175 Years of Teaching and Learning

This December marks the 175th anniversary of teaching and learning at Wabash College. On December 3, 1833 the work of the College began when Caleb Mills rang a bell calling his 12 students to order.  The bell Caleb Mills used on that day and for many more years is still used today. One of the best parts of Freshman Saturday is the “Ringing In” ceremony when the President delivers his charge to the incoming class and they become Wabash men.  At Commencement, their last experience as students, the circle is completed when the President “rings out” the class as they become alumni.

Among the students present in Mills’ first class in 1833 was Samuel Steele Thomson, the youngest brother of two of our founders. This young man would serve Wabash for the rest of his life, as a teacher of Latin until 1885. Samuel Thomson was the first of a very long line of alumni faculty, a tradition that continues unbroken to this day.

The humble frame structure where the first students and faculty gathered was Forest Hall and it was built on a heavily wooded bluff overlooking Sugar Creek. When the College moved to this location, Caleb Mills bought the old campus. He moved Forest Hall to his land near the new campus and later donated the building to the college. Forest Hall has served as a dormitory and was the home of the first Scarlet Inn, a sandwich shop for the students and faculty. Old Forest now serves as offices of the Teacher Education department, which seems to me to be a perfect use for the first home of the College and the place where it all started 175 years ago this month.

Beth Swift

A Liberal Arts College for Men

Photo from the W. Norwood Brigance Slide Collection, Ramsay Archives, Wabash College.

This is the first sign that stood on the corner of Grant and Wabash marking the College.  It was a Byron Trippet project in the 1930’s as an answer to the complaints of some of the Indianapolis alumni. The back story is that the Indy alums were complaining that the campus corner was shabby and not particularly welcoming. Trippet was given the task of “dressing it up” and this sign was his answer.

I love this sign as it tells who we are, what we do and how long we have been doing it. It is very simple and entirely straightforward. In the late 1950’s this sign was replaced with the more familiar wooden sign, which was later replaced with another, more substantial, wooden sign.

We now have a new sign on the corner and, while the reaction to it was mixed, to me the new sign is really rather similar to the first sign. Since Wabash was founded, things have been changing, like the campus location, the buildings and their uses and, of course, the curriculum.  In fact, I would say that the only thing that really stays the same at Old Wabash is that we are, as we always have been, a Liberal Arts College for Men…I guess the sign says it all.

Beth Swift

A good life…

Bill Placher’s 1970 Commencement address lives on as one of the classic speeches delivered on campus.  The fact that it was a senior delivering it was even more incredible.  Each year when the commencement speech assignments are given to the seniors, as often as not one of the two will visit the Archives for a copy. Monday morning I pulled that speech and read it again, as I have so many times.  As I read his words nearly forty years later I still see the hope in them. I also see a challenge. “…But these are challenging times, and even ordinary men sometimes respond to challenges. In the years ahead, in the army, on the campus, in the corporation, many of us may, for reasons we will never quite understand, act more bravely or speak out more honestly, than we had quite intended. We may do some good, and know it will never be enough, but hope to improve a little by living.

Bill ended his speech on that day with the following: “I said I would offer no easy answers, and I trust I’ve kept that promise… perhaps we’ll learn that there are more things to admire in men than to despise; perhaps, knowing it will never be enough to change the world, we will act more honorably than we expected we would; perhaps we’ll have a lot of fun along the way. It wouldn’t be a bad life.”

Indeed, his was a good life, well lived.

Beth Swift


Wabash College

Class of 1913

A phrase that I often hear is, “Back in the day…” which when used by students might mean 20 years ago or 150 years ago. It is a handy phrase which in this posting means 95 years ago…So, back in the day each class would get together and decide on a common piece of apparel that all members of the class would purchase and wear on campus. Sometimes this would be a hat, sometimes a specific pair of pants. In this instance, we see the juniors who will become the class of 1913 in their newly acquired garb.

This picture shows all of the men of ’13 in their stunning wool coats. From this shot we have no sense of the colorful presence they made while walking across campus. Luckily for us interested folks of the future, one member of the class felt compelled to capture this colorful display.

The Wabash Magazine was a monthly publication of the student body. Each fall they would publish a “Football Number” and as the last issue of the year a “Senior Number”. The March issue was the “Junior Number” and here is the cover created for the year of 1912. This cover tells us that these vibrant coats were scarlet and black. Indeed they were quite a feast for the eyes and served to mark a “’13 man” anywhere in town.

Beth Swift

Help wanted…

This appeal was printed in the American Home Missionary magazine of January 1833. It is a posting for the first member of the Wabash faculty. You will note that the position is listed for a teacher in the Crawfordsville Classical High School. From the founding minutes of November 21, 1832 we read, “Resolved unanimously that the institution be at first a classical and English High School rising into a college as soon as the wants of the country demand.”

It seems that Caleb Mills saw this posting and was intrigued enough to write to his friend Edmund O. Hovey, who was one of the founders, and inquire about the position. In June of 1833 Caleb Mills applied to James Thomson, President of the Board of Trustees, with these words, “Brother Hovey knows me, and is acquainted with my fitness and qualifications for such an office.”  A good recommendation must have followed as on July 16, 1833 Mills was appointed as the first member of the faculty.

As we read in the posting, this position included teaching during the week and preaching in local churches over the weekend. Mills did both, often walking several miles out to the church on Sunday morning and, after a good sermon and a good meal, would turn around and walk back to town. This preaching furnished a subsidy to the meager salary provided by Wabash. Later in his life Mills would note that at the beginning of his career, when he worked hardest, he made the least amount of money. As he neared the end of his career, and worked the least, he made his greatest salary.

Part of Caleb Mills’ passion for this position was his drive to see free common schools available to all children.  In a letter to Hovey Mills stated, “Public sentiment must be changed in regard to free schools, prejudice must be overcome, and the public mind awakened to the importance of carrying the means of education to every door. Though it is the work of years it must and can be done. The sooner we embark in the enterprise the better.” He stayed true to his vision and largely due to his drive and passion, the free public school system was created in Indiana. It is for this good work that he is known as the “Father of the Indiana public school system.”

Beth Swift

Center Hall Library

This image shows the first floor of the North Wing of Center Hall when it was a library. This location is now used by the Business Office and bears little resemblance to this picture. This was the campus library and in this photograph the camera is looking west or toward the mall. The space was built with 16’ ceilings which allowed for two floors of library luxury.   We can see the alcoves on the left and at the back of the picture. These were used to organize books. Several donors gave books, typically on a single topic, which filled their named alcove. Indeed, there are many books in the Lilly Library that still bear the old alcove bookplates.

A couple of years ago when the Business Office was gutted for a remodeling, I slipped in the side door and was amazed at the size of the space when completely open. It is hard to get that sense with the new walls in place.

I love this picture and like to share it when I can. At a presentation on campus Sherry Ross noted that the picture of Abraham Lincoln hangs behind her desk in the Deans’ offices.  It’s good to know that Abe hasn’t gone far…he’s just down the hall.

Beth Swift

In living color…

W. Norwood Brigance Slides

This shot of the Wabash Marching Band was taken during the Georgetown football game of 1939 by W. Norwood Brigance.  Brigance was one of those people who took pictures all around campus. As the archivist,  I am so glad that he did and that his dozens of slides made it to the Archives many years later. One particularly lovely thing about his slide collection is that they are all in color. So often I see the history of Wabash in black in white photos, it is a real treat to see these vibrant, full color images.  The slides are all Kodachrome slides which are very stable and particularly known for holding their color over the decades.  Here is another great example of the vividness of the Brigance color slides we hold.

This image is of Center Hall and Old South on a sunny spring morning in 1940. The bricks, the grass and even the magnolias have all held their true colors. What a delight to see this lovely image 68 years later.

Beth Swift


Wabash College

Mud Hollow

This aerial picture is from the 1950’s. I love it because it shows us Mud Hollow so very clearly. Mud Hollow was Wabash’s version of a veteran’s village to accommodate the men who attended Wabash with their families. It was also home to very new, very young faculty members at times including Vic and Marian Powell and Lew and Mary Ann Salter.

For reference, this image was taken from a plane flying over the Chapel. The top of the photo is south and the line through the middle is the Big Four Railroad. As we can see the baseball field was where we now have parking for the Allen Center.  The Lambda Chi house is hidden by the trees. The circle at the upper right of this photo is the Sycamore Hills addition as it is just being developed.


This image is one of a series of brilliant cartoons created by Don Cole [W1952] for the 1956 yearbook. This is the original Wally Wabash in his new role as a resident of Mud Hollow.

Here is a photo of a couple of real Wallys as they study. The caption notes that these are the Chuck Preston and Pete Hodges families, again this image is from the 1956 yearbook.

The Bachelor of September 27, 1946

“Fifteen government housing units, each containing two apartments, 20×27 feet providing accommodations for thirty married veterans, are being erected on Jennison Street opposite the football field,” according to a statement by W. B. Guthrie, Director of Housing for the college.

Each apartment is to be of metal type construction, insulated, and is to include a living room, two bedrooms, a kitchenette and a bath. Separate entrances, heating and cooking units, oil heat, electricity and water are furnished with each apartment.

The basic rental is $27.50 per month including light and water fees. In addition, the government charges $6.00 per month for the use of furniture.

A notable feature of the housing was a raised walkway to keep the tenants out of the mud, so ubuiqitous that the area was pretty quickly nicknamed Mud Hollow. The name stuck and was recognized by the college with a bronze plaque erected on the site which was unveiled by President Thad Seymour.

Beth Swift


Wabash College

Scan Magic

Hovey Museum

When I make a presentation about the history of the college, I like to start with this image. It is a photograph of the Hovey Museum taken for the 1898 Viewbook.The Hovey Musuem occupied the old Polytechnic Gymnasium which was demolished to build the “new” gym and Armory. I use this image to highlight the changing nature of work here in the Archives. With technology I can now scan an image and share it with anyone who might be interested. Additionally, the scanning helps with research in the following way. Whereas before this technology existed we could only look at this picture as it is here. We could and did use a magnifying glass to see more detail, but that was the extent of what we could learn from this image.

When we scan here in the Archives, we scan at a high level of resolution for our preservation images. We then downsize all our “use” images from that master. By scanning at a high resolution, we only need to scan once. Perhaps the biggest plus is that we can now see details that we couldn’t see before scanning. By having such a high resolution image, I can zoom right into the picture.

For instance, I can now tell you that the cabinet on the back wall holds starfish.  As you might imagine, with this hi-tech tool we are learning new things from our old “stuff”.

Beth Swift