The Hovey Museum housed the Botany and Zoology Departments at Wabash in the 1890’s.

As the Archivist I receive research requests of all sorts. Everything from requests for information on great-grandfather’s history while at school to information on a former faculty member. These requests are great and it is almost always the case that I learn something new about the history of Wabash.

I received a request from a researcher about the Ph.D. program at Wabash which began in the late 1880’s and was discontinued in the early 1900’s. The central question was did Wabash award any Ph.D. degrees earned “in course”? My first thought was no – so I turned next to that good old source – Wabash College the First Hundred Years, where I read this on page 152,

“In 1887, Wabash, in addition to offering work for the A.M. degree, which had been provided for during Dr. White’s presidency, permitted work for the Ph.D. This degree was to be granted not less than three years after the attainment of a bachelor’s degree, and only on completion of two years’ resident graduate work. A printed thesis of high merit was also required. During Mr. Tuttle’s presidency (1862-1892) a number of students registered for graduate work; but none of them completed his Ph.D. requirements at Wabash. During President Burroughs’ administration (1892-1899) the faculty wisely abandoned the attempt to give work leading to the doctor’s degree.”

Joseph Nelson Rose as a senior

That confirmed my first thought…So I researched the men who were a part of that program. The first graduate student I encountered, Joseph Nelson Rose, caused me to pause. Rose, I knew, had done spectacular, even groundbreaking, work as a botanist. I also knew that he had studied under John Merle Coulter – one of the nation’s pre-eminent botanists. So I pulled his folder and there in a questionnaire answered in preparation for the 1912 Alumni Directory, Rose had noted that he had a Ph.D. from Wabash.

So now the digging started – turns out we awarded at least six Ph.D. degrees and here are quick summaries of the men who earned them…

Joseph Nelson Rose [W1885] was in the first class of post-graduate students and the first recipient of the Ph.D. Rose is described in the Wabash Magazine of 10/1886 as “the best scientific student…kept as a post-grad with a fellowship. “Rose worked with John Merle Coulter here at Wabash for two years and was listed as Botany Assistant during that time. His degree was mistakenly classified as Honorary – but was clearly an earned degree. He completed the two years of study and produced, along with Coulter, an incredible paper entitled Revision of North American Umbelliferae which was printed in December of 1888 in Crawfordsville. Later presidential correspondence confirms these statements.

Robert N. Whiteford [Wabash class of 1890] studying English and German received his Ph.D. in 1893 and we have his thesis The Myth of Beowulf

Marion W. Baker [Wabash class of 1892] studying Philosophy, English and Literature received his Ph.D. in 1895 and we have his thesis The Authorship of the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse.

Walter Harrison Evans [Wabash class of 1887] studying Botany received his Ph.D. in 1895. No thesis found.

James G. McMurtry [Wabash class of 1893] studying German and Greek received his Ph.D. in 1899. No thesis found.

Charles Ezra Fisk [not a Wabash man, listed as M.A.] studying Education, History, Psychology received his Ph.D. in 1901. No thesis found.

So, now we know, at least six men have received the earned Ph.D. from Wabash. Research requests sometimes pop up the greatest information – and this is certainly one of those times!


Beth Swift


Wabash College