Elizabeth Hazelton Haight.

The life and letters of James Monroe Taylor; the biography of an educator online

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The Biography of an Educator


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The Biography of an Educator







Copyright, iqiq,

All Rights Reserved

Printed in the United States of America










The justification for my attempting to write the life
of Doctor James Monroe Taylor is this. After we had
completed the History of Vassar in collaboration, I pro-
tested that its account of his own time was too factual
and colorless to be an adequate picture of his work for
the college. Doctor Taylor replied : "Never mind. You
may add another chapter about me after I am gone."
This book is the other chapter. I have tried to make it,
not a mere study in the history of education, but a living
portrait, and I am grateful to many friends, most of all
to Doctor Taylor's family, for the cooperation and the
generosity about the use of letters which has made
possible a semi-autobiography.




I. Childhood and Early Education, i 848-1 864 . 1-2 1

II. Education: The University of Rochester,
Rochester Theological Seminary, a Year in
Europe, 1864-1872 22-71

III. Years in the Ministry, 1872-1886 .... 72-89

IV. First Years at Vassar College, 1886-1895 . 90-117

V. Vacation in Europe, 1895-1896 118-152

VI. Work Resumed ;]The Call to Brown University,

1896-1899 IS3-I77

VII. Education, Finance and Rest, 1 899-1 906 . . 178-218

VIII. Years of Growth and Success, 190 7-191 1 . .219-256

IX. Last Days at Vassar, 1911-1914 257-315

X. Vacation Days and Happy Returns, 1914-1915 316-351

XI. The Last Vacation and the Final Return,

1915-1916 352-379

Appendix: Partial List of Writings of James
Monroe Taylor 380-386



James Monroe Taylor Frontispiece

"The Growing Boy" 8

"The Hill of Science," Essex, Connecticut . . . . ii

The Reverend Elisha E. L. Taylor, the Father of James
Monroe Taylor 16

"blenvenue," the huntington home, rochester, new
York 33

James Monroe Taylor at Graduation from the University
of Rochester, 1868 35

Kate Huntington 71

The President in his Study in the Main Building, 1894 • io 3

The President's House 152

The Laying of the Corner Stone of the Chapel . . .176

On Formal Occasions 184

A Founder's Day Speech at the President's House . . 245

Taylor Hall 342



Childhood and Early Education,

"Everywhere around us

Stand the closed portals of events unknown."

Sdkoontald. 1

The Taylor stock, according to the genealogical records, 2
came from that Norman Baron Taillefer who accom-
panied William the Conqueror to England and, riding
with a song on his lips to battle, fell at Hastings before
the eyes of the monarch. 3 Taillefer's family received
from the Conqueror large estates in the County
of Kent, and here generation after generation of Tayle-
fers and Taylors appeared in possession until the time
when one Edward Taylor emigrated to America in 1692
to receive lands in New Jersey, bequeathed him by a
brother. This Edward's grandson, John Taylor (son
of another Edward), settled in Charlton, Saratoga
County, in 1774, and was Judge of the County Court
there from 1809-1818. He and his wife had nine chil-

1 The quotations at the beginnings of chapters are from a note-
book and memoranda kept by Doctor Taylor.

3 "The Genealogy of Judge John Taylor and his Descendants,"
by Elisha Taylor, 1886.

8 See Bulwer-Lytton's description in "Harold, the Last of the
Saxon Kings."



dren, of whom Richard, born 1777, was the grandfather
of the subject of this biography. Richard Taylor was a
prosperous merchant living in Delphi, Onondaga County,
New York, a fine-looking man of vigor and geniality,
according to his portrait. He was married four times,
the last time to Mrs. Phebe Clark, who bore him two
sons, James Monroe Taylor and Elisha E. L. Taylor,
father of our James Monroe Taylor who was named
for his uncle. As both Richard Taylor and Mrs. Clark
had children by former marriages, this Taylor family,
too, was a large one, and Elisha was brought up in a cir-
cle of half-brothers and sisters. One of Richard Taylor's
chief delights was a good horse, and Elisha remembered
with pleasure how, when he was four years old, he was
put on a horse with his brother to ride to mill and stayed
on. A horse seemed, indeed, such an essential of living
to the father that when his son, Elisha, went to college
his horse went with him! It was ironic that the old
gentleman met his death by being thrown from a wagon,
while he was driving. The wife, Phebe, was described
recently by an old clergyman as "a Mother in Israel"
known for "hospitality to the saints" (that is, the visiting
clergy). She was a thrifty and capable housewife and
a mother who won and held the affection of her sons.
A remarkable joint letter written to their son Elisha
while he was in Hamilton Seminary shows the religious
zeal and the character of both parents.

To Elisha E. L. Taylor.

Delphi June 30th 1831
My Dear Son

We reed your letter of the 25th Instant yesterday and
was gratified to hear from you although all the inteli-


gence was not just such as we could desire; particularly
of the pain in your side and stomach. It is probably the
effect of Study and I think likely exercise would be good,
but you must consult others that have suffered the like
affliction as to the best method to pursue and also be
observing yourself so as to learn and proffit by your own
experience and in all cases let your judgment and experi-
ence dictate your conduct rather than your fancy and

inclination I wish you my son in all your

letter writing to endeavour to take time to compose your
letter and review it before you send it. There are several
words left out of this one that we reed. It will be of
special benefit to you through life as well as great satis-
faction to you to learn to commit your thoughts to paper
and communicate your ideas in that way in an easy ele-
gant manner, particularly if you should fill any public
station in life : it will therefore, be well for you to spend
as much time in rjnis way as can be well spared and attend
to other duties. I wish you to keep a little book to enter
every Item in, that you lay out that we may see and
judge of the fitness of the appropriation. And I wish
you to make it a maxim in your setting out, to save every
Item of expense that will not specially hinder your prog-
ress in study or in some way materially injure your use-
fullness and in this get the advise of others of more
years and experience than your self particularly Mr. W.
who has Interested himself so much in your welfare, and
to whom I trust you and all the rest of us will ever feel
grate full. It is gratifying to learn by your letter that
you appear in some good degree to appreciate the duty
and priviledge of prayer and my son it is a glorious priv-
iledge and it is what I would not and I hope and trust you

would not be deprived of for any earthly good

I hope my son you will be faithful in your attention to
your studies whilst you are there for we know not how
long you may have the priviledge, nor what the Lord
has designed for you to do. I would not wish to be
over anxious about it for the Lord will provide for all


that put their trust in him and obey his will. But if it
should please him to qualify you for the Ministry and
send you forth to proclaim the glad tidings of Salvation,
it would be peculiarly gratifying to me. I would wish
however in this as well as all other concerns to say from
the heart not my will but thine O Lord be done. The
time here is short and I have often thought that our pas-
sage through life to the great place of residence through-
out eternity is not unlike going to market with a Drove,
it is a matter of comparatively little importance whether
the road is good or bad or the places of en-
tertainment are commodious or indifferent if we arive
safe, find a good market, make a good sale and return
safe home with our wealth. Although in our passage
we cannot but have a choice. And so to us if we are so
happy as to arive at the haven of Eternal rest, the dispro-
portion of our life of sorrow and trouble to an Eternity
of happiness is so great that it dwindles to insignifficance
and we may well say that the only way to estimate the

value of anything is by eternity I shall leave

the other side for your Mother to fill, who will give you

such information as she thinks interesting

My son your parents need your prayers, do remember
them and endeavour to be use full in some way while the
lamp of life holds out to burn. "Trust in the Lord and
do good and verily thou shalt be fed." May God pre-
pare us for his holy will and pleasure here but especially
for that happy state where sin is never permitted to enter
is the earnest desire and sincere prayer of your Father.

R. Taylor.

My dear Child

It was with tears of grattidude to God I trust that I
received your letter yesterday. I cannot express my
feelings when I think of the Change that I hope and
trust has been wrought in your Heart of late. O that
we could give God all the Glory and never cease to thank
and Praise and Love him forever and ever. My Earnest


Prayer and Desire is that you may be Dedicated to the
Lord both time and Tallant and Devote the Rest of your

Life to His service and His Cause All want

to see you very much. James often speaks of you and
says he is agoing to see Elisha. I am in hast the Feemale
Prayer meeting is here this afternoon and it is pase one
o'clock now. Give best Respects to Our Friend Mr. W.
and all the rest of the Dear Friends of Christ and except
a large share for yourself. Pray for us.

Phebe Taylor.

Elisha Taylor's children knew these grandparents only
through the vivid recollections of their father. So, too, by
family tradition they came to a proud acquaintance with
that great-uncle, John W. Taylor, member of Congress
from Saratoga County, and speaker of the House, whose
ringing pioneer speech against slavery at the time of the
Missouri Compromise is quoted by Horace Greeley in
"The American Conflict." * His portrait, which hangs
in the Capital, has the large brown eyes and the dis-
tinguishing features of the Taylor family.

Grandfather Perkins was the only grandparent known
to James Monroe Taylor and his brothers and sisters.
The Perkins family was an old Massachusetts family
that came to this country in 1623, but the Rev. Aaron
Perkins (the grandfather) began his preaching in Lat-
tintown, near Marlborough, New York, and married
there Deborah Smith, whose family had lived in Ulster
County since 1700. Grandmother Perkins was a name
associated with music for the Taylor children; they re-
membered being told (as Doctor Taylor's sister writes)
how, "when her last hours were near, Grandmother asked

'Vol. I, pp. 77-8, (Hartford 1873).


her 'boys' to stand around her and sing 'The Shining
Shore,' and the thought of this cheerful hymn sung by
the harmonious voices of her sons made a lasting and
pleasant impression upon our childish minds as of a
brave and cheery faring forth upon the unknown sea.
With this, too, was associated the simple and beautiful
words we saw on her gravestone : 'Her children rise up
and call her blessed, her husband also and he praiseth
her.' "

Grandfather Perkins lived in Leavenworth, Kansas, in
the latter part of his life and there witnessed many of
the exciting Indian troubles and the pre-war agitations;
saw, indeed, a man hanged to a tree near his own house.
A staunch abolitionist himself, he narrowly escaped a
similar fate, as masked men called for him one night
when, providentially, he was out of town. His grand-
children (as grandchildren will) remember not only his
tall, commanding presence, but also his great wig, his
habit of drinking green tea, and the fact that when James
was a young minister in South Norwalk, Grandfather, on
being asked to preach on each visit and accepting, always
told the congregation solemnly that he should doubtless
never see their faces again, or they his. He was the
Grandparent to the children and had all the affection that
might have been divided among four.

Against such rather vague memories of forbears stands
out a peculiarly bright picture of the home life of James
Taylor and all it meant to him as a child and in after
life; and in the center of that picture are father and
mother. The father, Reverend Elisha E. L. Taylor, re-
ceived his education (classical and theological) at Madi-
son University, Hamilton, New York, 1831-1839, and


after a year more of graduate work there began in Brook-
lyn that ministerial service which was to last twenty-five
years. Mr. Taylor entered upon his labors in a church
recently organized, the Pierrepont Street Baptist church,
but as soon as it was well developed, with a pioneer band
of church members he left it (in 1849) to organize a
mission church, the Strong Place. This, too, he built
up to power before temporary ill health compelled his
resignation in 1865. Then, merely stopping to take
breath, he accepted a Secretaryship in the Home Mission
Society, with special charge of schools for the American
Indians, and as his last activity raised a Church Edifice
Fund of $300,000 to help struggling churches in build-
ing, — a mere extension of his mission field interests.
Such were the public activities of a long life devoted
single-heartedly and happily to the cause of religion.
Those who knew the son, James, but not the father,
will be interested to find that the qualities which built
the success of the Reverend Elisha Taylor were consecra-
tion to service, absolute frankness of nature, uncom-
promising support of principles, breadth of sympathy,
tact and unfailing energy in work, — all peculiarly char-
acteristic of his son.

During his student days in Hamilton, Elisha Taylor
met a young boarding-school girl who afterwards, on
the eve of her eighteenth birthday, became his wife. This
was Mary Jane Perkins, second daughter of the Reverend
Aaron Perkins, — "The prettiest girl in the school," she
was called, — and the qualities her children most remem-
bered in her were her loving nature and her natural
"gaiety of heart." Elisha and Mary Taylor had six
sons and three daughters, and these brothers and sisters,


with only two or three years between their successive
birthdays, were the happiest of comrades in play or work,
the boys going off to school, then to college, in relays
that delightfully overlapped and helped weld their strong
family feeling. "As a family, we children were fairly
clannish in our fondness for each other," one brother

The earliest picture of the Henry Street home in
Brooklyn, where all but three of the children were born,
is in a letter of 1854, written to Mr. and Mrs. Taylor,
who were taking a much-needed rest in Europe away
from their family of five small children. (It is interest-
ing to note that, as they crossed on a sailing vessel, the
voyage took twenty-three days.) Phoebe Hart, friend
and caretaker of the three younger children (the two
older boys were in boarding-school), writes in delicate
hand and with fine feeling exactly the sort of picture
the anxious young mother must have craved.

To Mrs. Elisha E. L. Taylor.

Brooklyn, July , 1854.
It is eight o'clock and for half an hour, I have been
sitting with my eyes intently fixed on the happy group
before me, and listening to the sounds which you have
so often been delighted with. It is church time. Jamie,
Charlie, Mary, Annie and myself compose the Audience.
Charlie has just given out the hymn, and they are now
singing, "See the smiling sunbeams." And I wish you
could see the smiling sunbeams. Dear little Mary is sit-
ting close at my side, holding her book, and singing as
sweetly as any little bird. Jamie and Charlie are sitting
opposite, they require considerable room for their per-
formance on the Piano, and generally take seats at a
respectful distance from little "Sister." Jamie

"The Growing Boy."


has requested Charlie to "prayer," and poor child, if he
had been put in the stocks he could not have put on a
more woebegone countenance as he said, "Say, Jamie, I
can't prayer." Now they are singing, "Tzvinkle, Twinkle,
little star" after which they will dismiss. I love to
write 'mid scenes like these. I think they bring you
nearer home, as you are no stranger to them. Need I
say we are well?

Family tradition records that the brothers considered
themselves chivalrous protectors of the baby sister in
their parents' absence, and that when she cried, they at-
tempted to administer swift and condign punishment to
the old nurse, holding her responsible for Mary's tears!

The letter-picture of the boys of six and four shows
how early was started the family custom of a good
"sing." Negro melodies, college songs, civil war songs,
hymns were all included in the repertoire. "Especially
memorable for these good times," writes a member of the
family, "were our Saturday nights, when the two busi-
ness brothers came home, often with guests, and also
our family reunions at holiday seasons, which were never

considered complete without a 'sing.' Sunday

evenings we always sang hymns, generally from memory,
each member calling his choice."

The Henry Street home was filled not only with the
large and happy family and many relatives whom the
spirit of the clan assembled frequently, but by many other
guests "well-known men and women of interest, and
my memories of the table conversation of our childhood
were of much spirited talk on national, civic or religious
questions, and of the widest interest in affairs of world-
wide importance." Even in the midst of such conversa-


tions as these, at Sunday dinner when guests were often
present "the Father's warning 'Boys!' was sometimes
needed to restrain the live wires who had their own
jokes and discussions at their end of the table." Sun-
days were not hushed or restrained days in the minister's
family, and there were no torturing catechisms. All
were expected to go to church and Sunday School, but
the latter, at least, was distinctly enjoyed, partly, no
doubt, because of the hearty singing favored there and
the general sociability. Then there were books to read
in the afternoon, though the pleasure in them was partly
dampened by the father's habit of asking each child to
tell at the supper table what he had read, "a performance
much detested," and there was the regular family "sing"
at night.

From this house on Henry Street the children would
take a ten minutes' walk to a school on Tompkins Place,
kept by Mr. A. T. Baldwin, a member of their father's
church. "Daddy Baldwin," as the boys called him, was
"a conscientious and painstaking man, thorough in his
methods and a good drill-master." He was in the habit
of keeping a "School Diary" of each pupil in a printed
form which could be exhibited week by week to the
parent at home, signed, and returned. Inside the cover
of this small book is the motto "Just as the Twig is bent
the Tree's inclined," and below the use of the diary is
explained : "As a Diary exhibits to the teacher and the
parent the diligence or negligence of the pupil, it there-
fore often incites to increased efforts on the part of the
latter to gain the meritorious marks. Hence it is con-
sidered by many teachers an invaluable auxiliary in their
arduous profession." In the diary at hand, James M.

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"The Hill of Science," Essex, Connecticut.


Taylor's record is given from Feb. n to July I, 1859,
and it is interesting to note that except for an occasional
lapse in geography and deportment the small boy main-
tained a "perfect" record during these weeks. How high
a value the father put upon education is shown by the
fact that although he was a minister with a large family
whose household had to be governed by economy, every
child was offered a college education (only one refusing
it to go into business).

The boys were prepared for College at a boarding-
school in Essex, Connecticut, whither Albert and Mor-
gan went first, later James, then Charles. To this school
James went in '59, at the age of eleven, and his first let-
ter written home to his parents is preserved, July 16,
'59. The small boy requests piously : "When you send
my trunk up here, please send my Bible in it," but adds
in a more natural postscript: "How much can I have
for spending money. I hope nine cents." He says
proudly also : "I have not been homesick and hope I shall
not be" (this on the day after arrival!).

The Essex Seminary was situated on a high hill,
known as "The Hill of Science" (probably because the
village academy was also there), and from the building
there was a fine view up and down the Connecticut River.
About twenty boys attended the school and all sat at
one long table in the dining-room with the principal, Mr.
Cummings, and his wife in the center. No one could
begin to eat until all were served and Mr. Cummings
held up his fork as a signal. The boys slept in small
bedrooms, not in large wards. School-room hours were
long, from 8:30 to 12, from 1 to 4, and an hour in the
evening. Mr. Cummings himself taught all the classes


and in spite of a quick temper was an excellent teacher,
thrilling the boys by the richness of his comments on
Vergil, and making all his students enjoy even the pursuit
of English grammar. He had certain unique methods
of his own to vary routine, — purchased a sail-boat and
on Friday afternoons used to take the whole school out
on the river and hold classes in Grammar and public
speaking as they sailed down the stream. The boy,
declaiming with one arm around the mast, must have
gained inspiration from his unique rostra.

Seven essays written by James at Essex are before me,
the first six when he was eleven and twelve years old,
on "Happiness," "Politeness," "Friendship," "America,
the Land of Liberty," "A Visit to New York," and
"Japan and the Japanese." The first two are very ethical
and the one on "Happiness" (Dec. 9, '59) with stoic
decision crushes all hedonistic conception of the subject.
"Happiness," it begins, "consists in doing as we ought
and behaving well. If we do a kind act, we will be happy
and know we have done some good." Surely, as Presi-
dent Anderson was to say later, the child of eleven was
father to that teacher of Ethics who introduced generation
after generation of Vassar students to the "stern daughter
of the voice of God!" The essay on "Friendship" is
equally as typical of the James Taylor who maintained
friendships for over fifty years. It begins "Friendship
is intimacy united with affection. It is very important
to have friends if they are good ones, but if they are
bad ones it is bad for us."

The next essay is equally ethical, but more childish.
"Politeness consists in behaving well at all times, but not
in wearing fine clothes, and carrying a watch; but if we


wear the plainest clothes, and behave well, such as keep-

Online LibraryElizabeth Hazelton HaightThe life and letters of James Monroe Taylor; the biography of an educator → online text (page 1 of 28)