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northwest Kansas towns where the writer's older brother, D. L.
Wiggins, worked as a pharmacist and where she herself alternately
attended and taught school, beginning her teaching career at the
age of 16. At the age of nearly 20 the writer graduated from the
Hoxie high school and then taught for two years in the Hoxie grade
school. Her account of her experiences as pupil and teacher, 1888-
1895, remains in manuscript. The author was always keenly con-
scious of the inadequacy of her education and by 1895 had resolved
to continue her training in a Kansas college. Her account of her
three years at the college of her choice follows.

After graduation from Cooper Memorial (now Sterling) College
the author taught for four years in one-room country schools in Rice
county until her marriage to Ellis K. Porter, photographer and part-
time farmer, in 1902. Mr. and Mrs. Porter made their home in Ster-
ling until the former's death in 1936 and the latter's removal to Cali-

DR. KENNETH W. PORTER, a native of Sterling, is professor of history at the University
of Oregon, Eugene. The editing of this narrative was, however, completed during 1955-1958
when he was a member of the University of Illinois history department by which he was given
typing assistance; he also benefited by a research grant from the University of Illinois grad-
uate school.



fornia in 1942 to live with her brother, D. L., when the only one of
her five sons still at home enlisted in the marines. Mrs. Porter wrote
her reminiscences at intervals from about 1938 until 1945, inter-
rupted by a nearly fatal illness in 1942 and a long convalescence.
She died early in 1952 in Glendale, Calif .


In the summer of 1895 I decided to attend summer school at
Cooper Memorial College, Sterling, in order to find out whether or
not this was the school in which I wished to obtain a much-needed
college education. I was principally influenced by the fact that
Cooper was a United Presbyterian l college and my mother, who
throughout her ten years in northwest Kansas had staunchly refused
to affiliate with any other church, greatly longed to be again in a
community where there was a church of her own denomination.

I did a little crooked maneuvering on my train-fare, for which I
was punished before the journey ended. There was a washout be-
tween Hoxie and Hill City, which caused passengers between these
two points to be routed by way of Salina, which lay far to the east
and on my way to Sterling, so a bunch of us decided to buy tickets to
Hill City and, of course, pay only the usual fare, even though we
had to be taken clear to Salina. However, those who went with me
returned from Salina on the first train to Hoxie, and since there was
no train out of Salina to Sterling for the entire day, I did penance
by spending the day in a hotel, in a town where I knew not a soul.
Finally I got away, but then had to stay all night in Geneseo. 2 On
the way from Geneseo to Sterling I noticed two girls across the aisle
from me, one almost a young lady, a blonde, and beside her a
younger girl, with dark eyes and black hair worn in two braids.
They got off at Sterling, and I wondered who they might be. I

1. The United Presbyterian Church of North America, organized in 1858, was at this
time one of the stricter Presbyterian sects, distinguished from the larger Presbyterian de-
nominations by its insistence on (1) "closed communion" refusing the sacrament of the
Lord's Supper to anyone not a United Presbyterian; (2) the use in worship of a metrical
version of the Psalms of the Bible to the exclusion of all uninspired religious songs (hymns);
(3) banning musical instruments from church services; (4) exclusion from church member-
ship of members of oath-bound secret societies. It was difficult for a devout and convinced
member of this denomination to feel entirely at home in any other church. By 1925, how-
ever, it had given up all its "distinctive principles" and in 1958 it joined with the much
larger Presbyterian Church, U. S. A., to form a new United Presbyterian Church, U. S. A.,
which must be carefully distinguished from the United Presbyterian Church, N. A., 1858-

2. An examination of a railroad map of Kansas is necessary to an understanding of what
the author intended to do and what came of it. Hill City lies a very few miles east of
Hoxie, on the Union Pacific; both are in northwest Kansas. Salina, also on the Union Pacific,
is in central Kansas, northeast of Sterling, which is in almost the exact center of the state.
Presumably the author went west from Hoxie to Colby, and transferred there to a branch of
the Union Pacific, passing south of the Hoxie-Hill City section, which would take her to
Salina; here the two branches of the Union Pacific joined, and from Salina it would have
been possible to reach Hill City from the east. Miss Wiggins presumably then went from
Salina to Geneseo, in the extreme northern part of Rice county, and thence, by the Missouri
Pacific, to Sterling, in southern Rice county.


took a bus from the depot to the home of the president of the college,
Dr. Francis Marion Spencer, who was to help me find a room and
had arranged for me to stay in the home of Mrs. J. U. Brush. What
was my surprise to find the two girls visiting at the Spencer home.
I have since seen much of the one with the dark braids, now Mrs.
E. C. Wellman. 3

My first evening in Sterling I attended the graduating exercises
and listened to an oration by Talmon Bell, the sole graduate. 4 The
attendance at the summer school was very small, some 30 perhaps,
but everybody was most friendly and cordial, and I also liked the
teachers. I consequently rented what was known as the "Sud-
borough property" to take possession September 1, 1895. This
house, now 5 owned by Floyd Ross, has been completely remodeled
and converted into a beautiful modern home. 6

At the close of the summer term at Sterling I returned to Hoxie,
where I attended the Normal Institute. Then mother and I began
preparations to move to Sterling, where we planned to remain until
I should be graduated. We shipped all our household goods, but
sold the carpet loom to Mrs. Bird, and often did mother regret that
sale, since, as she used to say, she could "work off a spell of the
blues faster and easier by weaving than in any other way." 7

We had to come to Sterling via Salina, on the Missouri Pacific,
much out of our way, and stay all night at Geneseo. We finally ar-
rived in Sterling about noon, August 29. I distinctly recall the
date, because shortly after our arrival mother remarked that ex-
actly 30 years before was her wedding day. We had brought some
lunch with us, and purchased in Sterling the other necessities for
a cold dinner, but before we could find a drayman to bring our
goods from the depot it was well toward evening and, like the

3. Of Sterling: Mrs. Wellman, the former Jessie Coyle, tells me that she remembers
seeing the author on the train and that, being herself a young girl on almost her first trip
away from home, she was impressed by what she considered the great poise and self-posses-
sion of this mature young lady. What Mrs. Wellman took for self-possession, the writer,
however, explains on the ground of incipient homesickness which necessitated rigid self-
control on her part to avoid breaking down and giving expression to her feeling of misery.

4. Talmon Bell (1867-1949), immediately on graduation, joined the Cooper Memorial
faculty, on which he served with great benefit to the college community for 51 years, be-
coming professor emeritus in 1946. Sterling College Alumni Directory (February, 1957),
p. 1. AH subsequent information about graduates and former students of Cooper Memorial
College, where no other source is specified, will be assumed to be drawn from this publica-

5. In this narrative "now" means the time of composition, which was about 1941. The
Rosses (1958) are residents of Wellington.

6. The house in question is north of and across the street from the Sterling Public

7. Mrs. Catharine McCollum Wiggins was by trade a hand-loom rag-carpet weaver
whose labors had been highly important to the support of her family, particularly after her
husband's sudden death in 1886. See Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Iowa City, v. 51
(April, 1953), pp. 135, 136, 138; ibid. (October, 1953), pp.' 326, 327; Journal of American
Folklore, Menasha, Wis., v. 56 (April-Tune, 1943), pp. 97-99, 111, 112; Kansas Historical
Quarterly, v. 22 (Autumn, 1956), pp. 225, 226.


foolish virgins, "we had no oil in our lamps and the doors (of the
stores) were shut." So I went across the street to borrow enough
oil for the evening and the request was rather grudgingly granted.
But the oil was returned the next day and we grew to know Mr.
and Mrs. Evans quite well.

Bertha Moore, now Mrs. Merton Hall, had our house all clean
and ready to move into, so the moving was not a particularly
difficult task. The house was quite well arranged for two families,
having two stairways, and in a short time we rented the south side,
upstairs and down, to Mr. and Mrs. Carson and daughter Mabel,
a girl of a very pleasing disposition whom I came to admire greatly.
Mr. Carson was a carpenter and his wife was a sister of Dr. H. T.
McLaughlin, with whom I was later to become connected by mar-
riage. 8 We lived in the Sudborough house until the spring of 1896,
when we moved to the first house east of the Frank Purdy resi-
dence. 9

Sterling was considerably different from any of the towns in
which I had previously lived, having a population of 1,200 or 1,500
in comparison with only 500 in Hoxie, the town of my most recent
previous residence. It even had electricity, which was used for
the street lights and in some residences, although in the latter
only until about 11 P. M., when after a blinking of the lights
about five minutes earlier as a signal they were turned off for
good. However, if a party were to last longer than the above hour,
special arrangements could be made to keep the lights on longer. 10
But Sterling's outstanding feature, to me, was the great number of
trees, from which it was sometimes called "The Forest City."

Cooper Memorial College was named after a prominent United
Presbyterian minister, 11 and was known by that name during the
entire period of my attendance. Later the name was shortened
to Cooper College, and finally changed to Sterling College. 12 It
had a campus of ten acres and only one building, Cooper Hall,
which, when I entered college in September, 1895, had not yet
been completed, though classes had been held in it since the fall
of 1887. The campus was well away from the main part of town,

8. Dr. H. T. McLaughlin, then a missionary in Egypt, was married to Lena Porter, whose
brother, Ellis K. Porter, the author married in 1902.

9. The former Frank Purdy residence is northeast and across the street from the United
Presbyterian Church.

10. It was a good many years after 1895 before the use of electricity for home illumina-
tion became general in Sterling. During the editor's early school days I entered the Sterling
schools in 1910 the "coal-oil lamp" was still standard and the small areas of illumination
around them were precious to the seamstress, reader, and writer.

11. Dr. Joseph T. Cooper, a professor in Allegheny Theological Seminary.

12. In 1911 and 1919, respectively.


and there were only three or four dwellings within the same number
of blocks from Cooper Hall. Board walks, bordered with sand
burrs, were the paths trod by the students. Trees of some two
inches in diameter had been planted along the way by those with
eyes of faith. 13 Today the boards have given way to broad cement
walks over which the trees form an archway. The ten-acre cam-
pus has grown to 40 acres, and the buildings have increased to
four, not counting the power plant: old Cooper Hall; Spencer
Hall, with its recitation and music rooms and an auditorium with
a capacity of 1,800; Wilson Hall, the gymnasium; and Campbell
Hall, the girls' dormitory, in which is also housed the cafeteria
and banquet hall. 14

When I entered college there were four recitation rooms down-
stairs; on the second floor, there was another class room, a room
used by the Chrestomatheon literary society, a vacant room which
was fitted up that fall for the Theomoron literary society, and the
chapel, seating some 400 persons. The chapel was used only for
large meetings and on Sabbath by the congregation of the Second
U. P. Church. For the daily chapel exercises the students gathered
in the room of Dr. Spencer, the president, on the first floor.

Each of the four large rooms was heated by a stove, the lower
part of which was a fire bowl and the upper part of sheet iron,
about five feet high in all. The coal was kept in a box alongside
the stove. In the morning a student janitor brought in a supply,
started the fire, and from then on it was the teacher's responsibility.
The fire was usually kindled by the aid of three or four corncobs
which had been soaked overnight in a can partly filled with coal oil.
A lighted match would be applied to the saturated cobs, more
cobs put on, followed by coal, after which the door was closed
and the damper adjusted. Often it was so cold we wore our coats
all day. The college finances were always low and coal cost
money, so often when a red-hot spot appeared on the stove, Prof.
Wilson (Greek and Latin) would hasten to turn the damper and
even open the stove door to cut down the consumption of coal.
Fuel rationing is no novelty to me.

13. The board walk had been laid and the trees planted by the volunteer labor of the
students, after the trustees had managed to raise enough money to purchase the boards and
nails and the seedlings. Letter from F. L. Wcede, December 29, 1957. Francis Marion
Spencer, Reminiscences: Twenty Years Presidency Sterling College (Sterling College: Ster-
ling, ca. 1927), p. 9. This pamphlet is exceedingly useful for the early history of Cooper
Memorial College, covering in particular the period 1889-1909. The author of "College
Days" has probably drawn on it occasionally to refresh or reinforce her own memories.
When no other source is given for editorial statements about Cooper Memorial College and,
particularly, its early faculty, Reminiscences may be assumed to be the authority.

14. Since the date of this manuscript, two other permanent buildings have been added:
a library and administration building, and a new girls' dormitory. Also, construction of a
student union building is in progress and funds are being raised for a new science building.


There was a study room for the girls, but none for the boys, 15
who in cold weather studied in the recitation rooms, and when
the talk in the girls' room became too noisy we would do the same,
studying while a class was reciting.

There was no sewerage, and hence no lavatory or indoor toilet.
I don't recall that I ever washed my hands or took a drink of water
in the college building, although there must have been some pro-
vision for such needs in the chemistry room, and possibly it was
there that water could be obtained in an emergency. The toilets,
of the orthodox number, of standard size and shape, and appro-
priately identified, were located some 50 yards west of the col-
lege building. They were reached by first descending a flight of
18 or 20 steps at the rear of the building, these steps and their
railings being used as a lounging or perching place for the male
members of the student body, whenever the day was at all suitable.
Only dire necessity ever drove the female members to pass this re-
view. I recall an occasion when one of the girls, reaching a de-
cision, remarked philosophically, "Come on, let's go! When they
quit the business we'll leave the country!"

The students numbered perhaps one hundred, or less. 16 Tuition
was $30 per year, with a laboratory fee of $5, part of which was
refunded if there was no breakage. Furnished rooms were a dollar
per week and boarding in a club as low as $1.25, in some cases
even lower. The members of a boarding club would set a weekly
maximum and hire a woman, one who was already equipped with
kitchen and dining room, to do the cooking, for which she was
usually paid about 75 cents a week, receiving, of course, her own
board as well. Sometimes the cook also purchased the food, but
usually the club members elected a purchasing agent, or steward,
to plan the menus and do the shopping, he receiving his own
board in return for his services. The steward was in a ticklish
position. If, in his desire to set a good table, he spent too much,
he was likely to be removed from office, and if, in zeal for economy,
he underfed his fellow members, he was likely to suffer a similar
fate. If more labor than that of the cook was required for the

15. Fred L. Weede (letter of December 10, 1957), however, says that there was a
"cubby hole" for the boys, "just north of the west or back entrance to Cooper Hall." In the
editor s day it was a cloak-room, adjoining which under the stairs was a one-person
"convenience" the line-up for the use of which, between classes, sometimes extended around
the cloak-room and out into the hallway.

16. Almost certainly less, if students of college rank are meant. When President Spen-
cer took over in 1889, six years earlier, there was only one student of college rank, five
preparatory students, 28 grade pupils, 24 music pupils, and 27 art pupils. During the 20
years, 1889-1909, there were only 107 graduates. " During the author's three years in Cooper
Memorial there were only 21 graduates, ten of them in her own class the largest till then
and also the largest until 1902. See Spencer, op. ctt.


effective operation of a club, the members had the opportunity to
work for part of their board. Board was often kept down to less
than $1.25 a week per person, but prices then and now vary widely.
In those days liver was given away, and a large soup bone, with
three or four pounds of meat on it, cost about 25 cents. The
butcher never weighed them just measured the size with his eye.

There were seven members of the faculty proper, and two stu-
dent teachers. The salaries were ridiculously low and even at that
were scarcely ever paid in full. The president's salary was nom-
inally $1,500 and that of the full professor was $800, but there was
no such thing as a monthly check. Each took his share of whatever
funds were available and made it do somehow. The faculty, what-
ever their qualities as teachers some were good and some not
so good were indeed a consecrated group, loyal both to the col-
lege and to the church which it represented.

There was no such thing as a teacher of mathematics, a teacher
of history, etc., for the subjects taught by each teacher were many
and varied. Dr. Spencer, in addition to being president of the col-
lege, was my teacher in English literature, astronomy, political
economy, composition and rhetoric, psychology, physics, and bot-
any; possibly he taught other subjects which I didn't take. He
wasn't a very interesting teacher, but how could he be with all
those subjects? He had absolutely no equipment for the teaching
of physics. He occasionally drew diagrams on the blackboard to
illustrate some principle, which we were also required to do when
called on. He demonstrated the principle of the weight, fulcrum,
and bar by means of an ink bottle, eraser, and ruler respectively.
He rigged up a system of pulleys to show the decrease in power
needed to lift a weight. He illustrated the inclined plane by means
of a ruler, one end of which rested on the table and the other
on a pile of books. He constructed other simple apparati of a
similar nature, with which to perform, perhaps, half a dozen "ex-
periments" in all, but these will suffice to show that he did the best
he could with the material at hand, as otherwise I should not be
able to remember even this much after more than 45 years.

In botany I prepared quite an exhibit of plants and flowers found
in the locality. In other subjects he taught there wasn't much to
illustrate, and there was no chance for research since neither the
college nor the town had a library. In English literature we had
our text book, and that alone, from which to prepare our lessons,
so that we could take care of Shelley and Keats in one recitation,
give Bacon an hour, and so on. We did read two of Shakespeare's


plays, The Merchant of Venice and Othello, the classwork on them
consisting of a number of questions, a few comments, and the
memorizing of a passage for each recitation. In the classroom Dr.
Spencer was distinguished for two characteristics, a habit of batting
his eyes and a fondness for words of one syllable. He was probably
not aware of the former peculiarity, but confessed to a great liking
for short words and short sentences. 17

Professor Thompson, 18 my teacher in algebra, geometry, trigo-
nometry, and chemistry, was a rather large, smiling man, with dark
eyes, hair, and mustache. He knew his subjects much better I
hope than he could teach them. As far as I was concerned he
took too much for granted. I had never looked inside an algebra
or geometry and I needed fundamental training as badly as a child
on his first day of school. I didn't even know what was meant
by "first term," "second term," and I understood even less of his
rapid and glib explanation that "the square of a plus b was the
square of the first, plus two times the first by the second, plus the
square of the second," followed by a broad smile and the inter-
jection "See?" When I did not see, and said so, he rattled off the
formula again, concluding with the smile and the "See?" and
when I again admitted that I didn't, he sighed and said, "We will
pass on to the next problem." In about a week I saw that I was
soon going to be hopelessly lost if I didn't do something about
it for myself, so I began at the first of the book and succeeded in
becoming a self-taught student in that particular subject.

Professor Thompson's characteristic attitude and gesture was to
stand staring meditatively at the board, chewing the corner of his
mustache which was rather sparse and did not require to be thus
trimmed and then, with saliva-moistened fingers, make a sudden
dart at some offending figure, exclaiming, "Ah, there must have

17. The editor, although his term at Sterling (formerly Cooper Memorial and Cooper)
College was 1922-1926 over a quarter century after the period dealt with in these remi-
niscences was a resident of Sterling community, 1905-1926, and a regular visitor for a
score of years thereafter. He consequently was more or less intimately acquainted with
several of the faculty members mentioned in these reminiscences and has drawn on his
memories of them in the following notes.

Dr. Francis Marion Spencer (1843-1930), as I remember him from his public position
as president emeritus of the college and also from having been for some time one of his
pupils in Sabbath School, may best be described, in appearance and manner, as a "Southern
gentleman" in the best sense of the words. A tall, erect figure, a neatly-trimmed white
beard, and an eddress courteous and almost courtly were the most obvious features con-
tributing to that impression. Actually, he was born in Ohio, but his Christian and middle
names bore testimony to his South Carolina family origins, his ancestors having, he once
told me, left the state because of opposition to slavery. Although strongly conservative in
his religious views, Dr. Spencer believed in, and exemplified in his own conduct, courtesy
toward the person and respect for the opinions even of those who disagreed with him an
attitude which was unfortunately rare during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies
of the mid-1920's.

18. J. G. Thompson eventually left the Cooper faculty to prepare for the ministry at
Allegheny Seminary. In those days teaching at Cooper seems to have been widely regarded
as merely a stop-gap between completing a college course and beginning study for the
ministry. Both Professor Thompson's predecessors had similarly left to go to the seminary.


been an error here!" Though I received a passing grade in
geometry the first semester I took it, I felt that I didn't really know

Online LibraryKansas State Historical SocietyThe Kansas historical quarterly (Volume 26) → online text (page 44 of 59)