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Coe College During the Great Depression

Harry Morehouse Gage was the president of Coe during the Depression of the thirties. "Dr. Gage and his business manager, S. N. Harris, adopted heroic measures to reduce expenses and pay salaries." In 1930 they faced a horrendous deficit of $44,000. The faculty helped in fund raising efforts. In 1931, for example, when the average professor earned less than $3,000 a year, the faculty subscribed almost $11,000 to help pay running expenses. In 1933, when Coe faced a cash deficit of $89,000 the faculty produced $46,000 in loans to the college and in gifts from their already small salaries. The rest of the budget was met with gifts from trustees and Cedar Rapids businessmen. The chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1933 on was businessman Arthur Poe who like many others gave his own money to help the college.

Life was grim in the early thirties for students at Coe. Scholarly achievement was high because it didn't cost anything to study and no one had money enough to do anything else. The Depression-ridden student paper was allowed for the first time to accept lucrative ads showing women smoking. By 1988 students owed the college $19,000, but no students were dismissed because they couldn't make payments.

President Gage obviously had the faith to back his students. On June 6, 1930, in "A Message to the Graduating Class," President Gage stated "the important thing is the effect of your possibly forgotten learning and knowledge on your attitude toward the government of the United States and the present problems of the American people." President Gage was acknowledging the plight of the American Depression while pushing college graduates to embrace uplifted spirits in any attempt to make use of their college years.

How did Coe keep students enrolling throughout the Depression? For starters, the college acknowledged there was an economic dilemma. A Coe Courier pamphlet entitled "Going to College?" from Aug 1931 read: "It may be that the best thing a high school graduate can do in hard times is to take the chance, or make the chance, to go to college." In a recruiting letter from August 1932, President H. M. Gage explains to high school graduates "Sometimes money is scarce and times are hard. At such times, governments occasionally print paper money without having 'hard money'--real gold--to back it up on demand. This is called inflation. No matter how much you may have of a fully inflated currency, you cannot buy what you want with it."

Although students may not have had enough money, Coe presented the "if there's a will, there's a way" philosophy throughout the Great Depression. President Gage went on to say in his concluding paragraph, "A righteous and honorable ambition is worthy of any conceivable sacrifice." For Coe students facing the Depression, attaining their college education was that ambition.

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