4, 1834 in Grove Township, Allegheny County, New York
September 11, 1896 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Educational Background: A.B. degree from Yale
Teaching Experience: None
Ministerial Experience: Ordained by the Presbytery of
Onondaga, 1862; Union Army Chaplain 1862-1866
Key events/accomplishments during administration: Enrollment and discipline
issues lead to no graduating classes in 1889 or 1890
Died in office
The Troubled Times of
Coe's Second President
by Bola George
The Iowa economy in 1887 was
entering a long decline that would culminate in the Panic of
'93. Coe College's expenses were exceeding revenue every
year. Enrollment figures at Coe had slipped. There was no
endowment for the college and the buildings needed
renovation. There were also issues within the student body
directed towards the college rules, and a feeling of unease that
divided students from faculty.
Coe College functioned in
loco parentis, monitoring the behavior and study habits of the
students. Study hours were compulsory: Monday through Thursday
and Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. were spend
studying. Periods between recitations were also for studying and
reading. Students were not to loiter in the passageways,
cloakrooms, or engine room. Visiting during study hours was
prohibited unless permission was obtained from an instructor. The
rules were not made to punish the students, nor were they considered by
the college excessively harsh; such rules were standard in small
private colleges and parents depended on the College to oversee the
education of the students in a manner that was careful, deliberate, and
Christian in its principals.
Students did not always obey
these rules, and the Faculty Minutes of the year report several
instances in which students were brought before the Faculty to answer
for some disruption of school policies. Cited in the Faculty
February 10, 1887, is an incident in which a Mr. H. C. Martin, called
to appear before the faculty for reasons unspecified in the faculty
minutes, failed to follow the directive.
March of 1887, Mr. Martin was yet to have more trouble, less than a
month after the first incident. He had presented a paper at a
meeting before the Alpha Nu society - the oldest literary society at
Coe, extant since 1882 - that was considered by the faculty as
unsuitable. He refuted the allegation and accused the faculty of
treating him unjustly. He was cautioned by President Phelps to
speak like a gentleman.
later, at another faculty meeting to reconsider the fate of Mr. Martin,
Messrs. Warburton and Lyon, a senior and junior respectively, also
appeared as members of Alpha Nu to accept responsibility for the
actions of Martin. This time, the faculty had assembled its case
well. He was accused of making "many references to the name and
attributes of God, that are irreverent; disrespectful to authorities
and subversive of good order and discipline, and tending to bring the
college to disrepute." This time he confessed his wrongs.
Faculty minutes reveal that he spoke like a gentleman avowing to guard
his conduct with the assurances that there would be no more recurrences
in the future. He was then asked to read a letter of apology at
the next meeting of Alpha Nu, which he did.
this atmosphere, fraught with unsettlement between the faculty and
rebellious students, like Martin, which heralded the college’s changing
administration. Dr. Stephen Phelps, the first president of the
college, resigned at the end of the 1886-1887 school year. Dr.
Phelps was well-liked by the student body and the Faculty, though there
had been some developing tension at the end of Phelps's tenure.
In selecting Dr James Marshall the Board of Trustees looked for a
leader who would provide strong, authoritative guidance for the
institution. At the time of Marshall’s death, Rev.
Burkhalter, a member of the board and someone who worked with Marshall
throughout his administration, described Marshall as "a man of power,
the power that is born of the possession of a high ideal, a
concentrated purpose, an unusual faculty to organize and to lead, and
unflagging zeal to execute and perform." (Erikkson, 26)
A portrait of Marshall hangs
on the third floor of Stuart Hall. Though records about him
reveal a man steeled to emotion, the portrait features him as a
grandfatherly-like image - kindly eyes, a Father Christmas beard, and a
faint smile at the corner of his lips. It seems unlikely that any
person with such an appearance would arouse such strong
reactions. In contrast to President Phelps, a man much loved by
the student body but who had very little ability to curtail or
discipline it, Marshall was a strict disciplinarian with an eye on the
primacy of education and a notion on the way things ought to be done.
standards may well reflect his background and education. A native
of New York, born in Allegheny County in 1834, he earned an A.B. degree
from Yale in 1857. After acquiring a collar from the Presbytery
in June 1862, he received from President Abraham Lincoln an appointment
as a chaplain in the Union Army, a position he held until 1866.
During his 4 years as a chaplain, he was reported to have performed
burial services for over 6,000 soldiers. After his term of duty
was completed, he went to Europe and traveled to London, Paris, Berlin,
and Heidelberg. Upon his return to the United States, he was a
pastor at Presbyterian churches in New York and New Jersey. An
illness forced him to retire in 1883, and he lived a quiet life before
accepting an offer to become Coe College's second president in the fall
The new Principal was a
sterner man, liked and respected by the Faculty, as evinced by the fact
that when Marshall was ill, the Faculty meetings would be held at his
house so that he might attend them. The unquiet of the student
body did not trouble President Marshall; with the support of the
faculty he pressed for stricter regulation of the college and diligence
in creating an atmosphere for learning, not for frivolity.
During the first weeks of
his tenure, Marshall was the unwitting victim of a number of practical
jokes by the student body, including the hiding of the bell he rang to
signify class periods and the hanging of an effigy of the president on
some telegraph wires over First Avenue. In December of 1887,
barely two months after his arrival, Marshall's capabilities were put
to the test. A student, Mr. Hamilton, was suspected of lighting
firecrackers in the library. Defending his innocence in the
presence of the faculty as jury, he refuted all claims of his
guild. Faced with threat of police involvement, he named a Mr.
Evans. Upon interrogation, Evans denied any knowledge of the
incident. He said that a young man from Waterloo, whose name he
did not know, had fired them. Accused of lying, Evans finally
admitted to the crime. He was expelled, but within a week -
perhaps due to faculty realization that they had overreacted - was
faculty could be oversensitive to anything suggesting criticism of
their policies or practices. In one case the minutes refer to
"Coe College Notes" an article from the Gazette February 6,
1888, which discusses a man whose, "eyes are quite sore as a result of
studying too hard. He goes around with a pair of blue glasses
which would give him quite a clerical look were it not for the extreme
whiteness of his hair." In response to this Gazette
article the faculty decided to establish a school paper "under the head
and censorship of the Professor of English Literature." This
decision would lead to the creation of the Cosmos.
Less than a month after the
Gazette article, there was another incident involving Martin. He had
submitted a paper to be read before the Alpha Nu society. The
paper, entitled "Hell," sparked further controversy. The Faculty
considered the paper irreverent and out of keeping with a Christian
college. Martin, asked to rewrite the paper, refused to do so
until given the first one back. Marshall asked him if he would
fulfill his obligation to the college and write another paper. He
replied in the negative. Marshall then endorsed the faculty's
decision to have Martin suspended indefinitely until he agreed to
comply with the faculty's demands.
suspension, the sophomore class formed a delegation led by John Sprole
of Traer, Iowa. The delegation stated before the faculty, in a
meeting at which Marshall was present, that the treatment of Martin was
too strict. Martin was eventually reinstated after complying with
the wishes of the faculty.
On April 6, 1888, seven men
were caught playing ball during study hours. Their behavior was
considered an "attempt to overthrow the good order of the
college." They were: Amos Randall (sophomore, Cedar Rapids); U.G.
Evans (junior, Cedar Rapids); Samuel Hall (senior, Cedar Rapids); W.H.
Martin, (sophomore, Hartington, NE); DeWitt Pelton (senior, Cherokee,
IA); John Sprole (sophomore, Traer, IA); and Horace Coe
(special courses, Clarence, IA). All except Coe were expelled; he
was suspended indefinitely.
The boys appealed to the
board of trustees. After a meeting of the latter on May 1, 1888,
the board recommended that the college reinstate Hall, Sprole, Pelton,
and Randall pending the faculty's assurance that the students would
comply with school rules. All four were reinstated, as was
Coe. The Board upheld the expulsion of Evans and Martin,
discerning a pattern of disobedience evident in the their students'
In response, all
upperclassmen left the college and were retroactively expelled, though
seniors were allowed to return for Commencement. The April 23,
1888 Faculty Minutes report that the Faculty convened a special meeting
in which the Secretary was "instructed to use his own judgment in
sending or withholding grades" from students who left the
college. This rebellion further weakened the college's
already declining numbers and was seen as an embarrassment to the
institution. There were no graduating classes for 1889 or
1890. The Faculty minutes, however, reveal no further major
upheavals until April 1889 when a Mr. William Emerick was caught
gambling, playing cards, and using vulgar language. He was
expelled and never reinstated.
During Marshall's tenure, no
buildings were erected on the campus but he had pipes laid down to heat
the buildings during the bitter winters. The country's economic
depression weakened the college's finances; perhaps Marshall's greatest
contribution was the selection of the college colors, crimson and
yellow, chosen by him and Miss Hamilton in 1892. He should also
be given credit for one other record. During Coe's long history,
honorary Ph. D. degrees have only been awarded in his
administration. These were to the Rev. Charles Hunt in 1893, and
to C. O. Bates, Dr. G. E. Crawford, Levi Marshall, A. Gordon Murray,
and J.M. St. John in 1894.
Once the students who had
known Phelps' administration graduated, Marshall's popularity among the
student body increased. Marshall's tenure has been described as
exciting at best and, at worst, as "nearly ruinous" in Erik Erikkson’s Founders
of Coe College. The best indication of how student opinion
regarding Marshall changed is found in the October 1896 Cosmos:
At chapel exercises, Sept.
21, the students passed the following resolutions upon the death of the
late President Marshall: Whereas, in the providence of God our beloved
president, Dr. Marshall, has been called to his reward; be it resolved
that in the death of Dr. Marshall we as students have lost a personal
friend, a warm hearted supporter and a zealous helper; that the
students as a body wish to express the high esteem and respect which
they hold for our departed president; that we feel that one who has at
all times sought the best interests of the stuents has been called from
our midst. That we tender the faculty and trustees our heartfelt
sympathy and assure them that their loss is ours.
President James Marshall passed away in 1896, in the midst of active
duties. At his death, Marshall bequeathed the sum of $5000
towards the college endowment and $1000 towards a scholarship.
When he died the college still lacked an endowment, and outside the
Board of Trustees the College was not well supported by the
Presbyterian Church. The college needed someone capable of
raising an endowment and securing the financial future of the