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5 Ch. 4 - Leading Into the War Years - by H. G. Merriam

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The following article is an excerpt from The University of Montana: A History by H. G. Merriam, published in 1970 by the University of Montana Press.


Leading Into the War Years

            Before 1913 the units of higher education in Montana were four separate institutions. [These were listed in the earlier section titled The Craig Years – “The legislature of 1893 passed an act founding the four units of higher education in Montana – the State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Bozeman (1893), the State University in Missoula (1895), and the State Normal School in Dillon (1897), and the School of Mines in Butte (1900)".]The four presidents went to the Legislature with separate budgets. Each unit sent its professors to the Montana high schools to solicit students. Each offered whatever courses of study it thought needed and could get approved by the Board of Education. Each had its own budgeting and accounting systems, its admission and graduation standards. This separateness resulted, naturally, in open and vigorous competition for students, for financial support, for land and buildings, for expansion of study offerings, in duplication of buildings and staffs and courses of study, and thereby increased the cost of higher education. At its December 23, 1912, meeting the board of Education passed, as already noted, a resolution by a seven to four vote, favoring consolidation. The 1913 Legislature, meeting a week or two later, considered but did not approve consolidation, yet, hoping to curb inter-unit competition, since each unit had its own special functions, to cut costs of operation, and to bring about unity in operation, established the “University of Montana,” composed of the four units. It also at this session created the position of Chancellor of the newly created University of Montana, a kind of overlord and financial manager of the units. No Chancellor was appointed, however, until more than two years later.

            Dr. Edward C. Elliott, Dean of Education at the University of Wisconsin, was appointed Chancellor by the Board of Education on October 15, 1915. After a long list of agreements between him and the Board had been made which looked toward forestalling misunderstandings, he took office on February 1, 1916. The Chancellor was to have “the initiative for all nominations for the appointment and all recommendations for the compensation, promotion or dismissal of the members of any of the institutions of the University.” For the next year or more the minutes of the State Board of Education abound in proposals by the Chancellor. In time, with the Board’s approval, these defined the office of the Chancellor, together with its responsibilities, duties, privileges and operation. The Board in 1918 adopted resolutions establishing the official powers of the Chancellor as “the chief officer of the University,” including budgeting powers. The gradual setting up of this new and untried office was a difficult, creative task which Chancellor Elliott handled expeditiously. He was a dynamic man, full of confidence and given to hard work, and these characteristics dictated the taking over of some matters which should have remained on the campuses. His task as Chancellor became an almost impossible one. Among his first acts in office was the forming of the Executive Council of Presidents of the four units.

            Meanwhile, Modern Languages Professor F. C. Scheuch, a member of the original University faculty, was serving from June 1915 to September 1917, as Acting President. An early act of his was the effort to put in order the budgeting system, which the committee of the American Association of University Professors, investigating the dismissal of Dr. Craighead, had criticized unfavorably. Later, the Chancellor wisely established uniform budgeting and accounting systems for the four units.

            The Campus during the Scheuch years was inexplicably quiet considering the facts that a war was raging in Europe and the United States was being harried by German U-Boat attacks. Hardly a reference to the war or to world or even to State conditions appeared in The Kaimin during this period. The announcement of the sinking of the Lusitania appeared as a five-inch inside story. The student paper was campus-centered. The news on its pages concerned athletics, debates, dances, Hi Jinx, lectures by professors, Sneak and Aber Days – all of the usual campus happenings. The editorials were the typical college watery ones – small attendance at Singing on the Steps, the wearing of green caps by freshmen, lack of enthusiasm at University games - nothing solid or really interesting. Then in September 1916 Clarence Streit became the editor and the editorials picked up in thoughtfulness – some titles: Know Your Country, Mental Aims, The Idea of a University, Courage (to be independent in thought), Military Training, quotations from New Republic.[1] Only a slight improvement was made in the news department – stories asserting that German vessels could be seized, that German Americans should remain loyal to the United States, W. J. Bryan speaking on Morality. A telegram was sent by students to the twenty-eight men of the Second Montana Regiment stationed on the border of Mexico saying, “We miss you on the campus.”[2]

            Life for the students apparently ran along as if all was right with the world. They had some local grievances – they put on a grand powwow over attendance at classes in Physical Education and even questioned whether such classes should be required. They demonstrated when University men who had played in a game in Bozeman without authority to do so were punished, but their protest the faculty laid on the table. In athletics the University was admitted in December 1916 into the Northwest Conference, which included the Universities of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana and the colleges of Washington State, Oregon State, and Whitman. This meant playing games with much larger institutions than the University. The famous tie-game with Syrause University, the champion of the East, occurred on Thanksgiving Day, 1915. In 1916 under coach Jerry Nissen (with “Click” Clark, of national reputation, playing his last games), the football team won four, tied one and lost one. The Kaimin for November, 1915, listed the college songs – “College Days,” the “Boola Song,” “Up With Montana,” “Montana, my Montana,” “Marching Song,” “At the Foot of Old Mt. Sentinel,” “Give ‘Em the Ax,” and “The Coyote.”

            The students respected the Acting President [Scheuch] and he was close to them, especially in his strong fraternity interests. The 1917 class upon graduation presented the University with a three-fourths length portrait of Frederick C. Scheuch painted by Art Professor E. D. Schwalm.

            The 1917 Legislature passed the Higgins bill appropriating $1,500,000 for buildings for the University plus $220,000 for maintenance and $20,000 for campus extension. The Natural Science building, now housing Botany, was approved in June 1917.

            Chancellor Elliott was on the University campus for many of the faculty meetings during 1916, dominating them and giving attention to trivial details like helping to determine how many absences from class would reduce a student’s credits by one.[3] Neither Acting President Scheuch not President Sisson, who succeeded him in office in September, 1917, sufficiently curbed the Chancellor’s interference in administration. It was necessary for the Chancellor, for instance, in order to hold down duplication of courses in the four units of the University system, to approve each course in each of the units, but it was not necessary for him to consider how many credits each should carry.[4] His energy was needed for larger matters.

            The campus sprang to life, when, on April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. In late March the U. S. Army opened a recruiting office in Missoula; on April 3 two University students enlisted, J. W. Graham and G. H. Abbott. By May 5 one hundred University men had left the campus; faculty men who enlisted were assured that their positions would be kept open for them; a War Emergency Board was formed; sixty University women began Red Cross training; all University intercollegiate games and the Interscholastic Meet were suspended after May 3 for the duration of the war; a flagpole was erected at the entrance to the Oval and the national flag was hoisted, to remain there until the war ended; several campus acres were plowed and students planted and cared for a crop of potatoes; Mrs. Jameson, Dean of Women, conducted during a summer session a German table in Craig Hall, the woman’s dormitory, it being important now that war was going on for young people to learn to speak German. Military drill was installed on April 5, compulsory for freshmen and sophomores and voluntary for upperclassmen; a military course was set up for men, one in nursing for women; all seniors who enlisted before commencement were granted their degrees. A difficult war period followed, complicated by a serious influenza epidemic. The task of struggling through it fell to the lot of Edward Octavius Sisson, the University’s fourth president.

[1] Streit was a journalism graduate, Rhodes Scholar in 1920, correspondent in Europe for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, 1920-24, with the N.Y. Times in Europe, 1925-40, League of Nations correspondent, 1929-1931, originator of the Idea of Union Now, author of several books, and magazine editor (Freedom and Union). The University awarded him an honorary LL.D. degree in 1939 as one of its illustrious graduates.

[2] The writer did not find in The Kaimin an announcement of the U.S. declaration of war on
Germany. There was no issue of the paper on April 6, the day war was declared, and none until April 10.

[3] Seventeen were decided upon, plus reduction of one credit for each additional seventeen absences.

[4] This footnote repeats the same information in footnote #3.

Last Updated on Monday, 01 July 2013 03:27