Colleges and Public Service a Hundred Years Ago

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Friday, November 3, 1911: Nothing very much doing today. Didn’t get any of my lessons out this evening. I wasn’t in a very studious mood.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma  so often worried about school—though she often seemed to not quite get around to studying. I wonder if Grandma ever considered going to college after she graduated from high school.

I suppose college seemed beyond the realm of possibilities to a farm girl in rural central Pennsylvania a hundred years ago. Less than 3% of the people were college graduates back then—and the rate would have been much lower than that for women.

There was an article in the November 6, 1911 issue of Youth’s Companion about why men—the article didn’t mention women—attended college.

Excerpts from

The College in the Service of the Nation


Arthur Twining Hadley (President of Yale University)

The American college serves the nation in three conspicuous ways: first, by training men for public office; second by establishing standards of professional success in private business which lead men to do what the public needs, instead of trying merely to make money for themselves; third, by promoting the search for the truth and the spirit of discovery and invention that are necessary for national progress. . .

When we think of public service, we naturally think of these meanings. So did the founders who established the earliest colleges. The founders of the collegiate school at New Haven [Yale] stated in the charter of 1701, that it was the purpose of their institution to fit youth for employment in church and state. . .

Every man, whatever his business can conduct it in such a way as to serve the public. The lawyer who pleads in the courts ought to be doing the same sort of service to the public as the judge who decides the cases. The physician can render and ought to render the same service in providing for public health that the watchman or the signalman provides for public security against accidents.

Any business however simple in its character, where a man thinks first of the work that he is doing and only secondarily of the pay that he is going to get deserves the name of profession.

One of the most valuable things that our colleges can do is to emphasize this ideal of public service, so that the professional element will count for more in men’s lives and the trade element will county for less.

A third way in which our colleges can render public service is by keeping alive the spirit of exploration and discovery-the spirit which leads men to test new methods of action and to pursue new lines of truth. I believe that this is the most important and necessary service of all.

So far as our colleges teach their students the love of pursuing truth for truth’s sake, without regard to the material reward, they fulfill their highest and most necessary duty in the service of the nation.

4 thoughts on “Colleges and Public Service a Hundred Years Ago

  1. This post brought back fond memories of when I was taking piano lessons and would go to old book shops and look for copies of the Piano magazine called “Etude” a wonderful magazine from the turn of the century and the early part of the 1900’s, it had articles from the music conservatories around the country of the era and sheet music inside, as I remember it was very ornate in script and writing. Thank you for making this post, I found your because you found me and my blog and commented on mine. I look forward to looking over your blog more thoroughly.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. I’d totally forgotten about Etude magazine until you mentioned it. When I was a child we had a piano bench that that had storage space under the seat. There were several old copies of Etude stored there–and, like you, I enjoyed looking at them.

  2. Because women didn’t even have the right to vote until 1920, I suppose it isn’t surprising that not too many of them even considered attending college as an option. I’ve also been told that women of my grandmother’s generation who did go to college often did so mainly to find a better educated husband. We’ve certainly come a long way!

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