By Prof. O.D. Smith, M.A.L.L.D. (Note: This is the complete text of the history included in this annual. Wherever possible every care was taken to replicate the language as it was written in an attempt to maintain Professor Smith's intention. Any errors in that reproduction are mine alone. Also, look below for a photo and bio of the author.)
The Alabama Polytechnic Institute and A. & M. College was one among the last of the land grant colleges established under the act of congress passed in 1862, known as the Morrill Act. Owing to the confusion and demoralization incident to the reconstruction period, the donation of land script granted by the act was not accepted by the State Legislature until December 26, 1868. The amount of land allotted to the state was 240,000 acres. A Board of Commissioners was appointed to receive and sell the land script and invest the proceeds in Alabama bonds. The amount of bonds ultimately purchased was $353,000.
A striking commentary upon the unsavory financial operations of that period is, that over three elapsed before the sale and investment was completed. A still more remarkable fact is, that not a trace of a record exists of these large transactions. During this period, a large part of the fund was misappropriated to the use of the state and came dangerously near being lost in the wrecked finances of the state.
By an act of the Legislature approved February 26, 1872, by Gov. R. B. Lindsey, the offer of the grounds and building of the East Alabama Male College, made by the Alabama Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, was accepted and the A. & M. College was located at Auburn.
The success and growth of the college is in no small degree due to the first Board of Trustees, composed of some of the wisest, most conservative and broad minded men of the state. Wm. H. Barnes, Langdon, Stansel, Bethea, Moren, Bibb, Dowdell, Malone, Ligon, Lawler, -- truly a great company. While all these served the college, with unselfish zeal, self denying devotion, and broad minded wisdom, perhaps Col. Langdon of Mobile deserves special mention. In a sense, the college was the Benjamin of his old age, and his heart clave to it. His impetuous zeal and unceasing vigilance served it many a good turn in its earlier career. More to his efforts than to any other cause was due the creation of the agricultural fund which has been of such valuable aid in the development of the college. But one of this number survives. The memories of all of them should be cherished by the college as its richest legacy, not only for their devotion to its interests but as noble examples to succeeding generations of young men, of the value and honorableness of noble and useful living.
They met in Auburn March 20, 1872 and organized the college by electing Dr. I. T. Tichenor, D. D. as President, and the following faculty officers. I.T. Tichenor, D. D. President and Prof. of Moral Philosophy; Alexander Hogg, A. M., Prof. of Mathematics; W. C. Stubbs, A. M., Prof. of Natural Sciences; J. B. Read, M. D., Prof. of Applied Mathematics; B. B. Ross, A. M., Prof. of English Literature; J. T. Dunklin, A. M. Prof. of Ancient and Modern Languages; W. H. Jemison, Prof. of Practical Agriculture ; George P. Harrison, Jr., Commandant; E. T. Glenn, Treasurer.
By the election of the Faculty of the old college, the transition from the old, to the new regime was made without any friction or interruption of college work. The first session of the college was thus inaugurated March 25, 1872. A provision was made that the senior class of the old college should complete their course and graduate at the usual time, and should be recognized as Alumni of the A. & M. college. The usual commencement was held in June, and this class received their diplomas, but it was provided that the session should continue through the summer and close the 30th of October. The theory seemed to have been that the summer was especially adapted to the acquisition of Agricultural knowledge. One experiment was enough. It was never repeated. During this year, owing to the bankrupt condition of the state Treasury, the college received but a small part of its interest. The close of the session found it burdened with debt, which necessitated a reduction of the faculty, and a reorganization of its work. At the meeting of the Board of Trustees in November, Profs. Jemison, Reed and Col. Harrison tendered their resignations. Col. R. A. Hardaway was elected Commandant, and professor of Civil Engineering, and Otis D. Smit, principal of the Preparatory Department. (The following commencement Prof. Smith was elected professor of English), and Dr. J.H. Drake, Surgeon.
The debt incurred by the failure to receive its interest, was an incubus on the college for years and seriously crippled its operations, and retarded its development.
The college reopened Jan 1st, 1873. This was really the beginning of the first session of the independent existence of the college, and the class of 1873 was the first class to graduate at a commencement held exclusively under the auspices of the new college.
It is well to mention that the number of students matriculated that year was 103, and of that number only 47 were in the college classes. From such a small beginning, the college has risen to its present numbers, when its graduating class for the present year is twenty per cent larger than the entire number of college students the first year of its existence.
The location of the college was fortunate. Auburn had been famous as an educational center, and the seat of much wealth, refinement and culture. The Methodist church had established in 1858 an excellent classical college, officered by some of the ablest educators in the south. The college, its buildings, equipment, patronage and good will, were all conveyed to the state. According to the records, the most zealous and effective workers in securing this transfer to the state were the present treasurer, E.T. Glenn, Esq., and the first president of the Board of Trustees, the Hon. W. H. Barnes.
Under the first charter of the College, the Board of Trustees was a self perpetuating body, electing their successors whenever a vacancy occurred, with the exception of the Governor and the Superintendent of Education, ex-officio members. The change made by the present constitution providing for their appointment is of doubtful advantage, as it opens the way for partisan political influence, than which nothing can be more disastrous to an institution for higher education.
The main college building was valued at $75,000 and was an impressive structure, well suited to college purposes. The college had a good patronage for that time and was well and favorably known, and was in successful operation. Two features of its equipment were of noteworthy excellence, its literary society halls and its geological and mineralogical museum. The latter had been collected chiefly by that eminent southern scientist, Prof. John Darby, which in the extent and variety of its specimens was unsurpassed in the south. The old society halls were handsomely frescoed and elegantly furnished, and were the admiration of all visitors and the pride of the students.
The Websterian society possessed a fine portrait in oil of Daniel Webster, presented by the Mansfield Club of Boston. The destruction of this magnificent work of art when the college was burned, was an irreparable loss.
The transfer of the faculty and the student body of the old to the new college, was particularly fortunate. The spirit and traditions of learning of the older institutions were not inconsiderable factors in shaping the permanent policy and the development of the new college, and that the influence was salutary cannot be denied by any one familiar with the history of land grant colleges.
From the first, the college has stood for the higher educational ideal. In many instances in their beginning, land grant colleges were crude experiments and disastrous failures. For some years this college had to contend with the clamorous demands and strident cries for the so called “practical education.” The old education must be abandoned and something new must be done, something quite different from anything that had ever been attempted. A trade school was the popular demand. But all experience has proved that there is nothing elevating or educative in mere physical drudgery or mere physical skill, when unaccompanied by directive intelligence and conscious reflection. Were it otherwise, the day laborer would be the most cultured citizen. And surely many an aritzan getting his small daily wages, is far more dexterous with his plane and adz than the overseeing contractor who counts by the thousands the profits resulting from his broad understanding of the principles of architecture and construction. Moreover, the European trade school, the school for the peasant and the laborer, the case school, has no place on American soil. Costly experience has proved than when institutions of learning have inaugurated narrow policies, and offered confessedly an inferior grade of education, and attempted to subordinate mental training to manual skill, whether it be in Agriculture, Mechanics or what not, patronage has shrunk away, reorganization has followed, and a broader and higher curriculum of studies has been inaugurated.
The college at Auburn stood firm against all such demands and thus avoided the costly errors of so many other institutions. The conservative influence of its classical predecessor contributed in no small degree to its steady growth and uninterrupted development. The authorities realized that education is a continuous stream, and that new departures in education must be co-ordinated with past experience drawn from the history of education. They recognized that institutions are not made out of hand to order, but are the product of growth modified by environment; of evolution and not of revolution.
So while the college has from the beginning more than kept the letter of the law of its foundation, in making generous provision for the practical sciences that pertain immediately to a livelihood, it has provided pari passu for instruction in these subjects, scientific and classical which make for scholarship and culture. By its fruits the wisdom of this course is justified.
The college has never courted public favors by lowering its educational standard, but has always held that the same degree of rigid preparation in all the disciplinary and training subjects of education is as necessary to a thorough course of technical studies and natural sciences, as for the mastery of a thorough course of language and Philosophy, the course of study is second to no technical institution in the south and compares favorably with most similar institutions in the north.
In a word, the college has aimed to turn out not mere artisans, but leaders and managers of industry; neither has it forgotten that behind the profession is the man, and that whether one be a farmer, mechanic, chemist or engineer, he is first a citizen with a soul and a country to save. Efforts have not been spared to fit the student for the intelligent understanding and the faithful discharge of all the duties that lie on the social, civil, or even the spiritual side of life.
Perhaps nowhere more than at Auburn have been harmoniously blended into a practical working system the spirit of the classical and the spirit of the scientific. Like two hemispheres culture and utility have been joined in a fully rounded orb.
Under this generous policy, as might have predicted, the development of the college has been not spasmodic, but constant, not one sided, but symmetrical, and to-day as a result, we have in our numerous technical departments, and practical laboratories, not a mere jumble of unrelated disjointed fragments, but an organic unit grouped around a central idea of developing a practical educated manhood.
For convenience the history of the college may be divided into three periods: the first decade (1872-1882); the second decade (1882-1892); and the third decade (1892-1901) which may be styled the period of taking root, the period of growth, and the period of blossom. Dr. I. T. Tichenor was president throughout the first period; Col. D. F. Boyd in ’83-4; and the remaining eighteen years of its history are embraced in the administration of the present incumbent Dr. Wm. Le Roy Broun. Naturally at first the institution encountered serious difficulties. It was an experiment, and it had to meet both jealousy and prejudice. There was much ill concealed skepticism as to the practicability of combining mental discipline and intellectual culture with practical training in the arts and sciences. The financial resources were limited to the interest on the bonds paid for some years in depreciated currency which the college was compelled to dispose of at as much as 25 per cent discount. In addition to this embarrassment, the college was burdened by a heavy debt incurred the first year, from the failure of the state to pay the interest on its bonds. And yet this decade was not an era of stagnation, its curriculum was extended, its faculty increased and new chairs established, Prof. E. S. Thornton was elected to the new chair of Natural History, which his untimely death vacated at the end of the year. He was succeeded in 1878 by Dr. P. H. Mell, the present incumbent of the chair of Botany and Geology. It is worthy of mention, that the subjects assigned to the chair he occupied now are divided among three full professors, thus showing the broadening of the college work and the increased facilities for scientific instruction. Prof. G. W. Maxon was also elected the same year principal of the Preparatory Department, and the following year Prof. of English. The success, if not brilliant was secure. The average attendance was 151. Not a few young men went out into the world who have made a distinguished mark. Dr. Tichenor, guided the institution with a firm and steady hand, and through all manner of contrary tides and winds it set securely upon its course of prosperity. The institution reveals him as a true and wise captain in perilous times. During this decade the college lost four valuable and able members of its faculty, three by death, E. S. Thornton, Rev. B. B. Ross and Wm. H. Chambers; one by resignation, Col. R. A. Hardaway.
Dr. Tichenor also resigned in 1882.
The second decade, the beginning of its period of development on scientific lines, was ushered in by the election of Dr. W. Le Roy Broun, president. He was eminently fitted for the position by broad and profound scholarship by a varied experience in universities of the highest character, and by a wide knowledge of the best schools and systems of higher education in this country and Europe. To this equipment was added executive ability, power of organization, and unusual practical wisdom. His influence was soon felt in every department. In 1882 an appropriation of $3,000 was secured to better equip and enlarge the laboratories and to increase the apparatus and other appliances for instruction. The following year the State Chemical Laboratory and Experiment Station were established. In 1885-6 the department of Mechanic Arts was inaugurated and an instructor in 1885, by an appropriation of the Congress of United States, known as the Hatch fund, and by the act of the State Legislature giving the college one third of net proceeds of the tax on fertilizers. The college was just beginning to move forward under the impulse of these new forces when the main building and all its contents were burned June 24, 1887. This seeming disaster proved a blessing in disguise. With the insurace on the old building and an appropriation of $50,000 by the state, the present Chemical Laboratory and main building were erected, giving much increased facilities for college work.
The laboratories destroyed by the fire were re-established, enlarged and better equipped, and the department of Biology was established in 1889. New energy and increased zeal seemed to be infused into every department and the growth of the college in patronage and in every direction was much greater in the five years succeeding the fire than in the five preceding years. The average annual attendance from 1882 to 1887 was 141, from 1887 to 1892 was 235, an increase of over seventy per cent. During this decade the faculty was increased by the addition of Gen. J. H. Lane and Col. J. S. Newman, (1882) and later by Dr. N. T. Lupton, Geo. H. Bryant, C. H. Barnwell and Dr. Geo. F. Atkinson. Dr. W. C. Stubbs resigned to accept the position of director of the Sugar Experiment Station, New Orleans, La. In this decade died the learned Prof. DunkIns, whose erudition equaled only by his modesty, whose influence extended far beyond the class room and was all for the good and true.
The third decade has been characterized by growth and development in all the old departments, and by the addition of several new ones. Of these the most important were Pharmacy and Electrical Engineering. The former under the efficient direction of Prof. E. R. Miller has become one of the leading schools of Pharmacy in the south. The department of Electrical Engineering, organized by Prof. A. F. McKissick, and under his direction until his resignation in 1899, ranks ahead of any similar department in any souther n institution. The resignation of Prof. McKissick was a source of regret to the faculty, students and friends of the college. But the chair has been supplied by his successor, Prof. A St. C. Dunstan, a distinguished graduate of the college. The shops of Mechanic Arts department have been greatly enlarged, and its facilities for instruction have been increased by extensive additions of the most improved machinery and equipment. A large three story building has been added as an annex to the Chemical Laboratory, which is devoted to the departments of Chemistry, Pharmacy and Mechanical Engineering. Three commodious buildings have been erected for the use of the department of Veterinary Science. Three large rooms in the main building and a separate dynamo building has been provided for the Electrical department. A separate State Chemical Laboratory has just been completed. One of the most important additions is the library, which has been created almost during this decade and under the management of its efficient librarian, Prof. C. S. Thach and the library committee, has become one of the best collections of books in the state. To sum up, there have erected nearly a dozen separate structures, some of them most handsome, there have been added twelve thoroughly appointed laboratories for practical institution and original research in chemistry, botany, mineralogy, biology, physics, technical drawing, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, veterinary science and pharmacy, an experiment farm of 216 acres, horticultural gardens. The buildings and equipment are easily valued at $200,000 and yet the demand for more is urgent. The institution is justly entitled to its present name, the Alabama Polytechnic Institute, which it is authorized to use by an act of the State Legislature.
During this decade the faculty lost two of its most valuable members, Dr. N. T. Lupton, a scientist of national reputation and Dr. Chas. H. Ross, one of its most scholarly graduates, a shining example of high thinking and noble living.
During this decade the annual average attendance has been 325. The enrollment for the present year has reached 412, of that number 341 are from Alabama, and 68 from thirteen other states and three from Cuba and Nicaragua.
Fourteen members of the faculty have resigned since 1873. All of these, with perhaps a single exception, resigned to accept more desirable or more lucrative positions in other institutions or in business life. This fact emphasizes two things: first, the ability that has characterized the faculty, and secondly, that many of our best southern educators are drawn from southern institutions to the wealthier institutions of the north and west, by increased salaries and greater facilities for development.
The growth of the college is further shown by comparison of the last decade with the first, with respect to increase in patronage, number of the faculty and amount of income. At the end of the last decade the number of students was 125, the faculty consisted of six full professors and two instructors, the income form all sources was about $25,000; the present year the number of students is 412, the number of full professors is 16, the number of permanent instructors six, attached to the experiment station, not connected with the faculty of instruction, one associate chemist and four assistants – total 27. The present income approximates $58,000. The increase in patronage has been about 230 per cent, the increase in income not quite 100 per cent. This is a showing of which the friends of the college may well be proud. This growth and development are largely the result of the sagacity of the trained educator, the master of the philosophy of education; boldly, but not rashly, with a distinct appreciation of the point aimed at, has carried forward his ideas without ever being required to retrace his steps. An institution is known by its graduates. These are its epistles read of all men; and by their career and success is to be judged the worth of the training given by their Alma Mater. Among the 579 graduates, the idlers can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Farmers, engineers, chemists, lawyers, physicians, ministers, teachers, business men are all included in the list: not less than 80 per cent of the entire number following employments closely related to the physical sciences, and other than the so-called learned professions. Not a few have achieved distinguished success. The profession of teaching has claimed a large number and the graduates of this institution are to be found in many of the important colleges and universities of the south.
Co-education cautiously attempted by the college has proved a success. The young women have demonstrated an ample ability to master the most difficult subjects of the curriculum and easily take rank among the first in their classes. There has been entire harmony in the relation of the two sexes. Athletics have always received the enthusiastic support of the student body. To appropriate all its advantages while repressing its abuses has been the aim of the faculty. At Auburn it is one of the influences that keeps college life pure and healthy. Judicious tolerance and guidance rather than repression has been the attitude of the college on this question. Auburn stands for clean athletics, and has an enviable reputation in this regard. Her numerous victories have been won in honorable, gentlemanly contest.
College life at Auburn has been always left free to shape itself without coercion on the part of the authorities. Indeed the student enjoys here a wholesome degree of freedom in regard to his private life. It is the aim of discipline under judicious restraint to develop the qualities of self reliance, self control and self direction, qualities so vital to success in real life. The results of discipline based upon these principles has been eminently satisfactory. In fact the whole trend of the influences brought to bear upon the student are distinctively Christian. Character before culture is the motto. One of the most potent of these influences is found in the student body. The Young Men’s Christian Association, which is a strong and positive force for upbuilding of the good and true. It has always had the cordial and sympathetic aid of the faculty.
In conclusion I would urge there is a great work yet to be accomplished in Alabama by this institution. What it has already accomplished is but vantage ground for still higher achievement. It is to be hoped that the Alabama Polytechnic will do its full share in the great work of leading the state to higher and better things. And this it will do, as year by year, with the guidance of able trustees and a competent faculty, and with the earnest support of its alumni, and the sympathy of all good citizens it strives towards the full accomplishment of the ideal of its founders in sending forth class after class of young men who are once scholars and trained specialists, public spirited citizens and technical experts; young men of broad intelligence and sound morality who are able and willing to address themselves to any of the practical problems of life.
Professor Otis David Smith (1831-1905) of Vermont fought for the Confederate States during the Civil War. A local school principal, he would become a professor of English, chairman of mathematics and, the year after authoring this history of the university, serve as the acting president in 1902.
He also served on the Board of Trustees of East Alabama Male College (Auburn's predecessor) and on Board of Trustees at the University of Alabama, one of the few non-governors to be so highly affiliated with both schools throughout their storied histories.