Following the withdrawal of William Hambleton from Antioch College in March 1856 over his association with Thomas and Mary Gove Nichols, reformer proprietors of the Memnonia Institute, and the subsequent dismissal of his classmate Jared Gage a few weeks later, Horace Mann's war with the Nichols' entered a new stage. Gage had taken up the mantle of bookseller vacated by Hambleton's departure, and had vouched for Dr. Nichols to the College President. He'd also known the Nichols' for years, Thomas being his personal physician, and happily continued selling the doctor's works that so outraged Mann and the Faculty of Antioch College. The offense for which he would be expelled in July, however, because he resided at Memnonia, was a violation of a rule against coeducational boarding situations in the village of Yellow Springs.
The Nichols' fought back in the periodical they published out of Cincinnati, Nichols' Monthly: A Magazine of Social Science and Progressive Literature. Its pages normally devoted to articles on the reforms of the day, Thomas Nichols' serialized utopian novel “Esperanza,” and the memoir of Rev. JB Conklin, “Life of a Spirit Medium,” Nichols' Monthly went to the defense of Jared Gage, pointing out the inconsistencies in his case in particular and those in general at Antioch College. As a result this exceptionally rare journal remains the most detailed record of the controversy between the College and the Memnonia Institute.
Nichols' Monthly, August 1856
RESIDING, and expecting to remain for a number of years, in the vicinity of Antioch College,—we wish to give our readers as good an idea as we can of this interesting institution, which was founded about four years ago, mainly by the exertions of Hon. Horace Mann, LLD, its President. The funds for building the College were contributed, to a large extent, by the religious denomination called “Christians;” but many wealthy Unitarians in the Eastern States, at the personal solicitation of Mr. Mann, have also been liberal contributors.
The site of the College, in the pleasant rural village of Yellow Springs, which has been for many years a place of summer resort, on account of its beauty and salubrity, is a central and well chosen location. We do not know its superior in the West for such an institution.
The educational plan of the College is of the most liberal kind. Both sexes are admitted, and there is a large number of female students in the various departments; one female Professor, and three female teachers. The instructive force consists of the President, nine Professors, and the Pricipal of the Preparatory Department, and five assistant teachers. The students are distributed in three departments—the full Collegiate Course, the Preparatory, and the English Course. There is also an Elective Course, including such branches as the student may prefer in all departments. There is a professorship of music, and of modern languages.
There is no man in the country—perhaps no man in the world—who has done more for popular instruction than the venerable President of Antioch College. As a champion of liberal education, his name is known wherever civilization extends. He wishes to crown a life of usefulness, by establishing in the heart of the Great West a model College; and much has been done to accomplish this result. But there are, connected with Antioch, some things which are inconsistent with its high pretensions, and which, if not changed, will go far to peril its success. Of these objectionable features we wish to speak in a spirit of kindness, and in the hope that they will be considered, and removed.
In the address which introduces the laws and regulations of the college, published with the last catalogue, occurs this sentence:
“It is our most anxious desire that the Faculty, Teachers, and Pupils of this Institution shall constitute one undivided and harmonious family, among whom the feelings most appropriate to parents and children, to brothers and sisters, shall constitute the paramount and characteristic relation.”
We turn to the “Laws and Regulations” and read rule 20, which says—
“Students are forbidden to permit ANY PERSON of the other sex to enter their rooms; they are also forbidden to visit students of the other sex an theirs, without permission from the Faculty.”
“Any violation of the above will subject the offender to “immediate and unconditional expulsion.”
Not your father, mother, brother or sister, at your utmost need; not the good lady with whom you board, or even Biddy the chambermaid. Let us see further of this brotherly and sisterly arrangement—
“Young Gentlemen and Ladies are not allowed to take walks or rides together without permission.”
Ladies and gentlemen visit the glen on alternate days, so as not to risk even meeting each other.
“Any student, entering into the marriage relation, will by that act dissolve his or her connection with the Institution.
“Without permission of the Faculty students will not be permitted to board with families in the village, who take boarders of the other sex.”
There is one regulation which is felt as a greater hardship than any of these, by which the two sexes are absolutely prohibited from uniting together in the exercises of the Literary Societies of the College. Several young ladies have recently left the college on account of this utterly absurd prohibition.
Are these the laws and regulations of a united and harmonious family? Do these stringent rules of non-intercourse, worthy of a monastery, belong to the relations of brother and sister?
While professing entire toleration in matters of religion, the Faculty require every student to attend the daily religious exercises in the College Chapel, unless excused for consciencious reasons; and such excuse, when asked, is often refused.
The last six pages of the catalogue before us are taken up with an address by President Mann, in which he urges upon students the duty of acting as spies and informers on each other in case of the violation of any of these thirty six laws and regulations.
These, it seems to us, are faults and inconsistencies which threaten to destroy the character and usefulness of Antioch College. We believe that the rules we have quoted, and the general spirit of the government or discipline of the College, to be false in theory, and evil in practice. They show an utter want of confidence in the honesty, virtue, and manliness or womanliness of the students. To open its doors to both sexes, and then prohibit them from boarding together, walking or riding in company, enjoying the pleasure and advantage of each others society, unless subject to the most humiliating restrictions, even denying them the right—we will not say privilege—of uniting in the exercises of the College Literary Societies, must strike every sensible person as the heighth of inconsistency and absurdity.
It would be better to go back to the system of separate schools for the sexes; for, bringing them together under these ignominious regulations, must have an unhappy, if not an immoral, influence.
These laws have their origin in an intolerant, puritanic spirit; they belong to a past age of tyrannic rule,—they indicate a want of faith in man, and a belief in the dogmas of original sin and total depravity. They are unworthy of the age we live in, and of the progress of humanity. It is impossible that they can long be submitted to by classes of enlightened American students.
Friends of Antioch College! It is not the discussion or propagation of the principles of human freedom and social rights, that can peril the prosperity of your Institution. It is such regulations as these, and the spirit that dictates them, which perils it every hour. Such a government brings the faculty and students into continual opposition, prevents the possibility of union and harmony, and makes a burlesque of filial and paternal relations.
Antioch College is too far in advance to compete successfully with the old, partial, sectarian colleges. It appeals to the support of the most liberal and advanced classes, and it is by their patronage alone that it can hope for success. Its danger is that “between two stools it will fall to the ground.” It is already too much advanced for conservatism. If its liberal patrons and students are driven away by existing regulations, as they surely will be, if they are persevered in, from what quarter can it hope for success?
The students now attached to Antioch College, and those who propose to join it, have a work to do for this Institution. The vantage ground it gives them must not be lost. We trust that they will not desert an Institution of so much hope and promise without making an effort at reform. The College is not the property of the President, nor of the Faculty, nor the Trustees. It belongs to the people, and especially to the students. It was established for their benefit, and all its regulations should consult their interests, and progress and happiness. The Emperor of France is not powerful enough to enforce a rule repugnant to the students of a French university. It is time that the arbitrary and absurd powers claimed by the Faculties of our Colleges, were held in check, and that students, especially where, as at Antioch, a large portion of them are men and women of lawful age, should not be subjected to a code of regulations worthy of being incorporated with the Blue Laws of the most absurd puritanism.
The fall term of Antioch College will commence on the tenth of September. It is expected that there will be five hundred students here at the fall term. We hope there may be—and if there is a prospect of reform in the government of the College, there will be more than there would, with the certainty that the present rule will continue. Let those who have been driven away by such annoyances as we have mentioned, give Antioch one more trial, and see if they cannot be removed. Let the male and female students unite in demanding equal rights and equal privileges, and so much freedom of social intercourse as is consistent with their best interests as students, and the Faculty cannot be so suicidal in policy as not to comply with their reasonable demands.
We do not wish to see a rebellion at Antioch, nor to see scores of the best students leaving, disgusted with its tyrannical regulations: but for the sake of all concerned we shall be glad to see a peaceful revolution, and to have Trustees, Faculty and Students unite in making it—what it must be to be successful—a truly Liberal Institution.