Reverend Dr. George H. Whitney

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

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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.

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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.

 

 

MEALTIME AT CENTENARY

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.

BREVITY IS THE SOUL OF WHITNEY – pt 1

Centenary College’s first president, George H. Whitney, is well-represented in material from our archives. So much information about his time at Centenary exists that it cannot, for practical reasons, be summed up in one post. Therefore, the information on Whitney has been split into three (slightly) briefer posts: his life, his presidency, and his impact.

Dr. Whitney was one of the most important people in Centenary’s long history. Had he not become president of Centenary Collegiate Institute (C.C.I.), there might not be a Centenary College today!

Reverend Doctor George Henry Whitney

Reverend Doctor George Henry Whitney

George Henry Whitney was born in 1830, and spent his early years in Washington, D.C. At 14, he was a bookkeeper and at 17, a reporter and editor for the Daily National Whig. In 1848 he began teaching and preparing himself for college. He opened his own ‘select’ school before becoming a student at Wesleyan Institute and later Wesleyan University. Whitney graduated from Wesleyan in 1858. The following year he was president of Macedon Academy and for two years after that, principal of Oneida Seminary.

In 1861 he entered the Newark Conference and for several years filled pastorates in and around New Jersey. Whitney accepted the presidency of Centenary Collegiate Institute in August 1869 and spent the next five years raising funds to build the school. In 1873, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was bestowed upon him by Wesleyan University. Centenary Collegiate Institute opened in September 1874, with Whitney at the helm. He held the title of president for twenty-six years, five years spent bringing the school into existence, and twenty-one years to actual administration. During his time as president, he inspired his students to strive for greatness in both academics and social graces. More will be said on this subject in a later post.

Dr. Whitney around 1874, when Centenary Collegiate Institute first opened.

Dr. Whitney around 1874, when Centenary Collegiate Institute first opened.

Dr. Whitney also organized the first C.C.I. reunion in 1878, four years after the school’s dedication. He chose Ocean Grove, his own yearly vacation spot, as the location for the reunion. This marked the first seaside reunion ever held in America by any Educational Institution. The reunion was a huge success and the school began holding reunions every five years.

The reunion of 1883

The reunion of 1883

In the 1880s Dr. Whitney’s health began to deteriorate, and by February of 1889 he was confined to a chair, where he ran the school while suffering excruciating pain. A serious operation three months later improved his health enough to continue on as president, but he would never fully recover. As his suffering intensified, he became unable to attend to his duties, and in March 1895 he resigned as president of C.C.I.

After taking time off to recuperate, Dr. Whitney accepted a place on C.C.I.’s Board of Trustees in March of 1900. One of his tasks was to help the Board build a new Main Building following the fire that destroyed the original building. In April of 1900 he was elected President Emeritus of Centenary Collegiate Institute by the Newark Conference. After the resignation of President McCormick in 1902, Dr. Whitney was honored to return to C.C.I. as interim president until newly appointed President Noble could join the administration. Dr. Whitney has the distinct privilege of graduating the first class of students in the Old Main Building AND the New Main Building.

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Reverend Dr. Whitney, center top row, with a group of students.

Dr. Whitney “felt that his work was finished and hastened to his rest,” passing away on June 6th, 1913 (Custard, 135).

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