1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cornell University

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CORNELL UNIVERSITY, one of the largest of American institutions of higher education, situated at Ithaca, New York. Its campus is finely situated on a hill above the main part of the city; it lies between Fall Creek and Cascadilla Creek (each of which has cut a deep gorge), and commands a beautiful view of the valley and of Lake Cayuga. The university is co-educational (since 1872), and comprises the graduate school, with 306 students in 1909; the college of arts and sciences (902 students); the college of law (225 students), established in 1887; the medical college (217 students, of whom 29 were taking freshman or sophomore work in Ithaca, where all women entering the college must pursue the first two years of work) — this college was established in 1898 by the gift of Oliver Hazard Payne, and has buildings opposite Bellevue hospital on First Avenue and 28th Street, New York city; the New York state veterinary college (94 students), established by the state legislature in 1894; the New York state college of agriculture (413 students), established as such by the state legislature in 1904, — the teaching of agriculture had from the beginning been an important part of the university's work, — with an agricultural experiment station, established in 1887 by the Federal government; the college of architecture (133 students); the college of civil engineering (569 students); and the Sibley College of mechanical engineering and mechanic arts (1163 students), named in honour of Hiram Sibley (1807-1888), a banker of Rochester, N.Y., who gave $180,000 for its endowment and equipment and whose son Hiram W. Sibley gave $130,000 to the college. A state college of forestry was established in connexion with the university in 1898, but was discontinued after several years. The total enrolment of regular students in 1909 was 3980; in addition, 841 students were enrolled in the 1908 summer session (which is especially for teachers) and 364 in the “short winter course in agriculture” in 1909. Nearly all the states and territories of the United States and thirty-two foreign countries were represented — e.g. there were 33 students from China, 12 from the Argentine Republic, 6 from India, 10 from Japan, 10 from Mexico, 5 from Peru, &c.

In the W. central part of the campus is the university library building, which, with an endowment (1891) of $300,000 for the purchase of books and periodicals, was the gift of Henry Williams Sage (1814-1897), second president of the board of trustees; in 1906 it received an additional endowment fund of about $500,000 by the bequest of Prof. Willard Fiske. The building, of light grey Ohio sandstone, houses the general library (300,050 volumes in 1909), the seminary and department libraries (7284 volumes), and the forestry library (1007 volumes). Among the special collections of the general library are the classical library of Charles Anthon, the philological library of Franz Bopp, the Goldwin, Smith library (1869), the White architectural and historical libraries, the Spinoza collection presented by Andrew D. White (1894), the library of Jared Sparks, the Samuel J. May collection of works on the history of slavery, the Zarncke library, especially rich in Germanic philology and literature, the Eugene Schuyler collection of Slavic folk-lore, literature and history, the Willard Fiske Rhaeto-Romanic, Icelandic, Dante and Petrarch collections, and the Herbert H. Smith collection of works on Latin America (in addition there are college and department libraries — that of the college of law numbers 38,735 volumes — bringing the total to 353,638 bound volumes in 1909). Among the other buildings are: Morse Hall, Franklin Hall, Sibley College, Lincoln Hall (housing the college of civil engineering), Goldwin Smith Hall (for language and history), Stimson Hall (given by Dean Sage to the medical college), Boardman Hall (housing the college of law), Morrill Hall (containing the psychological laboratory), McGraw Hall and White Hall these, with the library, forming the quadrangle; S. of the quadrangle, Sage chapel (with beautiful interior decorations), Barnes Hall (the home of the Cornell University Christian Association), Sage College (a dormitory for women), and the armoury and gymnasium; E. of the quadrangle, the Rockefeller Hall of Physics (1906) and the New York State College of Agriculture (completed in 1907); and S.E. of the quadrangle the New York State Veterinary College and the Fuertes Observatory. The university is well-equipped with laboratories, the psychological laboratory, the laboratories of Sibley college and the hydraulic laboratory of the college of civil engineering being especially noteworthy; the last is on Fall Creek, where a curved concrete masonry dam has been built, forming Beebe Lake. East of the campus is the university playground and athletic field (55 acres), built with funds raised from the alumni. Cayuga Lake furnishes opportunity for rowing, and the Cornell crews are famous. During their first two years all undergraduates, unless properly excused, must take a prescribed amount of physical exercise. Normally the first year's exercise for male students is military drill under the direction of a U.S. army officer detailed as commandant.

The reputation of the university is particularly high in mechanical engineering; Sibley college was built up primarily under Prof. Robert Henry Thurston (1839-1903), a well-known engineer, its director in 1885-1903. The college includes the following departments: machine design and construction, experimental engineering, power engineering, and electrical engineering. The “Susan Linn Sage School of Philosophy,” so called since the gift (1891) of $200,000 from Henry W. Sage in memory of his wife, issues The Philosophical Review and Cornell Studies in Philosophy, and is well known for the psychological laboratory investigations under Prof. E. B. Titchener (b. 1867). Equally well known are the college of agriculture under Prof. Liberty Hyde Bailey (b. 1858); the “Cornell School” of Latin grammarians, led first by Prof. W. G. Hale and then by Prof. C. E. Bennett; the department of entomology under Prof. J. H. Comstock (b. 1849), the department of physics under Prof. E. L. Nichols (b. 1854), and other departments. The university publishes Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, the Journal of Physical Chemistry, the Physical Review, Publications of Cornell University Medical College, various publications of the college of agriculture, and Studies in History and Political Science (of “The President White School of History and Political Science”). Among the student publications are The Cornell Era (1868, weekly), The Cornell Daily Sun (1880), The Sibley Journal of Engineering (1882), The Cornell Magazine, a literary monthly, and The Cornell Widow (1892), a comic tri-weekly. The regular annual tuition fee is $100, but in medicine, in architecture, and in civil and mechanical engineering it is $150. In the veterinary and agricultural colleges there are no tuition fees for residents of New York state. There are 150 free-tuition state scholarships (one for each of the state assembly districts), and, in addition, there are 36 undergraduate university scholarships (annual value, $200) tenable for two years, and 23 fellowships and 17 graduate scholarships (annual value, $300-600 each). In the college of arts and sciences the elective system, with certain restrictions, obtains.

The university has always been absolutely non-sectarian; its charter prescribes that “persons of every religious denomination, or of no religious denomination, shall be equally eligible to all offices and appointments” and that “at no time shall a majority of the board (of trustees) be of one religious sect or of no religious sect.” There is, however, an active Christian Association and religious services — provided for by the Dean Sage Preachership Endowment — are conducted in Sage chapel by eminent clergymen representing various sects and denominations.

The affairs of Cornell university are under the administration of a board which must consist of forty trustees, of whom ten are elected by the alumni. The following are ex officio members of the board: the president of the university, the librarian of the Cornell Library (in Ithaca), the governor and the lieutenant-governor of the state, the speaker of the state assembly, the state commissioners of education and of agriculture, and the president of the state agricultural society. The internal government is in the hands of the university faculty (which consists of the president, the professors and the assistant professors, and has jurisdiction over matters concerning the university as a whole), and of the special faculties, which consist of the president, the professors, the assistant professors, and the instructors of the several colleges, and which have jurisdiction over distinctively collegiate matters.

In 1909 the invested funds of the university amounted to about $8,594,300, yielding an annual income of about $428,800; the income from state and nation was about $232,050, and from tuition fees about $336,100; the campus and buildings were valued at about $4,263,400, and the Library, collections, apparatus, &c. at about $1,826,100.

The university was incorporated by the legislature of New York state on the 27th of April 1865, and was named in honour of Ezra Cornell,[1] its principal benefactor. In 1864 Cornell, at the suggestion of Andrew D. White, his fellow member of the state senate, decided to found a university of a new type which should be broad and liberal in its scope, should be absolutely non-sectarian, and which should recognize and meet the growing need for practical training and adequate instruction in the sciences as well as in the humanities. He offered to the state as an endowment $500,000 (with 200 acres of land) on condition that the state add to this fund the proceeds of the sales of public lands granted to it by the Morrill Act of 1862 for “the endowment, support and maintenance of at least one college, where the leading object shall be . . . to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts . . .”[2] The charter provided that “such other branches of science and knowledge may be embraced in the plan of instruction and investigation pertaining to the university as the trustees may deem useful and proper,” and Ezra Cornell expressed his own ideal in the oft-quoted words: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” The opposition to Cornell's plan was bitter, especially on the part of denominational schools and press, but incorporation was secured, and the trustees first met on the 5th of September 1865. Andrew D. White was elected president and the entire educational scheme was left to him. Dr White's ideals in part were: a closer union between the advanced and the general educational system of the state; liberal instruction of the industrial classes; increased stress on technical instruction; unsectarian control; “a course in history and political and social science adapted to the practical needs of men worthily ambitious in public affairs”; a more thorough study of modern languages and literatures, especially English; the “steady effort to abolish monastic government and pedantic instruction”; the elective system of studies; and the stimulus of non-resident lecturers. On the 7th of October 1868 the Cornell University opened with some confusion due to the condition of the campus, and to the presence of 412 would-be pupils, many of whom expected to “work their way through.” The brilliance of the faculty and especially of its non-resident members (including J. R. Lowell, Louis Agassiz, G. W. Curtis, Bayard Taylor, Theodore D. Dwight, and Goldwin Smith, who was a resident professor in 1866-1869), was to a degree over-shadowed during the fifteen years 1868-1882 by financial difficulties. But Ezra Cornell himself paid many salaries during early years, and provided much valuable equipment solely at his own expense; and because the state's land scrip was selling too low to secure an adequate endowment for the University, in 1866 he bought the land scrip yet unsold (819,920 acres)[3] by the state at the rate of sixty cents an acre on the understanding that all profits, in excess of the purchase money, should constitute a separate endowment fund to which the restrictions in the Morrill Act should not apply; and in 1866-1867 he “located” 512,000 acres in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kansas. In November 1874 he transferred these lands, which had cost him $576,953 more than he had received from them, to the university. This actual deficit on the lands owned by the university steadily increased up to 1881, when, after the trustees had refused (in 1880) an offer of $1,250,000 for 275,000 acres of pine lands, they sold about 140,600 acres for $2,319,296; ultimately 401,296 acres of the land turned over to the university by Cornell were sold, bringing a net return of about $4,800,000. The university was put on a sound financial footing; the number of students, less in 1881-1882 than in 1868 at the opening of the university, again increased, so that it was 585 in 1884-1885, and 2120 in 1897-1898. The presidents of the university have been: Andrew Dickson White, 1865-1885; Charles Kendall Adams, 1885-1892; and Jacob Gould Schurman.


  1. Ezra Cornell (1807-1874) was born in Westchester county, New York, on the 11th of January 1807. His parents were Quakers from Massachusetts. He received a scanty education; worked as a carpenter in Syracuse and as a machinist in Ithaca; became interested (about 1842) in the development of the electric telegraph; and after unsuccessful or over-expensive attempts to ground the telegraph wires in 1844 solved the difficulty by stringing them on poles. He organized many telegraph construction companies, was one of the founders of the Western Union Telegraph Company, and accumulated a large fortune. He was a delegate to the first national convention of the Republican party (1856) and was a member of the New York assembly in 1862-1863 and of the state senate in 1864-1867. He founded a public library (dedicated in 1866) in Ithaca, and died there on the 9th of December 1874. Consult Alonzo B. Cornell, True and Firm: A Biography of Ezra Cornell (New York, 1884).
  2. New York's share amounted to 990,000 acres. The Morrill Act prescribed that the proceeds from the sale of this land should not be used for the purchase, erection or maintenance of any building or buildings.
  3. He had previously — in 1865 — bought scrip for 100,000 acres for $50,000, on the understanding that all profits which might accrue from the sale of the land should be paid to the university.