “ingenuity and inventiveness” (209), led to many marriages of C.C.I. schoolmates. The Rev. Dr. Whitney, Centenary’s first president, jokingly referred to the school as his ‘Match Factory’ and officiated a number of those weddings himself. Even unyielding separation of the male and female students couldn’t stop Cupid from doing his work!

Today, mealtime at Centenary is completely unlike its early years; students now chose what meals they eat here, when they go to the cafeteria, and who they eat with. Imagine how a student from 1880 would react!


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


Trying to think of something to do in the short time before the next semester begins? Here are some activities students at Centenary enjoyed throughout the years.


A 1923 student included in Leila Custard’s history Through Golden Years writes:

One of my pleasant recollections is a sleigh ride we went on – horses, bells and all. It was beautiful. The country was glistening with snow and made a lovely sight.


There was plenty for students to do on campus and off. During the Winter Carnival of days past, students would go ice skating, sledding, and tobogganing. The school would also host ski trips to nearby resorts.



Forget about snowmen, follow in the footsteps of Centenary students and personalize your artwork. One of the highlights of the Winter Carnival was the Ice Sculpture Contest, where dorms would create something unique out of snow.

Make the most of your time before the semester begins! We’ll see you soon!



A letter from the Archives:

“Dr. Cummings [sic] said:

Back in 1902 one of our students at C.C.I. was Irene Foote who was and is a splendid athletic girl fond of sports including swimming. She liked to take a plunge in the finest swimming pool at C.C.I. The only trouble she had was to take a swim and get her hair dry for the next recitation. One day she said “I am going to fix that!” So she took a big pair of shears and cut off her beautiful long hair, then took her swim and when she came out she shook her head a couple of times and was ready for recitations – all but dressing. And if the styles of 1902 had been like those of 1927 her bathing suit would have been just about the right thing without any change at all, although the skirt might have been longer.

The next day six other girls who liked to swim cut off their hair, and the vogue of bobbed hair was started and has been going ever since. It spread in this way.

The next year Miss Foote married Mr. Castle and became Irene Castle Foote (that you have all heard about). These two, Mr. and Mrs. Castle, danced their ways into the hearts of every body here and abroad.”

This letter was dictated by Mrs. Annie Blair (Titman) Cummins in May 1950, regarding a story from her late husband, Dr. George Wyckoff Cummins. To learn more about them, click here.

There are some discrepancies about dates in the letter; Irene Foote was a student here in 1906, not 1902. Born in 1893, she was thirteen when she attended Centenary Collegiate Institute. At that age, she was probably a member of the high school academy and also a member of the Diokosophian Society. The other discrepancy is that Miss Foote married Mr. Castle the following year – they actually met in 1910.

These slight variations in time bring into question the validity of the letter; a recollection told by a husband to his wife and written down almost a decade after his death may contain some errors. We still enjoy the mystery this item brings and are very pleased to have found it.


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.




This year marks the 150th anniversary of the charter of Centenary University! To celebrate, the blog will be highlighting past posts about Centenary’s history.

Original gymA very important aspect of student life at Centenary has always been athletics, but when Centenary Collegiate Institute opened in 1874, there was no gymnasium. To keep active, students created sporting clubs until gyms could be built. Men and women had ‘physical advancement’ classes in separate gymnasiums. In the 1890s athletics became a notable feature of C.C.I. life. The school laid out several athletic fields and hired an athletic director.

DenmanIn 1903, George E. Denman became C.C.I.’s Director of Athletics. Denman was also a Latin professor and the House Master of the Boys’ Dormitory. He revolutionized the athletics program – every sport excelled under his instruction. Professor Denman was also instrumental in the creation of a school annual called The Hack, Centenary’s first yearbook. Denman was the head of Athletics from 1903 to 1910.

WAAAfter 1910, the school became a women’s college and formed a new Athletic Association, eventually called the Women’s Athletic Association (W.A.A.). C.C.I. became Centenary Junior College, with Senior and Freshmen classes competing in intramural games. The W.A.A., whose goal was to promote an interest in all recreational activities, sponsored clubs and events to encourage physical education.

CycloneIn 1989, the school became coed again and men’s sports were welcomed back. Another addition to athletics was a mascot! Centenary’s athletics currently offers eight sports for men and seven for women.


This year for Centenary University’s Alumni and Family Weekend, the library will have a presentation on Katharine Brush, a student from Centenary who graduated in 1917!

Katharine Ingham Brush was born Katharine Ingham in Connecticut in 1902 and attended Centenary Collegiate Institute between 1913 and 1917. Casey, as she was known at Centenary, was very active in student activities.

katharine brush 6She was on several athletic teams and held positions in literary clubs and organizations. As an editor for the Hack Yearbook, she contributed jokes, articles, and essays to the 1917 yearbook.

katharine brush 1

Excerpt, Prophecy of the Class of 1917, 1917 Yearbook:

I know that I am soon to depart this earthly life, slain in an arduous battle with the Natural Enemy, college entrance exams, and I feel that this will be my last appearance on this terrestrial ball. So, on this thirteenth day of June, nineteen seventeen, I inscribe these facts for publication, that the consciousness of the greatness of my prophetic talents may not bloom alone within my own self but that, like the genius of the Cassandra that I once was, it may live on after my decease, to all eternity.


katharine brush 4She also performed in the Glee Club and in plays put on by her literary society, The Diokosophians.


What time it was, I do not know, what place I do not care
But in American History class sat Casey, sad and fair.
Her turn was fast approaching, she was consumed with fright
Her one thought was, “Oh! how I hope I won’t have to recite.”
At last the one beside her had stood and had her say,
And then for poor dear Casey ’twas night instead of day.
A name was called, she, trembling rose, and started to”expound”-
But why this mighty laughter that shakes the whole room round ?
The class was in an uproar! Casey began to fumble
For instead of Katharine Ingham, the name was Kathryn Rumble.

E.B. (Edna Bigelow, associate editor of the Hack Board)

After graduating, Katharine Ingham began working as a columnist for the Boston Traveler. She published multiple short stories and novels under her married name, Brush. Later in life, she went by the nickname Kay.

katharine brush 5

Among her many published works are Glitter, Little Sins, Night Club, The Boy from Maine, and When She Was Bad. Several of her novels have been made into movies. Red Headed Woman was made into a film in 1932. It is considered a pre-code classic due to its racy comedy.

katharine brush 2

She passed away in New York City in 1952, just shy of her 50th birthday.

The Library is excited to host Kay & Me, a chance encounter in a lecture hall that lead to a decade-long love affair between a middle-aged scholar and the host of a long forgotten Jazz Age novelist, presented by Jonathan Matthews on October 7th at 1 pm. Come hear how the wise-cracking daughter of a prim New England headmaster became a leading luminary in the literary and motion picture worlds, one whose dazzling light burned alongside that of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jean Harlow, and, like theirs, was extinguished too soon.