The Colgate Scene
March 1999
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Colgate's first Rhodes Scholar

Shepardson's Sal photo from 1910
John W. Shepardson (Harvard '49) is writing a biography of his father, Whitney Hart Shepardson '10, who was founder of the Council on Foreign Relations, chief of the Secret Intelligence Branch of the Office of Strategic services, and president of the Free Europe Committee. Prompted by the naming of the college's sixth Rhodes Scholar, Antonio Delgado '99, John offered this passage, which describes his father's selection as the first:

On Saturday, December 18, 1909, in Albany, five college students appeared for personal interviews with three senior college officers. The committee was to choose one of the young men to be the Rhodes Scholar from the State of New York to enter Oxford in October 1910.

It was all so different in 1909. Today, of course, both Colgate and the Rhodes program are coeducational. Today the United States has a population of more than 200 million; 80 percent live in cities. Then the United States had some 92 million people; 50 million lived rurally. Today a college education is required for countless jobs. Then people felt well educated when they completed high school; only seven percent of high school graduates went to college.

Each of the candidates of 1909 had earlier passed a two-day set of qualifying examinations testing knowledge of Latin, Greek, arithmetic and algebra. Eight had taken the test, five had qualified.

Whitney Shepardson, Colgate 1910, had qualified because of his academic and focused family, his course at Colgate and his own effort. His father was then principal of Colgate Academy, the preparatory branch of Colgate University. His father had grown up a Baptist minister's son, had rejected this strict life to become an educator who taught by persuasion and concentrated on long-term results. Whitney's mother was a daughter of a Maine lawyer; she concentrated on the short term -- every evening she sat down with her children, reviewed their days and conduct with them.

Whitney had studied Latin, Greek, arithmetic and algebra at Colgate Academy. His work there had won him the Dodge Entrance Prize, awarded annually to the college freshman entering with the best preparatory record. His work at Colgate College, which earned him Greek and Latin prizes, included study with professors who saw their work as a seven-day-a-week profession -- a perpetual seminar. "Hamilton and Colgate," reported an observer in 1901 ". . . was a community of scholars in an almost medieval sense where the entire student body went calling upon the faculty on Sundays." Earlier on Sunday, faculty members had offered at the Baptist Church Greek, German and French Bible classes.

To his Albany interview, Whitney brought a college record of all As in final examinations and participation in nearly all campus activities: class president, winner or runner-up on all major prizes, on staff at the literary magazine and newspaper. He had also brought letters of recommendation from summer camp employers, from the Colgate faculty, and from the president of the University of Rochester. For more than fourteen months he had steered towards this Rhodes award and now his work was on the line.

Karsh of Ottawa photo taken in 1962
     Two contemporary glimpses of Whitney are available. First, as an adequate athlete: He won his college letter as a basketball player as a member of a team who had a season record of 9 won and 5 lost. An unsigned evaluation of him as a basketball player was published in the college newspaper, three months after his Rhodes interview: "Shepardson, who played more than half the schedule as forward, is a strong teamwork man, who watches his guard closely, but is a little weak in attack."

     The second glimpse of Whitney, dated December 17, 1909, the evening before his Rhodes interview, can be found in his first-place prizewinning speech before a judge from Utica, a professor from Hamilton College and a minister from Rome, all three imported to the Colgate campus to judge the oratorical efforts of six Colgate undergraduates.The Progressive Movement then led American thought and political action and Whitney's entry titled "The Rise of The Humanist" followed a classic Progressive approach: Man is rational and wants to choose the path of Good, if shown a social problem and shown another who has a constructive answer, Man will follow. Whitney endorsed temperance, forgiveness of youthful offenders, improvement of prison conditions, more use of paroles, and removal of the abuses of child labor. He exhorted his audience to take up these causes, as others had done, and follow these who had shown the way.

     At the Albany interview, President Stryker of Hamilton College, Father Quinn of Manhattan College and Dean Crawshaw of Colgate were charged to select an unmarried male applicant to attend Oxford for three years. The candidates had to be measured on an elaborate formula set out in Cecil Rhodes' will, one half of the overall mark to be devoted to past success in scholastic achievement and "fondness and success in manly outdoor sport." The other half of the grade was to be scored on qualities of character. These Rhodes' will qualities were so well expressed that they were later lifted and incorporated into the objectives of the Boy Scout movement.

     An additional question: "How well will this young man be accepted at Oxford?" seems to have been added by every selection committee.

     U.S. Selection Committees had, in their first two or three years, ignored some instructions from the English Rhodes Trustees. Special conditions imposed by the first New York committee -- that a Rhodes Scholar must be 24 years of age and must be a legal resident of the state in which he competed -- had been removed by orders from the Rhodes Trust. Some unnamed U.S. committees, perhaps even New York, had practiced a system of rotation -- each college, in turn, in a state, could fill the award from its student body. Perhaps it was coincidence, New York had sent in succession four previous scholars -- first from Cornell, then Hobart, next Hamilton and Columbia. When in 1908, rotation was discovered in several selection committees, sharp instructions had been sent by the English Rhodes Trustees to the American committees to stop.

Author John W. Shepardson
     After the records and support letters for each of the five candidates were reviewed by the committee, each man was called in for a personal interview. Whitney had in the previous thirty hours won an oratorical contest, and had risen early that Saturday morning to catch trains in order to meet his interview appointment in Albany. Whitney was very tense, almost overwhelmed, so much so that, years later, he did not remember Father Quinn of Manhattan, who was a friendly and kindly questioner, but did remember President Stryker of Hamilton College, who had "almost reduced him to powder." Stryker, always imperious, was in fine form that day. At the end of the five interviews, Dean Crawshaw of Colgate recalled that he was designated by the other two committee members, Quinn and Stryker, to go into the waiting room to ask each candidate: "if selected, would you accept?" Crawshaw returned with positive assurance from each candidate to find that, in his absence, the other two committee members had selected Whitney Shepardson. And so the Colgate official had nothing to do with choosing the Colgate winner.

     On the letterhead of the State of New York, Education Department, Albany, came the official notice dated December 18, 1910:

"Mr. Whitney H. Shepardson
Hamilton, N.Y.

Dear Sir:
I have pleasure in advising you that the committee of selection on Rhodes scholarships have unanimously awarded you the scholarship from the State of New York for the year 1910.

     You should communicate with Mr. F.J. Wylie, Oxford Secretary to the Rhodes Trustees, No. 9 South Parks Road, Oxford, England, as soon as may be possible, notifying him of the college to which you desire admittance . . . . . . Very sincerely yours,

Augustus S. Downing
Permanent Secretary"

     Whitney's long campaign was successful; now began another campaign for Whitney: to be admitted to the college of his choice.

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