The university’s much-anticipated Bicentennial is, in part, about examining our past so we’ll be better informed to shape Colgate’s future.
Faculty and staff, alumni, and students have devoted themselves to this pursuit; these projects are just a few examples of that effort.
The Hill Envisioned
Imagine if Oak Drive had never been created. Or, what if lower campus — everything down the hill from McGregory, Lathrop, and Lawrence — were just a sweeping park?
Possibilities like these are the subject of The Hill Envisioned, an exhibition of blueprints, architectural plans, and maps showing campus planning proposals through the years. Held in Clifford Gallery, it premiered last spring and returned in the early fall.
“This show is not a history of the campus,” explains Bob McVaugh, a professor of art and art history whose decade-long research comprises the exhibition. “It’s a sampling of moments over time when those in charge of the campus turned to voices outside, and we’re extraordinarily fortunate for that.”
These “voices” have included famous architects like Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed New York City’s Central Park, as well as lesser-known but prominent names such as Arthur Shurtleff, who was chief landscape architect for Colonial Williamsburg.
Olmsted was the creative force behind many of the campus’s signature characteristics, including Oak Drive. But Ernest Bowditch was the architect who created the campus we know, based on some of Olmsted’s recommendations and Bowditch’s own ideas. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Bowditch oriented the Quad to determine where the chapel should go, guided the creation of Whitnall Field, and gave form to Taylor Lake.
McVaugh discovered the historical proposals and plans in the facilities department. Over time, he and research students have been collecting them so that they can eventually be part of the university archives.
“We are extremely lucky that our facilities department has not thrown out these historical documents,” McVaugh says. “It’s a treasure trove.”
Some of the past ideas for Colgate’s master planning may seem antithetical to how we envision the university today. But this outside thinking is necessary to challenge our conceptions, McVaugh asserts. “Specific campus plans are rarely followed, but they usually provide a seed, a vision, a new way of thinking about the hill.”
Intending to continue archiving these assets from the facilities department, McVaugh says, “We will keep learning about how we became what we are today.”
Repression, Re‑Invention, and Rugelach
At only 16 years old, with a shock of red hair, Noel Rubinton ’43 arrived at Colgate in September of 1939 to embark on his first year. His youth and hair color weren’t Rubinton’s only distinguishing characteristics. He also was in the tiny minority of Jewish students.
His son, Noel Rubinton Jr., provides a brief biography of his father — including the discrimination he faced at Colgate — in the foreword to Repression, Re-Invention, and Rugelach: A History of Jews at Colgate (Colgate University Press, 2018). The book, which highlights significant moments and key figures in the evolution of Jewish life on campus, was supported by a bequest from the estate of Noel Rubinton ’43.
“[My father] was on the leading edge of Colgate’s Jewish history,” Rubinton Jr. wrote in the foreword.
Spearheaded by Rubinton Jr., Rabbi Dena Bodian, and Professor Alice Nakhimovsky, the book was written by six students: Amy Balmuth ’17, Emily Kahn ’19, Cameron Pauly ’19, Kim Ravold ’19, Marit Vangrow ’18, and Dominic Wilkins ’17. Repression, Re-Invention, And Rugelach: A History Of Jews At Colgate was the culmination of their JWST 411 seminar led by Nakhimovsky, the book’s editor.
“As a history major, it’s really important to me to know about my own history and the history of the institution at which I’m studying,” Kahn said during a panel discussion launching the book at the Saperstein Jewish Center’s 25th anniversary during reunion.
Each student wrote a chapter on a different theme, based on archival research and interviews with alumni. Although the topics varied, a common thread appeared throughout: Even in times of adversity, Colgate students demonstrate perseverance. The first chapter tackles the quota system under President George Cutten, which explains why Rubinton Sr. was one of only a few Jewish students admitted. Another chapter deals with discriminatory practices in the fraternities and how Jewish students formed other groups to create bonds. After the fraternities denied Rubinton Sr., he (like other Jews) became a leader in the Colgate Commons Club, which offered equal membership opportunities.
“That was the thing that was really incredible,” Vangrow said. “Even in the face of oppression, you could still find your community at Colgate.”
Later in life, Rubinton Sr. received apologies from classmates for the way they treated him. In 2003, at the age of 80, he was elected class president — a position he held until he died in 2016.
Acknowledging that the university has made great strides toward inclusion, the student authors agreed that there is still work to be done. “Before any concrete action can happen, students need to take an interest in their own history,” Kahn said. “What I hope comes from this book is that we can take some of the lessons and perseverance of Jewish students throughout time and use their stories to advocate for other groups on campus.”
As he started working on Becoming Colgate, the university’s new history book, author Jim Smith ’70 thought about the institution’s most enduring feature: the hill.
Smith lays the foundation in the first chapter by chronicling the geology of the land, from the creation of the bedrock to the Chenango Sandstone that built the university’s oldest buildings. It speaks of the cave bears and saber-toothed cats that roamed the grounds long before students arrived. And it details the plight of the Iroquois tribes that were the valley’s first human inhabitants.
“Historians want to know what came before,” Smith says. Just as glaciers sculpted the hill, the broader academic landscape and global events shaped the institution’s changing structure. Throughout the book, Smith places the university against this backdrop colored by wars, a shifting religious climate, philosophies about education, and attitudes on inclusion.
“We can speak of ivy-covered walls and the detachment of universities from wider society, but we can’t tell the story of an institution without putting it in a broader historical context,” he says.
Some of these changes over the years, Smith has personally witnessed — both as a student and as an engaged alumnus who has served on the Board of Trustees, Alumni Corporation Board, and Bicentennial committees.
It was during a 2014 board meeting when former President Jeffrey Herbst asked Smith to accept the monumental assignment of writing Colgate’s history, which had not been formally updated since 1969 (A History of Colgate University, Howard C. Williams ’30).
Smith’s background made him the perfect candidate. A historian, he’s the Rockefeller Archive Center’s vice president and director of research and education. Among his published works, he penned Brookings at Seventy-Five, tracing the evolution of the Brookings Institution, and he oversaw the Rockefeller Foundation’s digital history project.
He began the Colgate book four years ago, aided by the university’s archivists, the Bicentennial research fellows, and students.
Not shying away from controversial issues over the years or whitewashing history, Smith calls attention to times of crises as well as times of celebration. “A bicentennial is the chance to look back and reflect,” he says, “and part of that reflection is to look at difficult historical moments.”
But, Smith acknowledges that Becoming Colgate is his telling of the university’s history, which will be different from others’. “Colgate’s story is inevitably plural and diverse, and no single-authored narrative can hope to capture the full range of the varied experiences of students, faculty, and staff who have been associated with our university,” he writes in the introduction. “I hope this book will prompt many others to reflect on their experiences, perhaps to contribute new perspectives and help construct a more robust and encompassing history of Colgate.”
This invitation not only encourages the Colgate community to participate in the current conversation, but also to build upon Smith’s work, especially as we develop a better understanding of issues with which we’re still grappling.
Path of Duty
Sharing common values of faith, community, and education, three alumni are the focus of Path of Duty, a new documentary based on research by Diane Ciccone ’74, P’10 and Jason Petrulis, former Bicentennial research fellow. Ciccone’s research began as the basis for a book about African American influencers at Colgate over the years.
“I wanted to write about those who came before me,” says Ciccone, who is aiming to publish in time for her 2019 Reunion. “So fifty years from now, people won’t have to wonder who was here before them and what contributions they made.”
She and Colgate’s former ALANA Cultural Center director Thomas Cruz-Soto came up with the idea for the documentary in 2016 and brought Atlanta, Ga.–based filmmakers Zeron Turlington and Nicole Watson on board. Turlington and Watson selected these three men (pictured below) from Ciccone’s research because of their impact on the South in the post-slavery era.
“We looked at the journeys they took and their abilities to make a difference in such tough environments,” Turlington explains. “Each of them accepted the challenge and responsibility of making a difference in their communities.”
The documentary also shows how, in addition to having similar fundamental beliefs, the three men demonstrated a lasting Colgate connection. Archer, for example, gave Morehouse College its colors — maroon and white — in honor of alma mater. “You can see that they appreciated what they received from Colgate,” Turlington says.
Ciccone says: “As we celebrate the Bicentennial, this film reminds us of the great American legacies left by these forgotten Colgate men.”
Henry Livingston Simpson
- The first-known African American student to graduate from Madison University
- Believed to be among the first African Americans to graduate from a U.S. college
- Frederick Douglass cited him as a positive example in support of expanded higher education opportunities for African American men.
- Ordained a Baptist minister in 1856, he traveled to Ohio, Georgia, and Canada to preach and serve as a missionary. He primarily worked at churches associated with abolitionism.
- Acted as president of the American Baptist Consolidated Missionary Convention, an African American church organization intended to promote missionary work, from 1869–1871
Excerpted from “Henry Livingston Simpson: First known African American graduate,” Annalise Simons ’21, 200.colgate.edu
Samuel Howard Archer
- Taught at Wayland Academy in Virginia before enrolling in Colgate at age 27
- May have been the first African American football player at Colgate; president of the junior class
- New York State awarded him with a professional teaching certificate.
- In 1905, he joined Morehouse College in Atlanta and spent the next 36 years as a faculty member, football coach, dean, vice president, and ultimately, president of the historically black men’s college.
- When he died in 1941, Mr. and Mrs. W.E.B. Du Bois sent a letter to his widow expressing their own sense of “personal loss at the death of an old friend.”
- Colgate awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity in 1932.
Excerpted from “Inspirational educator,” Jim Leach, Colgate Scene
Everett Booker Jones
- At Colgate, he played baseball, was a member of the German Club and Chemistry Society, and is believed to be the first African American member of Phi Beta Kappa.
- Earned a master’s in science from the University of Iowa in 1907
1906–1924: taught chemistry and biology at Florida A&M University
- Organizer and first president of Florida A&M’s alumni association
- Created the “College Witts,” Florida A&M’s first literary society Florida A&M named its science building in his honor.
- 1924: became head of the biology department at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo.