A Quest for Excellence, Darker Times Ahead


Hamline graduates
From “Views and Reviews” brochure, 1915


Hamline University 1912-1932: A Quest for Excellence, Darker Times Ahead


This period in Hamline University’s history began positively when, in 1912, alumnus Samuel Fletcher Kerfoot was chosen to succeed George Bridgman as president. Kerfoot’s enthusiasm for Hamline was great. At the first chapel service of fall 1912, he echoed the positive spirit of earlier Hamline students, declaring “We are not here as an educational institution wholly, but chiefly for the great business of making men and women.” The slogans that governed his presidency were “Co-operation” and “Hamline stands for the best.” [1]

Kerfoot in the 1914 Liner

Kerfoot’s challenge was to fine-tune Hamline’s purpose, which had become blurred in the waxing years of the twentieth century: What “is the mission and aim of the Christian college?” he asked. [2] Good feelings arose between president and students, who affectionately called him “Prexy Kerfoot,” using youth language of the day for college presidents.

As Hamline turned its attention to the issues of a new century, professors and students stressed social responsibility. Topics such as immigration restriction, a living wage, the eight-hour workday, and world peace were debated in and out of class. A popular speaker at the newly established Six O’clock Club roused students to “become active in world’s work.” He explained, “Our influence and attitude toward the problems of life is going to shape and determine the attitude of many others.” [3] Student Rudolph Wosmeck also called for this new outlook in the Oracle: “The

The aspirational plan
From the 1913 Catalogue
Click to enlarge

majority of college [students] are no longer pursuing higher education as a means to wealth or an easier time, but that they may learn to know the wants of humanity and be able to give the world their best service.” [4]

This attitude was not reflective of all Hamline students, however. Many wanted more emphasis on athletics and vocational training. And the tensions among the students would soon be exacerbated by those found in the administration.

In 1914, Hamline was accredited by the North Central Association of the Colleges. [5] The curriculum was modernized and the bachelor of science degree replaced the bachelor of philosophy. Noonday prayer meetings were phased out in favor of more time devoted to class work, and three fifty-minute classes per week became the norm.

Under President Bridgman, enrollment had slipped, in large part due to Hamline’s poor athletic programs. Kerfoot hoped a new gymnasium and athletic field would have greater appeal to students eager for college sport. Enrollment did grow—to nearly 500 students—causing Hamline to scramble for dormitory space as students spilled out into residences surrounding campus.

With the demise of Hamline’s preparatory department, public high schools now supplied the university’s freshman. When students arrived on campus, they found a student culture dominated by administrative dictates such as no dancing, movies, or staying up late. But students took matters into their own hands and all manner of student clubs proliferated, much to the disdain of the administration. Freshmen “rushing,” or frenzied recruitment by student organizations, was a major problem, especially among the women. Men’s literary societies, which once dominated extracurricular activities, were nearly extinct; instead, fraternities—frowned upon by university administration—increased in number. Historian Merrill E. Jarchow explains, “The average Hamline student was by no means a single-minded crusader for social reform,” because many “cane rushes, nightshirt parades, frog pond trysts, wiener roasts, and giant bonfires after athletic activities” were preferable to books and study. [6] Historian Grace Nute says, “It was definitely not a theological or religious era in Hamline student life.” [7]

The advent of World War I, however, halted the happy-go-lucky atmosphere of campus youth culture. In spring semester of 1917, all track and baseball schedules were canceled, [8] and student volunteers pledged to farm work were excused from courses and given passing marks on studies left uncompleted. That same semester, all male students were required to complete military drill practice, an obligation that continued through the war.

From the 1920 Liner

In the summer of 1917, the Hamline Ambulance Corps was organized. Its members carried with them into overseas service a silk banner in the university colors made by Hamline’s women students. [9]

From the 1920 Liner

War work also took place on campus. Hamline participated in the Intercollegiate Intelligence Bureau in which one faculty member compiled an inventory of the abilities of all faculty, alumni, and students—the first assembled by any Minnesota college to be forwarded to the governor. [10] Women students studied first aid, nursing, and other subjects related to the care of soldiers.

In the fall of 1918, the “Hamline unit of the much-maligned Students’ Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.)” was organized. [11] The S.A.T.C. was a program of the United States Army, “designed to keep the nation’s colleges and universities alive despite the draft that fell so heavily on men of student age.” Operating as a modified army camp, men students “divided their time between ordinary classroom activities and military instruction.” [12] These men were soldiers first and students second. The S.A.T.C. offered them the ability to fast-track college work in order to receive officers’ commissions upon completion of the program. Soon more than 200 S.A.T.C. men concurrently enrolled in Hamline University were stationed in the basement of University Hall, along with their officers. Science Hall bore the brunt of changes to house the men—the natural history museum was dismantled in favor of sleeping space, and the basement was transformed into a mess hall and shower rooms. The Phi Delta fraternity was refitted as the S.A.T.C. Hospital, able to treat up to fourteen patients at a time. [13]

SATC practices behind University Hall
Minnesota Reflections MDL Identifier mhs04082

The presence of these soldier-students on campus was particularly disruptive. As student (and later Academic Dean) Miron A Morrill remembered, “Occasionally, under orders, our top sergeant…ran out into the middle of our campus-parade ground, blew his whistle, and assembled the company. We dropped everything, left the classrooms pell mell, and dressed our lines, waiting to hear something important, perhaps the latest bulletin from Washington. The professors found it disconcerting.” [14]

While every effort was made to preserve the university’s normal academic routine, “standards of scholarship of the men, and by contagion, also that of the women, suffered a marked decline both as to the quality of the work and as to its volume; so that we saw every phase of academic life falling very much below par.” [15]

The S.A.T.C. was short lived, and the Alumni Quarterly noted in January 1919 that “The S.A.T.C. disappears without regret,” and judged it as “hastily contrived” and plagued by problems:

The deficiencies were foreseen by educators. There was a tendency to let down the bars of entrance requirements so that the material to be worked upon was more “raw” than usual. The attitude of many was that attendance in classes was an evil to be endured as seldom as possible. . . . Others who began with an ambition to be students lost it when endless details and formations broke into their study plans. [16]

Following demobilization and the loss of “students” provided by the S.A.T.C., Hamline’s enrollment of men fell by half, and in an effort to lure back its previous students who had entered the military, Hamline offered up to fifteen credits for their service, should they return to their studies.


War’s close found “new ideas, a changed concept of education and of woman’s place in society, a looser morality, and inflation.” [17] Hamline now had to decide whether to continue to build on its present site beside Snelling Avenue, or relocate in order to grow.

In 1919, the board of trustees announced that Hamline would be relocated, believing it unwise to continue building on fifteen acres squeezed in the Midway area of Saint Paul. Several locations were offered to the university free of charge, including sites on Lake Minnetonka and the east side of the Mississippi at the end of the Lake Street bridge.

The relocation debate raged for nearly two years, when in 1921 Hamline decided to remain on its present site and purchased several blocks adjacent to campus. Manor House was built, and on the other end of campus a new Norton Field—including a grandstand—was dedicated in 1922.

Plan for the new Manor House
From “The Zero Hour,” April 1921
Plan for the new Norton Field
From “The Zero Hour,” April 1921

But the stress of keeping a university afloat during these times took its toll on both the university and its president, and in the spring of 1923 Kerfoot temporarily resigned, giving his post to Henry Osborn, dean since 1918 and the most senior member of Hamline’s faculty. As acting president, Osborn compiled a detailed survey of alumni, which showed that by 1924, thirty percent of Hamline’s known alumni were teachers in Minnesota high schools, thirty percent were “homekeepers,” twenty percent were in business, eleven percent were clergy or otherwise employed in Christian work, and three percent were physicians. [18] Clearly, Hamline’s focus on the liberal arts had prepared its graduates for a life of service and personal integrity. Kerfoot regained his health and returned to the presidency several months later.

The library was modernized in 1919, as a result of growing demand, and a circulation desk was established, the stacks closed off, and a professional librarian hired to catalogue the library’s 25,000 volumes. [19] The Women’s Self-Government Association, formed in 1921 as a regulating authority among women residents, grew to such influence and prestige that, by 1924, the men of the college asked for a similar organization. From this, Hamline’s Student Senate—a forerunner to today’s Hamline University Student Congress (HUSC)—was organized, “a representative body of young men and women exercising general advisory supervision over student activities and the honor system.” [20]

Athletics, which had boomed in the post-war period, began a long decline. Women’s literary societies became more social than literary, and all variety of clubs “rose, flourished, and died with rapidity in the 1920s.” [21] Dancing was finally allowed on campus in 1925, albeit not “officially” sanctioned by the university, and was monitored closely by the chaperones. [22] But Hamline continued its quest for excellence and, by the middle of that decade, more emphasis was placed on academic achievement and national, departmental, and local honor societies were founded.        

But trouble was afoot. The day after Christmas 1925, Hamline Methodist Episcopal Church was destroyed by fire.

President Kerfoot resigned in 1927 to return to the ministry. Hamline’s new president, Rev. Alfred F. Hughes, inherited an institution in deep trouble.

Hughes believed the only solution to this persistent problem was to transform Hamline into a junior college satellite of the University of Minnesota. Additionally, he courted conservative Methodists, clashed with faculty, and fired Gregory D. Walcott, the progressive professor of philosophy and psychology. This resulted in Hamline’s investigation by the powerful Committee A of the American Association of University Professors. [23]   

The crash of 1929 and the onset of the Great Depression did much damage to Hamline, but most injurious was Hamline’s failure to distinguish itself from other institutions in the area. An investigative report compiled by the Board of Education of the Methodist Episcopal Church, remarked, “An educational institution located In St. Paul, in the shadow of the University of Minnesota, must be prepared to render a distinctive service if it is to survive.” [24] Coupled with this assessment was the board’s pessimistic attitude about the university’s future as the decade of the 1930s turned. Hamline’s deficit rose and substantial faculty retrenchment was looming. Asked to shoulder part of the burden, faculty were pressured to contribute 5 percent of their already low salaries. [25] Student enrollment continued to decline, and the Depression cut on all sides.

Hughes – perhaps rightfully so – was marked for blame. But before the trustees could fire him, he resigned in 1932. And in 1933, Hamline lost its North Central accreditation, and was barred from the Minnesota College athletic conference as a result of “athletic conditions” and “lack of an administrative head.” [26]


See also:

“…The Real Story of that Time the Faculty Saved the University”

“Hamline University 1880-1912: Establishing a Presence in St. Paul”

By Kristin Mapel Bloomberg CLA ‘90
*This is a revised version of my article originally published in 150 Lives that Make a Difference (Hamline University Press, 2005)


[1] Quoted in Miron A. Morrill, “The Era of Consolidation,” Hamline University, ed. Charles Nelson Pace (Saint Paul, Minn.: Hamline University Alumni Association, 1939), 56-57.

[2] Quoted in Morrill, 57.

[3] Oracle, November 22, 1912.

[4] Oracle, March 14, 1913.

[5] Morrill, 60.

[6] Merrill E. Jarchow, Private Liberal Arts Colleges in Minnesota: Their History and Contributions (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1973), 56.

[7] Grace Lee Nute, “In Hamline Halls, 1854-1954,” unpublished manuscript, Hamline University Archives., 211.

[8] Oracle, April 26, 1917.

[9] Henry L. Osborn, Hamline University in the World War (Saint Paul: Hamline University, 1920), 18; Jack K. Johnson, “‘Our United Effort’: Hamline University’s World War I Ambulance Company,” Minnesota History 64.8 (Winter 2015-2016): 320-329.

[10] Osborn, 15.

[11] Morrill, 63.

[12] John D. Hicks, “My Six Years at Hamline,” Minnesota History 39.6 (1965): 219.

[13] Osborn, 36.

[14] Morrill, 64.

[15] Osborn, 38.

[16] “The S.A.T.C.” Alumni Quarterly, January, 1919, p. 1-2.

[17] Nute, 225.

[18] See Alumni Quarterly, Summer 1924.

[19] Osborn, 36.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 234.

[22] Alumni Quarterly, June 1925.

[23] H.R. Fairclough, “Hamline University,” Bulletin of the American Association of University Professors 15.2 (1929): 127-128.  

[24] Quoted in Nute, 252.

[25] Richard R. Marsh, “Interregnum at Hamline: The Year the Faculty Ran the School, 1932-1933,” Minnesota History 51.3 (1988), 111.

[26] United States. Department of the Interior, Office of Education. “Accredited Higher Institutions: Changes in the Accredited Lists of National and Regional Accrediting Association, 1930-1933,” June, 1933; “Hamline University in Bad in Athletics,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 30, 1933, p. 13; “Place Hamline on Black List,” St. Cloud Times, June 3, 1933, p. 2.