The Westminster Story

Westminster College was born Jan. 21, 1852 in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania at a joint meeting of the Ohio and Shenango Presbyteries. One of the earliest coeducational colleges in the nation, Westminster was founded to promote the spirit and values of Christianity while focusing on the development of the individual – intellectually, spiritually, and socially.

Westminster is proud of its heritage, and optimistic about its future. Serving the needs of students has enabled Westminster to become one of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges.


Preface

The origin of this history might be traced back a long way. As a small child trying to come to terms with the adult world around me, I became aware of an invisible presence in our family of something called Westminster College. Later, when I could understand that my Grandmother Gamble was in the first regular graduating class at the College, that her father was one of its founders, and that my father and his brother and sister were also graduates, I realized why I had been hearing fond and frequent references to Westminster. When I was a little older, references to the College assumed a current flavor as my father began serving what would be a 20-year stint on the Board of Trustees. By the time I was in high school, my sister and brother were students at Westminster, and one of my favorite weekend activities was to visit my brother and learn what it meant to be “collegiate.” After he graduated, I became a student myself, then an alumnus and then a part-time member of the College faculty.

In 1949, with Westminster’s centennial anniversary approaching, I was recruited by President Will Orr to serve as alumni secretary. My duties included editing the College magazine, the Blue and White. Because of centennial preparations and family ties, I decided to write a series of articles for the Blue and White about the College’s history. As part of the 1952 centennial celebration, these articles, with minor additions and editing, became the first published history of the College, Westminster’s First Century. That collection, as the original preface stated, made “no pretense of being a formal or analytical history of the College. It is rather an informal year-by-year summary of the things that have happened at Westminster.”

As 1977 grew near, the committee planning Westminster’s 125th birthday observance requested a revised and updated history. This second edition of the College history, published as History of Westminster College, 1852-1977, added 25 years to the account and strengthened coverage of academic development and certain pivotal controversies, but it followed the same year-by-year format as the original. As the preface stated, “It is packed with detailed information which may tend to clutter the story for the continuous reader while at the same time increasing the value of the history for reference purposes.” When we ran out of copies of the 1977 history in 1992, we turned out a hurried third edition – essentially a reprint of the second edition with 15 additional years summarized briefly in outline form.

One hundred copies of this 1992 edition were thicker than the others because they included “A Personal Perspective on the History of Westminster College.” After I retired from the faculty, while I was still serving part-time as curator of the College archives, my conscience began to nag me because a lot of what I knew about the College’s history had not been included in the published editions, largely to avoid offending anyone by discussing controversial topics. For the benefit of future historians, I put down what I knew about these episodes and placed a copy of this “Personal Perspective” in the archives. When we were preparing the 1992 history, President Oscar Remick, who had read the “Personal Perspective,” wanted to include it in copies that would be distributed to the Board of Trustees, so this material was added to about 100 bound copies of the 1992 history. Much of this material has become less sensitive with the passage of time and now can be included in this sesquicentennial edition of the College history.

For many years I have wanted to rewrite the history and break away from the limitations imposed by the year-in-review format. I wanted to cover major story lines coherently rather than in annual fragments. I also wanted to accommodate more analytical discussion of major events, problems, and trends. With the approach of 2002, thanks to good health, plenty of time and some help from my family, I finally got that opportunity. This history takes a more thematic, less chronological approach. The earlier histories, while out of print, are available in libraries to those who need to look up key facts in a chronological reference book. This text is written for the reader who wants a readable account of how the College grew. The voluminous records of annual faculty additions and retirements and the won-lost records of the various sports teams that made up a large part of the earlier histories are here relegated to appendices. Those who want to consult them may do so, but the general reader will not find them cluttering the text.

I knew that preparing such a substantially different history would be an ambitious undertaking for a man approaching 90, so I collaborated with my son, Richard Gamble ’63, who brought to the project a computer and experience gleaned from 20 years of magazine editing and two book-length bank histories, as well as the relative youth of a man approaching 60. He agreed to help rearrange already written material from the earlier histories, “Personal Perspective” and several speeches and magazine articles of mine, and to supply necessary transitions as well as a more journalistic writing style. This history would not have been possible without his skilled contributions. Needless to say, collaborating with my son on this project has meant a lot to me. The other indispensable family tie is to my wife, Anna Mary Shaffer Gamble, whose support has made possible almost everything I have done since we were married in l938.

In preparing this and all earlier editions of the College history, my principal sources have been the minutes of the Board of Trustees and faculty meetings, College catalogs and other College publications: Holcad, Argo, Blue and White, and Westminster Magazine.

I am indebted to Robert Gracey Ferguson, Westminster’s president from 1884 to 1906, for insights contained in his The Early History of Westminster College, first published as magazine articles and later reprinted as a 20-page booklet. Some additional sources for particular sections will be identified in the text.

I want to express my gratitude to Oscar Remick, Art Rathjen, and Amy Rose Wissinger for their support in getting this history off to a good start, and to Tom Williamson, Gloria Cagigas, Mark Meighen, and Pat Broadwater for bringing it to a successful conclusion. A special thank you goes to Dewey DeWitt, my successor as curator of the archives, for helping to round up information for this history, and for preparing the appendix on faculty and staff additions and retirements. My thanks also to Joe Onderko for compiling the appendix of year-by-year sports summaries.

In covering his subject, any historian needs to find the right balance between reporting events and interpreting them. Understanding the past usually requires not just collecting and ordering the facts but also explaining why events happened and how they are interrelated. Finding that balance is an art, not a science – certainly influenced in this case by my close association with the subject and the sheer accumulation of decades of memories. During the 50 years I have worked on the College history, I have had access to a mountain of relevant documents and conversations with participants, many of them now dead, whose clear memories of events and personalities went back even further than my own 1921 memories of meeting President Ferguson and seeing the previous “Old Main.” I have known personally all of Westminster’s presidents and interim presidents since W. Charles Wallace (1916-1931). I worked for 16 years in administration, 15 years in the classroom, and 20 more years as archivist and historian. Because of this background – and because few authorities now are likely to rise to contradict me – I run the risk of indulging in too much interpretation. When clear personal memories supplement the written record, I have used them freely, shifting from third person to first person when doing so would improve this account. Even when I follow the conventions of an objective, third-person historical account, the reader should know that I am telling the story from my own perspective. Clearly, I am fond of “Mother Fair.” I have tried to deal candidly with her controversies and fairly with those who fall within the bounds of this history, but if readers suspect a bias and a tendency to present the College in a favorable light, they probably are right. Age has its privileges, and familiarity brings insights as well as blind spots. Hopefully, my collaborator has brought added objectivity to the project.

As we prepare this sesquicentennial history for the printers, it is our hope that it will bring to its readers a better appreciation for the host of people – teachers, presidents, trustees, students, and alumni – who have made their contributions, large and small, to Westminster’s rich heritage.

– Paul Gamble