Momentum from the Beginning
The University in 1856
people of the area, having provided the means to send the college tottering
on its way, quickly became its principal fund-raisers.
As promptly as late 1856 they exhorted the state legislature to appropriate
$50,000 for the University, which one resolution drawn up at a meeting
of local citizenry proclaimed was “unsurpassed by any institution of
similar grade” (how they knew this of a less-than-one-year-old seminary
whose lone building stood in a wind-buffeted hayfield in northernmost
New York is unrecorded, but the national climate of the times was one
of unabashed boosterism not inclined to be thwarted by fact-checking).
In April 1857 the legislature offered $25,000 if the trustees would raise
an equal amount. “This first matching grant challenge in St. Lawrence's
history was successful, and the resulting $50,000 became the nest egg
of the College of Letters and Science,” according to The Scarlet
and the Brown , St. Lawrence's 125th-anniversary history book.
During the Civil War, St. Lawrence lived a hand-to-mouth existence.
The war years saw the first endowed chair drives, amounting to $20,000
to $25,000 (in era when the president, who was also half the faculty,
was paid $1,100 a year). These were successful despite the uncertainties
brought on by the war. Even so, at one point the trustees voted to suspend
the College of Letters and Science, but, after consuming a dinner
set before them by faculty and community wives, rescinded the decision.
What they were served, or what was in it, remains a mystery.
While the Theological School gained strength, the recession year 1885-86
marked yet another nearly fatal crisis for the College of Letters and
Science. At a June meeting in the Canton Town Hall , where cessation
of operations was seriously and gloomily debated, it was the students
who came to the rescue. Singing the newly composed “The Scarlet and the
Brown” (“Wave the folds of the scarlet and the brown / That we ne'er
will see hauled down; /And though we students may be scattered far and
wide, / Still we'll rally to the scarlet and the brown…”), they did indeed
rally, pledging $1,100. Townsfolk once again took up the cause, according
to Sixty Years of St. Lawrence, the University's first
full-fledged history book, published in 1916. They dug deep enough to
double the students' amount, and within six months the long-range goal
of $50,000 was surpassed thanks to some footwork by the faculty and some
The Scarlet and the Brown identifies this as St. Lawrence's
first real campaign. Among early donors were P.T. Barnum (who also put
the College of Letters and Science in his will, even though he didn't
much care for higher education) and New York State Gov. Roswell P. Flower
of Watertown . All this was cause for another first, a campaign
celebration, on Dec. 1, 1886.