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Half-Century Annalist Letters

Class of 1923 Letter

Carl V. Warren

Delivered: May 26, 1973

Fifty years is a long time for the eager senior who has just received his diploma.

Fifty years is a short time for the graduate, back on campus, to celebrate his half-century reunion.

Recently, when I was on the Hill, I strolled along the red shale walks and under the old shade trees, some planted by our old friend and Professor Bugsy Morrall. I walked past South College, past this beautiful chapel with Alexander Hamilton standing guard, on toward North College, and it gave me a feeling of deep satisfaction to see these landmarks, these evidences of the old Hamilton of my days still there.

The student union, the library and science buildings in the quadrangle with the gymnasium beyond, were evidence that changes had been made. I am not disturbed by this progress made during these 50 years. The old is symbolic of the Hamilton we knew so well. The new suggests the bigger and probably better Hamilton. They seem to blend together in satisfying harmony.

The half-century annalist's letter is a small part of the Hamilton tradition. It extends back — like a thread — silver, naturally — well over 100 years in College history. Catalogs, records, statistics, student and alumni publications form the framework for the history of the past life of the institution. But the letter has a special purpose. It indicates how the class differs from others. It is unique in being the only record presented from the point of view of the class. Individual members may be mentioned who made special contributions to the difference. It recalls human interest items that are not recorded in any other place that are valued memories to those of the class who lived here over fifty years ago. The letter should reveal a bit of that something, indefinable, called Hamilton Spirit.

What is the Hamilton Spirit?

According to our famous alumnus, Elihu Root, there is a continuing spirit that marks an institution. This is what he said:

There is a spiritual succession by which the original qualities and standards of the old institution are transmitted, through a long and continually changing series of individual members who differ widely from each other, but who coming find, and going leave, the institution is always the same. Great endowments, stately buildings, public favor and prosperity, cannot produce or take place of that indefinable and mysterious quality which has been transmitted from the remote past, which has persisted through many changing years, and many passing lives, and which gives the institution a personality of its own, a continuance of the life breathed into it at the moment of its birth.

Let's go back to the days when the Class of 1923 came into existence. There were 102 of us when we arrived on the Hill in September 1919. It was the beginning of the Roaring Twenties when the world, we fervently hoped, had just been made safe for democracy. The country was recovering from the effects of the war and entering a period of prosperity. There was a feeling of optimism, enthusiasm and well-being as we entered this important decade. We had no conception of the explosive, revolutionary changes that would occur in politics, economics, science and sociology during the next 50 years.

The enrollment of 102 had decreased to 72 at the beginning of our sophomore year and was 71 at the beginning of our senior year. Fifty-one received diplomas at our Commencement. This is an exceptionally low rate of attrition. Colleges and universities in this country were graduating only about 25 percent of those who entered as freshmen a half century ago. I believe this was an indication of the high level of competence in the Class of 1923.

Most of us came from New York State, a significant number from other states in the northeast, and a few from the south and west. We came from city and country. Preparatory school boys and city high school graduates were mixed with those of us from rural areas. Seventy to 100 men living, working and playing together for four years, led to close friendships and at least some acquaintance with all members of the group. This, in my opinion, was one of the important advantages of attending Hamilton. During my junior year I made a special effort to know every student and faculty member, and I believe they all knew me. This helped me, an unsophisticated country boy, to an appreciation of those with other backgrounds.

All were quite impressed with the few juniors and seniors, war veterans, who were finishing college work. Imitation is the sincerest flattery. Many of us wore army shirts, pants and leather jackets. Of course, this second-hand clothing was cheaper which may have helped to determine our choice.

The College was feeling the influence of the new administration. Dr. Frederick Carlos Ferry was in his third year as president of Hamilton. He was a graduate of Williams College and, for 14 years had served as dean of that institution. Dr. Ferry was a gentleman of distinction, a brilliant scholar and teacher, and a capable administrator. All previous presidents of Hamilton had been Protestant ministers. He, with his experience and natural aptitude, was a good leader to guide the College toward desirable changes.

Personally, he was a man to be admired. He looked like a college president. He had admirable poise. I cannot remember an occasion when he appeared to be at a disadvantage. His ordinary conversation was as perfect as carefully written prose. Mr. Walter Pilkington, in his book Hamilton College: A History, says of Dr. Ferry, "Among the students he was a distant figure, largely because he was too busy at home and abroad to spend too much time with them." This may have been true but it does not reflect the experience of the writer. I had many occasions to meet him personally and always found him a friendly man, personally interested in me. I know he had a deep concern as often as he would have liked.

Many important changes had been made. Dr. Ferry developed a recruitment program. Liberalized entrance requirements attracted a large number of competent students. He encouraged Coaches Prettyman and Zell of the Physical Education Department to develop a program of competitive intramural athletics which involved almost every student in some form of competitive sport. The Board of Trustees approved an increase of maximum enrollment to 400. New courses were offered. The faculty was expanded and given salary raises. A far-sighted building program was planned, the Sage field house and hockey building being the first addition. These were beginnings of a bigger and better Hamilton that would continue to evolve over the remaining 17 years of his tenure as president. We were fortunate to have such good leadership during our four years.

Hazing was an accepted part of college living. Hazing and interclass activities were the "spice of life," for the freshmen and sophomores, and of great interest and amusement to the upperclassmen. Occasionally hazing got "out of hand." Dr. Ferry was opposed to this form of activity.

Our natural rivals and tormentors, the sophomores, soon tried to convince is that we were the green-hatted "slimers," the lowest-of-the-low among college students. The sophomores were rather a nuisance but not as great a problem as we feared they would be. One advantage was we outnumbered them 2 to 1. The skimpy half circle of scrawny "sophs" guarding the Chapel steps, trying to delay our exit, was soon overcome by our superior numbers and exceptional courage. We left the Chapel in alphabetical order. The Chriestiens, Carusones, Chases, Chastneys, Cannons and Breens did the heavy work and the Walraths, Warrens, Welds and Yates went out practically unmolested. This was a practice of some violence but short duration.

There were many other unplanned and spontaneous evidences of the exuberance of youth. I shall mention only a few. Furniture-stacking was one of the curses of dormitory life. One might go home for the weekend and return to find every piece of furniture, books, rugs, clothes, pictures — everything — stacked in the middle of the room. Water-bombing – the least said about that the better!

Some sadistic alumni, in dim and distant past, had thought up the horror of Paddle Day. We remember this devil-inspired "final" at the end of freshman year, immediately following the mathematics examination. I am sure my physical contour has never been the same since that day. Paddle Day was given up the following year and, I hope, has not been revived.

The annual freshmen and sophomore banquets, held on some secret date between Thanksgiving and Christmas, were planned and executed with fair success. The sophomores traveled by train, truck and trolley to the Hotel Richmond in Little Falls. I know two sophomores who went to their banquet handcuffed to the foot of an iron bedstead. Another attended this formal event without his pants, his having been removed behind a bank building on Main Street in Little Falls.

On our trip to Hotel Yates in Syracuse, we encountered very little opposition. After a parade through the city streets and the invasion of the theatre we headed for the hotel to enjoy our banquet. We were about to leave when a small group of sophomores burst into the room, and, before being ejected, broke over $100 worth of furniture and dishes. I must admit, there was an Irish pair, Kelly and Monoghan, doubtless a miniature unit of the early IRA, who, in those days before the invention of RAID, were more persistently tormenting than most members of their class.

I mention these few instances of hazing and student rivalry because they added "color" to our lives. They were outlets for lively energetic young men ordinarily confined to the geographic limits of the Hill and Clinton. We entertained ourselves. There were occasional trips to Utica or Syracuse but these forays took some planning. There were few if any student cars. Today's students have their own automobiles or modern means of quick transportation. They can have dinner on the Hill, go to Syracuse, or more distant points for a date, and be back in the same evening. Their interests and activities can be less concentrated and more varied. These may be some of the reasons why hazing and college pranks such as I have described, have about disappeared. Perhaps today's students are more sophisticated. But they missed a lot of fun.

We have been disturbed during the last decade by a nationwide surge of student riots, killing and revolts against authority and against the system. Hamilton, I am glad to hear, had only mild instances of this unrest. We should commend the students and the present administration, for sane thinking and successful leadership during the anxious period. We are apt to say, "This never happened while we were at Hamilton." But we did have a college revolt.

The McKinney Prize Speaking competition, a Hamilton tradition, had been held in the village of Clinton, attendance being voluntary. After weeks of preparation the contestants would find themselves speaking to a very small audience. Dr. Ferry decided to move it to the Chapel and to require all students to attend. There was open revolt. Students protested by to no avail.

At eight o'clock Professor "Cal" Lewis was seated on the Chapel platform, his face white with anger or fear. The nervous contestants, attired in tuxedos, were seated on the front pew. A few faculty members and their families, and friends of the speakers, were seated in the balcony. There were no students. As the bell began to toll, there were from a distance, loud and discordant noises from horns, drums, dishpans and Klaxons, all mingled with wild cheering. The bedlam came nearer and soon, into the Chapel, marched the student body, still beating drums and blowing horns. Finally, all were seated. Professor Lewis introduced the first speaker. Almost immediately an alarm clock went off in the balcony. For two hours alarm clocks were ringing under the seats on the main floor. My one satisfaction, as a contestant, was to collect a supply of alarm clocks, which I later sold back to students at a reasonable price. The significance of the whole affair is that the students revolted and had fun doing it. There was no violence and hate.

There were other evidences of healthy dissent. The Hamilton Literary Magazine and the newspaper Hamilton Life, offered many suggestions for change. This is an excerpt from an editorial on chapel services:

It may surprise some people to learn that the students of Hamilton College are sufficiently interested in Chapel services to be dissatisfied with our present arrangements…There seems to be a reason that prompts the undergraduate to look on morning chapel as an alarm clock and Sunday chapel a bore. There seems to be a desire for a satisfying religious service. …The service is simple and sufficient but the manner of delivery is not satisfactory we fear. Speaking destructively the Bible reading, done by alternating professors, is generally uninspired; the hymns are often beyond the student voices; the prayers, extempore or read, are merely no words.


Chapel and Sunday service attendance is no longer required. There is a weekday assembly on Monday for the announcements of College activities. Attendance at the Sunday service is not compulsory. I understand attendance has improved during the last four years.

Another editorial dealt with sub-freshmen and rushing. It suggested the haphazard rush of the first few days of college was not conducive to careful selections by the fraternities and certainly provide little opportunity for the new freshman to make a wise decision regarding his fraternity choice. Of course, the rushing system has been completely changed allowing more time for more careful selection. This, I feel confident, is a good change.

There was an article titled "Shall We Have Coaches?" At the time that probably seemed to me to be a ridiculous suggestion. But today, when major college and universities have developed football to the point of being a professional activity with 99 percent of the student body not allowed to participate in varsity competition, this idea seems worthy of consideration. Many colleges have football clubs today where the game is played for the game's sake. Some clubs have no coaches. The idea had some merit.

An article on "College Men" quoted Dr. Ferry on the purpose of Hamilton. He said a Hamilton man received a liberal arts education, which helped him to adjust quickly to whatever ideas, new processes or facts faced him. The broad liberal training has demonstrated its value in the past, which is the reason for its high rank among colleges throughout the country.

My conclusion is that most of the changes proposed by students of our generation have been accepted into the college program of today. Today, college administration is listening to the youth. I believe this is a definite advance in higher education.

There were two other noteworthy articles I should mention. One was far-sighted, dealing with a problem that would face all of us after leaving college. The title: "On Choosing a Wife." The author: Dick Fowler. The other was titled "Confessions of a Low Brow," by Leight Seaver.

"Red" Smith, the famous sports columnist, made the profound observation that it seemed the older a man became the faster he could run when he was 16. I think we all tend to glamorize and exaggerate our achievements as we look back over 50 years.

But one of our members, Watson Thompson, "can prove how fast we could run." "Tommy" held the College's records in the two mile, one mile and half mile. The half-mile record remained until 1970 — 47 years. The Hamilton Alumni Review issue of June 1971, erroneously reported the record was established by Wallace Thompson, 1926. Tommy won a second place in the Penn Relays and was a member of the first recognized U.S. amateur hockey team. Many other members of the class had successful records as athletes. Several of them are attending this reunion. I mention "Tommy" because his athletic activities took him and his reputation beyond the restricted ring of colleges with whom Hamilton usually competed. It also corrects the error in the Alumni Review.

Our athletic record was good considering the sizes of other colleges and universities with whom we competed. I quote from an article in Hamilton Literary Magazine:

Mr. Prettyman has gathered some interesting statistics relative to the physical well-being of the undergraduates. The figures which he has, are, unfortunately, for the calendar year rather than for the college year. We might start off with the familiar title "Did You Know That." As a matter of fact did you realize that 69 percent of the students in the three higher classes took part in some sport during the calendar year which began January 1922? Many of those took part in one sport, fewer in two sports, and a couple of handfuls in three. Forty-six percent of the college body are active throughout the year on varsity squads. Out of the 317 there were 273 who were available for athletics. The remainder were either excused, incapacitated, or ineligible.

Then there were some facts about the average success of Hamilton teams. During the same calendar year to which the preceding statistics apply, our team played against 21 colleges and universities and against three athletic clubs. Of these games, 27 were won, 25 were lost, and four were tied.

The editorial by Mr. Prettyman continues with a plea for a new gymnasium mentioning the various inadequacies of the existing facilities. The new gymnasium is now a reality.

In our senior year, the leadership in student activity, naturally, had passed into our hands. Our debate team, with four competitions, was captained by Carlyle Yates. The president and vice president of the Y.M.C.A. were Hawley Field and Bill Fenn. The Music Clubs with Hawley Fitch as leader, and managed by Carlyle Yates, had six concerts and an Easter trip taking them to the New York area. The Charlatans, headed by William Baer and managed by Virgil DeWitt, presented seven plays. Hamilton Life had Leighton Seaver as editor and Burt Price as manager. Fred Palmer was editor-in-chief of the Hamilton Literary Magazine and the Royal Gaboon with Robert Fowler as manager.

John Coe emerged as our valedictorian. I don't think he really emerged. He was there throughout our four years in College. Ed Stuart was salutatorian. Five others, also, were elected to PBK – Oscar Barck, William Fenn, Louis George, Arthur Warren and Carlyle Yates.

Our athletic teams were captained and managed by the following:
Baseball – Capt. Richard Shultz; Mgr. Donald Jones
Basketball – Capt. Maynard Garner; Mgr. Jack Fitzgerald
Football – Capt. Carl Warren; Mgr. Fred Weld
Hockey – Capt. Watson Thompson; Mgr. Louis George
Soccer – Capt. Fred Palmer
Tennis – Capt. Jack Fitzgerald
Track – Capt. Mynderse Van Hoeson; Mgr. Howard Cannon
Cross Country – Capt. Watson Thompson

Richard Fowler, because of his exceptional leadership, had captained the football team during his junior year.

Fourteen of those whose names are mentioned here are for our half-century reunion.

There were 30 faculty members. "Baldy" Wood, "Stink" Saunders, "Flatfoot" Carruth, "Rocks" Dale, "Super," "Bill Shep," "Snitzy" Bryant, and so on — almost every member had a nickname. They were not evidence of disrespect but, in some cases, terms of affection. We had a fine faculty of well-trained and conscientious scholars to guide us in safe academic paths. We didn't always follow. But our instruction was of excellent quality in most classrooms.

Fifty years is a long time. We still have 46 names on our class list, 22 not able to be with us. I am sure, as we come together here to renew our bonds of friendship, our gladness is mixed with solemn memories for those who have passed the final test and gone on before. The sense of loss intensifies our appreciation of being here with each other.

What has happened to us since leaving Hamilton? Seven have earned doctor of philosophy degrees, nine have master's degrees. We have three physicians, eight lawyers, 10 in education — college, public and private school — with administrators, specialists and teachers in the group. We were in merchandising, manufacturing, government service, communications service, publishing and public relations. Two of our members are clergymen. We also have an artist and an author. Retirement has placed most of us on the sidelines where we can now enjoy the things we always wanted to do. Success is the achievement of something desired. I am sure, by this standard, all of us have been successful in making good use of our talents.

The vocation often leads one to special accomplishments extending beyond the office and into the community, the state and the nation. One of us has been as alumni and charter trustee of Hamilton. One is in Who's Who in America, other recognition includes a district governor of Rotary International, and several of us are on governor-appointed state committees and commissions. Three are presidents of their business organizations. One was, for five years, chairman of the New York State Higher Education Assistance Corporation. A teacher wrote textbooks in his own field. Another is a nationally recognized authority on audio-visual education. One has developed the first art museum in Haiti, and so I could go on listing other special honors achieved by the members of this group. Can I claim that one of our most precious honors is being a member of the Class of1923 at Hamilton College?

Several of us have sons who are graduates of Hamilton. It is a deep satisfaction to me to have my son, John, graduated with the Class of 1950 and his son, David, who is about to receive his diploma as a member of this year's class.

As we look back over the 50 years, I think we are glad we came to Hamilton. We believe we had good basic training for our various vocations and special interests. We accept the fact that the College has changed and grown larger. We still believe Hamilton to be one of the finest colleges, and we believe there is a Hamilton Spirit of "undefinable and mysterious quality…which has persisted through many changing years…" and, which will persist through the years to come.