President Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,

Hubbard Hall, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME.

Cheryl took me to Hubbard Hall, Bowdoin College's main administration building. On the second floor is a portrait gallery of past Bowdoin College presidents, including Chamberlain. This was painted from life in 1908, and presented to Chamberlain at Bowdoin's 103rd Commencement. I found it to be a very striking portrait, indeed.

In early 1871, Chamberlain was unanimously elected as Bowdoin's president. He took the position, on condition that he would be given the freedom and flexibility to make changes at the college. He knew that Bowdoin not only had to reform parts of its curriculum, but its attitude toward education as well. He had three areas of reform in mind: a loosening of discipline, with a view to treating students as adults; curriculum revision with a greater emphasis on science and modern languages as well as the inception of a graduate program leading to the Master of Arts degree; and the introduction of military drill.

Massachusetts Hall, Bowdoin College. It's the oldest building on campus. Chamberlain's office was located here.

Photo by David Williamson. Do not use without his express written permission.

Changes in the first area were probably not too difficult to take. Formal morning prayers before breakfast were eliminated; prayers were held after breakfast at 8:30, with all classes for the day to follow at half-hour intervals. Evening prayers, with the exception of Sunday, were abolished altogether, as were Saturday classes and the long winter vacation. Commencement was to occur in June. Library hours were extended, and scholarship alone was now to determine the award of college honors--before that, irregularities in conduct or in attendance at college exercises had figured in the awards.

Curriculum revision, however, was a tougher nut to crack. Chamberlain's idea to add a science department, for example, was felt by some of the older professors as a threat to Bowdoin's traditional course of study, which was to prepare students for the Congregationalist ministry. Besides the addition of a science department, Chamberlain also wanted to establish an engineering course, and he also placed an emphasis on the modern languages of French and German (instead of Greek and Latin), for those students taking the science course. To make matters "worse" (in some of the more conservative faculty's eyes), Chamberlain believed WOMEN should have rights to higher education:

"Women too should have part in this high calling. Because in this sphere of things her 'rights', her capacities, her offices, her destiny, are equal to those of man."(8)

Chamberlain further rattled Bowdoin's academic cages in his first address as President in July 1872. Among other things, he deplored the spirit of the monastery, with its

"...tendency away from life; the natural affection rebuked; the social instincts chilled; the body despised and so dishonored; woman banished and hence degraded, so that to admit her to a place in higher education is thought to degrade a college. The inmates separate, secluded, grown abnormal and provincial, came out into the world strangers to it...Now that is not what the college wants to make of men."(9)

This was Chamberlain's challenge to Bowdoin: adapt to the outside world, or die from within. And Chamberlain was bound and determined to drag Bowdoin College kicking and screaming, if necessary, into the 19th century!

Memorial Hall, Bowdoin College. Here, on the ground floor walls, are listed the names of Bowdoin College graduates, who served in the Civil War.

Photo by David Williamson.

Do not use without his express written permission.

In the area of the military drill, the Federal government at the time was concerned that, if the country ever entered another war, it would not be caught unprepared to fight, as it was in 1861. Therefore, it encouraged colleges and universities to develop military units, and Chamberlain wanted one at Bowdoin. He made the recommendation to the Boards in January 1872, and it was approved, and he selected Major Joseph Sanger to organize this unit.

At first the students took their military duties seriously--four infantry companies were organized, numbering nearly 200 student privates, non-commissioned officers, and officers; as well as an artillery unit. But, as time went on, the novelty of drilling began to wear off. For one thing, the students resented the study time lost to the drill, not to mention the fact they had to purchase their own uniforms! In November 1873, the students decided to bypass Chamberlain and approach the Boards directly, presenting a petition to abolish the drill altogether. Negotiations between the students and the college failed, and in May 1874, the students were given an ultimatum: resume drilling, or go home. The students went home. Letters from the college followed, telling parents that their sons had to return to school within ten days to comply with the laws of the college--including military drill--or be expelled. Thankfully, all but three returned by the expected time (and even those three ultimately came back to the fold).

Hubbard Hall, Bowdoin College.

Here is where the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum (Peary was a Bowdoin graduate of Chamberlain's science program), as well as the college's History, Economics and Government departments, are located.

Photo by David Williamson.

Do not use without his express written permission.

This "Drill Revolt" ultimately doomed Chamberlain's military program. In June 1873, the Boards voted to make it optional; in 1883, it was abolished altogether. Chamberlain was also being attacked by those who criticized the science program--not only by those who opposed his de-emphasis on religion, but also by those who felt he'd not gone far enough. Unfortunately, the program encountered many financial difficulties; in those days, colleges were still pretty much dependent on students' tuition to meet expenses. With limited building expansion, inadequate facilities, and low salaries (and competition from both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Maine State Agricultural College at Orono), Chamberlain finally admitted failure in 1878.

"We may console ourselves with having made an earnest effort to meet what was a demand of the times, with having done good work and earned a good fame...."(10)

In 1880 and 1881, the Boards discontinued both the scientific and engineering programs respectively. At the time, some of Chamberlain's academic ideas were considered too radical. But in the end, some of them would be permanently established: in 1892, a new science department was introduced; and in 1971, Bowdoin would finally open its doors to women.

During his years as Bowdoin's president, Chamberlain also kept up a strenuous outside schedule. Frequent addresses at town festivals, meetings of the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States; an appearance as Maine's representative at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia; serving as United States Commissioner at the 1878 Paris Exposition (where he wrote a 165-page report for the U.S. government appraising European education, with an emphasis on systems being utilized in France--and for which he would receive a bronze medal from the French government), among other things.

But ill health, caused by the Petersburg wound, would continue to dog him, and in September 1883, he resigned as Bowdoin's president, although the Boards asked him to lecture for the time being, in political economy and in constitutional and international law. In 1885, in ill health again, he resigned even this position, although he would continue to serve on the Boards until his death. But it was quite a remarkable record of service: from 1855 to 1885, Chamberlain would teach every subject at Bowdoin, except mathematics and physical science.

Here is a beautiful evening photo of the Joshua Chamberlain statue, which stands just beyond the Bowdoin College campus.

Photo by David Williamson.

Do not use without his express written permission.

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