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The Tenacious Wish g g g g g g g g g 1865 The crowd grew silent, stilled by an emotion too big for cheers. For weeks the citizens of Worcester had planned this Fourth of July welcome for the men who had returned from the battlefields of the Civil War. The streets were arched with scores of stilted phrases which tried to do justice to the occasion. “To be Free is to be Strong,” said one; “The Heart of the Commonwealth Greets the Defenders of the Union,” another; and “Reap the Fields your Valor Won,” still another. The parade itself was longer than any other ever held in Worcester, with men from every Worcester County regiment and six thousand children in the line. For two and a half miles the march continued before it halted at the grand and new Mechanics Hall, where speeches and refreshments had been planned to conclude the celebration. Then there it was, flying several hundred feet up in the air above the crowd, against the backdrop of a blue sky and with its colors blazing in the glare of a noonday sun—an American flag, fastened to a string held by a little boy with a kite. All the stars were there—all thirty-six of them. This was a year, 1865, that would go down in history. It had been in this year, on the ninth of April, that the bells of the City had rung to mark the surrender of General Lee. Less than a week later they had rung again when news had come of the assassination of President Lincoln. And many the words then spoken would be remembered a hundred years later, when another president was slain also on a Friday and succeeded by a man named Johnson. No more than a week after President Lincoln’s funeral, a bill was introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature petitioning for the incorporation of a school to be known as the Worcester County Free Institute of Industrial Science. It is incredible that through this kaleidoscope of April events the misty picture of a non-existing school should have persisted so clearly. At this point John Boynton’s ideas for a school were no more than a vague wish for “the promotion of the welfare and happiness” of his fellow men, but it was a tenacious wish. In its favor was the fact that civilization loves to give attention and apportion credit to initial endeavor, even though progress has always depended on continuation of effort. In this case the immediate link between wish and fulfillment was David Whitcomb. It was he who picked up the fragile seed, almost lost forever in the indifference of a country village, to transplant it in fertile soil where there would be a chance for growth. It was January of 1865 before David Whitcomb talked to anyone at all about the school, and then it was to his pastor, Seth

He has passed away. But we remain. The country remains. The Government remains. There are lessons to be learned; there are duties to be done, and a future to be provided for. —Seth Sweetser, in a sermon after President Lincoln’s death, April, 1865


He [Emory Washburn] was probably the most beloved instructor who ever taught in Harvard Law School. —Dictionary of American Biography, 1936


The subject was submitted to us in a very indefinite form, the only direction given being that the money should be devoted to the promotion of education in the County of Worcester. —Stephen Salisbury II, 1868

Sweetser. Surely a clergyman would know how to handle a secret. Furthermore, the Reverend Mr. Sweetser, who had been in Worcester at the Calvinist Church now for twenty-seven years, was an overseer of Harvard University, president of the board of trustees of Phillips Andover Academy, a trustee of Andover Theological Seminary, and a member of Worcester’s School Committee. Perhaps more importantly for this story, he was trustee of Leicester Academy, located a few miles west of Worcester. This institution, founded when there were only two other such schools in the State, was already eighty years old and had become a familiar educational pattern. On the board of Leicester Academy were four men, four men who were soon to become affiliated in the direction of still another school. These men, and the order in which they learned about the unidentified John Boynton gift, were Seth Sweetser, Emory Washburn, Stephen Salisbury, and Ichabod Washburn. Leicester Academy was by no means the only point of common contact for these four men. None of the other three was at the moment a member of Seth Sweetser’s congregation, but he knew them well. They were easily the best-known persons in the County, and the four had all served together in public office and as directors and trustees of practically every local organization. Emory Washburn, a former Governor of Massachusetts now living in Cambridge, was the Bussey Professor of Law at Harvard University. He, too, was an overseer of Harvard in the same era with Seth Sweetser and such men as John Greenleaf Whittier, Edward Everett Hale, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. For that matter, Stephen Salisbury also served in the same capacity for twelve years. Governor Washburn, as he was still called, was in an eminent position to ask for professional advice, first of all from President Thomas Hill of Harvard University, then from Joseph White, secretary of the Board of Education, of which Mr. Washburn was also a member. Do not, these two educators advised, waste the fund or pervert it. Guard it carefully, and avoid sectarianism. A1though valuable, the advice was not specific because the project still had no definite outline. There was not even a formal offer from Mr. Boynton, nothing more than a reported conversation between two cousins. Mr. Boynton was hesitant to put his idea into words. You draft the letter, or have someone else write it, he virtually said to David Whitcomb. Finally Seth Sweetser, a craftsman with language, attempted the task. When Emory Washburn saw the first draft, he made a few penciled suggestions with the remark, “It is perfectly intelligible as it is.” Later when Mr. Boynton signed the letter he said, “That meets my view exactly.” There never has been anyone to know just what Mr. Boynton’s view was, although many a guess has been hazarded. Like the Bible, his letter of gift has had two kinds of interpreters, the literal and the liberal.

Impossible as it is to draw the outline of someone else’s dream— so hard it is to know one’s own mind—it nevertheless appears that what John Boynton had in mind was a schooling which would elevate the position of the farmer, the mechanic, and the manufacturer, not necessarily teach him how to be one. Mr. Boynton had been successful in manufacturing; he had had no difficulty in business. Where he had felt cheated was in the refinements, and he spoke of a science and art which would be “most serviceable,” “subjects not usually taught in the public schools.” Of these he had been deprived, and this deprivation had often wounded his sense of heritage. After all, was he not a descendant of Matthew Boynton, who once held the title of baronet in Yorkshire? And did not his lineage, which in this country reached back more than two hundred years to another John Boynton, entitle him to some social privilege regardless of his occupation? In Mr. Boynton’s inventory at the time of death his pathetic lack of cultural training was indicated by the books which he owned. They included a Bible, the New Testament and Psalms, a twelvevolume Evangelical Library, an encyclopedia valued at a dollar, and a three-volume report of a Manufacturer’s Convention—no more. Stephen Salisbury later said that if Mr. Boynton’s wish had been the only pattern, the school would have developed into no more than another academy to struggle for survival. It is therefore reasonable to believe that Mr. Boynton’s letter expressed not only his own views but also the opinions of Seth Sweetser and Emory Washburn. It is also logical that the letter reflected the general trend which was pressing for what was commonly labeled “industrial education.” The pendulum of the classical curriculum had swung almost as far as it could go. Ready to push it back in the opposite direction were many educators who realized their world had become a mechanized complex of levers and controls for which Latin and Greek were sadly lacking in practical assistance. The need for “industrial education” had become uncomfortably obvious when American products (not inventions) were rated as secondary at recent European expositions. In Europe, ever since Moscow had started its industrial school in 1763, technical schools had become fairly common, with France now leading the world in schools of applied science. American institutions could no longer afford to ignore the hint. The first adoption of the European pattern occurred in 1834, when Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was organized. Sheffield Scientific School at Yale followed in 1847, Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School in 1848, Chandler School of Science at Dartmouth in 1852, and a polytechnic department at Washington University in 1854. Encouraging the trend, Congress in 1862 passed the Morrill Act, legislation originally instigated by a Templeton man, Jonathan

It is no injustice to him [John Boynton] to say that his plan was not elaborated by himself, but was in his mind a simple proposition, and he was indebted to friends in whom he had confidence. —Stephen Salisbury II, 1871


The New Englander invents normally; his brain has a bias that way. He mechanizes as an old Greek sculptured, as the Venetian painted, or the modern Italian sang. —London Times, after Paris exhibition, 1855


Turner. This Act provided for the support of state universities for the teaching of agriculture and mechanic arts. In the first disbursements Massachusetts had given its share of this federal grant to a new Agricultural College and to a small Institute of Technology located in a private house on Summer Street in Boston. Undoubtedly, these schools and the attention they were receiving influenced the terms of John Boynton’s letter. As for Emory Washburn, he had for a long time been deeply concerned about the lack of industrial training in Worcester County. No one had been in a better position to know how much this County relied on manufacturing for its subsistence. Inventive genius in this County had ranked high, with Worcester men for several years receiving more patents than any other comparable section of the country. But now that patents were starting to run out and quantity of production was becoming the rule for prosperity, there were all too few capable men who could run and manage the mechanical marvels which had been created. Repeatedly men had come to Mr. Washburn saying, “My son does not want to be a farmer. Where can I send him to educate him?” In a speech before the Legislature Mr. Washburn once re marked that there had always been schools in Massachusetts if anyone wanted “to become a scholar” or if he wanted to “study divinity or medicine or law.” There were schools, he said, for the retarded, the idiot, the farmer, but not for the mechanic. “Scientific schools have been among the last and for a very natural reason. They were not needed.” Suddenly they were needed. Railroads had replaced the canals. An engineer, John Ericsson, had in the previous year built the Monitor and thereby outmoded the navies of the world. A turbine wheel had taken over from the old water wheel, and according to Mr. Washburn, it was producing at least twenty-five per cent more power. The boys by the hundreds had come home from the Civil War unprepared for these changes. The most recent census indicated that there were ten thousand young men between the ages of fifteen and twenty in Worcester County. Where were these boys to turn for occupation? Some of Mr. Washburn’s worry is reflected in the mirror of John Boynton’s letter. With so many influencing factors, it is surprising that the final document speaks as resolutely as it does. There was no hesitation. “The aim of this school,” the words read with finality, “shall ever be . . .” There then followed a paragraph of one hundred and seventyeight words—all in one sentence. The meaning was tucked neatly into one of its first fragments—“those branches of education . . . best adapted to train the young for practical life.” For a hundred years those words have invited and defied definition. In 1865 the “practical” life required the attention of me-

chanics, manufacturers, farmers, merchants, and teachers—and these were specifically mentioned in Mr. Boynton’s letter. Intended for both males and females, the school was to limit this privilege to “males only” if found to be “more advantageous to the community.” The Bible, in its authorized version, was to be in daily use, and the institution was to be free to the young people of Worcester County. The suggested courses of instruction would have done credit to any college curriculum, so diverse and complete were they in their coverage. Room was even left for “new kindred branches as time shows necessary.” Three things were hoped—that the school would be an advantage to the coming generations, a help to industrious and intelligent young persons, and an honor to the community. And so a human wish passed through the precarious portal of words, somehow surviving the experience and becoming both strengthened and weakened by the ordeal. John Boynton’s enigmatic letter was intended to be only the framework of a dream, but it was a big enough dream so that it could never end or ever really come true. With the letter in hand, Emory Washburn and Seth Sweetser decided it was time to talk to Mr. Salisbury. Sooner or later, everyone talked to Stephen Salisbury. It was Stephen Salisbury’s father of the same name who had laid the base for Worcester as a center of trade in the previous generation. It was he who had established a branch of the Salisbury merchandising empire in this central part of the State, thus initiating the substitution of trading for peddling. Worcester had become a teeming center where great loaded wagons came regularly from the Boston and Rhode Island seaports and then left on routes which led to small towns hundreds of miles away. Worcester storekeepers were kept busy day and night filling the country orders. Stephen of the 1865 generation had gone to school at Leicester Academy, then to Harvard. He had even become a lawyer, with no intention of working at the profession except to take care of his father’s extensive property. At one time the Salisbury estate included almost all of the western side of Worcester. It is almost superfluous to mention the honors Stephen Salisbury was given, the public offices he held, the companies of which he was director, the banks of which he was president, the societies he fostered, or the causes he supported. By 1865 the Salisbury store was no more. Stephen the second had wed and lost three wives by death and was now alone with the exception of one son, also named Stephen, who at the moment was traveling in Central America. Mr. Salisbury, a scholar of the classical tradition, was surprisingly sympathetic to the idea of a “practical” school. He was a man who used his money as carefully as he did his influence. Although he was generous, it was as easy for him to say no as yes. It was characteristic that he never exploited his own particular interests and he never carried a public cause alone. It was as typical that he sup-

You must learn something about everything, in order to learn everything about something. —Emory Washburn


The intention of the donor is to furnish competent instruction in such applications of science to the mechanical arts, manufacturing, and agriculture, as will fit young men to engage in those branches of active industry with intelligence; also to fit young men for mercantile life by a thorough course of training in the appropriate studies and to educate both young men and females for teachers, in a department adopted to that subject. —From March 3, 1865, letter sent to thirty citizens

No part of my subsequent business life gave me more pleasure than that winter. —Ichabod Washburn, when speaking of his first experience as a blacksmith


ported no cause until and unless he was sure it deserved his interest. In this case he wanted to be sure that the people of Worcester wanted a technical school. The best way to find out was to ask them. In the first week of March a four-page handwritten letter was sent to thirty men of Worcester. Signed by Emory Washburn and Seth Sweetser, it told of a “liberal proposal to found a Free School of Industrial Science in this City” and called for a meeting later in the month. Early the next morning Seth Sweetser had a caller. He was not surprised when he opened the door to Ichabod Washburn; he had been half anticipating, half dreading this visit. Many years previously Mr. Washburn had also talked about es tablishing a school, intending that it be supported by the mechanics of the town, much as they had cooperated in forming an association and in building the great Mechanics Hall. Naturally Ichabod Washburn expected to be instrumental in its founding even as he had been the initiator of the other enterprises. The background of Ichabod Washburn had already become proud legend in Worcester. He was not directly related to Emory Washburn, but in a previous generation the two had had a common ancestor who had left the coastal region of the State to travel west to Leicester. There he had forever enriched the history of that town and had become Emory Washburn’s forebear. Ichabod Washburn’s family, meanwhile, had stayed near the sea. Only nine years old when his father died, Ichabod had been “let out” by his mother to ease the financial pressure. Even at that age Ichabod Washburn thought that he wanted to become a machinist, but there were persons who advised against it. By the time he was grown, they told him, there would be no more machinery to be built. He therefore decided to become a blacksmith, and when sixteen years old, had applied and was accepted as an apprentice in a Leicester blacksmith shop. With his twin brother Charles (who had the handicap of a withered arm) at one end of the trunk and Ichabod at the other, the two boys trudged two miles across the Kingston pastureland to the wharf where Ichabod took the boat to Boston. In that city he boarded the stage for a dismal trip punc tuated by an overnight stay in Worcester, where the lonesome boy cried himself to sleep without any supper. By just the proper proportions of ambition, religious zeal, ability, and heartbreak, Ichabod Washburn became a good blacksmith. In the Leicester shop he met and knew Emory Washburn and, in cidentally, heard of the wiremaking experiments of that town and of nearby Spencer. There, too, he earned enough money to attend the school in Leicester in the same year that Stephen Salisbury and Emory Washburn graduated from the Academy.

The story unrolls with unbelievable momentum, and by 1865 Ichabod Washburn was proprietor of the largest wire mill in the world. Wire making was not new, for it had even been mentioned in the Bible; the fundamental process of drawing metal through a hole in a plate was still unchanged. It was simply that Mr. Washburn devised methods to make wire production practical and economical. Ichabod’s twin brother Charles had somehow fared better as far as education was concerned. Graduated from Brown University, he practiced law for a few years before joining his brother in the profitable manufacturing concerns in Worcester. In 1865 the two brothers were living side by side on Summer Street. “There,” a grandchild of Charles Washburn later wrote, “the twins found themselves of the world but not in it.” A hundred varieties of wire were eventually made in the Wash burn factories, but in 1865 the products focused chiefly on piano wire, crinoline wire, and fence wire. For ten years, while the fashion for hoop skirts prevailed, the Washburn machines daily made four tons of tempered hoop wire. Mr. Washburn even established a cotton mill to produce yarn for covering the wire, and in this factory nine hundred machines provided two hundred and fifty thousand yards a day. The partnership of the twin brothers had been dissolved, and in this same year of 1865 the wire business had been incorporated as I. Washburn and Moen, with Ichabod Washburn and his son-in-law, Philip L. Moen, as partners. Wash burn wire was known all over the world. An explorer in South America once told of traveling the Magdalena River to the foot hills of the Andes, thinking that undoubtedly he was the first white man ever to visit the area. A half-hour later he stumbled on a roll of fence wire which bore the name of Washburn. Mr. Washburn’s religion was so much a part of his daily life that he was customarily addressed as “Deacon” Washburn. He himself superintended a Sunday school at the jail, another at the City Mission for Negro children. In conjunction with the Mission, he had established an industrial school where little girls were taught the simple trades of sewing and cooking. His idea of a school for mechanics had never materialized largely because of the financial panic of 1857 and the interruption of the Civil War. Inflation had been a major deterrent; not until 1864 had the National Currency Act established uniform currency and introduced some measure of stability to the chaos of the country’s financial structure. Other personal interruptions had interfered too, as incident by incident he had lost heart through the deaths of his wife, a baby son, two daughters in their twenties, and then a grandchild. Ichabod Washburn’s school had therefore progressed no further than a talk with President Barnas Sears of Brown University and a few tentative paragraphs of outline jotted down by Seth Sweetser. The proposal for a technical school not of his own making was

Ichabod Washburn

He has not only given me the means, but the richer gift, a heart to give . . . Going back forty-five years since I made my first little donation of fifty cents, my practice has been to give something to almost every object brought to my attention . . . I have aimed to identify my interests with the growth and prosperity of the City as to contribute my share in whatever public improvements have been made. —Ichabod Washburn, 1865


I prefer to be imposed upon by others rather than by myself in withholding where I ought to give. —Ichabod Washburn, 1865

This Institute has a claim to public favor and indulgent consideration because it is the first attempt in our country to combine theoretic knowledge and practical training. —Stephen Salisbury II, 1871

For almost a century that basic balancing concept of science and engineering has been maintained even though the changing times required continual modification and expansion of theories and practices. —B. Leighton Wellman, 1962

I am the only one alive of the little company which met in my office in 1865 and adopted the plan of this institution and promised John Boynton to do our best, in so far as in us lay . . . The single most pleasant recollection of my life is the recollection of that transaction. —George F. Hoar, 1900


deeply disturbing to Ichabod Washburn. At first he refused to say whether or not he would cooperate. Without him, as Worcester’s leading manufacturer, the school would have little hope of surviving. With him, the chances would be considerably better. There have been some persons who have felt that John Boynton’s propitious offer was used as an elaborate maneuver to prevent Mr. Washburn from establishing his own school. This could be so. There were many serious misgivings about the school for mechanics which Mr. Washburn intended to create largely in his own image. Surely the more conservative kind of school which had now been projected would have a better chance of survival even though it, too, was called a “hazardous experiment.” There is no knowing the measure of Ichabod Washburn’s dis appointment, but it is obvious that his large-heartedness was greater. A few days later he informed Stephen Salisbury and Emory Washburn that he would support their new school—but in his own way, by building and equipping a machine shop. If he had been maneuvered, this was a master stroke of outmaneuvering. Although it was the first instance, it was not the last, when the catalyst of magnaminity fell into the cauldron to make a stronger mixture. With Mr. Washburn’s announcement the genes of the school still a-borning were determined. In this reconciliation was fixed the personality, the uniqueness, which ever afterwards was to set the school apart from any other ever conceived. From this moment on, the theoretical and practical were wed in a union never to be dissolved any more than it would be resolved. With Ichabod Washburn’s verbal promise, a paragraph was added to the original letter to speak of “instruction in use of tools and machinery” so that the school would not be confined to “the theories of science, but as far as possible extend to the practical application of its principles which will give the greatest possible advantages in the affairs of life.” In deference to Ichabod Washburn, some people thought the word “Practical” should be added to the suggested name of the institution, but the already cumbersome title balked at such an addition. On March 27, 1865, the men to whom the introductory letter had been sent attended a meeting in George F. Hoar’s office. George Hoar, a young lawyer in the State Senate, had taken over Emory Washburn’s office when the latter had become Gover nor. Mr. Hoar was now Worcester County’s busiest lawyer, known to have provided counsel in every one of the fifty-two towns of the County. At this March meeting George Hoar and Seth Sweetser were named corporators for the contemplated legislation. A committee was also chosen to solicit funds with Abram Firth of Leicester, the Worcester agent of the Boston and Albany Railroad, given the bulk

of the responsibility in this, the first public drive for funds in Worcester. Two days later a notice appeared in the Worcester Palladium. A gentleman, who for the present withholds his name from the public, offers a fund of $100,000 for establishment of a scientific school in Worcester, upon condition that the necessary land and buildings shall be furnished by our citizens. Not even April’s cataclysmic events disturbed the proceedings. On May 6 the bill was signed by Alexander H. Bullock, Speaker of the House and a citizen of Worcester; by May 9 the bill was passed by the Senate and approved by the Governor, John A. Andrew. The following day the Secretary of the Commonwealth accepted and recorded the Institute as a legal corporation. On June 3 the corporators invited a few associates to meet with them to accept the Charter, to organize the board, and to thank Mr. Boynton for his proferred gift. Naturally, every one except Stephen Salisbury voted for Mr. Salisbury for president. Mr. Boynton had requested that the first board be selected by himself, with the exception of the Mayor of the City of Worcester and one member to be appointed by the State Board of Education. There were to be three pastors of Worcester churches of different denominations, and other laymen of good reputation. Alpheus Harding, cashier of Miller’s River National Bank of which Mr. Boynton had been the first president, was one of the initial choices. Mr. Harding had served in the Legislature and was active in State and national politics. David Whitcomb automatically was named a member, as was Stephen Salisbury, and Ichabod Washburn. Phinehas Ball, Mayor of the City, was elected clerk. Dr. Alonzo Hill, who had been pastor of the Unitarian Church for forty years, and Dr. Hiram Pervear, who had just been installed at the First Baptist Church, made up the ministerial appointees along with Seth Sweetser. Emory Washburn was appointed to represent the State Department of Education. The election of David Whitcomb as treasurer was inevitable. He was the intermediary between the unknown benefactor and the benefaction, and much was dependent on his keeping Mr. Boynton’s patience intact. During 1865 Mr. Boynton had been living with the Whitcombs in Worcester. He had been persuaded to extend the time originally set for the campaign, but there were rumors that the City was in jeopardy of losing his hundred thousand dollars if the school was not soon built. Little by little Mr. Boynton had disposed of his fortune, giving his eight nephews and a niece what he thought they should have. He had given David Whitcomb a personal gift of United States

I have got a little left, all I shall want. I don’t want a great deal. —John Boynton, 1865


He has thereby laid the foundation of an institution which will do honor to his memory and be a lasting benefit to the County and to coming generations. —Board, in vote of thanks to John Boynton, June, 1865


bonds, and he had turned over the bulk of the hundred thousand dollars to David for safekeeping. There had been no receipt, no security, nothing more than the sufficiency of a deep trust. It had already become apparent that the original endowment gift would not be adequate for running the kind of school which was being planned. When told of this situation, Mr. Boynton readily agreed to give the interest accruing from his investments. With this money he asked the board to start a fund “which under no circumstances was to be expended” except for a library and ap paratus. This was therefore the institution’s first operating fund, one which never came to full materialization chiefly because Mr. Boynton went on to say that “in emergency” the fund might be drawn upon for other purposes. There was no one to know just how many emergencies there would eventually be. In August the tension in the City was mounting; the deadline for the financial campaign was soon to arrive and the whole gift might be lost if Worcester could not fulfill its part of the bargain. Five hundred persons and many industries had contributed to the fund, a remarkable proportion from a population of thirty thousand. Even the workmen in twenty shops had participated. But the goal of $60,000 was still more than ten thousand dollars beyond the reaching. Initiating a custom which soon became taken for granted, Mr. Salisbury made up the deficit and the campaign was announced a success. On September 11, 1865, Mr. Boynton’s gift was conveyed to the corporation. There were bank shares, most of them from Worcester banks, municipal bonds of several New England towns, and fourteen personal notes. To make up the total of one hundred thousand dollars, John Boynton paid exactly $44.71 in cash. As amounts of money were later to be assessed and compared and exceeded, it was not a great sum. But it was all he had, and he gave it freely.

g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g g

North of Harrington Block, Worcester celebration, July 4, 1865


Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Company

20 Washburn Square, Leicester: Congregational Church,

Town Hall and Library,

Ichabod Washburn’s signature, 1814, Leicester Academy Register

21 Unitarian Church,

21 Leicester Academy (built by Elias Carter)



Boynton Hall and the Washburn Shops, turning their backs on each other, with Jo Bill Road in foreground, 1870


The Tenacious Wish  

• The Tenacious Wish

The Tenacious Wish  

• The Tenacious Wish