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Archive for the ‘Amherst College Trustees’ Category

1830-Tyler-Wm-1837-Jan-30-p4-to-bro-Wellington-env

An old letter is like a present.  Its handwriting is the wrapping paper: before you can see or know the present, you have to unwrap it.  The present may be lousy, something you’ll quickly forget.  Or it might be something you keep, something you take with you, maybe even something that changes your life.  But you’ll never know until you unwrap it.

Sometimes a present is for sharing, like the one-pound chocolate bar in your colleague’s desk drawer.  I recently unwrapped such a present –a letter full of delicious nuggets — and want to share it with you because it has lingered in my mind ever since I first read it.

Tyler-WS-fr-autobio-ca1840The letter is from William Seymour Tyler, Class of 1830, to his brother Wellington Hart Tyler, Class of 1831.  The letter is dated January 30, 1837, when both men were in their mid-twenties.  Wellington (apparently nicknamed “Edward”) was principal at an academy in Manlius, New York, while William was at Amherst College teaching Latin and Greek and heading into his glory days as the man whose tardiness inspired the founding of the Philopogonian Society. We often think of Edward Hitchcock, professor and president, as the emblem of early Amherst College, but Tyler was here just as long and served just as devotedly. His “History of Amherst College” continues to be a very valuable, reliable resource, and he was the author of other, more modest works, including the nicely named “Why Sit Ye Here Idle?” (more…)

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In honor of the upcoming Global Divestment Day urging institutions to divest from fossil fuel companies and the work being done on the Amherst Campus in support of divestment from coal, I thought we should take a moment to look back at an earlier time that Amherst divested its investment holdings on ethical grounds. I’m referring, of course, to the international campaign to pressure the South African government to dismantle its apartheid system in the 1970s and 80s (although Amherst also divested from Sudan in 2006 on ethical grounds).

Picketers outside the fall Board of Trustees meeting, 1977

Picketers outside the fall Board of Trustees meeting, 1977

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The exceedingly well-dressed citizens of Amherst agree on a college

The exceedingly well-dressed citizens of Amherst agree to found a college

Last week Peter Nelson wrote about Samuel Williston, who provided funds to Amherst College in 1840 when the institution was in danger of financial ruin, and who continued to donate to the College over the course of many years. Because of Williston’s timely donations, the College considered whether it should change its name to Williston College.

However, before Amherst had to make that decision, it had already confronted more than one identity crisis.

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I learned something new as I was poring over some 19th-century college records last week: that in 1847, and again in 1869, Amherst College briefly but seriously considered the idea of changing its name to Williston, in honor of its generous trustee and benefactor, Samuel Williston.

The Trustee minutes of July 7, 1847 record that the idea was to be formally proposed and voted on at that meeting.  However, as it came up at the end of a long, arduous agenda (actually extending over two days), such a momentous decision was deferred to the next meeting. But inexplicably, the idea wasn’t reconsidered until more than a year later.  Jump ahead to the Trustee minutes of August 8, 1848:

Voted: That in the opinion of this Board it is expedient to change the name of Amherst College & to affix to it the name of its liberal Benefactor; Samuel Williston.

Voted: That President Hitchcock, Dr. Packard & Mr. Vaill be a committee to apply to the Legislature for leave to make the alteration.

Voted: That the foregoing votes be submitted to Mr. Williston previous to their taking effect.

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Samuel Williston (1795-1874), Easthampton (Mass.) button manufacturer, philanthropist, Amherst College trustee, and founder of Williston Academy.

Amherst’s debt to Samuel Williston is clearly not to be underestimated; in fact, it is no exaggeration to say that its very survival rested on his support.  When it faced serious financial difficulties in 1840, Williston pledged $1,000.  Over the next thirty years, his financial gifts to Amherst amounted to more than $220,000. (In all, his donations to various charities amounted to more than $1.5 million.)

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