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Chapter 12
from A History of Amherst College by William S. Tyler 1830

Athletics --- Gymnasium Exercises and "The Doctor" --- Intercollegiate Games --- College Societies --- The Greek-Letter Fraternities.

The college is indebted to President Stearns, as we have seen in the chapter on his administration, for the introduction of the system of gymnastics and physical education for which it has since become so highly distinguished, and for the erection of the Barrett gymnasium by which it was in his day so well and worthily represented.  But the department of hygiene and physical culture has since had a growth and development, of which no one at that time could have had a conception, and which is fitly represented by the Pratt gymnasium and the [Amherst College athletic grounds.]Pratt field of athletics, the Pratt gymnasium having cost over $60,000, the Pratt field more than $35,000, and the whole plant of the department, including buildings, grounds, apparatus and endowments, mounting up to the magnificent sum of $177,000.

The Amherst system of required exercise in the gymnasium of all the classes, half an hour daily four days in a week, under the direction and control of an experienced physician, has been maintained substantially as it was instituted in 1860, with only such changes as the wisdom and experience, let me rather say the tact and genius, of Dr. Edward Hitchcock have devised, and the growing pecuniary resources of the department have enabled him to accomplish, for its enlargement and improvement from year to year.  With all the extension and multiplication of optional studies, these exercises have never been made elective.  If anything is "compulsory" in Amherst, it is the gymnastic exercise---just as much so as attendance on any lectures or recitations, quite as "compulsory" as morning prayers or church services, and not less imperative, unless excused by the professor in special cases, than breakfast, dinner, and supper.  During the fall and winter terms and a part of the spring term, every class is obliged, four days in a week, to go through a dumb-bell drill that was learned at the beginning of the course.  Being done with piano accompaniment, these exercises are not monotonous, especially as no two of them are alike, and as each is composed of a large variety of movements.  Every spring there is held in the gymnasium a prize exhibition, at which the three lower classes compete in marching and dumb-bell drilling, for a prize.  This causes the class exercises to be conducted during the last part of the winter with a marked degree of energy, steadiness, and punctuality.  The principal interest has been created by the rivalry between the classes, especially the junior and sophomore, to have the larger number of points and win the prize of $100.  In addition to these class exercises, the department stimulates an interest in athletics by holding every fall an out-of-door athletic meet and every winter a heavy gymnastic exercise.  At both events the individual prize-winners are given medals, and the class scoring the largest number of points at the former receives a barrel of cider, which is disposed of with many ceremonies, and at the latter has its numerals placed on one of the banners hanging on the walls of the gymnasium.  Does not the success of these contests among our own students prove the practicability of finding at home exercise and recreation that are altogether wholesome and sufficiently exciting, and yet free from the temptations and dangers, the expenses and excesses that are inseparable from intercollegiate games and the visits of masses of college students to other colleges and our large cities?

But these intercollegiate games are just now all the fashion and the passion of the times, and Amherst is swept along with the tide.  For a short time, from 1869 to 1875, the boating "craze" prevailed, and in 1872 the Amherst crew won the intercollegiate race over a three-mile course at Springfield against the crews of Harvard, the Massachusetts Agricultural College, Bowdoin, Williams, and Yale.  But the distance of the college from the river forbade the necessary practice, gradually damped the ardor of the crew, and after a few years they withdrew from the contests.

Since 1875 the chief interest has centred in the intercollegiate ball games, baseball in the spring and early summer, and football in the autumn.  Amherst has played with each of the New England colleges, belonged to different leagues, and contended with varying alternations of successes and reverses, sometimes, though rarely, defeating Harvard and Yale, bearing off her full share of honors in her contests with other colleges, and generally, I believe, though not without some exceptions, sustaining a good reputation with the public, not only as athletes but as gentlemen.  Amherst is a member of the American Intercollegiate Athletic Association, at the meeting of which in 1890 her representatives took two first prizes and one second, and also of the New England Association, in which Amherst won the championship in 1888 and 1890.  It is only quite recently that she has entered the lists in lawn tennis, and she has not gained distinction in that line, although one of her sons, Mr. C. A. Chase, as the result of his practice in Amherst, has, since his graduation, won several trophies, including that of the championship of the West.

The effect of the system of physical education on the health, strength and general appearance of the students is proved by the physical tests and actual measurements of the department, and indeed it is visible and palpable to the senses of the casual observer.  Statistics kept by the department for the last thirty years show a sensible diminution in the percentage of sickness and deaths, and a palpable increase in the average strength of students as measured by the most approved strength-tests.  And any one who has been familiarly acquainted with the college for half a century cannot but be struck with the manifest improvement in the physique of the students.  I cannot accept without many grains of allowance the graphic characterization of the typical college student of the last generation by President Walker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in his oration before the Phi Beta Kappa society of Harvard University at a recent commencement.  "The college hero of those days," he says, "was apt to be a young man of towering forehead, from which the hair was carefully brushed backwards and upwards to give the full effect to his remarkable phrenological development.  His cheeks were pale; his digestion pretty certain to be bad.  He was self-conscious, introspective, and indulged in moods, as became a child of genius.  He had yearnings and aspirations; and not infrequently mistook physical lassitude for intellectuality, and the gnawings of dyspepsia for spiritual cravings.  He would have greatly distrusted his mission and his calling had he found himself at any time playing ball.  He went through moral crises and mental fermentations which to him seemed tremendous.  From the gloomy recesses of his ill-kept and unventilated room, he periodically came forth to astound his fellow-students with poor imitations of Coleridge, De Quincey and Carlyle, or of Goethe in translation."

Now this is, of course, overdrawn and exaggerated.  If the orator did not intend to exaggerate when he wrote it, he would probably acknowledge now that it was at least high colored.  It savors of that rhetoric or fine writing which he so much disparages and decries as "the be-all and end-all of the college training of those days," but which, in its legitimate use and best form, so highly adorns this oration.  It is drawn, we must think, less from memory than from imagination, which, quite as much as memory, is "the mother of the Muses," the maker of science as well as literature and art, and without which General Walker himself could not have made such a splendid success of the institute over which he presides.  But we fully agree with him when he says that the improvement wrought in the physique of our college students by the introduction of gymnastic exercises does not need to be shown statistically:  it is manifest to the eye of the most casual observer.  And we heartily approve of the strong plea which he makes in behalf of a well-regulated system of physical education in our colleges, while we admire his wise and discriminating suggestions in regard to the regulation, restriction, improvement, and perfection of intercollegiate athletics.  I agree entirely with President Walker, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, when he says that college athletics wonderfully light up the life of our people; that they stimulate an interest in gymnastics among those students who do not engage in competitive contests, and also throughout the general community; that they call for more than mere strength and swiftness---they demand also courage, coolness, steadiness of nerve, quickness of apprehension, resourcefulness, self-knowledge, self-reliance, ability to work with others, power of combination, co-operation, obedience to orders, subordination of selfish impulses, and something akin to patriotism and public spirit.  And as an indispensable means for the attainment of these ends, he urges that regard for fair play, that respect for the rights of an opponent, that deference to the decisions of the umpire, which are so conspicuous in English athletics; the complete abolition of the unsportsmanlike system of organized cheering by great bodies of collegians grouped together for the purpose; the training of audiences as well as students to appreciate the finer points, to applaud good work by whomsoever done, and to be as virtuous as a Greek chorus, and the coöperation of alumni to give wisdom, weight and temper to the action of undergraduates; and last, not least, perhaps hardest of all, the education of faculties to avoid petty dictation on the one hand, and to sustain the claims of scholarship and enforce the right discipline of college on the other.

A good step toward the realization of these ideals in Amherst was taken in 1870, when the Amherst athletic board was organized, consisting of three members of the faculty, one of whom shall be the professor of hygiene and physical education, three alumni of the college, Mr. F. B. Pratt, donor of the [The grand stand on Pratt field.]new field, and three undergraduates namely, the presidents of the baseball, football and athletic associations.  Recently, delegates from various football associations have been in session to revise the rules of that game and provide remedies and checks against some of its worst and most brutal features, and to make it less dangerous without making it less lively and interesting.  Meanwhile the newspaper press is crying aloud for reform.  And the president of our oldest and greatest university, while testifying to the advantages which have resulted from the great development of athletic sports within the past twenty-five years, protests against the overtraining and overstraining, the danger of serious bodily injuries, the extravagant expenditure of time and money, the excessive excitement of interest and feeling, and the morbid craving for popular applause and perchance pecuniary profit, which are attendant especially upon the intercollegiate football games at the present time, and suggests several changes which would at least diminish the existing evils, such for example as these:  that there should be no freshman intercollegiate matches; no games to be played on any but college fields, belonging to one of the competitors, in college towns; no professional student or player should take part in any intercollegiate contests; no football to be played until the rules are so amended as to diminish the number and the violence of the collisions between the players and to provide for the enforcement of the rules; and intercollegiate contests in any one sport should not take place oftener than every other year.

If some such changes as these could, with one consent, be introduced, it would seem that the evils attendant upon the games might be avoided without abolishing the games themselves.  And thus at length the ideal which President Walker suggests in concluding his oration might perhaps be realized, art may be elevated to a far higher and nobler place than it has hitherto reached in the thoughts and affections of our people, and the vision of the Apollo may rise to the view of thousands in this fair land as once erst it rose before the thronging multitudes of Olympia.

The history of physical education in Amherst cannot be written without reference to the man who has been the making of it from the beginning, and who, thanks to the kind Providence that has preserved him through all these years, is still the head and front, the spirit and soul and body of the department.  Amherst graduates cannot think of their college gymnastics and athletics without being reminded of Dr. Hitchcock; gymnastics without him would be like Hamlet's play with Hamlet's part left out.  Dr. Hitchcock is at once the mainspring and the regulator of the class exercises.  Dr. Hitchcock takes the gauge of every individual student and tells him how to secure a sound mind in a sound body.  Dr. Hitchcock, by his measurements, has contributed largely toward making gymnastics a science and an art.  Dr. Hitchcock, by his personal presence at intercollegiate games, has done much to guard the health and life of the players, the morals and manners of all our students.  Is any one sick, he sends for "the Doctor."  Does any one sham sickness, "the Doctor" is sure to find him out.  Is any one morbid or morally diseased, "the Doctor" can furnish the diagnosis and prescribe the remedy.  Is the college in a disorderly or unhealthy state, socially or spiritually, no one is so sure to know it or so wise to cure it as "the Doctor."  "The Doctor's" eye and hand are on every wheel and band and cog of the college machine, to keep it in place and in motion and performing its proper part.  "The Doctor"---there is only one "Doctor" ("Doc" for short) in the vocabulary of Amherst students---"the Doctor" is always present at morning prayers and the weekly prayer meeting, and no one takes part, his own or perchance another's, in these services more happily or more acceptably than he.  No member of the faculty is invited so frequently to local alumni associations.  No one is welcomed so heartily, no one is seen or heard with so much pleasure, no one anywhere can make a more apt, pat, witty, or happy after-dinner speech than Dr. Hitchcock.  In short, "the Doctor" is an omnipresent spirit of health and life, of cheerfulness and happiness, of good sense and good will, of all that is good and gracious in every place and everything that concerns the college with which he has so long been connected.  Long live Dr. Hitchcock!  O king, live forever!

The history of our college societies during the first half century of the institution is written in the first edition of this history, in President Hitchcock's "Reminiscences of Amherst College," and still more fully in Mr. Cutting's "Student Life in Amherst," and those who wish to read it in detail must go to those sources.  But these societies have had such a development and attained such prominence and influence during the last twenty years, that I cannot conclude this history without a brief sketch of their growth and progress.

The two literary societies, Alexandria and Athenæ, which, from the very beginning, divided the students almost equally between them and exerted an influence on the taste and style of writing and speaking of their members scarcely second to that of the professors, and which, I ventured to hope, would live as long as the college itself, have not realized that hope.  They have become extinct; their libraries in which the members took so much pride and pleasure have been merged in the college library, and their archives are preserved only in the archives of the college.  The Society of Inquiry also, which, beginning with the opening term of the college, counted in the roll of its members the leading ministers and missionaries of more than fifty classes, and provided the commencement with an almost uninterrupted succession of annual addresses from distinguished orators and divines for more than half a century---this venerable society still exists and bears the name of the "Hitchcock Society of Inquiry," but it has dropped its distinctive character, and become one of nearly a dozen societies, chiefly Greek letter societies, for literary culture or general social improvement and enjoyment.  The Greek letter societies have increased in number and influence, till almost all the students belong to them.  The following is a list of the names of the fraternities, with the dates of the Amherst Chapters in the order of their establishment:

Alpha Delta Phi1837
Psi Upsilon1841
Delta Kappa Epsilon1846
Delta Upsilon1847
Phi Beta Kappa1853
Chi Psi1864
Chi Phi1873
Beta Theta Pi1883
Theta Delta Chi1885
Phi Delta Theta1888
Phi Gamma Delta1894

Five of these societies, it will be seen, have been introduced at Amherst within the last twenty years.

These fraternities are a connecting link between the colleges and universities of our country, a bond of union between the States, and a medium of mutual acquaintance and intercommunion between educated and educating men, with many of the advantages and some of the dangers and evils attendant upon Masonic lodges and other secret societics.  The chapter houses, which some of them rent and others own, having bought or built them for themselves, draw kindred spirits together, give them a home in college for which they care and in which they feel a pleasure and a pride, and exert an influence at once powerful and salutary in the government, education, and social culture of undergraduate students, while they furnish also a rendezvous and a hospitable reception to graduates when they revisit their alma mater.  A band of brothers feeling a lively interest in the reputation of their chapter and in the character and conduct of all its members, by their social gatherings, their literary exercises, their mutual personal influence, and above all by the watch and care of the older and wiser over the younger, less mature, and perhaps less studious members, they guard the morals, correct the faults, stimulate the ambition, cultivate the manners and the taste, elevate the scholarship,---in a word form the character and fashion the life of the membership, and thus contribute no unimportant element to the order, decorum, scholarship, and culture of the whole college.  In fact, they act an important part in that system of self-government and training for the duties of citizenship in a free country in which Arnherst is taking the lead among American colleges.  President Seelye relied much on their cooperation and influence in his administration.  In his annual report to the trustees in 1887, he says:  "Besides other helps toward the good work of the college, important service is rendered by the societies and the society houses.  No one now familiar with the college doubts, so far as I know, the good secured through the Greek letter societies as found among us.  They are certainly well managed.  Their houses are well kept, and furnish pleasant and not expensive houses to the students occupying them.  The rivalry among them is wholesome, kept, as it certainly seems to be, within excessive limits.  The tone of the college is such that loose ways in a society or its members will be a reproach, and college sentiment, so long as it is reputable itself, will keep them reputable."  A distinguished classmate of President Seelye, the Honorable Wm. G. Hammond, lately chancellor of the law department in Iowa University, and now dean of the law school in Washington University, Missouri, in a recent address at a convention at Amherst of one of these societies, suggested the possibility and desirableness of a further development of them into something like the colleges in the English universities.

Of course, such societies, like everything else in this imperfect world, are liable to perversion and abuse.  The purest stream may be polluted, and then it will breed sickness and death instead of life and health.  Like our whole system of self-government, they need watching, lest they become nurseries of indolence, ease, pleasure, extravagance, dissipation, vice, instead of the opposite virtues.  Their character and influence will depend very much on the character of the college in which they are established.  In Amherst their influence has been and is unquestionably favorable to good morals, order, decorum, gentlemanly deportment, and scholarly attainments.  Nothing else would be tolerated, if for no other reason, because anything else would be unpopular in the college, and so fatal to the reputation and prosperity of the society.  It is not denied that the societies add somewhat to the expenses of their members, but not largely:  any large expenditure is extra, and is provided for by voluntary contributions of alumni and members that are able to make them.  It is acknowledged that there is in some of the societies too much fondness for promenades, dances, and other amusements, especially in the winter term, the Congregational Lent, which is the most appropriate and favorable season for religious interest.  But drinking and carousing are not tolerated in the society houses; prayer meetings and pastoral visits are welcomed, and there is no better place than these houses for the propagation of religious influences.  It may not be easy to sanctify and appropriate college athletics and college societies and make the most of the best there is in them, but it is an object well worthy of the most patient and persevering effort, for, if the effort is successful, they will be among the most potent influences for good in the college of the future.

 

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