Tag Archives: Gamma Sigma

Early Chinese Students at Williston: Part II

By Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist (Retired)

Note: For Part I of this article, please see The First Chinese Students at Williston.

The closing of the Chinese Educational Mission and the recall of its students to China in 1881 ended Chinese attendance at Williston Seminary for the next twenty-three years. There were several factors, not the least of which may have been that Williston’s Principals, Joseph W. Fairbanks (served 1878-1884) and William Gallagher (served 1886-1896) had little interest in maintaining international diversity. There were significant enrollments of international students (by whom we mean citizens of other countries, not American dependents of diplomats, businessmen, or missionaries) from Latin America, notably Cuba and Panama. That is perhaps not surprising, since the United States had significant political and business interests there. But with the notable exception of Williston’s first two Siamese (Thai) students, Nai Kawn, class of 1884, and Boon Itt, 1885, there was practically no attendance from any Asian countries.

The Senior Class, from the 1910 yearbook The Log. Fully one-quarter of the class was from China. (Click on any image to enlarge it.)

The anti-Chinese atmosphere in the United States of the 1880s was certainly a factor. (Since bigotry prefers generalities, for the most part it was extended to all Asians.) So, too, were the practicalities of travel. Cross-country rail travel had improved mightily since the completion of the first route in 1869 (ironically, built largely with Chinese labor), but even with the rise of steamships and without the need for a dangerous and lengthy voyage around Cape Horn, passage from Asia was measured in weeks.

But American attitudes were also changing. Despite the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which severely restricted immigration, Chinese neighborhoods – “Chinatowns” – were springing up in many larger cities, and not just on the West Coast. Inevitably, the country was becoming more tolerant, although shamefully, the Exclusion Act was not repealed until 1943.

Headmaster Joseph Sawyer

At Williston, Principal Gallagher stepped down in 1896, and was succeeded by Joseph Sawyer. Sawyer, whose biography has been treated in detail in these pages (see Visionary Keeper of the Flame), had a genuine, personal interest in Chinese students, having encouraged the Chinese Educational Mission students’ Christian conversion and published on the subject. When a trickle of Chinese applicants began to appear, he jumped at the chance to welcome them. As a group, the first enrollees were not an immediate success.

(A note on names: since we do not have modern Pinyin transliterations for any of the early 20th century Chinese students, their names are here rendered as they appeared in school records, using the older Wade-Giles anglicizations. American practice puts the patronymic (family name) last, although in Chinese, it is properly placed at the beginning of a name. Thus, Chin Chao Kwong, whom we are about to meet, would have signed his name “Kwong Chin Chao.” If the modern reader finds this confusing, it puts him on similar footing with Williston’s record-keepers of a century ago, who sometimes confused family and personal names.)

The first Chinese national to enroll was Chin Chao Kwong, who arrived in September, 1904. Kwong was the nephew of Kuang Guoguang, an original Chinese Educational Mission (henceforth CEM) student who had attended Phillips Exeter in 1880-81. In 1904 Kuang was a diplomat in Washington. He brought his son and nephews to visit his former host family, Hervey and Nancy Dickerman, in Holyoke, Mass. [Edward J. M. Rhoads, Stepping Forth Into the World: The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81, Hong Kong University Press, 2011, 100, 211] A Mrs. M. L. Dickerman of Holyoke, apparently related to that family, offered to sponsor Chin Chao Kwong at Williston. Kwong was from Tsinanfu, today called Jinan, in central China’s Shandong Province. He started as a member of the class of 1907, but his initial grades were abysmal. He stepped back to the class of 1908, but it didn’t help. After a stay of three years, he left without graduating at the end of 1907. In 1920 Mrs. Dickerman informed the school that Kwong was in the head office of his father’s mining company in Jinan. After that we lose track of him.

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The Confessions of Harlan Mendenhall

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

The Rev. Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall

In the fall of 1931 the Reverend Dr. Harlan G. Mendenhall, Williston Seminary class of 1870 (Classical), visited the campus.  Aged 80, Mendenhall was considered the “grand old man” of American Presbyterianism, having served in parishes all over the U.S., risen to the highest levels of the New York Presbytery, and was, in 1931, still not retired.    Dr. Mendenhall brought with him a variety of documents from his student days, including a copy of the 1869 Salmagundi, Williston’s first senior yearbook, which he had co-edited, and a scrapbook of his student writings as a member of Adelphi, the school’s literary and debating society.  He also sat down with The Willistonian for an extended interview, reproduced at length in the issue of October 21.  Conversation focused on how the school had changed in more than five decades – and took a surprising turn.

North and Middle Halls in the 1930s. When Mendenhall was a student, North Hall was new. (Click all images to enlarge.)

“Williston in my day was a great deal different than your Williston of today.  North Hall was but a few years old and was all partitioned off into three sections by thick fire walls.  There were no bathrooms nor any central heating system, and in the winter we all had to buy our own coal for our stoves.  We had no school dining room either and had to eat either at fraternity eating places or at the old “Hash Factory” which stood at the corner of Union and High Streets.  It was possible to eat for two dollars a week then.”

“Students were then a great deal older than the fellows at Williston are now.  There was one fellow named Redington who had already graduated from Yale and had come to Williston to study English.   As the boys were older, they were more independent and often used to have revolutions and uprisings of all sorts.”

Lyman W. Redington, class of 1866 and again, 1869. We have found no evidence of anyone else ever completing both the Classical and Scientific curricula, with a year of college separating them.

[Lyman William Redington of Waddington, N.Y. graduated Williston’s Classical Department in 1866.  He completed a year at Yale, left because of eye problems, but returned to Williston and enrolled in the Scientific, a.k.a. English Department, graduating in 1869.  He and Harlan Mendenhall were the founding co-editors of the yearbook Salmagundi in 1869.  He became a newspaper editor in Rutland, Vt., ran unsuccessfully for Governor, took up law, and ultimately became Asst. Corporate Counsel for the City of New York, and a Tammany Hall member of the State Assembly.]

“There was a fellow in school then who had received a check for one hundred dollars from home, and instead of depositing it in the bank, he took it across to Putnam’s Book Store and established a checking account.”

“There came a time when Ballance, that was the boy, [William Henry Ballance, class of 1870] said that he had ten more dollars coming, and Old Put claimed that he had drawn his entire account.  Then Ballance started an association of most of the boys in school swearing not to trade with Put until the ten dollars should be paid.  They formed a big parade and marched down in front of Put’s store and read the constitution and by-laws of the association to him.  Some of the boys carried big banners inscribed ‘No More Trade for Old Put’ and ‘False Weights Against True Ballance.’  The parade then marched over to the gym steps and had its picture taken.” Continue reading

Resolved . . .

By Rick Teller '70, Archivist

Over the last several decades, formal forensic debate has led a somewhat checkered history at Williston.  Last year a new Political Awareness Club presented several well-attended and well-argued, if informal, debates.  And in 2013 members of the AP U.S. History class went all the way to the national We The People finals in Washington.  So debate is currently alive and in reasonable health.  But it doesn’t compare with what was arguably a golden age of debating, for roughly sixty years beginning around 1860.

A Gamma Sigma debate, ca. 1935. (WIlliam Rittase) (Click all images to enlarge.)
A Gamma Sigma debate, ca. 1935. (WIlliam Rittase) (Click all images to enlarge.)

There were two rival societies: Adelphi (“Brotherhood”), representing students from the Classical side of the curriculum; and Gamma Sigma (from the Greek initials for Socrates’ admonition to “Know Thyself”), drawing its membership from students in the Scientific program.  The elder society, Adelphi, was founded in 1853, and was initially open to all students.  But the growth of the Scientific program produced friction.  The Classicals arrogated to themselves a tradition that as members of the intellectually superior division of the Seminary, all positions of leadership within Adelphi should devolve to them.  Naturally the Scientifics objected.  Unable either to achieve compromise or extract an appropriate apology, in 1870 they withdrew from Adelphi and founded their own organization.  The rivalry continued unabated for decades, long after the initial slight was forgotten.

Adelphi's unequivocal motto. (Constitution and By-Laws, 1858)
Adelphi’s unequivocal motto. (Constitution and By-Laws, 1858)

In March, 1881, an attempt at reconciliation resulted in the creation of the campus newspaper, The Willistonian, to be “published by the Societies of Williston Seminary.”  Good feeling and cooperation lasted for exactly one issue, after which Adelphi published The Willistonian on its own.  (The newspaper became independent of either society in 1894.) Continue reading