For Immediate Release
October 2, 2009
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Maryland Agricultural College Opens Its Doors: October 5, 1859
By Patrick G. O'Shea
The description below of the events of opening day is drawn largely from reports published on October 6 in two Baltimore newspapers, The Daily Baltimore Republican and The Sun.
The opening ceremonies were lavish, and many luminaries of the time attended, including: Joseph Henry, the celebrated scientist and founding Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, who was the keynote speaker; Jacob Thompson, U.S. Secretary of the Interior; James Moore Wayne, Associate Justice of U.S. Supreme Court; Thomas Kirkpatrick, Inspector of Agricultural Schools in Ireland; William Pinkney, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC, William W. Corcoran, the Washington banker and philanthropist, after whom the Corcoran Gallery of Art is named; and Charles Benedict Calvert, founder of the College, and President of the Board of Trustees.
Charles Calvert was a descendant of the 1st Lord Baltimore, who founded the Maryland Colony. Calvert was owner of Riversdale Plantation, and had sold a part of it for the construction of the College. Being a progressive farmer, he believed in a scientific approach to agriculture, and was a founding member and president of the Maryland Agricultural Society.
The Facilities and Grounds
The main building which was the location of the opening ceremonies was approximately where LeFrak Hall stands today. "The College building is of brick, painted a drab color, one hundred and twenty feet in length, fifty-four feet in width, five stories high, with kitchen, dining room, panty, wash room... in the basement, together with eight lecture and class rooms on the principal floor, and dormitories in the upper stories sufficient for the comfortable accommodation of two hundred students, and is so constructed as to insure the most perfect ventilation, and to afford every facility for heating all parts of it by hot water or heated air."
The facilities were excellent for the time, giving "evidence of a determination on the part of the Board of Managers to spare no pains nor stop at no difficulties in making the College as it will be, and as it ought to be, an honor and ornament to the State."1 The students and faculty would experience luxuries found in few homes of the time: piped hot water, iron bath tubs, and gas-fired central heating and lighting. The gas was manufactured on-site from coal using an innovative apparatus supplied by the "Maryland Portable Gas Company." A similar apparatus was later installed in President Lincoln's summer house at the Old Soldier's Home. Fresh water was pumped up the hill from Paint Branch Creek near Baltimore Avenue, likely near the current main entrance at Campus Drive.
Not surprisingly, the thirty or so students were delighted with their new school: "They all seemed to be exceedingly well pleased with their quarters, and appeared to enjoy the prospect of becoming farmers exceedingly." 1
Calvert and the Trustees aimed to have an institution that put agricultural education on a scientific basis, and to have agricultural research play an important role in the College. In 1858, Calvert noted: "We expect to teach everything that is taught in the best Universities and in addition to those branches we shall require every student to learn Scientific and practical agriculture and mechanics...... in truth every thing that will make the student a practical and scientific man...We desire to have an Institution superior to any other."
To that end, the Faculty was "composed of some of the most learned and scientific gentlemen in the State."1 The leading light among them was the still-unaware Benjamin Hallowell who was a proponent of scientific agriculture, and in addition to being President was to be appointed as Professor of Moral and Mental Philosophy, History and English Literature. According to the 1859 course catalog, there were three other faculty members.
It would seem that they were somewhat more interdisciplinary than is typical of their modern counterparts: George C. Schaeffer, A.M., M.D., Professor of the Science of Agriculture, including chemistry and its application to the arts, geology and mineralogy; H. D. Gough, A.B., Professor of the Exact Sciences, including mathematics, pure and mixed; surveying, mensuration, engineering and construction, mechanics and astronomy; and Battista Lorino, L.L.D., Professor of Ancient and Modern Languages, including Latin, Greek, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
There were two other faculty positions that remained to be filled, that of Physiology, Comparative Anatomy and Veterinary Surgery, and that of Botany, Entomology and Ornithology.
The Opening Exercises
"At 12 o'clock the friends and patrons of the College, numbering some three hundred ladies and gentlemen, were summoned to the principal lecture room, and after being seated, Mr. Calvert announced the Rev. Dr. Pinkney, of Washington, who opened the exercises with an appropriate prayer, in which he asked the blessing of the Almighty upon the Institution, its Professors, its pupils, and its purposes."
Dr. Thomas Kirkpatrick, who had traveled all the way from Ireland, was an expert in practical agricultural science and education. Kirkpatrick's theme fit perfectly into the planned education and research program for the College. He told the audience how the modern scientific approach to agriculture and agricultural education had been successful in helping Ireland recover from the disastrous potato famine of a decade earlier.
Jacob Thompson, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, had agreed to attend the event on condition that he not be asked to make a speech. Calvert, however, called on him to speak anyway, and Secretary Thompson gave a rambling speech on what he thought was proper for the young men of the College to learn. It is clear from remarks he made near the end of his speech that he was very much old-school in his thinking, and far from the modernist approach advocated by other speakers. The reporter from The Daily Baltimore Republican paraphrased Thompson's remarks:
"The speaker, as a Southern man, thought the calling of a planter was the highest on God's earth. If he has slaves he must influence them by example. The slaves on a plantation have no will but "master's." The master must therefore be a good man, else his slaves will be bad. What a potent influence owners wielded in the destinies of their slaves! How great was his influence for virtue or vice!"
Within fourteen months, with the war clouds gathering, Jacob Thompson sided with the Confederacy and resigned as Secretary of the Interior. One of the attending dignitaries, Supreme Court Associate Justice James Wayne, had concurred in the infamous pro-slavery Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857. Yet, unlike other southern justices, Wayne remained on the court throughout the Civil War, and was denounced in the South as a traitor to the Confederacy.
Charles Benedict Calvert embodied the conflict that divided both Maryland and the Nation. He was elected to Congress in 1860 has a member of the Unionist Party, a short-lived party that advocated policies that were both pro-Union yet tolerant of slavery. Calvert and the Trustees chose as President of the College Benjamin Hallowell, a Quaker and abolitionist, who agreed to serve on condition that the College not use slave labor; a condition that Calvert and the Trustees accepted.
Hallowell, evidently, was not happy in his new position. He claimed the boys gave him a headache, and he resigned after one month of service as President. In December, 1859, Hallowell visited Joseph Henry and confided in him that the Trustees had "commenced before they were ready, and that they had very crude ideas as to what was proper to be done." Henry expressed a desire to help the College establish a proper curriculum; however, there is no evidence that he ever acted on this in any meaningful way.
By the fall of 1860, of the original faculty members only the language teacher Battista Lorino remained. Four new faculty members had been hired, and John M. Colby, a local school principal had been appointed President.
In spite of Calvert's lofty goals for the College, it was still not clear to others whether its purpose was to train the boys to be simply good farmers or to be scientifically educated citizens. The concept of the type of institution that Calvert planned was novel in America; therefore, it is not surprising that the connection between practical education and scientific research was not appreciated by all. The idea of a research university in America would not begin to mature until the opening of The Johns Hopkins University nearly seventeen years later.
Calvert passed away in May 1864. His little college on the hill struggled on, and began its ascent, as was his dream, to its present place amongst the great research universities of the world.
A Celebration 150 Years in the Making
Keeping the Promise Documents 150 years
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