Donated catalogues provide glimpse into DSU's early years


Male students were organized into two Cadet Corps companies and required to spend two hours a week in military tactics and drills, according to the 1907 catalogue. The group pictured is from 1911.

For the first time, the current generations of those studying the history of Delaware State University have the direct testimony of an early president, William C. Jason, concerning the successes and challenges that faced the then-State

William C. Jason

College for Colored Students (SCCS) in its first three decades.

Until recently, words that came directly from Jason, the institution’s longest-serving president (1895-1923), had been largely lost in the annals of time. The only known evidence of his statements and thoughts were found in a few rare letters and legendary sentences passed down from unknown original sources.

In December, William C. Jason III, the grandson of the former president, and his wife Carol presented a $10,000 endowment check to the William C. Jason Library on campus. During the presentation ceremony, Mrs. Jason produced a rare bound-book collection of catalogues and prospectuses of the SCCS covering the period of 1893 to 1918 that had been in the library of President Jason.

In addition to containing a wealth of previously unknown information concerning the number and identities of students, faculty and Board of Trustees members, as well as costs, revenue sources and amounts, most of the catalogues from Jason’s tenure contain an annual President’s Report (20 out of 26 catalogues and prospectuses).

The first two catalogues in the collection (1893 and 1894) were produced under the tenure of the first SCCS president, Wesley Webb. While providing the list of faculty and Board of Trustees members, and beginning in 1894 the list of courses offered, neither contained a President’s Report.

The first President’s Report under the Jason era appears in the 1896-97 catalogue, giving more details as to the nature of life on the SCCS campus in those early years. In reporting on the total enrollment of 54 students during 1895-96, the challenges of college attendance become a bit clearer. Only 12 of those students attended the entire eight months of the school year, 18 attended between five and seven months, and 33 attended four months or less. In subsequent reports, he attributes the inconsistent attendance to deficiencies in the educational commitment of students as well as competing work opportunities and inadequate housing on campus.

Jason’s first report also expressed his belief in co-education (men and women attending school together) — not a widespread belief in those days. He noted the enrollment of three full-time female students and two part-time women during the 1895-1896 school year.

The vulnerability of the sparse campus building infrastructure is also revealed, as Jason shares in that first report that a “severe storm” in May 1896 wrecked the workshop and did damages to other buildings and crops; he estimated the damage from the storm was between $1,500 and $2,000.

Because of the neglect of the state of Delaware in making provisions for education of African-Americans in the decades following the 1865 end of slavery, the SCCS found it necessary to establish a preparatory school in 1893 in addition to the College offerings. By the start of the Jason tenure, the College’s 17 students were outnumbered by the Preparatory School’s 35 students.

“The College is embarrassed greatly by the fact that most of our pupils have had little previous training. A tendency to pursue studies for which the proper preparation has not been made is quite marked. This a difficulty from which there is no escape except through an improvement in the public schools. Special attention has been paid in the lower classes to laying good foundation,” he wrote.

The uphill challenge of education for a largely uneducated black populace notwithstanding, Jason expressed optimism about the education possibilities offered by the SCCS:

“No one has said in my hearing that Negroes cannot learn. That old idea is dying. But there is a widespread opinion that there are some things which it is better for him not to know. Many people interested in ‘Negro Education’ mean  by that term what has become popular under the name Industrial Education, and are bent on teaching the black man how to be a good workman above all things. I was very glad to discover that the gentlemen who comprise our Board are not narrow or one-sided, and that you have decreed that a boy or girl trained in our school shall be instructed in what is and has always been understood to be fundamental to an education for any man, and be also furnished with the special advantages of having a trade.” 

Teachers

To shoulder the teaching load, the SCCS began with three instructors in its early years and later grew as high as 11 in 1913. In those days, both Presidents Webb and Jason served as instructors, as the former taught agriculture and biology. Jason was relatively prolific as compared to his predecessor, as the catalogue noted between 1895 and 1918 that he taught Greek, Latin, mental and moral sciences, English, rhetoric, oratory psychology, civics and political economy.

Government funding support

The catalogues’ records of government appropriations reveal an inconsistent pattern of state funding support for the SCCS. After the initial 1891 outlay of $8,000 to purchase the property on which the SCCS was established and a workshop and president’s cottage was built, between 1892 and 1896 the state allocated only $1,000 during that entire five-year period. Another $4,000 in state funding was provided in 1897, but then the College did not receive another state allocation until 1901, when $6,000 was provided for the construction of Lore Hall as a female dormitory.

Between 1902 and 1912, there were only two separate state allocations in 1907 and 1911 of $5,000 and $3,000, respectively. Beginning in 1913, the state began providing an annual allocation of $3,000; in 1917, that increased to $8,000.

The SCCS also received federal funding ranging from $4,000 annually in the early 1890s to $10,000 a year by 1917. While it appeared to be much-needed funding to keep the institution afloat in its fledging years, the money could be used for only certain aspects of the school’s operations. The College’s revenue from tuition and fees ranged from just over $1,300 in the 1897-98 school year (the first year such revenue was documented) to as high as almost $8,200.

Factored into those revenue figures was “credited labor,” which was the estimated value of the labor put in by students on campus. In addition to their classroom attendance, all students were required to roll up their sleeves and put in two hours of work daily in various areas of the campus such as the farm, building maintenance and cleaning, food service and other assigned tasks.

Campus chapel

President Jason, who was also a Methodist minister, also required students to attend 8 a.m. religious exercise daily during weekdays as well as a Sunday service. Those services were probably held in the Main College Building (which survives today as Loockerman Hall), until a chapel was built circa 1905.

While previous DSU history has long claimed that Jason obtained more than $1,100 in pledges to support the chapel construction in the early 1900s, his President’s Report of 1903-1904 reveals that only $533 was actually received. He noted that funds had to be borrowed from the board to complete the chapel’s roofing and pay the lumber bill.

That chapel would later become the campus library circa 1930. The building now survives as the Thomasson Building.

Enrollment and infrastructure

According to the catalogues, the SCCS enrollment exceeded 100 students for the first time in 1904-05, bringing increased pressure on the modest building infrastructure of the College.

To meet those challenges, the SCCS used its meager resources and increased its physical plant from the original three buildings of its inaugural year to reflect a campus that possessed by 1906 a Main College Building, two dormitories for men and women, a chapel, the President’s Cottage, a workshop and a few farm structures. The most recent construction completions of that period (a men’s dormitory, an expansion of the Main College Building dining room and a 10,000-gallon water tower) were presumably made possible by Joshua Parker, a prominent African-American in Kent County who died in the spring of 1905 and willed his entire estate (valued between $6,000 to $8,000) to the SCCS, according to the President’s Report for that school year.

By the time the College celebrated  its 20th year in 1911, its enrollment exceeded the enrollment of its Preparatory School by 79 to 50 students, respectively. By 1912-1913, the Preparatory School would be done away with. The education deficiencies in many students did not disappear, however, and SCCS was forced to re-establish it in 1916-1917 as a graded school from the 4th grade to the 8th grades.

‘Abundant reason for hope’

As the SCCS proceeded into its third decade of existence, the realities of being a school with a population of Delaware youths deficient in fundamental education, that received inconsistent state funding support and that possessed an inadequate physical plant to accommodate a proper college program began to clearly show the shortcomings of the institution.

Jason’s report for the 1914-1915 school year notes the discouraging evaluation by the U.S. Commissioner of Education, who deemed the SCCS academic courses to be of high school grade. While other historical sources note that in 1916 Jason attempted to resign amid criticism over the lack of progress at the SCCS, there was no President’s Report for the 1915-1916 school year in that catalogue, perhaps as a result of that controversy.

Jason would nevertheless remain as president for another seven years. His 1916-1917 report would be the last one of this catalogue collection (no report appeared in the 1918 catalogue).

He noted in the report that in the 26 years since the establishment of the SCCS, 171 students completed their course of study, while 629 were also enrolled for varying amounts of time. He added that 60 percent of the SCCS graduates had become colored teachers in the state.

Yet compared with the sum total of the other President’s Reports from that era, the 1916-1917 account from Jason reflects a bittersweet tone colored by the accumulated frustrations of his tenure while at the same time being still adamantly determined to maintain some semblance of optimism.

The below excerpt from that report no doubt reflects Jason’s strength — the ability to hold his head up and work to sustain and move the institution forward in the face of the daunting difficulties and challenges imposed by the segregation era that was in reality separate and especially unequal.

“There is nothing in this record of which to boast. Much more might have been done. On the other hand, we are not ashamed,” Jason said in his final report in the collection. “Considering the difficulties there is some occasion for a feeling of satisfaction, and even of pride. Certainly there is no room for discouragement, but abundant reason for hope.”

-- Story by Carlos Holmes

 

CATALOGUE TIDBITS

TUITION
The cost to attend the State College for Colored Students remained unchanged from 1893 to 1918.
During 1911-1912, the school year changed from three terms to two semesters.
-- Delaware students: Free  |  Out-of-state students: $20 a year
-- $2 matriculation fee  |  $2 per week for room and board
TELEPHONE CONNECTION
In suggesting certain improvements to be considered by the Board of Trustees in his President’s Report for the year ending 1901, President William C. Jason notes, “Another improvement which would be an economy rather than an expense is suggested by the frequent need of a telephonic connection between the school and Dover.” The installation of service was complete by 1904.
MASONRY AND COOKING
In his report for the year ending 1903, President Jason notes the addition of masonry as a new area of the industrial work due to the arrival of Nathan Green on the faculty. He also reported a cooking class had been added, as instructor Helen W. Anderson was furnished to the College by the ladies of the Century Club in Dover.
GOVERNOR AT COMMENCEMENT
The 1911 Commencement marked the first time the chief executive of the state was in attendance, as Gov. Simeon Pennewill gave an address during the ceremony.
SCHOOL NEWSPAPER
In his report for the year ending 1912, the president announced the establishment of the school newspaper The Echo, which published its first edition Nov. 24, 1909.


TOP ACHIEVEMENTS

The State College for Colored Students’ top two achievements reflected in the 1893-1918 catalogues are arguably the establishment of teachers’ education at the College and the development of the farm operations on campus.
TEACHERS’ EDUCATION
Teachers’ education began in the 1897-1898 school year with the establishment of a Normal School on campus. Lydia Laws, the namesake of a current DSU women’s residential hall, was the initial instructor in teacher education and served in that capacity until 1912. Beginning in 1908, the College also became a focal point for established colored teachers in the state, as many began attending an annual Summer School of Methods, which provided workshops on different teaching topics.
FARM OPERATIONS
The SCCS’ success in converting the inherited inactive fields into a productive farm operation was instrumental in sustaining the College. Much of the foodstuff consumed by the College community came from the diverse crops of wheat, corn, tomatoes, bean varieties, potatoes and fruits. The SCCS farm operation also raised chickens and pigs to add meat to the food diets. In addition to feeding the SCCS population, surplus crops were also sold on the local Kent County market, becoming an additional source of revenue for the College.
The crop yield cited in the President’s Report for the year ending 1901:
• 564 bushels of wheat
• 694 bushels of corn
• 175 bushels of white potatoes
• 40 bushels of sweet potatoes
• 202 bushels of apples
• 5 bushels of white beans
• 20½  tons of tomatoes
• 4,872 quarts of strawberries
• 4,454 quarts of plums
• The report also noted 1,591 pounds
 of pork was used by the school.