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Amherst College > News & Events > Amherst Magazine > Archives > Winter 2004 > Amherst, 1876
1878 Amherst baseball team.
The 1878 Amherst baseball team poses for a photo. Presumably, one of these men is Edmund Alden, but the original photograph carries no identifying information. While most of the players wear the bowlers, boaters and pork pie hats of the day, the students at the back are wearing top hats and carrying class canes to indicate that they are upperclassmen. At this time, it was an unwritten law, enforced by sophomores, that freshmen could not wear top hats or carry class canes.

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Amherst, 1876: Good for the Soul, but Hard on the Soles

This account of Amherst in the late 1870s was written by Edmund K. Alden, Class of 1880. His grandfather, Ebenezer Alden, Sr., was one of the first trustees of Amherst, and his father, Ebenezer Alden, Jr., Class of 1839, helped found Grinnell College and spoke at Daniel Webster’s funeral. The family’s Amherst legacy continued with Edmund’s grandson, Edmund Alden Brown ’42, and his great-grandsons Robert A. Brown ’71, Charles K. Brown ’81 and Joshua Brown ’77. Joshua Brown provided this excerpt from a longer biographical essay Edmund Alden wrote in 1934.

I entered Amherst College in September 1876. It had been founded more than half a century earlier, after Harvard had “gone over to Unitarianism”; in the earlier classes there was a strong preponderance of aspirants for the ministry, and the ecclesiastical imprint lingered long. Morning prayers in the chapel every day and attendance at the college church on Sunday were compulsory. There was an unrequired weekly prayer meeting, well attended, in which faculty and students participated; and there were similar class religious meetings. The Sunday preachers were, as a rule, ordained members of the faculty; on one occasion Dr. Richard Slater Storrs preached for an hour and a half and held the students’ attention to the end.

I made use of the gymnasium, and in the compulsory gymnastic exercises—every morning—I was regularly elected captain of the “fourth platoon.” I played baseball and was a member of the college football team throughout the four years. Tennis was just on the point of introduction, golf was unknown, the high-wheel bicycle was startling the natives and football players wore canvas jackets when they were attainable, but otherwise they bore little resemblance to the helmeted and armored warriors of the present day. As for baseball: curve pitching was introduced when I was an undergraduate, no one except the catcher and first baseman wore a glove, the catcher came up “behind the bat” only before the last strike, and his sole weapon of defense was a piece of rubber in his mouth. A few years before my advent Amherst had maintained a crew, with a creditable record, on the Connecticut; but the river was several miles away and that sport was abandoned.

The most lasting athletic result of my life in Amherst was the development of my passion for walking. In the ’70s there were no buses or trolleys, and few students could afford to hire a horse and buggy. Accordingly we walked. I walked to Pelham, Prescott and Belchertown, to Northampton and South Deerfield. In the summer vacation at the end of junior year three of my classmates and myself decided to make an inexpensive walking trip from Portland to the White Mountains, a trip that took 12 days, in which I walked about 180 miles.

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