Chapter 14: Rhees of Rochester
On May 18, 1860, the National Republican Convention, meeting in the Wigwam at Chicago, nominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency of the United States amidst tempestuous excitement, and in due course the "rail-splitter" took up residence in the White House. Three months before the nomination, on February 8, a son arrived in the household of a young Windy City merchant, John E. Rhees. Family tradition dictated that the child should bear the name of Benjamin Rush, in remembrance of the eminent Philadelphia physician, humanitarian, and signer of the Declaration of Independence; while a young man, Rhees dropped the Benjamin. In the fullness of time he moved into the house of the U. of R. President, an office he occupied with singular distinction for thirty-five years, matching the time-span in fact of Martin B. Anderson.
The Rochester career of Rhees has been neatly summed up this way: "The first ten years were the worst; the next ten mildly encouraging. Only in his third decade did things happen in a big way. Culmination came in the last five years." Perhaps the most striking trait of Rhees, who in the early phase of his Rochester tenure suggested "the old-time" academic executive, was his capacity to grow as the institution over which he presided evolved. At every turn he displayed inner resources of leadership, perseverance, tact, and, not least, massive patience.
Starting off at a slow tempo, the long Rhees administration witnessed the transit of what had been a good, regional college into an authentic university. Professional schools of music and medicine were established, more than mere beginnings were achieved in preparing men and women for academic careers in other departments of knowledge, a wholly new college for men was built, and collateral agencies of higher learning came into being--an Extension Division, a Summer Session, an Institute of Applied Optics.
Financial resources, buildings and equipment, students and teachers increased fabulously as the intellectual and social values of the historic college merged with the more advanced, the maturer commitments of a university. A subtle shift in the educational climate, moreover, not fully comprehended even by those who lived through the transformation; swept across the enclave of learning beside the Genesee.
Like William Rainey Harper at Chicago, Rush Rhees presided over the building of a major educational empire, though less consciously, no doubt, and without the boldness and design of his illustrious counterpart in the Middle West. Taking into account the several University campuses from the vantage point of the 1960's, the University structures, the teeming faculties and student throngs, and so many other things that Rhees scarcely dreamed of, the temptation is strong to repeat: "si monumentum requiris circumspice." 1
Although born in the Middle West, Rhees spent his early years in the East, New England principally. At the age of two, his widowed mother took him to live with relatives in what became a section of Brooklyn and subsequently in Plainfield, New Jersey. The boy grew up in a distinctly orthodox religious environment, and his family, whether in Europe or America, had long participated actively in church affairs. One relative, Morgan John Rhees, Jr., a Baptist minister, had been given a doctorate of divinity by the infant U. of R., along with twenty other men honored in 1852. An uncle, Charles W. McCutchen, whom Rhees learned to regard as his best friend and who accepted election as a Rochester trustee, lent assistance during school days and at Amherst College.
As was true of Presidents Anderson and Hill earlier and of Alan of Valentine later, Rhees obtained his undergraduate training at a relatively small college. Amherst in his time enrolled approximately 300 students, instructed by a score of teachers, few of them concerned with original research and creative writing. Yet, then as now, Amherst was doubtless one of the leading small colleges in the country, a stronghold of classical and liberalizing learning, which prided itself on commitment to the inculcation of the Christian virtues and a Christian interpretation of the good life. Teachers strove to impart concern for learning, to extend the ability of their charges to keep on learning, and to prepare them for public service, though the rooted tradition of training prospective preachers was waning. Close, friendly relations prevailed between professors and the taught.
Amherst's president, Julius H. Seelye, pulpit personality and man of affairs as well as academic executive, was known as an austere, reserved person, who ran a tight ship as befitted an "old-time" college administrator. Nevertheless, he allowed professors and students alike a broad measure of independence and freedom. It is tempting to wonder whether Rhees in the first stage of his Rochester career patterned himself, consciously or otherwise, upon the Amherst executive. Be that as it may, three inspirational teachers made a deep and enduring impression upon the plastic mind of Rhees: Charles E. Garman, philosopher, William S. Tyler, an older and meticulously thorough Greek master, and the mathematician William C. Esty, whom Rhees assisted for two years after earning, a B.A. 2
College classmates in later years remembered Rhees as a rather shy, dignified youth, studious, carrying off coveted prizes and winning election to Phi Beta Kappa. No athlete and not especially fond of lighter, extracurricular affairs, he nonetheless joined Alpha Delta Phi and cherished affection for the fraternity throughout his life. He laid great store on getting back to the reunions of his class of 1883--and a blue-ribbon group it was--in which he had intimate friends. And soon after he accepted the Rochester post his Alma Mater conferred (1900) an honorary doctorate of laws upon him. Even as the U. of R. had given Professor and later President George E. Olds to Amherst, so the New England institution made ample compensation in the person of Rush Rhees.
Precisely when Rhees decided upon the ministry as a vocation cannot be determined. For two years after graduation, as noted, he tried his fortunes teaching mathematics and came off well. But in 1885 he started professional preparation for the pulpit at the highly regarded Congregational Theological School in Hartford, Connecticut; Amherst acquaintances already there may have influenced his decision to matriculate at Hartford. Under able professors, Rhees studied the languages of the Bible, systematic theology, and the history of Christianity and the Christian Church, with especial attention to the New Testament. He confirmed in graduate work the reputation for intellectual ability that he established at Amherst. "We were proud of him as the best man in our class," a fellow student has written, "strong in mind, radiant in spirit, sweet and friendly in heart." In the summer months Rhees gained practical experience in preaching by filling pulpits in New England village churches.
Upon completion of his course at Hartford, the young theologian spent several months in 1888 at the University of Berlin, the foremost shrine, of learning and research in the world, enlarging his command of the German language and attending lectures. The experience in Germany accentuated his interest in the scholarly treatment of Christianity as distinguished from the sort of exposition suitable for a general church audience.
Returning to America, Rhees was ordained a Baptist clergyman and for three years ministered to a congregation in the small manufacturing and shipping town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Parishioners remembered that in sermons their preacher indulged in "long complex sentences [that] always came out triumphantly to a grammatical conclusion;" that habit remained typical of the man in public speaking. During leisure hours Rhees applied himself assiduously to study of the New Testament and thus shaped his personal conception of Christianity more positively. "Religion in his view was not a set of opinions," his biographer tells us, "but a way of life...The Supreme Reality is also the Highest Good...Not only as a minister but as a man... Rush Rhees's religion was himself. In that Supreme Reality of which he was always a part and often aware, he lived and moved and had his being...."
To Rochester undergraduates Rhees once declared, "I desire... to confess to you afresh my conviction of the supreme worth and strength and satisfaction which are to be found by any life, whose faith lays hold of God as the Father... and goes out to Jesus Christ... as the Master and Lord of our hearts...." Of Rhees it could be said, as he himself said of another, "His religious thought and feeling were the breath of his life.... They never obtruded on his friends' attention, because they were so manifest that there was no escaping them..., proving how fully one can be in the world and not of it."
His favorite Biblical text--in maturity leastwise--was "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might"! ( Ecclesiastes 9:10)--a verse, parenthetically, which the German statesman Prince Otto von Bismarck ordered to be carved over his grave. Notwithstanding his allegiance to the Baptist denomination--maybe because of just that--he was strongly opposed to a version of the Scriptures in which "emerse" replaced "baptise." 3
At the age of thirty-two Rhees stepped out of the pulpit into the classroom. From 1892 to 1900 he offered instruction in the New Testament--and occasionally in the German language for the sheer pleasure it afforded him--at the Newton (Massachusetts) Theological Institution. It was the oldest Baptist center of high-standing in America for educating preachers, and there Martin B. Anderson, it may be recalled, spent an unhappy, unrewarding year. Newton was known for receptivity to evolutionary interpretations of historic Christianity, which appealed to Rhees; on the other side, many things about the school he deplored and, rather brashly since he was the youngest among the teachers, he expressed his criticisms freely. Throughout the Newton years he pursued the even tenor of bachelorhood, and in that state had to be content with a smaller salary than his married colleagues.
In the classroom, the young professor lectured on the results of his personal researches, stressing the historical approach to the Christian faith. Ordinarily, a dialogue with the learners followed a lecture; some students were upset by the teacher's deviations from conventional interpretations. It was the custom of the master to lift discussions on controversial issues "above the level of orthodoxy or heresy into the region of spiritual aspiration and endeavor." Outside the lecture room, Rhees cultivated companionable ties with students, in the Amherst tradition, and they knew him as a kindly, considerate person. Newton's president, Alvah Hovey, summed up the professor as "an accurate scholar, a stimulating, inspiring, and exacting teacher," equipped with "a logical mind and an active but chastened imagination." One summer Rhees returned to the Berlin fount of learning and in other years he lectured at the University of Chicago or at the Chautauqua (New York) Summer Institute.
Rhees wove materials that he had used in instruction into the only book he ever completed, The Life of Jesus of Nazareth, which came off the Scribner press in the year that Rhees entered upon his labors at Rochester. For the leitmotiv of the publication, the author borrowed the quotation "the demand for an intelligent faith, which shall transcend but shall not despise knowledge, or neglect to have a knowledge to transcend." Subtitled, A Study, the book must have been a revelation, a shock to readers unfamiliar with scholarly writing in Europe on the historicity of Jesus. A British reviewer praised the clarity of style and the evident scholarship, but chided the author for lack of originality and vacillation in interpretation. The Life of Jesus served as a manual for instruction at the U. of R. and elsewhere and also came out in a Japanese translation.
At the Newton Institution, Rhees carried on studies for a companion Life of Paul, which he intended to finish for publication after he settled in Rochester; but leisure was never sufficient to bring the work to fruition. Before assuming the presidency--and afterward--Rhees prepared reviews on theological works and a large array of articles on religious and educational themes. (For a chapter contributed to The Bible as Literature (c. 1896), his royalties one year amounted to $1.40.) More than a score of addresses and sermons that he delivered appeared in print; all shed meaningful light on the mind and tastes of the author.
Colleagues and cultivated Newtonians learned to like the capable young scholar; membership in a discussion club in which papers were read and then dissected kept Rhees in touch with men outside of the little and circumscribed academic fellowship. On rare occasions, he turned jolly at a social gathering, but ordinarily he favored "an air of aloofness and an incisive manner of speech that rather kept people at a distance.... " In the work of the Newton Baptist church, he took an active part. By way of diversion, he indulged in horseback riding, bicycling, and tried his luck at golf; and he acquired a liking for good music that persisted.
To the considerable surprise of Newton acquaintances and friends, in the spring of 1899, Rhees, then thirty-nine, revealed his engagement to Harriet C. Seelye of Northampton, Massachusetts, daughter of the president of Smith College. Meeting two years, before, they discovered that they shared many intellectual and cultural interests and religious inheritances, "mellowed by tolerance and humor." At Northampton on July 6, 1899, the professor married the president's daughter, and that selfsame day the trustees of the U. of R. formally invited him to assume the executive chair.
For the wisdom of his father-in-law, L. Clark Seelye, Rhees had profound respect, and he delighted to recite a favorite verse of the Smith administrator:
Some of our ills we have cured;
The rest we have somehow survived;
But what terrible woes we've endured
From those that never arrived.
When in 1900 Rhees departed from the Newton School, a mourning student clothed his grief in a jingle, reading in part,
Of our recent past, the feature
Is the work of one great teacher;
He can load and prime a preacher;
Can't he, boys?
That he goes, we're all regretting.
From our sky a star is setting,
And he goes without our letting,
Don't he, boys?
Rochester, gear up your sprocket,
Pour the money in his pocket,
Trim your ship, he'll never dock it,
Will he, boys ? 4
Not a disaster, the four-year presidential interregnum at Rochester meant, however, an interlude of drift. Hill's short but creative administration imparted momentum that together with the steady guidance of Professors Lattimore and Burton carried the college along while the search for a new chief proceeded. At no point, it appears, were suggestions on candidates solicited from faculty men.
While visiting in New England, Mrs. Joseph T. Alling of Rochester, wife of an influential University trustee, made the acquaintance of Rhees and was favorably impressed by him; she learned, too, that he might be interested in the executive chair at Rochester. This information was transmitted to the trustees who, early in 1899, initiated exploratory overtures with Rhees. Seelye of Smith strongly supported the candidacy of his prospective son-in-law. Trustee Rufus A. Sibley, a Rochester merchant-prince and chairman of the committee to find a president, conferred at length with the Newton professor, and thereafter assured the Board that he was the right man for the vacancy. Rhees came to look upon Sibley as "my valued friend and counsellor," and once reminded him that he and Trustee Lewis P. Ross were principally responsible "for my being in Rochester."
To obtain first-hand-knowledge of the U. of R. and to talk the situation over with trustees, Rhees visited the Flower City. The upshot of it all was a unanimous call by the corporation to undertake the Rochester challenge.
What qualifications in reality did Rhees possess for the presidency? Certainly he had a deep interest in higher education, a widening reputation for scholarship, and familiarity with the ways and problems of the small college. Certainly his general attainments and personal character satisfied exacting tests. Then, too, he was a Baptist minister, an asset, since under the terms of the $20,000 Burbank gift of 1855, whose income helped to pay the salary of the president, the fund would revert to the Burbank heirs if a non-Baptist were elected. He, was known, moreover, as a ready and effective speaker in public and as a person who had achieved a smooth rapport with colleagues and students. His supreme deficiency, it was evident, was inexperience as an administrator, but the trustees were willing to gamble on his ability to handle executive tasks.
As frequently happens in matters of this sort, Rhees resembled the proverbial donkey standing between two bundles of hay. The prospect of a rewarding and tranquil life of teaching and writing at Newton had to be weighed and balanced against the opportunities--and attendant risks--of administrator-in-chief of a regional college dwarfed by the community in which it was located. Carefully, cautiously, conscientiously, Rhees, his bride, and perhaps her father, debated the alternatives and in the end the scales tilted to the side of Rochester, provided the corporation would acquiesce in several conditions.
First, the trustees would have to elect the president to their Board and pledge to move promptly and energetically to enlarge the income-yielding resources of the college. Second, they must agree to the postponement of his presence in Rochester until July of 1900 so that he might round off his work at the Newton Institution. Third, instead of offering instruction in moral and intellectual philosophy as his predecessors had done, he would teach Biblical literature. Finally, the salary should be set at $4,000 a year, the presidential residence should be remodeled or a new one built, and funds should be appropriated for a part-time secretary. To these several terms the corporation agreed on July 6, 1899, and eighteen days later Rhees penned his formal acceptance. 5
During his final year at Newton, Rhees enhanced his knowledge of U. of R. history and several times journeyed to Rochester for conferences. To a Campus editor who met him, the president-elect seemed an individual of "quiet reserve, kindly eye, quick perception," and he displayed "aptness in saying the fitting thing." The Interpres of 1900, dedicated to Rhees, carried his photograph and a short biographical sketch; by way of after-thought the publication claimed "a copyright on all puns about our new president, such as the one about having a 'rush' in the college halls every day, and the common occurrence of rush meetings, and that our president is a rheesonable man and also the one about Rush rheeservoir. "
Speaking to the Rochester alumni in New York City, the President-elect remarked upon the value of college traditions, the farseeing founding-fathers and the able professors at the college, and indicated that he would welcome constructive suggestions for the betterment of the institution. Audience response was enthusiastic. It has previously been noted that instead of appearing in person at the University semi-centennial jubilee in June of 1900, Rhees sent a glowing letter that was read for him. Three months later the Rheeses settled in the renovated executive residence, which would be their home for thirty-two years.
On land to the west of the house livestock grazed blissfully, potatoes were grown, and neighborhood boys had a baseball diamond. Across University Avenue, tennis matches were played until the grounds were converted into a skating rink. "It takes a man a surprisingly short time," Rhees was soon and felicitously telling an audience, "to take root in that good [Flower City] soil. The general quality of its air and sunshine seems to have begotten a like quality in the hearts of Rochester folk, so that the stranger is impressed first of all with the rare quality of Rochester hospitality." 6
Short in stature, well-knit, and robust, Rhees came to Rochester with a mustache on his lip and a twinkle in his blue eyes and thus he remained to the end of his years, except for growing stouter and gray. To the last, his eyes were "intolerant of glasses except for close work." Once firmly rooted, he turned down invitations--or preludes to invitations--to take a professorship at the esteemed Divinity School of the University of Chicago, or to head Amherst College, the University of Nebraska, or New York University, or to serve as Commissioner of Education of New York State. 7
On the afternoon of Thursday, October 11, 1900, the induction of Rush Rhees took place in the brand new Alumni Gymnasium, which was tastefully decorated with dandelion yellow for the historic ceremony. Thither from Anderson Hall a colorful academic procession wended its way, undergraduates lining the pavement with a small contingent of "young women to the westward." Enfeebled Trustee President Edward Mott Moore graced the dais, but Secretary Charles M. Williams acted as master of ceremonies; flanking the Board of Trustees was an array of august college and university executives. Faculty and students, alumni, and citizens crowded the hall almost to the point of suffocation. Musical clubs rendered choice selections.
Following an invocation, Williams briefly recounted the story of the University, reminding the audience that never before had a president been installed on the Prince Street grounds. Three of the country's most distinguished academic executives shared in the speechmaking: Seth Low of Columbia University, William R. Harper of the University of Chicago, and L. Clark Seelye of Smith College, Rhees' father-in-law, whose presence may well have been a reminder that Rochester in the future would vie with Northampton in the education of women.
Addressing himself to "The City and the University," Low enjoined the U. of R. authorities to decide whether the institution should remain a college or expand into a university in which specialists would be trained. He summoned the community to support the college and the college in turn enrich the life of the Flower City. Harper considered "The College Officer and the College Student," emphasizing the general relation of a president to the students, and the links of the professors, who were merely more experienced, more mature learners, to the younger learners. Only age differentials separated the several segments of a unified brotherhood of scholarship, Harper contended.
"The Limitations of the Power of the College President" served Seelye as a theme. The supreme authority in the academic community, the trustees, should rely upon the president in the selection and retention of teachers, but the faculty should in fact determine the fundamental character of the college, and should be treated as a parliamentary body. Arguing that persuasion worked better than coercion, Seelye vigorously denounced presidential authoritarianism in dealings with the professors. Instead of dictating to undergraduates, moreover, the chief executive should allow them a broad measure of self-government, though reserving to himself the power of veto.
Thereafter, Williams ceremonially entrusted the original charter of the University, its seal, and the keys to its buildings to Rhees. This pleasant ritual was simply preface, of course, to the inaugural address on "The Modernizing of Liberal Culture," Rhees' confession of educational faith and academic hope. After pledging to promote the usefulness of the University in every feasible way, the President swiftly surveyed the innovations that had recently come over collegiate teaching and training in the United States. Not only did the times call imperiously for an enriched curriculum, but they demanded enlarged physical facilities and higher standards of undergraduate performance. Since student interest in the classics of Greece and Rome had declined precipitously, other branches of knowledge would have to furnish the intellectual nourishment and wisdom the ancient literatures had traditionally afforded. Besides, historical learning should be broadened to embrace all facets of the thought and activity of man in the past, and aesthetics and religion should be taught more extensively and with greater effectiveness. Rhees also advocated that the training of collegians who intended to enter professional schools should be accelerated and that the B.S. curriculum should require more work in the natural sciences.
Turning to the Rochester community, the President remarked that public interest in the University would largely shape the future of the institution. While he emphatically repudiated self-centered provincialism, he nevertheless asserted that our "most intimate relation" must be with the home city, from which most of the undergraduates came. "It is our ambition to serve you fully," he declared, and he promised, prophetically, "as new demands arise and new resources are found... we will meet the demands most eagerly, and use the resources with the broadest wisdom we can attain." Whether by design or oversight, the President neglected to make any reference to the presence of women in the student body for the first time, which provoked resentment in passionately feminist circles and nourished the legend that the son of Amherst preferred an institution for men only.
Upon the conclusion of the "polished and scholarly" address, the audience rose en masse, cheering tumultuously and undergraduates broke out in boisterous yells (ending with one for General Elwell S. Otis, 1858, "which must have reminded that distinguished soldier of his experience with the Comanche Indians"). Singing of the Alma Mater brought the inaugural ceremonies to a close.
Social Rochester, some 800 strong, streamed to the Gymnasium in the evening for a reception for the presidential couple. Never before, it was said, had the University witnessed so brilliant a gathering. The city's finest orchestra played "not obtrusively but delightfully." For a clairvoyant newsman the events of the day marked an auspicious beginning of a new life for the University, which was bound to grow into a more potent factor in the welfare of the Genesee metropolis. 8
For Rhees the ideas and ideals of higher education set forth in his installation message were not at all rigidly cherished dogmas, but subject to revision and refinement in response to changing conditions and opportunities. He kept abreast of trends and innovations in leading colleges, read the histories of many institutions, as well as acquainting himself in greater detail with the past of the U. of R. Whenever a new venture was contemplated at Rochester, a building or an area of knowledge, "Prexy" invariably took pains to ascertain the experience at other institutions before coming to a decision.
In his basic educational philosophy the principle of service to the Rochester community was consistently held and frequently proclaimed. On one occasion, to illustrate, he expressed attachment to the "democratization of higher education" and "service to the widest circle which it is possible for the University to touch with its influence....From our...laboratories there shall continually go out an influence which shall be of service to every practical undertaking in the city" and "act as stimulus to the artisans employed in the productive industries in our neighborhood.... The University will be recognized as the servant of the whole community."
"The University aims to be a benefactor of the whole community," he reiterated about 1907, "not only by offering opportunities for higher education to its youth, but by being a center from which may flow out to all who will receive it the fullest possible helpfulness in the way of scientific knowledge, literary inspiration and civic enlightment." Intentionally or not, that approach, that accent was bound to impress industrial managers in Rochester and rally them in support of the college.
"Education serves its mission," the President explained (1911) to the undergraduates, only when it opens our eyes to see that men may not live by physical things alone and makes us see something of the triumphant righteousness of God, obedience to which is the path to eternal light. " At an alumni gathering, he acknowledged the desirability of responding to the rising demand for practical and vocational training, yet he argued that the primary obligation of the college was to send forth all-around personalities--"refined Yankees." Although prepared to welcome novel disciplines into the curriculum, Rhees steadfastly asserted the peculiar intellectual values deriving from the study of the classics.
More than once, "Prexy" manifested sympathy with suggestions to create a law school at the U. of R., and he approved preparatory training for engineers, within the context of the college. Eagerly he grasped proposals to establish professional schools in music, medicine, and optics.
Somewhat like President Anderson, Rhees opposed granting undergraduates an unfettered right to select courses of study themselves; balance in intellectual fare and distribution of studies among the grand divisions of knowledge he regarded as indispensable if narrowness and parochialism in the education of youth were to be avoided. "We do well," he put it (1910), "to emphasize the social value of college fellowship, and we do well to ask that college training have as close a bearing as may be upon the work which will engage the graduate's attention in after life; but it still remains true that the proper product of a college is scholars... men of exultant joy in the intellectual life, and of as full familiarity as may be with the attainments of the human mind throughout the ages." Intelligence tests impressed him as of dubious or only marginal worth in determining fitness for admission to college, and, apprehensive of dictation, he spoke out against subsidies to higher education by the federal government. 9
Although the bestowal of honorary degrees had a place in Rhees' educational scheme of things, he had pronounced reservations on this rooted tradition. Recognition in this form for exceptional contributions to the advancement of knowledge or to the public weal seemed to him justified and appropriate, but he disliked giving degrees to ambitious graduates or to aspiring clergymen of modest distinction or to potential benefactors.
"It might be well," he blurted out, "if the whole business of honorary degrees were sunk to the bottom of the sea... the difficulty with the honorary degree business is that in the minds of many people such degrees are regarded as a means of conferring distinction rather than recognizing it." Almost every year during his long tenure Rhees handed out honorary doctorates, and without conspicuous exception recipients were men and women of considerable attainment; doctorates in divinity were awarded much less frequently than in the past.
Up to a point, Rhees' skepticism concerning the honorary doctorate extended to the Ph.D. as a prerequisite for a teaching position. "I have never been a fetish worshipper in the matter of graduate degrees," he wrote, and he quoted approvingly a delightful rejoinder of Professor George L. Kittredge of Harvard when asked whether he was a Ph.D., "No, but I make them." 10
Concerning collegiate education for women Rhees entertained strong opinions, albeit tinctured by elements of flexibility and opportunism. It was often accounted a handicap that in the presence of the other half of society he was habitually reticent and shy. Deep down the President favored a coordinate college on the general pattern of Radcliffe at Harvard, say, or Barnard at Columbia; even more desirable from his angle of vision would be a more or less independent, a distinct college for women. In point of fact his administration saw the application of both of these formulae, but the separation of the undergraduate men and women ceased a generation after he retired from the academic stage.
When it was learned in 1909 that Wesleyan had voted to abandon a lengthy experiment in coeducation, Rhees let it be known that "all care has been given" to avoid at the U. of R. the kind of "unworthy developments" that had troubled the banks of the Connecticut. By and large, Rochester men were gentlemen, the President said, who would not tolerate the rudeness and discourtesy sometimes shown at other coeducational institutions. Yet, since women had "distinct and in some particulars quite different interests, aims, and traditions," he welcomed signs of collegiate separatism. Ideally, the U. of R., he thought, should recognize that two categories of students existed and they should have "coordinate rights" with comparable facilities. "My interest in coeducation is exclusively practical and not theoretical," he declared, and proceeded to explain that practicality meant furnishing higher learning for able and ambitious young women of limited financial resources in the metropolitan Rochester area alone. 11
At the outset of his Rochester career, Rhees taught an elective course for Seniors on the life and teachings of Jesus and a second on the life of the Apostle Paul, neither of which attracted many students. Freshmen were required to attend a set of eight lectures on "College Ethics" given by the President, and if the regular instructor of Greek or Calculus fell ill, he was known to take over the classes. The coming of the First World War canceled an engagement to lecture at the great University of Berlin, where twice he had pursued studies.
Perpetuating a standard custom at the U. of R., Rhees frequently spoke at chapel exercises, when undergraduate attendance was obligatory or when it was not. Of the chapel talks one auditor has written, "These to me were invariably of practical value, born of a rich fruitage of spiritual experience. To me also, they had a warmth of earnestness that I have ever since valued. He was especially fine in discussing the Sermon on the Mount."
Subject matter of the homilies was by no means confined to religious or moral issues, but ranged rather over academic and definitely secular problems. For example, he might discourse on the desirability of an honor system at the college or tender paternal counsel on a phase of under-graduate living. "Gentlemen, I am passing on to you an admonition that I received in the Seminary," a student remembered the President telling a chapel audience. "Economy in your laundry bills is an expensive economy that you can not afford." Profoundly disturbed by the vicious murder of a Negro at Coatesville, Pennsylvania, he delivered a diatribe against mob violence and urged the necessity of respect for law and court processes.
An outspoken foe of "bossism" in politics, he nonetheless expressed skepticism about the virtues of direct primaries. Time and again he summoned his undergraduate hearers to ready themselves for useful participation in political and civic affairs and the doctrine he preached he practised. Experiences as delegate to a convention that revised the New York State Constitution furnished material for several chapel addresses, and, like President Anderson, Rhees reported observations on trips to the students. A visit to the South, for example, inspired a disquisition on racial dilemmas, which he felt were being mitigated by interracial committees and by increasing educational facilities for colored youth; he rendered personal assistance to institutions that enlarged Negro opportunities for mature training.
It is accurate to say that during the first quarter century of Rhees' presidency no phase of the college experience lay outside the orbit of his concern, and he made it a point to attend undergraduate functions, whenever his ever tighter schedule permitted. Commented a Campus editor in 1913, the President "has a genuine sympathy with all student activities and understands the students' point of view...The current criticism of the American college president as an autocrat is never heard in Rochester." "Whenever I had occasion to ask for his advice and counsel," another student wrote, "he never showed himself hurried... He always showed me a feeling of friendly interest, that I will ever cherish." Notwithstanding that assessment, the feeling predominated in undergraduate circles that Rhees was gruff, aloof, extremely difficult to approach. "He was nobody's confidant or father confessor," his biographer has written, "and did not care to be." Inescapably, as the U. of R. progressed from college to university status, the associations of the President with the undergraduate body diminished. Other administrative officers filled roles he vacated, and, as a rule, they, certain professors, and alumni who worked intimately on University affairs with Rhees developed an admiration and affection for him that verged on veneration.
Although not notably fond of athletics, he appreciated the value of sports for undergraduates and of intercollegiate games, albeit conducted on a high plane of amateur sportsmanship. Lecturing on "College Ethics," he reasoned (1902) that athletics helped students to study more effectively, to react quickly to expected or unexpected situations, and taught men to control their tempers and to accept reversal as well as victory.
Games with other colleges were meritorious provided they did not detract from intellectual duties and if played without any taint of professionalism or trickery. "In honest rivalry, there can also be honest fraternalism," he was wont to say; however, he thoroughly discounted the popular theory that winning teams attracted good students to an institution. Passionately sports-minded alumni sometimes quarreled with "Prexy" over policies bearing upon intercollegiate athletics--most stridently when the football eleven turned in a dismal record--but in the main the shrewd and cautious executive came out on top.
On the broad realm of extracurricular activities, the President expressed (1925) himself in this language: "...If anything is worthwhile, it is worth doing as well as enthusiasm and co-operation with good coaching can do it, whether athletics or dramatics or college journalism or musical clubs.
"In all of our consideration of this problem of student activities, three things stand out: Whatever students do in their student activities reacts on the college--for good or for ill. If the best results are to be obtained, we should and must co-operate with the students in every practicable way. In particular, whatever teaching is requisite for the successful conduct of extra-curricular activities should be the best we can command. But, most vital of all, we must loyally pursue all the time the true ideals of college sport and of the relation of student activities to education. Things are stirring in the college world in these regards, and we are sure that our alumni look to Rochester not to fall behind in pursuit of the best in this, as in all our concerns." 12
Rhees entered upon his duties at the U. of R. with a high opinion of the senior professors, and he never ceased to stress the fundamental importance of first-class quality on the instructional staff. "The great teacher is the largest asset of any college," he asserted repeatedly. When making appointments, declared (1913) the Interpres, 'Prexy' aims to secure no narrow specialists, nor mere investigators, but men of liberal training and wide sympathies; skilled in imparting knowledge and awakening enthusiasm." For top administrative and advanced faculty posts, Rhees habitually made detailed inquiries of persons best qualified to evaluate candidates and supplemented that information with recommendations of Rochester administrators and colleagues and personal interviews. On the whole, he demonstrated conspicuously good judgment in selections for highly responsible executive offices.
Generally speaking, too, he judiciously handled dilemmas involving the basic rights of teachers, and staunchly upheld the many-sided principle of academic freedom. He protested vigorously, for example, when the New York Legislature enacted (1920) a law imposing a special oath of loyalty upon teachers.
Usually Rhees presided at stated meetings of the college faculty--and later of the Eastman Music School and of the Advisory Board of the Medical School--doing so with impartiality and in good spirit. Curricular reforms and other substantial pieces of academic legislation which faculties adopted often reflected the thinking of the President, though he preferred that faculties should regard themselves as freely deliberative bodies responsible for innovations that were introduced. The counsel offered by President Seelye at the Rhees inauguration fell on receptive soil.
"Prexy" and his lady attended the larger social functions of the teaching staffs. Humor could hardly be called a hallmark of Rhees, yet at one faculty frolic featuring the Virginia Reel he remarked as the males dashed to ensnare partners that the exercise suggested "the rape of the Sabines." Many a faculty newcomer ate his first Rochester Thanksgiving Day dinner at the bounteous presidential table and then accompanied the host to a U. of R. football match. Customarily, a present from 440 University Avenue greeted the arrival of an addition to a teacher's family.
On their part, professors expressed their appreciation of the man and his accomplishments in a steady stream. Shortly after the arrival of "Mister 'Prexy,' " one teacher hailed him in verse set to the tune of "Mister Dooley. "
A burg lies on the Erie Ditch
Not far from Pittsford town,
It bears the name of Rochester
And is of vast renown.
Besides its clothes, kodak and falls
Its foremost priceless jewel
Is the institution known to all
As Mister Rhees's school.
O Mister Prexy, O Mister Prexy,
We bow the knee in homage to our Rex ;
He rules the Campus
To train and stamp us--
O Mister Prexy rexy exy ex.
Oh Prexy's face it is a sun
That warms the kidlet hearts;
His voice it is as soothing e'er
As one of mamma's tarts.
His hand is velvet to the touch,
His words point to the sky:
So if we love our Prexy dear,
You know the Rhees-on why.
To mark the return of the President from a vacation, the college faculty arranged (1913) a dinner at which Professor Morey extolled the friendliness of the leader, his good relations with his colleagues, and his executive talents; tumultuous enthusiasm attended a toast, "Hoch soll er leben!" Equal to the occasion, Rhees complimented the University on possessing so harmonious and so loyal a teaching staff. It was cheering to learn, too, that Rhees had laid down, as a condition of remaining as president, that funds should be gathered to improve faculty compensation. Subsequently, financial arrangements were made so that emeritus professors and their wives could live in assured security and dignity.
By 1925, the ex-New Testament scholar turned university executive had grown into what Professor Slater described as "a master without tyranny, a chief without enemies, a prophet honored by his own city, by his own people, in his own life...." And, on the eve of Rhees' seventieth birthday, in 1930, as he prepared to leave for a holiday, Slater, spokesman for his colleagues, lauded the President in accents that deserve repetition. "As you look back, sir, on thirty years as a college president, it must seem to you that he is a fortunate man who allies himself in early life with a cause that is bound up with youth, with growth, with the future....He works always with new and plastic materials. He keeps a youthful mind. He does not fear change, for he knows that life is change. He looks ahead....He knows that only by a sympathetic imagination can he guide their [teachers and students] energy and enthusiasm, the motive power of progress, into the paths of wisdom....We wish you a good voyage, a quiet rest, and a safe return." 13
If Rhees' relations with students, teachers, and administrative officers were remarkably cordial, his rapport with the University corporation and with Rochesterians of influence and affluence was excellent. Time and time again the trustees adopted resolutions praising the President for his work and testified their approval tangibly by increasing his salary and voting him perquisites--in the form of a motorcar and chauffeur, for instance. Equally, he came off handsomely in dealings with the educational authorities of New York State and with the directors of large philanthropic foundations. Deliberate in all things that mattered, judicial in temperament, Rhees habitually displayed the personal effectiveness and quiet dignity that distinguish authentic leadership.
Unproved as a money-raiser before coming to Rochester, his success in this phase of University affairs placed him among the elite of academic executives of his generation. Not at all unique, he profoundly disliked the job of financial drummer--of meandering around with a tambourine in his hand, as one of his successors put it. Yet he understood fully that the raising of money was one of the manifold and most important duties devolving upon him. Of the utmost significance, of course, in this connection were the bonds which the President knit, gradually but tightly, between himself and George Eastman, the richest citizen of Rochester, who manifested extraordinary philanthropic instincts.
Before the advent of Rhees, Eastman, whose formal schooling had stopped at the seventh grade, contributed in a very minor way to the University, but basically he was indifferent at best to higher learning. He declined, for instance, to subscribe to the fund that was collected to make possible the admission of women to the U. of R. Within a year or two after settling in Rochester, Rhees made the acquaintance of Eastman, a very reserved individual outside of a narrow circle of friendship. Although his grandfather had been a Baptist preacher and he knew several Rochester clergymen well, the industrialist seldom frequented divine worship and adhered to a humanistic interpretation of life with no place at all for organized religion. Needless to say, in this respect, he diverged radically from Rhees.
On invitation of the President, Eastman in May of 1902 brought his distinguished guest, Lord Kelvin, Scottish scientist and inventor, to the Prince Street Campus. Although afflicted with neuralgia, Kelvin spoke to a student assembly about his own academic career and the obligations of educated men, and the undergraduates responded with cheers that "could have been heard half a mile away. " If the good Lord exchanged views with his host on the values of higher education (a not implausible assumption), it is imaginable that the eminent Scot planted seeds in the mind of the forty-seven year old multimillionaire which eventually matured in a bumper harvest. 14
Be that as it may, Rhees presently turned to obtaining money to erect and endow a building in which to teach physics and biology, something that had been talked of for years. Since Eastman's thriving photographic industry depended greatly upon science and scientific research and since he had already given substantial sums to the Mechanics Institute (later the Rochester Institute of Technology), Rhees applied to him for funds to finance the desired structure for science. Whether Rhees was influenced in this venture by Trustee Walter S. Hubbell, 1871, the attorney and intimate friend of Eastman, remains a matter of conjecture; nor can it be known whether Hubbell and possibly other trustees shaped the thinking of the industrialist about higher education.
At two interviews in April, 1903, Rhees found Eastman "cordial and attentive" and obtained a pledge of $10,000 for the building and endowment on condition that $150,000 would be secured elsewhere. It was estimated that construction would run to around $50,000, and the rest of the money would generate income for maintenance. Only small amounts trickled in from "old grads" and friends of the college, so Rhees screwed up his courage and approached Eastman again. That gambit yielded an increase of the pledge to $60,000. By the time construction had been completed, costs reached about $78,500, all of which the "Kodak King" paid.
"Mr. Eastman entirely on his own initiative," "Prexy" revealed, handed him a cheque for the entire outlay, "without any solicitation, either direct or indirect on my part." A master key to the science building was turned over to the benefactor, "for the oftener you visit it the deeper our satisfaction," and Eastman reluctantly consented to have his name placed on the structure. For a bronze tablet placed in it, provided by the class of 1904, Rhees devised the inscription, "This building given by George Eastman is dedicated to the study of life and energy for the larger knowledge of truth." Invited to become a University trustee, Eastman declined and he responded negatively to hints that he would be offered an honorary doctorate. 15
Only once later--in 1919-- did Rhees seek substantial financial help for the University, from the Kodak magnate--there were, however, several requests for small sums for various purposes. Notwithstanding Eastman's flat assertion that he would contribute nothing more to the U. of R., his munificence, first and last, as is recounted in later chapters, exceeded $ 51,000,000, conservatively reckoned. Fellow Rochesterians, kindred in mind and spirit, followed the lead of the community's wealthiest man. 16
Little by little Eastman, on a pattern that defies precise reconstruction, reached the conclusion that institutions of higher learning, technical and non-technical, musical and medical, for whites or blacks, were proper objects of his philanthropy. The broad strands in his reasoning are sufficiently clear: colleges and universities ranked among the most beneficial and most enduring of human institutions; and the welfare and economic health of the nation depended upon the collaboration of industry and education to foster clear, original, creative thinking. It is evident, too, that the philanthropies of John D. Rockefeller, directly or indirectly, for educational and allied objectives had a profound impact upon Eastman's thought and action; he once characterized the oil magnate as "the greatest and wisest wealth distributor who has ever lived."
As the years rolled along, the ties between Rhees and Eastman multiplied and grew more intimate, though it was 1925 before they started to address each other by their first names. They encountered one another at social gatherings and worked in double harness on significant civic enterprises. The character and quality of the work Rhees performed at the U. of R., furthermore, deepened Eastman's confidence in him as a sound, provident, far-seeing executive, capable of managing ever larger undertakings. More than that, deep affection for his adopted city, a determination to make Rochester a finer, more attractive community in which to live and work, for Kodak employees particularly, and to enhance its prestige nation-wide, prompted Eastman to apply the largest portion of his great fortune to improve the health, cultural, and educational facilities of metropolitan Rochester. It has been aptly suggested that his "lifelong love affair with his home city is unique in the annals of American communities."
When Rhees was asked to list the hallmarks of Eastman's philanthropy, he cited the personal consideration given to all begging letters (and there was an avalanche of them), the independence of his mind, and the varied character of the educational institutions in which he was interested. It is singularly appropriate that portraits of the two men, from the brush of Boston artist Charles Hopkinson, should hang near one another on a wall of the Rhees Library. "Both portraits show strength," the biographer of the President thought. "Neither shows enough benevolence. Paint cannot capture that..." 17
As with Eastman, with other Rochesterians and, with U. of R. graduates of large means, so with the money managers of the (Rockefeller) General Education Board Rhees built up an enviable reputation for prudence, level-headedness, and a progressive outlook in academic affairs. In consequence, the Board authorized large appropriations to strengthen and increase the educational opportunities at the Flower City institution.
Until the final phase of his thirty-five year administration, Rhees delivered uncounted addresses on and allotted a generous portion of his time and thought to public and general educational issues. "He could say much in few words or little in many, according to circumstances," his biographer remembered. As a rule, the merest skeleton of notes, if indeed even that much, served as guide for informal talks. "Not a squib or a fleck of script or type writing [exists]." Rhees wrote in reply to a request for a copy of an address. "If I have good luck, I may try to rescue from evanescence the tail-feathers of the ideas, and perhaps men of zoological expertness may be able... to reconstruct hypothetically what the bird was like."
An address might be a baccalaureate sermon at Rochester or at a sister college, or a discourse before the Rochester Chamber of Commerce on the phenomenal economic progress of imperial Germany, thanks to the working alliance between industry and institutions of higher learning. It might be a patriotic exhortation to the Grand Army of the Republic, voicing the conviction that it would be well for America "if we could have something of the mighty character of [Ulysses S.] Grant coming into our daily life." It might be a message to an educational conference on topics like "The Elective System and a Liberal Education" (1901), or "The Proposed Six-Year High School Course" (1903), or "The National Importance of Industrial Education," or "What Standards Should be Used in the Classification of Colleges?" (1914), or "A Towering Factor in Educational Development," given (1931) at a memorable anniversary celebration of Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama.
In addition to Amherst, Colgate University and two Canadian institutions, Toronto and McMaster, bestowed honorary doctorates upon Rhees, and, in recognition of services rendered during the First World War, the, governments of Poland ("Polonia Restituta") and Yugoslavia pinned high state decorations of gratitude upon him.
Endless activity for the well being of the Flower City helped to earn Rhees the sobriquet of "first citizen" of the community. For many years he served as a trustee of the Reynolds and the City Libraries and of the Mechanics Institute. His concern for the fine arts had concrete manifestation in the promotion of musical culture and in acceptance of the presidency of the Memorial Art Gallery. When a Bureau of Municipal Research--a pet project of George Eastman--was created (1915), Rhees took office as a director.
Beautification of Rochester and decent housing for all its inhabitants lay close to the President's heart. Impressed with the lovely natural setting of the city, he pleaded for improvement of the Genesee River area, for fine municipal structures, and for other "neglected potentialities" for civic betterment. "Our hope cannot be better expressed," he said in 1934, "than in George Eastman's oft repeated vision--Rochester as the best place in the world in which to live and bring up children...."
In an address of October 15, 1909, marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the incorporation of the city, he dwelt upon the enormous increase in rents and in the cost of building a home. "This is precisely the condition which begets the slum," he warned in language that might have been spoken sixty or more years later. "The past calls out to us to keep Rochester as a City of Homes... We must provide places where our people may live in decent comfort within their means." 18
Good citizen that he was, Rhees cooperated with agencies that aided European immigrants in adjusting to the American way of life. And hand in hand with other community leaders he assisted in the consolidation of various charitable agencies, and during the First World War undertook the chairmanship of the important budget committee of the Rochester Community Fund, which evolved into the nationally admired Community Chest.
Along with sustained participation in the work of the Chamber of Commerce, Rhees accepted a directorship of the Eastman Kodak Company and other corporations. Evidently, his appetite for large financial transactions grew with eating. The Carnegie Foundation chose him as a trustee--and later as chairman of the board, essentially a decorative position--and he served on committees that selected Rhodes Scholars and that organized an Association of Colleges and Universities of New York State. As an honorary vice-president of the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York, he helped to manage the merged (1928) Colgate and Rochester schools of theology (though he declined to consider allocating a tract on the River Campus for a divinity school). 19
Throughout his life Rhees, though not always a "regular," identified himself in politics with the Republican party--which did him no harm in the Rochester business community. During the presidential contest of 1912, he chose the traditionalist wing of the party, headed by William H. Taft, over the tumultuous Bull Moose progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt. On request, he did what he could to promote the candidacy of his predecessor, David Jayne Hill, for the United States Senate and of Elon H. Hooker, 1891, for the governorship of New York--though neither ambition was fulfilled.
Outspoken though Rhees was in condemning the Republican leadership for blocking the ratification of the Versailles Treaty in 1919-20--"a national humiliation," he tagged it, caused by petty, unworthy partisanship--he a nevertheless supported the Republican standard-bearer of 1920, Warren G. Harding, in the belief that he was the better bet to lead the United States into an international peace-keeping organization. 20
Back in 1906 Rhees took part in the Republican state nominating convention as a delegate, yet four years later he aligned himself with Rochester civic reformers in a fiercely contested election for Congress. They backed the Democratic aspirant, James S. Havens, a highly respected lawyer, against George W. Aldridge, Republican "boss" who personified "about everything earnest citizens regard with concern and disapproval." Victorious at the polls, Havens came to the Campus and addressed the undergraduate body, expressing hearty appreciation for Rhees' helpfulness.
Under pressure from citizens who feared that the Rochester public schools would be subjected to malign political influences, Rhees, though surprised at the request, hesitantly agreed (1911) to stand for election as school commissioner. He entered a proviso, however, that he must not be involved in a normal electioneering contest. The press carried no little correspondence, pro and con, on the Rhees candidacy, and, when the Democrats actually nominated him, he hastily bowed out.
Rhees' most important direct involvement in the sphere of government resulted from his election in 1915 as a delegate to overhaul the State Constitution. Once the deliberations had ended, he took part in an unsuccessful campaign to persuade voters to approve the new instrument. 21
Whether in the presidential residence in Rochester or at their summer place on Little Cranberry Island, Islesford, Maine, the Rheeses knew a comfortable existence. Theirs was a household in which the Christian heritage, free of excessive piety, was respected, and, customarily, they worshipped in the First Baptist Church. Of the wife of the President it has been written, "As power behind the throne, dispenser of faith, hope, and charity, gracious hostess in the New England tradition with the hearty Rochester manner, she shared his triumphs, as she had his trials of patience."
Into the home three children were born. Morgan John, after graduating in 1921 from the U. of R., took training in medicine and worked as a hospital director until his death at an early age. After an explosive outburst at the U. of R., to be recounted later, Rush Jr., class of 1926, completed his education in the British Isles and settled there. Henrietta Seelye, Smith College alumna, started on a career as a bacteriologist and in 1937 married Dr. John D. Stewart, the father of the bride receiving the vows.
440 University Avenue with its spacious grounds in which to play was a delightful place to bring up children. Inside they could race around madly on tricycles or convert the huge attic into a roller skating arena. Both in Rochester and in Maine, the Rheeses derived great happiness from family gatherings. Close by the stern and rock-bound coast "Prexy" engaged in the hobbies of carpentry, cruising over blue waters--or thumbing through catalogues of mail-order firms, Sears, Roebuck and Company preferred. More freely in Maine, perhaps, than in Rochester, he indulged in the ineluctable pleasure, the minor vice of smoking a pipe or a cigar--and was none the worse for that. Each summer he preached once from a local pulpit; a discriminating worshipper called one sermon "a little gem."
The President learned to the full the joys and the rewards of travel, undertaken to investigate some facet of education or to restore his health or for just unadulterated relaxation and refreshment. Germany, the Mediterranean lands, and later on Great Britain appealed to him most magnetically. Now and then he went on cruises to the West Indies or joined George Eastman on a yachting trip. He thoroughly relished the meetings of two Rochester dinner-literary clubs, the Pundit and the Fortnightly. To the former he read over a score of papers, more often than not on a religious or an educational topic; his first effort, dated February 5, 1901, bore the improbable title of "Jesus' Use of Hyperbole." For the Fortnightly, he despatched an essay from Germany in 1909 setting forth experiences and observations in the empire of William II.
On request, Mrs. John D. Stewart prepared these recollections of her father. "He loved to travel, and always read all he could about the country he was visiting, before, during, and after the trip. The last trip I made with him was to Hawaii. We were there about four months, and I think that almost every day he spent some time studying the history of the Hawaiian people.
"Some of my most vivid memories of him are from our summers in Maine. There he really relaxed and enjoyed his family. He was always an avid reader, but when on vacation he liked to mix the serious with the light. One of his favorite authors was John Buchan. On rainy days he spent time in his 'shop' making pieces of furniture for the house. Our dining room sideboard, living room settee, desk and fire bench were all made by him. I remember what pains he took in drawing plans, making measurements, and fitting pieces together so that practically no nails or bolts showed. He was a perfectionist about such things. On bright days he loved to go boating. But when it came to picnics, he showed great patience and tolerance. He always went along, but I know that sitting on a rock to eat a sandwich was not his favorite sport!" 22
With the River Campus for men virtually ready for occupation, Rhees early in 1930, then seventy years old, submitted his resignation to the trustees, but they prevailed upon him to carry on a while longer until the complexities attendant upon the separation of the colleges had been ironed out. Leading Rochesterians in 1931 arranged a gala testimonial dinner in honor of the President, at which one speaker, the Rt. Rev. John F. O'Hern, Bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Rochester, said, "Civically, educationally, religiously, or industrially, our guest of honor... stands alone, the first citizen of Rochester." 23
Following the death of George Eastman in the next year, the Rheeses moved into the luxurious East Avenue mansion of the departed philanthropist, as prescribed in his will. It was wittily remarked that among educators only the Pope occupied a more palatial establishment than the Eastman House, as it was called. Because of the size of the serving staff, the number of rooms for use by the President's family was the same as in the former residence, save for an executive office fitted up in a bedroom.
When in 1933 Rhees reiterated his wish to resign (though he resented being called "venerable"), the trustees acquiesced, subject to a reservation that he continue in office until a successor had been elected. Asked whether he would like to be forty and begin again, he rejoined in the negative, writing, "What is needed now is the guidance of a man new to U. of R. problems--with a changed orientation." It was publicly revealed on January 3, 1935, that Alan [Chester] Valentine, coming from Yale University, had been chosen as fourth President.
Rhees' last annual report to the corporation on his stewardship contained "sentiments of profound thankfulness for the fullness and cordiality of co-operation" experienced across three and a half decades. "They have been happy years," he said, "full of interest, rewarded by loyal friendships won in your Board, in your faculties, and among our students ....Each year that may come will add to my sense of high privilege in having been associated with you and my faculty comrades in the development already attained..." His farewell to the trustees adjured them not to solicit suggestions from him on University management in the future, but rather to trust the new leader as they had trusted him, and "by all that is holy, never quote Rhees to him. To the college faculty precisely the same admonition was given.
Once he had retired, Rhees held almost completely aloof from the conduct of U. of R. affairs, in tune with the wisdom enshrined in the old saying that "nothing grows up under the shadow of a great tree." However, he sent greetings by radio at the installation of President Valentine and infrequently spoke in chapel. While he "kept in close contact with the University," as he put it, it was "always in a silent capacity." A comfortable East Avenue residence was obtained as the Rheeses retirement home. There in leisure and serenity, they lived, save for summers in Maine and travel, until the death of the ex-President on January 5, 1939.
In the afternoon of Saturday, January 7, at a plain service of memorial in the Strong Auditorium on the River Campus, "quiet music and quiet words" reminded the mourners, "of a quiet man." The principal speaker, Professor Slater, stressed that Rhees had "found his life-work in giving opportunities to others. Scholars needed opportunities for adding to their scholarship. Students needed opportunities to struggle through college with meager resources. Citizens needed opportunities for useful social work under guidance. Rich men needed opportunities to widen the range of their benefactions from one field to many, needed assurance that if millions were given, millions would be well used. Such needs he met as they arose, or even went out to find them.
" 'Eager' was his favorite adjective. I never heard him deliver a sermon or a chapel talk or a baccalaureate address without that word 'eager' coming in somewhere. That keen hunger for truth, that thirst for goodness and beauty, that demand for more justice and mercy in human relations, which marked his life and words, were enemies of sloth and languor. He could tolerate opposite opinions, compromise on means though never on ends; but he could not tolerate idleness or flippant irresponsibility. He did not expect boys and girls to be grown up, but he wanted them to be growing up, and even thought that teachers should do the same. Eagerly he went through life, and if there is anything beyond, he will be eager there." And Slater finished the eulogy with a fragment from John Milton:
Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast, no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame, nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us in a death so noble.
Among the tributes to Rhees, one from the pen of John H. Finley, sometime a university president himself, and then an editorial writer for the New York Times, read:
Here was a citizen who lived up to his own definition of liberal culture--a liberal culture "intended to free the mind from narrowness and prejudice and ignorance." And the mastery of a subject rather than familiarity with some useful technique is liberating. This he was saying at the age of seventy-five after a wonderfully liberating life. He began with mathematics--the most liberalizing of studies, leading into infinity--which he taught as an instructor at Amherst. Then he studied divinity, was a New England pastor for a time, taught in a theological institution, and at the age of forty became President of the University of Rochester.
So close was his association for thirty-five years with this institution that it has often been referred to as "Rush Rhees's university." Its growth in faculties, in buildings and endowment, has been phenomenal. From a college with a few small buildings it now has three graduate schools, notably in music and medicine, and fills two spacious campuses, one for men and one for women. He had the proffered (or invited) help of others, notably of Mr. Eastman, and of the people of Rochester generally.
In it all he had his special but diversified talent. His mastery consisted in keeping himself where and when the application of that talent was "oftenest to be practiced. " He was the refounder of the institution in which the liberal arts have a permanent and beauteous home, and the sciences great laboratories of research, in one of the most progressive and comely of American cities. "Equal to the church, equal to the state, so was he equal to every other man."
Personally, Rhees was content to describe his amazing record of accomplishment as "the fairy tale. He was lucky...." An Amherst class-mate wrote that Rhees "had his difficulties and his trials, but through them all he moved steadily forward to the goal of this great achievement. He was, what is only very rarely to be found, the union in one personality of a masterful leader and a highly cultivated Christian gentleman."
In the University plot at Mount Hope Cemetery, a few paces removed from Martin Brewer Anderson; the great executive was laid to rest; and in 1949, Mrs. Rhees was interred close by. 24
Footnotes to Chapter 14
- John R. Slater, Rhees of Rochester (Rochester, 1946) is a compact, well-informed, and authoritative biography of the third chief executive of the U. of R., though there are some strange lacunae. (It is hereafter cited as Slater, Rhees.) Definitely an interpretative study in the classic style, the work portrays "a rather baffling personality," facets of which are beyond recovery. See, John R. Slater to Alan Valentine, August 5, September 22, November 5, 1945. Valentine Papers. Other writings and addresses by Slater on his long-time and intimate friend have been supplemented by a succinct sketch by one of Rhees' successors, Cornelis W. de Kiewiet, DAB, (Supplement 2) XXII (1954), 555. Rhees' promise to compile a record of inside happenings at the University in his era never came to fruition. RAR, XII (1934), no. 3, 68. His important publications are listed in Slater, Rhees, pp. 295-299. No Rhees letters before February, 1901, are extant. Slater to Valentine, October 4, 1944. Valentine Papers.
- Fuess, op. cit. , pp. 208-274, passim.
- Slater, Rhees, pp. 21, 25, 27-28, 29, 262, 285. Campus, XXXIII Feb. 3,1909. Rush Rhees to Theodore E. Schulte, Nov. 1, 1912. Rhees Papers.
- Slater, Rhees, Chap. IV, passim, and p.260. Interpres, XLII (1900), 6. RAR, XVII (1939), no. 5, 17-18.
- Rush Rhees to Rufus A. Sibley, June 21, 1915. Rhees Papers. Ibid. to Mrs. Kingman N. Robins, May 10, 1928. Ibid. Joseph T. Alling, 1876, "The Story of the Coming of President Rhees," RAR, III (1925), no. 5, 145. Trustee Records, III, July 6, 1899. Slater, Rhees, pp. 47-52.
- Campus, XXV, Oct. 6, 1899, Feb. 2, 1900. Ibid., XXVI, Feb. 15, 1901; Interpres, XLII (1900), 6-7, 175. Mrs. Rush Rhees, "Rochester at the Turn of the Century," RHSP, XX (1942), 83-84,
- Shailer Mathews to Rush Rhees, July 8, 1903. Rhees Papers. George N. Seymour to Rhees, Sept. 5, 1908. Ibid. William R. Willcox to Rhees, Feb. 27, 1911. Ibid. John H. Finley to Rhees, May 29, 1911. Ibid. Rhees to Finley, May 31, 1911. Ibid. Slater, Rhees, pp. 108-109.
- The Inauguration of Rush Rhees LL.D. as President of the University of Rochester (Rochester, n.d.). R D&C, Oct. 11, 12, 1900. Slater, Rhees, pp. 52-54.
- Campus, XXXII, Nov. 1, Dec. 13, 1966. Ibid., XXXVI, Feb. 2, 1911. Slater, Rhees, pp. 127-128. Rush Rhees to Amherst Alumni of Western New York, March 29, 1910. Rhees Papers. Rhees to Ernest H. Abbott, April 30, 1914. Ibid.
- Slater, Rhees, pp. 145, 146, 131.
- Jane Crowe Maxfield, 1905, has written Rhees, "decidedly didn't want us [coeds]. He made it very clear that he would have declined the presidency, if he had known that he would have to cope with co-education." RAR, VII (1955), no. 1, 20. No documentary evidence to confirm this assertion has been found. Slater, Rhees, pp. 104-105, 107, 112-114. Campus, XXIV, April 7, 1909.
- Interpres, LV (1913), 180. Campus, XXXV, Nov. 11, 1909. Slater, Rhees, pp. 113-114, 150-151. William A. Searle, 1906, to A. J. May, April 2, 1966. Rhees Library Archives. Edgar J. Fisher, 1906, to Alan Valentine, Jan. 9, 1939. Valentine Papers. Rush Rhees, "Faculty and Administration Attitude toward Athletics and other Student Activities," RAR, IV (1925-26), no. 2, 47-48.
- Slater, Rhees, p. 146. Interpres, LV (1913), 179-180. Rush Rhees to Governor Albert [sic] Smith, April 30, 1920. Rhees Papers. Some Songs We Sing at Rochester (1904), no. 3. Campus, XXXVIII, April 9, 1913. Slater, Rochester at Seventy-Five, 27. RAR, VIII (1930), no. 4, 103-104.
- Slater, Rhees, pp. 156-161. (Frank W. Lovejoy, then Vice-President of the Kodak Company, read and approved in advance the material relating to Eastman. John R. Slater Memorandum., May 12, 1950. Rhees Library Archives). Ackerman, George Eastman, passim. This biography was prepared under restrictions imposed by Eastman on what might be written. Oscar N. Solbert to Clarence A. Livingston, Feb. 7, 1940. (Rhees Library Archives). Ackerman had Rhees check for accuracy the chapter of the manuscript devoted to the U. of R. Carl W. Ackerman to Rush Rhees, Sept. 17, 1929. Rhees Papers. See, also, a sketch of Eastman, DAB, XXI (Supplement 1) (1944), 274-276. R D&C, May 1, 1902.
- Rush Rhees to Rufus A. Sibley, April 23, 1903. Rhees Papers. Rhees to George Eastman, Feb. 7, Dec. 12, 14, 1906. Ibid. Rhees to L. Emmett Holt, 1875, Dec. 15, 1906. Ibid. Rhees to John P. Munn, 1870, May 31, 1911. Ibid. Rhees to Willis S. Paine, 1868, Sept. 12, 1919. Ibid. Rhees to William A. R. Goodwin, June 29, 1925. Ibid. Rhees to Charles W. Dodge, June 29, 1932. Ibid. Slater, Rhees, pp. 161-164.
- George Eastman to Rush Rhees, June 8, 1921, Oct. 4, 1922. Personal Letter Book, 15, Eastman Papers. Kodak Park Archives. Ernest A. Paviour,1910, "Chronicle of Giving..." RAR, XIV (1936), no. 5, 99-102.
- Slater, Rhees, pp. 164-177, passim. George Eastman to Abraham Flexner, Dec. 23, 1924. Personal Letter Book, 20. Eastman Papers. Ackerman, op. cit., esp. pp. 325, 337. Cf. RHSP, XX (1942), 82-83. Genesee Country Scrap Book, V (1954), 1. Rush Rhees to Karl T. Compton, March 24, 1932. Rhees Papers.
- Slater, Rhees, pp. 122, 84-85. Rush Rhees to W. B. Mossman, Feb. 21, 1911. Rhees Papers. Campus, XLI, April 13, 1906. Quoted in R D&C. Nov. 21, 1965.
- Rush Rhees to Ernest A. Paviour, Dec. 1, 1929. Rhees Papers. Rhees to Clarence A. Barbour, Sept. 17, 1928. Ibid.
- Rush Rhees to James G. Cutler, Sept. 17, 1914. Rhees Papers. Rhees to Elon H. Hooker, Feb. 27, May 5, 1920. Ibid. Rhees to Irving Fisher, Sept. 14,1920. Ibid. Rhees to Jacob G. Schurman, Oct. 11, 21, 1920. Ibid. New York Times, Oct. 20, 1920. Campus, XLV, Nov. 26, 1919.
- Rush Rhees to Elbert F. Baldwin, April 7, 1910. Rhees Papers. Rhees to Governor Charles E. Hughes, April 20, 1910. Ibid. Campus, XXXV, April 28, 1910. Ibid., XXXVII, Oct. 12, 17, 1911. R D&C, Sept. 29, 1911.
- Slater, Rhees, p. 263. Tower Times, X, Feb. 15, 1935. John D. Rockefeller Jr. to Rush Rhees, August 22, 1922. Rhees Papers. Executive Committee Minutes, V, Jan. 22, 31, 1908. President's Report, 1909, in Trustee Records, III, 290-314. URLB, XX (1965), 21. Mrs. John D. Stewart to A. J. May, August 25, 1966. Rhees Library Archives. For a tribute to Mrs. Rhees, see RAR, X (1949), no. 4, 10.
- Rochester Alumnae News (hereafter cited as RAN ; combined with RAR in 1939), V (1931), no. 2, 6. Ibid., VII (1933), no. 5, 1.
- Slater, Rhees, pp. 247-250, 287-288, 290-291. Rush Rhees to Walter T. Field, February 20, 1933. Rhees Papers. Rhees to Samuel M. Havens, 1899, January 10, 1935. Ibid. Campus, LXII, November 13, 1936. R T-U, January 20, 1931. R D&C, January 6, 1939. "Slater Memorial Address,"RAR, XVII, (1938-1939), no. 2, 45. Faculty Minutes, January 12, 1939. New York Times, January 13, 1939. Edward S. Parsons, "The 'Fairy Story' of Rush Rhees," Amherst Graduates Quarterly, May, 1939.