Centenary Collegiate Institute

A FIRE and NEW SCHOOLS and SMALLPOX, OH MY!

After the retirement of our first President, Rev. Dr. George Whitney, the institution went through challenging times. The second President, Dr. Ferguson, spent five years improving the campus, programs, and social life of the school, but most of his hard work was invalidated by the Great Fire of 1899. While the Board of Trustees debated over rebuilding the school or abandoning its efforts, a new president was elected and the C.C.I. Day School carried on with the business of educating. With the decision made to rebuild, Charles W. McCormick, third President of Centenary Collegiate Institute, was given the demanding task of returning Centenary to its former glory.

Dr. McCormick in TGYCharles Wesley McCormick was born in New Prospect, NJ on December 14th, 1856. He graduated from Wyoming Seminary, Wesleyan University in 1881 (he received both his B.A and M.A there), Syracuse University in 1897 (D.D), and New York University in 1898 (PhD). He married Edith C. Mirteenes in Port Jervis, NY on October 5th, 1881. As an ordained Methodist Episcopal minister, he led many congregations in the New York and New Jersey area, coming to Hackettstown in 1898 (Who’s Who in New England). The following year he was hired to teach English and History at Centenary Collegiate Institute. He also held duties equivalent to a Vice-President and was in charge of the institute on occasions when the President was away. McCormick was a dedicated educator whose election into the faculty was hailed by both students and townspeople alike.

President McCormick portraitOn June 1, 1900, the position of Centenary Collegiate Institute President was officially passed on to Charles Wesley McCormick. He immediately began helping with fundraising efforts and working with the Building Committee. September 23rd, 1901 saw the opening day for the New C.C.I., although the new building wasn’t fully complete yet. Students worked “amid the din of saws and the pounding of hammers” (Custard, 93). Dr. McCormick also saw to it that a Sub-Preparatory program was added to the curriculum, so that in addition to the 4 literary courses the school offered, there was a preliminary year of instruction for those students who required it. He also improved cultural subjects, like art. Students at the time enjoyed rich academic, athletic, and social lives. According to his daughter, Josephine McCormick, “they had weekly socials (no dancing, of course), picnics, hay rides, and in winter skating on the canal. There were literary programs and debates. There was a good football team, fair baseball and track teams. Tennis courts were used by both girls and boys” (Custard, 95).

Dr. McCormick’s presidency was short, lasting from 1900 to 1902. During those two years, he dealt with challenge after challenge. After the 1899 fire, many students found places in other schools and chose not to return to Centenary. McCormick focused much of his time to raising money for the rebuilding of Centenary and on reaching out to potential new students. Then, over the Christmas break, Hackettstown was hit by a smallpox outbreak. Students were told to stay home. After six weeks, the school was allowed to reopen, but again several students did not return. Ending the 1902 school year with a substantial debt, Dr. McCormick found himself very discouraged. He felt his talents lay with teaching and governing, and with no expectation of doing either, he requested to be released from his contract to take another appointment. His contract ran until July 10, 1902, but he was permitted to leave April 1, 1902.

After he left Centenary, he returned to the ministry and again led several different congregations in the area. His ties to Centenary remained strong, though, and his daughter Josephine attended and graduated from Centenary Collegiate Institute in 1913.

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Dr. McCormick authored a small book with uplifting passages for shut-ins, aptly entitled “Little Messages for Shut-In Folk”. Sadly, Charles Wesley McCormick passed away shortly after this book was published, on October 19, 1920, in East Orange, New Jersey (“General Necrology in 1920”).

 

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

“General Necrology in 1920.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle Almanac. Vol. 2, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 1921, p 451.

Hack Yearbook, C.C.I. 1913.

“Little Messages for Shut-In Folk.” The Methodist Quarterly Review. Vol. 69, No. 1, Smith & Lamar Agents, 1921. Also the author of a small book with uplifting passages for shut-ins. LINK LINK 2

Who’s Who in New England, edited by Albert Nelson Marquis, A.N. Marquis & Company, 1909.

 

 

 

 

FERGUSON’S FIVE YEAR FRENZY

After Centenary’s first president, the Rev. Dr. G. H. Whitney retired, the Board of Trustees selected Wilbert P. Ferguson as his successor. Whereas Dr. Whitney was a Centenary institution for over a quarter of a century,  unfortunately Dr. Ferguson would only remain at the school until 1900, a mere five years.

Ferguson 3

Ferguson became Centenary’s second president in 1895. He seemed well suited for the position, having earned  “a reputation as a ‘hustler’ ” during his time as a member of the New York East Methodist Conference (Custard, 71). Centenary’s Trustees thought he would be the perfect man to take the reins and steer Centenary Collegiate Institute towards even greater heights, and he entered this new role with bold ideas.

President Ferguson was eager to boost the school’s enrollment. He closed the Ladies’ College and rearranged the school’s main courses, expanding the Commercial Department and introducing the Department of English Literature. Students with fewer than 7 cuts from class and a final grade above 75 no longer had to sit for final exams.

Athletics became a major feature of student life, starting with the addition of an Athletics Director in 1896 (see Athletics). The grounds behind the Main Building were transformed into a running track, baseball diamond, football field, tennis courts, and croquet and quoit grounds.

Athletic Fields, view from Main Building 3

Very small and unfortunately pixelated views of Athletic Fields as seen from the old Main Building. From the 1896 Course Catalog of C.C.I.

 

The Hackettstonian April 1899

Cover of the April 1899 Hackettstonian

Another new addition for Centenary Collegiate Institute was a student publication called The Hackettstonian. This magazine, published monthly, included original stories, essays, and poems by students and faculty, editorials, news and joke items, and information about alumni.

 

Dr. Ferguson’s five year term was coming to a close when the Main Building was razed by fire on October 31, 1899. The timing of his resignation was unfortunate. While it implied he was abandoning the school in its greatest time of need, this was far from the truth. He had always planned to move on after his single term and followed through, submitting his resignation in January of 1900. Ferguson split his remaining time at C.C.I between his presidency and a new position in Newark until a new president could be found. On June 1, 1900, the position of Centenary Collegiate Institute President was passed on to Charles Wesley McCormick, who had arrived at the institution the year before as a teacher of English and History.

The momentum the school had gained in Dr. Ferguson’s five years as president was dimmed by the fire but was not lost. The Hackettstonian and the school’s enthusiasm for Athletics were both back in full force once the institution was rebuilt, and Ferguson’s early ambition to boost enrollment had been an invigorating force that continued to move the school forward, long after Ferguson’s departure.

 

MARYANN MCFADDEN AND TILLIE SMITH

Maryann McFadden FB

Local author Maryann McFadden is coming to Taylor Memorial Library on Tuesday, April 9th to give a talk on the process of becoming a published author. Her latest book, The Cemetery Keeper’s Wife, tells the tale of Rachel, newly married to the cemetery keeper of the Union Cemetery. Buried in that cemetery is the body of Tillie Smith, employee of Centenary Collegiate Institute (now Centenary University) and the focal point of a news story that gripped the nation. From Maryann McFadden’s website:

Reading the words carved into the stone, “She Died in Defence of Her Honor,” Rachel is overcome by a powerful memory buried deep in her past.A series of uncanny coincidences linked to Tillie Smith follows, setting Rachel on a journey that grows into an obsession: Why did the murder of a poor kitchen maid at the local seminary become a national sensation? Why were people in town trying to keep her from finding the truth? But most disturbing of all, why was Tillie reawakening a past Rachel chose to bury long ago. A past that could threaten her marriage.

Below is the compelling story that draws Rachel further into the past.

TillieApril 8, 1886:

[Matilda ‘Tillie’ Smith was born in Waterloo, NJ, and settled in Hackettstown in 1885. She had recently been hired as a kitchen maid for Centenary Collegiate Institute.] The headstrong Smith left campus alone that night and walked to an entertainment hall on Main Street, where she met with friends and two new acquaintances, Harry Haring and Charles Munnich (also spelled Munich). After the performance, the group walked through town together.

Once the crowd dispersed, Munnich and Smith walked back to the Institute alone. They arrived at the school’s gate around 10:10 pm. The college had a strict curfew of 10:00 pm, and by then the doors were locked. Munnich offered to pay for a room at his hotel if Tillie would accompany him back to town but she refused. They said good night and parted ways. As Munnich turned to walk back to his accommodation at the American House, he heard Tillie’s footsteps walk around the side of the building. That was the last time anyone saw her alive.

April 9th, 1886:

John White discovered Tillie’s body at 8:40 am as he walked his dog around the campus perimeter. What followed next was a confusing and misguided witch-hunt for justice. Sensational coverage by major newspapers drove a fervent public to the belief that 29-year-old janitor James Titus had “brutally ravaged and murdered” Smith, even though there was no evidence to substantiate the claim. Titus was meek and respectable, an employee of C.C.I. for over 11 years, and had neither the strength nor the stomach to commit such violence. The public demanded justice for Tillie, a virtuous young woman who had been shamefully murdered and then even more shamefully committed to a pauper’s grave.

Tillie an James TitusApril 29th, 1886:

Pressured into solving the case, police arrested James Titus and charged him with rape and murder.

September 28th, 1886:

The trial against James Titus began. The prosecution disregarded several pieces of evidence that lent credence to Titus’ innocence, and painted a picture of a man of bad conduct, whose lewdness was concealed behind an unassuming demeanor. Titus professed his innocence, but the court (and the public) was already convinced of his guilt. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Titus avoided death by quickly confessing to the rape and murder, and instead was sentenced to life in prison. He served 19 years and returned to Hackettstown upon his release. For nearly 50 years, he lived peacefully among the very people who had condemned him to death.

After his death, James Titus was buried in Union Cemetery, the same cemetery where Tillie Smith also rests. The town had her body moved from her pauper’s grave to a prominent spot in the cemetery, beneath a monument that proclaims, “She Died in Defense of her Honor.”

The event was not included in our college history, Through Golden Years, but it is a part of our history, and a part we should not forget. The truth of Tillie’s rape and murder may never be known but we will all do our part to preserve her memory.

Maryann McFadden will talk about her journey from writer to realtor to published author and offer advice for others who want to pursue writing. The presentation will be held in the library on Tuesday, April 9th at 7 pm. We’re excited to learn about her journey, and hopefully she’ll tell us about the process of writing The Cemetery Keeper’s Wife!

DR WHITNEY, EXIT, STAGE RIGHT

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President Whitney

If the faculty of Centenary Collegiate Institute put their blood, sweat, and tears into the success of the school during its first years, then President Whitney gave the school his whole self – body and soul. For twenty-five years he worked tirelessly for Centenary, even after his health started to fail. It became evident in 1888 that Whitney’s health was being undermined, and in February 1889 came a crisis. In agonizing pain and confined to a reclining chair, the president ran the school with help from his brother, Edward Whitney. This episode lasted 90 days and at the end of April he had a very serious operation. Years of better health broken by short intervals of illness followed. Whitney always worked through the pain, attending events and giving addresses at religious services. An outsider would never have known he was ill.

By March 1895, he made the decision to resign. Commencement that year honored him, and there were meetings, banquets, and receptions where he and his wife were celebrated by friends, students, and townspeople. The Board of Trustees chose Reverend Wilbert P. Ferguson as the next president. President Ferguson would have some big shoes to fill, but, really – how do you follow an act like that?Whitney-Ferguson 2

THE PRESIDENT’S RIGHT-HAND MAN

The success of any school is due in large part to its faculty and staff. The faculty will teach students what they’ll need to know to succeed, and staff will help them navigate their way through college. Hopefully, in the process they will help students feel comfortable and confident. Centenary employees have always served the school admirably in this way, starting back in 1874, when the school first opened.

Whitney, Edward A

Prof. Edward A. Whitney

Dr Whitney, Centenary Collegiate Institute’s first president, recognized the importance of a strong faculty, and took great care in hiring devoted individuals to help the school flourish. Though there were many faithful employees, the president relied on one person more than anyone else: his younger brother, Edward A. Whitney. Professor Whitney served Centenary for 21 years, from 1874 – 1895, and was not only a member of the faculty, but held many staff positions as well. He was principal and instructor of the Commercial Department and the Institute’s cashier, bookkeeper, and librarian! Additionally, in 1889, with the president in extremely poor health, Professor Whitney took to helping him run the school. He was an invaluable member of the faculty and staff until his death in 1895.

Other original faculty members include:

Miss Stella Waldo, 1874 – 1892

1874 – 1881: Piano and Organ

1881 – 1888: Voice and Piano

1888 – 1892: Vocal Music

Miss Anna Nicholl, 1874 – 1886

1874 – 1882: History, Painting, and Drawing

1882 – 1886: History and Mathematics

L. H. Batchelder, 1874 – 1882

1874 – 1877: Natural Science and Mathematics

1877 – 1882: Chemistry and Mathematics

Fanny Gulick, 1874 – 1882 (left to marry Professor Batchelder!)

1874 – 1878: English Literature and German

1878 – 1882: Belles-Lettres and German

 

The 1892 school publication, “The Hackettstonian”, had this to say about the faculty:

“The marked attainments and high reputation on the world of education maintained by Centenary Collegiate Institute is in no small measure due to the constant endeavor and untiring zeal of its Faculty. Their position is, indeed, an unselfish one, and one that is seldom fully appreciated; and we have deemed it eminently fitting that they should be represented in this number. It is, then, with just pride that we present our readers with a brief summary of the lives which have been helpful to so many in their school career, and for whom we have the highest regard.”

 

 

 

COMMENCEMENT WEEK

 

As each school year draws to a close, we tend to reminisce on the previous few years, when our graduating seniors were freshmen or new transfers. We’re excited to see how much they’ve grown over the years, and we’re especially excited to see them walk at graduation!

The activities of commencement week have become routine for many – Commencement Rehearsal, the President’s Ball, the Baccalaureate Ceremony, Brunch, and finally, Commencement – but Commencement week is also a time for students to enjoy their last week and to reflect on their journey at Centenary. This tradition has been celebrated every year since the school first opened with the exception of one – the Commencement of 1875.

Centenary’s first ever commencement week was very different from any other commencement week the school has ever held. Why? Well, because no one graduated! Several students applied to enter a year of work culminating in graduation, but Centenary’s first president, Dr. Whitney, refused them all. He was setting the highest possible standard for his students’ education, and he didn’t feel one year of work was enough to prepare them for university.

Cresset_1967.03

Dalton’s history of the school is highlighted in Centenary’s special alumni bulletin.

Although there were no graduates, Commencement week 1875 still had the Baccalaureate sermon, the President’s Reception, Commencement, and a meal (in this case, dinner). Prizes were also awarded for outstanding students. In that way, very little has changed about Commencement week practices. According to the 1967 anniversary edition of the Cresset, the school still held a commencement program in 1875 to mark the success of the school’s first year. The following year, there was a real first commencement with 30 graduates from the Women’s College and the Preparatory Department (Dalton, 25).

“For Students, Trustees, all Ministers and their Wives, all strangers from a distance…the ‘Commencement Dinner’ was always a great affair – beautiful to see – delightful to eat. Everybody was satisfied, everybody was happy – the Seniors and their friends – all students and their friends – all felt the charm of the occasion. Ice cream of several kinds, and in very great abundance was always at the close – the dishes were large, very large – and a second one if desired” (Whitney).

Commencement Program 1876

Program, Commencement 1876, the first year students graduated and possibly the first year the school printed a program. Archival staff is unaware of a program for Commencement 1875.

 

 

Custard, L. R. (1947). Through golden years: 1867-1943. New York, NY: Lewis Historical   Publishing Company, Inc.

Dalton, Ernest R. “Centenary – A century of change.” Cresset, vol. 50, no. 1, March 1967,      pp. 21 – 43.

Whitney, George. Autobiography. N.d.

 

 

THE DRESS CODE

Everyone has had to follow the rules of a dress code at one time or another – maybe you’ve dressed up for a religious service, worn athletic gear for gym class, or gone to a school where students wore uniforms. Centenary Collegiate Institute was no different. Some of the rules of attire were for practical reasons, but many rules were in place so that students would look presentable, respectful, and appropriate. Here are examples how students dressed throughout the years:

Centenary Collegiate Institute Catalog, 1894-1895:

June 14 1899

June 14, 1899: Students in their simple and neat clothes.

“All articles of wearing must be distinctly marked in a conspicuous place with the owner’s full name. Ladies attire should be simple and neat, not elegant and expensive.”

[It is interesting to note that no attention was given to gentlemen’s attire. In later years, the latter line was changed to “An expensive or extensive wardrobe is unnecessary.”]

 

“The Ways and Customs of C.C.I.”, 1917:

“Care should be taken that you always appear clean and neat…On all school days, wear simple, plain dresses/wash dresses/plain waists and skirts. When cold weather comes, a one piece or sailor suit of serge should be worn. Simple white dresses without colored trimmings are required for dinner and the evening. For cold days, a Liberty cape of light color will be found useful. Wear sensible shoes with sensible heels. High heels required from Thanksgiving to Easter. Slippers or pumps may be worn in the evening only. On Sundays, wear a suit and nice waist or a separate dress and coat. White is not required on Sundays. For athletics, wear plain white middy, dark blue bloomers, black stockings and black sneakers. No bare knees.”

1913 girls in white middies

1913: A group of students in their required athletic gear.

“Handbook of the Student Government Association”, Centenary Junior College (some time from 1939 – 1956, likely the 1940s):

“…Include in your wardrobe such basic things as a good tailor suit, several skirts…for dinner, simple dress will do the trick (white sports dresses and white blouses and a skirt). Bring anklets, blouses, several date dresses for informal week-ends, an evening dress that will be at home at any occasion, a strictly formal dream dress for…special occasions, an odd jacket or two, and slacks to study in.

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1940s: These girls seem to be holding their own going bicycling in skirts!

“…Don’t forget that we wear white dresses to dinner from Monday thru Thursday, and for appearance sake we wear heels and street dresses for Sunday dinner and Vespers. We are allowed to wear slacks downtown only in bad weather. [Slacks are] only allowed at the breakfast and noon meals on Saturday…No raincoats in the dining room…P.J.’s may never, never be worn to meals. Bathrobes are worn only in the dorms, but trench coasts with P.J.’s rolled up are O.K. in the grill and library.”

Student Handbook of Centenary College for Women, 1957-8

Moving the books

1954: Students wearing campus clothes as they move books to the new library with President Seay’s young son.

“Centenary girls dress simply. Use as much as possible of your present wardrobe…Remember that good taste, cleanliness, neatness, and simplicity are the foundation of that well-dressed look.”

Students were encouraged to bring items for specific purposes:

In Class: Socks – knee high or anklet, Loafers or some type of campus flat, Cottons – simple dresses, skirts, and blouses, Woolens – skirts and sweaters

On Campus: Bermuda shorts, Dungarees, Slacks, Casual coat and jacket

Dating: Hose, Dress shoes, Evening slippers, Woolen dress, Dressy dress, Suit, 1 or 2 formals, Dressy coat, Accessories – hat, gloves, etc.

Dinner: A simple dress or a skirt and sweater or blouse will do the trick.

For Special Occasions: A white dress or a white skirt and sweater or blouse

At that time, the college felt that the students were representing the school as much as they were representing themselves when they were off campus, and they were always expected to look respectable. Suggestions and/or requirements on what to bring were for their benefit and the benefit of the school.

The 2018 Student Handbook does not include wardrobe restrictions or requirements, and students have the freedom to dress how it suits them (pun absolutely intended). Of course, some aspects of a dress code remain in place, as our sports teams still have their uniforms, students bring business attire for important academic events, and there will always be dances to get dressed up for!