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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - K-State Women
Emma Bowen: Then, Or Fifty Years Ago

Great men are those, whose clear vision of the future leads them to grasp present opportunity. They are poets and prophets. They fill faithfully their niche, lay foundations, deep and firm, and trust the completion of their work to the men of the future. Their all-sufficient and enduring monument is the structure which arises on their foundations.

Moses viewed, from Pisgah, the land of promise, in it's length and breadth, stretching away darkly, in uncertain outlines. He planned a great campaign and left to Joshua, its execution.

As Israel, in its greatest expansion, never conquered the scope of Moses' vision, so this great institution, so magnificent, so beautiful, in its growing perfection, still fails to reach the full ideal and purpose of its founders. It is my hope and confident expectation, that in some, not distant, future that ideal may be attained. With all this fine material equipment, with the training given in the Sciences and industries, there is room side by side and hand in hand for the cultural studies, "the humanities", which in the process of evolution and revolution were cast aside, but which will be reinstated, supplying to this great body, a worthy soul. Never, for a moment, have I regretted the curriculum then offered. To the young people of that day, in existing conditions, I believe those studies were more helpful in character building, did more for the enrichment of life, than could courses in agriculture, the mechanic arts and domestic science. They opened up new worlds of thought, widened horizons and fitted those students for educational leadership in the Young Commonwealth.

No other course was then practicable. Those men worked toward industrial development, without precedents, without money for equipment, with few students young and untrained, and without applause from the public. They told us of the new education planned and toward which they moved as fast as conditions would permit, but as is usually the case, it was given to others to develop their plans. They wrought well their part. Their influence here is abiding. I doubt not they are satisfied. On their graves let us place out tribute - laurel, roses and forget-me-nots.

In early September 1863, our Country was far different form that of today. The enactment of The Kansas and Nebraska Bill with its rule of "Squatter Soverignty" [sic] made the young territory the storm center of the conflict for liberty and quickly the best blood of the East and North flowed in to turn the tide for freedom. The fight was won and Kansas was a free sate Jan. 29, 1861.

From the first the settlers tried to provide schools, but for some years school houses and churches were very few. An empty cabin tho' destitute of doors or windows, was utilized for the short summer terms, which were all the districts could afford.

The Methodists had located Bluemont College near Manhattan. When the Morrill Act, by the signature of Pres. Lincoln, became a law, July 2, 1863, the Trustees offered to the State the building and grounds, as a gift, for a location for the Agricultural College. Their offer was accepted and the school opened in Sept. 1863. The faulty consisted of Pres. Joseph Denison, Prof. J. G. Schnebly and Miss Belle M. Haines. Much preparatory work was done, but a freshman class was at once organized and began the regular course.

The student body was chiefly girls and young boys, for we were just in the midst of four years of civil war, which had taken away nearly all our able-bodied men and even boys. In the preceding January the Emancipation Proclamation had become effective and colored men were "rallying around the flag" which they were proud to follow. Two months before - in July - the dreadful battle of Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksbury [sic] had indicated final victory for the North, but there were yet to be two years of strife and death, and many were they who came not back. It was long before the gaps could be filled. The work of the farms must be done chiefly by women and children, if done at all. Prices were high, money scarce and people poor. No railroads near Manhattan, no telegraphs, telephones or daily mails. Automobiles, bicycles, flying machines and many other recent inventions were unknown and our vocabulary had no names for them. Local transportation was confined to farm wagons drawn by oxen, and occasionally by horses, and saddle horses. There was a stage route connecting us with the eastern towns of the State. The food used was chiefly the products of the home farms. There was no market as we understand the term. Canned goods were unknown, Our fruit trees were not yet acclimated. Corn bread, sorghum molasses, pork or bacon were staple articles of diet. Melons were fine. Pumpkins were good in their season and were also cut in rings and dried, or made into butter. In favorable seasons these were supplemented with wild plums, gooseberries and wild grapes. The three latter were dried for winter use or put kown [sic] in molasses. A little tea, coffee and brown sugar were held in reserve for special occasions.

The Kansas River was the torment of our lives. When slowly wending our way toward town, the thought ever uppermost was, "Can We Cross?" "Will the ferry be running or is it blocked with ice, stranded on a sand bar, or suffering from a broken cable"?

But we had good times! There were singing schools, spelling schools, house raisings, husking bees and surprise parties. Mothers took all the children in the morning and visited all day for dinner and supper. If in a southern home they were invited to stay over night.

With the College came a new order for the students. How find, how spacious, was that stately building of grey lime-stone, described in the early prospectus - 40 ft. by 60 ft. and three stories high! In its cupola hung the sweetest toned bell I ever heard. Its musical notes, as of old, still call the students of today! Do they, can they love it as we did? And that little library seemed to me a vast treasure house. Then books were so few! The physical apparatus, now the subject of depreciations - even of mirth! - then looked formidable, mysterious and even dangerous, when assembled for recitation, we watched the professor perform chemical experiments. There was fear and trembling, when occasionally a test tube struck the ceiling and fell shattered to the floor! I preferred that the experiments be left to our imaginations and we accept results on faith.

I think I never, in the years I was here, heard of a College dance; but we had a Friday night prayer meeting at the College well attended and usually let by some member of the faculty. The magic letters Y. P. S. C. E. were then unknown. Four horse teams, with the wagon boxes well lined with straw, often went from house to house collecting the boys and girls, as many as could sit on the straw, and conveyed them to revival meetings in the old Methodist church now in possession of the Catholics. Sunday afternoons there was a preaching service in the College Chapel for the benefit of those too far from the churches. Monday morning in Chapel we responded to our names at roll call with the words "College," "Methodist," "Congregational," etc. Failure to attend somewhere required excuse.

Sometimes speakers of National reputation came to us. there were those who sowed the seed, which at last resulted in our present prohibition laws. Others as Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony presented their please for the political and property rights of women. The full answer came only last spring! Ah, "the mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small." Looking back over fifty years, the world's grist is large.

If many words, common in today's vocabulary, would then have been unintelligible, the reverse is also true. Consulting my carefully recorded expense account for my four years' course I find: "a shaker, .75," "a balmoral, $5.00," "a Nubia, $2.50." Every year is charged with a skeleton, which goes to prove the then literal truth of the saying, "Every closet has its skeleton," and it appears that even then the cost of necessaries was constantly advancing, for the prices ran thus: $1.50, $1.75, $2.00, and $2.75. Tuition of "Contingent fee" for the first year $5.50 for each of the three terms. Later it was $3.00 per term. Calico ranged from .20 to .45 per yard. Muslin from .33 1/3 to .75. Notwithstanding these prices my expenses for the four years, not including food which came from home, averaged under $70.00 per year.

The College set an example in economy, of necessity. I have here two programs. Mark the style inexpensive in every particular. One gives the "Order of Exercises at the Exhibition of the K. S. A. C. Mar. 2nd, 1864." There are about two dozen names of participants in the rendering of Essays, Declamation and a "Dialogue." Beneath in large type is the statement, "The essays are all original."

The second "A Programme of the Examination of Classes, Mar. 18th, 19th, and 20th 1867."

Those conducting the examination were Pres. Denison and Professors B. F. Mudge, J. H. Lee and J. E. Platt. Notable affairs were those examinations. They were oral and well attended by residents and by leading public men of the State. The visitors were furnished books and encouraged to call upon us for any problem or demonstration, or rendering of any selection for our Classical Authors in the given text - a privilege they often exercised. At the close of this printed program, attention is directed to the new boarding house, where the weekly charge was $4.00, with the additional fee of $5.00 for fuel and lights for thirteen weeks and washing a dollar per dozen.

This recalls a sad incident illustrative of the spirit which characterized the founders of the College. The criticism was offered that the institution was not furnishing adequate accommodations for non-resident students. It should be removed to some larger town. The situation seemed too critical to await the convening of Legislature and to avoid delay, Dr. Dennison [sic] secured the money necessary, by placing a mortgage on his all - his farm and residence. When the Legislature met, it refused the appropriation and the property was lost.

I have a sweet little grand daughter of four years, who has one trait remarkable for a girl - She is an inveterate talker. A few days ago, after a momentary lull, with a careworn expression on her face she said, "Mamma, I think of so many things, I'd like to say, but I'm just too tired to say them!" So I think of many things I might say, but I know that you are just too tired to listen to them.

Source: Typescript of an address given by Emma (Haines) Bowen at the Semi-Centennial Anniversary of the College on October 29, 1913.
Any typographical errors are the result of retyping.