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Antioch to Become National University with Big Endowment

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By Scott Sanders, Archivist

This installment of “Songs” might appear from the headline as a joke worthy of April Fools’ Day, but at the time it was published as fact. The year 1919 was a time of great transition in America. With the conclusion of the First World War, still called Great since the Second was not entirely foreseeable, the United States was dealing with a troubled economy, an influx of returning war veterans, a disturbing spike in racial violence, growing fears of radicalisms foreign and domestic, international pandemic, the rise of women, and the fall of alcohol. That is a lot for anyone’s table, and may in the end have something to do with what rendered the following typographically error-ridden newspaper article not just wrong, but fictional.

The Antioch College of 1919 was struggling to exist. Already on its third interim president since the resignation of Simeon D. Fess in 1917 (who had gone off to Congress), its enrollment pitifully small (38 students) and its operating budget not much larger (less than $10,000), the proposition of merging with or transfer to another institution must have been an enticing one to a Board of Trustees rapidly running out of ideas. It had been investigated before in the previous century, once with the University of Cincinnati and once with Berea College, but neither venture turned out to be terribly promising. On this occasion it was an overture from the YMCA, then seeking to establish a college of its own, that offered renewed hope of unloading Antioch College onto some other unsuspecting organization. 

The Y chose Antioch College, according to a letter from mathematics professor W.W. Weaver, “first, on account of its nonsectarian charter; second, on account of the association of the name with the founders of the great religious world; and, third, on account of the representatives, progressive and liberal minded men who have been identified with its history.” The Reverend Dr. S. Grant Perkins was put in charge of the Y’s higher education venture. A graduate of Union College and Drew Theological Seminary with a wide range of post-graduate experiences at Columbia, Harvard, the University of Leipzig and the Academy of Sciences in Rome, Perkins was probably the best candidate to run a college. He was also a reformer, having won awards for his lectures and sermons on temperance, one of the hottest issues in the nation at the time. Perkins was given the incredibly ambitious goal of raising $1 million to endow the proposed YMCA College, and was sent to Yellow Springs to serve as acting president. The Board of Trustees welcomed him to campus in early 1919.

Perkins’ son Paul wrote his own memoirs in the 1970s, in which he recalled living at the Horace Mann House: 

It was a monstrosity…to take care of, but what a place for two small boys and our sister. The kitchen was 19th Victorian. A huge library with an ornate fireplace has space for ten times the considerable library of my father. It was three stories of yellow brick, surrounded on all four sides by a huge open porch. 

The porch was our favorite racetrack. Only a few of the many rooms of the house were needed, and so the entire upper two stories were empty. The modest furniture of a small town Methodist preacher was never intended to fill the mansion of such a famous person. In those upper stories there were dark and echoing rooms and stairways leading both up and down to mysterious caverns in the house. We often played in those labyrinth depths, with the delicious small boy feeling that we may come on a ghost or a skeleton.

It was also the year of the locust for the sidewalks were thick and crunchy with flying creatures that summer. My introduction to baseball came at Antioch because the college field was just across the street from our house. The crack of the bats, the thud of the ball, and the excitement of the game were exciting for my brother Jack and me. Last year he told something I do not remember, that most of the players were in army uniforms, boys just back from World War I.

At the February 7 meeting of the Board 7, the proposal was accepted on the mere promise of $500,000, though Conneaut Can Co. founder and Y project backer Harry Truesdale pronounced the amount too small, declaring that Antioch deserves $1 million “and she is going to have it, too!” 

Perkins selected president of the College. William Marcus Dawson (class of 1899), a professor of German, Greek, and history, made the unpopular suggestion that a delay in the decision would be prudent and that an investigation of the proposal should be conducted. 

An investigation turned out to not be needed, for it took only a couple of months before the Y realized that the times precluded the raising of such substantial funds. At a special meeting in May, the Board rescinded its February 7 action and accepted Perkins’ resignation. 

The entire episode concluded on the motion that the interim president, the Rev. George Black, “express our appreciation of interest in Dr. Perkins in his relation to the College during the brief interval of his association with us.” 

Arthur E. Morgan was elected to the Board of Trustees at their regular meeting in June of 1919, and he would propose an overhaul of Antioch College that he called industrial education, making history in the process.

The following was published in the February 19, 1919 Xenia Evening Gazette.


Antioch College at Yellow Springs has been selected by the Young Men’s Christian Association for the national university to be operated by that organization, and as a site for which it has during the last year, considered many other larger cities of the country.

A $1,000,000 endowment will be made the college by the Y.M.C.A. The historic school will be enlarged, modernized, and brought up to the plans and ideals of the Y for a national, nonsectarian college.

Plans for taking over Antioch were formally laid before the Board of Trustee at a special meeting at Yellow Springs Friday afternoon by representatives of the Y.M.C.A. The matter had been brought to the attention of the individual members of the board for the first time ten days before, and the meeting for Friday was arranged for the purpose of fully considering the matter. 

The proposition made was accepted by the trustees of Antioch and before the meeting adjourned, Dr. Grant Perkins, prominently connected to the Y.M.C.A. widely traveled and man if high educational attainments was elected president of the college, to assume charge of the institution at commencement time next June, when the Y.M.C.A. will take over the control of the school.

The Board of Trustees of Antioch will act in conjunction with the Y.M.C.A. in the management of the college. 

Plans of organization for college work as accepted by the trustees of Antioch, provide as follows:

The Board of Trustees at a regular meeting shall appoint an advisory board to act in conjunction with the board of trustees in widening the scope and work of the college.

This committee shall consist of twenty members selected one each from twenty of the most active Y.M.C.A. centers. This committee will meet annually at the same time and place of the annual meeting of the Board of Trustees to which they shall make an annual report.

Salaries are to be regulated by the committee on finance under the direction of the board of trustees.

This committee on finance, it is provided, shall, as soon as practicable, under the direction of the board of trustees, secure a person or persons to develop ways and means to increase the endowment to at least $1,000,000 and to secure funds for erecting new buildings and otherwise improving the equipment of the college.

The board of trustees, under its reorganization shall be subservient to, and guarded by the charter of Antioch College, in every one of its details.

Plans of the Y.M.C.A. for a national university to be conducted along its plans, have been under consideration for more than a year. It was expected to build, and in this connection the cities of Cleveland, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis have been considered, and have each sought the honor of having the college established in its midst.

It was only recently that Antioch college established in its midst.

ed (sic) by Horace Mann, came under notice of the board. The original charter of this college, which is along the lines that the Y.M.C.A. has been considering, its central location, the fact that the buildings were there and the college established as a nonsectarian school for both sexes appealed to the men at the heads of the movement. Antioch had never made a proposition to the Y and did not know it was being considered until ten days ago.

Mr. Truesdale of Conneaut, representing the Y.M.C.A. was one of the men who was present to present the matter to the trustees.

Antioch College was opened October 15, 1853, and Horace Mann, one of the most famous educators of his day, was its first president. It became noted at once, and some of the most famous personages of the country were educated there. For ten years, until two years ago when he resigned, Congressman S.D. Fess was president of the college, and under him, it regained much of its early prestige.

Trustees present at the meeting Friday when the Y.M.C.A. proposition was accepted were: General J. Warren Kiefer, of Springfield, presiding; Prof. Derby, Prof. Caldwell of Ohio State University; Rev. O.W. Powers of Dayton;! Dr. W.B. Patton, Springfield; P.M. Stewart, G.H. Drake, Guy Fogg, Ralph Howell, of Yellow Springs and C.H. Little and Dr. W.A. Galloway of Xenia.

At this meeting Dr. Galloway and Mr. Fogg were both elected trustees emeritus of Antioch in recognition of their long and valuable service on the board. Both are alumnus of the school.