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Harry Morehouse Gage

Sixth President of Coe College (1920-1941)

Interim President of Coe College (1956-1958)



Birth:
October 15, 1878 in Franklin, Ohio
Death:
March 18, 1961 in Cedar Rapids, IA
Educational Background:
A.B., Wooster College, 1900; M.A., Columbia University, 1905
Teaching Experience:
Professor of Greek, Huron College, 1900-1903; Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University, 1903-1905; Professor of Philosophy, Parsons College, 1905-1909
Administrative Experience:
Dean of Faculty, Parsons College, 1909-1912; Dean of Faculty (1912-1913), President, (1913-1920), Huron College; 
Key events/accomplishments during administration:
Increased Coe's financial standing despite the Great Depression; Greene Hall erected; Stewart Memorial Library erected; Women's Field and Field house established
Post-Coe Career:
President, Lindenwood College for Women
 

Harry Morehouse Gage: "A Prince Among Men"

"A college president needs a poker face. At least he needs that kind of a disposition. He needs to hear of all the sins and foolishnesses of youth, and not show shock, no matter how much shock he feels...He needs to listen to his treasure's tale of woe with apparent sympathy, meantime allowing his mind the luxury of dreaming of new buildings and increased liabilities in the way of students... There are many reasons why this undisturbed serenity be made to appear in a college president's countenance no matter what may be seething within...Harry Morehouse Gage...had a good poker face."                                          
                                                                [from Woosterians Who are Achieving, May 1926]

Harry Morehouse was a graduate of Wooster (1900) and Columbia ,where he received his M.A. in philosophy. He was also an ordained Presbyterian minister who taught philosophy and Greek at Huron college and Parsons College. At Parsons he also served as Dean of Faculty and may have used his influence as dean to get a date with the music instructor, Florence Louise Avery, who later became his wife of fifty years. The two were married and traveled to Huron college in 1912 where Gage again taught philosophy, was dean of the faculty and later elected president. When offered the position of president of Coe in 1920, Gage accepted "because he saw in Coe College not only the present but the future," (Courier August 1920).

 At a time when financial burden was heavy, Gage had three lofty goals for the college:

  • secure $500,000 additional endowment

  • close each year with all bills paid

  • build a gym, music building, and library before July 31, 1931.

All of these goals were attained during his presidency from 1920-1941 with the exception of the music building which, ironically, he campaigned for while acting president in 1956-58. It was completed under Joseph McCabe in 1959. In addition to the library and gym, Gage saw the completion of the Women's field and fieldhouse, Greene Hall for men and an addition to Voorhees hall.

New buildings had been on Gage's agenda despite the fact that money was scarce. Col. Robert W. Stewart, an old friend of Gage's from South Dakota, agreed to donate $200,000 to his alma mater for the construction of the Stewart Memorial Library. He also provided the architect; Ernest R. Graham of the Chicago architectural firm Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. Graham agreed to design a long range plan of the campus as well as the library free of charge because of his friendship with Col. Stewart. The library was dedicated to Stewart's parents in September of 1931.

Stewart's friendship with Gage continued throughout the years, as the two generated boxes upon boxes of letters of correspondence. These reveal a great deal not only of Gage's values and morals, but provide insight into his personal life, beyond the presidency and confines of an office. Their coorspondance during Gage's presidency generated over one hundred letters, which are in the Coe College archives.

During the Great Depression hard times fell on the campus and Gage was forced to spend nearly all of his time raising money to pay salaries and keep the college open. This could not be accomplished alone; faculty showed their appreciation and dedication by donating considerably from their paychecks, which were only between $1,000 and $2,500 at this time.

Harris Lamb, Alumni director from 1952-1971, recalled a story Gage told to him about fundraising. "Gage had an appointment in Chicago to call on an influential, wealthy man. After introducing himself and presenting his story, the man said, 'Dr. Gage, I’m not interested.' Dr. Gage thanked him, got in the elevator and was on the street when he said to himself, 'Harry Gage, you didn't do a very good job representing Coe College.' He turned right around, got in the elevator, walked up to the man and shook hands with him. He said, 'I didn't represent Coe College well. I'd like to start all over again.' And he did. And, this time he sold Coe College to that man and Coe received a huge check in support because Mr. Gage wouldn't take no."

In addition to his dedicated attitude, Gage had a quick sense of humor and often contributed "President's Messages" in the yearbooks. In most cases they are full of jokes and demonstrated the good-natured cheerful disposition Dr. Gage was known for. In the 1935 Acorn he wrote: "When I was a very little boy, deadly nightshade grew in our backyard. I was told that its berries were poisonous and that I would die if I ate them, so I ate the berries and have lived quite happily since that time. However, I know now better than I knew then that I shall die. This incident is here recorded to encourage you to read all the "howlers" in this Annual. You will die whether you read them or not. And it is better to die interested and laughing at yourself and others than to die with an unsatisfied curiosity."

Gage was curious about the lives of each of his students. Every student, after enrolling in the fall, was to come to his office for a personal interview. Maxine Bogert '30 (now Mrs. Hal Carter Jones) wrote a letter to the college in 1977 in response to an appeal for information about Gage. She recalled Gage reading her name off a card and saying; "Miss Bogert, you must be very young. In my mother's and Grandmother's day, that was not a common name like Mary, Ruth, etc." This comment took her aback; coming from a farming family in Oelwein, Maxine had been quite sheltered and it was an enormous step for her to attend college on her own. But Gage's comment sparked a conversation between the two of them, one which she commented "made it a very valuable encounter that I can look back on with some humor and admiration."

Gage's success at Coe led him to be sought after by a number of different colleges and universities.  In 1941 Gage accepted an offer from Linderwood College in St. Charles, MO to serve as their president. He had served as advisor to their former president, John C. Romen, for fifteen years and Gage had been requested to be his successor. He served here as president until 1946 and then as temporary president and consultant for Doane College in Crete, Nebraska from 1947-48.

Although all published material concerning Gage's departure from Coe is positive, there are unconfirmed rumors that he was discharged from his role as president in 1941 by Herb Stamats of the board of trustees. In Louise Crawford's file, who was a music professor from 1916 - 1941, there is a single sheet biography which includes the statement; "She was discharged by Herb Stamats about 1940 when he also fired Dr. Gage..." There is no further explanation and since this is the only mention of Gage being dismissed in this manner, validity of the statement is unconfirmed.

By 1948 Gage was technically in retirement but continued traveling regularly to colleges across the nation as a consultant. As the June 29, 1948 Gazette wrote: "Gage talks to them 'like a family doctor,' he says and asks them what their objectives are and how they can best realize them. Sometimes the difficulty at a college is friction between the board and faculty. The board may try to do the faculty's job as well as its own," Gage explained. The colleges Gage visits are in Utah, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota."

In 1951 Coe asked former President Gage to return to campus to give a speech for the centennial celebration of the college, which he did with vigor. Gage was known for his oratory abilities; he never gave the same speech twice, even though he gave nearly 200 speeches a year across the country. An excerpt from this speech gives a sense of his language and confidence in the college even in difficult times.

"Coe, now that it reviews a life of one hundred years, does not feel that death is not far removed. It lives in the presence of life. In it is the thrill of youth and the stimulus of the future. As a matter of fact Coe's prospects of life are more extensive now than they were one hundred years ago. Its prospects in 1951 of living a hundred years are far greater that its prospects of living one year in 1851. The longer Coe lives, the more certain it becomes that it will continue to live in years without assignable end."

When President Brooks resigned in 1956, the fourth president in thirteen years, Gage was requested by the board of trustees to return to Coe as acting president from 1956-1958. His memorial from McCormick Theological Seminary stated he returned to a "ship of which he was once captain, and which was sinking, to save the ship." And this he did - his familiar presence and knowledge of the College and fundraising strategies enabled Coe to stand tall. He also recruited Joseph McCabe, who became president in the spring of 1958.

On March 18, 1961, Harry Morehouse Gage died at St. Luke's hospital at the age of eighty-two. Memorials were written and honors bestowed upon him across the country for his years of service and dedication to so many institutions. It was to Coe College, however, that he gave almost twenty-five years of his life. It was perhaps said best by President Joseph McCabe while dedicating the Gage memorial building that Gage was "a prince among men who is so affectionately remembered on this campus….(this building is) to the glory of God and the memory of Harry Morehouse Gage."

 
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