Founded in 1797 by John Christopher Hartwick, Hartwick is proud to be one of the oldest colleges in the country and the first Lutheran Seminary in the United States.
Stay tuned for upcoming chapters throughout the year!
Chapter One: Who was John Christopher Hartwick?
A native of Germany and itinerant minister who became a Colonial pioneer of New York.
An Education of Influence
A native of Germany, Johann Christoph Hartwig was born January 6, 1714, in the outskirts of the Gotha district (pictured). He was schooled in his hometown of Molschleben before advancing to the University of Jena in 1736, which was founded as a home for new religious ideas and continued as one of the more politically radical schools in Germany.
Documents show Hartwig (later Hartwick) matriculated at the University of Halle (pictured) in 1739. There he trained in theology and was influenced by the university’s status as a hub of German interest in American missionary and educational work. It was also a center for the Pietist school of Lutheran Christianity, which emphasized a guide for practical Christian living.
Among his faculty was Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, (pictured) a pietist who went on to become the father of American Lutheranism and Hartwick’s lifelong friend. After first teaching Latin in Halle, Hartwick was ordained in London in 1745 to become a pastor in America.
There he began his life’s work, serving the Palatines who had fled the French invasion of Germany and settled in the Hudson River Valley of New York and pursuing his vision for a New Jerusalem (pictured).
Life in America
When Hartwick arrived in America in 1746, he took responsibility for five congregations in the Central Hudson parish. These included Rhinebeck (pictured), where he reconnected with Muhlenberg. Photo courtesy of Historic Red Hook
Hartwick and Muhlenberg attended the founding of the first Lutheran governing council in North America. Together, they also took the oath in Philadelphia to become naturalized citizens of Great Britain (see photo of naturalization book).
Hartwick was a man of high ideals and strong beliefs in the pietist interpretation of the Lutheran dogma. In one of his first interactions in America, he angered a prominent Lutheran leader of the old-line orthodox sect, Wilhelm Christoph Berkenmeyer. Hartwick’s beliefs and his association with Muhlenberg led Berkenmeyer to publish a tract against Hartwick, falsely accusing him of heresy. The accusations caused an uproar in one of his parishes where, according to Hartwick, he was attacked by Berkenmeyer’s followers “not only with words, but also with fists.”
Hartwick’s challenges continued with his difficulty adjusting to the pioneer life in America. He found the living conditions lacking and lamented having to travel long distances between parishes on horseback (pictured).
Despite these concerns, he declined opportunities to adopt a more settled life, and rarely stayed with any one church or in any one area for long. Records of his pastorates exist in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Maine.
When Hartwick tried to impose strict discipline among his parishioners, he often alienated them by making demands that were both unpopular and unrealistic. His colleagues complained “He is too austere in his manner and often does not speak to the people.” The historian for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Frederick, Maryland, later described him as “a good and conscientious man, but his eccentricities sometimes interfered with his usefulness.”
A Man of Contrasts
At times described as rigid and unpolished, Hartwick was also known to be devout and learned. His book collection (pictured), much of which is now housed in the College’s Stevens-German Library, is a testament to the man’s knowledge of English, Latin, French, Greek, and Italian, in addition to his native German. Muhlenberg once said of his friend, “in a charitable spirit we saw through the faults which clung to him, to the excellent grounding in doctrine which he possessed.”
Hartwick’s strident beliefs and often inflexible approach could put him at odds with the very people he had come to serve. He was concerned about the “many opportunities here for temptation and willingness to sin” that he perceived among the new Americans.
History shows that the man at times held his parishioners to a different standard than he upheld himself. Despite his pietism – and the covenants Hartwick asked his parishioners to sign requiring that they forswear shooting, horse-racing, boozing, and dancing – Hartwick was not a prohibitionist himself. According to one biographer, “many old bills testify to the fact that he knew his liquor.”
Biographers also note Hartwick’s aversion to and avoidance of women; he is described as having been “fearful of matrimonial bondage, and shunned women as a plague.” Reverend Henry N. Pohlman, an early graduate of Hartwick Seminary and one of its trustees for many years, noted that Hartwick’s response to women was a subject of discussion among his contemporaries. “It was not an uncommon thing for (Hartwick), if he saw that he was about to meet a woman in the road, to cross over or even to leap a fence in order to avoid her.”
An Elusive Dream
Despite his difficulties, Hartwick remain steadfast in pursuit of his vision to create a New Jerusalem. He needed land for the venture and took steps to make purchases soon after arriving in America. His was to be a community of German Christians who would settle the patent and live in accordance with his beliefs and dictates. According to one biographer, “it would be wrong to conclude that he wanted to amass a fortune. He considered the land a trust from God, which he was to invest and return with usury.”
In 1750 Hartwick attempted to begin his colony by purchasing a 36-square mile parcel from Chief Hendrick Peterson (pictured), a prominent member of the Bear Clan and Speaker for the Mohawk Council.
It would be 11 years before Hartwick was finally granted possession of about 16,000 acres (see pictured deed).
Circumstances thwarted Hartwick’s realization of his ideal. Challenges, including his frequent travels among parishes and his difficulties dealing with local land agent William Cooper, proved insurmountable. Settlers took little interest in his New Jerusalem – Hartwick’s strictures proved too burdensome for the new Americans, accustomed to the freedom and autonomy of frontier life.
Still, the man remained determined. His efforts to enlist potential settlers ranged from inviting a ship of German prisoners to colonize the patent to placing newspaper advertisements to attract interest. One such ad placed in a Philadelphia German-language paper in 1765 described the advantages of the region, stating that “the Susquehannah River is… navigable for barges, bateaus, canoes and rafts and very convenient for the fur trade (pictured).”
By the mid-1780s, Hartwick was faced with a formidable competitor for the open countryside of New York. William Cooper (pictured) purchased a large tract of land through a foreclosure, moved to the region, and founded a village in his name. Soon he was offering land to settlers on terms far more attractive than those offered by Hartwick. Cooper also sold 3,000 acres of Hartwick’s land – a mistake he later tried to conceal – and began eyeing the unsettled Hartwick patent to the south. He first pressured Hartwick to sell, then purchased his mortgage and threatened to foreclose. In 1791, the aging Hartwick capitulated and gave Cooper power of attorney that enabled him to begin leasing the land, which Cooper did with no regard for Hartwick’s instructions. By the time Hartwick revoked Cooper’s power of attorney, the damage had been done.
The End of his Life
By 1794, having accepted that he would not establish New Jerusalem in his own lifetime, Hartwick considered how to accomplish the goal through testamentary means. He prepared his will (pictured), a lengthy document with several codicils that begins with a statement appointing as his heir “Jesus Christ the Son of God and Man” and goes on to include “such of the ignorant ungospelized part of mankind, of whatsoever state, color or complexion, who shall make application to my executors and administrators…”
While he still desired a New Jerusalem, after losing control of his land to Cooper Hartwick’s focus appears to have shifted more to the community’s centerpiece, an institute for “propagating the Gospel among the gentiles.”
The missionaries trained at the institute were to be “proper persons… without a mind warped and deformed by any heretical, sectarian, philosophical principles.” They were to go forth and preach to all gentiles, including Native Americans. In addition to several other bequests, Hartwick’s will provided that if the estate was sufficient to support further instruction, the institution’s scope could be enlarged to include religious and classical learning.
In July of 1796 Hartwick became ill and died while traveling to Albany. He was buried in Ebenezer Church cemetery in Albany, but his remains were subsequently moved and became separated from his headstone. His final resting place is therefore unknown. Hartwick’s monument (pictured) was eventually returned to Hartwick Seminary and is now installed in Bresee Hall of Hartwick College, where it is accompanied by a translation of its German inscription.
Chapter Two: Hartwick Seminary (1797-1897)
Establishment of the Seminary
For five days in September of 1797, the executors of John Christopher Hartwick’s estate met in New York City, where they decided to establish a seminary in conformance with Hartwick’s wishes. The three executors were all highly influential men including Hartwick’s attorney, Jeremiah Van Rensselaer (pictured), who was Lieutenant Governor of New York and a member of Congress in the U.S. House of Representatives;
Frederick Muhlenberg (pictured), the son of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg and the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives;
and John Christopher Kunze, the foremost Lutheran scholar in America at that time (pictured). Kunze was named director, also per Hartwick’s instructions. The executors established a plan for teaching to begin right away out of Kunze’s New York City home.
In 1803 Hartwick Seminary had its first graduate, Philip Frederick Mayer, who went on to have a distinguished career as pastor of the world’s first English Lutheran Church, St. John’s (pictured) in Philadelphia, for more than 50 years. Photo courtesy of Library Company of Philadelphia
The estate executors still had to decide where to permanently build the seminary, and they considered several locations. William Cooper (pictured), the land agent who had undermined Hartwick’s dream of a New Jerusalem during his lifetime, wanted the Seminary to be located in Cooperstown, but Muhlenberg led the resistance to this idea. The members of Ebenezer Church, where Hartwick was once reportedly assaulted by an angry mob of parishioners, advocated to bring the Seminary to Albany. They offered $3,000 for a seminary building, a tempting offer in light of the fact that Hartwick’s estate, which had been valued at about $30,000, was much depleted by this time, a portion having gone to pay the debts of Muhlenberg who had died bankrupt.
In 1804 construction began in Albany but legal troubles caused it to stall. Three years later Kunze died and in 1810 Van Renssaelaer, the last of Hartwick’s executors, also died leaving the remaining estate to the responsibility of his successor, Dr. John G. Knauff. Kuauff was a practicing physician in Albany and a trustee of Ebenezer church who has been described as the “unsung hero” of Hartwick College’s history. Knauff determined to establish the Seminary where Hartwick had intended—on his own patent. He solicited bids to construct a two-story brick building with 14 rooms (architect’s drawing pictured).
In 1815 construction was completed and Knauff hired the Seminary’s second principal and professor of theology, Ernest Lewis Hazelius (pictured).
Hazelius began keeping a journal (pictured) including the names of students that is still displayed every year as part of Hartwick’s matriculation ceremony. Hazelius, born in the German part of Silesia, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1801 after declining to join the Russian royal family through his mother’s connections to Catherine II, the Empress of Russia.
On December 15, 1815 the new bell (pictured)—commissioned by Knauf and today hanging in Yager Hall’s belfry—was rung and nineteen students attended class for the first time since Kunze’s passing eight years earlier. By the close of term, there were 44 students enrolled and the Seminary held its first formal commencement on August 26, 1816.
That year Hartwick Seminary was incorporated and a charter was granted by the Board of Regents (pictured). In September Knauff turned over the remainder of Hartwick’s estate – about $17,000 – to the Board of Trustees.
In addition to a theological school, Hartwick Seminary included a classical academy that functioned as today’s equivalent of a K-12 grade school. During its first three years there were no theological students, and throughout its existence the academy’s enrollment was generally much higher than the Seminary’s, peaking at 115 students, while the Seminary never enrolled more than 12 students at a time. Students as young as age seven commuted on foot or by horseback or wagon. Others boarded in the principal’s newly built 13-room house (pictured) or in neighboring homes at a cost of about $1.50 per week.
Hazelius was a dedicated leader who promoted extracurricular activities, served as the Seminary church’s pastor on Sundays, and performed missionary work during summer vacations, often bringing with him the divinity students. He was instrumental in gaining tuition-free admittance for the Seminary’s first and only identifiable Native American student of record. James Jimeson was a member of the Seneca Nation and he studied at the Seminary for four years before going on to medical school and becoming a surgeon in the US Navy. Hazelius also hired the first assistant teacher, John A. Quitman, son of the Seminary’s board president. Quitman Jr. left after two years to study law, and then to enter military and political life first as a major general during the Mexican War and then briefly as Governor of Mississippi. Quitman, an enslaver, is known for having played a significant role in the secession of the southern states before the Civil War. He was succeeded at Hartwick by Henry N. Pohlman (pictured), who in 1821 had been the first theological graduate of the newly established Seminary, and who went on to a long career as a Lutheran church leader and Seminary trustee. Enrollment and course subjects increased in the 1820s along with the proliferation of competing schools; students threatened to go elsewhere if they were not allowed to determine their own courses of study, and the Seminary bowed to their demands. At one point, Hazelius and his assistant were responsible for teaching a combined 41 courses in a single term, with enrollment numbering only 36 students.
Tuition for each of the three 14-week terms was $4 with town residents receiving a discount and Seminary students attending tuition-free. Students studied English, grammar, arithmetic, geography, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and church history. (Catalog, pictured.)
Advanced course offerings included astronomy, physiology, agriculture, electricity, mechanics and civil engineering (Catalog, pictured.)
Life at the Seminary
One of the earliest and longest-running extracurricular activities, organized by a student in 1816, was the debate club known as the Philophronean Society (pictured), which existed continuously until 1934. The Philos debated the question of whether “the conduct of the people of the United States towards the Indians has been justifiable” (it was decided in favor of the negative). Other topics included “Ought capital punishment to be inflicted?” and “Are females susceptible of the same improvements that males are?”
In 1832 the Seminary was attended by Isaac Newton Arnold, who was a member of the Philophronean Society when they debated the issue of whether the immediate abolition of slavery would be beneficial to the United States. Arnold went on to become an associate of Abraham Lincoln and in 1864, while serving as a republican congressman in Illinois, he introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives, adopted later that year, calling for a constitutional amendment ending slavery throughout the country. His resolution was the first step taken by a member of Congress towards the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
John Christopher Hartwick’s dictates remained in effect at the Seminary, with the student handbook proscribing the playing of cards or other “games of hazard,” intoxication, profanity, smoking of tobacco during reciting hours, and improper conduct (1826 Regulations, pictured).
In 1827 the Board hired the first full-time assistant professor. George B. Miller (pictured) served in this role for three years and then was unanimously elected Principal in 1830 when Hazelius departed. Miller was known for his familiarity with the Bible, and for his selfless disposition. When he learned that his pipe smoking was influencing his students to do the same, he gave up the habit. One of Miller’s early acts was to dial back the number of course offerings and standardize the academy’s curriculum, creating a three-year program that was essentially a junior college. Miller also hired the Seminary’s first Librarian.
In 1839 the school was struggling. With only 17 students enrolled (none of whom were studying theology), the Board decided to close the school for two years and improve the building. Sixteen rooms were added to provide living and dining accommodations for all students and the Seminary successfully reopened, with enrollment reaching 69 students by 1844 (Seminary building before 1868, pictured).
In 1851 the Board approved the action of its new Principal, Rev. Levi Sternberg, in establishing a female department, making Hartwick Seminary the first Lutheran school in America to be coeducational. Charlotte Miller (pictured), sister-in-law to Principal Sternberg and daughter of former Principal George Miller, was appointed the first female faculty member responsible for the 27 young women who began their studies in 1852.
By 1854 enrollment was at 120 students, 20 of whom were enrolled in the new Normal Department, a teacher training program that predated the State Normal School in Oneonta (precursor of SUNY Oneonta) by 35 years. Starting in 1860 and lasting through the Civil War period, enrollment began to fluctuate dropping as low as 62, and the Seminary’s languishing endowment was targeted for action. In 1866 a failed campaign to raise $50,000 coincided with the celebration of what was erroneously believed to be the Seminary’s 50th anniversary. With financial problems mounting and facilities inadequate to meet the institution’s needs, the Seminary was again closed to further enlarge and remodel the building (Seminary building after 1869, pictured). In 1869, just before the new building opened for spring term, Dr. George Miller, who had returned to the post of professor of theology after stepping down from his role as principal, passed away after 42 years of service to the Seminary. The school remained closed, the new building empty, as the Seminary experienced a leadership crisis that continued into the early 1870s.
The Seminary’s luck began to change with the arrival of James Pitcher (pictured), at 28 years old the youngest principal in the school’s history. At this time the Seminary faced yet another challenge: new legislation had authorized union free school districts, resulting in a proliferation of competing public high schools throughout New York State, including nearby Milford and Cooperstown. However, Pitcher’s steady leadership, increased support from the area synods, and a dedicated new professor of theology, George Hiller, helped to turn the tide. To better compete with other schools Pitcher instituted curriculum revisions recommended by the State Regents and in 1883, introduced Regents examinations. The school began awarding diplomas rather than certificates and added freshman-level courses to the academy, similar to today’s high school advanced placement courses.
The end of the 19th century marked a high period for the Seminary in many ways, with average annual enrollment exceeding 100 by the 1880s. In 1881 the first female student received a four-year classical diploma and that same year the female students, who were excluded from the debating society, organized their own group known as the Zetasophian Society (pictured).
The Hartwick Seminary Monthly, (pictured) the student newspaper, was founded in 1880. In 1888 the institution received its largest bequest in its history, donated by a former area resident James F. Clark, which tripled the endowment and supported plans for expanding to a full, four-year college.
In 1893, John Gideon Traver (pictured) became another young appointee to the post of Principal. Traver earned his diploma in 1883, served on the Seminary faculty as Professor of Latin and Literature, and went on to serve as its head for 27 years—the longest of any principal thus far. He and his family made the school their home, and made it feel like home for their students.
In June of 1897 Hartwick Seminary celebrated its centennial. (The Caleb Hall Prize Winners Class of 1897, pictured).
Chapter Three: Seminary II (1898 - 1925)
Hartwick Seminary approached a new century led by John Gideon Traver, a graduate who became its head when he was still in his twenties and he served for 27 years.
Life at the Seminary
Providing students with room and board was a group effort including the principal and his family, who lived in the Seminary building. With help from the students, the Travers split firewood, hauled coal, dispensed kerosene for the school and church lamps, harvested ice, grew vegetables for the Seminary tables, raised livestock, and did all the cooking. Principal Traver’s wife, known to the students as “Aunt Ettie,” and his mother-in-law, “Grandma Tompkins,” were in charge of the kitchen and dining room. The principal’s son Amos recalled his father undertaking any repairs he could do himself, as part of his frugal approach to the Seminary’s maintenance and operations.
The Seminary was shaped by its remoteness and rural setting; a 1901 school catalog described “surrounding scenery varied and picturesque” and a “climate entirely free from malaria.” It further asserted that “the institution is remote from the temptations and excitement of large towns and cities.” Seminary students were required to attend religious services daily, twice on Sunday. One student later recalled that she “must have heard the Bible read through at least once, probably two or three times.”
Student conduct was governed by an explicit list of rules, including No. 8, “To refrain from all private intercourse between the sexes;” as well as abstaining from profane or vulgar language and intoxicating liquors. Rule No. 16 admonished students to always “DO RIGHT,” noting that although students would be indulged to some extent, it was in their best interest to practice self-denial. There were also unwritten rules. In church, the male and female attendees always segregated themselves as a matter of practice, and young men were expected to wear a coat and tie to meals. As in John Christopher Hartwick’s time, dancing was still forbidden, although students routinely defied this rule and others, including the prohibition on smoking in rooms and the 10 p.m. curfew. The established gender roles of the time did allow conduct that would be strictly prohibited today – a female student dated her math teacher with the Seminary’s blessing, although the couple was carefully chaperoned.
Despite all the rules, students found many opportunities for recreation and activity. They hunted, fished, skied and hiked, rode horses, made maple syrup, had tea parties, staged plays and debates, and went on strolls and outings with members of the opposite sex. Sports included boxing, baseball, and basketball. A football team formed in 1925 lost its first game, 83-0, against Cherry Valley, but later improved.
The debating societies for men (Philophroneans) and women (Zetasophians) remained an important source of social interaction and included debates between the sexes that were so heated they sometimes required staff intervention. Practical jokes were common and often involved livestock. Principal Traver once had to recover a pig after it awoke in the dormitory room where it was left unconscious as a prank. Older students would “baptize” newer ones by dropping bags full of water (or ink) on their heads from the Seminary tower.
In 1912 the Seminary received a gift from alumnus Andrew B. Yetter: a gymnasium, in which they hosted social events, plays, lectures, and men’s basketball games that were played initially by the light of kerosene lamps and a fireplace.
During the early twentieth century, several technological changes impacted the Seminary way of life. In 1915 a $20,000 renovation resulted in an indoor toilet, bath, and shower for men. A year later electricity was installed in the Seminary, which took some getting used to. The building was nearly destroyed by fire when students left maple syrup boiling down on six hot plates plugged into a single socket in their dormitory room. John Stolz, a student, noticed the black smoke coming into the hallway and broke down the door, putting out the fire with buckets of syrup. Principal Traver bought an automobile to replace his horse Fanny, who no longer had to pull wagonloads of laundry to be washed in Milford. As the number of automobiles on the road increased, hitchhiking became a common way for students to get to Cooperstown or Oneonta to see a movie on weekends.
The nineteen-teens were a fairly quiet period at the Seminary, despite the occurrence of World War I and the influenza epidemic of 1918, which caused the deaths of two students. Despite food and coal restrictions and some difficulties over the drafting of theological students, the war had little impact on the school. In 1919 Hartwick held its first Summer Assembly, a five-day event that was attended by 156 people who came to hear distinguished speakers including Dr. Anna Sarah Kugler, the first medical missionary of the Evangelical Lutheran General Synod of the United States.
During this period there were also changes to the administrative structure and oversight of the Seminary. In 1920, Dr. Alfred Hiller died suddenly after serving as head of the theological department for 38 years. That same year, Dr. John L. Kistler retired after 44 years’ service as a professor (37 of which he had also been the librarian) and Principal Traver stepped down from his leadership role. The trustees took the opportunity to create a new position of Seminary President, first held by Moritz G.L. Rietz, intended to be the public face of the institution. Hartwick Seminary had long maintained informal ties to the Lutheran church through its trustees, but in 1908 Seminary ownership had been transferred to the New York Synod with the hope that this would inspire greater support from the church.
In 1920 the synod undertook a campaign to raise $200,000 to increase the Seminary’s endowment and to finance construction of a library and girls’ dormitory building. The campaign raised enough money to purchase a nearby farmhouse and convert it into a girls’ residence—named Harroway Hall after the family whose $5,000 contribution enabled it. Throughout this period enrollment stayed at about 70 students total, including the four-year academy (similar to a high school curriculum), three-year theological school, and one-year collegiate program. For some time there had been talk of expanding to a four-year liberal arts college but plans did not come to fruition. These administrative changes, along with a controversial event that occurred in 1924, finally set the stage for the founding of Hartwick College.
1924: Student Strike and Four-year College Expansion
The Student Strike of 1924 was notable because, in addition to its peculiar root cause, it occurred long before the era when student protest would become commonplace. The strike also represented a reversal of the usual pattern —in this instance, the students were expressing their support for an attempt to discipline one of their own. On February 8, 1924, all of the male academy students participated in a walk-out to protest the resignation of the school’s principal, John H. Dudde. Dudde’s resignation was a response to President Rietz’s undermining a decision by Dudde to expel a student who had refused to get rid of his dog, in violation of Seminary rules against keeping an animal in the building. Rietz, friendly with the student’s father, had reversed his expulsion. This student was strongly disliked by other students, who rallied around Principal Dudde. Rietz responded to the protest by shutting the Seminary, suspending the students, and calling in a sheriff to clear the dormitories. The Board of Trustees quickly got involved and reopened the school, accepting President Reitz’s resignation and ending the week-long strike. Principal Dudde agreed to stay and the students returned to classes, including the one who had brought the dog.
The trustees quietly made another decision. In the summer of 1924 they asked for and accepted the resignations of Principal Dudde and the rest of the faculty with two exceptions. The trustees then hired Charles Myers, who accepted the dual positions of principal and president on one condition: he would oversee the Seminary’s expansion of its one year of college-level study into a four-year college.
A Greater Hartwick and a Greater Oneonta (1926 – 1939)
Hartwick College Comes to Oneonta
Hartwick Seminary president and principal Charles Myers was in 1926 the first to refer to “a Greater Hartwick,” although the idea of expanding Hartwick into a four-year college long predated his vision. Myers brought new determination to the effort, and that year he convinced the Board of Trustees to authorize a campaign to raise $500,000 for that purpose, among others. Initially the campaign seemed like it would go the way of several previous unsuccessful fundraising efforts. However, in March of 1927 Hartwick’s luck finally changed. The nearby city of Oneonta’s Chamber of Commerce made a proposal: if the Seminary would raise $400,000, the city would contribute $200,000 and provide land suitable for the present and future needs of an institution. Oneonta’s thriving business community welcomed the idea of being home to a four-year college. The seminary trustees voted quickly and unanimously to recommend acceptance of the proposal, and a week later the New York Synod delegates accepted it unanimously. According to Charles W. Leitzell who then served as president of both the Seminary board and synod, by building a new college in Oneonta “the old traditions will be given fertile soil in which to reach an even greater maturity and the sacred trust given by John Christopher Hartwick will not have failed.”
The backdrop for these developments was the enthusiasm and support shown by the citizens of Oneonta, who participated in large numbers in the meetings carried on between the city and Seminary representatives. Community members and local organizations quickly got involved, arranging lodging for the Seminary delegates in residents’ homes, and chauffeuring them around town to view possible sites for the new college.
By March of 1927 the new partnership and its campaign “A Greater Hartwick and a Greater Oneonta,” were underway. Fundraising began auspiciously with the first pledge made by State Supreme Court Justice Abraham L. Kellogg, followed by pledges from Sherman Fairchild (son of an IBM founder) and the Bresee family, totaling $25,000. The city’s door-to-door campaign, titled “Everybody Give Something,” began on March 24th and within 16 days had surpassed its $200,000 goal. Oneonta citizens donated what amounted to about $80 per family. The generosity shown by the community was even more remarkable in light of the fact that it contained very few members with any connection to Lutheranism. By early August the location was chosen and further donations in the form of land resulted in the 115-acre campus site known as College Hill. The following summer ground was broken for the first building, Science Hall, later renamed Bresee Hall in honor of charter trustee Frank Bresee.
Charles Myers had been appointed president of the college, and he and the newly-appointed Dean Olaf Norlie were overwhelmed when 102 students enrolled. While construction of Science Hall was underway, the college opened and studies commenced on September 26, 1928 after an inaugural chapel service held at the Palace Theater in downtown Oneonta. Students walked down Main Street to the Walling Mansion, at the corner of Walling Avenue, where instruction would be held until Science Hall was ready.
Science Hall Completed
In 1929 Myers resigned and was succeeded by Charles Leitzell, the clergyman who had served as president of the Seminary board for more than 20 years and who was then president of the Hartwick College board. In December of that year, Science Hall was completed.
Although the campus architects originally envisioned it having seven buildings, six of them were never built.
The timing of the new college’s arrival was not fortuitous—the stock market had crashed five weeks prior to Science Hall’s completion and the building became the entire campus: gymnasium, locker rooms, offices, chapel, library, women’s and men’s social halls, seven classrooms, laboratories, and faculty rooms. Notably absent were dormitories—students found accommodation in rooming houses in the community.
A New Institution
For such a small and new institution, Hartwick College offered a wide variety of courses, language courses in particular. In 1929 students were able to study Latin, Greek, German, French, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Scandinavian and Dutch. There was also an impressive array of extracurricular activites including a literary society, religious club, music club, concert band, violin quintet, chorus, dramatic group, and newspaper. Sports included basketball, baseball and football teams. However, the development of Christian character remained the chief aim and purpose of the new college. In addition to President Leitzell, eleven other charter trustees were Lutheran clergymen and Dean Norlie had a strict moral code that rivaled that of John Christopher Hartwick—he too forbade social dancing, as well as fraternities and sororities (although with President Leitzell’s blessing, three fraternities and three sororities began operating secretly). Students attended daily chapel services and the curriculum included 16 required credit hours in religion courses, a condition which at times met with organized resistance from students.
Hartwick College’s Inaugural Graduation
Hartwick College’s inaugural graduation took place in 1932 with 73 graduates including valedictorian Robert VanDeusen, who had been the College’s very first registrant. Throughout its first decade, the College struggled with the impact of the Great Depression. Many of the people who had pledged money were forced to default and in 1933 the College was so short of funds that faculty salaries were cut by $300. Trustee Frank Bresee came to the rescue more than once, ensuring that employees were paid. Furthermore, support from the church had dropped dramatically and the synod began suggesting that Hartwick College merge with another Lutheran institution, Wagner College, that had a larger enrollment than Hartwick. Another unsuccessful fundraising campaign occurred in 1937 coinciding with a drop in enrollment.
The College made it through these first difficult years in large measure due to the energy and faith of President Leitzell, who retired in 1939. He was succeeded by Henry J. Arnold, a professor of psychology and the first layperson to head any of the Hartwick institutions. President Arnold arrived just as the United States was on the brink of entering the second World War. Although Hartwick had been largely insulated from the turbulence leading up to this period, it would soon be affected by a number of war-related changes.
Hartwick’s War and Post-war Experience (1939-1958)
President Henry J. Arnold
Not long before the United States entered the Second World War, Henry J. Arnold became the first layman to head any Hartwick institution – Seminary, Academy, or College. He soon was tested to lead this college through a time of upheaval for the nation.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, many Hartwick students enlisted or were drafted into the Armed Forces. The result: enrollments dropped by 40% and Hartwick faced a large financial deficit. By fall of 1943, enrollment hovered around just 100 students.
US Cadet Nurse Corps
Relief came in the form of a new program that has grown to become Hartwick’s largest major. In 1943, Hartwick was one of just a few colleges in New York State selected to train members of the new US Cadet Nurse Corps for duty in the Armed Services or public health.
Edith M. Lacey, an experienced and well-educated nurse, was named Dean of Hartwick’s new School of Nursing, leading 36 students through the three-year program of one year on campus and two years in clinical settings.
Part of the original Science Hall (now Bresee Hall) was converted into a nursing laboratory and nursing students resided in two College-owned houses on Clinton Street.
Minnie Marsh White Support
Another boost to the College came in 1945 with a generous bequest from Minnie Marsh White of Cooperstown, who gave Hartwick the resources it needed to get through the end World War II.
GI Bill of Rights
Growth followed the war when the GI Bill of Rights financed the education of many veterans. Hartwick’s enrollment tripled to more than 400 students by the Fall of 1946, invigorating the atmosphere on campus and bringing older, self-directed students. A critical shortage of infrastructure led to new buildings on campus—prefabricated surplus structures formerly used by the Army and Navy provided temporary quarters for 60 men and housing for married students, as well as needed classrooms and offices. One of these buildings was the first Leitzell Hall, a wood structure which burned down in 1958 and was replaced with a brick one. The new Arts Building looked so flimsy it was referred to as “Cardboard Alley,” a name which has endured through the College’s drama club.
After 22 years on Oyaron Hill, the College’s second permanent building was partially constructed in 1950 with the first wing housing the library. Initially known as the Religion and Arts Building, it was renamed after President Arnold. A south wing including a chapel was completed in 1953. New majors were created at this time, and the nursing program expanded from three to four years. Hartwick College earned its first accreditation from what is now known as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
President Miller A.F. Ritchie
The start of the Korean War combined with the decline in birth rates from the Depression caused enrollment to shrink again. Efforts at financial conservation and development included a new associates degree program, termination of the College’s football program, and a freeze on faculty salary increases. On the verge of bankruptcy, in 1951 the Bresee Family again came to the College’s rescue, pledging resources to keep it solvent at least temporarily.
In 1953, President Arnold retired and was succeeded by Miller A.F. Ritchie who inherited a $27,000 deficit and reportedly would not have accepted the job had he read the financial reports ahead of time.
Ritchie took decisive action to pay the College’s bills. He also implemented a new idea designed to not only increase its assets, but also improve relations with the city of Oneonta: Ritchie established the Citizens Board, a group of local businesspeople and civic leaders who would go on to serve for decades as a fundraising mechanism, sounding board, and advocate for the College.
Ritchie, along with the College’s first director of public relations, H. Claude Hardy, successfully cultivated several relationships with community members that would bear fruit. Jessie Smith Dewar and the Dewar Foundation funded the first women’s dormitory on campus, including the first campus-wide dining room that served three meals a day and would become known as The Commons.
Marion Yager, sister of Willard Yager for whom Yager Hall is named, made a bequest of $1.7 million to the College.
1950s Campus Views
During Ritchie’s tenure a more tolerant religious environment was ushered in at the College, and compulsory chapel attendance was abolished. By 1958 Oyaron Hill, with its new crop of buildings, was starting to look like a college campus.
Stay tuned for upcoming chapters throughout the year!
This exhibit was made possible through research conducted by Ronald Bailey for his book "Hartwick College: A Bicentennial History 1797-1997."