Establishing A Presence in St. Paul

Hamline University 1880-1912: Establishing A Presence in St. Paul

Anchored by a newly-constructed, steam-heated, five-story University Hall, Hamline University reopened to students in St. Paul on September 22, 1880. The scramble to the deadline was fierce, and all hands were called upon to prepare the new University. Certainly, Hamline University’s new location was not impressive. The eponymous institution of this little town of Hamline, Minnesota,[1] enjoyed the company of barely a half dozen houses, “a board shanty, which answered the purposes of a depot, and a straw pile.”[2] Snelling Avenue, then “only a country road”[3] intersected with a single-track rail line that brought students to their new home-away-from-home. Frank A. Cone, who matriculated the following January, remembers:

I had thought of Hamline as a suburb of the city, but landing at the little station around noon, and peering over the snow drifts, I saw the lone building standing like a forlorn castle in the midst of expanding fields of snow. . . . Some three or four houses occupied lots adjoining the campus. Beyond was space with a farm house showing here and there in the distance. And this was Hamline University of which I had thought, saved, and dreamed during the past months.[4]

As historian David W. Johnson remarked, “If the University’s founders had consciously sought a more desolate and depressing setting for the rejuvenated college, they could not have done a better job.”[5]

University Hall furnished classrooms, as well as living quarters for faculty members, their families, and students. The close living quarters, however, resulted in an outbreak of diphtheria among students, causing the University to close for a period of two weeks before the end of its first term.[6]

Like the student body of the Red Wing years, preparatory students made up the majority of enrollment–of 113 total students, only five were enrolled in the college course.[7] An additional twenty students were enrolled in the Medical Department of Hamline University, which was established after Hamline acquired the St. Paul Medical College. This department however, lasted only one year.

Ladies Hall c1889
MNHS MR2.9 SP5.2 r120

Hamline’s early years saw a great deal of change to its physical footprint. Ladies’ Hall (renamed Goheen Hall in 1907 in honor of Anna Harrison Goheen, a patron of the University) was built in 1882 with accommodations for seventy women as well as more living space for faculty and their families. Rooms rented for one dollar per week were illuminated by gas, and furnished with typical dormitory accoutrements such as beds and washstands. But barely a year later, University Hall–Hamline’s centerpiece structure–burned to the ground. Emergency classroom space was found by rearranging the living quarters in Ladies’ Hall. Rebuilding of the new University Hall (the present Old Main) immediately commenced, and in 1884 the building was dedicated. Science Hall was completed in 1887.

Rev. Dr. David C. John, who was known for his strict adherence to rules and regulations, was President of Hamline from 1880-1883. Under John’s direction, the University constructed strict rules for students. For example, the University Prospectus read: “As ladies and gentlemen must mingle with each other in daily recitation, they will be expected to treat each other with scrupulous courtesy and propriety. Morals and manners constitute an important factor in the cultus of college life, and they will be as carefully taught as science and literature.”[8] This attitude was articulated by a legendary handout presented to each student listing thirty-six rules of conduct, “containing a foot note that others would be added as they were needed.”[9] In addition to regulations governing study hours, conduct for the Sabbath, use of musical instruments, running, laughing, and spitting, the rules advocated strict separation of the sexes, requiring women to use the east stairway of University Hall and men the west; similar arrangements were expected for seating in chapel. What was more, men and women were not to walk or drive together, and conversation between the sexes was sanctioned only during recess from class and after school.[10]

President John, burdened by the severe illness of his wife, resigned his presidency in 1883. He was succeeded by President George Henry Bridgman, who served until 1912. When Bridgman arrived, the campus was in poor shape: its main building burned, a new one under construction, and the others surrounded by fields of corn, wheat, oats, and potatoes. His first order of business was to abolish President John’s list of thirty-six rules to “innocuous desuetude”[11] in favor of one supreme rule: “to be ladies and gentlemen.”[12] Bridgman also introduced the Bachelor of Philosophy degree as an option for students taking the more rigorous course sequence. Later, he established course electives.

As one might expect of a college campus during the late nineteenth century, student hijinx abounded, including surreptitious square dancing, unauthorized meetings between boys and girls, secret cigar smoking by girls, and dorm parties after lights out.[13] Campus activities proliferated, including tennis clubs, bicycle clubs, and various literary, oratory, and dramatic societies. Proposal Rock and the Frog Pond fast became romantic traditions–indeed, Professor Innis, President Bridgman and others holding clerical orders were “in great demand to officiate at the resulting weddings.”[14]

As a rule, students ate together, sometimes in boarders’ dining clubs or in family style with faculty members in the dining area of Ladies’ or University Hall. Meals were robust, as historian Grace Lee Nute describes: “Great tubs of country butter came weekly by rail from Plainview south of the Twin Cities. Itemized bills from grocers and butchers in St. Paul and Minneapolis list almost daily purchases of meat–beef, mutton, ham, and other kinds–and boxes of apricots, peaches, plus grapes, ‘berries,’ and other fruit, as well as fresh vegetables and items today considered luxury foods, such as maple syrup.”[15] In order to cook and serve students and faculty, as well as to maintain the vast labor of cleaning, cooking, and laundry service–which was offered to students at a cost–immigrant girls from Ireland, Sweden, and Norway were employed as domestics.[16]

In 1888, the school newspaper, The Oracle, was established, and issued its first number in October. Sidewalks appeared along the streets in 1888, and water mains were placed the following year. Soon thereafter, crosswalks were set on campus.

In 1889, the University’s school colors were chosen–red and gray.[17] Streetcar service in 1891 allowed students to access both downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis. By 1893, the first student yearbook, the Liner made its appearance, and chapel was no longer mandatory.

The Oracle
Vol 1 No 1

The Liner 1893

The Liner 1893

The Liner 1893

As the young University established its place in the modern world, the decades of the 1880s and 1890s were filled with the spirit of optimism. The first issue of the Liner proclaimed, “It is clear that we live in a new and exceptional age, the most extraordinary and momentous the world has ever seen. The imperfections of the past are being rapidly cleared away, and all systems are undergoing reconstruction.”[18]

And as Nute writes, “By 1893 in Minnesota it was considered ‘quite the thing’ to attend Hamline University.”[19] The faculty were known for being learned and well-traveled.[20] Hamline even had an exhibit at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.[21] School spirit was high: “The cry of the world is advancement! We are a part of the world, –indeed, a good part–”[22] proclaimed the graduating class of 1895. The sense of liberalism that pervaded Hamline was further present in the fact that women continued to give public orations as they had in the Red Wing days, and one Professor, Henry L. Osborn, even lectured on the new theory of evolution and Darwin’s controversial text, Origin of Species.[23]

The Panic of 1893 refocused much of the frivolity on campus, and a new sense of social justice emerged, including the establishment of Hamline’s chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA).

In spite of the economic depression, however, President Bridgman managed to raise $35,000 to pay off the University’s mortgage. Thus, on a bright June morning in 1898, a crowd of trustees, faculty, students, and others gathered for the symbolic burning of the University’s mortgage. One Trustee noted, “There is an adage that hell is paved with good resolutions. I should like to amend that to make it hell is paved with good resolutions and mortgages.” Concluding the remarks, President Bridgman’s small daughter Dorothy touched a match to the document, and “A red fire was then kindled on the summit of the altar, and the mortgage, held in the hands of Dr. Bridgman’s little daughter, was quickly consumed.”[24]
In 1894, presidential candidate William McKinley spoke in chapel.[25] Students played the new sport of basketball and by the next year, both a women’s and a men’s basketball league were in full swing.

Medical instruction was again in place at Hamline in 1895, when the Minneapolis College of Physicians and Surgeons was acquired and renamed the Hamline College of Medicine, educating both men and women students. However, by 1908, the College of Medicine left Hamline for the University of Minnesota due to financial difficulties. During the time it was a part of Hamline, the college graduated more than 280 students, twenty of whom were women.[26]

Unlike the Civil War, which devastated Hamline’s student population, the Spanish-American war had comparatively minor impact on student life, although the spring of 1898 did see men drilling on campus fields,[27] and students regularly contributed to the political discussion through topical columns in the Oracle.

In 1901, the Hamline Methodist Church was built, allowing its members, who had worshiped in the Hamline chapel, to have their own church. Three years later, the semi-centennial of the University was celebrated there in a somber ceremony.

The turn of the twentieth century saw renewed energy in campus building, and the campus footprint changed yet again. Construction on Norton Field began in 1905, followed by the Carnegie Library building in 1907. The library, once housed in a sunlit second-floor room in University Hall, was a particular point of celebration, as noted by the student writers of the Liner:

The new Hamline Library marks the beginning of a new era at Hamline University–an era of greater progressiveness and aggressiveness. . . . Heavier work is being done in the debates, more scholarly papers are being read, and greater pains taken in all manner of society work. . . . And the new library seems to be the embodiment of this new spirit among the students. . . . Here is an atmosphere especially conducive to study. We see students of all classes, with many different purposes, gleaning knowledge.[28]

A new gymnasium was built in 1909, replacing the “dusty air and creaking floor of the old gym in the basement of Science Hall, with its intruding pillars and its low ceiling.”[29] The $35,000 structure housed nearly twenty rooms, including a second-floor running track, a handball court, locker facilities and showers for both men and women, a director’s room, reception area, trophy room, and a kitchen. The basement housed a batting cage, locker and shower facilities for visiting teams, and a field practice room with a dirt floor and cinder track.[30]

In 1912, Hamline changed from a three-term plan to the two-semester plan. It also allowed summer study for credit. About this time the preparatory departments of the University were closed, due to a lack of students, who were now able to access free secondary education in local schools due to a change in state practices.

In spite of all the gains made by President Bridgman, the close of his tenure was not under favorable circumstances. The combination of lower enrollments, financial hardship, and campus politics created tensions throughout the University. On one side were progressives who were “ready to replace emphasis on missions and athletics with accents on scholarship, contemporary art, music, and drama, political reform, and the adoption of the new vernacular in writing as well as in ordinary conversation.”[31] On the other, “were those whose inclinations were traditional and pietistic.”[32]

President Bridgman retired his office in 1912 after serving Hamline for nearly thirty years. Bridgman solidified Hamline’s future in St. Paul–structurally, financially, and academically. Alumna Grace Candell (’04), best sums up the culture established by Bridgman in her speech entitled “In Futurem” delivered at an alumni gathering in 1907:

We wish for Hamline not only that her Ideal shall be high, but that she may constantly approach that Ideal. To build libraries and gymnasiums is to do well; but to send out men and women fully equipped to make not only a living, but a life, is to do better. To win victories in Field and Track, and on Gridiron or Diamond, is well; to surpass in Oratory and Debate is better; but to go out into the wide, wide world to be the means of influencing other men and women to desire a college training, is best of all.[33]

Hamline University c1906
MNHS MR2.9 SP5.2 r247


By Kristin Mapel Bloomberg CLA ’90
*I published a version of this article in 150 Lives that Make a Difference (Hamline University Press, 2005)

[1] The town of Hamline was annexed by St. Paul in 1885.
[2] “Hamline in 1880-1881.” The Oracle 5.2 (Nov. 30, 1893): 3.
[3] “Hamline in 1880-1881.” The Oracle 5.2 (Nov. 30, 1893): 3.
[4] Frank A. Cone, “Pioneer Days.” Hamline University, ed. Charles Nelson Pace, (n.p.: Hamline University Alumni Association, 1939), p. 119.
[5] David W. Johnson, Hamline University: A History 1854-1994, (St. Paul, Minn.: Hamline University Press, 1994), p. 21-22.b
[6] Nute, p. 112.
[7] Catalogue of Hamline University, Hamline, Minn., for the year 1880-1881, (Minneapolis: Johnson, Smith & Harrison, 1881), p. 5-8. Hamline University Archives.
[8] Prospectus of Hamline University, p. 11.
[9] Cone, p. 121.
[10] Grace Lee Nute, In Hamline Halls (St. Paul: Board of Trustees of Hamline University, 1987), p. 115-117, also see Hamline University Archives.
[11] Cone, p. 124.
[12] Dorothy Bridgman Atkinson, “Hamline Grows Strong,” Hamline University, ed. Charles Nelson Pace (n.p.: Hamline University Alumni Association, 1939), p. 38.
[13] Nute, p. 142.
[14] Nute, p. 150. Interestingly, Nute notes that the boulder placed on campus in 1886 is not the real Proposal Rock, “simply because the senior class of that year was unable to get such a huge boulder moved. So another rock was moved to the campus and became a traditional bone of contention between classes.” Also see The Oracle, April 1889, and the Interurban Graphic, May 26, 1888.
[15] Nute, p. 146.
[16] Nute, p. 146.
[17] Oracle, December, 1889.
[18] Liner, Vol. I, (1893), p. 7. Hamline University Archives.
[19] Nute, p. 154.
[20] See Oracle, December, 1890.
[21] H. L. Osborn, “Hamline University at the Columbian Exposition.” Oracle 5.9 (June 15 1893): 3-4.
[22] Liner, Vol. II (1893) p. 37.
[23] Merrill E. Jarchow, Private Liberal Arts Colleges in Minnesota: Their History and Contributions. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1973, p. 12; Nute, p. 149-150.
[24] Oracle 10.9 (June, 1898): 11.
[25] Nute, p. 172.
[26] Jarchow, p. 12.
[27] Nute, p. 179.
[28] Liner (1909), n.p.
[29] Liner (1911), n.p.
[30] Liner (1911), n.p.
[31] Nute, p. 189.
[32] Jarchow, p. 54.
[33] Grace Candell, “In Futurem,” Hamline University Alumni Quarterly 4.1 (July 1907): 22.