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HERBERT

F. JANICK, PH.D.

Copyright @ 2002
Western Connecticut State University
All rights reserved. No pare of chis book may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or
by any informacion storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
publisher.
Published in July 2002 by
Western Connecticut State University
181 White Street, Danbury, Connecticut, 06810
International Standard Book Number: 0-9711366-1-0
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available upon request.

DEDICATION
To my students and colleagues, who made Western Connecticut State University
a place worth writing about.

PREFACE
The start of research on this book coincided with my retirement as a fulltime faculty member at Western Connecticut State University. Each semester for
almost thirty years, I taught an introductory American history course to students
who were fulfilling a general education requirement. I saw this assignment not as
a chore, but as an opportunity to help them understand how historians "make"
hisrory. My focus was not on the accumulation of any set of privileged facts, but
on comprehending the way the present shapes the past.
One particular memory from this three-decade educational crusade remains
strong . Students were grateful, almost jubilant, whenever they encountered histOrians who told them where they were coming from and what they were trying ro
do. In this Preface, I will try ro emulate those obliging historians who made my
job as a teacher much easier.
From the start, I have tried ro answer one basic question : "How did a tiny
normal school come into existence and evolve into a comprehensive state university? " Using this query as my focus eliminated the possibility, or the value, of encyclopedic coverage of the activities of all the departments, offices, clubs, and reams
rhar have contributed to the life of the school over the last one hundred years.
Instead, I have concentrated on people, organizations and events (on campus and
off) that, in my judgment, were most responsible for, or best illustrate, the transIII

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formation of the total institution. Much attention has been given in these pages
to the chief executives of the school who, due to their position, were most influential in setting a tone and shaping overall policy. Because the school has always
been a creature of the State of Connecticut, it has been necessary to explore the
attitudes and actions of stare educational officials, the governor, and the members
of the General Assembly. The relationship between the school and the local community is another essential element of this history.
Although the narrative approach is often maligned today, I framed this history as a story. It is my effort to impose order, admittedly artificial, on hundreds
of semesters of events and personalities at a single educational institution. The
historian's dangerous assignment is to make choices and to reach conclusions. A
review of any chapter will reveal omissions. Many will wonder, for example, how
the history of the 1990s could be complete without reference to the link with the
Jane Goodall Institute, without mention of the football team's first undefeated
regular season in 1999, or without acknowledgment of the chemistry department's certification by the American Chemical Society. My answer is that all history is personal, and that much interesting material about WestConn's past had to
be omitted because, in my opinion, it would cloud rather than clarify the story I
tried to tell. I will be content if my synthesis-far from being the last wordprovides a helpful context for those entering WestConn's second century.
This history is based on solid documentation. The "Note on Sources" section
at the end of each chapter lists the principal sources on which that chapter rests.
Here I have identified and thanked the many faculty, students, and alumni who
generously submitted to recorded interviews. The tapes of these sessions, along
with all other data gathered in the course of my research, can be consulted in the
Archives of the Ruth Haas Library.
Some contributions are so significant thar my appreciation must be repeated
here. President James Roach immediately recognized the importance of a university history when we first discussed the subject in 1999. Since then, he has provided constant support for my efforts. I am especially grateful that he afforded me
complete freedom to organize and write this history as I saw fit.
In the mid-1970s, when I served as history department chair, Western
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Connecticut Scare College approached irs sevenry-fifrh birthday. With an eye
on this anniversary, I persuaded John V. "Jack" Friel, a retired Exxon executive
who had returned co school co earn his master's degree in history ar WesrConn, ro
research and write this hiscory. Jack spenr a year gathering material without compensation (he rerurned co rhe school rhe stipend provided by rhe WesrConn One
Hundred Society). Though he was nor able co complete the hiscory, he carefully
indexed all his data, including rapes of thirty-five inrerviews with key faculty
members, adminisrracors, and community leaders, and deposited ir in rhe
Archives of the Haas Library. Without this material, particularly rhe recorded
interviews with individuals now no longer living, I could nor have wrirren the
early chapters.
Truman Warner made innumerable conrriburions co WesrConn. None were
more imporranr than the massive newspaper clipping file char he assembled from
the mid-1950s ro the mid-1990s. The bulk of this treasure-trove documenrs the
history of Danbury and its surrounding cowns. However, five large file boxes deal
wirh the hiscory of the college. Warner's diligence, coupled with his hiscorical
training and sensitivity, enabled me co locate pertinent articles from otherwise
unindexed local newspapers.
The hiscory of Western Connecticut State University, or for that matter the
history of any Danbury institution, could nor be written without reliance on local
newspapers. Except for one six-year period, Danbury had a single daily newspaper,
variously tided over one hundred years. The Danbury Evening Ne1vs, originally a
weekly, began daily publication in 1883, under the direction of the legendary
"Danbury News Man," James Monrgomery Bailey. It remained the sole Danbury
newspaper unril rhe rival Danbury Times was established by hatting mogul Frank
Lee in 1927. Economic woes during the Depression forced the merger of the two
publications, in 1933, into the Danbury News-Times. In 1953, the Ottaway chain
acquired the paper and, in 1962, eliminated "Danbury" from its name. In this
book, I have cited the newspaper by the name on its masthead at the time of each
reference.
Three former faculty members wrote brief histories of the school, all of
which were helpful to me. Longtime librarian May Greene's unpublished essay,

v

"Danbury Teachers College: A Brief History" (a copy is in the university
Archives), sketches key events in the school's life up to 1950. Alumna
and Emerita Professor of Education Charlotte Isham's "History of Western
Connecticut State College" (1978), written to commemorate the school's seventyfifth anniversary, is more detailed. Emeritus Mathematics Professor Edwin
Rosenberg carefully compiled "A History of Western Connecticut State
University (1978-1993)" as part of the 1993 ten-year accreditation process
conducted by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Dr. Gertrude Braun came to Danbury in 1946 and retired in 1982. During
her career, she served as academic dean, academic vice president, and, on two
occasions, acting president. Very little of importance took place at the college
during these years that did not involve her. I thank her for sharing her extensive
knowledge of WestConn's past with me in three lengthy interviews and in
numerous long-distance phone conversations.
The staff of the Ruth Haas Library--especially Joanne Elpern, Russ
Gladstone and Vijay Nair-have been extremely helpful during the three years
of research and writing. WestConn's pioneer archivist, Mary Rieke, went well
beyond the call of professional duty to assist me. A former student and friend,
Mary frequently located material that I would have missed and was unfailingly
unruffled as I made a mess of her careful filing system. Meg Moughan, the current archivist, continued co provide generous and skilled assistance, particularly
in locating photographs.
Librarians at many other institutions eased my task. Of this able group I
want to give special thanks to state archivist Mark Jones who facilitated my use of
the riches of the Connecticut State Library.
The photographs in this book came from many sources. In addition to those
in the Haas Library Archives, two other offices on campus, Alumni Relations and
University Publications and Design, collected and preserved a significant number
of historical photographs that have now been deposited in the central Archives.
Helen Masterson, former director of Alumni Affairs, and her assistant, Janine
Brennan, provided critical guidance in locating photographs. They also supplied
me with names of alumni to interview. Peggy Stewart, the university photograVI

pher, did more than let me rummage through the collection of photographs in
the files of Publications; she advised me which photographs to include in the
book and then did all of the technical manipulation necessary to prepare them for
publication.
A smaller number of photographs came from various other places. Former
Danbury Mayor James Dyer served as the official yearbook photographer during
his student days and for a few years after his graduation. He made available his
carefully indexed collection of proof sheets and negatives capturing campus
activities throughout the 1970s. Elizabeth Laws, class of 1942, contributed her
snapshots of campus activities in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The photos of
Danbury scenes come from the Danbury Scott-Fanton Museum and Historical
Society, and from the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce. Scott Ames, the
sports information director in the WestConn athletics department, promptly
answered my request for photographs of the highly successful 1989-90 men's and
women's basketball teams. Paul Evans of the News-Times was equally efficient in
providing a copy of an early photo that appeared in Images of the Past, published
by the newspaper in 2001.
After finishing a draft of each chapter, I asked five people to read it and
make comments on substance and style. Each had a different relationship to
WestConn; each helped me in different ways. Former Dean of Arts and Sciences
Jim Pegolotti, an author himself, spotted organizational flaws and omissions.
English Professor Ed Hagan helped rid the manuscript of cliches and reliance on
the pesky verb "to be." Alumnus and hisrorian Steve Flanagan raised important
interpretive issues that I had ignored. Two of my sons, Herbert Janick III and
Stephen Janick, asked questions that would occur only ro "outsiders " to the
school. They also proved that their costly educations were worthwhile by correcting their father's faulty grammar. I strained the bonds of friendship and family by
asking this group for such sustained criticism, and am deeply grateful for their
willing assistance.
At this point my able editor, Connie Conway, went to work. She imposed
consistency on the text and made many beneficial stylistic suggestions. The book
is a far better literary product because of her expert care.
VII

A team of extremely competent people responded with skill and enthusiasm
to the challenge of publishing the university's first book-length manuscript.
Jason Davis and Irene Sherlock, the director and associate director of University
Publications and Design, guided the entire process from editing to final layout.
Dr. Koryoe Anim-Wright, the director of public relations, kept a watchful eye on
progress and gave the complete text an attentive reading in search of errors.
Peggy Stewart rook care of the historical photographs and added some of her own
striking contemporary shots. Quietly, master graphic designer Frederica Paine
turned typed pages into an eye-catching book. I benefited in many ways from her
tact and patience. Yvonne Johnson did heroic duty under a tight deadline as the
final editorial reader. The index was swiftly and accurately compiled by Michael
Rossa of Plano, Texas. Bob Stone provided expert advice on publication procedures . When I began working with this group, I expected them to be efficient
professionals (they were); I was pleased to discover that they were also cooperative
and excited about this project.
And finally, my debt to my wife, Mary Jane, is huge. She rescued me from
numerous computer messes, patiently endured countless tales of WestConn lore,
and resisted the temptation to ask why I devoted so much time and energy to this
history. For her support, respect, and constant love, I am deeply grateful.

Herbert Janick
Ridgefield, Connecticut
June 2002

VIII

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Pare One The Normal School .... .... ...... ........ ...... .... ....... 1
Introduction Danbury: Boom Town . . ... .. .................... ...... .3
Chapter One Normal School For Danbury .................. .. ......... 9
Chapter Two The Fotmding Father ................................. 21
Chapter Three An Altered Relationship .............................. 37

Part Two The Teachers College ..................................... 51
Introduction Danbury: Depression Crisis ...... ............. ......... .53
Chapter Four The Faculty Belongs To Us ............................. 59
Chapter Five With Henry Barnard As Guide .......................... 75

Pare Three The State College ...................................... 91
Introduction Danbury: Economic Resurgence ........................... 93
Chapter Six Ruth Haas Breaks The Mold ........................... . 101
Chapter Seven The More That Come, The Fewer I Know .................. 121
Chapter Eight What Dean Haas Wants, Dean Haas Gets/ ...... ... ....... 13 5

Part Four The State University ................................... 151
Introduction Danbury: Regional Hub .............................. 15 3
Chapter Nine The Road To Nowhere ..................... ... ....... 159
Chapter Ten The Miracle Of Wesconn ............................... 175
Chapter Eleven Growing Paim .................................. . 191
Chapter Twelve Healing ....................................... 209

Epilogue A People's University ........... ..... . . ..... .. .. .. . ..... 227

Index ... ... . .. . . .... . .. . . . ....... ..... ................... . 231

IX

PART ONE

$

THE NORMAL SCHOOL

DANBURY: BOOM TOWN

Opposite: Danbury's bustling Main Street,
looking sollfh from White Street, circa 1920.
(Scott-Fanton Museum and Historical Society)

2

PART ONE ""*"' THE NORMAL SCHOOL

DANBURY: BOOM TOWN
Danbury was grief-stricken by the death of President William McKinley in
the late summer of 1901. The parade held that September 19th in memory of the
assassinated president was the largest Danbury had ever witnessed. Factories,
stores, offices and schools closed down, and bunting in black as well as red, white,
and blue draped buildings in all parts of the city. Solid lines of mourners flanked
the Main Street parade route from Crosby to Wooster Streets. A long file of military organizations, headed by the Moore-White Post of the Grand Army of the
Republic, marched in subdued cadence, followed by fire companies with horsedrawn fire engines covered in black cloth. Knights Templars, Knights of Pythias,
and Elks-all the fraternal organizations to which McKinley had belongedstrode together in silence. When the procession reached St. Peter's Church, the
voices of five hundred parochial school children lifted into the air, singing
"Nearer My God to Thee." Turning at Elmwood Park, the throng of marchers
with black arm bands passed the Congregational Church, where no less than a
thousand public school pupils repeated the slain president's favorite hymn.
This somber tribute, heartfelt though it was, did not reflect Danbury's
real mood during the first decade of the twentieth century. The hatting industry,
the key to the city's economy, had recovered from the depression of 1893. All
signals pointed to an era of full employment, with a substantial boom in con-

3

struction of public buildings and private homes. The city's population was on the
increase. Optimism characterized the decade. The success of local citizens, in
1903, in persuading the Connecticut General Assembly to locate the state's fourth
teacher training institution in Danbury, rather than in rival Waterbury, was evidence of the community's new vigor and a symbol of its confidence in the future.
The home of the state's youngest normal school would be a factory town
of approximately twenty thousand residents. The 1906 report of the Connecticut
state factory inspector indicated that sixty-two factories operated in Danbury,
more than in any city of its size in the state. Of these, thirty-seven were related to
the hatting industry. Twenty-two firms made complete hats, both the stiff and
soft varieties. Others removed fur from animal skins, produced rough hat bodies,
or specialized in finishing hats. The remainder manufactured hat machinery, hat
boxes, or silk hat bands and linings. A chamber of commerce survey in 1916
indicated that 76 percent of all local workers were employed in some phase of
hatting.
The industry left its mark on Danbury in ways not reflected in statistics.
The presence of many medium-size companies, rather than a few giant firms,
meant divided power. Most hat factory owners had once been workers themselves
and had personal friendships with their employees and intimate knowledge of
shop floor culture. Because hat making was less mechanized than many other
industries, the workers were not machine tenders but skilled artisans. A strong
union protected these skills, guaranteeing a substantial voice for labor in the
production process. Comparatively high wages for piece work enabled a significant number of hatters to own their own homes. These factors shaped Danbury
into a middle-class community that avoided the extremes of great wealth and
abject poverty that characterized other mill towns.
The city was proud that it had emerged from the economic doldrums of
the late nineteenth century. The Danbury Evening News boasted in August 1901
that eleven hundred makers and about the same number of finishers were on the
job earning an average of $3.50 a day, a high wage for factory workers. Local
banks opened a record number of savings accounts. Many Danbury hatters who
had left the city during hard times returned, while journeymen from manufacrur-

4

ing centers such as Yonkers, New York, and East Orange, New Jersey, and even
Philadelphia, settled in Danbury. The publisher of the Crofut City Directory confessed in 1902 that he "was astonished to see how many new families have moved
into the city in the past year," adding that tenements vacant a year or two before
were now filled . He estimated that approximately eight hundred people had settled in the city during the previous year. By 1907, the shortage of skilled workers
was so great that hatters remained on the job year round without the normal seasonal layoffs. The federal census of 1910 confirmed this robust picture when it
reported that Danbury's population had increased

to

almost twenty-four chou-

sand, a gain of more chan 20 percent in the decade.
Boom rimes meant expanding factories . So many companies put up
additions and installed new machinery that the Danbury and Bethel Gas and
Electric Company had to invest in a 750-horsepower electric generator to meet
the demand for additional power. Industrialist Arthur E. Tweedy's reaction was
typical : he doubled the capacity of his silk mill, where material for hat linings
was produced, by purchasing thirty-five more weaving looms. But it was Frank
Lee who emerged as the dominant entrepreneur during these expansion years.
In 1909, in partnership with Harry McLachlan, Lee built the largest factory in
the city on land between South Street and the New Haven Railroad's tracks.
Designed by local architect Philip Sunderland, the 900,000-square-foot steel and
brick structure would ultimately accommodate more than two thousand workers .
Visitors quickly noticed the upturn in Danbury's fortunes . New buildings appeared everywhere in the downtown. In 1903, those who traveled by railroad, as most still did, entered the city through a modern depot on White Street.
Not far from there, on West Street, rose the impressive new headquarters of the
Southern New England Telephone Company, which housed the area's first phone
exchange. But change was most evident on Main Street. Prominent hat manufacturer John W. Green built the elegant Hotel Green in 1907. In the 1920s and
1930s, it would become a favorite destination for automobile tourists motoring
into New England. When the First Congregational Church was destroyed in
1907, it was replaced by a classical temple-style structure for the Savings Bank of
Danbury, which was anxious to take its place on the "bank row" screech of the

5

city's most prestigious street. The Empress Theater, the first theater to be built in
the city since the Taylor Opera House in the 1870s, opened its doors to vaudeville
and movie audiences in 1912. For Danbury's swelling Catholic population, a second church was built on the northern end of Main Street in 1905. Romanesque in
style, St. Joseph's served many of the city's recent Italian, Hungarian, Syrian and
Polish immigrants.
The vibrant economy put pressure on local housing stock. In response,
developers built dozens of new dwellings each year, especially in areas served by
the Danbury and Bethel Street Railway, the primary means of transportation
within the city. Even the recession of 1908 failed to slow the building boom.
The Evening News boasted that during the summer you couldn't walk in any
direction in the city without seeing a new home going up. Still, the paper lamented that at least one hundred families were seeking decent living quarters.
The city that welcomed the fledgling Normal School was not without
problems. Prosperity muted but did not erase divisions in the community. Labor
disputes were frequent as employers, though flush with profits, sought to break
the grip of the union, the United Hatters of North America. Old stock Yankees
and established immigrant groups (such as the Irish and Germans) often subtly
discriminated against more recent arrivals. The temperance crusade, preached
from both Protestant and Catholic pulpits, had class and ethnic dimensions.
Yet, the predominant tone of life in the Hat City during the first
decades of the twentieth century was upbeat. Energy and optimism were the twin
engines of progress. John R. Perkins, the first principal of the Normal School,
understood and shared this booster spirit. He commended city officials in 1920
for buying land along White Street for future needs of the public school system.
"Old Danbury ideas are dying out," he proclaimed in an interview with the local
newspaper. "New Danbury is profiting from the mistakes of the past." Then,
looking back over the time he had spent in the changing city, he concluded with
satisfaction, "Danbury is now thoroughly awake." •

6

Aboz1e: Normal School st11dents entered Old Main for the first time on September 5, 1905.
(\VCSU A1·chives)
Opposite: This was the a11ditori11111 that was located above the gymnasi11m in Old Main.
St11dents were greeted by Princrpal john Perkins in this room.
(\VCSU Archives)

8

CHAPTER. ONE

NORMAL SCHOOL FOR DANBURY
The electric lights in the dining room of the Hotel Groveland burned late
on the night of June 4, 1903 . Gathered around tables in the popular restaurant
on Main Street, members of the Normal School Committee and their supporters
celebrated the Connecticut Senate's vote earlier that day to make Danbury the site
of the fourth such school in the state. A few hours before, the crowd had greeted
Danbury's two General Assembly representatives, Republican Charles Hoffman
and Democrat Martin Gorman, on their return from the state capitol, and had
escorted them the short distance from the railroad depot to the hotel. After
dinner, Committee Chairman Michael T. Cuff, an alderman from the Fourth
Ward, lauded the bipartisan cooperation of Hoffman and Gorman and praised the
generosity of Bridgeport architect Ernest Southey, the designer of a new Danbury
high school then under construction. At a critical point in the House debate,
Southey, a member of the city's delegation to Hartford, presented a handsomely
framed sketch of the proposed Normal School building; the sketch neutralized the
delaying tactics of hostile legislators. The committee, set up six months before by
a special town meeting in response to a petition drive, exulted over its success.
Astute political observers agreed: the effectiveness of the Danbury lobby was the
surprise of the session. It surrounded "the Legislative Jericho" and the walls tumbled down, conceded a chagrined Waterbury American newspaper reporter.

9

Danbury won membership in an educational system chat was once considered unorthodox. Conservative Connecticut had been hesitant to embrace the
normal school* approach to training elementary schoolteachers. Henry Barnard,
the first secretary of the Connecticut Board of School Commissioners, had
urged the state co set up "at least one seminary for teachers" in 1839, the year
Massachusetts opened the country's first publicly supported normal school. Ten
years later, long after Barnard had left the state to become superintendent of
schools in Rhode Island , the cautious Connecticut General Assembly concluded
that "such schools are no longer to be regarded as a doubtful experiment." When
the New Britain Normal School opened in 1850, with Barnard as principal, it
was the fifth such institution in the country. For the next forty years, New Britain
Normal School, whose student body never exceeded four hundred and often was
half that number, was the sole source of Connecticut schoolteachers trained at
public expense.
The powerful forces of industrialization, immigration and urbanization,
which had slowly transformed Connecticut in the early nineteenth century,
accelerated between 1880 and 1900. During these two decades, the population
of the state nearly doubled, rising from 5 27,000 to 908 ,000. In that same period,
the number of factories in Connecticut increased 105 percent to more than 9,000.
Produces from machine cools to textiles made the state second in the nation in the
value of industrial output per capita. Attracted by the promise of manufacturing
jobs, thousands of European immigrants flocked into the state. By 1900, 240,000
residents of Connecticut were foreign-born. Only 41 percent of the state's population had parents who had been born in the United Stares. In cities, the percentage
was even smaller. Rural towns shrank in size as their inhabitants moved into
urban centers. Sixty-five towns in the state lost population during these twenty
years. Urban population soared: New Haven became the first city in Connecticut
to contain more than 100,000 people; Bridgeport, Hartford, and Waterbury
topped 50,000; seventeen other cities had populations greater than 10,000.

*Though ic strikes contemporary ears as strange, the designation "normal school'' comes from rhe
French ecole nonnal, meaning "model" or "rules" school. The United Scares followed rhe French and
German mode of having separate colleges for che training of reachers .

10

These economic and demographic changes put intense pressure on the public schools, where enrollment had jumped approximately 60 percent from the end
of the Civil War to the turn of the century. A compulsory school attendance law,
passed in 1872, and a child labor Jaw approved by the General Assembly in 1886,
both vigorously enforced by the State Board of Education, boosted regular attendance. The numbers of children of diverse nationalities overwhelmed urban
schools. The 1900 census listed forty-three different countries as the birthplaces
of Connecticut immigrants. In contrast, rural schools were starved for numbers
and resources.
By the late 1880s, the State Board of Education, charged since 1865 with
the responsibility of supervising the public schools, realized that the supply and
quality of teachers in Connecticut was inadequate. Only a small fraction of the
approximately three thousand public school teachers had graduated from a normal
school. Turnover was high. The annual report of the state board in 1888 revealed
that four hundred new teachers were hired every year in Connecticut. But in that
same year, New Britain Normal School graduated only eighty young women.
Consequently, standards for hiring dropped, and the quality of education suffered.
"A large pare of the teachers do not know how or what to teach, " was the board's
bleak assessment of the situation in New London County. The superintendent of
schools in Stamford was equally blunt and more colorful when he described the
neglected rural schools in his area. "If you possessed a blooded horse or a valuable
dog," he warned parents, "you would put it in che hands of trainers more skilled
in their line of work chan the teachers of some of these schools .. . are in theirs."
Charles Hine, secretary of the state board from 1883 to 1920, championed
the obvious solution of establishing additional normal schools in the fastest growing parts of Connecticut. In 1889, the General Assembly responded to this need
by appropriating funds for a second institution in Willimantic to serve the region
east of the Connecticut River. Nevertheless, the largest cities in the state were
forced to rely on haphazard local arrangements to prepare their teachers. To remedy this situation, the legislature in 1893 authorized the establishment of state
normal schools in New Haven and Bridgeport. Only New Haven fulfilled the
state mandate to provide a building for the new school, and thus became the
11

home of the third normal school in Connecticut. Bridgeport, hard hit by an economic depression, was unwilling to assume the costs of maintaining a state school
building and ultimately decided to continue reliance on a city-run training
school , which remained in existence until 1942.
At the start of the twentieth century, only the western part of the state,
which included populous and wealthy Fairfield County, had no state teachertraining facility. Waterbury, however, as an industrial center of more than fifty
thousand people in New Haven County, confidently expected it would be the
home of the next normal school chartered by the legislature. When a bill to set
up a school in Waterbury failed, by a narrow margin, to win the approval of the
General Assembly's education committee in 1899, the city rook steps to ensure
that irs next request would be looked on more favorably. Republican Senator
Cornelius Tracy, a prominent builder and lumber dealer in Waterbury, sought
and won rhe post of chairman of the education committee, which put him in a
position to advance the city's interests . A confident Mayor Edward Kilduff of
Waterbury appointed a committee in December 1902 to draw up a bill to secure
the school.
Waterbury was in for a surprise. As the 1903 legislative session approached,
Danbury, for the first time, quietly prepared to present its claim as the logical
location for a state teacher-training institution that would serve the 250,000 residents of Fairfield and Litchfield Counties. A special town meeting was called to
develop strategy, and a committee of prominent citizens, dominated by lawyers
and businessmen, was appointed to spearhead the drive. Without dissent, the
same public meeting approved spending $10,000 to purchase land for a school
building .
The person most responsible for Danbury's sudden interest in becoming the
home of the next normal school was a newcomer to the city. John R. Perkins was
thirty-one years old when he became principal of Danbury High School in 1899.
This energetic graduate of Dartmouth College had just completed four years of
teaching at New Britain High School, where he had come to know and appreciate
the normal school system . When Perkins arrived in Danbury, the young teacher
immediately saw the need for a similar institution in western Connecticut. The
12

first to suggest approaching the General Assembly for money to build a school in
Danbury, he persuaded leading citizens to support the idea. He helped organize
the sizable delegations from the region, which testified at legislative hearings, and
he even spoke to legislarors himself. It was entirely appropriate that Perkins
should become the first principal of the Danbury Normal School. With justification, the Evening News would describe John Perkins at the time of his death in
1923 as "virtually the father of the movement to establish a state normal school
in the city."
The two rival cities rook different approaches in their efforts to get a
normal school. Waterbury relied on the power of Senator Tracy to gain the
endorsement of the education committee. Danbury, conscious of the Brass City's
advantage, could not ignore the education committee but concentrated on winning the support of the appropriations committee, which was responsible for considering the cost of construction of all campus buildings. The bill sponsored by
Representative Hoffman, authorizing $100,000 to build a normal school in
Danbury, was first introduced to the appropriations committee before it was
referred to the education committee.
Danbury mobilized for the first set of hearings, held in March 1903
by the legislature's education committee. Characterized by a Danbury reporter on
the scene as "one of the most enthusiastic workers in the interest of the normal
school," John Perkins spent several days in the capitol coordinating lobbying
tactics. Thirty citizens of Danbury traveled to Hartford to testify. Those who
could not attend were kept abreast of developments by bulletins posted outside
the newspaper's Main Street office in Danbury. Reverend Andrew Hubbard,
pastor of the Second Baptise Church and a member of the Danbury school board
for thirty years, cold lawmakers chat at no rime had more chan 5 percent of the
reachers in local schools been graduates of a normal school. He attributed chis
sorry situation co the fact chat most young women in the city who wanted to be
reachers came from families of limited means and could nor afford to travel or
board in New Haven or New Britain. By design, most of the testimony came
from legislators and citizens of ocher towns in Fairfield and Litchfield counties.
The superintendent of schools in Stamford, who also represented the Fairfield
13

County Round Table made up of superintendents and principals, spoke about the
need for teachers in his district. He claimed that 80 percent of the Stamford
teachers were trained outside of Connecticut normal schools. A normal school in
Danbury-convenient by train to southern Fairfield County-would, he asserted,
quickly improve this ratio.
On occasion, rational arguments degenerated into partisan bickering. In a
heavy-handed manner, Chairman Tracy took time allotted to Danbury speakers
for pro-Waterbury testimonials. This so angered the Danbury delegation that two
members, Judge James E. Walsh and industrialist N. Burton Rogers, appeared at
the Waterbury portion of the hearings the following day to challenge Tracy, who
fumed that they were trying to usurp the power of the chairman. The fervor of
the rivalry between the two cities is evident in the indignant comment by the

Waterbury American that Judge Walsh behaved as if he were "berating a witness in
a justice court."
It was a foregone conclusion that the education committee would wholeheartedly endorse a fourth normal school. What was shocking was their six-tothree vote in favor of building the school in Danbury. Evidently Senator Tracy's
extreme prejudice had alienated some committee members. The number and
enthusiasm of Danbury boosters who attended the hearing also proved persuasive
and Senator E. Stanley Welles of Newington, one committee member who
rebuffed Waterbury, admitted this spirit had convinced him a normal school in
Danbury "would be appreciated and supported." In retaliation, an angry Tracy
filed a minority report stating in effect that unless a school was built in Waterbury, no other normal school should be authorized. The next battle would be
fought in the appropriations committee.
When the appropriations committee held hearings on both the majority and
minority reports on May 12, 1903, Danbury was prepared. So many supporters
jammed the two morning trains to Hartford that a bemused Waterbury American
reporter referred to them as a "Coxey-army-like"* group that overflowed the hear-

*Jacob Coxey led an ""army"" of four hundred unemployed men from Ohio to Washington, D.C., in
1894 to demand that the federal government inaugurate a massive public works program to a1d
victims of the depression of 1893.

14

ing room at the capitol and forced the session to be moved to the nearby state
supreme court quarters. It was easy to identifY the members of the delegation
because they all sported blue badges bearing the slogan "Normal School for
Danbury."
Judge Howard Scott of Danbury City Courc was the principal spokesman at
the formal appropriations committee hearings. He stressed the inequality of the
present situation, explaining that 92 percent of the teachers in Hartford County
were trained in normal schools, compared with only 31 percent in Fairfield
County and 23 percent in Litchfield County. This imbalance occurred, Scott
charged, because the convenient New Britain Normal School served central
Connecticut well, while the southern and western parts of the state were ignored.
Strong Comstock, the principal of the Balmforth Avenue School and the authorized representative of both the Teachers Association of Fairfield County and the
School Masters Round Table, agreed, pointing out that some towns in Fairfield
County were one hundred miles away from any normal school. "One pare of the
state should be as well looked after as another," Comstock asserted. Charles
Merritt, a prominent hat manufacturer, added a blunt nativist argument: western
Connecticut, he warned, was filling up with foreigners who did not understand
"American standards." A normal school in this part of the state would provide
teachers who could inculcate this potentially dangerous group with "the principles of good manners, good morals, and good citizenship."
This time Danbury was disappointed. Despite the persistent rumor that
Governor Abraham Chamberlin favored the Danbury bill, the appropriations
committee recommended that no money should be spent to establish a school
in that city. The real motives of the committee are hard to fathom, but the
majority of the members claimed they were troubled by the unwillingness of the
Connecticut State Department of Education to go on record supporting the position that another state normal school was needed. This reluctance is also mystifYing. Published reports of the department demonstrated that both the New
Britain and the New Haven schools, the only ones remotely accessible to western
Connecticut residents, were crowded. In addition, Secretary Hine gave private
assurances to legislators that another school was justified. Probably nothing more

15

complicated than bureaucratic caution led the Connecticut State Department of
Education to leave the decision up ro the General Assembly. As one member of
the education committee put it, the agency simply "wanted to keep their hands
off the thing." Danbury's hopes were still alive, however, because three members
of the committee had sent a minority report endorsing the Danbury bill to the
General Assembly.
In the final week of rhe legislative session, first rhe full House and then the
Senate considered Danbury's request. Once again, many Danburians traveled to
Hartford to witness the final debate. On June 2, 1903, rhe now familiar arguments were rehashed with one additional obstacle brought up by Representative
Everett Lake, a future Connecticut governor, who contended that no money could
be allocated for a school building without an examination of detailed architectural
plans. Anticipating this tactic, Danbury's representatives had architect Southey
ready to exhibit renderings of the front view of the proposed building, satisfying
critics. This shrewd countermove paid off. The final votes were one-sided. The
House rejected Waterbury's request and approved money for a Danbury school,
both by a comfortable three-to-one margin.
Two days later, just before adjournment, the Connecticut State Senate debate
began. Senator Tracy, smarting from his wounds, delivered an emotional speech
charging that the Danbury lobby had piloted the bill through the General
Assembly by adept logrolling. He claimed that more votes were traded on this
bill than on any ocher in the session. The extent of his animus toward Danbury is
indicated by his statement that he was now ready to accept a new normal school
in Norwalk. The rest of the discussion was heated, but more civil. Early in the
afternoon, two votes were taken. The first, on the majority report of rhe appropriations committee ro reject Danbury's request, ended in an eleven-to-eleven rie,
broken in Danbury's favor by Lieutenant Governor Henry]. Roberts.* The second
voce, ro support the minority recommendation ro build a school in Danbury, was
anticlimactic. Representatives Hoffman and Gorman rushed back ro Danbury ro
deliver the good news.
~ In

1906, Dunbury named the street just west of the first Normal School building Roberts Avenue tn
honor of then-governor, Henry J Roberts.

16

During the tense legislative maneuvering over the fate of the $100,000
appropriation, Danbury officials had deliberately postponed consideration of
possible sites for a normal school on the grounds that it might cause disagreement
among local backers. Now Danbury had the money and needed to find an appropriate location for the new school. Requirements were stringent. Because the land
had to be near trolley lines and the railroad station, a downtown location was
essential. Yet the two or three acres recommended by the state were hard to find
in that crowded central part of the city.
Alexander Moss White, Danbury's most generous philanthropist, provided
an ideal solution. A member of a family of ministers and merchants whose roots
reached back into pre-Revolutionary Danbury, the elderly White had often been
a benefactor of the city. Even though he had not lived in Danbury for sixty years
(residing instead in an elegant brownstone in Brooklyn Heights), he operated a
fur factory on Beaver Street with his brother William . White's best-known act
of civic munificence came in the late 1870s, when he donated funds to build a
public library on the site of the family home at the corner of Main Street and
Library Place.
Now in his late eighties, White stepped forward to give the city three acres
of his three-hundred-acre farm on White Street as a home for the new Normal
School. It was a superb location: spacious, with room for expansion, and, since
July 1903 when the railroad station relocated to a new building on White Street,
even closer to public transportation.
These developments pleased Secretary Charles Hine of the Connecticut State
Board of Education. He had always believed that more normal schools were needed in the state and had urged legislators privately to support Danbury's proposal
in the last session of the General Assembly. He was so accommodating in working
out the details of the cooperative arrangement between the city and the state that
the Evening News expressed surprise "that the town expected to grant more than
the state had asked." Danbury readily agreed to provide the necessary practice
schools. Hine, a champion of better rural education, was especially pleased that
the city would make several one-room schools available for student teachers.
Hine successfully pressured the Boston architectural firm of Hartwell,
17

Richardson, and Driver

to

finish the construction drawings for the school build-

ing by the end of the year. On December 30, 1903, the Evening Netvs gave citizens
their first look at what is today known as "Old Main," reprinting the architect's
rendering of the front elevation of the structure. In the accompanying article, the
newspaper quoted Hine's description of the building as "handsome and dignified," and added some of its own more pragmatic adjectives: "compact, simple,
and thoroughly practical."
In December 1902, a normal school in Danbury had been merely an idea in
the mind of the new high school principal, John R. Perkins. One year later, it was
almost a reality. In just twelve months, a bitter legislative battle was won, land
was obtained, and plans for a building were drawn. Construction would begin in
the spring of 1904. •

·.STATE · f!OR1'\AL·.5CHOOL·BUI!.J)IlfG•
• DAJ'IWRY.· CO/ill •

,..........................
....... ,....... ... .......... .
':!·.!

.~.

~

~

..•

-l".

......

• • ,__, 0: . .

..~

• • • .:..: _ . • • ,;.

..

..._...AU, ., .. ,................. .
~

'"""'

Above: Original first floor plan of Old Main showing location of gymnasium, classrooms,
and the principal's office. (WCSU Archives)

18

Note On Sources
The primary documentation for Danbury's successful campaign co win the Normal
School comes from che pages of the daily newspaper, che Danbury Evening News, whose
masthead justifiably boasted char it was a record of a New England town. Because of the
incense local interest in chis topic, the newspaper gave full coverage co the lobbying efforts.
Stories appeared almost daily, especially in the final weeks of the General Assembly session .
The paper printed lengthy articles with verbatim sraremenrs made by chose who spoke at
legislative hearings. "Stenographer's Notes of Public Hearings Before the Joint Standing
Committee on Appropriations, Hearing Regarding An Appropriation For a Normal School
Ac Danbury" (May 12, 1903), housed in the Connecticut Scare Library in Hartford,
amplifies chis testimony.
Unfortunately, careless microfilming preserved only the special Wednesday issues of
the daily Danbury paper of 1903. No original print editions for chis period exist. While
the Wednesday paper was the largest of che week and contained many summary articles,
ic was frustrating nor co be able to consult every issue published during the legislative
debate. A lengthy and thorough research paper about the establishment of the school is
located in the Ruth Haas Library Archives, and partially offsets this handicap. Written
around 1970 by an unidentified student of Dr. Truman Warner, the paper quotes extensively from the now-destroyed 1903 issues of the News, as well as from ocher Connecticut
newspapers.
Donald Averill's Ph.D. dissertation, "The Responsibility of the Connecticut Board of
Education for the Education of Teachers in the Scare from 1865 to 1965" (University of
Connecticut, 1966), is rhe best creacmenr of the role of che Connecticut Scare Board of
Education in the management of the normal schools. An unpublished article written by
Hine's colleague, D. C. Allen, titled "Charles D. Hine and His Public Service," evaluates
Hine's thirty-seven-year tenure as secretary of the state board.
Two ocher University of Connecticut Ph.D. dissertations explore che history of the
scare normal schools: Richard Pratte's "A History of Teacher Education in Connecticut
from 1639 co 1939" 0967), and Michael Pernal's "A Study of Scare Legislation in the
Development of Public Higher Education in Connecticut from 1849 to 1970" (1975).
Each of the three ocher normal schools in Connecticut have published histories of varying
age and quality. The oldest and weakest is Herbert E. Fowler's A Century of Teacher
Education in Conmctimt: The Story of New Britain Normal School and Teachers College of
Connectimt (New Britain: 1949). Arthur Charles Forse's Ph.D. dissertation, "From Normal

School to State College: The Growth and Development of Eastern Connecticut Stare
College from 1889 co 1959" (University of Connecticut, 1980), is well done, but scops at
the point when the school becomes a general purpose scare college. Southern Connecticut
boasts the most comprehensive and scholarly treatment. Thomas Farnham's Southem
Connectimt State University: A Centetmial History, 1893-1993 (New Haven, 1993) is a model

university history: accurate, relevant, and readable.

L9

Above: john Perkins spearheaded the drive for a teacher-training school in the city. He served
as the first principal of Danbury Normal School fmm I 903 ullfil his death in I 923.
(\VCSU Archiz•es)
Opposite: i\lil)' Brook School (1912). Danbm)' Normal School required all students to
complete a pmctice-teachmg assignment in a mral school. (\VCSU Archives)

20

CHAPTER TWO

THE FOUNDING FATHER.
Bridgeport was an important ally during Danbury's campaign to win a normal school. The largest city in Fairfield County, Bridgeport had been selected by
the legislature in 1893 as the site for a state teacher-training institution, but economic and political obstacles stymied the plan. In 1903, one longtime member of
the Bridgeport Board of Education, involved in the earlier negotiations with the
state, appeared before the appropriations committee of the Connecticut General
Assembly to recommend that the school now be built in Danbury. "Bridgeport
doesn't want the school and the logical place is Danbury. We would be willing
and glad to see a normal school in Danbury," he told the lawmakers.
Twenty years later, in May 1923, the Bridgeport Telegram would urge a reconsideration of this position. This was the time, the newspaper observed, to move
the school from Danbury to Bridgeport. John R. Perkins, the founding father and
first principal of the Danbury Normal School, had recently died, and the newspaper argued that Danbury could not operate the school properly without his leadership and experience.* Partisanship undoubtedly motivated this advice, but the

*Bridgeport grasped any plausible justification for a takeover of the Danbury facility. In February
1923, Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools E. Everett Cortright suggested that Danbury could ease
the crowdmg of its high school by raking over the Normal School building and !erring Bridgeport
become the home of a state normal school in Fairfield County.

21

Telegram did capture accurately the extent to which Perkins shaped the Danbury
Normal School during its first two decades.
John Perkins was the first of a trio of male Yankee educators who directed
the Normal School until after World War II. His route to Danbury, although confined to New England, had many stops. Born in 1868 in Wells, Maine, to parents
with lengthy down-east pedigrees but modest means, Perkins was an ambitious
and able student. He graduated at the top of his class from Berwick Academy in
South Berwick, Maine, where the family had moved when he was twelve years
old . Perkins earned a bachelor's degree in 1889 and a master's degree in 1892,
both at Dartmouth College. To help pay his tuition, he rook time out from
college to teach in cwo small high schools in his native state. A popular undergraduate, his peers admired his unassuming manner and his sturdy independence.
"I am the same free trade crank and kicker, " Perkins assured his classmates shortly
after graduation. He prided himself on his willingness to support members of
both political parties. "I recognize the good and the evil in each [party}," he told
the Alumni Office in 1893, "and vote as I choose." When Dartmouth published a
twenty fifth anniversary report on the activities of the members of the class of
1889, the editor emphasized that "John Perk" was still "not easily bossed."
Perkins entered teaching almost by default. Admitting that he could not
make up his mind about a suitable career after finishing college, he accepted a job
as principal of a forty-student high school in Mechanic Falls, Maine, a rustic hamlet near the Canadian border. Bored and underpaid, he moved after one term to a
posicion as principal of the high school in his hometown of Berwick. Though
relieved to be "once more in civilization," he was restless and resigned after one
year to study at Tufts College. He was "following the German model, taking only
chemistry," he explained. A year later, in 1893, he was off again, this time

to

the

small community of Washington, Connecticut, to teach science and coach baseball at the Gunnery School.
At this point Perkins re-evaluated his life. His responsibilities had changed.
The year he began teaching at the Gunnery, he met and married Mary Whittlesey
Brown, the daughter of a prominent local physician. His career goals also were
shifting. Since leaving college, where he insisted that his religious creed was sim22

ply the Golden Rule, he had undergone a personal religious experience and had
become a member of the Congregational Church. Swept along by his developing
religious sensibilities, he decided to abandon teaching and enter the ministry. For
the next two years, Perkins immersed himself in Biblical studies in Greek and
Hebrew at the Hartford Theological Seminary.
Before entering the third and final year of his ministerial studies, Perkins
veered back to reaching. The historical record sheds no light on the motivation
behind his decision

to

accept a teaching position at New Britain High School in

1896. It may have been a pragmatic response to the financial pressure of a growing family; his two children were born during the four years he taught in New
Britain. Then again, the shift may nor suggest anything other than his dedication
ro teaching. It is clear that Perkins saw his work with students as a legitimate
path of Christian service.
The young educator came

to

Danbury at an opportune time. By the turn of

the century, the local economy had improved sufficiently to permit the city to
address the woeful inadequacy of irs high school facility, a deficiency made worse
by the recent addition of a fourth year to the secondary school curriculum.
During the five years that Perkins served as principal of Danbury High School
(1899 to 1904), he participated in every phase of the planning and construction
of a modern school building. This earned him the friendship and respect of the
key members of the community's power structure and put him in a position to
gain support for his dream of bringing a reacher-training institution to Danbury.
He worked closely with members of the high school building committee, which
included Alderman Michael Cuff, who became the chairman of the Normal
School Committee. Perkins also collaborated with the architect of the high school
building, Ernest Southey, one of the heroes of the legislative campaign to win the
Normal School. When the new high school, similar in architecture

to

the first

Normal School building, opened at the corner of Main and Boughton Streets in
September 1903, Perkins could look back with satisfaction on his role in mobilizing support for a state normal school in the city. It would come as no surprise ro
him or to the public when the State Board of Education named John R. Perkins
as principal of the recently established Danbury Normal School in July 1904.

23

Construction of the Normal School building on a slight knoll (to minimize
excavation costs) on the former White family farm had begun several months
before Perkins' appointment as principal. Despite an unstable layer of wet clay
soil that even a century later would continue to plague foundations in downtown
Danbury (in prehistoric times the area was a lake bed), construction proceeded
rapidly. During the summer of 1904, passers-by admired the emerging threestory, red brick and buff limestone building which a newspaper reporter, with forgivable exaggeration, characterized as being in the "Renaissance style." Citizens
marveled at the exterior elevator, powered by a massive steam engine, as it effortlessly hauled building materials to the upper floors of the structure. By the rime
winter began, the masonry walls and roof were completed, allowing interior work
to continue during inclement weather.
Bur Perkins was impatient and unwilling to wait for the building to be
completed. Realizing that the new high school had available space, he proposed
using a large, unfinished portion of irs third floor, described by his daughter
many years later as "very box-like storage rooms," as quarters for the first Normal
School class. The State Board of Education, anticipating some local resistance,
agreed to let Perkins act as principal of both Danbury High School and the
Normal School during the transition year, when they would share the same
facility.
With that potential obstacle our of the way, Perkins rushed to hire faculty
and register students. He decided that he would teach science. Jane Burbank, a
Wellesley College graduate, taught literature, and Sarah Armstrong, a veteran
Massachusetts public school reacher, taught mathematics. The three were the only
full-rime employees. Part-time instructors covered other subjects, such as art and
music, and one New Haven public school reacher traveled to Danbury one day a
week to reach penmanship.
Perkins could devore little rime to recruiting students, therefore the
thirty-seven pioneers who trudged up the three flights of stairs to the high school
attic in September 1904 were, with the exception of two from Norwalk, residents
of Danbury or Bethel. Before the school year was over, they were joined by seven
more, bringing the size of that historic first class to forty-four. Young (the

24

oldest was twenty-two), and mostly of working class backgrounds, a dozen of
them had listed their father's occupation as "hatter" on their application forms.
Irish surnames predominated. Seven had previous teaching experience, either in
rural public schools or St. Peter's Parochial School in Danbury. All were women,
which made Perkins uncomfortable enough to publicize that the school would
"welcome and make special provision for young men who want to enter." Although the Normal School was always officially co-educational, very few men
entered elementary school teaching until the 1930s. *
At 9 a.m. on Tuesday, September 5, 1905, the tall, bespectacled, slightly
rumpled Perkins mounted the small stage in the second-floor auditorium of the
completed Normal School building to address a full student body for the first
time. An entering class of forty-one juniors, representing fifteen towns, joined
forty-three returning seniors in a two-year program that culminated in their state
certification as elementary school teachers. There was one important addition to
the faculty: Lothrop Higgins, the new science instructor, who presided over the
state-of-the-art science lecture room with its tiered seats, skylight, sinks, and
demonstration tables. He became Perkins' closest confidant, his informal assistant, and ultimately his successor as principal of the school.
For almost twenty years, however, it was John Perkins who bore the
main responsibility of keeping the school afloat in the face of myriad difficulties.
Enrollment fluctuated drastically. The school operated for more than a decade
before the number of students reached one hundred. For a few years at the beginning of World War I, more than two hundred full-time students registered. But
in 1920, enrollment plummeted to sixty-eight. Every dip, such as occurred in
1908, when the total student body numbered thirty-eight, and the following year
when only eleven women graduated, provided ammunition for critics in other
cities who coveted the school.
Perkins was creative in trying to boost arrendance. From 1907

to

1914,

Danbury operated a summer school that attracted large numbers of teachers who
*One ofche rare male graduates in the early years was Ralph Carrington ofche class of 1912.
Gertrude Murphy, a classmate who Iacer became a practice school reacher, recalled char he "never
seemed embarrassed" by his singular status and concluded char "he evidently wanted co reach and
char is what he did."

25

-

-

------

----

did not have a normal school degree. In 1912, as many as 325 teachers came to
the campus from all parts of the state during the four-week summer session.
Perkins himself was a regular summer faculty member, teaching a course called
"Duties of Citizenship." Correspondence courses, offered between 1907 and 1914,
were also popular. Peak enrollment came in 1911, when 180 students took advantage of these off-campus programs. Perkins mounted a recruiting drive when the
number of full-time students dropped during and immediately after World War
I. Faculty made visits to local high schools and an annual Field Day brought

prospective students to the Danbury campus. When a survey revealed that most
young people decided to become teachers during the eighth grade, the Normal
School mailed a promotional letter to parents of that target group.
In general, Perkins blamed the pattern of lagging enrollment on the robust
Connecticut economy that provided other, more attractive employment opportunities for young women . His annual reports to the State Board of Education are
filled with jeremiads about the failure of towns to reward teachers properly. "The
amount of money spent in support of schools is pitifully small when compared
with the amount spent for amusements, tobacco, liquor," he criticized in 1918.
He had no doubt that there was "definitely money in the state to run the school
properly if people so desire." Perkins was particularly incensed that school systems were unwilling to pay normal school graduates more than they did teachers
who did not have such training . Every public school teacher should be a graduate
of a normal school, he insisted.
Entrance requirements were certainly not a barrier to increased enrollment.
For most of the twenty years that John Perkins ran the school, he granted admission to any person who had reached sixteen years of age, had graduated from a
three-year high school, could obtain two character references, and was willing to
declare in writing that she or he intended to teach in a Connecticut public school.
After World War I, the criteria were tightened slighrly, requiring that applicants
also maintain a grade average of 75 in high school classes and complete at least
ten hours of academic courses. These stiffer rules could be ignored if the candidate
passed a special examination drawn up by the normal school principals. And
Perkins, with the approval of Secretary Hine, was willing to bend even these mild

26

-

requirements. An occasional fifteen-year-old was admitted with the stipulation
that she/he could not get a diploma until the age of nineteen. Sometimes a student would successfully plead for entrance to a normal school after only two years
of high school. Perkins considered special circumstances liberally. "Exceptions are
necessary," was his rule.
A normal school curriculum was not difficult. Students learned to teach the
basic elementary school subjects of mathematics, reading, geography, history, literature and elementary science. Perkins understood that a normal school differed
from a liberal arts college. In his first published mission statement, delivered in
1905, he was both terse and clear: "The school aims to train students to teach the
useful and practical subjects in the best way."* Until the early 1920s, Perkins
retained much independence in determining which courses would advance this
goal. For many years, Hine would meet monthly with the four normal school
principals for dinner and discussion of mutual problems, usually at the Graduates
Club in New Haven. But the secretary of the state board did not attempt to centralize control over curriculum.
Even though normal school tuition was free and the state provided text
books, the cost of boarding in Danbury handicapped our-of-town students, particularly those from rural areas. Perkins spent much of his time dealing with this
problem. As with most other issues, he was flexible, permitting students on occasion

to

work as paid substitute teachers, tutors, house cleaners, or office clerks

while school was in session. He convinced Danbury service clubs to create a fund
from which needy students could borrow fifty dollars, with repayment not due
until two years after graduation. When one parent of an applicant from Salisbury
registered concern about college expenses, Perkins responded with characteristic
confident determination: "My advice is that your daughter enter the school
expecting that something will come to assist her." He intended that no student
be kept away because of lack of money.

*In December 1905, Perkins, along wirh rhe or her normal school principals, approved of rhe wording of
a lerrer drafted by Hine and sene ro rhe head of rhe Yale School of Education. The lerrer made chis same
poinr: ""The normal schools are professional schools in rhe srricresr sense as in law and medical schools.
The whole rime is given ro preparation for pracrice-pracrice in rhe school room.""

27

His experience supervising several coumry school districts as an agem of the
state board had made Perkins aware that young women in rural towns, unable to
commute to Danbury and without the funds to rem quarters near the Normal
School, required special help. He persuaded the General Assembly in 1910 to set
up a scholarship system that made it possible for every town with a grand list of
less than $1.5 million to have one student enrolled in a normal school at all
times, with the state covering the student's living expenses up to a maximum of
$150 per year. In return for this subsidy, the student had to teach in her (or his)
hometown for a minimum of three years. Many of these "town students" were
attracted

to

Danbury because the school gave special attention to the unique

problems of rural education. Danbury's was the only normal school in Connecticut requiring all students to spend time practice teaching in one of Danbury's
one-room or two-room schools: Miry Brook, King Street, or Beaver Brook.
Demonstration classes, designed to show what could be accomplished in rural
schools, were the most popular feature of the annual summer school. A representative of the state board, reporting on the 1912 summer session, praised these
model classes where all eight grades were present in one room. They "were crowded by teachers seeking information," commenced the impressed official.
The two most vexing problems Perkins faced during his tenure as principal
involved not pedagogy, but transportation for commuting students and accommodations for boarding students. The railroad was still the primary form of long-distance travel in early twentieth century Connecticut, and many day students
depended on the train to get to Danbury. Because the curriculum in the students'
first year concentrated on course work with limited observation in elementary
classrooms, the Normal School class schedule could be and was geared to the train
schedule. Classes normally did not start before 10 or 10:30 a.m. and ended by
3:30 p.m. to permit students to make train connections. When the need arose,
Perkins was willing to make special arrangements. In 1911, he tailored the classday for juniors commuting from Waterbury to the railroad schedule. Classes for
this group began at 9:40 a.m. and were over in time for the return trip to the
Brass City on the 2:32 p.m. train. This adaptability, on occasion, prompted gemle
warnings from Hine not to let the railroads determine school attendance. "We

28

· - - - - _,.,

-~========---

-

~

. ...---. - - -

-~----

-- -

.

'

I

may labor with the makers of timetables," the secretary admonished, "but schools
must look out for their best interests." Perkins tried without success to get the
New Haven Railroad to adjust its service to meet the school's needs.
Even relaxed schedules imposed burdens on commuting students. The principal ofNewtown High School wrote to Perkins in 1907, asking if he could be
lenient with one of his graduates from Sandy Hook who wanted to attend the
Normal School. He explained that she had to walk three miles to ger a rrain ar
the Newtown station-a rrain char didn't arrive in Danbury until 10 a.m.-and
he hoped Perkins would rake into account thar, in harsh winter weather, she
mighr be !are for class. He ended his lerrer wirh a familiar lament, "She can'r
afford ro board in Danbury."
During rhe second year, when a rota! of rwenry weeks of class rime was
spent in a training school, students were forced to live in Danbury. Student
reachers had to be in rhe classroom at Locust Avenue or Balmforth Avenue, rhe
rwo primary practice schools, early in the morning (by 8:10, one teacher recalled)
ro dusr and ventilate the room and fill the inkwells. They rarely left before 4:30
in the afternoon. Perkins worked diligenrly to find boarding facilities for students, many of whom had litrle money yer voiced definite preferences. His records
are filled wirh requests for living accommodations both "wholesome and refined,"
ofren coupled with a reminder rhar "ir is necessary for me to be very economical."
"I want a dean, comfortable place, and plain wholesome food. I would prefer a
Carbolic family," wrore one student in 1910. Perkins responded to all inquiries
with lists of acceptable boarding families along with an estimate rhat the cosr
would be abour five dollars per week. For some years, Mary Howarth, whose
daughter was in rhe first Normal School graduating class, turned her home on
White Street opposite the campus into a boarding house for approximately
twenty young women.
The Normal School absorbed most of Perkins' energies for rwo decades. His
duties ranged from negoriaring with Danbury authorities for more practice classrooms to acting in loco parentis for his "girls." He did not consider it to be inappropriate when a member of the school committee of Cornwall, solicitous of the
welfare of the town's student, asked him to "see to it in a fatherly way that she

29

I

~---------

----·

does nor overwork, and has good associates." His office and his home were open,
even on weekends, ro parents who wanted ro discuss school issues.
Yet Perkins also believed it necessary ro get away from school business.
"Charging his dynamo," as his daughter phrased it. He relaxed in ways that cold
much about the man. The outdoors and the automobile were central ro Perkins'
non-professional life. He was an ardent hunter who at one rime was president of a
local gun club. With his pointer dogs "Teddy" and "Dan 'I'' (named for Theodore
Roosevelt and Daniel Webster), he spent leisure hours tromping through the
western Connecticut woods. Perkins owned one of the first automobiles in
Danbury, a 1905 two-cylinder Ford, and he upgraded models frequently over the
years. He was happiest behind the wheel on Sunday excursions or on longer summer motor jaunts through New England. For years he entertained an ambition ro
drive from Danbury roMaine in a single day. That goal went unfulfilled, bur in
1919, after the death of his wife, he and his two children covered nine thousand
miles in an adventurous drive ro the Pacific Coast. On his return to Danbury,
Perkins, ever the careful administrator, sene a letter ro the Dodge Motor Company
with all the pertinent details of his car's performance on this trek.
Only one aspect of Perkins' career at Danbury frustrated him. Almost from
the start of his tenure, he had concluded that a dormitory offered the only effective solution ro the school's enrollment problem. He advocated the building of a
residence hall for students from distant towns for the first rime in his 1907 report
ro the state board, and hammered char point home in almost every subsequent
annual report in succinct and sometimes fractured prose. "A dormitory ought ro
be parr of the Normal School" (1908). "This school needs more than any other
one thing a dormitory" (1910). "A dormitory is an essential part of a school
plane" (1912). "The need of a dormitory is more pressing than ever" (1913).
Construction of a dormitory ultimately became the top priority of a ten-year
building program Perkins recommended to the state board in 1920.
To Perkins, a dormitory was more than a way ro provide affordable housing
for young women residing at a distance from Danbury. He saw it as a mechanism
that would change the entire nature of the educational experience. It disturbed
him rhar there was little social life at the school, and that commuting students
30

tended to associate mainly with those from their own towns. Despite his precautions, students sometimes found themselves in off-campus quarters that, in
Perkins' judgement, were not refined or morally wholesome. Even though he
understood that the primary function of a normal school was job training, he
believed that Danbury students should have the same cultural opportunities as his
daughter who attended Radcliffe College.* A dormitory would provide an environment where women from working class backgrounds could gain "such habits
of manner and attitudes of thought as shall bring a subtle but constant uplifting
influence to bear on those children who rarely otherwise come under such influence." His vision was decidedly elitist: the dormitory would be the cultured home
he felt so many of the Normal School students lacked .
The Connecticut State Board of Education agreed with Perkins. In 1908,
the four normal school principals and Secretary Hine settled on a strategy that
gave construction of boarding facilities at Willimantic and Danbury the highest
importance. The General Assembly in 1909 rejected a bill to accomplish this
goal; it had been sponsored by Representative N. Burton Rogers of Danbury, who
had been a force in bringing the Normal School to the city. The legislature killed
similar bills in every subsequent session until 1917. In that year, despite the conservative fiscal policies of elderly Governor Marcus Holcomb (a Republican), the
General Assembly agreed to appropriate the funds required to build a residence
hall in Willimantic and to purchase more land for a future dormitory in Danbury.
Here the modest momentum stalled. World War I and the economic dislocarion that accompanied postwar reconstruction altered priorities. It wasn't until
1923 that the legislature was ready to give serious attention to the phantom
Danbury dormitory. Another bitter struggle between the education committee
and the appropriations committee ensued, reminiscent of the legislative battle
that had taken place twenty years earlier when the school was established.
A bill introduced to the education committee by Representative George
Andrews of Danbury provided $300,000 to finance construction of a dormitory
*Perkins' daughter, Mrs. Mortimer Camp, in a 1976 memoir, commented that "Until after I had
graduated from college, I never realized why my father had pumped me so unmercifully on every single
little thing I did at college." She came to believe that he was trying to learn what was missing from
college life in Danbury.

31

on White Street. On February 15th, twenty prominent Danburians testified at a
hearing on the bill. Politicians, including Mayor William Gilbert and First
Selectman Elijah Sturdevant, as well as businessmen, Normal School faculty
and alumni, and members of the Danbury Parent Teachers Association, all joined
John Perkins in Hartford to voice their support. A month later, this group
brought the education committee to Danbury for a campus tour and lunch at the
Hotel Green, where Theodore Bowen of the Booster Club, the most influential
civic body in Danbury, presented the city's case. These tactics were effective
enough to get the education committee to endorse the Andrews bill on March
30th, although the appropriation was reduced to $225,000. Committee members
evidently were convinced that a dormitory was justified because of the Danbury
school's demonstrated commitment to the improvement of public schools in rural
areas of the state.

Above: Class of 1912 on steps of entrance to Old Mam. Among the /amity in the doot·way at top
are Principal john Perkim (left) and science teacber Lothrop Higgins (middle). Thefmt male
graduate, Ralph Carrington, is in tbe front row. (\'(ICSU Archives)

32

The Republican Party, whose guiding axiom was economy in government,
dominated Connecticut politics during the 1920s. Therefore, it came as no shock
when the appropriations committee, the legislature's fiscal watch dog, rejected the
dormitory proposal. The reasoning was vintage conservative: business conditions
were unsettled and the state could not afford the money. Surprisingly, in this era
of firm party discipline, both houses of the General Assembly (for the only time
during the legislative session) spurned the advice of the appropriations committee
and, on May 18th, approved a scaled-down appropriation of $100,000 for the
shrinking dormitory.
One formidable obstacle blocked the realization of Perkins' dream. Governor
George Templeton, an acolyte of Republican boss J. Henry Roraback, had already
announced that he would veto the dormitory bill. He pulled no punches in his
June 5th veto message, declaring that "the erection of a dormitory at the Danbury
Normal School is not necessary either for the immediate requirements of the
school or for its future needs. All necessary appliances for education should be furnished but the least important need is the dormitory." In the final hours of the
session, the legislature flexed its muscles again and attempted to defy the executive. By a vote of twenty to twelve, the Senate re-passed the bill over the governor's veto. Late in the afternoon of June 5th, just before adjournment, the effort of
the House of Representatives to do the same thing ended in a 99-99 tie.* In the
most dramatic moment of the session, Speaker of the House Leonard Nickerson of
Cornwall, soon co be named a judge of the superior court, cast the deciding vote
co sustain the governor's veto.
John Perkins was spared the disappointment of this result. On May 14,
1923, while the General Assembly considered the dormitOry appropriation, the
fifty-five-year-old Perkins died at his home on Terrace Place after a short illness.
It would not be long, however, before the vision of the founding father would
become a reality. •

~ If

Representative Charles Johnson of Sherman, a supporter of the dormitory appropriation, had
ac the capitol m time to cast his vote, a tie would not have occurred. Instead, his car ran
out of gas on the way to New Milford, causing him to miss the train to Hartford . He walked into
the legislative chambers five minutes ~fter the roll call vote had been tabulated .
~rrived

33

Notes On Sources
"Perkins has nor been, in my experience, a voluminous correspondent," nored Dr.
David Blakely, rhe secretary of the Dartmouth College class of 1889. Blakely had been
responsible for gathering informacion abour members of the class for the college alumni
office, and he reached rhis conclusion after compiling data for irs rwenty-fifrh anniversary
publication. Lacer historians would agree. Perkins' public comments were few, his lerrers
brief, and his official reports concise.
Fortunately, Dr. Blakely persisted and rhe Dartmouth alumni records do contain
valuable communications from and about the principal. The Western Connecticut Scare
University Haas Library Archives has preserved the completed application forms for members of rhe Normal School classes of 1904, '05, and '06. Perkins' correspondence with students, parents, and high school principals from 1905 ro 1912 is also available, as is the
twentieth anniversary material for the class of 1911. The Danb11ry Evening News did irs
usual complete job of reporting rhe fare of the dormitory appropriation in 1923. And to
give him his due, Perkins' annual reports ro the Stare Board of Education, while nor
lengrhy, do contain essential information about his goals and the school 's problems.
John V. Friel generated rwo viral primary sources for this period in 1976 as parr of
a history department effort ro locate material about the college's early years. John Perkins'
daughter, Mrs. Mortimer Camp, then a lawyer living in New Britain, at Friel's urging,
wrote a lengthy reminiscence about her farher. Friel also conducted a rich interview with
Gertrude Murphy, a member of the class of 1912 from New Milford, who for many years
was a member of rhe Locust Avenue training school faculty. In preparation for chis interview, Murphy wrote in longhand an eight-page memoir of her years as a student at
Danbury. Friel deposited the raped interview and rhe written memoir, along with the
Camp reminiscence, in the Haas Library Archives.

34

Above: Lothrop Higgins taught science at Danbury from 1905 ullfil he succeeded Perkins as principal
in 1923. Here he is lecturing in the then-state-of-the-art science facility in Old Main.
(WCSU Archives)

Above: A no1711al school physical education class
in the gymnasium at Old Main in the 1920s.
(\'(ICSU Archives)

35

Above: Tbe early American decor of tbe "social" room in Fahfield Hall, tbe school's
first dormitory, ecboed tbe Colonial Reviz1a/ style of tbe building's exteri01:
(\VCSU Arcbiz,es)
Opposite: Frank Baisley, Danbury's premier commercial pbotograpbe1; took tbis sbot of
Fahfield Hall sbortly after it opened 111 1927. (\VCSU Arcbiz,es)

36

CHAPTER THREE

AN ALTERED RELATIONSHIP
The Danbury Normal School was not autonomous; it was under the direct
control of the Connecticut State Board of Education . During most of the two
decades of John Perkins' regime, the state board exercised authority with a light
hand, confining irs attention to fiscal issues, admission policy, and the hiring of
faculty nominated by each principal. Individual schools determined all other academic matters, including curriculum, with a minimum of oversight.
In the 1920s, that power-sharing arrangement changed. By the time Perkins
died, the business model of bureaucratic organization had won favor in Hartford .
Perkins' successor, Lothrop Higgins, would have to adjust to a new relationship in
which the state board exercised greater control over all aspects of normal school
operation. A good teacher, but equipped with limited leadership skills, Higgins
was hard-pressed to cope wich a sudden increase in the size of the student body
and the still-unmet need for a dormitory. It is no wonder that all photographs of
Higgins taken while he was principal show him unsmiling.

Laissez-faire management went out of fashion in 1920 when Albert Meredith
replaced Charles Hine as commissioner of education and secretary of the State
Board of Education . The two men could not have been more different. Hine, born
in Lebanon, Connecticut, and educated at Yale College, was a former high school
principal and superintendent who had spent thirty-seven years as a stare employ-

37

·r-~------~----

~--

- - - - - - ------------- - --------------

ee. He operated with a small staff, handled his own correspondence, delivered few
public speeches and composed terse, no-nonsense reports. Upon his retirement,
the state board paid tribute to his career in the crisp prose that he preferred: "A
splendid example of New England service at its best." Meredith, though an 1895
Wesleyan graduate, was really an outsider to the state. He had gained most of his
educational experience in New Jersey, where he served as superintendent of
schools in Essex County (which included Newark, the state's largest city) and as
assistant state commissioner of education. The holder of an unusual advanced
degree (Pd.D.-Doctor of Pedagogy) from Muhlenberg College, Meredith's
intense ambition drove him to "modernize" Connecticut public education as a
stepping stone to a more prestigious job. His approach relied heavily on compli cated organizational charts and obtuse written directives.
Once in office, Meredith quickly carried out a series of initiatives intended
to heighten the prestige and selectivity of the normal schools. In 1921, he
persuaded the General Assembly to give the State Board of Education exclusive
control of teacher certification. The board used this power in 1927 to decree that
only normal school graduates could teach in elementary schools. Displeased with
the number of students who failed to complete the full normal school course,
Meredith tightened admission requirements. After 1923, applicants had to have
graduated from a four-year high school, earned two-thirds of their fifteen high
school credits in academic courses, and received a passing mark of 70 percent in
the twelfth grade to be accepted at any Connecticut teacher-training institution.
The board also put a ceiling on the size of the entering class at each school. Danbury's quota was 140.
Meredith decided that Connecticut would become one of the first states
in the country to require that all applicants pass a "careful physical examination
by a woman physician selected by the Board" to gain admission to a normal
school. This examination went beyond checking health factors like blood pressure
and vision; it was supposed to evaluate such subjective qualities as posture and
"good physical appearance." The class that entered Danbury in 1924 was the first
group to undergo this ordeal. Of the eighty-one young women tested, fifty-nine
were approved and three were rejected. The remaining nineteen were admitted
38

conditionally and had to be re-tested in six months. Doris Salmon, a member of
the class of 1932 and later a teacher at Roberts Avenue practice school, still shudders at the memory of being granted conditional admission because she was too
thin. Knowing that she had to put on weight in order to stay at the school, she
and several classmates in the same predicament visited a candy store on Moss
Avenue every noon hour during their first year, to fill up on snacks. It was even
more embarrassing for students who lived in the dormitory, where those who were
overweight or underweight had to sit at special tables with diets tailored to their
situation. "Did they take a riding," Salmon recalls.
Starting in 1925, all Connecticut public schools were required to administer
intelligence tests, and then to segregate their entering classes into ability clusters
based on the test results. However, this Meredith innovation did not fully affect
Danbury. State bureaucrats reluctantly agreed that, because the junior class in
Danbury was already broken down into groups with similar commuting schedules, the school was exempt from using IQ tests in this way.
Meredith devoted special attention to the normal school curriculum. The
Division of Normal Schools was the only one of the many bureaus and divisions
on his intricate department of education organizational chart that Meredith himself headed.* In particular, the lack of uniformity in the curriculum of the normal
schools bothered the commissioner. Each school determined the subjects it would
teach and how much time would be allotted to each. Meredith was horrified that
the practice teaching experience varied "all the way from carefully guided apprenticeships to [a] loose and unorganized chaperonage relation between students and
critic teacher." It was clear to him that "for a state as small as Connecticut this
was not a condition that should be continued."
In his campaign to reorganize the normal schools, Commissioner Meredith
found an eager ally in Lawrence Meader, a distant relative of John Perkins.
Meader came to Danbury in 1919, after graduation from Bates College, and
taught English for one year at Danbury Normal School. Energetic and eager to

*Meredith headed chis division until 1927. During chis time, he changed che name to Division
of Teacher Training and chen to the Division of Teacher Preparation in an exquisite example of
bureaucratic tinkering.

39

please, he attracted the attention of Charles Hine, who appointed him as the
state board agent responsible for supervising the schools in four small Litchfield
County towns: Kent, Sherman, Washington, and Roxbury.
Shortly after Meredith took over the Connecticut Department of Education
in 1920, he put the enterprising Meader in charge of the newly created Division
of Investigation and Studies, and directed him to analyze the condition of the
state normal schools.
Meader threw himself into the assignment. After two years of gathering
data in his Hartford office, he convinced the department to award him an academic leave so he could attend Columbia University Teachers College where,
with rich academic resources at his disposal and free of office distractions, he
could develop a plan to improve the normal schools. He did not squander his
time at Columbia and when he returned from New York in 1923, he brought
with him an elaborate scheme for a self-study of the normal schools. Meredith
applauded his handiwork and the state board officially endorsed his plan. It
gratified Meader to be appointed "Special Agent for Normal Schools" in charge
of conducting the self-examination.
A tortuous period for the administration and faculty of the normal schools
followed. For six months, from October 1923 to April 1924, in addition to their
regular duties, they dissected every aspect of teacher education in Connecticut.
Meader kept the process moving by dashing around the state to attend the
monthly (in some cases semi-monthly) meetings of the fifteen campus and
system-wide committees he had set up. The scare board showed rhe high
priority ir gave to rhis marathon by permitting rhe faculty to spend one week
ar full pay during rhe 1924 spring semester on finishing rheir assignments.
The final report, which was approved by rhe stare board in June 1924, documented rhe obvious: rhar rhe four normal schools had very different approaches
to reacher education. The Danbury curriculum, for example, was unique in many
ways. Ir was the only one rhar included Rural Education or Sewing. No ocher
school had courses such as Principles of Education and History of Education.
Danbury students received significantly more instruction in science rhan those
who arrended rhe other schools. They also spent more rime in rhe classroom prac40

tieing penmanship than they did learning history and geography combined.
Measured by the number of class periods devoted ro each subject, New Haven
taught nine times more history, and New Britain ren times more geography, than
was taught at Danbury. Such diversity, the report concluded, was inefficient for
practical as well as philosophical reasons. It complicated budgeting, evaluation,
and student transfers. More fundamentally, in the eyes of the true believers, it
deprived the state of "the obvious mutual advantage resulting from joint endeavor
toward common ends."
The recommendations of the Meader Report, designed to standardize
the normal school curriculum, went into effect on September 1, 1924. *Under
the new plan, all schools had to implement an identical first-year curriculum.
In the second year, students on each campus followed either a primary track (for
those who were preparing to teach kindergarten through third grade) or an intermediate track (for those who desired to teach fourth through eighth grade). The
two-year program in each school would offer the same number of class hours:
2,000. Previously, no school had come close to this number; the Danbury total
was 1,418, second highest to Willimantic's 1,600. Each institution was permitted
some freedom to experiment, bur ir could not deviate from the formula that
required 50 percent of the curriculum be devoted to subject matter courses, 25
percent to professional courses, and 25 percent to practice reaching.
The sweeping reorganization did nor ignore the faculty. In an effort to
upgrade the quality of instruction, the standard teaching load was reduced to sixteen class periods per week. An effort was made to raise faculty salaries, revealed
by Meader's statistics to be well below normal school pay in other states. In the
next few years, the percentage of the normal school budgets earmarked for faculty
pay rose substantially. When Meader began his study, only New Haven and New
Britain allotted as much as 60 percent of their budgets to salaries. Danbury used
only 48 percent of its funds for this purpose because some elementary school
teachers from the training schools acted as pan-time Danbury Normal School
teachers, a practice discontinued in 1923. By 1927, the salary item in the four
*By 1924, Meader had moved on
Normal School.

to

replace the retired Arthur Morrill as principal of New Haven

41

normal school budgets soared ro 84 percent of rhe coral, prompting a warning
from Alfred Simpson, rhe new director of rhe Division of Teacher Preparation,
char "we have absorbed in salaries abour all char present appropriations will
permit."
This increase is deceiving; much of rhe money financed rhe hiring of
additional faculty, rather chan boosting individual paychecks. In 1923-24, the
average Danbury Normal School reacher's salary was $2,500. Only rwo members
of the faculty, both male, earned $3,000 . The lowest salary-paid ro a female
librarian-was $1,800. The principal earned $4,500. Four years Iacer, the average
salary had crept up ro $2,600. Higgins' $5,004 salary rapped the schedule. The
staff of the practice schools beneficed most from rhe financial reforms. In addition
ro marching the elementary school pay level in Danbury, the state board agreed in
1928 ro add an extra $100 ro $700 ro the remuneration of each teacher at the
Balmforrh Avenue, Locust Avenue, and Miry Brook model schools.
An experienced normal school principal would have had difficulty keeping
pace with rhe torrent of directives that flowed our of Hartford in the 1920s. The
drastic shift in rhe balance of power engineered by Meredith and Meader presented an even more daunting challenge ro a novice like Lothrop Higgins . Higgins
was rhe senior Danbury faculty member who succeeded Perkins in 1923, but his
credentials, like the man himself, were solid bur unspectacular. Born in 1876 ro
a family wirh a seafaring tradition in Charlestown, Massachusetts, Higgins had
arrended Brown University, where he excelled in his studies and earned Phi Bera
Kappa distinction but was otherwise not active in campus life. Afrer graduation
in 1899, he spent one year of special study at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology before raking a job as a high school science reacher in Clinton,
Connecticut. In 1905 he came ro Danbury, where he concentrated on improving
the caliber of science education through his writing and reaching. Between 1903
and 1923, Higgins authored four elementary and high school science textbooks
for a national publishing company, and rwo other elementary texts that were distributed by the Scare Board of Education .
One of his reaching devices was particularly innovative. To help Danbury
students who were going our ro reach in rural schools with no laboratories, he
42

packaged science kits in small wooden boxes that contained the chemicals
necessary to conduct basic experiments. Even though he was a resourceful teacher,
Higgins had no illusions about his career. When his alma mater asked him to
summarize his accomplishments since graduation, he replied modestly, "Have
tried to do my work as well as I could and to be reasonably useful. Have written a
little and talked a little in following our this general effort."
When Higgins shifted from the classroom to the principal's office, he
moved out of his element. For one thing, he did not have a commanding appearance. Tall, thin, and bald, almost delicate-looking, he usually wore a dark suit
with a high celluloid collar and tie. He was solemn and formal- "very, very
formal," one 1928 graduate stressed. A member of the class of 1926 voiced a
universal sentiment. "I don't think that he ever smiled," she remembered. Corrine
O'Connell, a Danbury alumna and longtime teacher at Balmforth Avenue School,
emphasized how uncomfortable Higgins was with little children. On one of his
visits to the practice school, he was embarrassed by a bold first grader who, without waiting for the principal ro be introduced, blurted out, "I know! He's an
undertaker!" It seems almost poignantly appropriate that he once chose to deliver
a school assembly lecture on the career of Calvin Coolidge.
Students and faculty agreed that Higgins was kind, considerate, and totally
dedicated to the school. However, his rigidity and need to control situations
impeded his ability to respond flexibly to change. He devoted inordinate attention to keeping the classrooms and building neat and orderly. One faculty member was amused, on entering Higgins' office, to see thumbtacks on the floor
marking the spots where every piece of furniture should be located.
A puritanical streak that some felt stifled creativity presented a more
serious obstacle. He did not permit staff members to smoke, and was upset when
a woman teacher with long hair, hired in the spring, showed up at the start of fall
classes sporting a fashionable short haircut. In a 1933 speech to the Forum, a
college club, he attacked contemporary society for putting roo much attention
on the "perishables," which he identified as "automobiles, dancing, card playing,
[and} cosmetics."
His tendency to control and his overt moralism were evident in Higgins'

43

relationship with the Student Cooperative Government Association, an organization that he himself had founded in 1926 to promote student morale. Higgins
made sure that the by-laws of the group permitted the principal to attend all
meetings, a privilege he often exercised. He had to approve of every candidate for
office, adding or subtracting names as he saw fit. He officiated at the swearing-in
of new members, but only after reading them the oath of office and discussing it
"clause by clause," as a long-suffering secretary noted in the minutes of a 1926
meeting. Higgins drafted a model constitution that the student association prudently decided to use when chartering clubs. The phrase "this is referred to Mr.
Higgins" was a frequent entry in the student government records. Single-minded
in purpose, Higgins transferred his preoccupation with proper behavior to the
students. At a meeting in October 1928, the principal reprimanded the student
representatives for spending too much time on trivial issues such as choosing
school rings, pins, and songs, and urged them to "take note of such things as
conduct, honesty, highest standards which the faculty might not be so apt to hear
of or see." The Student Cooperative Government Association on occasion acted as
an honor court in which offenses such as taking books from the library without
checking them out were deliberated.*
A sudden enlargement of the student body made Higgins' transition from
teacher to administrator even more difficult. From a low point in 1919, enrollment had been slowly creeping upward; but then the unexpected happened. In
1923, Bridgeport decided to close its teacher-training school and transport all its
second-year students to Danbury. During Higgins' first year as principal, 253 students packed the school. The 1924 graduating class of 170 students, including
forty-nine from Bridgeport, was the largest in the school's history. This abrupt
increase in size called for physical and psychological adjustments. Space was precious. Seventy student desks were installed in the physics and chemistry laboratory, and a curtain was hung to divide the manual training room in the basement,

*The March 10, 1927, meeting deJlt With the "library situation." During the d1scussion, it was pointed
our that, if a trial were necessary, the nJme of the person accused would be inscribed in the minutes of
the Student Government Association. The recording secretary then asked incredulously, "Would any
teacher wish such a stigma attached to her name?"

44

allowing space for a lunch room. Not willing to abandon his commitment to
rural schools, Higgins sent student teachers in groups of four to the Sherman
Center School to relieve the overtaxed Miry Brook School.
Assimilating a large group of seniors who had spent their first year at
another school was a delicate operation. Higgins acknowledged that the Bridgeport transfers "have not wholly caught our attitude of service to che state." Nevertheless, there are ample indications chat the two groups blended smoothly. They
cooperated to produce The Anchor, the school's first yearbook. The two highest
awards presented ac the 1924 graduation went co students from Bridgeport.
Enrollment pressure diminished when Bridgeport reopened its training
school after one year. Through the rest of the decade, the size of the Danbury student body stabilized at about 150 per year. The tempo of campus life did not differ much from earlier years. Commuter students now traveled by bus as well as by
train. Helen Tucker, class of 1929, walked two and one-half miles each school day
co catch the New England Transportation Company bus in Brookfield, which
arrived in Danbury at about 8 a.m. Ridgefield students cook advantage of regular
bus service on Route 7 chat connected the two towns. Boarding the small jitney
at che news score opposite Ridgefield Town Hall ac 7 a.m., the young women got
off in front of the Pershing Building on Danbury's Main Street a half hour Iacer.
They had plenty of time co make the long, often cold, walk co the campus before
classes began. Helen McGlynn Cutting, class of 1926, was glad to have this early
morning period co study, as well as two post-class hours before the 5:30 p.m.
return trip

to

Ridgefield.

Seniors engaged in practice teaching continued the school tradition of agonizing over visits of Supervisor of Training May Sherwood, a Normal School graduate who had joined the faculty in 1914. "How many hearts have stood still as
Miss Sherwood came co the training schools on her tour of inspection!" This capcion, printed under the yearbook picture of a benign looking Sherwood, conveyed
restrained apprehension. Doris Salmon, class of 1932, was more direct when she
confessed that "she scared me

to

death! I can still feel her writing in my Crit

Book [which contained a student reacher's lesson plans} in the back of the room."
Higgins worked hard to make the campus a more vibrant place during the

45

1920s. One of the main tasks of the Student Cooperative Government Association
was to award charters to student clubs. The Dramatics Club, Rural Club, Glee
Club, Athletic Club, Nature Club, Camera Club, and the Forum, competed for
scarce meeting time during the school day. The process of choosing such identifying school symbols as a seal, stationary, pin, song, and colors promoted school
spirit. For the first time, the school published a handbook that contained an obligatory warning about dishonesty. Typically, the always vigilant Principal Higgins,
while pleased with the activity, worried char students would join roo many clubs
to the detriment of their studies.
One long-sranding obstacle to progress remained firmly in place. It became
increasingly apparent chat as long as students returned home or scattered to
boarding houses each day after class, the Danbury Normal School could not grow
in size or influence. Once again, the college and community united to cry to persuade the General Assembly, during the 1925 biennial session, to fund the construction of a dormitory in Danbury on adjacent land purchased by the scare for
this purpose in 1917 and 1919. This rime they faced stiff competition from New
Britain Normal School and the agricultural college at Storrs; both of these also
wanted stare money to build badly needed srudent residences.
The Booster Club, whose membership roster listed every important business
and political figure in Danbury, rook charge of applying political pressure.* The
members appointed a special committee headed by Judge Samuel Davis, who had
taken part in the unsuccessful 1923 dormitory drive to guide a Danbury appropriation bill through the legislature. The composition of the committee, which
included Mayor A. Homer Fillow, Charles Peck (owner of a hat machinery factory), and hatting mogul William Mallory, testified to the importance local leaders
attached to the well-being of the Normal School.
When the General Assembly's education and appropriations committees
held a joint hearing on the Danbury bill on March 25, 1925, the Boosters sprang
into acrion. Banker Marrin Griffing, the Boosters' president, canceled the club's
• The Booster Club was orgJntzcd tn 1919 and functioned for a few years as an informal branch of city
government. In the early '20s, for exJmple, the members were so irritated with the failure of elected
offiCials ro see the potentiJI of avtatlon that they bought the land for the present Danbury Airport and
gave it to the city.

46

regular meeting that day so members could travel to Hartford to attend the hearing. A convoy of automobiles left the Hotel Green at 10:30 a.m. to transport
thirty luminaries, including Judge Martin Cunningham and Frank Lee, owner of
the city's largest hat company, to the Senate hearing room in the capitol. There,
these determined dignitaries testified on behalf of a bill requesting $300,000 for
dormitory construction. Unlike 1923, when the Connecticut Department of
Education remained aloof, Commissioner Meredith strongly endorsed Danbury's
request.
While community leaders, school officials, and elected representatives all
spoke in favor of the bill (indeed, there was no overt opposition), it was left to
Lothrop Higgins to present the official rationale for building a dormitory in
Danbury. His statement reveals much about his traditional mind-set. He briefly
reviewed the familiar arguments about the high cost of boarding in the city, the
increasingly unreliable railroad service that made commuting difficult, and the
opportunity dormitory living would provide for greater socialization of students.
But his major contention must have raised some eyebrows, as it so clearly rested
on a deep suspicion of industrial cities like Danbury. He told the committees that
a dormitory would enable the school to attract more students from rural townsthe type of students, he said, who on the whole made better teachers than those
from urban centers. No doubt this remark mystified the city fathers, who had
brought their powerful presence to the battle. Mayor Fillow must have been
particularly startled. He had just delivered his own speech, in which he proudly
boasted that by educating students from the city of Danbury, the State of
Connecticut would be getting "genuine American girls as teachers."
Evidently the subtle fissure within the Danbury delegation went unnoticed,
for the General Assembly, in May 1925, exactly twenty years after John Perkins
first expressed the need for such a facility, authorized $200,000-still one-third
less than the amount requested in the original bill- to construct a dormitory on
the corner of White Street and 7th Avenue. The reduced appropriation led to
further delay. In 1926, another state agency, the Board of Control, set up by
Roraback Republicans to curb any unexpected legislative urge to spend, refused
to

award the construction contract to the chosen Bridgeport company, whose bid

47

was slightly more than $200,000. Pressure from the Booster Club and Commissioner Meredith on high state officials, including Governor John Trumbull, failed
to get the Board of Control to add the needed $10,000 to the appropriation. After
months of wrangling, plans for the building had to be scaled back to stay within
the approved limit.
On September 7, 1927, the second dormitory to be built on a Connecticut
normal school campus (Willimantic's dormitory was constructed in 1921) opened
its doors. Named Fairfield Hall by the first class to reside there, the new facility
provided accommodations for eighty-six young women, along with a suite of
rooms for a dean of women. In addition to fulfilling a long-postponed need, the
design of the building made powerful aesthetic and cultural statements. The
Colonial Revival style chosen by architect C. Z. Zeoli of Westport, with its
simplicity, symmetrical balance, columns, and cupola, expressed the cultural
nationalism in vogue at the time of the nation's 150th anniversary. A style based
on a domestic, rather than a foreign, model seemed to be appropriate for a public
institution charged with the training of teachers who would have the responsibility of Americanizing large numbers of children of recent immigrants.
With the opening of the dormitory, Danbury Normal School entered a new
era. From now on, the school would attract a larger and more diverse student
body and offer greater advantages. In the exuberant mood of the Jazz Decade, few
suspected that awesome challenges lay ahead. The national economic depression
that hit Connecticut particularly hard in the 1930s would threaten the very
existence of the school. •

Note On Sources
Because of the central role played by Lawrence Meader, principal of New Haven
Normal School from 1924 to 1928, the reorganization of the Connecticut State
Department of Education during the 1920s is presented in detail in Thomas Farnham's
Southem Connectimt State Unit1ersity: A Cmtennial History, 1893-1993. Columbia University
Teachers College published Meader's research findings and recommendations concerning
the Connecticut normal schools in 1928, under the title Normal School Education in Connectimt (Columbia University Contributions to Education, #307). The biannual reports of
the Connecticut Stare Board of Education to the governor, particularly the report for 192426, document the changed relationship between the state board and the normal schools.

48

University archival records for the 1920s, while scanty, are important. The detailed
minutes of the Student Government Cooperative Association meetings between 1926 and
1930, written in legible teacher-ready penmanship, cell much about student life and about
Principal Higgins. Fortunately, one copy of the first yearbook, the 1924 Anchor, is also in
the archives. Connecticut State Archivist Mark Jones discovered, in the State Library in
Hartford, a box of material pertaining to the Danbury Normal School and had it officially
transferred to the Ruth Haas Library in 1999. One of the important items in chis file box
is a folder that contains annual salary records for normal school and practice-school reachers
during the 1920s.
Many people connected with the Danbury Normal School as students or teachers
during this period were willing to be interviewed. Without the cooperation and the good
memories of the following individuals this chapter could not have been written: Margaret
Perkins Camp, Mary Creagh, Helen Cuming, Ann Girlometti, Helen Budd Mason,
Elizabeth McNamara, Gertrude Murphy, Corrine O'Connell, Doris Salmon, Jennie Stone,
Helen Tucker, and Minnie Benham Warner.

Upper left: A typical spartaII dormitory room in the 1930s. Failfield
Hall, the only campus dorm for almost thirty years, originally homed
eighty-six young women. (\VCSU Archiz,es)
Upper rigbt: Tbe nearby Balmforth At1en11e school served as a primary
pract1ce facilit)' for Normal School and Teachers College studems. In tbis
1930 photo, Principal Higgim makes an inspection visit.
(\VCSU Arcbwes)
Left: After graduating from DanbmJ• Normal Scbool, May Sherwood
joined the famlty in 1914. Sbe supe111ised studellf teaching, operated a
one-person job placement office, and was tbe liaison with school alumni
1111til her retiremellf 111 tbe early 1950s. This mapsbot was taken by a
studellf in 1926. (\VCSU A1·chives)

49

PART TWO

~

THE TEACHERS COLLEGE

DANBURY: DEPRESSION CRISIS

51

Opposite: Shift change at the Frank H. Lee
Company hat factory, Danbury's largest, in
1931. (Scott-Fall/on Museum and
Historical Society)

52

PART

TWO ~,

THE TEACHERS COLLEGE

DANBURY: DEPRESSION CRISIS
On a spring day in 1935, eighteen-year-old Elsie Lauricella, soon to be
graduated from Greenwich High School, traveled to Danbury to undergo the
required examination and interview for admission to the Danbury Normal School.
Her mother had wanred her

to

attend a private women's college in another scare

bur Elsie was determined to be a reacher in Connecticut, and she believed char a
normal school diploma would help her achieve her goal. Her first impression of
Danbury, however, was far from positive. As her father drove the family Buick
down Wesr Street to Main and rhen up White Street to rhe school, the number
of men standing idle on street corners shocked the young woman. Years later,
when interviewed shortly before her sixtieth class reunion (the school had become
Danbury Teachers College during her rime as an undergraduate), Elsie still
expressed asconishment at the visibility of the Depression in the Hat City.
What Elsie and her father saw on their first trip to Danbury was not
misleading. The economic collapse of the 1930s left its mark on rhe community,
just as it was responsible for the challenges and uncertainty faced by the Normal
School itself at this time. High unemployment had created relief needs that
neither private charity nor municipal government could meet. Business failures
and unpaid taxes slashed municipal revenues, making it difficult to provide such
essential services as education, fire-fighting, and police protection. Overcrowded
53

-------~----~---~--

__-__

~

~_..---

elementary schools, an antiquated waste disposal system, downtown traffic
congestion, and the lack of recreational facilities-all ignored during the
prosperous 1920s--could be remedied only with massive federal assistance
during the Depression decade.
Hatting, a fashion industry subject to unpredictable shifts in taste, temporarily shielded the local economy from the onslaught of the Depression. In the
summer of 1931, hat factories worked frantically to fill orders placed by milliners
for the stylish new Empress Eugenie women's felt hat. National media portrayed
the city as a haven for those seeking work, and soon officials were forced to warn
desperate job seekers from other parts of the country not to come to Danbury.
The boom was short-lived . During the winter of 1931-32, the number of
unemployed workers skyrocketed. Frank Lee, the owner of the largest hat factory
in town, could not live up to a pledge made the year before to hire all unemployed hatters in Danbury by stretching out available jobs. Dwindling orders
stymied the "Share the Work Plan" so confidently advocated by hatting company
executives. Jeremiah Scully, president of the Danbury Hat Makers Association, set
up a soup kitchen, dubbed the Danbury Unemployment Restaurant, on Crosby
Street in January 1933 . Supported by donations of money and labor, the restaurant served breakfast and supper to an average of 250 people a day during rhe
winter months . The Danbury Unemployment Commission, a citizens' group
funded by private contributions, bore the brunt of the relief effort until the
federal government, under the New Deal, began operation in the city in
December 1933. The severity of the Depression in Danbury can be measured by
the fact that fifteen hundred our-of-work people registered to participate in the
inaugural federal works projects in the city.
The New Deal provided jobs and, equally important, badly needed infrastructure improvements in Danbury. It did not, however, end the Depression. A
census taken in November 193 7, ar the time of yet another unexpected economic
downturn, revealed that a staggering total of 3,074 people in Danbury (close to
12 percent of the total population of twenty-seven thousand) were either unemployed, under-employed, or already on government relief rolls. By January 1938,
town government was providing relief services for 550 families, a record high . An
54

--

~

'

office in the City Hall basement dispensed free food to the unemployed. Less than
five months into the 1938 fiscal year, the entire annual budget for relief had been
spent and the city was forced ro borrow from a local bank. When the first selectman proposed a special tax to take care of this emergency, a stormy town meeting
- so crowded that the audience spilled out of City Hall onto the sidewalkrejected it. One resident called it the "ugliest" session he had witnessed in the
thirty-five years he had attended town meetings.
The specter of labor violence revealed another ugly side of the state of the
economy in Danbury. In July 1933, state police had to be called when a mob of
angry workers slashed tires and hurled stones at the cars of those who refused to
quit George Mclachlan's hat shop to protest the discharge of five hundred union
employees. A year later, the Reverend Nicholas Wehby of St. George's Antiochian
Orthodox Church on Elm Street organized the United Fur Workers of Danbury.
The one thousand mostly-Lebanese members went on strike for fourteen weeks in
an unsuccessful effort to gain recognition for their independent union . On June 5,
1934, strikers wrecked three taxis carrying "scabs" to a fur faccory on River
Srreer; chen they dashed with police, injuring the chief of police seriously enough
to send him to the hospital. Eleven strikers, including several women, were
arrested.
The Depression plunged city government into a fiscal crisis . The tax
base had shrunk by almost $250,000 dollars, due primarily to a decline in
consumer purchasing of automobiles that were subject to a personal property tax.
Ar the start of 1932, rhe city was owed an estimated $500,000 in back taxes.
Desperate for revenue, officials tendered taxpayers a 6 percent discount for taxes
paid early, but the offer failed to attract many takers. More drastic measures were
tried. In lace 1932, the wages of teachers as well as firemen and policemen were
cut by 10 percent. All city employees went from July to November of that year
without any pay- the longest of several pay interruptions they endured during
rhe decade. Teachers received no salary increases for four years.
Pressing emergency needs coupled with rhe disarray of city finances made
local solutions to long-range problems impossible. The State Water Commission
had designated the Sri!! River, for years a convenient receptacle for hac factory
55

waste, the most polluted body of water in Connecticut. An outmoded sewer system combined storm water with industrial and residential discharge. The city
filtration plant, built in the 1890s to serve twelve thousand people, had been
designed to accommodate an annual flow more than 750,000 gallons. By the
1930s, it groaned under a load of more than two million gallons per year. No
elementary schools had been built in the city since the nineteenth century. The
Balmforrh Avenue and Locust Avenue schools, used as practice schools by Normal
School students, were outmoded. After an inspection visit in 1930, the State
Board of Education termed the Balmforrh facility "nothing but a fire trap."
Despite periodic grumbling from citizens, Danbury had refused to invest in
public parks. The Lions Club funded and operated the only playground in the
city at the corner of Osborne Street and Locust Avenue. Candlewood Lake lapped
Danbury on the north, but as yet there was no public recreational access to its
waters. No action had been taken on an offer by Cephas Rogers to exchange twenty-two acres of swamp land that he owned at the intersection of Main and South
Street, usable for a park, in return for forgiveness of $6,000 in back taxes. City
officials had failed to ease the congestion caused by the automobile. Nothing had
been done, for example, to relieve or even study the volume of traffic that was
choking Main Street between West and White Streets, the nexus of two major
federal and four state highways.
All of these problems were ultimately addressed, but only through federal
subsidies. Money from Washington would largely pay for modernization of the
sewage treatment plant, completion of a state-of-the-art sewer system, preliminary work on Lake Candlewood and Rogers Parks, a survey of traffic flow on Main
Street, and construction of the Beaver Brook School and an addition

to

the South

Street School. New Deal spending brought about a change in attitude toward federal involvement in local affairs. Welcome replaced suspicion. In 1940, when
Danbury was chosen as the site for the first federal prison to be built in New
England, the Danbury News-Times expressed this new relationship with a banner
headline that rejoiced: FEDERAL FUNDS ARE POURING IN. •

56

Above: In 1936, England's Lord Marley spoke to the Forum annual banqmt in the Peacock Room of
the Hotel Green. Katherine A. Sutton, Forum adviser, is at the speaker's immediate right. Principal
Ralph Jenkins is seated i11 front of the flag staff to the speaker's left. (WCS U Archives)
Opposite: Ruth deVi//afrai/Ca, the bulwark of the music department from 1934 until her retirement in
1957, rehearses the school chorm. (WCSU Archives)

58

CHAPTER FOUR

THE FACULTY BELONGS TO US
January 4, 1939, was cold and blustery. The people lining the inaugural
parade route from the Hartford Club co the state capiro! noticed that elderly
outgoing Democratic Governor Wilbur Cross, riding in an open car, butconed
his coat up to his chin co ward off the raw wind and snow flurries. Raymond
Baldwin, the forty-five-year-old Stratford lawyer who was about to become the
first Republican governor of Connecticut in eight years, sat beside him, waving
his high silk hat to supporters. After arriving at the capitol, Baldwin took the
oath of office from Chief Justice William Maltbie and then delivered his inaugural address to the General Assembly. He made brief but pointed comments about
education . Because the state had too many teachers, he urged the legislature to
close some teacher-training facilities. The new governor stressed that these schools
"must be considered as state institutions rather than as local institutions," and
emphasized that "local pride should yield to the welfare of all the people." Two
weeks later, in his budget message, he was more specific: the legislature should
shut down the New Haven and Willimantic schools and, within two years, consolidate all teacher education at New Britain and Danbury.
Irate constituents deluged Baldwin with letters, postcards, telegrams,
and petitions of protest. Most were sent by residents living near the two schools
the governor wanted to close. But one poignant handwritten defense of the teach-

59

ers colleges came from a self-described "very ordinary mother" from Danbury,
who was struggling to raise four children on her husband's weekly paycheck of
$32 . Even though she had completed only the eighth grade, she told rhe chief
execurive, she wanted her children "to live under better circumstances and gain
an increased knowledge of the world and its ways." The only possibility of higher
education available to them was Danbury Teachers College, where her oldest son
and daughter were enrolled. After reminding him that she was a Republican who
"did vote for you," she chided Baldwin for wanting to block an avenue of upward
mobility for ordinary citizens by centralizing teacher education.
Baldwin's public pronouncement and the Danbury housewife's personal
appeal illustrate rhe rwo outlooks toward rhe reacher-training schools-outlooks
rhar clashed frequently during rhe 1930s. Regardless of parry affiliation, the
governor and the executive appointees in the Department of Education gave rhe
highest priority to economy and efficiency on a statewide level. They believed the
purpose of the reachers colleges was to produce the best reachers in rhe right
quantity at the lowest cost. Residents of rhe areas where these schools were located saw the school's primarily as precious regional resources char provided educational opportunity for individuals of average means, as well as economic benefic
and cultural enrichment for the local community. The scare's precarious financial
situation during che Depression intensified this conflict. Ultimately, the General
Assembly had to choose between, or reconcile, these clashing positions and, in the
process, determine the future of the Danbury Normal School.
The Depression had hit Conneccicuc hard. Dependent on manufacturing, the
state felt the economic slump immediately. Companies that fabricated durable
goods, such as metal produces and machinery, began to cut production in 1930.
Although the impact on consumer industries like hatting was delayed, eventually
the sag in demand forced factory lay-offs, reduced wages, and shortened hours . In
1932, a Metropolitan Life Insurance Company study revealed that the number of
people engaged in manufacturing in the state had dropped by 45 percent in three
years. The grim situation persisted without significant improvement until 1939,
when war contracts rekindled factory production. This climate restricted the
funding of taxpayer-financed educational services.

60

There had been signs during the prosperous 1920s that Connecticut was
training too many teachers, and the normal schools were targets for down-sizing.
The state's birth rate had been falling steadily since 1917. Almost ten thousand
fewer children were born in Connecticut in 1928 than were born in the state ten
years earlier. This decline translated into a drop in public school enrollment that
started in 1928. At the same time, the number of elementary school teachers
employed in the state began to shrink. The redoubtable May Sherwood, who both
supervised practice teaching at Danbury Normal School and placed graduates in
teaching jobs, noted that in 1927, for the first time, she was not able to find
employment for all her charges.
This downward trend worsened during the Depression. The birth rate,
and consequent public elementary school enrollment, continued to plummet.
High unemployment and a diminishing tax base forced communities to cut costs.
Beleaguered school boards, unable to meet payrolls, laid off teachers and combined classes. Art, music, and industrial arts programs were discontinued . As a
result, 746 fewer teachers were employed in the state in 1931 than in 1928.
When Charlotte Isham graduated from Danbury Normal School in 1932, she
decided

tO

continue her education because, as she recounted with passion in a

1976 interview, "There were no jobs. I didn't have any money!" Isham was not
alone. Statistics gathered by the State Board of Education indicate that fifty-seven
of the seventy-one Danbury graduates in that year could not find teaching positions. The employment situation remained bleak throughout the 1930s. At the
end of the 1934-35 school year, Danbury officials reported that only twenty-two
of the seventy-five graduates had been hired to teach .*
Commissioner Meredith, shortly before leaving Connecticut in 1930 to head
the School of Education at New York University, urged the state board of education to extend the normal school curriculum to three years-as Massachusetts ,
New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island had already done. Prodded by school
superintendents and the head of the Teacher Preparation Division , Alonzo Myers,

*Because hJrd-pressed public schools delayed hiring until well into the summer months, more 1935
graduates ultimately obtained teaching jobs. Nevertheless, only 74 percent of Danbury Normal School
graduates seeking school positions in that year were successful.

61

Meredith argued that, besides curbing the oversupply of reachers, chis longer
period of training would make Connecticut's beginning reachers more competent
and thus more competitive with those educated in the surrounding scares. The
stare board agreed with chis reasoning and voted to add one more year, effective
September 1930, to the course at rhe New Haven Normal School, where the oversupply of reachers was most extreme. The board approved an additional year for
the other three normal schools bur did not specify any timetable for implemenration.
The three-year plan was an emergency measure. Since the board provided
no additional funds to support the extra year, it was assumed that the currenr
faculty and plane at each school could accommodate rhe altered situation. Lircle
thought was given to what should be caught in the increased class time. As a
result, the two-year curriculum was merely spread out over rhe longer period.
The first class to follow a three-year elementary education program at
Danbury enrered in 1932.* The previous year, rwenry-four young women had
come to the campus

to

embark on a three-year course in commercial education,

which represented a radical departure for the Connecticut normal school system.
For the first time, some students-those preparing to teach business subjectswere being trained to work in secondary rather than elementary schools. This
innovation brought benefits and problems

to

the Danbury Normal School.

Ir provided a welcome new pool of applicants at a rime when there was concern
about unused space in the dormitory which the state expected

to

be full, bur it

also demanded changed procedures and additional costs. Applications had to be
screened for the required high school courses in shorthand, typing, and bookkeeping . Tests of proficiency in dictation had to be administered to candidates. Two
new faculty members with special commercial skills were hired, and business
machines were purchased. Practice-teaching opportunities were established in
high schools, not only in Danbury, but in more distant places like Hartford,
Milford, New Haven, Shelton, and Stratford. Placement was particularly difficult;
only seven of rhe nineteen graduates in the first graduating class in 1934 received
*In I 933, a group of students who had finished the two-year program was admitted for a third year.
For the first time, the school enrolled three classes.

62

teaching jobs. Danbury's involvement in business education proved to be a brief
interlude, as in 1935 the state board moved the entire program-students, faculty, and equipment-to New Britain.
Ernest Butterfield, who replaced Albert Meredith as commissioner of education in 1930, thought that extending the normal school curriculum to three years
was only a partial remedy. He was horrified to find that "in normal school development, Connecticut has lagged behind the other states." He was not timid in
stating his view that Connecticut should join other progressive states in stretching out the normal school course to four years. Butterfield also felt strongly that
Connecticut's normal schools were too small to be run efficiencly. A first-class
institution, he insisted, required at least five hundred students, about three times
the current size of the Danbury student body. Centralization was the obvious
solution.
Inspired by Butterfield's rhetoric, the Connecticut State Board of Finance
and Control, searching for ways to rein in spending at the nadir of the Depression, recommended to the General Assembly in 1933 that the New Haven,
Willimantic, and Danbury Normal Schools be consolidated into a first-class,
four-year teachers college at New Britain. The commissioner and the State Board
of Education applauded this initiative. Butterfield believed that any other course
of action was unrealistic. "The state obviously will not and cannot be expected to
develop four strong teacher training institutions. Both the cost and the need for
teachers forbid such a program, " he asserted. The outspoken commissioner did
not hesitate to go on record with his conclusion that "It is clearly to the advantage of the state, financially as well as educationally, to merge the four normal
schools into one teachers college."
During four consecutive biennial legislative sessions in the 1930s, the
General Assembly debated restructuring the state's teacher-training institutions.
In 1933 , legislators took several contradictory actions. They enacted part of the
Department of Education's plan to centralize facilities by making the New Britain
school a four-year, degree-granting institution with the imposing tide of 'The
State Teachers College of Connecticut." They refused, however, to abolish
the other three normal schools. Rather, they ordered the state board to report to

63

I

I ===-=:11

=

=-====::=

== •

-=._ -

--

== -

::C

-=:::

=------=-

= = = == • --- ...::Jl -

-

~

the 1935 session on the feasibility of making all the normal schools four-year
teachers colleges. The General Assembly also decided it was time to end the policy of free teacher education and accepted the need for a small tuition charge.
It was up to the Department of Education to make sense of this compromise. Fat from discouraged, the energetic Butterfield grasped the opportunity to
bring coherence to teacher preparation in the state by making New Haven,
Willimantic, and Danbury three-year units of the central campus at New Britain.
Rather than four separate normal schools, Connecticut now had a single teachers
college with semi-autonomous branches. All four schools would have the same
admissions policy and similarly qualified faculty. Although it retained administrative independence in local matters, the Danbury Normal School became officially
"The Danbury Unit of The State Teachers College of Connecticut." Like its two
step-sisters in Willimantic and New Haven, the school's mission would be to
prepare candidates for elementary education certification. Students would have
to transfer to New Britain for their fourth year if they desired a college degree.
Specialized programs designed to train junior high and high school teachers, such
as the newly implemented commercial education program at Danbury, would be
moved to New Britain. In 1933, a ten-dollar-per-semester tuition charge went
into effect, an amount that would not be increased until 1956.
When the General Assembly convened in 1935, the question of teacher education was again on the agenda. Supporters of the three normal schools resented
their inferior status. State Senator Nathan Spiro of Danbury promptly introduced
a bill that would turn all the schools into four-year teachers colleges. The state
board bitterly opposed this action and argued that "to transform each of the normal schools into an independent teachers college would give the state four small
teachers colleges and would mean poverty of equipment and high cost of maintenance." Commissioner Butterfield was more dismissive in his weekly newsletter.
Under the headline "A Prolonged Normal School Is Not A Teachers College," he
scoffed at the notion that the present integrated plan should be replaced "by a
group of small, weak, and expensive teachers colleges."
An overflow crowd of five hundred people attended the education
committee hearing on the Spiro bill, forcing proceedings to be moved into the

64

Senate chamber. Butterfield was the only one to speak in opposition. Listening to
the voices of the voters rather than the professional advice of the commissioner of
education, the General Assembly, with scant disagreement, declared the normal
schools to be four-year teachers colleges. At this point, Governor Cross intervened. The former college professor vetoed the bill, troubled by what he saw as
both legislative intrusion into academic curriculum decisions and the lawmakers'
irresponsible failure to provide additional funds for the schools' expanded mission.
The outcome was different in 193 7. Pressure from organized interest groups
in New Haven, Willimantic, and Danbury continued. A bill making the three
normal schools into four-year institutions with powers equal to New Britain's
sailed through the General Assembly. Mindful of the governor's previous objection, the legislature added a minuscule $37,500

to

the budget of each of the three

schools to ease the transition. At the same time, it deducted $22,000 from the
annual budget of New Britain. This ruse satisfied Governor Cross, who signed
che bill chat transformed Danbury Normal School into Danbury Scare Teachers
College.* It also infuriated Commissioner Butterfield, who resigned a few months
later.
The future of the infant reachers colleges was far from secure. Republican
Governor Baldwin's surprise recommendation, in his 1939 inaugural speech, to
consolidate teacher education at New Britain and Danbury, the two campuses he
judged had the most modern physical facilities, revived the controversy. Public
opinion, and a majority of members of both parties in the legislature, strongly
opposed the governor's suggestion. Even the new commissioner of education,
Alonzo Grace, hesitated to back such a drastic seep without more research. An
astute politician, Baldwin backed off. He sec up a special commission on
education, which included such noted experts as the president of the Carnegie
Foundation and the dean of the Graduate School of Education at Harvard
University, and gave them a meager six weeks to come up with yet another report
about teacher preparation in Connecticut. When chis prestigious body concluded
chat the state should consolidate "as soon as practicable" the preparation of
*Cross's hypocrisy in this matter is revealed by his subsequent order co the Department of Education to
reduce its spending by $90,000 co offset the increase in the teachers colleges' budgets.

65

teachers at New Britain, and "gradually ... over a period of rime" discontinue
teacher rraining at Danbury, Willimantic and New Haven, the prudent governor
buried the report.
The local community mobilized ro resist every rhreat to Danbury Normal
School by rhe forces of centralization during these years of unsettled economic
conditions. The Federation of Civic Clubs, an umbrella organization formed in
1931, remained in existence rhrough the decade ro coordinate and sustain efforts
to defend the Normal School. Led by Thomas Bowen, an executive of Mallory Hat
Company, its membership roster was a veritable Who's Who of Danbury industry
and society. Every major special interest group, from the Daughters of the
American Revolution to the Businessmen's Association, participated. The group
lobbied the legislature. So many Danburians wanted to be present at the hearings
on the Spiro bill in 1935 that the Federation had to charter a bus to transport
them to the capitol where they affirmed the comments of their spokesman, Lynn
Wilson, the editorial writer of the Danbury NeUJs-Times. A few weeks Iacer, the
group brought the General Assembly's education committee to the city to
impress on them the value of the school to Danbury.
Why was the Danbury community so aroused at the possibility that the
state institution would be eliminated? One obvious answer was that the school
provided the only way that many local students could get a college education.
The parents of Danbury students were not affluent. The families of most of the
students, according to figures submitted by school officials to the state board in
1935, had an annual income of between $1,000 and $2,000. Danbury High
School was justly proud that eighty-two members of the graduating class of 1937
were going on to college. More than one-third of that number, thirty graduates,
would attend Danbury Teachers College. In 1939, almost half the student body at
the school came from Danbury or the immediately contiguous towns. Only eleven
of the 212 students came from outside Fairfield or Litchfield Counties.
The economic impact of the institution on the community had macro- and
micro-dimensions. The Connecticut State Department of Education stated that
the college buildings and land were worth $370,000. The Civic Federation placed
the value of the campus real estate much higher, over a half million dollars.

66

According to school officials, in rhe school year 1935-36, rhe average Danbury
srudenr spenr $15 5 in rhe communiry in addirion to boarding cosrs.
The mosr powerful and ofren-used argumenr in defense of rhe reacher rraining school in Danbury, however, was culrural, nor economic. Mrs. John Downs,
rhe wife of rhe presidenr of rhe Union Savings Bank of Danbury, represenred rhe
Federared Women's Clubs ar rhe 1933 srare educarion commirree hearings on rhe
proposal ro close all rhe normal schools bur New Brirain. She pleaded wirh rhe
legislators, saying, "If rhe Danbury Normal School is raken away, rhe culrural life
[of rhe ciry] will be raken." When rhe educarion commirree members came to
Danbury in 1935, rhey received a more complere picrure of rhe way rhe scholarship of rhe college faculry and srudenrs beneficed rhe communiry. The Federarion
of Civic Clubs presenred rhem wirh an eloquenr documenr rhar began, "We of
Danbury feel rhar rhe presence of rhe Normal School in our ciry is one of our very
grearesr culrural assers. Any economic value rhar insrirurion has ro our business
life is negligible ... in comparison wirh rhe grear culrural enrichmenr rhe school
conrribures ro our social and civic life." The sraremenr rhen enumerared rhe myri ad ways in which rhe college faculry and srudenrs provided "free and willing and
able help" for every local organizarion. The peririon asserred in emorional language rhar rhere was no wall berween town and gown in Danbury: "The faculry
of rhe school is a real parr of us. We feel rhe members 'belong' ro us."
The lare Rabbi Jerome Malina felr rhe same way. Moving ro Danbury in
1935 ro minisrer ro rhe ciry's small Jewish popularion, he found a mill rown wirh
a difference: rhe presence of rhe reachers college ser ir aparr from orher indusrrial
ciries. Sixry-five years larer, rhe esreemed religious leader looked back ar rhose
early years and agreed wirh rhe senrimenrs expressed in rhe 1935 peririon. The
college had provided spirirual susrenance ro rhe communiry and inrellecrual companionship for him. "The college was my oasis, my refuge, and my nourishmenr,"
he acknowledged.
In parricular, rwo Danbury faculry members personified rhe ideal of rhe
scholar-cirizen rhar Rabbi Malina and rhe Civic Federarion so admired. Karherine
Augusra Surron, who raughr history and Inrernarional Relarions, and Rurh
deVillafranca, rhe director of rhe music program, were nor only rhe mosr popular

67

and accomplished teachers at the school, they also reached across campus boundaries to the wider community. Their careers illuminate the strong bond between
Danbury Teachers College and its home city in the 1930s.
The two women were similar in many ways. They were about the same age.
Sutton was born in 1888, deVillafranca in 1892. They looked alike, both tall
and slender. They were flamboyant in dress and manner. Alumni remember
Sutton appearing in class wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a silk scarf that she
flourished dramatically, and they recall as clearly de Villafranca's vividly colored
clothing. The strong personalities of the two women dominated faculty and students. In a genteel manner, they competed to bring talented students into their
orbits. Sutton was thirty-three years old when she came to Danbury Normal
School as a student in 1921. When deVillafranca became the music instructor at
the school in 1934, she was forty-two.
Sutton's career paralleled the evolution of Danbury from normal school
to teachers college. Born on a farm in New Canaan to a family with deep New
England roots, Katherine Augusta Keeler married a local boy when she was nineteen years old. Her husband, Raymond Sutton, died suddenly in 1912, leaving
her with two small sons. Teaching became her refuge from grief. For the next
seven years, she was in charge of the one-room Smith Ridge School, which was
heated by a pot-bellied coal stove and was without running water, but was conveniently located adjacent to the family homestead. In 1919, tragedy struck again.
Her youngest son, who had been one of her pupils, died of pneumonia, a complication of the flu epidemic.
At this low point, Sutton, seeking to rebuild her life, began her association
with the Danbury Normal School. In 1921, after a single year of study, she
obtained her state certification and was hired to teach in the Balmforth Avenue
practice school. One year later, Principal John Perkins was so impressed by her
energy and creativity that he promoted her to the Normal School faculty. She
quickly became the most feared and admired teacher in the school. "K-A," as she
was called by the students (though certainly not to her face), was intense and
demanding. Hundreds of alumni learned to read The New York Times because
Sutton required it. The memory of Elizabeth McNamara, class of 1928, is typical.

68

"I read the New York Times in the morning so I could say a few words in class. She
always asked us." On the second floor of Old Main, in a classroom decorated with
the flags of the world's nations, Sutton shattered the provincialism and apathy of
her students . As the 1924 yearbook put it, she challenged them "to get a visionand get to work ."
Sutton was not content to be a competent normal school teacher without a
four-year college degree. She drove herself to acquire academic credentials even
though she was restricted to parr-time and summer study. In 1928, she earned a
BS degree from Columbia University, and two years later, an MA in political science from the same institution. Her ambition was not satisfied, however, until she
received a doctorate in education from New York University in 1940, the first
Danbury reaching faculty member to reach that academic level. Dr. Sutcon- she
was justly proud of the tide-supplemented her formal education with world
travel. In 1931, she spent time at the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva,
Switzerland, and on another trip, in 1934, focused on Russia and Central Europe.
On academic leave in 193 7, she traced the globe-circling route followed by
Wendell Wilkie and described in his book, One \Vorld. She was in Japan when the
Sino-Japanese war broke out, and in China during the bombing of Shanghai.
Sutton considered the entire Danbury region to be her classroom . The
Forum, a college club she organized in 1928, became the area's locus for discussion of public affairs in the 1930s. Each year, until Sutton's illness and subsequent
retirement in 1946, the Forum brought cogether students, faculty, and citizens in
a variety of formats, on campus and off, to discuss national and international
issues. The featured event came each December, when the Forum banquet invited
foreign policy experts, such as Professor James Shotwell of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, to Danbury. By 1936, the annual dinner had become so popular that it had to be held in the elegant Peacock Ballroom of the
Hotel Green . That year, four hundred guests clad in evening gowns and formal
attire dined by candlelight before listening co Lord Marley of the English House
of Lords discuss "Our Future in the Pacific: Does it Lie With Japan?" The

Danbury News-Times described the affair as "one of the largest and most brilliant
dinner gatherings ever held in this city."
69

Although that banquet and a less formal tea held in Fairfield Hall each
spring were the highlights of the year, the Forum maintained a busy schedule of
meetings, lectures, and round tables. Sutton herself spoke dozens of times every
year to community groups. In the fall and winter of 1935-36, for example, she
delivered twelve lectures to the League of Women Voters. Students were trained
and encouraged to speak

to

non-college audiences . In 1939, student members of

the Forum addressed twenty-one different community groups . Club president
Ralph Braibanti, later to become a distinguished professor at Duke University,
spoke on that year's study topic of Latin America to civic organizations, such as
the Rotary Club, on no less than ten occasions.
Just asK. Augusta Sutton was the primary intellectual ambassador to the
Danbury community in the 1930s, Ruth deVillafranca was the main cultural
emissary. In 1934, she brought her rich background in music education to
Danbury. A graduate of Oswego (New York) Normal School with a bachelor of
science degree from New York University, she had taught in the public schools of
Winsted and Meriden and in St. Petersburg (Florida) Junior College. Over the
next three decades, she would build the music program at Danbury into the
school's strongest academic asset. By the time deVillafranca retired in 1957,
Danbury State Teachers College trained all the elementary and secondary music
teaching students in rhe state system .
In the early years, deVillafranca's task was daunting. As the sole music
instructor, she had

to

prepare even rhe most tone-deaf student to be an elemen-

tary school teacher able

to

read simple music and identify a tune on a piano. She

did it with drama, confidence, and enthusiasm. Her sryle, though appreciated,
could be painful to those without aptitude. It is easy to envision the author of the
1935 yearbook tribute to deVillafranca shuddering as she wrote: "None of us can
forger her frank and energetic manner of dealing with our uncertain musical ability." On the other hand, deVillafranca's impact transformed students with more
talent. Richard Wanzer, class of 1943, a retired Air Force piloc, wrote from
Georgia in 1995: "Wonderful Divvy- she instilled a love of group music in me
that still burns. At 76, I'm the narrator in our church choir as well as one of its
baritones."
70

Students proficient in music got special attention. Some, like Mort Johnson,
class of 1942, came to the college in Danbury so they could sing in the a cappella
choir that de Villafranca trained. This elite group sang in churches and school
auditoriums all over Fairfield and Litchfield Counties. The expert performance of
the choir impressed guests at the 1940 banquet of the Eastern Stares Association
of Professional Schools for Teachers, held in New York City in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Pennsylvania. Local audiences praised de Villafranca's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "Iolanthe," staged in the outdoor amphitheater
behind Fairfield Hall in May 1940.
When deVillafranca arrived in Danbury, she discovered a community that
was not "backward musically" so much as "merely starved for lack of fine music."
In 1934, with other music devotees, she allied with Donald Tweedy, a composerpianist with a music degree from Harvard and the scion of a wealthy hatting family, to end this artistic isolation. Together they formed the Danbury Music Centre.
For the next twenty-five years, deVillafranca would be a key figure in organizing
the Centre's annual concert series, bringing world class musicians to the small
industrial city and maintaining the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, which from
1936 on provided an outlet for skilled local musicians. Even after her retirement
from the college, she remained active, serving as executive director of the Music
Centre from 1957 to 1960.
In 1939, less than a year after Governor Baldwin threatened to consolidate
the state reachers colleges, the advocates of centralization backed down. On
November 27th, Connecticut Commissioner of Education Alonzo Grace came to
Danbury to address the recently formed Regional Council of the Connecticut
Council on Education, one of five citizen's groups that Grace hoped would
improve communication between the public and the Department of Education.
Glancing at the audience gathered in the Fairfield Hall lounge, he recognized
Thomas Bowen, the chairman of the new regional organization, as well as Lynn
Wilson, Judge Martin Cunningham and other stalwarts of the Federation of Civic
Clubs who had fought for almost ten years against efforts by the state educational
apparatus to centralize teacher education in Connecticut. In a politic move, Dr.
Grace began his remarks by proclaiming the end of the war against Danbury
71

Teachers College. Danbury had won. From now on, Grace vowed, the Connecticut
State Board of Education would help the college grow and respond to the specific
needs of western Connecticut.
In reality, Dr. Grace and the state board had already begun their retreat.
Shortly after Grace became commissioner in 1938, Franklin Pierce, the director of
the Department of Education's Teacher Preparation Division, died. Grace decided
to turn over his responsibilities to a committee consisting of the four teachers college presidents and chaired by the capable Finis Engleman of New Haven. In the
future, this collective body would supply much of the impetus for increasing local
autonomy. A few months later, Grace convinced the state board to take an even
more significant step, setting the precedent for the state colleges to do more than
train teachers. In June 1939, the board voted to broaden the curriculum of the
four colleges "to serve the wider needs of youth" by devoting the first two years of
study to general education courses. At the end of this period, students would
receive the equivalent of a junior college certificate. On the basis of their classroom performance, the best students would be selected for the professional education sequence confined to junior and senior year. The decade that had begun so
ominously for the Danbury Normal School ended with the promise of dramatic
growth for Danbury Teachers College. •

Left: Katherine
Augmta Sutton, who
taught htstmy from
I 922 to I 946, accomfJanies her students on
a trip to Washington,
D.C., 111 I925. She is
fourth from the right.
(\f!CSU Archiz•es)

72

Note On Sources
The official papers of Connecricut's governors at the State Library are an important
source of information about educational policy in the state in the 1930s. The papers of
Wilbur Cross (1930-38) and Raymond Baldwin (1938-40) contain valuable, if random,
material. Baldwin's papers from his first rerm include a bulky folder filled with pro and
con responses to his 1939 effort to close two normal schools. "A Program of Teacher
Preparation for Connecticut" (1939) is rhe report of the special commission charged by
Governor Baldwin to make recommendations for improving teacher education in the state.
The Danbury News-Times provides much detail about the close relationship between
the local community and the Danbury Normal School (later, the Teachers College). The
May 4, 1935, issue contains the complete text of the petition presented by the Danbury
Federation of Civic Clubs to the legislative committee on education during its visit to
Danbury. This document explains the many ways in which the college faculty contributed
to the cultural life of the community. Stenographic transcripts of hearings held by the education committee of the General Assembly during every session in the 1930s are available
at the State Library. They record what the local citizens who traveled to Hartford told the
legislators about the value of the college to Danbury.
Materials at the New Canaan Historical Society make it possible to recreate the early
life of Katherine Augusta Sutton. A large scrapbook of newspaper clippings, located in the
Haas Library Archives, details the activities of the Forum from its founding in 1928 until
Sutton's retirement in 1946. Professor Ralph Braibanti, an extremely active member of the
Forum while he was a student at Danbury, remained a close personal friend of Dr. Sutton's,
and generously shared his memories and his materials. The late Rabbi Jerome Mali no, one
of the founders of the Danbury Music Centre, was the best source of information about
Ruth de Villafranca. Interviews with former students, particularly Mort Johnson and
Truman Warner, provided information about her teaching style and extraordinary influence
on her students.

Left: The class of
1936 with famlty in
back row. Principal
Ralph Jenkins is in
the cenfel: Jesse Brill,
Dean Ruth Haas, and
Ruth de Villafranca
are to his left. Phebe
Harriso11 am/ G ra 11t
Finch are to his
extreme rig/Jt.
(\f!CSU Archit,es)

73

Above: ln}tme 1944, college and practice-school /amity and st11dellfs prod11ced an elaborate
pageant dedicated to "011r Latin American Neighbors," itl the o/lfdoor amphitheafl·e.
(WCSU Archives)
Opposite: The o11tdoor amphitheatre was comtmcted behind Fairfield Hall by the Works Progress
Administration (\VPA) in 1936. (WCSU A1·chives)

74

CHAPTER FIVE

WITH HENRY BARNARD AS GUIDE
Charlotte Isham was starrled when Principal Lothrop Higgins, clad in his
trademark dark suit, high white collar and tie, turned his old Ford automobile
inro the driveway of her family farm in Woodbury one summer morning in 1933.
The young woman had recently graduated from the Danbury Normal School and,
as she recalled years later, the visit was a "real shocker" because she had never seen
the principal away from the campus. Higgins trudged down to the barn, shook
hands with Isham's father, and asked him to consider sending his daughter back
to Danbury for a third year of study that the school now offered. When the
farmer pleaded that he didn't have enough money to pay for another year of
training, Higgins promised to cobble together an available town scholarship
with part-time employment to defray Charlotte's boarding expenses. Thanks to
Higgins' persistence and ingenuity, Charlotte Isham became a member of a special third-year class at Danbury.
Higgins needed all the resourcefulness he could muster

to

cope with what

he termed the "extraordinary difficulties" faced by the Normal School in the early
years of the Depression. Dealing with declining enrollment, empty dormirory
rooms and sub-standard practice schools, along with constant worry about the
ethical standards and conduct of the students, drained his energy. A casual remark
made to a practice-school faculty member betrayed the stress that he was under
75

during this period. After asking about the reacher's health, Higgins commented,
"I don't know what it is to wake up and feel well."
While Higgins' anxiety may have been too extreme, the problems faced by
the school were serious. At a rime of economic hardship, the rapid extension of
the reacher-preparation period from two

to

three and then

to

four years, though

welcomed by Higgins, discouraged many young people from entering the field of
elementary education. Secondary school teaching, which also required a four-year
degree but offered much higher pay, attracted the best candidates. The need for
students to relocate to New Britain for their fourth year in elementary education
also made enrollment at Danbury less appealing. Higgins fretted about losing the
popular commercial education program to New Britain. In 1933-34, one-third of
the 185 students at Danbury were training to be business reachers.
In 1933, for the first time since it had opened five years earlier, Fairfield
Hall was not full. Higgins sensed several interlocking factors had altered the
composition of Danbury's student body. The Depression deterred many students
from undertaking a four-year program unless they could pare costs by commuting. The automobile and a good highway system in Connecticut now made it
possible for students from distant parts of Fairfield and Litchfield Counties, who
would earlier have boarded at Danbury,

to

commute by car. Some chose

to

drive

to New Haven or New Britain for classes, rather than to Danbury. As a result, the
Danbury Normal School became predominately a day school. In 1927, 75 percent
of the Normal School students came from beyond the local area and had to board
in Danbury; ten years later, the same percentage lived in Danbury or in contiguous towns. Higgins, who believed this trend deprived students of the valuable
boarding experience, did everything he could to stimulate attendance beyond the
commuting radius. He suggested that the stare give Danbury a monopoly on students from Fairfield and Litchfield Counties, require that all rural scholarship
holders live on campus, and "possibly" insist on a period of dorm residence for
"all whose daily commutation prevents their full participation in the extra-curricular activities of student life." In 1935, he went on a personal campaign, with
some success, to persuade commuters to rake up residence at Fairfield Hall.
Charlotte Isham's third-year program was part of this effort to fill dorm rooms.

76

Higgins battled on other fronts, as well. He complained that the outmoded
practice schools provided by the city of Danbury made it impossible for the Normal School to attract the best students. Locust Avenue and Balmforth Avenue
Schools, both built in the late nineteenth century, he deemed obsolete. Containing only classrooms, they lacked reachers' offices, preparation areas, assembly
space, or a gymnasium. As early as 1930, Higgins began urging the state to build
a modern practice school on the Normal School grounds.
Higgins did not permit attention to these fundamental problems to deflect
him from preoccupation with student behavior. In 1933, the student council, at
his urging, drafted and posted in prominent spots on campus a terse list of
"Accepted Standards For Conduct," which detailed proper decorum in study
rooms, the library, the assembly room, and corridors. The emphasis in all places
was on quiet and order. In school halls, for example, "all conversations should be
in low tones only." Higgins added a final admonition that pertained to actions
"On the Street, In Cars, or In Any Public Place." He specified that "smoking and
other practices that reflect unfavorably upon our student body are out of place."
He completed the guidelines with the dogmatic admonition: "A woman of refinement always avoids attracting attention by her appearance, voice, or actions."
Higgins abhorred dishonesty and rook elaborate steps to scamp out any vestiges of
it at the school. In Wilsonian fashion, he presented the student council with "14
Points" chat he wanted the group co consider. The first two, "Keep at work on the
thief question" and "Keep at work on the matter of cheating," made clear his
righteous agenda.
Lothrop Higgins' health was never robust. By early 1935, intimates noticed
that the strain of guiding the school through uncertain times had taken irs toll.
While not ill, he suffered from chronic fatigue. In an effort to regain his energy,
Higgins and his wife traveled to Atlantic City on February 22nd, where he
planned to combine attendance at the mid-winter National Education Association
meeting with a seaside vacation. After participating in a few sessions of the convention, the Danbury principal contracted pneumonia and was confined to his
room in the Hotel Traymore. On March 6, 1935, he died at the age of fifty-nine.
Ralph Jenkins, who became the third and last principal of Danbury Normal
77

I

1£-

--

~-~~-~----~- =-~~~

School in 193 5, and the first president of Danbury Teachers College in 193 7,
resembled his predecessor only in their common Yankee background. In appearance, personality, administrative style, and educational experience, the rwo men
were worlds-more accurately, centuries-apart.
Jenkins, forty-three years old when he was hired, had New England roots,
seemingly a prerequisite for Danbury principals. Born in 1891 in Springfield,
Vermont, to working class parents (his father was a pattern maker in a machine
shop), the young Jenkins showed unusual interest in science. As a teenager he had
an article published in Pop11lar Mechanics magazine. After graduation from local
schools, he entered Dartmouth College in 1910, where, of necessity, he combined
study with parr-rime employmenc. While earning a BA degree with a major in
English and a minor in biology, the ambitious Jenkins worked variously as a jeweler's assistant, a reporter for the Springfield newspaper, and a railroad telegrapher
(which required proficiency in Morse code).
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Dartmouth in 1914, Jenkins
began a lifelong commitment to reaching that brought him deep satisfaction.
Years later, in 1943, he would close a speech to a Danbury Teachers College
assembly with this sincere declaration: "I can honestly say as your President that I
have never regretted for a day that I chose the profession of education and have
stuck to it constantly for nearly 30 years."
His single-minded dedication to education paid off. During the rwo decades
between leaving Hanover and arriving in Danbury, Jenkins held a series of increasingly more responsible administrative positions in the field. He progressed
from assistant principal at Burr and Burton Seminary in Manchester, Vermont, in
1915; to principal at Black River Academy in Ludlow, Vermont, in 1916; to
superintendent of schools in Plymouth, Connecticut, in 1917; to superintendent
of schools in Putnam, Connecticut, in 1922. There was only one brief detour,
between 1920 and 1922, when he became a salesman of educational publications
for the American Book Company.
In 1928, the highly focused Jenkins returned to Vermont for his first job in
higher education. As principal of Johnson Normal School, a tiny two-year school
located in a heavily French outpost forty miles below the Canadian border, he

78

established a reputation for cautious innovation and skill in marketing. He added
a third year to the program of study and increased the number of faculty. In 1931,
he replaced the conventional curriculum with the grandiose sounding "Johnson
Plan of Training for Vitalized Teaching," which became the distinguishing feature
of the college. This approach aimed at the development of each student-teacher
by integrating the three parts of the college experience: formal classes, practice
teaching, and social life. The Johnson Plan impressed Connecticut Education
Commissioner Butterfield; in 1935 he brought Jenkins to Danbury.
The new Danbury principal looked and acted like a modern college chief
executive. Tall, slightly overweight ("burly" was a word his son used to describe
him), Jenkins was a handsome man who wore expensive suits set off with a
Homburg hat. His personal life, while highly moral, was not puritanical. He
smoked five or six cigars a day, drank socially, and enjoyed playing bridge.
Change did not paralyze Jenkins. On the contrary, he was comfortable in unfamiliar situations and welcomed challenges. He was active in many educational
and civic organizations, an amateur actor whose love of public speaking made
him popular. A faithful Rotarian, Jenkins addressed the local club in terms the
members understood. In his first appearance as a guest speaker in early 1936, he
described the Normal School as a business, sprinkling his talk with terms like
"plant," "raw materials," "finished goods," and "the ultimate consumer." He
referred to rising enrollment at the college by declaring that "sales are decidedly
picking up." His unpretentious manner was so effective that the News-Times
the next day praised his speech in an editorial entitled "Our Splendid Normal
School." Because of his many contributions, Rotary International selected him as
a district governor in 1941, the first Danburian to receive that honor.
The facade of an affable administrator disguised a complex nature. Jenkins
loved music. His rich baritone voice graced numerous church choirs. For many
years he headed the music committee of the First Congregational Church in
Danbury. He traveled widely to hear the nation's best symphony orchestras and
regularly listened to classical music on the radio. One of the ways he hoped to
attract more able students to Danbury was by specializing in music education as a
"distinctive type of service."

79

To a degree that would make many uncomfortable today, Jenkins did not
separate his religious commitment from his directorship of a secular institution.
"Teaching As a Vocation," a speech he delivered to the Bradford Club of the First
Congregational Church shortly after he arrived in Danbury, made clear that, in
his judgment, a good teacher had to have a deeply religious nature. He did not
have a problem including prayers and hymns in student assemblies, or in lecturing students on "The Value of Church Anendance." Although he was an active
lay leader in the Congregational Church, Jenkins tolerated all creeds. His unembarrassed and uncomplicated message was that church membership would sustain
students just as it nourished him.
It would be an overstatement to term Jenkins a scholar, but it is accurate to
say that he was a dedicated student. His son recalled that he continually attended
school. He earned a master's degree at Middlebury College in 1919 while teaching in secondary school. When he headed Johnson State, he moved his family to
Boston in the summer of 1933, in order to complete his master's in Educational
Administration at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. In 1937, after more
summers of trekking into New York City, he received his doctorate from New
York University.
It was as a graduate student at NYU, in a course taught by former Director
of Teacher Preparation Alonzo Myers, that the Danbury school president discovered the state's first commissioner of education, Henry Barnard. From that point
on, Barnard became a fixation and an inspiration for Ralph Jenkins. Jenkins wrote
his doctoral dissertation about Barnard. He then recirculated his research in a
short book published by the state reachers association, as well as in numerous
scholarly and popular articles and in lectures to groups such as the Connecticut
Historical Society. Jenkins testified at length before the General Assembly on
behalf of a bill to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Connecticut State Board of Education . He told legislators that
Barnard was as great "if not a greater educator than Horace Mann." Unwilling to
let the board's centennial pass without a proper celebration, Jenkins mobilized the
Danbury community to honor Barnard. On June 16, 1938, a cast of hundreds,
including college students and faculty, practice-school teachers and their students,

80

and members of numerous civic organizations, dramatized the life of Barnard in
an outdoor pageant.* Jenkins himself played the role of Barnard in his adult years
and led the cast and audience in the singing of "America the Beautiful" as a grand
finale.
On September 30, 193 7, state and local dignitaries assembled in nearby
Danbury High School's auditorium for the first Danbury State Teachers College
academic convocation and the formal installation of Jenkins as president. On this
auspicious occasion, the culmination of Jenkins' career, he delivered an address
entitled "With Henry Barnard As Guide." He told the audience he had expected
his intense study of Barnard's life would help him develop a coherent philosophy
of education. Instead, after reading more than two thousand letters written by the
famous Connecticut educator, he had concluded that action, rather than theory,
interested Barnard. Jenkins applied this insight to his own presidency, saying, "If
I can do the work first, the necessary work, perhaps after a period of prolonged
study I can announce with some finality what my philosophy is and even some of
the objectives of our college." He promised only that his administration would be
marked by action.
The action had already begun. When Jenkins had assumed command of the
Normal School in 1935, he immediately redefined the role of the principal. He
first streamlined administrative procedures. Recent reorganization of Connecticut
government had required all state agencies to file quarterly budgets, to abide by
the merit system in hiring, and to seek competitive bids on all purchases. These
rules imposed a heavy burden on the small staff in the principal's office. Once
office routines had been systematized, Jenkins concentrated on a list of priorities.
He wanted

to

make the school more selective. In order to reach his goal of admit-

ting only 50 percent of those who applied, he spent time promoting the college.
The General Assembly had to be convinced to spend more money on higher edu·
cation, especially with the pressing need for an adequate practice school on campus. Jenkins saw the value of extension classes on Saturday and on late weekday

• During the summer of 1936, the WPA had transformed the low area behmd Fairfield Hall into an
outdoor amphitheater, complete with stage and dressing rooms. A hedge screened the area from the
athletic fields behind.

81

afternoons to serve alumni who did not have college degrees. When Danbury
became a four-year school, Jenkins threw his energy into fulfilling the requirements for accreditation issued by the American Association of Teachers Colleges.
In order to accomplish this formidable task, the library holdings had to be
expanded, the faculty upgraded, and physical education facilities improved.*
While Jenkins had little time left to deal with students, he could delegate
authority. Fortunately, an administrator already at Danbury had the capacity to
take on more responsibility. In 1931, Lothrop Higgins, in one of his shrewdest
personnel decisions, had hired Ruth A. Haas as dean of women to supervise the
boarding students. The young, attractive, vivacious Haas, a recent graduate of
Syracuse University, moved into an apartment in Fairfield Hall and quickly became the most popular person on campus. Students appreciated her honesty and
open friendliness. Jenkins recognized that, although Haas was not much older
than many of the Danbury students, she was the ideal choice to become, in effect,
the academic dean. In 1936, her duties were expanded- though her title was not
changed-to include all student-related matters, such as discipline, attendance,
and scholastic progress, as well as control of the curriculum. For ten years, Ruth
Haas, under Jenkins' tutelage, managed all the internal affairs of Danbury Teachers College, an arrangement congenial enough

to

persuade her

to

decline the offer

of at least one higher-paying job offer from another college.
Haas' promotion changed the atmosphere on campus. She projected reasonableness and moderation. Enforceable rules that permitted students to smoke in
the lunch room until 4:30 p.m. and in the dorm basement "Frolic Room" after
dinner until 10 p.m., and all day on Saturday and Sunday, replaced Higgins' ban
on smoking. Underachieving students who had

to

meet with her about their

grades remembered that she balanced firmness with understanding in these
dreaded conferences. Haas was no pushover, however-as a January 21, 1938,
entry in the student council minutes illustrates. The secretary of the organization
recorded that "She [Haas} spoke tersely and unflatteringly about the Council's
ineffectiveness and laxity in doing its duty."

*The American Association of Teachers Colleges accredited the school in 1941.

82

Jenkins elevated rhe goal of making Danbury a rruly co-educational insrirurion above all his orher aims. As he rold rhe Rotary Club in 1936, "I wanr more
boys ro enjoy rhe splendid advanrages Danbury Normal School has ro offer. Five
boys in 30 years are nor enough."* His immediate objective was ro have fifteen ro
rwenry males enrer rhe school each year. To bring this abour, he revamped rhe
college catalog ro make ir more appealing ro men. Starring in 1936, a special
section in bold type explained how men could easily find jobs in reaching. The
1940-41 catalog, under rhe banner headline "OPPORTUNITY FOR MEN IN
TEACHING," tried ro counreracr rhe stigma of men reaching in female-dominated elemenrary schools wirh rhe guaranree rhar "Qualified men may look forward
ro moving on from rhe classroom ro service in an administrative capacity." Men
were highly visible, well our of proportion ro their numbers, in photographs
prinred in rhe catalogs. During rhe winrer of 1936-37, rhe school played irs first
men's inrercollegiate basketball schedule. High school srudenrs flipping through
rhe 1938-39 catalog couldn't miss sporting a picrure of rhe "Boy's Basketball
Squad" below an even larger formal group phoro of "The Men of rhe College."
Alfred Geddes, a recenr graduate of Arnold College and Boston University, who
would have a lengthy career ar Danbury as dean of men, was hired in 1938 ro
reach physical education and coach men's sports. Jenkins also rook ro rhe srump
to convince high school boys of rhe wisdom of enrolling ar Danbury. He told
Danbury High School srudenrs, during a vi sir in rhe spring of 193 7, rhar rhey
could live ar home and earn a college degree for rhe low cost of eighty dollars.
External circumstances beyond Jenkins' conrrol enhanced rhe appeal of rhis
message. The Depression made ir impossible for many young men ro pay ruirion
ar a private college or ro afford rhe expense of attending a disranr university.
Truman Warner felr rhar he was like most of his male classmates because he
came to Danbury Teachers College in 1937 (after graduation from Danbury High
School), "in some ways by default." After 1937, Danbury became even more
attractive ro men because ir was no longer a normal school preparing srudenrs ro

*As soon as he rook over the reins in Danbury, Jenkins asked May Sherwood who, among her many
duties, was head of the Alumni Association, to make an accurate count of the number of male students
who had attended the school. She came up with a list of five male graduates.

83

I


teach exclusively in elementary schools. Many men (and some women) who came
to Danbury after the four-year program had begun, never intended to teach at this
level or, indeed, to teach at all. They saw the teachers college as a cost-effective
step toward another career.
Beginning in September 1936, when twenty young men enrolled, Danbury
had a significant male presence. In 1940-41, the first year that had men in all
four classes, there were fifty-five in a total student body of 198. Many had
extraordinary ability and went on to distinguished careers. Arthur Coladarci, class
of 1940, became dean of the School of Education at Stanford University after getting his docroral degree from Yale. Theodore Shannon, also class of 1940, after
earning his doctorate at the University of Wisconsin, remained at the Madison
school as professor and dean. Ralph]. D. Braibanti, class of 1941, received his
Ph.D. from Syracuse University and became a professor of political science at
Duke University with an international reputation as an expert on the Middle
East. His classmate in 1941, Truman Warner, earned a doctorate from Columbia
University and taught anthropology at his alma mater for more than thirty years.
Men altered the dynamics of campus life. For one thing, they challenged
the overwhelmingly female faculty. Some teachers, such as K. Augusta Sutton,
relished having able and aggressive male students. Others encountered discipline
problems with the more boisterous males who were bored with some aspects of
the curriculum. Most men students, but only a few women, had taken math and
science in high school; they found the courses in these areas repetitious . The
gender issue increased pressure already felt by a veteran Normal School faculty
to upgrade their credentials for college teaching.* In 1938, all but one of the
fourteen faculty members were taking courses at Yale, Columbia, or New York
University. Eight of them had already received master's degrees from Columbia
Teachers College. Jenkins held the only doctorate.
Men added a third pattern of daily activity at the small school. They lived
at their Danbury area homes or boarded in the city and drove their cars to school.

*At Jenkins' installation as president in 193 7, Grant Finch, one of two male faculty members, gave a
shore talk. He claimed that fourteen members of the faculty, practice-school faculty included, had
served under all three Normal School principals.

84

After 1936, jalopies appeared parked at the curb on White Street. Mort Johnson,
class of 1942, was a long-distance exception who drove to Danbury each day from
his home in Norwalk in an effort to sray under his budget ceiling of fifty cents a
day. Almost all men had to work. Warren Laws, class of 1942, who hailed from
Stratford, boarded with a relative in Danbury. He drove a school bus before and
after his college classes and also clerked in a grocery store . Many, like Laws' roommare, Donald O'Connor, pur in several hours a day in a hac factory. Their srraired
circumstances concerned Jenkins. Urging the alumni to contribute co a scholarship fund in 1939, he told them chat many of the students "are living from day
co day with bur a few dollars between them and failure to keep on. "
It is possible to exaggerate the impact of co-education at Danbury. True,

women seemed to defer to men's leadership; all of the classes in the early 1940s
elected men as president. Bur women still made up three-quarters of the student
body during these transition years . Under the watchful eye of Dean Haas, eightyfive of them lived in Fairfield Hall , where they ate lunch and dinner together,
dressed properly and seared eight to a cable. Anyone lace for 6:15p.m. dinner had
to

explain the reason for her tardiness to the dean. Each student rook a one-month

turn as a waitress. No one could leave the dining room until the faculty finished
eating . Students could have one evening "dace" a week but had to return to the
dormitory by 10 p.m. Failure to abide by the curfew meant confinement to
campus for the next week. This rigid routine prompted complaints, bur it also
promoted camaraderie char would Iacer dominate the recollections of the alumnae.
A smaller group of women, about fifty in number, were day students who sometimes felt the distance between themselves and their boarding sisters. They
developed rituals of their own. Marie Tomaino Prebenna, class of 1942, described
cooperative lunches cooked by commuting students on a gas stove in the basement of Old Main .
Even though the three components of the Danbury student body (dormitory
residents, women commuters, and men) had different living experiences, the
small size of the school was a powerful, unifying force. The four class years were
divided into "A" and "B" sections with no consideration of gender or on- or offcampus status. Each section rook the same classes at the same time with the same

85

teacher. Frequent field trips to geological sites or to Broadway plays promoted
friendship, especially when the entire freshman or junior class could be transported in a single bus. A variety of clubs, musical productions, and plays gave everyone a chance to participate, regardless of ability. Truman Warner, the president of
the a cappella choir when he was as an undergraduate, appreciated this opportunity. "At Yale I could never have been one of the Whiffenpoofs," he recalled, "but I
was a member of the quartet here." The entire student body gathered in the auditorium twice a week for mandatory Monday and Thursday assemblies planned by
a joint student-faculty committee. Students spent much more time in what censorious English instructor Phebe Harrison called "The Den of Iniquity," a basement
room in Old Main where smoking and playing bridge were permitted. Everyone
had to participate in the first two years of the student-teaching process that began
in freshman year with two weeks of observation in a practice school. During sophomore year, this was expanded to include four weeks as an elementary school
classroom aide. It is no accident that the classes of 1940, 1941, and 1942 have
held regular joint reunions since their graduation.
Pearl Harbor changed Danbury State Teachers College as it changed everything else in the nation. The most obvious alteration was the disappearance of
male students. This did not happen suddenly because Jenkins, in line with
government policy, urged young men not to leave school to volunteer for the
armed forces. The December 18, 1941, Campus Crier recommended that "the most
sensible, the most courageous thing to do at this time is to continue to specialize
yourself in that field which you have already chosen." The front-page article
emphasized, "So, until you are called, stay in school."
The Army and Navy, in an attempt to establish an orderly induction
process, set up reserve programs that permitted students to enlist while remaining on campus until they finished their courses . To help students graduate more
quickly, the college adopted, in September 1942, a rri-semester schedule of
twelve-week segments that virtually eliminated the summer vacation. During the
winter of 1942-43, evening classes accommodated students working the day shift
in war plants. Under the compressed schedule, students could complete their
four-year course in three years. Two graduations were held, in April and in

86

December. Jenkins put these emergency actions into perspective in September
1942, when he told a student assembly that the campus had mobilized for war.
The new mission of the school, the principal fervently proclaimed, "is to make a
total contribution to the total war. All of the student body are merely kept here
in trust by our government in order to better prepare yourselves for the time
when you will be called in some way to serve your country."
By mid-1943, almost all male undergraduates and some women had entered
the armed services. When Jenkins addressed the Alumni Association meeting at
the Hotel Green on May 22nd, he reported that only four male students remained
on campus. While he was proud that Danbury students were serving their country, he also expressed disappointment. "I have lived to see the Danbury Teachers
College grow from a college for girls to a coeducational institution and back
again," he said. At the same time, he was quick to remind women students that
the government had designated teaching an essential occupation and that they
were fulfilling their patriotic duty by preparing to instruct young children. The
1944-45 catalog reiterated this gospel of dual service: "There is just as much need
to

use the finest of woman power to protect the American way of life at home as

there is to draft the best of man power to defend democracy in foreign lands."
Given his penchant for action, Jenkins did not allow much time for regret.
He kept a hectic schedule of public speaking at war bond rallies. During one sixmonth period, he delivered an average of one speech a week. As district governor
of Rotary, he traveled all over the state to urge the members of the twenty-eight
clubs under his jurisdiction to contribure to the war effort. Jenkins was the chairman of the Community Chest Speakers Bureau and, in 1942, became president of
this volunteer organization that coordinated fund raising for local charities. He
saw this activity as another form of patriotic service. "The common defense
demands that we eliminate every useless movement," he reasoned.
There were times during the war when homefront sacrifice seemed insignificant. One particular event dramatized the steep cost of the war. After the student
assembly held on November 22, 1943, a white service flag with a red border flew
from the flagpole outside Old Main for the duration of the conflict. In the center
of the flag were blue stars for the 111 Danbury Teachers College graduates and

87

faculty (86 men, 21 women, 4 faculty) who were then in military service.* The
Alumni Association presented this powerful symbol to the school as part of a
memorial service for Anthony Palermo, who was killed in an Air Force training
crash in Georgia on October 27, 1943, and Warren Laws, a bomber pilot declared
missing in action after being shot down over Europe on September 6, 1943. Ruth
deVillafranca, faculty adviser to the class of 1941, eulogized Palermo. K. Augusta
Sutton, faculty adviser of the class of 1942, paid tribute to Laws.**
Despite such vivid reminders, the war had less impact on the campus after

1943. The three-year accelerated program became optional, although 95 percent
of the students continued to rake some advantage of it. Jenkins felt the time had
come to look to the future. In December 1944, he appointed a Postwar Planning
Committee, headed by Sutton and made up of faculty, students, alumni and community leaders, to study the long-range needs of the college. The challenges were
daunting: an expected surge in enrollment, including increased numbers of men;
a demand for more varied programs to meet regional requirements, especially in
the fields of health care and technology; and the need for additional campus
buildings. Jenkins gave the members of the State Board of Education an indication of what lay ahead when he warned them in early 1945 that the citizens of
Fairfield and Litchfield Counties wanted more than a teachers college in Danbury.
"The people of Western Connecticut want a people's college in this area," he
declared. •

Note On Sources
The material about Ralph Jenkins comes from a variety of sources: the Alumni
Records of Dartmouth College; Kenneth Raymond, The History ofjohmon State College
(1985); The Danbury News-Times; campus publications (Dee Tee Cee, Campus Crier, The

Inkling) that covered Jenkins' activities and primed many of his commencs; and incerviews
with faculty and students. One of the most helpful interviews was with Dr. Ward Jenkins,
who supplied many insights about his father. The Ruth Haas Library Archives has a copy
of Jenkins' dissertation and most of his numerous publications about Henry Barnard.

*In all, 123 persons connected with the school served in the armed forces during World War II.
**Laws survived. He parachuted from his plane and, although severely burned, escaped to Spain with
the assistance of the French Underground. In early 1944, he made his way to England and safety.

88

-

-

-

--~

-

-

-

--

-

----

I

The Papers of the State Department of Education (Connecticut State Library, Record
Group 10, Box 24) contains lengthy unpublished annual reports of Higgins and Jenkins to
the Department of Teacher Preparation for the years 1933 to 1938. They are supplemented
by derailed statistics on the training schools.
The picture of campus life is based on material in publications such as the school catalog, school newspapers, and yearbooks. The personal details come from the memory of the
following former students and faculty: Gertrude Braun, Ralph Braibanti, Ann Titsworth
Carey, Charlotte Isham, Mort Johnson, Elizabeth Minck Laws, Mary Brennan Musnicki,
Elsie Lauricella Rader, Elizabeth McNamara, Barbara Warner Obeda, and Truman Warner.
Ann Titsworth Carey supplemented her interview with a detailed written reminiscence of
the daily routine in Fairfield Hall. Marie Tomaino Prebenna spoke about her life as a
Danbury student and as an elementary school teacher, during a symposium on "Women
in Education," sponsored by the Western Connecticut State University Department of
Education on March 1, 1994. Helping to bring this era to life are four bulging scrapbooks
in the Haas Library Archives. Covering the years 1934-1944, these were compiled by the
publicity committee of the Cooperative Student Government Association. Truman Warner
and Elizabeth Laws generously donated co the college archives fascinating and scarce memorabilia related to their student days.

Above: The 1938 men's basketball team. Alfred Geddes (top row, middle), who will later serve for
many years as dean of mm, is coach. (\'(ICSU Archives)

89

Left: D11ri11g its first
acade111ic year ( 1904-05 ),
Da11b11ry Nor111al School
conducted classes on tbe
third floor of the neu•
Danb11ry High School 011
Alai11 Street. (Postcard
((}flrtesy of Stephell Flanaga11)
Below: The 11/e/1/bers of the
first grad11ati11g class pose
for a pict11re i 11 fro /II of Old
Mai11. Pri11cipal )oh11
Perkim is ill the toj1 rou•
ceJ11e1: Lothrop Higgius is to
his right. (\fiCSU Archwes)

Left: The fiw Nor111al
School b!li!ding (Old Alain),
1111der comtmction i11 the
Sill/Wier of 1904. The
iuitials of the general
co11tractm; H. \flales Li11es
Co111pa11)' of Meride11, are
disjJ/a;,ed 011 the b11ilding
jro11t. (WCSU Archiz,es)

Left: Students line uj1 in
front of the Lomst i\z1enue
"model" school (mrrently
the home of Danbm)' public
school system's i\lternc1tiz,e
High School) in this II) I 0
j1hotogmph. Old Alain is in
the backgro11nd.
(\VCSU i\rchit,es)

i\ boz•e: Dcmb11ry 11 as the
rudy Cmmectimt nomlal
school to require jJI'tlcticeteacbing in tl mral school
like the one-room Mil)
Brook school shou'JJ in this
photogl'tljJ!J (CIJ'Ctl 1907 ).
Note: The f lag bas on!) 46
stars. (IVCSU Archives)
Left: Members of the
Normal School "Senior 1\
Division" on a geogmpby
field trip, in Febmm)
1916. (\Y1 CSU i\rcbit•es)

l?igbt and bol/om: Tbese
majJsbots, taken by <Ill
<IIWII)'/1/0//J student, gil'e
two 11iews of tbe 1925
Field Day. At rigbt is a
synchronized flag l"outine;
at bollom, memben of tbe
senior class dance mwmd
tbe MaJ1JOie.
(\VCSU Arcbit,es)

Aboz,e: \'(!bite Street was
tbe educational Wiler of
Danbm)' in tbe 1930s.
Left to Rigbt: DanbmJ
Higb Scbool and Fairfield
Hall ( botb ojmml in
1927), as well as Old
Main. Tbe bigb scbooluw
Jmrcbased hy tbe State of
Conuectimt all(l became
\'(/bite Hall in tbe mid
1960s. (\YICSU Arcbives)

'

-

----

--

~

Left: A Teachers College
student exfilaim r/11
exjJeriment in ri H iggim
Hall science /rib (!rile
1940s). Visiting edumtirm
Jlrofessor Normrm Reed is on
the right.
(\'(ICSU Archiz,es)

tlbiJIIe: The I 940-41
Drmblll) Teachers College
((ltalog C<illed affention to
the recreational of!lwrflmities at the school. "Sfiorts
Day" tl'rls held on the
athletic field bebiml
Fai1jield Hall.
(\YICSU Archiz,es)
Left: Teacbers College
students fiercb on tbe rocks
ab011e the Housatonic l?wer
on a geogmfiby field trifi in
tbe 1930s.
(WCSU Archiz,es)

.

l?igbt: "The Hut" serwd
multiple functiom from
1946 zmtil it ll'fiS replaced
by l'demorial Hall in
1959. Alusic professor
l?utb de Villafranca and
two students participate in
rl recording session in 1949.
(\f/CSU Arcbiz,es)

Above: Students in 1940
jJI"epare for a biqde
ollfilzg. (WICSU Arcbiws)
Right: Students in tbe
1950s wait in line for
mffee at tbe mack bar iu
tbe Hut. (\f/CSU Arcbiz·es)

Left: Members of tbe Social
Science-H istOI)' Department
meet in the Higgins Hall
lounge, (/(l;acent to tbeir
offices (mid 1960s). From
left: Cbaimwn Carl
Petterescb, Tmman \Y"mm:
t\!ctrthct Counts, Adell//
Bileck;, Tom Godu'tlrd cmd
Arnold Stinchfield.
(IY' CSU Arcbit,es)

Abot•e: ClciSses in tbe
1960s t ied for bonors i11
tbe floctt competition, one of
tbe bigbligbts of Sjwing
\'(leekend.
(I'(ICSU Arcbit,es)
Left: After its constmction
in 1954, Berkshire Hall
btcame the principle ctcctdemic
Inti/ding on campus. Here
in tbe late 1950s, students
take a final exallllllcltion in
tl first floor dttssroom.
(IYICSU Arcbi/les)

Right: Amdemic Dean
Gertmde Bra/Ill meets with
st11dmts in the 1960s.
(\VCSU Archives)
Below: In the early 1980s
"Project Acorn" rez,ived the
spirit of "Do Day." BiologJ•
Professor Howtml Rmsock
(stmuling) and student
Chris McDonough plant
shmbs aro11nd Haas
Librm)'. (IVCSU ArcbitJes)

/Vgbt: Prior to the 1990s,
st11dents registered in j1ersrm
each semester in the Bill
Williams gJ•mnasimn.
Here. d11ring tbe 1970s,
st11dmts demonstrate tbat the
time-COJ/SI/Jning process did
JWt dampen tbeir good
hmmu: (\VCSU Archit•es)
Following page:
Aerial z•iew of the !Hidtou•n
camjms, spring 2002.
(Photo by Peggy Stewart)

Left: Loml mmiciam
belped juJjmlarize tbe
Cbarles ft,es Center ll'itb
mfomwl amcerts in tbe late
19 Os and et~rly 1980s.
Tbe Unitll!rsit; s Wertside
CtllnjiiiS ll'aS Sf il/11ntfer
comtmct irm. ( Pboto m11rtcs;
of tbc lr•es Center)
Belou': Aeritd 11ieUJ of tbe
\Yiestside camjms. sjn·ing
2002.
(Photo by Peggy Stetl'({rt)

Left: Tbe dtiSsroom bllilt!ing on the \Vestside camp11s
opened in 1982. Tbe
f'Y''(IIIIiclal sm/pt11re, a
prod11ct of Connectimt's
"One-jJercent for Art"
jll'ogram, ///tiS created by
\Yicrrrm Owens and
imtalled in 1983.
(Photo by Peggy SteUJart)

Right: For the ninth comeclltive yem; tbe i'vliddlefort
PijJe Band led the parade of
grad11ates who received their
degrees at the 2002 COIJImencement on the \Yiestside
camp11s.
(Photo by Peggy Stewart)
Below: Whm the William
O'Neill Center finally
oj1ened on the Westside
camp11s ill 1994, it filled
ct long-standi11g 11eed for a
modem athletic facility.
(Photo by Peggy Stewart)

Right: The thirty-three-acre
Westside Nat11re Preserve
opened to the p11blic i11 1997.
D1: Stephen \Yiagener led a
biology class alo11g the twomile trail.
(Photo by Peggy Stewart)
Fo/lou•i11g page: St11dents
gather for a memorial trib11te
to the victims of the September
11th ten·orist attacks. 111
1916, Marg11erite \'(/heeler's
ki11dergarten class plallfed
the red oak tree. (Photo by
Erin Kieman, Nezl's-Times)

PAR.T THR.EE ce!e> THE STATE COLLEGE

DANBURY: ECONOMIC RESURGENCE

91

Opposite: \'(!bite Street near Main during tbe
October 1955 flood. Tbe need to control tbe
Still River sparked an extmsive urban renewal
program in downtown Danbury.
(Scott-Fanton Mmeum and Historical Society)

92

PART THREE *' THE STATE COLLEGE

DANBURY: ECONOMIC RESURGENCE
Mill towns all over New England died in the middle of the twentieth century. Everywhere, the pattern was the same. The dominant industry in each community closed or moved away, leaving behind vacant factories, stranded workers, and
ruined economies.
Danbury escaped this fate . The collapse of hatting after World War II did
not devastate the city that had been so dependent on this industry for a century.
Rather, a simultaneous influx of companies manufacturing sophisticated technical
products, many in the aerospace and communications fields, sparked an economic
resurgence. By 195 7, the Danbury economy was so robust that the head of the
Connecticut Development Commission could refer to the former Hat City as the
"hottest spot in the state for new industries." The experience of one of the first
high-tech companies ro locate in the city indicates the magnitude of the transformation. In 1943, the Barden Corporation, manufacturers of precision ball bearings for the Norden bombsight, began operation in the former Tweedy Silk Mill
on East Franklin Street. Less than twenty years later, the firm employed thirteen
hundred people-as many as were still working in all of Danbury's hat factories.
World War II damaged the already tottering hatting industry in several crucial ways. The conflict interrupted the normal supply of fur from Europe and
Australia. Because hatting was not considered an industry essential to the war
93

effort, skilled hatters were nor granted deferments from military service. Most hat
factories were of wood-frame construction, unsuitable for heavy machinery, and
therefore could nor be converted easily to mass production of war-related items.
As a result, Danbury did not benefit significantly from military contracts.
Instead, hundreds of workers left the city each day during the war years, traveling
by bus and in car-pools to jobs in Bridgeport, Stratford, Waterbury, Norwalk,
New Haven, and even as far away as the Pratt and Whitney factory in East
Hartford .
Hatting continued its rapid decline after the war. When the Mallory
Company, one of the oldest and largest hat manufacturers in the city, sold out to
the Stetson Company of Philadelphia in 1947, it marked the first time a Danbury
hat factory was not locally owned. Stetson steadily cut back production at the
Mallory plant, ultimately closing the facility altogether in 1965 . Two years
earlier, rhe Philadelphia firm had shut down the Frank Lee factory, which it
had purchased in 1960. Approximately 60 percent of the local work force was
engaged in hatting in 1947; ten years later the figure had plummeted to less than
20 percent. During the same interval, the number of hat factories in the city
dropped from over forty to only five.
Long before hatting faded, Danbury leaders attempted to diversify the city's
economy. As early as 1918, local businessmen organized the Danbury Industrial
Corporation, a non-profit private development company that at first had minimal
success in attracting varied industry to the city. Between 1940 and 1960, however, more than sixty companies opened or settled in Danbury. Many occupied
facilities built by the community-owned Industrial Corporation. Energetic,
innovative and flexible entrepreneurs flocked to the city during this period .
Individuals like John Douglas, the founder of Republic Foil, were eager to take
advantage of the many scientific breakthroughs made during the war.
Danbury offered migrating industry many advantages. A pool of workers,
including a large number of women, were accustomed to, and content with,
factory jobs. Vacant hat factories provided low-cost start-up quarters. The emerging interstate highway system made Danbury an affordable alternative for companies stymied by the high cost of real estate closer to New York City. Even though
94

the expressway by-pass around Danbury would not be completed until the early
1960s, plans were far enough along a decade earlier to stimulate development
on the fringe of the city. In 1955, Seymour Powers opened Commerce Park, the
first suburban industrial park in Danbury. A year later, Eagle Pencil left New
York City and built a modern factory near the projected route of the Yankee
Expressway, the local term for the segments of Routes 6 and 7 that would soon
be incorporated into the interstate system.
Danbury's 1950 population of about thirty thousand individuals, a modest 9
percent increase over the 1940 total, surged ahead in the next decade. Lawrence
Moore, a consultant with Technical Planning Associates of New Haven, put this
growth in perspective in his first report to the city planning commission. Moore
pointed out that Danbury had added eight thousand people in the thirty years
between 1920 and 1950; while in just the seven years from 1950 to 1957, the
city's population expanded by nine thousand people and the rate of increase did
not slow in the following decade. By 1970, Danbury's population topped fifty
thousand .
A change in leadership and attitude accompanied this economic renaissance
and population rise. A younger generation of men and women, many of them
executives with the recently arrived high-tech corporations, were determined to
make Danbury a more progressive place. During the 1950s and 1960s, the new
power elite tackled big problems. They supported a massive school building program, brought about consolidation of city and town government, and advocated
the physical rejuvenation of the downtown coupled with flood control of the Still
River.
Public schools felt the town's growth pains most acutely. Enrollment
burgeoned during the 1950s. The Board of Education tried to keep pace with this
growth by authorizing construction of five new elementary schools, all but one of
which were replacements for outmoded structures described caustically by one
school board member as "probably the most decayed public buildings that I ever
went into." Nevertheless, elementary schools remained seriously overcrowded.
The high school, built in 1927 to accommodate eleven hundred students, shifted
to double sessions in 195 7 . When a high school building referendum was defeat95

ed in 1959, a number of concerned citizens banded together in a grass roots
campaign to push through a comprehensive $9.5 million school construction
program. Known as the "Committee of 1000," this volunteer group combined a
massive, face-to-face lobbying effort with impressive radio and newspaper advertising that earned them national magazine coverage. The 1961 report of a professional consulting firm hired by the school board buttressed their arguments. In
three short years, warned the expert, the high school would have to resort to
triple sessions to handle a projected twenty-four hundred students. Voters were
finally convinced. Despite a mid-winter blizzard on voting day in 1962, they
flocked to the polls to approve the ambitious plan by an overwhelming margin.
As a result, Danbury built four new elementary schools and one of the largest
high schools in New England during the 1960s.
Rapid expansion exposed the weakness of Danbury's archaic form of dual
government that retained separate political systems for the city and the town. As
settlement grew outside the borders of the city in the 1950s, it became clear that
city taxpayers carried an inequitable burden of rising taxes to pay for sewers,
water, police and fire proteCtion for the larger town. Joint town-city committees
studied the subject with inconclusive results. Local industrialists, however, particularly the new breed of corporate executives, insisted that more efficient government was necessary if the city were to continue to attract desirable companies.
The Greater Danbury Association, led by prominent Republican politician T.
Clark Hull, responded to this threat by endorsing reform. When businessman J.
Thayer Bowman was elected mayor in 1961 on a platform advocating consolidation, it appeared that Danbury might soon join most other Connecticut cities in
abolishing dual government. However, it took another massive educational effort
by many of the same people who had championed the school building program
before voters, by a narrow margin, ended 143 years of divided rule in 1963.
In 195 5, Danbury had been in the process of shedding its image as a oneindustry mill town when the Still River, a small stream that usually meandered
unobtrusively through the city, flooded in August and again in October. These
unexpected acts of nature caused an estimated $3 million in damage to the downtown and low-lying industrial areas. Far from being a tragedy, the floods present96

ed an opportunity to address some serious urban problems. Businessmen, especially those who had recently settled in the city, formed the Citizens Committee for
Flood Control Action . F. E. Erickson, president of the Barden Corporation, whose
factory had been inundated in both floods, minced no words when he told the
group, "If we get another flood we're through ... We can't stay in Danbury."
Under the leadership of John McCann, head of the Chamber of Commerce and an
executive at Sperry Products, the flood committee pressured city government to
seek federal assistance for harnessing the Still River. The U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers' recommendation that the estimated $16 million cost for necessary
flood-control measures could not be paid by the federal government shocked and
disappointed Danbury officials.
However, the flood committee and the city government were resourceful.
They devised a more comprehensive approach that combined flood control with a
new federal program designed to rehabilitate slum neighborhoods. To tap into
available federal largesse, Danbury needed only to pay one-sixth of the cost of an
urban-renewal project in the Wooster Square section of downtown that was hardest hit by the floods. Conveniently, the federal government would pay two-thirds
of the cost while stare government would match Danbury's contribution. Such
generosity was irresistible. In April of 1956, voters enthusiastically endorsed a
$1.5 million bond issue to finance the local share of rhis plan.
The redevelopment process unfolded over the next decade. As federal rules
required, the city set up a planning commission, which drafted Danbury's first
master plan of development. The mayor appointed a redevelopment commission
to administer the renewal program. The Still River was straightened, channeled,
and speeded through the downtown. Ar the same rime, buildings in rhe flood
plain were bought and leveled to make way for more upscale tenants. Roads were
relocated and widened to improve traffic flow. A large indoor shopping mall, rhe
most ambitious new construction in the downtown, replaced the decrepit hat
shops and tenements in rhe Rose and River Street area in 1968 bur folded within
a decade.
The influential coalition of young professionals and long-rime city
residents paid less attention to some of the region's social problems. David

97

Wilder, a Columbia University sociologist, who in 1965 spent August and
September investigating the social needs of the city at the request of the teachers
college, emphasized in his report the seriousness of racial inequality. He pointed
out that, in the fifteen years from 1950 to 1965, the number of African
Americans in the city had grown from less than five hundred to an estimated
three thousand, an "increase which easily exceeds that of the region as a whole
and one that is not approached by any other ethnic group." Few unskilled jobs
were available for workers of any race. Although no Black ghetto existed in
Danbury, confinement of recent migrants to sub-standard housing scattered
throughout the city prompted a highly critical 1966 report of the Connecticut
Civil Rights Commission. Serious problems plagued youth . The dropout rate for
African Americans in the high school class of 1966, for example, was three times
that of other students. Police had

to

be summoned in 1965

to

deal with racial

violence involving teenagers.
The same forces that challenged the city of Danbury affected Danbury State
Teachers College. The 1950s and 1960s were a rime of dramatic growth for the
school as well as for the city. Enrollment increased, programs proliferated, more
faculty were hired, and the campus expanded . Racial tension appeared for the first
rime. In these tumultuous decades, the mission of the school broadened beyond
the exclusive training of elementary school teachers to embrace the multiple aims
of a regional college. •

98

Above: R11th Haas, shown at ber desk in Old Main in tbe early )ears of her presidmcy, had a greater
impact 011 the school than any otber single person. She served as dean and thm presidmt from 1931 to
1975. (I'(ICSU Archives)
Opposite: "The H11t" set"Ved as the school's cafetet·ia, bookstore, and social cmterfrom 1947 to 1960.
(\'(/CSU Archives)

100

CHAPTER SIX

RUTH HAAS BREAKS THE MOLD
Thursday, October 3, 1946, was Governor's Day at the Seventy-sixth
Danbury Fair, the first fair held since 1941. Honoring a long tradition, Governor
Raymond Baldwin, soon to become a United Stares senator, began his Danbury
visit with lunch at the Hotel Green as a guest of the Rotary Club. Radio newsman Lowell Thomas, a resident of nearby Pawling, New York, spoke at the event
about his recent trip to witness the atomic bomb tests at Bikini atoll. At two in
the afternoon, Baldwin and his party arrived at the fairgrounds. In his brief formal remarks, the astute politician promised the crowd he would order state engineers to redesign the nearby highways in an effort to avoid a repeat of the horrendous traffic jam that accompanied the record-breaking attendance of forty-two
thousand on the previous Sunday, the opening day of the fair.
That morning in 1946, Ralph Jenkins hurried back to Danbury from
Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, where he had been participating in a
week-long meeting of educators, in order to attend the Rotary luncheon for
the governor. After finishing the meal, he walked down White Street to the
campus, greeted his secretary cheerfully, went into his private office to the left of
the center entrance of Old Main, and, uncharacteristically, closed the door. Five
minutes later, the secretary tried to inform Jenkins of a phone call and found the
president had suffered a fatal heart attack. When Dean Ruth Haas informed the
101

Connecticut Department of Education by telephone of the death of the fifty-four
year-old Jenkins,* Commissioner of Education Alonzo Grace immediately
appointed her as acting president. At their next regular meeting on November
13th, which was held coincidentally in Danbury, the state board named Ruth
Haas the second president of Danbury State Teachers College. She had never
actually applied for the job; the board never considered choosing anyone else.
In one sense the selection of Haas was routine. She had an unmatched
knowledge of the workings of the school, the city, and the state. During her fifteen years as dean, she had earned the respect and affection of the college and
civic communities. However, because extraneous factors were involved, the decision was pathbreaking--even courageous. Haas was the first woman to head a
public college in Connecticut. Unlike her male predecessors who were New
England Protestants, Ruth Haas was a practicing Roman Catholic from upstate
New York. Governor James McConaughy, himself a former Wesleyan University
president, speaking at Haas' installation, commended the state board for ignoring
irrelevant considerations and seeking only "the best 'person'" for the job.
In later years, whenever she was asked about becoming president, Haas
insisted she had been surprised at her selection and had been "frightened, truly
frightened" at the prospect of running rhe college. Still, it is hard to imagine that
she was nor eager to assume a leadership post char would fulfill the aspirations
planted by her family and nurtured by her alma mater, Syracuse University, an
institution that championed women's advancement.
Haas was born in Solvay, New York, a suburb of Syracuse, in 1903, the
same year Danbury Normal School was established. Her father, Frederick, exerted
decisive influence in her life. Of German extraction, he had migrated as a young
man from his native Prince Edward Island in Canada to central New York state,
where he married, attended night school to get a background in business law,
and became a purchasing manager for Solvay Process Company. Enamored of
politics, he served as chairman of the board of education in Solvay. In 1917, this
*Roberta Mower, Jenkin's secretary, worried chat her resignation letter- made necessary by family
responsibilities and on the president's desk when he returned co the office might have triggered his
heart accack. Actually ic was a recurrence of a heart condition char hJd first been diagnosed shorcly
after Jenkins' arrival in Danbury.

102

ambitious, strong-willed man moved his wife and three daughters (Ruth was
che eldest) co Amherstburg, Canada, near Windsor, co help establish a faccory for
Bruner, Mond Limited, a subsidiary of Solvay Process. Although he never relinquished his American citizenship, Frederick Haas plunged inca local affairs.
When he died in 1942, the Amherstburg newspaper needed half a page

to

list

his civic contributions.
Haas idolized her father and inherited his resolute but reserved personality.
Family members recall her summer vacation routine during her early Danbury
years. After a grueling twelve-hour drive co Canada in her Buick aucomobile, she
would first present her father with a made-in-Danbury fedora and then spend
countless hours with him discussing politics. Given the fascination of both father
and daughter with politics, it is surprising that Frederick vetoed his daughter's
desire to pursue a career in law. Instead, he insisted Ruth and her sisters go into
teaching, a field he felt held more opportunity for women .
When Haas enrolled at Syracuse University in 1920, she entered a supportive environment that for che next decade would foster her leadership skills. She
was a competent student, majoring in European history and political science,
but it was outside the classroom that she made her mark. A versatile athlete, she
excelled in crack, baseball, basketball, and tennis. Her prowess as a softball player
was so great that one of her classmates referred to her as "the girl with the elastic
arm." Beneath the picture of a handsome, pleasant-looking young woman, the
1924 Onondagan detailed Haas' involvement in women's activities: membership in
the Women's Glee Club, the Women 's Class Advisory Board, on both the board
and the cabinet of the Women's Student Government Association, and chair of
the vocational committee of the YWCA. The quiet, non-abrasive feminism that
would characterize Haas' career as a college president had deep roots.
After graduation in 1924, Haas accepted a position as a high school
history teacher in Watertown, New York, without severing her ties to Syracuse
University. By caking summer courses, she earned a bachelor of science degree in
education in 1925 and made progress toward a master of arts degree. When high
school reaching proved unsatisfying, she turned to a former college teacher for
advice. She confided to Professor Alexander Flick, then the New York State

103

Historian, that despite being "considered quire successful for a novice" at Watertown (the school had boosted her $1,400 starring salary by $75 in recognition
of her good work), she was looking for an opportunity in history and education
"outside of the reaching field." Undeterred by Flick's warm but pessimistic
response,* Haas decided to return to Syracuse as a full-time graduate student
m 1927.
The next four years were critical in shaping Haas' professional career. She
hoped that the master's degree in political science she received in 1928 from the
Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs would lead to a college reaching
job, a goal encouraged by her mentor, Professor Finla Crawford, the vice-chancellor of the university. Twenty years later, Crawford, still one of her most loyal
backers, would be rhe featured speaker at President Haas' inauguration in
Danbury.** Unfortunately, political science in the 1920s, like most academic
fields, was a male-dominated discipline with few openings for women. Consequently, Haas remained ar Syracuse as an adjunct faculty member for four years.
She was a reaching assistant at the Maxwell School and offered an introductory
sociology course to freshmen women students in the College of Home Economics.
When Crawford learned that Danbury Teachers College sought a dean of women
in 1931-Haas recalled that it was "the first opening that anyone on campus had
heard of"-he advised his protege ro pur aside her academic ambitions "and make
a way for herself" in educational administration.
Thanks to her training at Syracuse, this shift in career focus did nor require
additional preparation. From 1927 to 1931, Haas had participated in a pioneer
program, set up by Dean of Women Iva Peters, that was designed to enhance the
life of women students. Rather than assigning freshmen women ro large, intimidating dormitories, Syracuse placed them in nearby former private homes that

*In a March 1925 letter, Flick wrote char positions in historical research were "at present rather
limited," and gently advised char "it would be wiser for you to continue in che field where there is
opportunity and in which you have been reasonably successful."
**Shortly after Haas had been named acting president in 1946, Crawford sene a congratulatory letter
urging her not to consider it as a temporary appointment. He advised her co "act posicively; increase
that confidence which the faculty has for you now." He predicted char "che rruscees will have great
difficulties in finding a person as well suited for the permanent job as yourself."

104

had been purchased and remodeled by the university. A female graduate student
was in charge of each of the fifteen "cottages." For four years, Ruth Haas served
as a dorm chaperone for one of these family-style residences. She gained valuable
experience helping young women adjust to college life, master social etiquette,
and excel in the classroom. In 1931, her last year on the Syracuse campus,
Schultze Cottage, where she was head resident, earned the highest academic average of all women's living centers. Haas was so effective with students that she
became a member of the dean of women's staff during the time that the innovative Student Dean Program was being developed.*
Her credentials seemed to fit Danbury's needs so perfectly that Lothrop
Higgins was willing to take the unusual step of traveling to Albany to interview
the young applicant for the position of dean of women. Haas was skeptical about
the job. She had no academic experience outside New York state. Even her master's thesis on the fiscal problems of education dealt exclusively with school systems in New York. The fact that she had never taught in an elementary school
made her uncomfortable with the prospect of a normal school post. Surely the job
would demand a grasp of the needs of children in the early grades. And, although
she was a champion of expanded opportunities for women, she had never been
associated with what was, in effect, a single-sex college. Her reservations were so
strong that she accepted the job with the intention of staying only two years .
Never a dynamic public speaker, she also took the opportunity to extort from
Higgins a promise that she would not be required to make any speeches.
Haas' first years in Danbury were an extension of her life at Syracuse. She
had an apartment in Fairfield Hall, supervised the living arrangements of eightyfive women, and taught an occasional history class. Her energy and athletic ability impressed Danbury students as they had those at Syracuse. Alumni recall fondly her willingness to accompany them on nightly forays through the tunnel that
connected the dorm with Old Main to play basketball. Like the cottage residents
at Syracuse University, the women who lived in Fairfield Hall appreciated her

*From 1931 ro 1969, the Student Dean Program at Syracuse University offered women a graduate
degree in student personnel work combined with experience as a dorm resident leader.

105

openness, candor, and concern for each individual. These same qualities won over
the male students, who entered the college in greater numbers after 193 7 and
who had frequent contact with Haas in her expanded role as academic dean.
Of the many congratulatory letters Haas received from alumni when she
became president, two in particular capture the warmth of rhe student-dean
relationship. One, from Charlotte Blight Valois, is especially poignant. The writer
first identified herself as "one of the 'lesser lights' in school, back in 1933," and
therefore someone the new president would probably not recall. The Chester,
Pennsylvania, resident then presented a heartfelt tribute. "However, I've always
remembered how very much you added ro making life pleasant, especially for a
shy and frightened freshman- and I know there are many, many more former
srudents who can look back on those days and remember your kindness." Mary
LaCava, summing up her note to the popular dean, wrote that rhe members of rhe
class of 1943 all agreed: "You can go to Dean Haas with anything and feel better
after you've talked to her."
Throughout her twenty-seven-year tenure as president, Ruth Haas maintained this close bond with students. She heeded the warning of Finla Crawford
that her promotion brought wirh ir rhe danger of losing touch with students.
"Avoid rhar ar all costs," rhe veteran Syracuse administrator cautioned in
November 1946. "One of the tragedies of rhe chief executive is isolation." This
never became an issue for Haas, as she prided herself on nor limiting her contacr
with students to prescribed hours. Whenever she was in her office in Old Main,
which was often because her work day began at 7 a.m., she welcomed all members of rhe campus community. She never deviated from this "open-door policy,"
as she termed ir. Even during the activist 1960s, when groups of irate undergraduates would crowd into her office to present their "demands," Haas mer rhem face
to face-much to rhe consternation of a campus security force worried about rhe
president's safety.
Armed with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree bestowed by her proud alma
mater in 1947, D1: Haas took over ar a turbulent rime in American higher education. Veterans of military service in World War II were raking advantage of the
educational subsidy offered by a grateful government and flooding college cam106

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puses. New buildings had co be built and additional faculty hired to accommodate increased enrollments. Courses had to be added to reflect a higher priority
being given co science and technology. Although Danbury Scare Teachers College
responded to these developments in much the same way as did all other colleges
and universities, in one respect Danbury was a unique and exciting place. During
the late 1940s and 1950s, the still-small school, profiting from a close relationship with Columbia University Teachers College, earned a national reputation for
curriculum reform that emphasized learning by doing. Dean of Women Claire
Trish Geddes, one of the young, idealistic faculty members caught up in these
experiments, captured the spirit of innovation chat pervaded rhe campus when,
years Iacer, she said with pride to an interviewer, "We weren't afraid to break rhe
mold."
Anyone who might have read the February 194 5 report of the Post-War
Planning Committee appointed by President Jenkins had a right to be skeptical
of its claim that western Connecticut could support a college of seven hundred
students. At chat rime, Danbury had only 172 students, all of them women. Only
rarely during the first forty years of irs existence did the size of the student body
exceed rwo hundred. In the next fifteen years, however, Danbury Stare Teachers
College twice doubled in size. By 1960, the school had almost reached rhe visionary seven hundred figure; official full-rime enrollment was 698. For rhe first rime,
rhe college, strapped for dormitory space, had to reject qualified applicants.
Three engines pushed enrollment upward: the G.I. Bill, the appeal of a
more varied curriculum, and rhe extreme shortage of qualified elementary school
reachers. Passed by Congress in 1944, rhe Serviceman's Readjustment Act provided educational benefits for all who served in World War II and was parrly responsible for rhe surge of growth. From 1947 to 1950, veterans made up about 20
percent of the Danbury student body. Although fewer ex-G.I. 's enrolled than
expected (sarellire campuses set up by Danbury in Torrington and Norwalk in
1946 to accommodate those returning from the war closed after a single year
because of low registration), veterans significantly increased the number of male
students on the Danbury campus. These older men called attention to their distinctive status by organizing a social club called ERUTMA, an anagram of the

107

word "mature." Whether they were veterans or simply young male high school
graduates, by 1950 almost half of Danbury's 362 students were men.
Several new programs inaugurated in 1945 attracted additional students.
Danbury became the first stare school to offer a four-year degree in music education for both elementary and secondary reachers. Limited by the state board ro
one hundred students, the program became increasingly selective, requiring candidates ro audition for admission . Two-year tracks in electronics, pre-engineering
and lab technology, as well as a two-year curriculum leading to a bachelor of science degree for registered nurses, responded to the perceived needs of the region.
In addition, the school offered extension courses in communities throughout
Fairfield and Litchfield Counties.
Demography was probably the most important factor in boosting enrollment at all the reachers colleges. The birth rate in Connecticut soared in the postwar years as returning veterans married and started families . More than forty-four
thousand babies were born in the stare in 1947, double the total born during
1935, the mid-point of the Depression. As children born in the late 1940s and
early 1950s entered school and moved through the educational system, they
created a huge demand for teachers. Connecticut cried to fill chis void by enticing
back into the classroom women with teaching certificates who had left co raise
their families, and by granting provisional teaching certificates co liberal arcs
graduates who could complete education courses during summer. The first class
of fourteen members of the Intensive Program for College Graduates easily found
teaching jobs after just eight weeks of summer training at Danbury in 1949. Still,
the supply of teachers fell far short of the demand. In September 1956, one hundred classrooms in the state could not be staffed . This shortage could be remedied
only by increasing the output of the state's teachers colleges.
The size and composition of the college faculty changed significancly during
the pose-war years . Between 1945 and 1960, the number of faculty grew from
seventeen

to

fifty. Veteran normal school stalwarts like Grant Finch, Jesse Brill,

and May Sherwood retired . Younger teachers, all with master's degrees and a significant number with Ph.D.'s, rook their place. The self-study conducted for the
American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education in 195 3 as parr of
108

Danbury's reaccreditation revealed that eight faculty members had doctorates,
compared with only one in 1945. It also highlighted the recent arrival of most of
the teaching staff: twenty-five of the thirty-four faculty had been hired within the
previous four years.
The larger size of the school also forced administrative adjustments. Dr.
Haas was serious when she assured the students shortly after she assumed the
presidency, "There isn't any change in our standing. In the future our relationship
shall be the same as in the past, only better." To underscore her determination to
maintain personal contact with the students, she retained responsibility for academic advisement.
However, the cask proved too formidable. By 1949, Haas realized that
she could not continue

to

be both dean and president. Consequently, she named

F. Burton Cook to a new post as dean of the college. Cook, in some ways, was an

awkward choice. Even though he had a doctorate from Yale, he demonstrated
lict!e scholarly depth. His pre-war academic career had been primarily in high
school administration, and before he came to Danbury he had been an advisor at
the Bridgeport Veterans Center. Buc another part of his resume impressed Haas.
Cook had served in the United Scares Army from 1941 to 1945, emerging with
the rank of lieutenant colonel. In his first years at Danbury as director of extension programs and head of audio-visual services, he exhibited efficiency, common
sense and reliability. Cook, who remained as dean until he became president of
Post Junior College in Waterbury in 1970, was in effect Ruch Haas' chief of scaff.
When Danbury residents drove down White Street during the 1950s, the
constant sight of construction equipment reminded chem thac Danbury Scare
Teachers College had become one of the fastest growing institutions in the cicy. In
che course of a single decade, eight new buildings sprouted on che ciny downtown
campus, and additional land was purchased for more expansion. This building
spree contrasted vividly wich previous inactivity. With che exception of three surplus government Quonset hues puc up in 1947 behind Old Main, no conscruccion
had caken place since the completion of Fairfield Hall twenty years earlier.
Campus expansion followed no master design. Such long-range comprehensive planning was difficult for cwo reasons. First, financing of capital improve109

mencs depended on a fickle legislature. Despite constant badgering by the Scare
Board of Education, which adopted a ten-year building program for the reachers
colleges in 1948, the Connecticut General Assembly was frugal. Each biennial
session triggered a new barrie for funds with an uncertain outcome. The legislature considered a total of forty-seven bills dealing with physical facilities ar the
four stare colleges between 1949 and 1959, bur it approved only twenty-six.
Second, Ruth Haas was also responsible for the incremental pattern of campus
growth. She did nor yearn to build monumental structures. Unlike many college
presidents, Haas did not even chink of physical facilities on a grand coordinated
scale. Rarl1er, her natural inclination to deal with building needs in a fragmented,
piecemeal manner made her comfortable with the legislature's tendency to consider construction requests on a situation-by-situation basis.
When Ruth Haas became president, the college desperately needed better
facilities. Nearly a half century of use had taken irs roll on Old Main, the single
all-purpose academic building. State Senator Alice Rowland of Ridgefield told
her colleagues on the education committee in 1947, "No institution in the State
of Connecticut char I have visited since last January has had such bad conditions
as I find at Danbury." Science rooms were particularly dismal. All the science
courses shared a single lecture hall and cramped laboratory that accommodated
only fifteen students at one rime. The remaining facilities in Old Main, including
the gymnasium with irs low ceiling and an undersized auditorium, had been
designed to serve two hundred students. In addition, ever since the 1930s, the
inability of the city of Danbury to provide a suitable practice school for student
reachers had frustrated college officials.
The legislature responded to these pressing needs grudgingly. In 1947,
the General Assembly appropriated $400,000 for a new science building.
Higgins Hall, named after the school's first science reacher and second principal,
opened in September 1950. Originally a small structure creatively described by
the Danbury News-Times as "semi-Colonial," it housed all the science classrooms,
laboratories, and offices within irs two floors and basement. It was quickly outmoded. An addition that doubled the size of Higgins Hall would be opened
in 1959.
110

In 1949, the legislature appropriated one million dollars for construction of
a classroom building with an auditorium seating six hundred and a respectable
gymnasium. The state comptroller put this action in proper perspective when he
ordered Danbury architect Philip Sunderland to come up with a simple design
"without frills." Sunderland, who would leave his imprint on several campus
buildings, attempted to comply, bur a combination of escalating construction
costs and a shortage of steel brought on by the Korean War forced him to delete
the gymnasium from the plan. When Berkshire Hall opened in 1954, even without the gym, it was the school's largest building, containing more than twice the
combined space of the three existing structures. Delay in adding the gymnasium
was expensive. The final cost of the athletic wing, completed in 1959, was double
the original estimate.
The General Assembly balked at funding a new "lab" school for the college.
Senator Rowland's bill, which proposed that the state share costs with the city for
an up-to-date elementary school to replace the decrepit Balmforth Avenue School
as a training facility for student teachers, was defeated in 1949. The most the legislature would do was authorize the transfer of state-owned land on Roberts
Avenue to the city. Undaunted, Danbury voters, prodded by an energized parentteacher association, approved a bond issue in 1951 covering the entire cost of a
new practice school on this site. The Roberts Avenue School, staffed by college
faculty, welcomed 450 students for the first rime in September 1953. It would
continue

to

be operated by the college until 1968.

After several lean sessions, the General Assembly was more generous with
the state colleges in 1955 and 1957. Along with financing the addition to
Higgins and the gymnasium, Danbury spent its share of the appropriation on a
forty-six room extension

to

the rear of Fairfield Hall in 195 7, and on a modern

heating plant and the remodeling of Old Main, both in 1959. Additional land
was purchased on White Street for another dormitory, and on Osborne Street for
athletic fields.
The final building erected in the decade, the student union, was completed
in 1960, and was more than just another functional structure: it summed up a
decade of change. Since 1947, a snack bar, book store, and social room had been
111

crammed inca a World War II government surplus corrugated metal relic so tiny
the same staff operated the bookstore and the food service, which meant the
bookstore had to close each day during lunch. Officially named Curley Hall in
honor of Thomas Curley, a popular student and Navy veteran who died unexpectedly in 1948, the students and faculty affectionately referred to the meager informal space available to them as "The Hue." Memorial Hall, the bland, impersonal
designation given to the building that replaced this Quonset hut, contained
ample meeting rooms, lounges, and a dining room that accommodated three hundred at a single sitting. The alteration in scale, ambiance, and even in name of the
new student center indicates the distance traveled by Danbury State Teachers
College in the 1950s.
Yet the school's commitment to educating teachers remained constant in
this decade of change. In 1954-195 5-the year the school first exceeded four
hundred full-time students-Danbury was still very much a teachers college. Two
hundred and fifty of the 420 students were preparing

to

be elementary teachers,

while fifty-six more were majoring in music education. Students had to earn
admission to the education program. The faculty evaluated each student's performance after the first two years of liberal arts courses. Even though jittery sophomores worried about being "screened out" of education, in fact more than 90
percent won faculty approval for professional training.
Rejecting the top-down approach of Meader and Meredith, the State Board
of Education no longer imposed a standard curriculum on the reachers colleges.
On the contrary, Commissioner of Education Alonzo Grace ( 1938-48) and his
successor, former New Haven Teachers College President Finis Engleman (1948 1956), encouraged local experimentation. Both believed, as Grace phrased it,
that "Growth from the bottom is infinitely sounder and more durable than domination from the top." Grace first sanctioned this freedom to innovate when he
assured college officials in 1945 that "Unity does not mean uniformity. Each
faculty may determine its own [curriculum) pattern and a basic pattern is not
necessarily desirable."
Ruth Haas seized this opportunity. She sensed that the time was right to
find a fresh path that would provide a more substantive education for students,
112

take advantage of the creativity of the young and eager faculty, and-not incidentally-mark her administration as forward-looking and innovative. One of Haas'
strengths as an administrator was her willingness to seek expert advice. In 1947,
she hired an old friend, Professor Florence Stratemeyer, an elementary education
curriculum specialist at Columbia University Teachers College, as a consultant
"to stir the pot," as one faculty member characterized it . Brimming with ideas,
Stratemeyer had been at the forefront of the crusade for experiential learning at
Teachers College. In the 1930s, she was a bulwark of the faculty at New College,
Columbia's avant-garde undergraduate education school which required students
to complete demanding off-campus internships. In the post-war years, when
Teachers College shifted its priority away from operating model campus schools
to acting as a resource for public schools, Stratemeyer became an ambassador to
receptive teacher-preparation institutions around the country. During the ten
years Florence Stratemeyer served as consultant to Danbury State Teachers
College, she helped make the school a vibrant educational laboratory, an outpost
of Columbia University Teachers College.
Columbia also channeled promising graduates to Danbury. Dean of Women
Claire Trisch Geddes and Coordinator of Elementary Education Paul Williams
were New College alumni. Martha Counts, the daughter of well-known Columbia
professor George Counts, received her master's from Teachers College in 1949.
Urged by Columbia faculty to accept a position at Danbury in 1954, she became
the head of the social science and history department a few years later.
Morningside Heights was also the favorite destination for Danbury faculty
seeking a higher academic degree. Gertrude Braun, who during an illustrious
thirty-two year career would serve as academic dean, academic vice president and
twice as acting president of the school, came to Danbury in 1945 after finishing
her master's at Yale, to replace K. Augusta Sutton, then on the verge of retirement. Chair of the powerful curriculum committee in the late 1950s, Braun
earned her Ed.D. in 1956 from Teachers College, where Florence Stratemeyer
served as her mentor. Carl Petteresch , the first graduate dean, received his Ph .D.
in history from Columbia in 1957. Throughout the decade, approximately onethird of the Danbury faculty possessed an advanced degree from Columbia.

113

From 1948 to 1951, the faculty, spurred on by Stratemeyer, went through
an excruciating process of trying to codify how good teachers behave in five areas:
with children, with colleagues, in the community, in their professional lives, and
(predictably the most controversial category) in their personal lives. What came
out of this soul searching was an eight-page, single-spaced document entitled
"Good Elementary Teachers' Do's" that enumerated hundreds of ideal characteristics of successful teachers. The list ran the gamut from the mundane "lives within
income" to the sublime "attempts to develop sensitivity to beauty." Before distributing the report, the curriculum committee felt obliged to preface it with the
reassuring caveat that "Not all teachers will do all these things ."
The next step was more concrete but equally challenging. After the faculty
approved these guidelines in June 1951, at what had become an annual weeklong post-graduation workshop, it set out to fashion courses and develop out-ofclass experiences that would promote such positive qualities. Two structures with
almost comic acronyms emerged. All faculty who primarily taught freshmen or
sophomores banded together into what were labeled the Freshman Instructional
Team (FITS) and the Sophomore Instructional Team (SITS). Each member of these
teams assumed responsibility for advising six to eight students . A two-hour block
of time was set aside in the weekly class schedule, so each team could meet to
share information about advisees, to coordinate course assignments, and to find
ways of linking the classroom with the larger world. Despite a heavy five-course
teaching load, the faculty eagerly met, talked, planned, and eternally evaluated.
They organized ambitious field trips. In April 195 3, the entire sophomore class
and its teachers traveled to Boston to visit literary, historical, and cultural sites for
three days. Two years later, the freshman class and faculty trekked to New York
City for two days to fulfill six carefully defined educational purposes including
"to gain direcr experience with foreign cultures through contact with the people
in their groups." It was a "tremendously exciting time," recalled Alice Donnelly,
the head of the physical education department.
In 1948, the college returned to a two-semester calendar from the accelerated wartime schedule, thereby creating another opportunity to get students off
campus and into the community. For the next ten years, all freshmen and sopho114

mores were required to spend a month between semesters in a non-paying position with a business, government agency, or non-profit association. The rationale
was simple. As Dr. Haas told prospective sponsors in 1951, "The community
needs teachers whose interests extend beyond the walls of the school."
Administered by a faculty committee, the Interim Program, as it was called,
placed between two hundred and three hundred undergraduates each year in a
wide range of positions. Most were in Connecticut, but many were out of state.
Ben DaSilva, class of 1952, learned much about life in his freshman Interim
assignment at the Danbury Federal Correctional Institution, where he witnessed a
fight between two knife wielding inmates. The experience of Diane Rebenstein,
class of 1954, working at the Boston University radio station WBUR, was more
tame. Her daily log, neatly recorded in a three-by-five-inch notebook, reveals that
she also learned valuable life skills, not the least of which was how to live in
Boston for a month on $100.72! Each faculty member monitored eight to ten
undergraduates. Many members traveled as far as Washington or Boston without
reimbursement of their expenses. Most faculty (like Edwin Rosenberg, who came
to Danbury in 1956 after getting his M.A. at Columbia Teachers College) willingly accepted the rigors of the Interim Program even though it required donning
boots to trudge through the mud to visit a student working on a farm one day,
and dressing up to travel to New York City to supervise several interns at the
American Association for the United Nations a few days later.
Although unconnected with the curriculum, "Do-Day," the brainchild of
young Science Professor John Murphy, reflected the school's belief in learning by
doing. Beginning in 1948, faculty and students spent one day each spring performing maintenance casks around the campus. An elected male dean of women
supervised the work of female students while men were bossed by an elected
female dean of men chosen in campaigns chat were often zany and always creative.
One enterprising candidate, for example, made a speech from the top of a fire
truck ladder. Another flaunted a letter of endorsement purportedly from President
Harry S. Truman. The annual work party boosted campus morale. The sight of
President Haas dressed in jeans as she swept the sidewalk shattered stereotypes. A
picnic, subsidized by the faculty, followed by evening skits in the auditorium,

115

broke down barriers berween srudents and faculry. Neil Wagner, class of 1952
and for many years dean of extension services, called ir "A wonderful day ... a
caralysr for feeling of family."
Discussion over coffee ar "The Hue." stimulated the most radical curriculum
experiment. In 1958, four faculty members from different disciplines shared their
unhappiness with the fragmentation of knowledge in academe, complaining chat
science, humanities, art, and music needed to be integrated. Led by charismatic
Frederick Lowe of the English department, a recent recipient of a Ph.D. from
Columbia University, this tiny band persuaded the faculty to let them introduce
what was intended to be a four-year, interdisciplinary course sequence that would
fulfill the general education requirement for elementary education students.
The first course, grandly entitled "Monuments of Culture," was offered to
freshmen during the academic year 1958-59. Five days per week students and faculty either listened to lectures or participated in small group discussions examining from multiple perspectives four cultural artifacts: The Education of Henry
Adams, Picasso's painting "Girl Before a Mirror," The Communist Manifesto, and

Einstein's Theory of Relativity. In weekly preparation sessions, che core facultyLowe, historian Martha Counts, Jim Timmins of the art department, and scientists Lon Edwards and Chris Rafter-thrashed out ideas in the English department office in Berkshire Hall. Without secretarial support, they typed, duplicated, collated, and stapled bibliographies and syllabi. They recruited guest speakers
from within and outside the faculty and even brought the students to New York
City for a visit to the Hayden Planetarium and a performance of "West Side
Story." The goal of all this dedicated effort was to bring students into direct (if
forced) contact with great minds.
When asked forty years later how the students reacted to this onslaught,
Martha Counts smiled and said candidly, "I think they were overwhelmed." A
letter to the student newspaper written in January 1959 by "Some Down-Trod
Frosh" confirmed this judgment. Clearly frustrated by the amount of work
expected as much as by anything else, the students castigated the course as "A
disorganized mass of general confusion ." The criticism, though juvenile and
intemperate, prompted a full-page rebuttal by Dean Burton Cook in the follow116

ing issue of the Echo. The "Monuments of Culture" course had also generated
reservations among the faculty, who voted to abandon it after a single year.
The premature termination of "Monuments of Culture" completed a retreat
from experimentation. By the end of the decade, all of Danbury Teachers College's
bold educational reforms had disappeared. Mimeographed copies of the "Elementary Teacher's Do's" gathered dust. The freshman and sophomore instructional
reams expired in 1956. Interim ended a year later. Do-Day evolved into Spring
Weekend-the party without the manual labor-at about the same time. Size
alone altered the school's chemistry. What was feasible with four hundred students was unwieldy with twice that number. The Interim Committee, for example, found it impossible to find and administer suitable placements for three hundred freshmen and sophomores. A study of the program by a Columbia Teachers
College graduate student in 1957 reinforced doubts about the value of makeshift
internships. The enlargement of the faculty and the inevitable hardening of
departmental boundaries contributed to a coolness toward interdisciplinary
cooperation.
An even more fundamental reason for the demise of the educational
experiments of the 1950s was the shift in the nature of the school from a teachertraining institution to a general-purpose college. The impetus for innovation at
Danbury during the post-war years had come from the determination of President
Haas and the faculty to produce better teachers. When the mission of the school
expanded to embrace areas other than teacher preparation, this shared commitment, which had provided the cohesion and motivation responsible for reform,
declined.
Throughout the 1950s, the state board resisted efforts to broaden the mandate of the teachers colleges. In 1956, the board rebuffed a request by the four
presidents to eliminate the word "Teachers" from the name of each school, arguing that this would misrepresent the basic purpose of the institutions. Two years
later, the new commissioner of education, William Sanders, agreed to alter the
name of the schools, but he was adamant that all graduates must still meet teaching certification requirements. In 1959, the General Assembly by-passed the
State Board. State Senator Norman Buzaid of Danbury, annoyed that many of his
117

constituents had to leave home to finish their college education unless they wanted to be teachers, introduced a bill of far-reaching consequences. Not only would
it make the cosmetic name change, but it would direct Danbury to grant fouryear degrees in fields other than education. The bill, approved by the legislature,
extended the name change and the new mission to all the teachers colleges.
Despite the continued resistance of the state board, the legislature restructured
higher education in Connecticut by making Danbury and its sister schools
multiple-purpose state colleges. This rare intrusion of the Connecticut General
Assembly into curriculum matters pushed Danbury State College into a
new era. •

Note On Sources
Documentation for this period of the university's history is plentiful. Fredericka
Batchelor, Ruth Haas' niece, donated memorabilia connected with the career of her aunt to
the Ruth Haas Library Archives. Among important items in this collection is a scrapbook
of clippings and personal letters compiled by her mother, Fredericka Haas Batchelor. A
1975 Jack Friel interview with Haas, and one with Joseph Batchelor, her brother-in-law,
conducted by the author in 1999, were essential. The personnel at the Syracuse University
Archives helped locate items that illuminated Haas' years at the university. The wellorganized files of the Student Dean Program were especially rich.

Do-day actiz,ities in 1948 (clockwise from left)
A student work party concentrates 011 manimring the lawn in from of Faitfield Hall. Navy
veteran Thomas Curley attracted attellfion to
his campaign for the post of dean of women by
blocking the steps of Old Main with his jeep.
After the work and play were ove~; the famlty
provided refreshments. (\VCSU Archives)

118

Faculty and students active at the Danbury Teachers College in the 1950s helped illuminate what was happening on campus during that dynamic decade. Gertrude Braun rook
time for three long interviews and never failed to respond promptly to letters and phone
calls. Alfred and Claire Geddes cheerfully submirced to an inrerview and follow-up telephone questions. Edwin Rosenberg supplemented his oral history tape with a series of colorful written vignettes of his years on the Danbury faculty. In addition to traveling to
Danbury for an informative interview, Martha Counts supplied a copy of the syllabus for
the "Monuments of Culture" course. The following students shared their recollections of
attending Danbury State Teachers College in this period: Harriet Blum, Ben DaSilva,
Edyce Dash iff Hornig, Joseph Lehney, Harriet Rosenberg and Sheila Shearson. Twenty-five
years ago, Jack Friel raped and placed in the archives indispensable interviews with the following faculty: F. Burton Cook, Alice Donnelly, William Espositio, John Tufts, William
McKee, Neil Wagner, and Mervin Whitcomb.
I am grateful for the ardent record-keeping that accompanied the educational experiments of the 1950s, and for the sometimes-haphazard process that preserved these reports,
minutes, and memos in the Haas Library Archives. The stories of the Teachers Do's, FITS
and SITS, Interim, and the "Monuments of Culture" ventures were recovered from these
mundane documents. The 195 3 "Report ro the American Association of Colleges For
Teacher Education" affords a succinct summary of the roots of these reforms. Three bulging
scrapbooks, compiled by an anonymous benefactor and carefully preserved in the Archives,
constitute a valuable supplement to all the above. They contain newspaper clippings perraining to campus events from 1950 to 1959.

Below: This late 1950s commeucemeut parade, from Old Main along 1111paved Roberts Avenue to the
Osbome Street athletic field, 1111derscores that Da11bmy State Teachers College zvas still a small school.
(\VCSU Archives)

119

Above: The Vietnam \Var stirred opposition even among a
basically conservative studellf body.
Uames Dyer Collection)
Opposite: Freshmen wearing "\\'l'CS" beanies 1·egister iii 1967.
(\\'l'CSU Archit,es)

120

CHAPTER SEVEN

THE MORE THAT COME, THE FEWER I KNOW
Like all male students, Rick Asselca lived off campus while he attended
Danbury Scare College in the mid-1960s. He depended upon a temperamental
automobile, a bicycle, and public transportation to get from his home on
Washington Avenue to school. On one bus ride, he struck up a conversation with
another passenger who asked where he was going. When he responded char he
was on his way to the college, the elderly woman replied, "Oh, you go co the
Normal School!"
If the normal school image of a small, predominantly female, exclusively
elementary-reacher-training institution lingered in the minds of some Danburians, by the 1960s it bore little relationship to reality. During chis decade, the
school became a large, multi-purpose college with the new name of Western
Connecticut Stare College befitting its enlarged role.
The pace of growth was astonishing. In September 1965, the freshman class
totaled 501 members, larger by one hundred than the entire student body ren
years earlier. Faculty were added in unprecedented numbers. Between 1965 and
1968, seventy-five new reachers doubled rhe size of the staff. The menu of courses
expanded; the 1960 catalog listed 114 courses, while rhe catalog for 1970 enumerated 372. Most students were no longer elementary education majors. After
1961, the school offered undergraduate degree programs in six liberal arts disci121

plines and began training secondary education reachers in the same subject fields.
Other options were available, as well. When Danbury Hospital discontinued its
nursing school in 1965, the college quickly inaugurated a four-year bachelor of
science degree in nursing. A business administration major was added in 1968.
This massive change in the school's scale and complexity exacted high social
costs. Rituals and procedures char had meaning co students when the college was
small and homogeneous could nor accommodate a larger and more varied student
body. For the first time, many Danbury students remained detached from college
life. On the ocher hand, the political turmoil of the 1960s, in particular the Civil
Rights movement and the opposition to the Vietnam War, did nor totally bypass
chis provincial campus. A committed minority of Danbury students, augmented
by a few faculty members, marched and picketed in support of their social agenda, disrupting customary campus decorum. President Haas struggled, with considerable success bur some frustration, ro impose her traditional values on a school
that was very different from the one she cook over in 1947.
The children born in the post-World War II baby boom reached college age
in the 1960s. To avoid swamping the state's higher education system, the Board
of Education limited each of the four former teachers colleges to a maximum 10
percent annual increase in enrollment. Danbury Scare rejected seventy-five qualified applicants in 1960 to comply with this mandate, the first time it had experienced that painful luxury. At the start of each academic year, the News-Times used
a variation of the headline "DSC GREETS BIGGEST CLASS" to keep its readers
abreast of the rapid growth at the college. Full-time undergraduate enrollment
passed one thousand in 1965 and two thousand in 1969. By 1970, the rota!
vaulted close ro twenty-five hundred. In addition, part-time students jammed
the parking lot and classrooms from 4 co 10 p.m. on weekdays and on Saturday
mornings. At the end of the decade, almost a thousand graduate students were
working for master's degrees in either education, mathematics or English, and
approximately five hundred undergraduates were enrolled in evening classes.
Faculty were hired en masse ro accommodate chis influx. The teaching staff
more than quadrupled in the decade from forty-nine in 1960 ro 221 in 1970.
The bulk of this increase occurred after 1965, when the enrollment restrictions
122

imposed by the Scare Board of Education no longer applied . At lease cwency addi tional faculty arrived every fall from 1965 co 1970. In September 1969, a record
chircy-seven newly employed instructors entered college classrooms. The hiring
process was often hectic. English Professor Ray Baubles, who joined the faculty in
1967, remembered chat although he had been interviewed in June, he did nor
receive a letter notifying him he had che job unci! lace August, just before classes
began. Baubles realized Iacer chat the last of a series of meetings during his early
summer visit to Danbury-a session with Dr. Haas-was tantamount to being
hired . Once on campus, he shared office space with nine other colleagues in a
large room in the basement of Berkshire Hall.
In an unpublished paper with the apt tide of "Observations on Growing
Pains at WCSC," psychology professor Harold Burke summed up the impact of
chis constant expansion in one simple statistic. He pointed out that each year
forty out of every one hundred students that appeared on the Danbury campus
had never been there before. This meant that in 1969, when Burke made this
observation, eight hundred students were strangers to Western Connecticut State
College. They could not turn to a veteran faculty for guidance because, as Burke
noted, each year about one sixth of the faculty were also on campus for the first
time. "Litcle wonder," he concluded, "that traditional procedures began to waiver
and shake each September. "
Burke, in his capacity as dean of students , observed that many remained
aloof from the extracurricular life of the college. They did not join clubs, participate in Spring Weekend, or attend sports events. Dormitories were empty from
Friday to Monday. He concluded ruefully that many students "have 'outside'
interests which are untouched by campus events." The Echo, the school newspaper,
frequencly complained about what it saw as student apathy. In November 1969,
the newspaper called attention to its own staffing problems by printing an issue
containing nothing but advertisements and blank pages with the admonition in
bold print "THIS ISSUE CANCELED DUE TO LACK OF INTEREST." The
paper followed this up in December 1970 by printing the names of the fifteen
hundred students who had failed to vote in the last student government election.
Even in agate type this "dis-honor roll" consumed three full pages.

123

No one was more concerned about this malaise than Ruth Haas. She was
convinced that the key problem facing the school was how it could "grow to meet
the needs of many students and still preserve the values of a small college." She
attempted to maintain personal contact with students. In the face of daunting
numbers, she still tried to learn their names and treat them as individuals. She
frequently reminded students that her office was open to them and found other
small ways to demonstrate her concern. Shortly after Rick Asselta missed the
1967 graduation ceremonies in order to fulfill his Peace Corps commitment in
Micronesia, he was surprised and pleased to get a personal letter from Haas.
Alumni like Ben DaSilva, class of 1952, appreciated the congratulatory note he
received from the busy president each time he got a job promotion. But after the
mid-1960s, Haas found it more difficult

to

maintain the prized sense of family.

She worried that one of the harmful effects of expansion was the loss of what
she termed "hominess." In 1966, as she spoke to a newspaper reporter about the
future of the school, Haas confessed: "I personally don't know the students as well
as I would like to." Then she lamented, "The more that come, the fewer I know."
The faculty, too, found it harder to become a part of the total life of the college. There were fewer opportunities for face-to-face interaction with colleagues.
Classes were held in different buildings. Offices were scattered in odd corners all
over the cramped campus. The customary monthly full-faculty meeting became
cumbersome and inefficient; in 1967, it was replaced by a faculty senate made up
of elected representatives.
President Haas combated faculty isolation by insisting that teachers be
available

to

students at all times. Mandatory five-day class schedules insured

instructors' visibility on campus. Faculty offices may have been decentralized, but
all mail boxes were located in Old Main. Until the end of the decade, teachers
had to pick up their mail outside Dr. Haas' office from which she could observe
and summon them if necessary. Junior faculty soon learned that a blizzard was not
an acceptable excuse for missing class. It was rumored that the president expected
faculty who lived at a distance from Danbury to book a local hotel room if snow
made travel difficult, because she would not close the school for that reason. An
annual letter from the president's office, sent out each April, announced which
124

teaching appointments were cancelled. Anticipation of its arrival reinforced faculcy motivation.
In such a fluid environment, it was difficult co maintain the spirit of experimentation chat had earlier characterized the Danbury State Teachers College curriculum. However, the face of the "Monuments of Culture" course did not deter
che influential curriculum committee, whose membership included many proponents of the 1950s innovations, from encouraging the faculty to devise a workable
interdisciplinary sequence for all students. Between 1959 and 1961, the school
labored to put in place liberal arcs majors as ordered by the General Assembly. At
the same time, a handful of dedicated faculty-Chester Anderson and Lee Jacobus
of the English Department, scientist Lon Edwards, and H. Jonathan Greenwald of
the psychology department-drew up and won approval for a mandacory eighteen-credit, four-year program designed to explore human nature from the scientific, aesthetic, social, and philosophic points of view. A separate interdisciplinary
department headed by Greenwald* and made up of special faculty hired for chis
purpose, along with volunteers from ocher departments, administered "The
Nature of Man," as the four-course sequence was called. Faculty enthusiasm for
chis ambitious effort to integrate knowledge, stimulated by the excitement of the
best students, soared during the early years of the decade. At its peak, the interdisciplinary department had sixteen members. By 1969, however, the objections
of career-oriented students, as well as faculty who desired more curriculum space
for their own specialty, forced the cutback of "Nature of Man" to twelve hours.
The courses would become optional in 1975.
The 1959 decision of the legislature mandating that the state schools
offer liberal arts degrees put the four colleges on a collision course with the
Connecticut State Board of Education, the overseer of all public education with
the exception of the University of Connecticut. Over the years, che board had
served the state colleges well, supporting expansion and providing for consider• Greenwald, an admirer of the Great Books approach pioneered by Robert Hutchins at the University
of Chicago, msisted that the interdisCiplinary label was inappropriate as a name for the department.
He felt that faculty who participated in the program did so as specialists in a particular discipline
who were willing to address a common problem. In the 1970s, the department changed its name
to .. Humanistic Studies:·

125

able local auronomy. Ruth Haas was comfortable with the board's priorities,
asserting as late as 1964 that she remained dedicated ro the founding principles
of rhe school. "As long as reachers are needed," she maintained, "our primary
responsibility is rhe training of reachers." However, the issue of priorities came ro
a head in 1962, when the board rebuffed, on financial grounds, a request from the
four presidents ro reduce rhe individual faculty reaching load from fifteen ro
twelve semester hours. The board 's acrion convinced the presidents, with Haas
less enthusiastic than rhe others, the schools would be berrer off under a board
devoted exclusively ro their interests .
Prodded by rhe stare college presidents, the legislature belatedly emulated
thirty-seven other states and, in 1963, authorized a study commission

to

conduct

a full examination of higher education in Connecticut. Handicapped by lack of
budget and staff, the commission turned ro the United Stares Office of Education
for assistance. In the end, Connecticut rejected the federal recommendation to
establish a single board of regents for all higher education, favoring instead a
compromise more acceptable ro existing institutions. Public Act 330, passed in
1965, established the Commission for Higher Education with overall coordinating, but nor governing, responsibility. The University of Connecticut retained irs
board of trustees. A separate board was established for the four state colleges as a
group, along with a third board rhar would govern the community and technical
colleges previously under local control. The Stare College Board of Trustees began
operation on June 30, 1965. Ir added an element of promise, bur also of uncertainty, ro this turbulent period .
One cosmetic alteration occurred quickly and without controversy. Prodded
by State Senaror T. Clark Hull, rhe legislature in 1967 eliminated reference to
Danbury from the school's ririe. Changing the name

to

Western Connecticut Stare

College, an acrion endorsed by President Haas, was intended ro more accurately
reflect rhe regional scope of the swiftly developing institution.
Other issues evaded simple solutions. On January 17, 1963, about forty
people, including guidance personnel from area high schools, had journeyed ro
Danbury State College ro attend a meeting seeking answers

to

the puzzle of why

so few African-American students enrolled, or even applied for admission, at the
126

college. Despite the prominence of several African-American graduates in the
1950s,* only three were in attendance in 1963. After a frank discussion of the
issue, college officials agreed that they should no longer be content with waiting
for minority students to come, but should actively recruit African-American candidates-no easy task, given the small pool of qualified candidates in the region.
In 1966, for example, there were only nine African Americans in the Danbury
High School graduating class of five hundred students.
During the next few years, the college worked hard to create what English
Professor Chester Anderson, the head of the Human Relations Committee of the
Danbury Area, described as a "warm image of welcome" for minority students.
Only modest gains resulted. In October 1970, Western Connecticut State College
reported to the Connecticut Commission on Civil Rights that thirty-four African
Americans were currently registered.
The assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968 galvanized the small
band of African-American undergraduates on campus. Feeling the need to assert
their identity, they formed the Afro-American Society and held their first meeting
in early 1969. At the start of the 1970 academic year, the group--"not just
another 'funzies' club," one member warned-was ready to be heard. On Monday
morning, October 19th, they marched thirty strong into Dr. Haas' office to present her with ten "negotiable demands," which included establishing a Black
Studies major and hiring more Black faculty as well as a full-time Black administrator. After ninety minutes of dialogue, an exasperated student suddenly
adjourned the meeting by declaring, "We're not getting anything accomplished
here. I'm sick of all this talk." What followed was the first instance of picketing
to take place on the Danbury campus. For three days, African-American students
paraded in front of Old Main waving hand-lettered placards with mock ferocious
legends such as "STOP BEATING AROUND THE BUSH OR THE BUSH IS
GOING TO BEAT AROUND YOU."
Ruth Haas handled this crisis the way she dealt with all militant students in

*Owen Pegler, class of 1954, and Richard Brown, class of 1958, were both officers of the Student
Government Association. The 1958 yearbook was dedicated to Brown, who became a teacher in
Stamford and the president of the Danbury NAACP.

127

this restless time. First, she was accessible and willing to listen calmly to what
they had to say. She maintained that "Everyone has a right to say what they [sic]
think." Haas then communicated her position in a direct, unambiguous manner.
In this case, she rejected a Black Studies major because it "fails to prepare young
people to make a living," but she was willing ro implement a Black Studies
minor. She promised to hire more minority faculty, although she would not agree
ro an exact timetable. Other requests for special treatment, such as a room for the
exclusive use of the Afro-American Society, Haas dismissed with the admonition,
"Take part in the college as a whole, living together, mixing with others." Like
other protesting groups, the African-American students were unhappy but not
offended .
Though mild in comparison with the demonstrations on many other campuses, outbursts provoked by the Vietnam War did occur at Western Connecticut
State College. For most of the decade of the '60s, the college was a bastion of
support for the government's handling of the war in Southeast Asia. The failure of
the Tet Offensive in February 1968, however, altered the mood on campus. Led
by its feisty president, Karen Burns, the Student Government Association conducted a referendum in support of the National Moratorium Against the War in
Vietnam. Although only 856 students participated-about 40 percent of those
eligible to vote-the moratorium won support by a three-to-one margin. On
October 15, 1969, students took part in a mass rally in downtown Danbury,
where they were addressed by Joseph Duffey, the president of Americans for
Democratic Action. They marched in a candlelight procession up White Street to
the campus and listened to a debate in Berkshire Auditorium between Professor
Eric Roman of the history department, a passionate defender of government policy, and sociologist Arthur Levy, a critic. The overflow crowd spilled into the gymnasium where the proceedings were presented on closed circuit television. This
controlled and civil response satisfied both a basically conservative campus and a
wary President Haas .
The May 1970 tragedy at Kent State University provoked a more vehement
anti-war protest in Danbury. Three hundred Western Connecticut State College
students wearing black arm bands chanted "Peace Now!" as they paraded down128

town to hold a rally in Rogers Park. An SGA referendum co boycott classes for
two days as an act of mourning for the Kent State victims attracted twelve hundred voters, the largest figure in the school's history, and was approved by an
overwhelming margin. Dr. Haas never revealed her position on the Vietnam War.
She was content co support the students' "right co reflect their own honest opinions as long as they do so in an orderly way." But when the leaders of the student
strike crowded into her office and demanded that grading rules for the spring
semester be relaxed so as not co penalize those who missed class, Haas drew the
line. "You made your choice. Don't ask us to accommodate ourselves co you.
Don't ask for amnesty!" she snapped. The president refused co deviate from the
position she had taken at the start of the controversy. "It is a matter of each
student's conscience to decide what he does. College will be in session as usual;
exams will be given as usual; and classes will be held as usual." After this
unequivocal response, the chastened students quietly exited her office.
Male students who wanted a major change in the athletic program were
more persistent with their demands. As a teachers college, the school had a meager tradition of intercollegiate athletic competition. When men had arrived in
large numbers after World War II, the school had supported only two male sports
-basketball and baseball- both in a low-key fashion. The basketball team was a
nomadic tribe practicing in borrowed quarters at the high school gymnasium, or
the VFW Hall on Osborne Street, or the West Street Armory, or, when desperate,
in the narrow basement gym in Old Main. Home games were played at the
armory or at Rogers Park War Memorial. The first full-time coach, hired in 1949,
was the popular and capable Harvey Jessup who had one inviolable rule: "All
team members must play in every game." This approach may have been democratic, but it was hardly a formula for a winning record. Baseball was more stable;
the team played and practiced at Lee Field adjacent co the hat factory on Triangle
Street, where the players themselves cut the grass and manicured the infield.
Uniforms were sketchy. Neil Wagner, the outstanding player of the time in both
sports, remembered that the baseball team wore khaki pants and Danbury State
Teachers College sweatshirts in his first season.
During the 1950s and '60s, the basketball and baseball teams competed
129

against area colleges with few winning seasons. Baseball showed improvement
after AI Thomas took over as coach in 1961, and the team qualified for the
National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAJA) regional tournament in
1965 and 1967. Soccer was added as a third sport in 1957, when Professor Ed
Rosenberg of the math department, a college player at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology, volunteered to organize and coach the team.
This level of play satisfied the administration. Alice Donnelly, the resolute
chairman of the health and physical education department, would not bend in her
determination to give more financial and logistic support to physical education
instruction and intramural sports than to intercollegiate athletics. She hired
coaches who saw themselves primarily as physical education teachers. Dean Cook
and President Haas endorsed this policy. "How Alice felt was exactly how I felt.
We were in complete agreement," Cook told an interviewer years later. "It burned
Alice to put a lot of money into intercollegiates because it had to come out of
other funds."
A growing student demand for football first surfaced in the early 1960s, and
challenged entrenched priorities. Despite the resistance of Donnelly, Dr. Haas
seemed willing to accept football "if operated properly with all safety measures."
In 1963, she told a News-Times reporter who was preparing a series of articles
about the school's sixtieth anniversary that she looked forward to the time when
the school had a marching band to perform at football games. Haas placed
responsibility for dealing with this delicate issue in the hands of the Varsity
Athletic Governing Board and its chairman, Neil Wagner, then head of the
evening and extension program.
It took a student petition seeking to establish an informal "club football"
team to spur the athletic board into action. In the spring of 1969, the board purchased equipment and staged a training period to determine the level of skill and
commitment present in the student body. Fifty young men eager to show their
enthusiasm for the game worked out during April under the eyes of a part-time
coach. What discouraged Andy Robustelli, a former New York Giants star who
was brought in as an unpaid consultant by the athletic board to evaluate the situation, was the "umbrella of non-enthusiasm" unfurled by an administration still

130

convinced that the school lacked adequate facilities and sufficient money for a
football program. Only after an SGA referendum approved a levy on students to
pay for the construction of a metal building at the corner of the Osborne Street
parking lot to serve as a locker room, would a reluctant administration permit
football to proceed . The first varsity football game, a lopsided loss to Curry
College, was played in September 1970.
The demise of Spring Weekend dramatized how much the college had
changed in a single decade. Each May during the 1960s, the four classes at the
school competed for creative honors by constructing floats, staging humorous
skits, and producing musical extravaganzas. According to biology teacher
William Esposito, the advisor of the class of 1968, the rivalry was "the cohesive
element in keeping class spirit together... If you could win all three [Float
Design, Skit Night, and 'Sing') in one year," he explained, "it was like Yale beating Harvard, Princeton, and Brown all in the same afternoon ." In May 1970, this
unifying event became divisive. Two hundred black-clad, anti-war protesters, all
students, carried cardboard coffins and silently trailed the parade of decorated
floats . Cornelius Ivers and Jerry Maxim, co-chairmen of the evening skit competition, stunned the crowd gathered in Berkshire Auditorium by announcing their
resignations. In the light of the Kent State tragedy, they declared, their consciences would nor let them continue this frivolous activity. "You can't dance
upon people's graves," insisted one of their supporters . At the entrance to the
auditorium, anti-war students flanked two coffins draped in black cloth . They
distributed invitations to a teach-in being held at the same rime in Memorial
Hall. Activist faculty solicited signatures on a petition calling for the end of the
Vietnam conflict. Despite the eloquent plea of the elected "King" of the festivities, William Manfredonia ("If we can show that we can sing together in harmony
then we can work together in harmony and peace"), the Spring Weekend tradition never fully recovered from this challenge. Within a few years it had disappeared .
The end of the 1960s was also a difficult time for Ruth Haas . She was
approaching the mandatory retirement age of seventy. The school was no longer a
close-knit family. Almost every administrative decision was contested. When a
131

popular English professor's contract was not renewed in 1968, angry students
responded by collecting five hundred signatures of protest. The Student
Government Association conducted and published the results of its own evaluation of faculty teaching effectiveness in 1970. Haas had to have been hurt by an
advertisement placed in a May 1969 issue of the Echo with the highly critical
message: "Wanted: Skilled craftsman to remove dead wood from Old Main . Must
be innovative, ingenious, and flexible. No Conservatives need apply." She certainly was shocked when arsonists ignited four small fires outside her office during
the same week the ad appeared.
To many students and some faculty Haas appeared inflexible and oldfashioned during these years. She was adamant about what she defined as proper
appearance and behavior. In 1969, when students wanted

go to Hartford and

to

challenge legislative curs in the higher education budget, Haas implored them to
"Please be courteous." She did not hesitate to promulgate a strict dress code that

Above: Five busloads of \'(/estern stude11ts joined a rally in Hartford's Bushnell Park on
November 10, 1971, to protest GOI'ernor Thomas Meskill's plan to raise tuition at state colleges.
Uames Dyer Collection)

132

-

--

-

-



-

-

-- .-

I

I

ended with the injunction "All students should be advised that clean and proper
grooming is important." She often chided male faculty members about long hair
and scruffy beards because, in her opinion, they were not being good role models.
Younger faculty, in particular, were uncomfortable with what they saw as the
president's matriarchal tendencies.
It must have been with relief that Ruth Haas frequently had
from internal campus woes

to

to

turn away

deal with the Danbury community and the state

legislature, where her values were respected and her enormous political skills were
remarkably effective. Although not an empire builder by inclination, her greatest
accomplishment during the 1960s came in orchestrating the physical expansion of
the downtown campus and the addition, under difficult circumstances, of a suburban campus. •

NOTE ON SOURCES
Formal written documents in the college archives tell something of the life at
Danbury State/Western Connecticut State College in the 1960s. The 1963 "Re-Evaluation
Report to the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools," and the "ReEvaluation Report to the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education"
of the same year, summarize curriculum changes. A detailed thirteen-page memo about
the "Nature of Man" program, prepared in 1967 by Professor H. Jonathan Greenwald, provides exhaustive detail about that innovative sequence. Dean of Students Harold Burke's
"Observations on Growing Pains at WCSC" (1969) is insightful. An excellent undergraduate paper written in 1994 by Colleen Blair, "A Mild Shout: Anti-War Protest at Western
Connecticut State College, 1967-1969," is based in part on interviews with participants.
Newspapers are a major source of information about happenings at the college during
the period. The News-Times provided unusually detailed coverage. Reporter Don Fraser's
five-part series in 1963 about the state of the college was particularly helpful. The three
large folders of newspaper clippings in the Warner Collection eased the task of accessing
the unindexed News-Times. The college newspaper, the Ecbo, published bi-weekly during
this time, was for the most part thorough and even-handed in its coverage.
Recorded interviews with participants were vital. Jack Friel taped faculty members
John Tufts, Neil Wagner, William Esposito, William McKee, Alice Donnelly, Mervin
Whitcomb and F. Burton Cook in 1976. In 1999-2000, the author interviewed faculty
members Ray Baubles, Martha Counts, Tom Doyle, Jean Kreizinger, Ed Rosenberg, and
Neil Wagner; and students Rick Asselta, Jack Sikora, Harriet Rosenberg, Ben DaSilva, and
Joseph Lehney.

133

Abollt: The Ruth Haas Library, an island surrotmded by parked cars, opened in 1969. Its IIJhite
colot· and modemistic design col/frasted jarringly IIJith other campus bmldmgs. (\VCSU Archives)
Opposite: The original library
Haas Library in 1969.
(\VCSU Archives)

011

the second floor of Ole/ Main remained in use tmtil replaced by the

134

CHAPTER EIGHT

WHAT DEAN HAAS WANTS. DEAN HAAS GETS!
Howard Durgy was a campus legend. By rhe rime he retired from Danbury
Stare College in 1955 as head custodian, he had spent a record fifty years in stare
service. Hired by John Perkins in 1905, the year Old Main opened, the crusty
Durgy inspired countless stories from generations of alumni. Many remembered
his willingness to remind architects, contractors, and school presidents that the
soil on the White Street property was wet and unstable. He told all who would
listen that as a boy he had fished in a stream that flowed where Berkshire Hall
and the Higgins Hall additions were ultimately built.
Durgy's warnings about the spongy nature of the land in the center of
Danbury underscored one of the obstacles that limited the ability of the downtown campus to accommodate the rapid growth in the student body in the 1960s.
Given the need for technically complicated, expensive foundations, it did nor
make sense to build tall buildings. Few other options existed. The original campus was small, about twenty-eight acres. It was, in effect, an island, almost surrounded by downtown commercial buildings to the west, the railroad and the
Still River to the south, and the Danbury Hospital complex to the north. Only
the residential properties to the east offered the prospect of acquisition at reasonable cost. Until the late 1960s, the college had coped with growth by adding new
buildings on the existing acreage, by purchasing the adjacent Danbury High
135

School from the city, and by buying land on Whire Street for construction of dormitories. The Board of Trustees, which assumed authority over the stare colleges
m 1965, forced Ruth Haas to consider a more radical alternative.
Since it began operation, the school had been hard-pressed to provide living
arrangements for out-of-town students. In 1960, less than one-third of the 390
women undergraduates could be accommodated in the single college dormitory,
Fairfield Hall, even after a 1957 addition had increased its capaciry by 50 percent.
All of the 308 men had to live off campus. To remedy this situation, the college
in 1960 purchased land on White Street next to Old Main, demolished the homes
on the property, and constructed two more women's dorms over the course of the
decade. Financed by $2.7 million in bonds that would be paid off by user's fees,
Litchfield Hall opened in 1964, followed by Newbury Hall in 1969. However,
enrollment continued to soar ahead of available living space. Together the three
campus residences housed 574 women, still only about one-third of the total
female enrollment in 1970.
Srop-gap measures helped slightly. A privately owned and college-sanctioned dormitory on Beaver Brook Road, about a ten-minute walk from campus,
lodged eighty women residents. In 1970, the financially shaky Danbury Motor
Inn, built in the early 1960s on rhe Main Street site of the venerable Hotel
Green, agreed to provide third-floor quarters for another one hundred women
students. Probably as a result of the damage done to Fairfield Hall in the single
year (1964-65) that it was used as a men's residence, the school made no effort to
construct a male dormitory.
Classrooms were as scarce as dorm rooms on the cramped campus. But here
an attractive solution beckoned. Danbury High School on White Street, separated
from Fairfield Hall by a low fence, was woefully overcrowded. Built in 1927, the
school had operated on double sessions since 195 7 in order to handle skyrocketing
enrollment. Danbury voters, goaded by angry parents, agreed to build a huge new
high school on Clapboard Ridge in 1962 as the centerpiece of a school modernization program. Pressure mounted to erect the city's first junior high school. The
Danbury Board of Educarion, Superintendent of Schools Walter Sweet (a close
personal friend of Ruth Haas), and President Haas proposed an arrangement that
136

would benefit the city and the college. The city would sell the obsolete high
school to the state for renovation into desperately needed college classrooms.
With the money from the sale of the high school, the city would finance construction of a junior high school on city-owned Broadview Farm, aided by a state
subsidy that would defray one-third of the cost. Another appealing fearure of this
deal, from the city's point of view, was that no property would be removed from
the tax roles as was the case whenever the college bought privately owned land for
expansion.
The General Assembly and Danbury voters saw the wisdom of this scenario.
In 1961, the legislature added $1 million to the original $1.5 million approved
by the 1959 legislature for the purchase and conversion of the building. In 1963,
the Connecticut State Bonding Commission bestowed its blessings. In June 1964,
a special Danbury town meeting accepted $1.9 million as the sale price of the
thirty-five-year-old high school.
The college wasted no rime moving in. In September 1964, while energetic
junior high school pupils fidgeted in classrooms in the front of the building, the
music department, which had been squeezed in its former Berkshire Hall quarters, rook possession of the rear section. It would rake five more years and another
$2 million before the renovation was complete; bur the college had temporarily
solved its classroom shortage. Alexander White Hall, named in honor of the
donor of the original tract of land for the Normal School, contained twenty-five
classrooms, more teaching space than in all of the other campus buildings combined. The former high school gymnasium was transformed into offices, instructional rooms, and practice space for the music department.* The 1920s-era auditorium began a new life as an up-to-date concert hall dedicated to Danbury composer Charles Ives.
Ruth Haas had long realized that the library, still in irs original quarters (a
dignified wood-paneled room with a balcony on the second floor of Old Main),
was an embarrassment. Only the librarian, Marie Green, who had patiently coped
*Mervin Whitcomb, who succeeded Ruth de Villafranca as music department chair, joked that this
was the first time music was not part of every class at the college. Previously in Old Main and
Berkshire, the sound of music students practicing was carried by the ventilating systems into all
other rooms.

137

with sub-standard conditions since 1936, had a private office; other employees
shared work space with students at a few study tables. During the 1950s, the
school spent just $40,000 on books, far short of the $110,000 recommended by
the American Library Association. In 1959, the library rook over the entire third
floor of the administration building, where concern about the weight of the puny
book collection of 50,000 volumes required storage of periodicals in the basement. Librarians scurried up and down three flights of stairs to retrieve and then
re-shelve materials. Fortunately for the weary staff, the library could accommodate
just one hundred and fifty students at a time.
The General Assembly responded to this glaring need in the 1963 session
by appropriating $1.5 million to construct an adequate library on the northeast
corner of the campus bordering Osborne Street on land that had previously been
used as an athletic field. Complications slowed progress. Local architect William
Webb Sunderland, whose buildings (and those designed by his father, Philip) are
area landmarks, drew up plans for a severe four-story, marble-dad structure that
many felt was nor in keeping with the neighboring brick buildings on campus.
When estimates indicated that construction costs would exceed the amount
allotted by the legislature, Sunderland eliminated the marble in favor of white,
pre-cast concrete panels. Dr. Haas transferred money set aside for purchasing
books to help offset the shortfall. Bureaucratic red tape caused further delay.
Federal funds, which were to pay for one-third the cost of the building, did not
arrive until 1966. Ground breaking for this sorely needed facility did not take
place until early 1967. When the completed building opened in May 1969, it
was appropriately named the Ruth A. Haas Library, a fitting testament to the
president's tenacity and patience.
The legislature treated Danbury State College generously in the 1960s. The
total cost of construction on campus during the decade exceeded $10 million. In
addition to the projects mentioned, the state authorized the remodeling of the
student union building and a classroom and laboratory addition to Higgins Hall,
finished in 1970. In part, a robust Cold War economy justified this spending;
nevertheless, the energy and skill of Dr. Haas as a lobbyist for the college cannot
be ignored.
138

Steve Collins, a shrewd and well connected observer of the Connecticut
legislature, enjoyed telling a story that illustrates Haas' political clout in
Hartford. The long-time editor of the News-Times took advantage of a chance
encounter in the hallway of the state capitol with Representative Guido LaGrotta,
the chairman of the House education committee, to lobby for a pending bill that
Collins thought would benefit the college. LaGrotta had served terms in the
legislature over a twenty-year period from the 1940s through the 1960s, and he
knew Haas well-first as the dean and then as the college president. In fact, to
emphasize their long-standing friendship, he continued to refer to her as 'Dean.'
Collins had only begun to make his case when the Republican from New Preston
interrupted him with the blunt question, "What does Dean Haas want?"
LaGrotta paused, and then added with gusto, "What Dean Haas wants, Dean
Haas gets!"
Much like her father, Ruth Haas had natural political instincts. She remembered names and catalogued details about people. Collins recalled that as soon as
he got the Associated Press story reporting the committee assignments in the
General Assembly at the start of each legislative session, he would call Haas with
the information. As they went down the list, he was always astounded at the
depth of her knowledge about key representatives and senators. Legislators were
impressed that she was always meticulously prepared, never excessive in her
requests, and pleasantly persistent. "Flint underneath the smile," commented T.
Clark Hull of Danbury, a man who had been both a state senator and lieutenant
governor during Haas' tenure at the school.
Haas had two other rare qualities that contributed to her political success.
First, she was completely non-partisan. William Ratchford, a Democrat who
represented Danbury in the General Assembly from 1963 to 1973, expressed an
unchallenged judgment when he said, "Party didn't matter when it came to
Ruth Haas.'' This neutrality served her well, particularly after 1965, when courtordered legislative reapportionment broke the grip of the Republican Party on the
lower House and led to fluctuating party control of state government. Second, she
was self-effacing. Her reply to a 1946 request for personal information for a story
in the Syracuse University alumni magazine was typical of the way she sought to
139

avoid the limelight. Haas, who had just taken over as Danbury president at the
time, answered, ''I'm afraid you will not find anything worthy of recognition or
anything very startling in my life history ... I can't imagine anyone finding my
activities very good reading." In the 1950s, Professor John Tufts of the English
department, who also handled publicity for the college, wanted to send out a
press release touting Haas as one of the few female presidents of a state college in
the nation. Haas forbade it, with the reproach, "I am not unique!" In politics, as
in all matters, she was content to work behind the scenes.
So many building projects were underway during the 1960s that the tiny
campus resembled a single construction zone. Little space remained, either for
more structures or for automobile parking. Proximity to the railroad-one of the
reasons the school was originally located on White Street- was no longer an
asset. Instead, parked cars, essential transportation for commuting students,
choked the downtown property and the surrounding streets.
The City of Danbury, eager to make the college a participant in its downtown redevelopment plans, offered assistance. Established after the 195 5 floods
primarily to discipline the rambunctious Still River, the city's urban renewal program had expanded, with the help of generous federal grants, into a comprehensive blueprint to replace slums, improve roads, and revitalize business in the
downtown. In 1964, the city initiated the Mid-Town East Redevelopment
Project, which concentrated on upgrading two hundred acres near the college
campus. One of the project's stated goals, inspired by the prospect of bonus
money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was to
"make land available to Western Connecticut State College for expansion purposes." Dr. Haas and city authorities explored at length the possibility of the college
utilizing most of the eighty-acre strip of land between White Street and the Still
River for off-street parking. The parcel stretched from the present location of the
state courthouse eastward one-third of a mile to where Matz Lumber Company
stands today. To show its support, the legislature appropriated $800,000 in 1965
to cover the purchase and development of this property. In the end, a combination
of time-consuming federal procedures and pressure from the Board of Trustees to
move in another direction ended this potential city-college partnership. In 1969,
140

the state did buy four lots on the south side of White Street in the redevelopment
trace where the present parking garage is situated.
Ruth Haas had her eyes on one other segment of land, the triangular parcel
of one- and two-family houses bounded by Osborne Street, Locust Avenue, and
Crane Street. The president intended to use chis property, which extended northeast to Danbury Hospital, for additional dormitories, including a badly needed
men's facility. Governor John Dempsey and the Democratic-controlled legislature
in 1967 made available one million dollars to acquire the land for this purpose.
Early in 1968, surprised residents received letters from the Connecticut
Department of Public Works informing them that the state meant to purchase
their homes. "Ic really floored me," complained one resident shortly afterwards,
adding with resignation, "bur I guess there is not much we can do about it."
This Osborne Street homeowner was too pessimistic. Real estate prices
in the area sandwiched between che flourishing hospital and the thriving college
had escalated. Professional appraisers hired by the DPW submitted figures indicating that the cost of buying this land, not including the demolition of the
existing buildings, exceeded $125,000 per acre. Haas, already leery about displacing so many Danbury citizens, concluded chat "the Osborne Street site was far too
costly per acre," and dropped the plan in August 1968.
Almost from the time it assumed supervision of the state colleges in July
1965, the Board of Trustees had questioned the wisdom of expanding the downtown campus of Danbury State College. The board's own internal problems contributed to this opposition. At the urging of Ella Grasso, then secretary of state,
who presided over the first organizational meeting, the board chose Walter
Kennedy as its chairman. Although the Stamford attorney was competent and
affable, he was also preoccupied with his job as commissioner of the National
Basketball Association, which was struggling in its early years, and he allowed
the board to drift. In an effort to provide direction, the board named John
Langford, a former superintendent of schools in East Hartford, as executive secretary. Unfortunately, Langford died unexpectedly after one month on the job. In
April 1966, the board selected his replacement, Central Connecticut State College
faculty member Harold Bingham. Bingham provided energy, but his determina-

141

cion to centralize control over the four stare colleges antagonized their presidents
and a majority of the board. After a tumultuous year, he was forced to resign in
May 1967, just two months after Kennedy had stepped down as chairman. The
election of Bernice Niejadlik, a former reacher active in the Connecticut Education Association, as the new chairperson, and the subsequent appointment of
retired Willimantic State College President]. Eugene Smith, as executive secretary, finally brought stability to the board.
It was during Bingham's troubled stewardship that resistance to Danbury
State College's downtown expansion ambitions first surfaced among board members. In June 1966, the board's planning committee, headed by Redding resident
(and Danbury attorney) Walter Werner, recommended that the present Danbury
campus nor be allowed to expand any further. The committee was appalled that
the school would need to spend an estimated $43 million for more land and
additional construction in order to accommodate the 1975 target of four thousand
full-rime students, an increase of twenty-eight hundred over the 1966 enrollment.
If that expenditure were to be permitted, the cost of providing educational facilities for each student at Danbury threatened to jump to more than three rimes the
cost at Central and Southern. The conclusion was inescapable: the Danbury campus was in the wrong place. The committee went further and recommended that
a fifth stare college be established somewhere "in southwestern Connecticut," on a
piece of land three hundred ro five hundred acres in size and located near express
highways and heavy population centers. The Danbury property would be maintained as a scare college with an enrollment capped at approximately two thousand to twenty-five hundred students. Even though Ruth Haas argued that a
school this size could not be cost effective, the board approved the report and
relayed it to the Connecticut Commission for Higher Education.
The Board of Trustees' next exercise in central coordination increased
Haas' anxiety. In October 1966, the planning committee contracted with the
Cambridge, Massachusetts, landscape architecture firm of Dober, Walquist,
Harris, Inc. to develop a long-range growth plan for the entire state college system. The modest cost, $24,000, indicated that it could not be an exhaustive
scudy. The firm's chief executive, Richard Dober, spent six months surveying the
142

higher education needs of rhe stare. His recommendations, contained in a document officially entitled "New Colleges for Connecticut," but usually referred to
simply as the "Dober Report," were made public in April 1967. In the report, he
urged that Danbury State College be relocated as soon as possible "to a sire where
it can more effectively serve the needs of both Danbury and the Southwestern
Region." In even more ominous derail, the report specified that the new location
should be convenient not only to Danbury bur to "Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, and possibly parts of Greater Bridgeport." Basing his conclusion almost
entirely on a 1966 study of Danbury conducted by Columbia University's Bureau
of Applied Social Research (at the request of Danbury State College),* Dober
suggested that the existing downtown campus could be re-used as a community
or technical college. "The best course for Danbury to pursue in developing its
public higher education facilities," Dober advised, "is to support a four-year
comprehensive college of excellence within reasonable commuting distance of the
City and launch a specialized college on the present campus of Danbury State
College."
The Danbury community emphatically disagreed with Dober's analysis.
The city's young, dynamic Democratic mayor, Gino Arconti, pur the recommendations in historical perspective as yet another scheme of rival towns "to take the
college out of Danbury." He encouraged local volunteer firemen to circulate petitions of protest. Steve Collins, another influential Democrat, criticized Dober's
research as sloppy and inaccurate in angry News-Times editorials. Danbury was
well represented at the state level by influential Democrats and Republicans who
were sensitive to community fears. When the Democratic Party gained control of
both branches of the General Assembly in 1968, veteran legislator William
Ratchford, whose district included the college, became rhe Speaker of the House,
a post he retained until 1973. Arconti, Collins, and Ratchford had ready access to
Governor John Dempsey (1960-1970), a Democrat, as did the Commissioner of
Public Works Charles Sweeney, who represented Danbury on the Democratic

*David Wilder, "An Assessment of rhe Communiry Needs of Danbury, Connecricur and rhe Porenrial
Role of Danbury Scare College in Communiry Service," (Bureau of Applied Research, Columbia
University, 1966). A federal grant supporred chis invesrigarion.

143

State Central Committee. On the Republican side, T. Clark Hull of Danbury
served in the Senate from 1963 until he was elected lieutenant governor in 1970.
Francis Collins of Brookfield, a former Danbury State Teachers College student
and an attorney who served four terms in the lower House, was minority leader in
the 1971 session and Speaker in the following term. A. Searle Pinney of
Brookfield was the chairman of the Republican State Central Committee from
1962 to 1967. The vagaries of politics provided Ruth Haas with many wellplaced allies in her fight to keep a state college in Danbury.*
The fate of Western Connecticut State College lay in the balance during the
summer of 1968. It was now painfully clear that the cost of acquiring land downtown was too high. The Dober recommendations made sense to many, including
some of the Danbury faculty. When Walter Werner, the chairman of the planning
committee of the Board of Trustees, came to Danbury to discuss the report with
the school's teachers, he estimated that "a preponderance of those present seemed
to favor moving."** There was lingering support in the Board of Trustees and the
commission on higher education for establishing a fifth state college in southern
Fairfield County.
At this point, Dr. Haas embraced the concept of a second campus in
Danbury, suggested first by Steve Collins in a News-Times editorial two years
earlier. Local political and business leaders (the Chamber of Commerce desperately
wanted the school to remain in Danbury) rallied quietly in support of this solution. However, before approaching the governor and the General Assembly,
Danbury boosters needed a piece of property suitable for a modern campus. Only
three tracts in the city were large enough. The Charles D. Parks "Tarrywile"
estate, like the current campus, was inconveniently located in the center city. The
former Harold Farrington land on Mill Plain Road near the New York state border was tied up in litigation, as the owner had recently died.
*Hull and Ratchford jointly sponsored the bill that changed the school"s name to Western Connecticut
State College in 1967.
**At the end of the lengthy meeting, Werner asked the assembled faculty (many had already left) to
vote on whether they fitvored moving the campus. There were enough objections to this procedure so
that only a hasty and inconclusive voice vote was taken. A few days later, the Echo conducted an informal faculty poll. Of the fifteen faculty queried, eight expressed approval of relocation.

144

A 232-acre parcel of hilly pasture land, also on Mill Plain Road but near the
intersection of the still-unfinished Interstate Route 84 and the north-south Route
7, slated to be upgraded soon to a high-speed, limited-access highway, offered the
most promise. Known as Gregory Farm after the family (original Danbury settlers) who had owned it for more than 250 years, the land had been purchased in
1954 by prosperous businessman John Previdi as an investment for his two
daughters. A Republican, Previdi had served as mayor of Danbury from 1951 to
195 5. When approached by Haas, he agreed to sell the property to the state in
order to save the college. He explained that he was motivated by gratitude to his
sister Margaret, a graduate of the Danbury Normal School, who had "set the
ideals for the family." "Besides," he added, "How can I say no to Ruth Haas?
Nobody can say no to her!"
When classes began in September 1968, Dr. Haas announced the change in
direction; the downtown campus would not be abandoned, and a second campus
would be developed on Gregory Farm. The State Bond Commission, made up of
Governor Dempsey's appointees,* immediately agreed that the $3.5 million in
appropriations and self-liquidating bonds already approved for expansion of the
White Street facility could be used for the new campus. Speaker of the House
Ratchford opened the legislative session in January 1969 with a bill requesting
$21 million for planning and construction of the suburban campus. In May 1969,
the state agreed to the bargain price of $1.1 million for the land. Concern about
the safety of a natural gas pipeline that crossed a corner of the property delayed
final approval for several months. Ruth Haas interrupted a September 18, 1969,
meeting to take a phone call from Hartford informing her that the bond commission had authorized the sale. When she returned to her desk she proclaimed to
those in her office, "Now we've got some land on which to plan."
Arnold Hansen was in ecstasy. He had come to Danbury in 1950 to take
over audio-visual services at the college when Burton Cook became dean. In 1965,
as the pace of growth accelerated, Hansen was appointed director of institutional
planning-primarily, as he readily admitted, because he had once worked in the
*Mayor Arconri recalled chat Governor Dempsey had assured him in a private meeting, "You need not
fear. Danbury is dear co my heart. So is Dr. Haas. We will purchase a site."

145

engineering department of the Boston and Maine railroad and could make sense
of blueprints. Despite his skimpy background in planning, Hansen was an idealist
who saw the acquisition of what he termed "the country campus" as a rare chance
to achieve fundamental educational reform. For the first time in Connecticut's
history, a state college could design a physical campus chat would be a coherent
expression of its educational philosophy. Hansen welcomed chis opportunity.
Dr. Haas, though less utopian in her thinking, agreed the new campus
should be planned as a total, efficient unit. She urged the faculty to suppress any
cynicism and participate in the planning process. During the academic year 196970, departments labored over lengthy mission statements and facilities wish-lists
that were relayed to Hansen. Questionnaires solicited more ideas about what the
campus should look like from students, staff, and alumni. Classes were canceled
on December 16, 1969, so students and faculty could participate in what Hansen
termed "think tanks" devoted to such topics as "Should we emphasize a commuting or boarding school approach?" and "How innovative should the new campus
be?" Hansen summarized, duplicated, and distributed the results of these discussions. While all this soul-searching was going on, the college retained the
Statistical Utilization Division of the Dillingham Corporation to project how
much space would be required to implement the present school curriculum in
1977, when an estimated fifty-five hundred students would be attending classes
on the second campus.
Support for a comprehensive approach to designing the new facility came
from an unexpected source not noted for creativity: the Connecticut Department
of Public Works. Commissioner Charles Sweeney, a Danbury resident and an
enlightened bureaucrat, insisted the college employ a prestigious architectural
firm to draw up a master plan for the campus. Hansen paid tribute to Sweeney's
role when he declared, "Nothing could have happened without him."
In a bold move, Sweeney chose John A. Johansen, an internationally
acclaimed architect, co design a campus for the small regional college. One of a
cluster of famous modern architects living in New Canaan, Connecticut, Johansen
had studied under Bauhaus emigre Walter Gropius at the Harvard School of
Design in the 1930s. Johansen maintained a midtown New York office as well as
146

a teaching post at the Columbia University School of Architecture. His style
was experimental, iconoclastic, and disturbing to conventional tastes. Critic
Robert Hughes, writing in Time magazine, described the Mummer's Theater
in Oklahoma City, which Johansen had finished shortly before accepting the
Western Connecticut State College commission, in language that might have
startled some Danburians. "Brash and incisive at first sight, it does not look like
a theater at all. Johansen designed it in terms of distinct units- blocks of raw
concrete with brightly painted steel cladding connected by tubes and catwalks."
Johansen plunged into the new campus project even before a contract with
the state had been signed, pouring over the mountain of material that Hansen
had gathered from all segments of the college community. In May 1970, he made
his first visit to the wooded site with Hansen at his side. During the same month,
the architect held two lengthy meetings with Haas and top school officials.
Johansen's reputation had preceded him. According to the minutes of the first
session, the president warned that "the architectural style should not be so experimental that it is obsolete before long; it should be durable." Johansen tried to
reassure her that he would be "thinking primarily in terms of developing buildings so as to take greatest advantage of the natural features of the site, rather than
in terms of developing an architectural style." In June, the firm made preliminary
presentations to the faculty, the Department of Public Works, the Board of Trustees, and the Commission for Higher Education-complete with a model, slides,
drawings, and a warning that more land should be purchased to avoid the need
for multi-story parking garages. In November 1970, Johansen submitted the final
Comprehensive Master Plan in two hefty volumes.
An examination of this document reveals that the celebrated architect had
listened to his clients. Rather than impose a pre-conceived pattern on the sire, he
let the topography determine the design. The valley that ran through the property-the "chief amenity," as Johansen termed it-would be preserved in its pristine condition as the unifying element that balanced the man-made and the natural. The academic center, located on one side of the valley (the other side was
reserved for future growth) would be the magnet that pulled together students,
faculty, and administration. All classroom and office clusters would be arranged
147

around, and connected by, "an interior pedestrian mall ... a quasi-urban hub; a
Main Street to which commuters, residents and faculty members could go whenever schedules permitted." Resembling a modern shopping center with echoes of
a traditional New England town green, this "campus core" would contain all dining and social facilities. Johansen believed "the concentrated traffic and varied
activities along the mall should foster more interaction than is normally made
possible on the traditional campus." The plan called for the construction of twelve
buildings in the first stage of a three-phase implementation. Each building would
be designed by a different, preferably Connecticut-based, architect. Johansen s
advice to these firms was to be content with a "simple and direct architectural
statement capturing the purpose of academic life."
But economic and political reality suddenly intruded. On election day
in November 1970, Connecticut voters chose Thomas Meskill, a two-term
Republican congressman from New Britain, as governor. Even before he took
office, Meskill, concerned about the size of the state deficit, asked retiring
Governor Dempsey to freeze all state building projects. When Dempsey agreed
to

that request on December 4, 1970, the grand dream of a complete, rationally

planned new campus for Western Connecticut State College, on Danbury's west
side, died. •

I

148

Note On Sources
The aC[ions of rhe Board of Trustees during these formative years are recorded in
"Minutes of rhe Board of Trustees, Connecticut Scare Colleges" (Connecricur Srare
University System Office, Harrford). James Frost's "The Esrablishmenr of rhe Connecricur
Stare University, 1965-1985 : Nares and Reminiscences" (New Brirain: Henry Barnard
Foundation, 1991) is invaluable. Frost was rhe executive director of rhe Connecticut Scare
Colleges from 1972 ro 1982 and rhe first presidenr of rhe Connecricur Scare University
(1983-1985). Dober, Walquisr, Harris, Inc., "New Colleges for Connecricur" (1967) was
a study commissioned by rhe board. David Wilder's "An Assessment of rhe Community
Needs of Danbury, Connecricur, and rhe Porenrial Role of Danbury Scare College in
Community Service (Bureau of Applied Research, Columbia University, 1966) is a
rhoughrful srudy upon which rhe Dober Report strongly relied. I wanr ro rhank Par
Heslin of Technical Planning Associates of New Haven for providing me wirh a copy of
rhar documenr.
The planning for rhe Westside campus is derailed in files kepr by Arnold Hansen,
former director of lnsrirurional Planning and Developmenr, which are now in rhe college
archives. Hansen also aurhored a shorr pamphlet, "Ar rhe Gateway ro New England"
(1970), which proved helpful. He generously shared his memories of rhis exciting rime
in a long phone conversation wirh rhe aurhor. John Johansen's autobiography, john M.

johausen: A Life in the Contimmm of A1·cbitecture (Milan: Area Edizioni, 1995), although ir
merely lisrs rhe Westside campus plan, is an excellenr srudy of rhe archirecr's full career
and conrains a critical essay on his work. Tbe Master Plan: Western Connectimt State College,

Volume I, "Research and Analysis"; Volume II, "Developed Piau" (1970) is in rhe Haas Library
Archives. Jean Kreizinger of rhe biology deparrmenr made available ro me a copy of a carefully researched paper done in 2000 by srudenr Margaret Jackson, enrirled "Land Use
Hisrory of Westside Narure Preserve."
Jack Friel's 1976 inrerviews wirh Gino Arconri, Sreve Collins, Francis Collins, John
Deegan, T. Clark Hull, and William Ratchford were essenrial. Ron Douglas' 1976 interview wirh Marion Pfender provided an inrimare picture of rhe operation of rhe library in
irs Old Main quarters. My oral history sessions with former stare representatives Francis
Collins and Clarice Osieki illuminated Connecticut politics in the 1960s and 1970s.
Because of managing editor Sreve Collins' friendship with Ruth Haas and his intimate
knowledge of state and local politics, the News-Times edirorials that he wrote during this
period are informative and insightful.

Opposite: Tbis interior mal/was the heart of the master plan for a complete new Westside campus
devised by renowned architect john johansen iu 1970. (\VCSU Archives)

149

PART FOUR

~

THE STATE UNIVERSITY

DANBURY: REGIONAL HUB

151

Opposite: Union Carbide moz1ed from New York
City to its sprawling corporate headquarters on
Danbury's westem edge in 1980. (Greater
Danbm-y Chamber of Commerce)

152

PART FOUR ..,_, THE STATE UNIVERSITY

DANBURY: REGIONAL HUB
In 1988, Money magazine named Danbury the best place in the country to
live. In effusive prose, the publication ranked the Danbury metropolitan area
("'situated in the lush Housatonic River Valley") above three hundred other
American cities in nine categories: arts, crime, economy, education, housing,
health, transit, weather, and leisure. The findings were subjective, of course;
however, the fact that the city received such lofty praise from a reputable national
magazine indicates how much Danbury had changed from its days as a singleindustry mill town.
No longer a city set among isolated rural towns, Danbury was the core of a
region where growth of the suburban periphery was more dynamic than that of
the urban center. According to the 1990 census, the population of the Danbury
"primary metropolitan statistical area"-the ten towns that the federal government considered an economic unit-totaled almost two hundred thousand. If the
boundaries of the region were pushed slightly further in Connecticut and across
the New York state border to include contiguous towns, another 130,000 people
would be added to Danbury's orbit.
All these towns followed a similar demographic pattern. Their population
was static or declining until after World War II, when rapid suburban migration
began. Between 1950 and 1990, the towns in northern Fairfield and southern
153

Litchfield Counties grew spectacularly and lost their rural character. Farms, large
estates, and village centers were transformed into the suburban fabric of singlefamily homes, retail stores, and campus-style offices so characteristic of present
day Connecticuc.
Brookfield, Danbury's northern neighbor, exemplified this trend. It took
the tiny hamlet a full century to exceed its 1850 population peak of 1,359 residents. During the 1950s, the town's population doubled as subdivisions devoured
former agricultural land and sprang up along the shores of Candlewood Lake.
The pace of development increased in the next decade. From 1960 to 1970,
Brookfield's population soared from 3,405 to 9,688, a rise of 184 percent, making
it the fastest growing community in the state. To provide the schools, roads, and
sewers needed to accommodate this influx, the town's annual budget escalated
from $770,000 in 1960 to $3.7 million in 1970. The economic base of the community grew. According to the census of 1990, almost six thousand people
worked in the businesses and industries that had located in Brookfield. By the
time Money magazine discovered "the lush Housatonic Valley," the population of
the town approached fourteen thousand and only sixty-one acres of farm land
remained within its borders.
While the image of the autonomous, self-sufficient town still had a strong
emotional appeal, residents of the suburban ring around Danbury recognized that
they faced many common problems. In 1968, Danbury and its neighbors voluntarily formed the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials to coordinate
regional planning efforts. Headquartered in Brookfield, the HVCEO has played
a leading role in dealing with such vital issues as transportation, solid waste
disposal, and water resource management.
The network of modern highways constructed after World War II, even
though incomplete in Connecticut, facilitated the suburbanization of the
western part of the state. The opening of Interstate Route 84 in the 1960s tied
together communities to the east and west, and in the process disregarded the
Connecticut-New York political border. After I-684 was completed in 1970,
employees of the large corporations that had migrated from New York City into
southern Fairfield and northern Westchester Counties could live in the Danbury
154

region. Construction in the 1970s of a 4.5-mile, multiple-lane segment of Route
7 (from Danbury to Brookfield) pushed suburban sprawl to the north.
Danbury remained the economic hub of chis rapidly growing region . In
1986, the largest indoor shopping mall in New England opened on the sevenhundred-acre site of the historic Danbury Fair. An exit from the Route 7 expressway near the intersection of I-84 funneled the automobiles of suburban consumers
into a gargantuan, seven-thousand-car parking lot and three-story garage to facilitate shopping at four major department scores and hundreds of specialty shops . It
is significant chat the largest commercial development in Danbury's history, like
the Westside campus of Western Connecticut State University, was built on the
edge of the city where both could serve a burgeoning suburban population.
There were many ocher indications chat Danbury needed co be viewed in
regional terms. In 1963, the venerable Danbmy News-Times abbreviated its name
to The News-Times to emphasize that it now saw itself as primarily a regional
newspaper. Twenty years later, in 1983, it changed its publishing time from afternoon to morning to accommodate the schedules of suburban readers. At the same
time, the newspaper resisted pressure to move its headquarters out of the central
business district, remodeling instead the former supermarket on Danbury's Main
Street, where the newspaper had been published since 1967.
Danbury Hospital resembled the college and the newspaper as a major
institution with a regional focus . During the 1970s, the hospital added three
large buildings to its hilltop complex, located in downtown Danbury close to the
Midtown campus. This included construction of the multi-million-dollar Tower
Building. With two thousand employees and a staff of more than 250 physicians,
the hospital would provide medical care for the western part of the state. A new
courthouse, built on White Street a shore distance from the college in the early
1980s, preserved the city's traditional position as judicial center for the region .
The large companies chat moved their headquarters into the city in the
1970s and 1980s also selected suburban locations convenient to major highways.
In these two decades, German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer-Ingelheim, as
well as Grolier, Pitney Bowes, Ethan Allen, and Duracell, built impressive
facilities in Danbury. International Business Machines (IBM) purchased land on
155

the Ridgefield-Danbury border for a conference center in the 1970s. Occupying
temporary quarters in Danbury in the early 1980s, IBM had, by 1989, filled irs
sprawling new complex overlooking I-84 in Southbury with 2,500 employees.
However, Union Carbide, then America's twenty-fifth largest corporation, was
the most prestigious newcomer. In the late 1970s, the company abandoned its
midtown Manhattan skyscraper and began construction of a massive headquarters
on a 674-acre parcel of land on the west side of Danbury, in the Mill Plain district abutting New York stare. Two thousand employees per day used the special
exit off I-84 to reach the $23-million architectural gem that opened in 1980. Few
of them realized that the building was located on land that only twenty-five years
before had been an active dairy farm. None could have predicted Union Carbide
would no longer exist within another twenty-five years and the glamorous
facility- the largest free-standing building in the stare-would be orphaned.
Danbury lost irs character as a factory town in the 1970s. Even though hatting had faded as the backbone of the local economy after World War II, the city
had remained an industrial center. An influx of small-to-medium-sized companies
in the 1950s and 1960s employed skilled workers to manufacture specialized
technical products. The industrial park replaced the hat factory. But by 1980, a
majority of the employees of the ten largest companies in the city held white
collar jobs in corporate offices and research facilities. Most were new arrivals to
the area and did not live in Danbury. According to the 1990 census, 56 percent
of those employed in Danbury resided outside the city.
In one important respect, the central city of the region did not change. It
was still a mecca for less affluent newcomers. The support of the Association of
Religious Communities and the prevalence of entry-level jobs attracted many
Cambodians and other Southeast Asians in the mid 1970s and the 1980s. African
Americans continued to come to Danbury, though in fewer numbers. By 1990,
they constituted about 7 percent of the city's population. Although not segregated into distinct neighborhoods, they did face difficulty finding adequate housing
and racial tension surfaced in the schools. During the 1970s, Danbury High
School closed on four occasions, once for a full week, because of race-related
violence.
156

Hispanics, many of them undocumented, flocked into the city. From
1970 ro 1990, the size of this group increased five times ro almost five thousand
persons. Figures from the 2000 census pur the Hispanic population in that year at
twelve thousand . Experts estimate that if unrecorded illegal aliens were ro be
included, the roral might reach twenty thousand. In addition, a large and fluid
stream of Brazilian nationals mingle with the established Portuguese community.
Close ro half of the immigrant children registered in the Danbury public schools
at the beginning of the twenty-first century were born in Brazil. Formerly vacant
downtown stores now house businesses such as restaurants, markets, and travel
agencies that cater to a Hispanic and Brazilian clientele. The Danbury Public
Library, in recognition of this trend, has developed a special section adapted to
Brazilian interests, and a Brazilian weekly newspaper is published in the city.
Danbury's government has endeavored to maintain the downtown as the
heart of a progressive and prosperous community by combining the new and the
old. A modern city hall and library remain at its center. The remnant of land
cleared in the urban renewal enthusiasm of the 1960s now contains a municipal
parking garage and, after much controversy and delay, a state-of-the-art ice skating rink. At the same time, historic buildings have been restored and given productive uses, many as upscale restaurants.
Intense regional development has altered both the college and its host city.
Danbury is no longer a frayed, primarily blue-collar, hat-making town located in
a sparsely populated corner of rural Connecticut. Instead, it is a diverse, energetic
and growing suburban place with a population of seventy-five thousand and a
prosperous mixed economy. Nor is the school simply a local college: it has
become Western Connecticut State University in recognition of its enlarged
scope. •

157

Above: A weary President Haas speaking on September 20, 1974, at the gro11nd breaking for an
access road on the Westside camp11s. Directly behind and to her right is Governor Thomas Meskill
appla11ding. (WCSU Archives)
Opposite: No b11ildings appeared on the Westside camp11s 11ntil seven years after the access road had
been comtructed in 197 5. (WCSU Archives)

158

CHAPTER NINE

THE ROAD TO NOWHERE
For three days in March 1973, a team of veteran educators representing the
New England Association of Schools and Colleges visited Western Connecticut
Scare College to evaluate the school. It was the final seep of the re-accreditation
process chat cook place every ten years. The ream's report was generally positive.
In particular, it applauded the institution's continuity of leadership, noting chat
only two presidents had served over the past almost-four decades. Dr. Haas was
praised for inspiring the crust and affection of the faculty. The visitors identified
the president, chen celebrating her twenty-fifth year in office, as "the principal
integrating force on campus." In their conclusion, however, the committee
expressed concern for the welfare of the institution when Dr. Haas stepped down,
asserting that "the involvement of the faculty in the life of the college is not at an
organizational level which can insure a stable environment when the President's
retirement becomes a reality."
The Board of Trustees also worried about what would happen when Ruth
Haas left office, bur for a different reason. The unsettled status of the new campus
convinced the board to exempt Haas for two years from the state policy chat
called for mandatory retirement at age seventy. 'In granting her another one-year
extension until July 1, 1975, Governor Meskill emphasized chat continued
progress on the second campus required Haas' reseed leadership.
159

Unfortunately, Haas' final years as president coincided with a prolonged
downturn in the national economy-magnified in Connecticut-that frustrated
her efforts to begin construction on the Mill Plain property. For most of the
1970s, "stagflation," the term given to a contradictory combination of recession
and inflation, plagued the country. Unemployment, oil prices, the inflation rate
and the federal deficit all soared while the gross national product sagged. Connecticut, heavily dependent on military contracts, was particularly vulnerable to
national economic and political trends. The de-escalation of the Vietnam War
hurt the aerospace and defense industries so important to the state's economic
vitality. Obsolete manufacturing facilities and high energy costs put Connecticut
at a competitive disadvantage with other parts of the country. Between 1968 and
1975, twenty-one aged factories closed in the state with a loss of more than nineteen thousand jobs.
The effect of the economic decline on state government, whose primary
source of income was the sales tax, was predictable. Both conservative Republican
Governor Thomas Meskill (1971-1975) and liberal Democratic Governor Ella
Grasso (1975-1980) expressed shock at the size of the state deficit when they
assumed office. Both responded to the fiscal crisis by attempting to increase
revenue and reduce spending. The state sales tax went up as high as 7 percent
within the decade. Dividend and capital gains taxes were levied. In the summer
of 1971, a divided General Assembly in a special session enacted and, after five
weeks, repealed an income tax. Meskill and Grasso imposed an austerity regime
on the state and cut support for human services including education. They kept
tight control over bonded indebtedness. Clearly this was an inauspicious time to
advocate building a multi-million-dollar campus at public expense.
Western Connecticut State College had to travel a long, tortuous route to
obtain funding for capital projects. First, the Board of Trustees had to give its
blessing. In the case of the Westside campus, the board loyally championed the
necessary appropriations, for a time even holding back the building requests of
the other three state colleges to avoid competition for scarce dollars. The second
step, gaining the support of the Connecticut State Commission for Higher Education, where the private colleges in the state had great influence, was trickier.
160

Ulcimacely, che commission would be a serious obstacle to the school's growth;
but during the early 1970s it, too, endorsed the second campus project.
Only afcer the board and che commission had signed on could the college
seek a line in the governor's budget, a daunting prospect in a time of recession,
even with the support of Lieutenant Governor T. Clark Hull of Danbury. The
General Assembly then had an opportunity to alter the governor's recommendations. Danbury-area representatives remained in influential positions in the
General Assembly until 1974. During the 1971 and 1972 legislative sessions,
Bill Ratchford of Danbury was the Speaker of the House and Fran Collins of
Brookfield was the minority leader. When the Republicans wrested control of the
legislature in 1972, the two local men switched positions for the next two years.
The final hurdle for the Westside campus proved to be especially formidable. Most of the money authorized by the legislature for capital projects was in
the form of bonded indebtedness. Therefore, the State Bond Commission, chaired
by the governor, who controlled the agency's agenda and appointed a majority
of its members, had the final say on the riming of the release of funds. Neither
Meskill nor Grasso was eager to bond the sizable amounts needed for the
Westside campus.
Despite ample evidence chat economizing was the order of the day,
President Haas never abandoned her original vision of a complete new campus.
She pressured Governor Meskill to follow the recommendation, made by architect
Johansen in the master plan, to purchase an additional sixty acres char would provide access to Mill Plain Road. "Dismaying" was the term she used to describe
the state's 1972 decision to buy only thirty-four acres. Prodded by area representatives, the legislature, against the wishes of the governor, appropriated more
bond money for the campus in 1971 and 1972. This was added to the sums
appropriated in the 1965 and 1967 sessions-an amount that remained largely
unspent.
Dr. Haas began her last full year in office in 1974. Ir was the year the new
campus was supposed to open, according to the original schedule, and yet no construction had yet taken place on the hilltop acreage overlooking the Danbury airport. The exasperated president decided to launch an offensive. That March, she
161

led a contingent of area legislators, businessmen, students, and faculty to
Hartford to ask the finance committee of the General Assembly to provide
enough money to get the full campus built. Joseph Taylor, the head of the
Danbury Chamber of Commerce, captured the mood of the delegation when he
announced that the group was eager to go to the capitol because "we're disgusted
with getting nothing bur promises" from the state. Haas was a bit less combative.
"''m sure you have a shocked feeling about forty million dollars," she cold the
lawmakers in her disarmingly candid manner. "So do I, but I had nothing to do
with it. We need this facility very, very badly and we have been patient a very
long time." According to Haas, the $40 million she requested, added to the $21
million already authorized, was the minimum necessary to provide core facilities
on the second campus. Before adjourning, the General Assembly appropriated in
excess of $25 million for this purpose-again in rhe elusive bonding category.
During the summer of 1974, the Board of Trustees gave a boost to Haas'
efforts. Worried about the slowdown in enrollment, the board contemplated abandoning the suburban campus in Danbury. Instead, after a full review of enrollment projections, it concluded that "in the long run, Connecticut would be
served better by building a new campus and phasing out the old." It reaffirmed
that construction of the first phase of the campus plan- site development and
eight buildings-was fully justified, despite the high cost. Actually, the board
was already backing away from a commitment to implement the total master
plan. Influenced by a cautious report of its planning committee and the skepticism of Executive Director James Frost, the board, in September 1974, agreed
that "further expenditures on the new campus would be dealt with on a year-byyear basis in the light of experience." In his 1991 hiscory of the Connecticut State
University System, Frost would write, "It was very hard to oppose this beloved
and able lady, but I could not justify in my own mind construction as costly and
spacious as she desired."
Encouraged by the board's partial vote of confidence, President Haas now
utilized a tactic that was alien to her style. At her own expense, she ordered the
printing of a small pamphlet entitled \Vhy Build It Now, which summarized in
crisp terms the arguments for proceeding with the construction of the second
162

campus as planned. The conclusion, emblazoned on the first page in bold print,
was that the only four-year college in the fastest growing part of the state should
not be ignored . "The answer is obvious," the text proclaimed. "THE JOB MUST
BE DONE NOW!"
Her efforts bore some fruit . The state took a small step toward making
the new campus a reality. On September 20, 1974, Governor Meskill came to
Danbury to participate in the ground breaking for a one-and-a-half-mile access
road on the Westside property. In remarks delivered at the ceremony, he acknowledged Haas' persistence. "She's been on my back throughout my entire term,"
he joked. Then, in a more serious vein, he admitted the road was overdue. "Perhaps it's been too long in coming," he explained, "but everything in government
these days is too long in coming. " Meskill's words were a dose of reality. No
building would appear at the end of that four-lane entrance road for eight more
years. It would not be long before skeptical WestConn students and faculty would
begin to refer to the abandoned stretch of pavement as "The road to nowhere."
Ruth Haas, tired and discouraged, would retire less than nine months after
work began on the access road. "''m just too old," she confessed to a Bridgeport

Post reporter. "The college needs younger and more vital leadership." Danbury
expressed its gratitude for her service in large and small ways. The first week in
June 1975--officially Ruth Haas Week-culminated on June 6th, in a four-hour
testimonial dinner at the Amber Room, the city's largest banquet facility. Dignitaries present included Congressman Ronald Sarasin, who read a citation printed
in the Congressional Record. Recencly elected Governor Ella Grasso gave the principal speech. Written tributes arrived from President Gerald Ford and Connecticut
Senators Abraham Ribicoff and Lowell Weicker. Over fifty thousand dollars for
college needs were raised in her honor. But the gift that probably touched her
most was the quilt embroidered with 256 signatures of faculty and staff, presented by the group of friends who had sewn it. The women had spent two years
completing the quilt, and it was the spirit behind its creation that inspired Haas'
after-dinner comments as she summed up her tenure with the simple statement,
"I wanted us to feel like one big family."
The elaborate quest for Dr. Haas' successor, begun a full year before her
163

retirement, differed from any job search the school had experienced. First, it was
nationwide in scope, attracting approximately 350 applicants. Second, the campus
community for the first time played a key role in choosing the president . An
advisory committee made up of faculty, students, administration and alumni, and
headed by Gloria Brunell of the mathematics department, spent months narrowing the list of candidates to a final dozen. Only then did they meet with the state
Board of Trustees . The two groups jointly agreed on the five finalists, who were
invited to visit Danbury. The board suggested that several acceptable candidates
be identified from this select number, but the campus representatives unanimously and enthusiastically made Dr. Robert Bersi, the associate vice president of
California State University at Dominguez Hills, their single choice.
One unprecedented step followed. Two members of the board, along with
two members of the advisory committee, Brunell and Registrar Bill McKee, flew
to

Los Angeles for what Brunell remembered as "one super-full day," during

which the group visited the Dominguez Hills campus. When they returned to
Danbury in the early hours of the morning after a forty-eight-hour marathon
jaunt, Brunell and McKee went directly to the Washington Avenue home of
Chemistry Professor Paul Hines, where the rest of the advisory committee was
gathered, eager to get a report on the trip. Jim Dyer, the alumni representative, at
whose urging the Student Government Association had appropriated funds to
cover the travel expenses of the WestConn representatives, recalled that even at 5
a.m . the group was jubilant to hear "that Bersi was all we thought he was."
The advisory committee had done a good job: Bersi's strengths matched
Western Connecticut State College's needs. The rangy, handsome, forty-threeyear-old westerner grew up in Lodi, California, on a ranch that was part of a cooperative winery. His parents spoke the same Italian dialect as Ella Grasso, a minor
but not insignificant asset in Connecticut. Bersi had attended the University of
the Pacific on a debating team scholarship and, in his senior year, had served as
head of the Student Government Association. Urged by the university's president
to consider a career in educational administration, Bersi moved on to Stanford
University, where his graduate program was broad . In addition to education
courses, he had participated in a rigorous tutorial program directed by W.H .

164

Cowley, former president of Hamilton College. He also earned thirty-six credits
at the law school. In 1965, Bersi had received a Ph.D. in higher education. His
dissertation had focused on the economic and political workings of a modern
university.
But it was the cen years Bersi spent in che California State University system that best prepared him for che Connecticut assignment. In 1966, he became
the special assistant to Dr. Leo Cain, the first president of California Scare College
at Dominguez Hills. When Bersi arrived, che school was operating out of temporary quarters in a bank in Palos Verdes while officials searched for a permanent
home in the suburbs southwest of Los Angeles. In the aftermath of the Watts
riots, the school moved co a flat, 346-acre tract (occupied mostly by defunct oil
wells) because it was accessible co inner-city minorities. President Cain delegated
many casks co the personable Bersi, who, as che public relations officer, wrote a
weekly column for a local newspaper, the Sollth Bay Daily Breeze. He negotiated
wich the oil companies co remove the wells from the school property, mer with
representatives of che Asian and Black communities, and journeyed to Sacramento
co defend the school's budget. He set up courses in public libraries, day care
centers and corporate headquarters. In 1975, when Bersi lefc California State
Dominguez Hills (by then a university of more than eight thousand students),
he cook with him experience in every phase of campus-building.
The young Californian understood why he had been hired: rhe Westside
campus had co become more than an enticing promise. But Bersi defined his challenge in broader terms: he needed co change the state government's perception of
the school. While the economy of Connecticut was in the doldrums, the economy
of Fairfield County, a magnet for corporations fleeing New York Cicy, flourished.
The governor, the legislature, and higher education bureaucrats had co be shown
that corporations were coming to western Connecticut in part because of the college. He had to convince chem that "we were an outpost that had to be reinforced," Bersi said, years later. Dr. Frost, the executive director of the Board of
Trustees, agreed with Bersi's analysis. The corporations moving into the state
didn't "see Western as 'Danbury Normal School,"' Frost observed, "they see it as
a multi-purpose small university."
165

To alter the public image of Western, Bersi had to devore most of his rime
and accencion to off-campus matters. He delegated responsibility for che internal
affairs of che school co ochers. Bersi appointed Dean Gertrude Braun as academic
vice president wich coca! concrol over educational matters, while Carl Robinson,
vice president for administrative affairs, deale with all non-academic issues. Braun
recalled char Bersi's decachmenc from che mundane derails of che school's operacion was so complete char ic was often hard co gee his accencion co resolve occasional disputes. Neil Wagner, rhe direccor of extension services, who enjoyed
working with Bersi because he "let me do the job," gave an example of the president's style. When confronted with a threat from the University of Bridgeport co
offer MBA courses in Danbury, Bersi cold Wagner blundy and without details, "I
don't wane it. Keep it out." The faculty and students liked the affable president,
but saw little of him. Unlike Haas, he attended Faculty Senate meetings only
when invited. Gloria Brunell, the head of the advisory committee that had
recommended Bersi for rhe president's post, made a telling comparison between
the Californian and his predecessor. "It was easier co get in co see Dr. Haas, and I
miss it," she lamented in 1976. "The open door is gone!" But she immediately
put that regret in perspective by pointing out that Bersi, in his first year on the
job, had convinced rhe Board of Trustees co promote twenty-six faculty members;
none had been promoted the previous year. "You don't mind if the door is closed
if you gee promoted," Brunell concluded. "It's probably rhe price you have to pay
for growth ."
This president had co lower his sights in order to hasten growth of che
Westside campus. When the Board of Trustees voced in 1975 co concentrate on
building just two buildings-a classroom structure and a dormicory-racher than
a total campus, Bersi accepted the decision as "a realistic game plan." He spenc
the rest of his administration crying to dispel the myth that Western wanted a
grand and oudandishly expensive Westside complex. In 1979, he tried co dispose
of what he termed "che 200-million-dollar straw man" by gaining board approval
for a ten-year, limited-growth plan for boch campuses that would cost less than
$40 million.
The Commission for Higher Education proved co be the locus of che most
166

consistent opposition to Western's expansion. Shortly after Bersi's arrival in the
summer of 1975, Vice Chancellor Louis Rabineau advised Governor Grasso not to
include funds for the new campus on her list of bonding priorities because the
1960s master plan was based on outdated and inaccurate enrollment estimates.
His suggestion chat the Westside property be sold shocked and angered the Board
of Trustees. The commission was attuned to the needs of private colleges, particularly chose newer institutions eager to recruit mote students. Members listened to
people like Philip Kaplan, the outspoken president of the University of New
Haven, who dismissed Western's ambitions as "grandiose and absurd." Kaplan
had a vested interest in checking the school's growth. He convinced the commission to delay approval of Western's MAin Administrative Science on the grounds
that it would rival the Master of Business Administration program caught by
University of New Haven faculty in rented space in Danbury.
The future of the commission itself was far from secure. At the stare of
the Grasso administration, for the fourth time since the 1930s, Connecticut
considered placing control of higher education in the hands of a single board of
regents, similar to the system used in New York state. Both John Filer, the chairman of the board of Aetna Life and Casualty, who had been commissioned by
Governor Grasso to make suggestions for streamlining state government, and
Samuel Gould, the former chancellor of education in New York, now retained as a
consultant by the Board ofTrustees, recommended such a unified approach. The
General Assembly rejected this advice and instead, in the 1977 session, substituted a stronger, twenty-member Connecticut Board of Higher Education for the
unpopular commission.
Bersi rook advantage of this unsettled situation to restructure the college
into three schools, each headed by a dean . He combined the eleven liberal arts
departments into the School of Arts and Sciences under the direction of Gloria
Brunell. Psychology Professor Fred O'Neill became the first dean of the School of
Professional Studies, which encompassed the departments of education, music and
nursing. Stephen Feldman, the dean of the business school at Hofstra University,
was hired to direct the School of Business Administration. This reorganization
was primarily a defensive maneuver designed to foil assimilation into a single
167

higher education system. "We are now a lot more difficult to swallow than we
were a year ago," Bersi quipped in 1977. However, creating an organizational
chart suitable for a large university also was part of his relentless campaign to
accentuate Danbury's growth potencial.
The ocher pocket of resistance to what Bersi referred to as Western's need to
"break out" was located in the Connecticut General Assembly. Two New Haven
legislators, Representative Irving Stolberg, a Democrat, and Senator Laurence
DeNardis, a Republican (not coincidentally college professors at Southern
Connecticut State and Albercus Magnus respectively), did everything they could
to cut off funds for the new campus. Whatever their private motivation, they
publicly based their opposition on a controversial 1974 report written by David
Basch, the former planning director of the Board of Trustees. The report showed
that full-time enrollment at Western sagged far below the early predictions of
1968, when the Westside campus was conceived. Stolberg and DeNardis were
particularly "dangerous" because they were members of the Connecticut State
Bond Commission.
Governor Grasso was an enigma. She was publicly sympathetic to Western's
needs. On many occasions-in each of her election campaigns, and in her remarks
at Ruth Haas' retirement dinner, for example-she pledged support for the second campus. However, she failed to back up her words with action. On October
24, 1976, just two weeks before election day, Grasso's rhetoric became more specific. After three Western student leaders, briefed by Bersi, presented the governor with data on the high cost of living in Danbury, she promised to build a dormitory on the new campus. This assurance notwithstanding, Grasso, a realistic
politician, was determined not to lee the state slip back into large deficits. In
October 1978, nevertheless, the governor finally directed the State Bond Commission, over the objections of Stolberg and DeNardis, to release $5.2 million
for construction of a classroom building. The road on the Westside was closer to
having a destination.
One more baccle, a microcosm of the long struggle, had to be fought. When
the low bid for construction came in at nearly $8 million, the Connecticut Department of Public Works had to ask the State Bond Commission for extra funds.
168

In February 1979, the governor inexplicably sent the request for mote money
back to the Board of Higher Education for review. Critics there resumed agitating
for limited expansion of the Midtown campus only. Deputy Commissioner of
Education Nan Robertson even brought a state engineer to Danbury to evaluate
the long-rejected option of high-rise buildings on the White Street property.
At this point, the Student Government Association stepped in . On March
9th, a procession of 250 cars and buses filled with students- most of whom had
never seen the normally padlocked Mill Plain Road campus site- tied up traffic
in the city for over an hour as it wound its way from the Student Union on the
Midtown campus to the Westside. Heading the cortege was a hearse carrying a
coffin labeled "The Death of Higher Education in Danbury." As television cameras rolled, student pall bearers under a protective canopy lowered the coffin into
a freshly dug grave. Before Ray Lubus, the energetic SGA president who had masterminded the event, played taps on his trumpet, Bersi gave a eulogy in which he
predicted, "We will all be out here in the near future to resurrect WestConn."
The president proved to be a prophet. A few weeks after the mock funeral,
an irate Governor Grasso dismissed Board of Higher Education objections and
ordered the State Bond Commission to act. By a six-to-four vote, with the
legislative members including Stolberg and DeNardis in the minority, the Bond
Commission released an additional $4.5 million for the first building on the
Westside campus. Construction began in April 1979, almost a decade after the
state had purchased the property.
The fame of Danbury native Charles Ives provided an unexpected opportunity for Bersi to simultaneously push the Westside campus forward and gain public
notice for the college. On July 4, 1974, a crowd of seven thousand people had
endured sitting in the sweltering grandstand at the Danbury Fairgrounds to listen
to the American Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Leonard Bernstein,
perform the works of the avant-garde composer born in Danbury one hundred
years earlier. National media had covered and praised the event. Western Music
Professor Howard Tuvelle, one of the organizers of this Centennial tribute, had
an even more ambitious agenda. He saw the concert as the first step toward
establishing, on the Westside campus, a permanent cultural center dedicated to
169

Charles lves, and to modern music and art. Armed with a small grant from the
National Endowment for the Arts and backed by an organization of local arts
figures, including the internationally famous soprano Marion Anderson, Tuvelle
took his idea to the new president.
Bersi was enthusiastic, sensing political as well as artistic gains. Asking
Tuvelle co derail his concept in text and sketches, the president chen commissioned John Johansen's architectural firm, responsible for the now-defunct
Westside master plan, to draw up a preliminary design proposal for a cultural
center. The study, funded by Union Carbide Corporation, which was soon to settle
in Danbury, impressed Governor Grasso. It was hard to resist a cultural complex
char included a three-thousand-sear outdoor pavilion (which Leonard Bernstein
agreed could be named after him), two indoor concert halls, a multimedia theater,
a music library, and offices for the departments of music and arc-especially if the
stare did nor have to pay the estimated $5 million cost for irs construction. In
1977, the governor granted the Charles lves Center, Inc. permission to build and
operate, bur not own, a performing arcs center on a thirty-nine-acre plot located
on the edge of the Westside campus. Regardless of the ultimate fare of the lves
Center, the immediate impact advanced Bersi's agenda by enhancing the public
image of Western Connecticut State College.
Bersi believed the lves Center formula-private financial support of public
educational institutions, common in western states bur rare in staid Connecticut
-could make Western Connecticut State College "an institution to be reckoned
with." From the rime he arrived in the state, Bersi had cultivated the large corporations headquartered within the orbit of the college; in 1978, he formed the
Corporate College Council. Members were cop executives of area companies who
would meet quarterly to offer advice about ways the school could assist the
business community. Corporations appreciated chis access. One CEO remarked
approvingly, "When we sit for breakfast and discuss various projects for the
college, we're an integral parr of the direction the college rakes. It's great to
have the ear of the school. It's sore of [like} being the Board of Directors."
Bersi's investment paid irs first major dividend in 1980, when Nathan
Ancell, the seventy-one-year-old chairman of the board of Ethan Allen Company,
170

contributed $600,000 in company stock to the college. The furniture manufacturing giant had recently moved its corporate offices from New York City to acreage
adjacent to the Westside campus on Mill Plain Road. In return for the contribution, Bersi agreed to make the Westside building under construction, originally
designated for the behavioral sciences, the home of a business school to be named
after Ancell. The gram was announced at a press conference in che company board
room while area corporate executives dined on shrimp and champagne. It inaugurated a $5-million-fund-raising drive. Within che nexc year, the family of Robert
Young, che late president of Fairfield Processing Corporation, gave an unspecified
but substantial amount for a business library, and the Perkin-Elmer Corporation
followed suit with a gift of a computer system worth more chan $300,000.
But there were abundant signs that Robert Bersi did not intend to stay long
in Connecticut. His sights were trained on greener pastures. From 1978 on, he
was among top candidates for consideration to head universities in Arizona,
California, Norch Carolina, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Virginia. In each
case, Bersi ultimately withdrew his name from consideration, clarifying for the
benefic of concerned Conneccicut citizens char he had nor applied for che posicion
bur had been nominated by an outside parry. However, in February 1980, Bersi
announced he was returning to che West. In part to be near his terminally ill
father, he accepted che pose of chancellor of che University of Nevada's sevencollege syscem.
Bersi had been ac Western for less than six years. Yec in char brief span, he
had accomplished his political and public-relations goals. The first building was
caking shape on che new campus. A few months after his resignation, construction
began on che second structure: a 230-bed dormitory to be named, at che urging of
Western undergraduates, for Ella Grasso, who had died of cancer in early 1981.
By enticing major corporate financial contributions, Bersi had altered che image
of the school. When asked in a November 2000 interview about che significance
of these private donations to Western Connecticut State College, che former president contended chat chey represented Western's announcement to the scare thac
"We have arrived; don't ignore us anymore. Listen to us!" •

171

Note On Sources
The many rributes to Ruth Haas on her retirement as president are in the Haas
Papers in the University Archives. In addition, the Archives has a copy of the 1973 Reaccreditation Self Study and the Re-evaluation Report of the New England Association of
Schools and Colleges. A copy of the 1974 pamphlet, \Vhy B11ild it Nou •, is in the Warner
Papers in the Archives. The Archives also contains the Warner clipping file and copies of
the Echo, which is of particularly high quality for these years.
President Bersi generously granted me a long telephone interview, in which he
reviewed in detail the events of his administration. Karen Jean Hunt, the head of the
Archives and Special Collections Department at California State University at Dominguez
Hills Library, provided me with a copy of Judson Grenier's The Rainbow Year·s 1960-1985:

The Fim Q11arter Cent11ry of California State University, Doming11ez Hills (1985). She also supplied me with segments of Professor Grenier's oral history interviews with Dominguez
Hills' first president, Leo Cain. Grenier himself made helpful additional comments by email. The process of Bersi's selection as the school's third president is derailed in oral
history interviews with Gloria Brunell and James Dyer in 1976, shortly after Bersi took
over.
Connecticut politics in the 1970s is covered in Joseph Lieberman's The Legacy;

Connectimt Politics, 1930-1980 (1981). Francis Collins and Clarice Osiecki, both Republican members of the Connecticut House of Representatives during this decade, provided
behind-the-scenes details of legislative maneuvering as part of their lengthy oral history
interviews. The Connecticut economy during this period is not nearly as well documented.
The best survey is The Connectimt Economy, 1950-1975: An Overview, produced by the
Economic Development Planning Division of the Connecticut Department of Commerce
in 1978.

Above: President Robert Bersi bro11ght a
youthful zest a11d a touch of the American
\Vest to his Danb11ry office. The longhorns
and roll-top desk were family treamres.
(\VCSU Archives)

Above: In 1980 Nathan Ancell, the chairman
of the board of Ethan Allen Company, donated
$600,000 to \\!'estern. Ancell, Presulent
Bersi, Governor Ella Grasso, and Bminess
School Dean Stephen Feldman (I to 1·) celebrate
this unprecedented partnership.

172

Howard Tuvelle gave me access ro the extensive correspondence, reports, and clippings he has collected in relation ro the founding and development of the Charles lves
Center. Of particular interest is the November 2, 1977, letter from Leonard Bernstein
expressing eagerness ro have the ourdoor pavilion at the proposed lves Center named after
him . Tuvelle elaborated on these materials in a candid taped interview. His papers and the
interview cape have been deposited in the Haas Library Archives.

Above: This sketch by architect john johamm helped convince state authorities in 1977 to permit a
private organization to build and operate the CharleJ lves Centet· on the WeJtJide campra.
(\YICSV Archives)

Above: On March 9, I 979, the Student
Gwermnent AJJociatioll, with the backi11g of
Pwidmt Bmi, staged a mock funeral for higher
edrtcation 011 the 11ormally padlocked Westside
camprts. Attendant publicity helped spur action on
the seco11d campus. Uames Dyer Col/ectio11)

173

Above: The physical facility completed for the
Charles lves Cmter was much more modest
than the original concept. (Photo by Peggy
Stewart)

Above: President Bersi, Governor Grasso and members of the Board ofTmstees
inspect the bedraggled Midtown campus in 1979. Uames Dyer Collection)
Opposite: President Bersi gives visitmg Governor Grasso a look at the sad
stale of the science labs in Higgins Hall.
(WCSU Archives)

174

CHAPTER TEN

THE MIRACLE OF WESCON N*
At the end of March 1977 , the News-Times published a five-part series that
the newspaper headlined "Wesconn Report Card." The author, Kristin Nord, who
would later reach journalism at the school, pulled no punches in describing the
bedraggled Midtown campus. An opening sentence of the first article set the
tone: "During these late winter months, the campus is at irs worst: muddy hallways, leaky roofs, dingy corridors and icy parking lots." Much of the story is a
depressing litany of deferred maintenance, slashed budgets, low salaries, and worn
equipment. No one reading Nord's account would give the physical aspects of life
at Western Connecticut Stare College a passing grade.
However, the young reporter was perceptive enough to notice another side
of the college. In talking to students and faculty, she found eager learners and
talented reachers. Pat Rogan, a middle-aged mother of seven who had returned
to school in 1975, told Nord, "This is a tired old campus that's badly run down.
The only thing that's keeping it going is the reaching and the motivation."
Chemistry Professor Paul Hines confessed that because of "the incredible amount
of enthusiasm, dedication and intellectual giving that exists under really strained

*In 1978, President Bersi, acting on the advice of advertising consultants, decreed that the school's
nickname would become "WestConn," rather than the commonly used "Wesconn," to emphasize
the institution's commitment to the region.

175

conditions," reaching at Western was an "exhilarating experience for me." Hines
added, "I call it rhe miracle ofWesconn." The flourishing of education despite
inadequate facilities may not have been miraculous, but it did characterize
Western Connecticut Stare College in the 1970s.
The economic recession that plagued Connecticut during rhe decade did
more than postpone construction on rhe Westside campus, it intensified the problems of an aged and overcrowded downtown facility. In an effort ro pare the stare
deficit, Governor Meskill imposed a hiring freeze on all stare agencies and, in a
maneuver of questionable legality, eliminated for one year the guaranteed salary
increment for stare college faculty. He and his successor, Ella Grasso, regularly
cur funding for rhe four state colleges. Western's share of rhe rota! state college
budget during this period amounted ro about 15 percent. Central and Southern
together received 75 percent of the available money. Inflation magnified rhe impact of reduced spending. Between 197 4 and 1980, for example, the cost of hearing campus buildings rose 515 percent while the number of full-rime students
increased by just 1 percent.
Connecticut officials could not resist rhe temptation ro make students
carry more of the financial burden of operating rhe stare colleges, reversing rhe
rime-honored rener rhat public education was a taxpayer responsibility. When
Governor Meskill (glorying in his sobriquet of "Tough Tommy") rook office in
1971, Connecticut residents paid an annual one-hundred-dollar fee, imposed by
rhe Board of Trustees, ro attend a state college. This levy was nor classified as
tuition. Our-of-state students paid a four-hundred-dollar fee plus three hundred
dollars in tuition. When he asked the General Assembly ro impose a tuition
charge of six hundred dollars per year on Connecticut students, Meskill met
resistance. Western Connecticut student and future Danbury mayor, Jim Dyer,
who was named the first undergraduate member ofrhe Board ofTrusrees in 1970,
organized the Keep Tuition Down Committee that bombarded the legislature
with a ten-thousand-signature petition of protest from angry parents and students
from all parts of the stare. Five hundred Western students participated in a 1971
anti-tuition rally in Hartford's Bushnell Park. Dyer, castigating the Republican
governor for "looking

to

rhe campus

to

remedy the state's financial woes," helped
176

force a compromise. Beginning in 1972, for the first time, in-state students paid
tuition amounting to $300 a year in addition to an annual $150 fee. The total
yearly cost for non-Connecticut students nearly doubled to $1,350. This cost
structure remained in place until 1979, when the state boosted the annual charge
for those living outside of Connecticut to a substantial $1,720. Connecticut students entering WestConn in that year had to come up with $730, seven times
more than their brothers and sisters who had started at Danbury ten years earlier.
Though moderate compared with the price of private colleges, the higher
tuition and fee schedule of the Connecticut system had an adverse effect on
Western's enrollment. Throughout the 1960s, the school had set attendance
records each year. Starting in 1971, numbers began to level off. In part, this was
a tuition-induced decline in clientele from adjacent New York state. Westchester
and Putnam Counties, because of convenient highway access to Danbury and a
lack of affordable local public higher education facilities, had traditionally provided a large number of students.
The increase in tuition also forced more in- and out-of-state students into
part-time status, thereby changing the composition of the Danbury student body.
As full-time enrollment fell, part-time attendance rose until, by 1975, there was
a difference of less than five hundred in the total student population of fifty-two
hundred. Thanks to this surge in part-time study, the overall enrollment at
Western continued to climb slowly during the 1970s.
Other factors were even more important in cooling the school's rate of
growth. A sharp decline in the number of school-age children in Connecticut led
to a surplus of teachers in the state. In response to this trend, wary students
turned away from a career in education. By 1975, only 831 undergraduates at
Western majored in education, a drop of 40 percent from the 1971 figure.
However, the main reason more students didn't come to Danbury in the 1970s
was a familiar one: they didn't have any place to live. Off-campus apartments
were scarce and expensive. Director of Admissions Les LaFond summed up the
bleak campus situation in a 1976 interview, pointing out that the college had
dormitory space for just 588 students, including room for 124 men in Newbury
Hall. There were so few vacancies that his staff could accommodate only 116 of

177

----

--

-

- -

-~----~~-~-~~--

--

----=-~--

-------:

the 1,239 housing applications received in the fall semester. The harried LaFond
observed that, based on national standards, the entire school had reached irs saturation point in the mid-1960s and currently had 10 to 15 percent more students
than the tiny White Street property could handle.
Lean budgets rook a roll on academic programs. Physics and French were
dropped as majors in the early '70s. The demise of French, a staple of traditional
liberal arts curricula, prompted sharp criticism from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the regional accrediting body, as well as loud complaints from the recently formed campus chapter of the American Federation of
Teachers. In the spring of 1973, ten faculty members, including four with tenure,
were let go--a shocking development, since only three years earlier almost forty
new faculty had been hired. When one of the dismissed teachers (a Caucasian professor of history) charged reverse-racial discrimination, citing the simultaneous
hiring of an African-American reacher by the department, students, stirred up by
some faculty, staged protest rallies. Their general frustration with cutbacks was
expressed on signs they carried at these gatherings with legends such as "You can
get more courses at a Chinese restaurant than at Wesconn!"
Most of the harm done to education at the college during the 1970s was
more irritating than lethal. The supplies and equipment budget was cut to the
bone. Ruth Kohl, the chair of the nursing department, told reporter Nord that
her fifteen-hundred-dollar annual allotment "gets used up in a month." Students
were amused, and often distracted, when mimeographed class materials appeared
on the reverse side of already used paper. Faculty were definitely not amused
when introductory classes suddenly ballooned to one hundred students. Fortunately, the dimensions of most existing classrooms prevented flagrant recourse
to this economy measure. Classes were often delayed because the school could
not afford to have the parking lots plowed in the early morning after winter
snow storms.
The library provided an inviting target for retrenchment. During this period, the book budget was severely curtailed. Subscriptions to scholarly journals
lapsed. Professional positions went unfilled. There was no money for student help.
At the start of the 1978 academic year, beleaguered library Director Robert
178

Blaisdell, his staff short three professionals, touched off a student rebellion by
closing the library on Sundays and restricting Saturday opening to a mere four
hours. After enduring complaints for one month, President Bersi found a way to
restore normal service.
No subject was more incendiary at this predominately commuter school
than automobile parking. Grass became an endangered species on campus because almost every area nor occupied by a building was paved for vehicle use.
Nevertheless, rhe seven hundred available parking spaces fell far short of demand.
Frustrated students rushing to class left their vehicles in prohibited areas along
city streets, irritating homeowners. During the first three weeks of the fall 1976
semester, campus and city police issued 5 50 parking tickets to Western students.
The previous year, the school scholarship fund had benefited from a windfall of
fourteen hundred dollars in parking fines. No help came from the state. The
Department of Public Works consistently found reasons not to pave the collegeowned land on the south side of White Street, derisively referred to by students as
"The Pit." Those who were bold or frantic enough to leave their cars there had to
cope with ruts, hub-cap-deep mud, and vandalism. The supreme irony came in
1979, when Mayor Donald Boughton drove to the school ro discuss parking problems and was ticketed by campus police for leaving his city vehicle in a restricted
fire zone. A picture of the mayor's car resting in an illegal parking spot emblazoned on the front page of the Echo provoked laughter but little sympathy.

Left: Automobiles
mired in the 11111d in
the unpaved parking
lot on the south side of
\Vhite Street (presellf
location of the parking
garage). The lot was
sarcastically referred
to as "The Pit."
(\VCSU Archwes)

179

Probably the most depressing feature of the campus environment was the
dilapidated condition of che buildings. Again, the state routinely ignored requests
for money for emergency repairs. Governor Grasso's 1976 budget cur of over one
million dollars from the state college system translated into che loss of four maintenance employees ac Western. The remaining custodial staff could barely keep up
with routine cleaning. Individual buildings, even chose chat were comparatively
new, needed attention. Joyce Luongo Flanagan, a music major from Yorktown
Heights, New York, remembered chat her parents would inevitably ask, "Are we
paying for this?" when she rook them into White Hall, where most of her classes
were caught. Less chan cen years after the former high school building had been
renovated, ic suffered from disintegrating stairways, peeling paine, holes in blackboards, broken venetian blinds, and clocks chat did not work. Ocher buildings
suffered similarly. An anonymous wag penciled "San Wesconn Fault" beneath a
gaping crack in che cinderblock wall on che third floor of Higgins Hall. Professor
Donald Groff, who caught geology, explained chat the most recent addition co the
science building was slowly sinking into what once had been a glacial swamp.
Professor John Tufts spoke about Berkshire Hall, which housed che English
deparcmenc, in biting terms. He charged chat "any home owner who allowed
his home co go co pieces as Berkshire [is} would be known as a slum lord."
Dormitories were in beccer condition, although Vice President for Administrative
Affairs Carl Robinson estimated in 1977 that it would take approximately
$250,000 co bring fifry-year-old Fairfield Hall up co modern standards. The
Student Union could accommodate the needs of a maximum of twelve hundred
students, a figure che school had exceeded as far back as 1964. When state inspectors in 1978 discovered numerous fire code violations in campus buildings, che
problem escalated from inconvenience co safety. Suddenly even che most economyminded officials found che money co remedy these deficiencies.
No activities suffered more from financial stringency during these years rhan
physical education and athletics . All students were required co cake four physical
education courses. In addition, the college offered an incercollegiace athletic program of five men's and five women's spores. Facilities for classes and athletics
were deplorable. Joyce Luongo Flanagan, class of 1978, has vivid memories of the
180

Left: Athletics faced
many obstacles in the
1970s. The baseball
team attracted few
SfJectators to its home
games played at the
shabb; Lee hat factory
f1eld on Triangle
Street.
(\VCSU Archit,es)

chaos involved when the women's field hockey team, the men's soccer ream, and
rhe men's football squad arrempred to practice simultaneously on the school's
single athletic field. Dr. Haas (hardly a booster of varsity sports), shorrly before
her retirement, complained ro the Board of Trustees that the baseball ream was
forced ro play on a sandlot field behind a hat factory, and the football ream
depended on the good will of the city ro use the substandard Osborne Street
property. Members of the basketball ream, she said, risked injury by banging into
the walls of the school's tiny court. Her resentment at this situation leaps from
the page of the September 197 4 board minutes: "Miss Haas wished the record ro
show that the request for physical education facilities was nor based on a desire
for better facilities-bur stems from the position of having nothing."
WesrConn's shortcomings were obvious; irs strengths were real bur less
apparent. Despite economic stringency, the college offered the most diverse set
of courses of any of the four state insrirurions. The music and nursing programs
were the best in Connecricur. New programs in areas such as business administration and criminal justice, added in response ro regional demands, flourished.
Community pressure also prompted the establishment of a joint Master of
Business Administration program with the University of Connecticut in 1974.
Despite the objections of suspicious UConn officials who charged it was a
"disguised MBA," President Bersi won approval for a Masters of Science in
Administration curriculum in 1977, ro serve the needs of local corporations.
Music was, and still is, WesrConn's jewel. Designated as the music school
181

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Above: \Vestemmmic professor and accomplished composer james Furman rehearses the school's choms.
(WCSU Archives)

for the state system in 1945, the school offered degrees in music education and
professional performance. Limited in size by available practice and rehearsal space,
both programs were highly competitive, requiring an audition besides the normal
admissions procedure. Many were turned away. In 1973, for example, only 75 of
the 140 applicants were accepted. A young and energetic faculty of sixteen fulltime members at its peak, aided by a corps of accomplished adjuncts, molded
these talented students into a variety of performance groups ranging from a symphony orchestra to a jazz ensemble. The concert choir performed such original
works as Professor James Furman's oratorio, "I Have a Dream," inspired by the
life of his friend Martin Luther King. The choir sang at the April 1977 premiere
of Furman's tone poem, "Declaration of Independence," which was narrated by
Governor Grasso. Furman, a specialist in African-American gospel music, was a
mainstay of the department from 1965 until his death in 1989.
The 20th Century Arts Festival typified the creative energy present at
Western Connecticut State College during this period. Begun by the music
department in 1966 to honor Charles Ives, the annual four-day March event
aimed ro foster "understanding and appreciation of the living arts in our own
rime." The focus was originally on the music of Ives, bur it rapidly expanded to
include other forms of modern music, such as jazz, along with art, dance, drama,
poetry, and architecture. At its peak from 1974 to 1979, the Festival brought a
famous composer to the campus each year, including some who lived in the area.
182

'

Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, John Cage, Lucas Foss, and Karel Husain
succession delighted audiences and inspired students.
These famous musicians came to Danbury as teachers as well as performers.
Officially "artists in residence," they participated in seminars and informal discussions with students and faculty, and rehearsed student musical groups in preparation for public concerts of the visiting composers' own work. The educational
contribution of these renowned artists justified Student Government Association
financing of the Festival.
The general public flocked ro the new Ives Concert Hall-dedicated in
1970-for these free performances. Some were pur off by the early avant-garde
emphasis . The music critic of the News-Times described the audience reaction to
"an electronic theater collage of sound and movement" in 1967 as "one of mass
nervousness, an uneasiness that was accompanied by fidgeting and writhing."
She added, "Sensitive music lovers had to remove their fingers from their ears
to applaud ." In 1974, when the festival was revived after a three-year hiatus, it
offered less extreme, and therefore more popular, fare. Several hours before Aaron
Copland was scheduled to lead the student orchestra, wind ensemble, concert
choir, and chorus in a performance of "Lincoln Portrait" in 1975, the lobby of
Ives Auditorium was jammed with people trying to get tickets.
Like the music major, the nursing program at the school had originated in
the immediate post-World War II era. In 1945, the college began to offer liberal
arts courses to assist registered nurses who had been trained in three-year hospital
programs bur desired bachelor of science degrees. Twenty years later, professional
medical opinion had shifted toward requiring all nurses have a college degree.
Danbury Hospital, eager ro close its School of Nursing, urged WestConn to
develop a four-year nursing baccalaureate syllabus that would use the hospital's
facilities. Dr. Haas seized the opportunity to make the school the third college in
the state to offer an undergraduate nursing degree (the University of Connecticut
and the University of Bridgeport also offered four-year nursing degrees at this
time). It immediately became the most selective major on campus.
Beginning with the first class admitted in 1966, all students, with the
exception of a few carefully chosen minority candidates who showed potential

183

despite a flawed academic background, were ranked in the upper half of their
high school graduating class. By 1975, the program could accept only sixty-two
(including a handful of men) of the 425 who applied that year. Faculty had grown
to eighteen members. Under the leadership of Dr. Ruth Kohl, the former director
of nursing at Danbury Hospital, Western Connecticut State College received, in
1980, an eight-year period of accreditation, the longest duration granted by the
National League of Nursing.
The specialized facilities that were available limited the number of students
that the music and nursing departments could accept. No such restrictions curbed
the business administration major. Begun in 1969 with fifteen students and
retired business executive John Raglan as chair and sole faculty member,
that department grew to four hundred students and a staff of four in less than
five years. In 1977, President Bersi made the School of Business and Public
Administration one of the three base units of his reorganization scheme. Dean
Stephen Feldman, in an end-of-the-decade progress report, enumerated the
accomplishments of what would soon become the Ancell School: it had twentyfour faculty members, all with Ph.D.s or CPAs; it had raised admission standards;
it had an honors program open to the top 15 percent of high school graduates.
"In two years," Feldman predicted, "we'll probably be turning away undergraduate students."
The University of Connecticut's claim that it had a statutory monopoly on
state-supported advanced study in this professional discipline stymied the equally
intense demand for graduate training in business administration at WestConn.
The Commission for Higher Education approved a temporary arrangement that
permitted UConn

to

offer two graduate courses leading to the MBA degree each

semester on the WCSC campus. One course would be staffed by a professor from
Storrs, the other by a WestConn faculty member. By the time the first courses
were offered in September 1971, forty persons had registered in the program,
an indication of the urgent need for such a service in this region. The Board of
Trustees agreed this was a stop-gap measure, useful only until the state college
was permirred to fashion irs own graduate business curriculum.
That was nor a simple objective. Private institutions like the University
184

ofNew Haven and the University of Hartford, along with the University of
Connecticut, had strong objections to giving WestConn permission

to

launch

professional programs in any discipline, but particularly in business.* To get
around this resistance, the college designed a Master of Science in Administration
degree that President Bersi insisted was complementary, not competitive, with
established programs because it catered

to

the job needs of corporate middle man-

agement, a group not served by MBA courses. The backing of large area corporations helped persuade the commission

to

grant approval of this unique degree in

1977.
In the 1970s, the morale of the dedicated faculty was tested. Salaries had
slipped far behind the inflation rate. Department chairs organized to deal more
equitably with the administration. Kathleen McGrory, the forceful and highly
competent chair of the English department, was a spokesperson for the group that
was bound together by the "shared frustrations" of meager authority, skimpy
department budgets-two hundred dollars per year was the norm-and deficient
support services. Discouragement over these obstacles led her
1979

to

to

leave Danbury in

become the dean at Eastern Connecticut State College, and afterwards the

president of Hartford College For Women. The overwhelming Faculty Senate vote
to adjourn indefinitely in 1978 occurred because, as Senate President Ray Baubles
put it, "We are getting absolutely nowhere." It was simply another barometer of
faculty frustration.
Hesitantly, the faculty turned

to

unionization in hopes of solving its prob-

lems of pay and power. For many years, the campus professional organizations
(the Connecticut State Employees Association [CSEA], the Connecticut Education Association [CEA], and the American Association of University Professors
[AAUP]) had brought grievances to the attention of the Board of Trustees
through a Faculty Advisory Council. In 1970, the American Federation of
Teachers [AFT] challenged this genteel approach-ridiculed by Math Professor
Wallace Lee as "collective begging"-by establishing a union chapter at the
college. Led by Lee and John Eichrodt of the English department, Local 2136
*The objecrions of University of New Haven President Philip Kaplan also delayed Commission
endorsement of Western"s application to offer a criminal justice undergraduate degree in 1974.

185

publicly criticized the administration's responses to budget reductions, often
in intemperate language, and engaged in informational picketing on campus.
Their aggressiveness attracted considerable faculty support. The AFT claimed in
January 1972 that seventy-seven faculty members endorsed rhe group's tactics.
Others dismissed this agitation as irrelevant because Connecticut teachers
were not allowed to unionize.
In 1975, the General Assembly, pressured by President John Driscoll of the
Connecticut State Labor Council AFL-CIO and a power in the Democratic Party,
changed rhe rules of the game by passing a law permitting public employees to
form unions. The Board of Trustees did not contest this action but insisted that
a single union had to represent the faculty at all four colleges. The first voce to
choose a bargaining agent in February 1975 was won by the AFT; bur the
margin was so close that a second ballot, a month later, was required by law.
This time the AAUP eked our a narrow 567-500 victory. While the tabulation
from each campus was never revealed, it is certain that Western was a hotbed
of AFT support.* The choice of the AA UP indicated a preference among the
majority of state college faculty for moderate professionalism over militant
confrontation.
Negotiations for the first contract consumed most of 1976. The Western
team of science professors Alan Adler and Jean Kreizinger and their counterparts
from the ocher campuses mer weekly with the representatives of the board. Sessions were intense bur civilized. Kreizinger tells of being invited to spend the
night at the home of rhe young woman lawyer representing the board when deliberations ran so late chat Kreizinger could nor get back to Danbury. The finished product, approved by rhe legislature in May 1977, was a model three-year
contract both in irs salary provisions and in irs clearly defined faculty rights and
obligations. The contract called for a 6.6 percent pay raise retroactive to December 1976; a 7 percent increase in 1977-78; and a 5.8 percent boose in 1978-79.
Most of this maneuvering was probably unnoticed by students, many of

• Informal accounts agree that Western and Southern backed the AFT. Anthony Ficarra of the Western
foreign language department exemplified the zeal of the AFT boosters. He insisted on being transported to the campus despite a broken hip so he could cast his ballot.

186

whom had come to Western by unorthodox paths. Beginning in 1973, approximately 150 young people with weak high school records and sub-standard SAT
scores were admitted each year to a remedial two-year regime known as Basic
Studies. The primary goal of this track--described by irs initial director, Psychology Professor Sister Mary Friel, as "a community college inside the baccalaureate program "-was to move students into regular courses. The proportion of
older students also swelled during these years. Director of Admissions LaFond
estimated in 1976 that two thousand of the school's fifty-two hundred students
fell into this category, referred to as "Non-Trad," in Western parlance. The median age of this group was thirty-four years. LaFond's successor, Del Kinney, reported that in 1982, 16 percent of the full-time students were Non-Trads. A significant segment of the student body had begun college elsewhere. Almost three
hundred students transferred to Danbury from other colleges annually. Any
Connecticut community college graduate with a 2.0 average could automatically
move into a four-year Connecticut state college.
Basic Studies was a product of necessity and altruism. In the early 1970s, as
declining enrollment threatened faculty positions, the administration searched for
a way to attract more students without lowering admissions standards. An appropriate model already existed. Each summer from 1970 to 1973, a special qualifying program directed by Constance Terry Wilds prepared twenty disadvantaged
students from Connecticut urban ghettos to enter Western. As a result of this
intensive training, minority registration more than doubled. Even though motivated in part by job security, the faculty rook Basic Studies seriously. Only those
committed to the program taught in it. They concentrated on remedial work in
small classes, on building study skills, and on individual advisement. Stephen
Flanagan, who had pursued a vocational course at Danbury High School, entered
Basic Studies in 1974 with apprehension, but recalled that he encountered four of
Western's best teachers in his first semester. After a single year, he moved into the
regular program, graduating three years later with honors. His achievement was
not unusual. Professor of Education John Devine reviewed the first ten years of
the program 's history and found Basic Studies students graduated at the same rate
as those admitted under traditional rules .
187

Mary Friel did not need a scientific study to tell her what was happening. In
1983, she attached a proud note to a newspaper article about Steve Flanagan's
candidacy for the Danbury Common Council (he would serve three terms on this
body) and sent it to Dean of Arts and Sciences James Pegolotti. The note read, "I
thought you would enjoy knowing one of many success stories because of Basic
Studies availability."
Those who came to Western Connecticut State College during this period,
either to teach or to study, noticed and commented on the strong bond that existed between students and faculty. Teachers kept generous office hours and students
took advantage of this opportunity to discuss common interests. The establishment of White Hall's Elbert Gross Library, named in honor of the recently
deceased chair of the social sciences department, was a joint student-faculty
initiative, as was Clio, the history department magazine, which was first published in 1973. Many courses had elements of active learning that featured collaboration between faculty and students. Author and foreign correspondent Arnold
Brackman taught journalism from the late 1970s until his death in 1983, and
used the school newspaper as the training ground for his proteges. History students enrolled in Professor David Detzer's "Crime and Punishment" course produced a carefully researched film on Danbury's "crime of the century," the 1970
bombing and bank robbery that involved brothers James and John Pardue. The
film was clearly effective; in 1977, Connecticut's attorney general, responding to
complaints of the lawyers for the Pardues that the film could prejudice their
clients' trial, banned a public showing of the documentary.
Left: tv! embers of the \VestCo1111 chajJter of the
American Federation of Teachers, organized in
1970, engage 111 informational picketing along
\'(/bite Street. Uames Dyer Collection)

188

William Devlin, a history and environmental science major, transferred to
the school in 1976 and welcomed the contrast with the more orthodox curricu!urn of his previous college. In each of his two years at WestConn, he pursued a
project tailored to his interests. Geology Professor Donald Groff supervised a
study of the operation of wetlands commissions in area rowns that led ro Devlin's
appointment to the Brookfield commission. The hisrory department mentored an
exhibit on early Danbury craftsmen that he curated at the Scott-Fanton Museum.
Looking back at his college career, Devlin, now a teacher himself, commented
that at Western he had been "able to explore and not feel tied down." His assessment captured the strength of Western Connecticut State College in the 1970s. •

Note On Sources
The Danbury News-Times was an indispensable source of information about this
transition period of Western's history. Use of the unindexed local newspaper is eased by the
existence of folders of clippings pertaining to the college and arranged in chronological
order in the Warner Papers. Special files containing newspaper stories about members of
the administration, the faculty, and individual students, as well as select topics such as the
Arts Festival and Basic Studies, are also in the Warner Papers. It should be noted that the
News-Times, during these years, published several in-depth reports about the college, such

as Kristin Nord's five-part piece (March 27-31, 1977) and Wayne Shepperd's four-part
investigation ofWestConn's athletic woes (November 21-24, 1976). Under Arnold
Brackman's guidance, the college newspaper adhered to high journalistic standards. The

Ecbo file in the Haas Library Archives, therefore, is a particularly full and reliable historical
source for this period.
Former Arts and Sciences Dean James Pegolorri gave me access to his file on Basic
Studies that included the results of the valuable investigation of the program he asked
John Devine

to

undertake: "The Basic Studies Program: The First Ten Years" (1982).

Howard Tuvelle's clipping file on the Arts Festival was also useful. In addition, four
emeriti professors in the nursing department-Helen Mizer, Lilla Dean, Harriette Tax, and
Elizabeth Olsen--compiled a short but helpful history of nursing at Western.
The recollections of the following faculty and students, who were interviewed either
by Jack Friel or myself, contributed to this chapter: Ray Baubles, Gertrude Braun, Gloria
Brunell, William Devlin, Joyce Luongo Flanagan, Stephen Flanagan, Sister Mary Friel,
Donald Groff, Ruth Kohl, Jean Kreizinger, Les LaFond, Wallace Lee, Raymond Lubus,
Kathleen McGrory, and Howard Tuvelle.

189

Abwe: After fifteen years of anticipation, the first building on the \Vestside campm, the home of the
Ancell School of Business, opened in January 1982. (\VCSU Archives)
Opposite: (I to r) President Stephen Feldman, Governor \Vi/limn O'Neill, and former presidents
Rlllh Haas and Robert Bersi attend the 1982 dedication of the \Vestside classroom building.
(\VCSU Archives)

190

CHAPTER ELEVEN

GROWING PAINS
By the start of the 1989 spring semester, the relationship between Western
President Stephen Feldman and the university faculty had soured. Rather than
calling for a vote of "no confidence" in the chief executive, a move that was seriously contemplated, the school's chapter of the AAUP decided to ask its members
to evaluate Feldman's performance as a leader. Ninety-seven full-time faculty
completed an elaborate five-page survey that gave them the opportunity to rate
the president in sixty-seven categories. The results were devastating. Feldman
graded high in a few important areas, such as obtaining outside funding and
increasing minority enrollment; however, the faculty judged his overall performance to be unsatisfactory. An April 1989 AAUP press release charged that
"Feldman scores particularly low in promoting good morale among faculty,
chasing (sic] and monitoring administrative subordinates, understanding faculty
points of view, and providing open and honest explanations for his actions." The

News-Times alerted its readers to the situation on campus with an alliterative and
inflammatory headline: "FELDMAN IS FLUNKED BY FACULTY."
This acrimony contrasted with the upbeat mood in the summer of 1981
when Feldman, the capable and respected dean of the Ancell School, had assumed
the presidency. Outgoing President Bersi favored him for the job. The Board of
Trustees, who had great confidence in Bersi's judgment, endorsed his choice.
191

James Frost, the executive director of the board, felt so strongly about Feldman's
ability char he had nominated him for the vacant post of president of Southern
Connecticut State College shortly before the WestConn position became available.
After a brief three-month search, an advisory committee representing WestConn's
faculty, administration, students, alumni, and the local community agreedthough not unanimously- that he was by far the strongest of the 130 candidates
for the job. James Dyer, then mayor of Danbury, who had also been a member of
the search committee that had chosen Bersi, judged that "Overall, Dr. Feldman
clearly had the best credentials and the greatest diversity of experience" of the six
finalists. The Danbury newspaper editorially praised the selection, saying that the
thirty-six year old dean appeared to be "exceptionally perceptive of where the college itself and western Connecticut in general could and should be heading."
The story of Feldman's rise ro the college's presidency resembled a Horatio
Alger saga. Born in 1945, he grew up in the blue-collar Crown Heights section of
Brooklyn, where he shared a cramped, one-bedroom apartment with his parents
and his sister. The family was close and supportive, but poor. His father, a Jewish
immigrant from Odessa, Russia, worked long hours without vacations as a waiter
in New York City restaurants. Young Stephen attended local public schools and,
along with other boys in the neighborhood, spent most of his leisure rime playing
sports in the schoolyard playground. During the summer, he worked as a messenger in midtown Manhattan. His strong academic record at Wingate High School
earned him admission to City College of New York, where tuition amounted to a
mere eight dollars a year.
CCNY provided a springboard to upward mobility for Feldman as it
did for thousands of children of immigrants in New York City. He lived at home,
commuted by subway to the college, and majored in accounting not because
the field enthralled him, bur because he felt it offered the best prospect for a
respectable job. His strategy seemed justified when, as an undergraduate, he
obtained a part-time, entry-level accounting position with Columbia Pictures,
which required him to wear a suit and tie. Feldman, an honor student, rook full
advantage of the placement services at City College. The school arranged sessions
with prospective employers, and turored the eager young man on the techniques
192

-

-

--

-

-

----

-

-

-

of preparing a resume and handling an interview. Thanks to chis guidance,
Feldman, in his senior year, received an arrracrive job offer from rhe prestigious
accounting firm of Price Waterhouse. He intended to accepr chis posicion and
chen earn his CPA by arrending night classes . When asked Iacer abour his career
goals ar rhe rime of his graduation, he answered with passion, "Never in one
hundred years did I chink of graduate school; I thought ic was great to finish
college!"
Ar chis point an unexpected opportunity presented itself. International financier Bernard Baruch, a CCNY alumnus, had recendy left a large bequest to his
alma mater to fund a graduate program in economics. Encouraged by his teachers,
Feldman applied for one of the full-tuition scholarships and a generous living
stipend underwritten by this gift. Only after he had been accepted for graduate
study did he consider rhe possibility of life as a college professor for rhe first rime.
Feldman would Iacer refer to rhe years that followed as the "euphoric
period " of his life. Working as hard as ever, he completed his master's degree and
his doctorate, reaching for one year ar Hunter College while writing his dissertation. In 1969, recendy married, he joined rhe Hofstra University faculty where he
remained for the next eight years teaching banking and investments. He authored
a book and several articles in his specialty and, during rhe last four years ar Hofstra, served as the chairman of rhe seven-person banking, finance and investments
department. Despite some uneasiness with a more privileged but less motivated
student body chan he had mer at CCNY, Feldman said he "felt like royalty" at
Hofstra. He and his wife owned their own home in Queens and were able to
purchase a new car. The couple rook full advantage of the cui rural events on the
Long Island campus of the private school.
Though proud of his accomplishments, Feldman aimed higher. As he saw it,
a deanship constituted the next logical step up rhe academic ladder for an enterprising department chairman. Blocked at Hofstra by the presence of a young and
capable dean, Feldman realized chat to move up he would have to move our.
Ordinarily rhe prospect of leaving New York City, where he had spent his entire
life, would have intimidated him. However, his experience as a management consultant for International Business Machines (whose employees at this rime joked
193

that IBM, the company initials, stood for "I've Been Moved") convinced him that
physical mobility, at least along the eastern seaboard, need not be hazardous.
When he spotted an advertisement for a position at Western Connecticut State
College, a school located a comfortable distance from Gotham, he applied. In the
summer of 1977, Feldman, only thirty-two years old, became the first dean of the
recently established School of Business and Professional Administration.
The transplanted New Yorker moved into the dean's office on the third floor
of Old Main at an opportune time. During the 1970s and 1980s, business schools
all over the country flourished. The migration of large corporations into western
Fairfield and northern Westchester Counties created an especially strong market
in the region for college graduates trained in business. Business Week magazine
reported that Union Carbide Corporation had relocated to Danbury in part because of the presence of Western's business school. Enrollment in the business
school increased, as did the number offaculty. By the early 1980s, the business
school enrolled about one-third of the full-time students and close to half of the
part-timers at Western. The faculty of the School of Business and Public Administration totaled almost thirty full-time members with double that number of
adjunct instructors. Undergraduates majoring in business could choose from
among six specialized concentrations: accounting, business economics, finance,
management science, marketing, and personnel. Feldman was particularly proud
of the honors program he established so the brightest high school graduates could
earn a bachelor's and a master's degree in four years. Remembering his own
impoverished background, he persuaded local corporations (Timex was the first)
to subsidize participants by hiring them to well-paid summer jobs. With the
encouragement of President Bersi, and using the contacts of veteran Director of
Public Affairs Raymond Trim pert, Dean Feldman spent much of his time offcampus cultivating corporate executives.
The friendships he forged with local business leaders would serve him well
when he succeeded Bersi in 1981. As the college president, Feldman looked,
thought, and acted like the chief executive officer of a large corporation. He was
always impeccably dressed, usually in a dark business suit, white shirt, and red
tie. His gold Mercedes automobile stood out as the most flamboyant element of
194

his persona. Intense, ambitious, hard driving, he was characterized as "1 00 percent business" by his key assistant, Frank Muska. Feldman had a utilitarian frame
of reference that exalted the accomplishment of tangible material objectives. A
manager, not an educator, he had no aptitude for, or interest in, nourishing the
intellectual life of the university. One administrator described him as a "things"
president-as in "he gets things done"- who saw people primarily as instruments
employed to reach his goals. Feldman had little patience for the tedious and
messy collegial decision-making process so revered by academics. Uncomfortable
in unstructured social situations, he preferred to make decisions at the top with
the advice of a small cadre of trusted lieutenants who understood that their boss
viewed disagreement as perilously akin to disloyalty.
This leadership style, though not popular, seemed to be effective. One success after another marked the first half of Feldman's tenure. After fifteen years of
anticipation, the Westside campus welcomed its first students in January 1982.
The following year, the second building on the new campus opened, the apartment-style, 273-bed dormitory named after deceased Governor Ella Grasso. In
May 1983, as part of the legislative package that realigned higher education in
Connecticut, the four stare colleges gained university status. Feldman was instrumental in bringing this about. He and State Senator Wayne Baker of Danbury
drafted the amendment to the reorganization bill that elevated the four state
colleges to university rank. Anticipated opposition from the University of Connecticut did nor materialize, possibly because resisting the establishment of a centralized board of regents for all public higher education in the state preoccupied
Storrs officials.
The corporate community, impressed with this progress, continued to
make generous financial contributions to the new university- the only unit
of the state system to benefit from this private largesse on a large scale. IBM,
Boehringer-Ingelheim, and the Perkin Elmer Corporation donated sophisticated
laboratory and computing equipment. IBM also loaned company executives to
work on special projects at the college and established an experimental technology
classroom. Northeast Utilities subsidized the university weather center. IBM
financed a series of public policy debates for the Ancell School, bringing promi195

nent figures such as General Alexander Haig, Robert Reich, Donald Rumsfeld,
Arthur Laffer, and Lester Thurow to the Westside campus. The administration
organized the WestConn One Hundred Society (the name calls attention to the
modest $100 annual membership fee) ro solicit gifts from smaller businesses.
At a rime when the number of high school students in the state declined
and consequently the enrollment at many Connecticut colleges sagged, WestConn
grew. During the 1980s, despite significant tuition increases and dormitory
space so limited that a lottery system had to be used to allocate available rooms,
WesrConn became more and more selective in its admissions policy. In 1981, the
school accepted 69 percent of those who applied. Ten years later, only 42 percent
gained admission. It required an average SAT score of 93 3 ro win a place in the
freshman class at Danbury in 1991, compared with a score of 860 a decade earlier.
President Feldman was elated when the 1984 edition of Barrons Profile of Amer-

ican Colleges elevated the university ro a "Competitive Plus" category, a distinction
shared with the University of Connecticut. This lofty ranking was short-lived,
however; by 1986, the school was rated "Competitive" along with the other three
Connecticut State universities.
The president welcomed comparisons with the Srorrs institution. Nothing
pleased him more than finally eliminating the MBA classes that UConn had conducted in Danbury since 1974. Having persuaded the Connecticut State Board of
Governors for Higher Education to permit WestConn ro offer this advanced
degree beginning in September 1987, he sought money from area corporations to
augment the salaries of star professors he hoped ro recruit for this prestigious
program. Unlike many of the business faculty, Feldman did nor fear that the
state-imposed requirement to seek accreditation from the American Assembly of
Collegiate Schools of Business would re-orient the Ancell School toward research
and away from reaching.
Improvements in athletics also occupied a rop spot on the president's agenda. Feldman considered the mediocre win-loss record of WesrConn's intercollegiate athletic reams a blemish that needed

to

be erased from the school's image.

As a sign of his determination to upgrade sports, he placed athletic affairs under
the direction of his executive assistant, Frank Muska. In 1985, he separated the
196

athletic department from the physical education department so that coaches
no longer had to teach courses and could direct their full attention to coaching.
Two highly competent young coaches, Jody Rajcula, hired in 1981, and Bob
Campbell, hired in 1984, rejuvenated the women's and men's basketball programs. Twenty-win seasons and tournament bids became routine. The peak of
accomplishment came in 1990, when both teams competed in the NCAA
Division III tournaments. The men's squad, ranked sixth in rhe nation with a
gaudy 28-2 record, reached the playoff quarterfinals.
The administration's commitment to athletics transformed the beleaguered
football program almost overnight. In 1980, the sport had barely survived a vote
of the varsity policy committee to end its troubled exisrence at the school. The
hapless team had won only two games in the four seasons that preceded the coming of charismatic Paul Pasqualoni as head coach in 1982. The dedicated, personable, and meticulously organized former Penn State linebacker, who had been
defensive coordinator at Sourhern Connecticut State University, brought in
a large staff of assistants and courted talented high school players, while demanding improved facilities from the university. A Booster Club, established with seed
money from the WestConn One Hundred Society in 1985, financed the installation of lights and the expansion of seating at the Osborne Street field, so home
games could be played there instead of on the Danbury High School field. Four
winning seasons followed a shaky transition year. The campus and community,
accustomed to futility on the local gridiron, were amazed when the 1985 team
capped a 10-1 season with an invitation to the NCAA tournament, the first time
a New England team had received this honor. But success did not last long.
When Pasqualoni moved to Syracuse University in 1987 afrer a five-season 34-17
record, the WestConn football program returned to its doldrums.
Construction of a badly needed field house on the Westside campus required
all the president's tenacity as well as the lobbying skills of Frank Muska of the
justice and law administration department, appointed as Feldman's executive
assistant because of his family's political connections within the Democratic Party.
Muska's lobbying with members of Governor O'Neill's administration helped to
win support for the field house. Although architectural plans for a ten-million197

dollar athletic facility were ready in 1981, the building did not open until 1994.
Many factors caused the long delay. The plans had to be redesigned several times.
In the mid-1980s, the continued growth of the school made necessary an increase
in the size and cost of the proposed structure. The state belatedly realized chat it
had to abandon the original building site because it threatened protected weelands . The Scare Bond Commission, worried by the familiar prospect of budget
deficits, waited until 1989 to release $14 .8 million for the construction of the
80,000-square-fooc William A. O'Neill Athletic and Convocation Center.
Finally, in what would become a depressing pattern, the general contractor,
R. W. Granger and Sons, allowed the project to fall further behind schedule.
Even though the school had just begun to adjust to university rank, the
eight-person committee representing the New England Association of Schools
and Colleges, in its ten-year accreditation inspection in October 1983, gave
WestConn high marks. While pointing out areas chat needed improvement
(such as student services), che team of scholars lavished praise on che school.
The group's exit interview and final report sparkled wich accolades, such as "The
atmosphere is upbeat," "The university has developed a renewed optimism about
the future and the people have a new spring in their seeps," and "A genuine sense
of cruse (exists} among all levels of administration and faculty." Much of che credit for chis healthy scare went co President Feldman. "Confidence in inscicucional
leadership is high," che visiting experts declared.
Feldman trumpeted these accomplishments at every opportunity. His rhetoric was enthusiastic and often overblown, especially when applied co the business
school. He told the Bridgeport Post in 1983 chat "our admissions standards have
gone through the roof" due co the luster of university status and the pull of a
strong business program. "People want co go with a winner," he asserted. A
thirty-page advertising brochure about the college, published by the News-Times
in 1983, typified the hyperbole employed by the administration. Headlines
proclaimed: "ENROLLMENT BURGEONS," "REGISTRATION SOARS,"
"PROGRAMS EXPAND," "DONATIONS POUR INTO UNIVERSITY," and
"STANDARDS ARE TIGHTENED."
Though camouflaged by euphoria, signs of trouble had existed even in
198

Feldman's early years. Almost as soon as he became president, the school's most
experienced and powerful administrator, Academic Vice President Gertrude
Braun, retiring after thirty-seven years of service, expressed apprehension about
what she considered an overemphasis on the Ancell School. In a later interview,
Braun confirmed that she left partly because she questioned Feldman's priorities;
specifically, she worried about the president's apparent lack of appreciation for
the value of the humanities in the preparation of students for careers in business.
Almost simultaneously, in early 1983, Fred O'Neill, dean of the School of
Professional Studies, and James Pegolotti, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences,
announced their resignations. Pegolotti's threatened exit after less than two years
on the job so shocked faculty members that they successfully petitioned him to
reconsider. This overwhelming show of support for a dean with an open, selfeffacing, academically oriented style must have baffled the aggressive, pragmatic,
guarded Feldman.
One other resignation had even more ominous overtones. Ruth Kohl, the
veteran director of the nursing department and the only member of the presidential search committee who had not favored the selection of Feldman, chose to
retire in August 1984 in order to spare her department what she considered retribution from a vindictive president.
Unnoticed by the accrediting committee and largely ignored by President
Feldman, the WestConn faculty based on the frayed Midtown campus had grown
restive. The members of the School of Arts and Sciences, who constituted almost
60 percent of the teaching staff, were particularly uneasy. The rapid change from
a small teachers college to a multipurpose, six-thousand-student university had
produced tensions both symbolized and exacerbated by the existence of two separate campuses. The liberal arts faculty resented the takeover by the upstart Ancell
School of what had long been originally earmarked as a behavioral sciences classroom building on the Westside. The sudden allocation of the modern new structure to the business school by President Bersi, a condition of the Ancell gift, had
rankled. Suspicious faculty, forced to "teach in crumbling classrooms maintained
at random temperatures" (as a 1984 issue of the AAUP Newsletter put it), saw
the deal, and the simultaneous neglect of the downtown campus, as proof of the
199

decline of the humanities at WestConn. Feldman's background and obvious comfort level with the corporate community fed the perception that he had abandoned the school's historic liberal arts focus in favor of business training.
Physical separation intensified mistrust. It soon became apparent that facul ty would have offices and would reach on one campus or another. Formal or even
casual interchange was minimal. Practicality also convinced students to concentrate their courses on a particular campus each semester. There was little anticipation of the problems of a split campus. In one small example, students rebelled at
the administration's original plan of charging them fifty cents a trip to travel on a
despised yellow school bus between campuses. Officials ultimately decided to provide free transportation on a bus without the grade school connotation, thereby
removing the irritant. Western had become a university divided into two separate
bur unequal parts.
Beginning in 1987, this hostility burst into open, almost continuous,
conflict between the president and the mainly Midtown faculty. In a major miscalculation, Feldman fired popular Dean Pegoloni, believing him to be a disloyal
member of the "management ream" because, in the president's view, he coddled
the Arts and Sciences faculty. In reality, Feldman's action removed the safety-valve
that moderated the growing unhappiness of this substantial group of faculty.
Pegoloni 's decision to keep private the details of his ouster and subsequent reassignment averted a public uproar. He contented himself with a strong letter
to the News-Times, in which he praised the liberal arts teachers as "the firm 'rock'
upon which all education is built at Western."
When students entered the fray, matters became very public. In April 1987,
they objected to the program format devised by a wary administration intent on
preventing the audience from asking questions of controversial guest speaker
Henry Kissinger. Students asserted that restricting participation to professional
television reporters demonstrated a lack of confidence in them. The editor of the

Echo castigated the president personally, charging, "He doesn't care about education. What he wants is to get on the eleven o'clock news." A last-minute compromise arranged by Executive Dean Fred Leurhauser, another Feldman confidant,
permitting one student to be a member of the panel that questioned Kissinger,

200

did not stop about one hundred students from picketing the event carrying
signs that asked, "WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO LEARNING BY DOING?"
More quietly, student Tony Barrett contacted the state's Freedom of Information
Commission during the summer of 1987, in an effort to force the school to
make public the records of the University Foundation, the vehicle that enabled
a scare school to accept private donations. By refusing for several years co open
the Foundation books despite the urging of the FOI, the administration had
raised unnecessary suspicions.
The atmosphere became more tense during the fall 1987 semester when six
issues of The WasteCann, an anonymous anti-administration broadside, appeared in
faculty mail boxes and at school newspaper pick-up points . The scurrilous tone of
the paper, and in particular the crude masthead that depicted President Feldman
with a Hitler-type mustache, disgusted many on campus. Nevertheless, there was
wide agreement chat issues raised by the paper needed to be addressed. When,
without explanation, material printed on campus copy machines appeared with
cryptic symbols in the corner of each page, suspicious faculty interpreted chis as a
clumsy administration device to detect the source of the underground newspaper
so unwanted criticism could be muzzled . The Chronicle of Higher Education,
in a November 1987 story about the turmoil, quoted English Professor Steven
Neuwirth's conclusion that "a wall of mistrust" existed between the faculty and
the administration.
Both Feldman and the faculty sought to pull down this wall. The president
began to visit individual academic departments. He conferred with the leadership
of the Faculty Senate and the AAUP, and he readily accepted their suggestion
chat a faculty ombudsman should be selected who would attend the president's
cabinet meetings and have free access to the chief executive. Howard Russock of
the biology department received released time to serve in this capacity. Feldman
promised to pay more atrention to the condition of the Midtown campus . He
even retreated slightly from his rigid seance on the sanctity of University Foundation records by releasing information about how donations to the WestConn
One Hundred Society had been disbursed. This data indicated that 62 percent of
the money went to projects sponsored by Arts and Sciences faculty.
201

After a brief lull, controversy escalated when Feldman, ignoring the recommendations of the social sciences department and the Tenure and Promotions
Committee, refused to grant tenure to activist Professor Saul Mekies who taught
economics. Feldman had legality on his side in this dispute because Mekies had
failed to finish his dissertation as his contract stipulated. There was strong feeling
on campus, however, that this case warranted flexibility because of Mekies' record
as a dedicated student advocate responsible for bringing about pro-student innovations, such as a book exchange, a credit union, and a legal referral service.
Nevertheless, the young reacher had one overriding liability; he was an outspoken
critic of the president and had especially infuriated the administration by assisting students in their struggle to remove the secrecy surrounding the University
Foundation's finances. Students and faculty signed petitions supporting Mekies.
Many wrote letters such as the one in the Danbury paper that described the
young academic as "a hero who is fighting for all of us." Mekies' status rose to
that of a martyr for civil liberties when campus police surreptitiously video-raped
a rally in support of his tenure, held on the lawn in front of Old Main. The
Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association condemned the surveillance as "an instrument of intimidation," calling it "morally reprehensible." Even
though Feldman immediately disavowed these tactics and ordered the tapes
destroyed, major damage had been done. Looking back on the episode, the former
president conceded that he had "paid a tremendous price" for his unwillingness to
bend the tenure regulations.
Frank Muska, one of Feldman's inner circle and the man the president had
appointed dean of personnel in 1986, became another lightning rod for faculty
frustration. A simmering dispute with a campus union over Muska's handling of
grievance issues culminated in an October 1988 AAUP vote of "no confidence" in
the dean and a request that the president remove him from his position. Muska
made matters worse by defending himself in intemperate language, identifying
his critics as "a small core of union officials who act like pan-handlers selling
snake oil." This rime the president rook a hard line. He told the faculty in a curt
memo that the dean was doing "a superb job," that he would nor be removed, and
that the faculty should go back to reaching. When a mail ballot overwhelmingly
202

supported the position of the union leadership on Muska, Feldman responded
angrily. "The union can pass any resolution it wishes," he snapped. "I have
absolutely no intention of removing him." The Faculty Senate and the AAUP
countered by sending a delegation to the office of Connecticut State University
System President Dallas Beal; they received a respectful hearing.
The Board of Trustees never wavered in irs support of Feldman. Chairman
Lawrence Davidson was a particularly staunch backer of the president. Davidson
informed the members of the board that he had visited Danbury on November
22, 1988, and had encouraged Feldman "to continue to act in a professional
manner in dealing with current campus tensions." A few weeks Iacer, Beal warned
AAUP President John Fitzsimmons to avoid a "test of wills" with the board.
In a lengthy interview with News-Times reporter Lynne Royce, who covered
these controversies in painful detail, the president summarized his attitude
toward the faculty in blunt words: "Last year I tried to understand their concerns
and concluded they were not substantial. I will make no concessions. They work
for me. I don't work for them."
The 1988-89 Christmas season did not bring peace to WestConn. When
President Feldman entered the Hartford Lounge in the Student Union

to

deliver

his traditional semester-opening, scate-of-che-college remarks on January 25,
1989, the room was packed with angry faculty members. He began with a prepared statement stressing such positive items as progress on construction of the
field house and Danbury Hospital's decision

to

provide financial subsidies for

nursing students. He then invited audience comments. Professor Paul Hines of
the chemistry department, one of the school's most admired teachers, asked the
question on everyone's mind: what was the president going to do to end the state
of war between faculty and the administration? "I wanted to give him the opportunity to show that he was not just president of bricks and mortar but president
of people," Hines recalled. Feldman's curt rejoinder and sudden adjournment of
the meeting worsened the impasse. "We don't trust them, and they don't trust
us," concluded Professor John Fitzsimmons of the Ancell School, the head of the
AAUP and a former confidant of the university president. It was in this poisoned
atmosphere that the AAUP conducted its evaluation of President Feldman.
203

An uneasy truce, prompted more by exhaustion than understanding,
followed. After a year of discussion, a joint administration and faculty committee
in May 1990 could agree only on benign generalities such as "the faculty and
administration of a university are engaged in a partnership of equals," but not
on the specific steps that would move WestConn toward this goal. Many faculty
simply retreated into their classrooms. Ombudsman Howard Russock complained
that interest in the Faculty Senate had declined. No candidates sought membership on eight committees in the 1990 elections, while twenty-two other committees had only a single aspirant each.
For his part, President Feldman now began to show a bit more sensitivity to
faculty opinion. Ever since the Connecticut Department of Higher Education had,
in 1985, set percentage goals for registration of minorities in the state's public
colleges, he had worked diligently to increase the number of Black and Hispanic
students at WestConn. Beginning in 1988, che school spent fifty thousand dollars
each summer co fund a five-week residential preparation program for primarily
inner-city students. Nevertheless, Western had only 491 minority students in
1991, an increase of 50 percent in ten years bur still far below the goal set by
the state.
Given his attention to chis issue, the president must have been upset when
Edwina Chance, a Black admissions officer, resigned in 1988, accusing the school
of turning the Basic Studies program into a haven for unqualified minority football players who had little hope of graduating . Feldman strongly disagreed with
che News-Times' characterization of the university's conduct in chis matter as
"exploitation pure and simple ." Yet, instead of a defensive response, he asked the
Faculty Senate to investigate che charges and withheld all comment until that
body released its findings in May 1990. Even though the report condemned the
use of athletics as a minority recruiting tool at Western, Feldman accepted this
verdict and tried to implement reforms. In 1990, after its seventeen years of existence, he eliminated Basic Studies as a set of special courses in favor of augmented
support services for all marginal students.
Feldman also did his best to address the physical needs of the Midtown
campus. In January 1987, he convinced the Board of Trustees to approve a ten204

year, $48-million master plan that called for modernization of existing buildings,
construction of a desperately needed and long-deferred parking garage, and
expansion of the Ruth Haas Library. Unfortunately, the state's fiscal crisis in the
final years of the administration of Governor O'Neill forced postponement of
most of this construction. The drastic budget cuts imposed by his successor, former Republican Lowell Weicker, elected in 1990 on a third party ticket, worsened the situation. However, Feldman still spent $7.5 million on renovation of
the Midtown campus while he was in office.
In February 1992, Stephen Feldman announced that he would leave
Connecticut at the end of the academic year to become president of Nova
University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Faculty greeted the news of his resignation
with relief. "We just wanted him to go," declared one long-time science professor
in a September 2000 interview. Her tone carried a bitter edge, despite the passage
of almost ten years. The Board of Trustees felt differently. During a farewell
luncheon held at the Ethan Allan Inn on June 5, 1992, and attended by about
250 businessmen and civic leaders bur few faculty, Board Chairman A. Searle
Pinney of Danbury announced that the basketball facility in the new field house
would be named the "Stephen Feldman Arena" in honor of the president's
dogged, decade-long effort to bring that building into existence. This combination of faculty disenchantment and material progress characterized the Feldman
years at Western Connecticut State University. •

Left: Former Secretary of State Hmry
Kissmger's April I 987 lecture at \Vestern
sparked studellt protest. In this photo, Kissinger
chats with President Feldman and an
unidmtifiecl guest. (\VCSU Archives)

205

Note On Sources
Many WesrConn faculty and administrators who lived through these rumulruous
years shared their memories with me. I am especially graceful to former President
Feldman, who made rime in his busy schedule for a lengthy phone interview and also
supplied written answers to my questions. This chapter rel1es heavily on oral history
mrerviews with faculty members Jerry Bannister, Ray Baubles, Tom Doyle, Paul Hines,
Ted Hines, Norine Jalbert, Jean Kreizinger, John Leopold, V1jay Nair, .mel Harry
Schramm; and administrators Gertrude Braun, James Pegolorri, Jean Mam, Philip
Sreinkrauss, Neil Wagner, and Constance Wilds.
The volume of primed material collected and saved by some of these individualsmuch of ir ephemeral-testifies to the importance they attached to rhe turmoil of rhe
1980s at WesrConn. The following colleagues shared this carefully hoarded primary
historical evidence with me: John Leopold, Jean Kreizmger, Barbara Obeda, and former
Academic Vice President Philip Sreinkrauss contributed bulging folders rich with such
items as personal letters to President Feldman, materials connected With rhe faculty
evaluation of rhe president, copies of the underground newspaper, and notes on the offcampus meetings of a group of concerned senior faculty; former Arts and Snences DeJ.n
James Pegolorri contributed several unpublished student retention studies conducted by
his office; and Vi jay Nair, che current president of che WesrConn chapter of rhe AAUP,
opened union files to me without restriction.
Over rhe years, the Danbury newspaper has thoroughly covered events at WesrConn.
However, during chis period, the News-Times for che first rime assigned one reporter, education specialise Lynne Royce, to monitor the university, rhus giving her an opportunity to
develop contacts and gain essential background on controversial issues. Even though members of rhe administration considered many of her stories unduly negative, I appreciate
Royce's aggressive and objective journalism.

206

Above: State and local dignitaries watch former Govemor Wi!liam O'Ner/1 dedicate the Stephen
Feldman Arena in the O'Neil/ Athletic Cenfel: Feldman is at O'Neill's left. (WCSU At·chives)

Left: \VestConn's intercollegiate athletic teams
improved dramatically in the 1980s. Coaches
Bob Campbell (top row extreme left) andjody
Rajmla (top row extreme right) led the men's
and women's basketball teams to the NCAA
Division[[/ toumaments in the !989-90
season.(Athletics Department Photo)

207

Above: In September 2000, students am/ famlty, pleased and smprised by the rapid
constmction process, began using the modernized and mlarged Ruth Haas Librat)'·
(Photo by Peggy Stewart)
OpjJosite: Studellls 11tilizing state-of-the-art computer technology in the expanded Haas Library.
(Photo by Peggy Stewart)

208

CHAPTER TWELVE

HEALING
The tension between faculty and administration that had gripped Western
Connecticut State University during the late 1980s subsided in the early 1990s
when Governor Lowell Weicker's severe budget curs brought previous antagonists together to oppose a common threat. However, the resignation of President
Feldman (announced in February 1992 to be effective July 1 of that year) re-ignited controversy as factions on campus and in the community mobilized

to

influ-

ence the choice of his successor. The most contentious presidential selection
process in the school's history followed.
In outline, the procedure seemed routine. Two committees, one made up of
six members of the Board of Trustees and an eight-person campus advisory panel
headed by John Jakabauski, the director of personnel, winnowed the 120 applicants down to six finalists. All came to Danbury for interviews. The campus advisory group on July 1 recommended two candidates to the Board of Trustees. A
month later, the trustees selected, as Western's fifth president, Dr. James Roach,
who at the time was serving as the president of the University of Maine at
Presque Isle.
In reality, the process was highly politicized. Some minority faculty and the
Danbury branch of the NAACP favored the African-American female candidate
who was one of the six finalists. They backed up their sentiments with public
209

comments and lerrers

to

the Board of Trustees. Another top contender, former

dean Frank Muska-elevared ro vice president for student affairs, personnel, and
external affairs by a grateful Feldman just before he left for Florida-waged an
even more aggressive fight to succeed his mentor. Approaching the process as if it
were a political campaign, he solicited support from students, alumni, members
of the university clerical union, and even local corporate executives who had mer
each of the candidates privately at early morning breakfast sessions. Only four
years earlier, the faculty had demanded Muska be removed as dean after a nasty
grievance dispute; they could not be won over now. At a tense open meeting
called to review the qualifications of the six finalists, many reachers told the
advisory commirree they had nor changed their opinion of Muska. English
Professor Steven Neuwirth expressed the unbending opposition of most of the
faculty when he wrote to the Board of Trustees: "I do nor believe Dr. Muska is
qualified ro be this university's academic head. He has not made a contribution
to

the academic life of this campus."
When the advisory committee sent the names of both Muska and Roach

to the board as acceptable candidates, Muska stepped up his high-pressure campaign. A dozen top state Democratic Party politicians, including Attorney
General Richard Blumenthal and Connecticut Senate President John Larson,
bombarded the board with phone and wrirren endorsements. Muska defended his
strategy. He cold the press chat "Politics does play an important parr [in academic
life} and should. A university must be able co develop strong liaisons with the
legislature." The board resisted, and may have resented, the WestConn administrator's tactics. In the end, only Trustee Robert Cartoceri, a Southbury lawyer
whose unsuccessful 1990 campaign for the state senate was managed by Muska,
refused to support the board's choice of Roach.
The trustees hoped that Roach, an experienced educator with a conciliatory
style, would bring healing to troubled Western Connecticut State University. The
new president was largely unaware of the political maneuvering chat had preceded
his appointment. He had professional and personal reasons for wanting to come
to Danbury. After six years as president at Presque Isle, he craved fresh academic
challenges. In addition, Roach and his wife Dr. Denise Hogan (who taught
210

philosophy at Presque Isle), had tired of the frigid winters and physical isolation
of northern Maine. The couple welcomed a move to a more urban and cosmopolitan environment.
Dr. Roach came to Danbury at sixty, after a lengthy career as a state college
professor and administrator. His resume bulged with credentials that dovetailed
with Western's needs. His working-class background was similar to that of many
past and present Western students. Brought up in a large, Irish-Catholic family in
the gritty Boston neighborhood of Roxbury, he had attended parochial elementary
school and Boston College High School. After graduation, without funds for college, he worked for two years as a stock boy and salesman in a home-furnishings
store in downtown Boston before entering the Navy in 1952. Two years of active
duty as a weather forecaster gave him free time to explore the riches of the library
at the Norfolk Naval Base and fed his appetite for a college education.
Discharged in 1954, and now eligible for assistance through the GI Bill,
Roach enrolled in the recently established Boston College School of Education.
He lived at home and took public transportation to the Chestnut Hill school,
then primarily a commuter institution. He worked the night shift at a factory,
dipping lighting fixtures into a cleansing chemical bath. During the summers he
earned generous overtime pay as a union helper on his father's brewery truck.
After a practice-teaching stint at Boston Latin School, the young graduate headed
for a career as a high school English teacher.
Instead, his path veered in a different direction. With a classmate, he volunteered to spend a year teaching at a high school in a rural section of the Caribbean
island of Jamaica where the Jesuit order prepared promising native youth to take
entrance examinations for universities in England. This missionary experience
convinced him to enter St. John's Seminary in Boston to study for the Roman
Catholic priesthood, a vocation he had long contemplated. Six years later, after
his ordination as a priest, the Archdiocese of Boston assigned him to be the first
full-time Newman Club Chaplain at Salem State College in Massachusetts. From
1963 to 1972, Roach, caught up in the spirit of post-Vatican II Catholicism,
centered his activities around an ecumenical center located in a house near the
campus purchased by the college for this purpose.

211

Over these years, much of Roach's admitted Boston provincialism (though
not his Boston accent) wore away. Eager to teach at the college level, he enrolled
in the mid 1960s in a doctoral program in World Religions-Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam-at Boston University. Dividing his time between ministry at
Salem State and study at Boston University, he received his Ph.D. in 1972. His
work so impressed his teachers that they arranged for him to spend a semester at
the University of Geneva Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland, where he associated with scholars from all parts of the world. A keen interest in international education resulted from this exposure.
At this point, Roach made a second career shift. He resigned from the
priesthood and took a position reaching philosophy and serving as an academic
counselor at North Adams Stare College in western Massachusetts, where a longrime Salem Stare colleague recently had been appointed president. Three years
later, Roach became academic dean at the college, which was struggling for survival in the sparsely populated Berkshire region. In order to boost enrollment,
the school built dormitories, and Roach, as the chief academic officer, traveled all
over the state recruiting students by dangling before them the twin lures of low
tuition and a safe, beautiful campus that was within a three-hour drive of Boston.
He enjoyed his job. His wife, whom he had mer at Boston University, was content with her full-time, tenure-track teaching position in the philosophy department at the school. After a dozen years, Roach fully expected to end his career at
the now-flourishing North Adams Stare College.
A surprise telephone call altered his plans. In 1986, a Washington D.C.
placement firm, retained by the State of Maine to help find a president for the
university branch at Presque Isle, called Roach and urged him to apply for the
post. Later, reflecting on his feelings at this critical juncture in his life, Roach
quipped that whatever career aspirations he'd had at the time involved moving
"eastward [toward Boston}, not upward!" However, with the encouragement of
his wife, he headed north to a farming community of about thirty thousand
people in distant Aroostoock County, not far from the Canadian border.
What he found there was a rural college with major problems. Located a
five-hour drive beyond Portland, Presque Isle was so remote that Roach had to
212

rely on a chartered airplane to transport him to periodic meetings with the heads
of the other Maine state colleges. The school was small--only about sixteen hundred students when Roach left- with a forlorn, poorly planned campus. When
asked years later about his first impression of WesrConn, he replied that he had
been struck by how much the random accumulation of buildings on the Midtown
campus had resembled, on a larger scale, the Presque Isle physical layout char he
had inherited, the principal difference being that an ugly parking lot, rather than
ancient tennis courts, served as the inappropriate focal point. Roach redesigned
the Maine campus, much as he would do in Connecticut. He relocated the
entrance, constructed a central mall, built new roads, and refurbished buildings.
His most ambitious undertaking at Presque Isle was a $2.5 million student center
that opened just before he resigned in 1992.
During his six years as president at Presque Isle, Roach demonstrated qualities chat impressed the Western search committee and the board of trustees. He
had brought disparate constituencies together. In order to build the student center at the Maine school, he had convinced state government, city officials, and the
student body to contribute a portion of the cost. Each student agreed to pay an
additional eighty-dollar fee for chis purpose. Every segment of the Presque Isle
community praised his accessibility. He regularly entertained faculty, students,
and civic leaders in his campus home. When WestConn faculty heard he had a
policy of always leaving his office door open, they thought back nostalgically co
the days of Ruth Haas. It reassured many in Danbury when a Presque Isle professor cold a News-Times reporter that President Roach "never played favorites and
always listened to our concerns."
The new president justified Connecticut's expectations by quickly altering
the mood on the Western campus. Administrative holdovers from the Feldman
regime pledged cooperation. Roach was highly visible, friendly, and eager to calk
about academics. Students welcomed and took advantage of his Thursday walkin office hours. Faculty noted with approval his attendance at all Faculty Senate
meetings. Outside experts noticed the difference. Barely a year after Roach took
office, a committee representing the New England Association of Schools and
Colleges came to Danbury to conduce the regular ten-year evaluation of the
213

university. In their report, the educators asserted that Roach had brought to the
school a fresh "leadership style which emphasizes communication, collegiality,
consensus-building and a willingness to put the University's problems on the
table and address them directly." After four days of intensive investigation in
October 1993, the team concluded that "The concept of 'college community'
appears to be real, not just a buzzword," at WesrConn.
Roach had nor had a chance to place one particular topic on the table: the
Danbury branch of the NAACP dropped the issue of racial diversity on his desk
the morning he took over at Western. At eight o'clock on Monday morning,
September 28, 1992, as the president entered his office in Old Main for the first
time, he was greeted by an angry delegation of about twenty local NAACP members, none of whom he had ever met. The group had a long list of what they saw
as flaws at Western. There were too few minority students, they charged, and the
attrition rate among the even smaller percentage of minority faculty and staff was
shockingly high. The absence of an affirmative action officer in the administration
especially infuriated them. The startled president, fresh from an ethnically homogeneous Maine campus, had to spend considerable time and energy addressing
racial matters in his first years in Connecticut.
Racial diversity had always been an elusive goal at Western. The school
drew most of its students from within a thirty-mile radius of Danbury, an area
with comparatively few minority residents. Inadequate campus boarding facilities
hampered efforts to attract students, including minorities, from other places.
Despite the earnest efforts of President Feldman, which doubled minority representation during the 1980s, WestConn still could not reach the target established
by the Connecticut Department of Higher Education in 1985. When Feldman
left Danbury in 1992, 10.3 percent of the full-time undergraduates were African
American or Hispanic. Under President Roach, slow progress continued toward
the objective of a student population at Western more accurately reflective of the
state's racial composition. As the twentieth century ended, the percentage of fullrime minority students had inched up to 13.1 percent.
However, it was the racial makeup of the WestConn faculty, not the composition of the student body, that most offended critics. The local branch of the
214

NAACP was unhappy that only twelve of the 179 full-time teachers were African
Americans or Hispanics, and was even more upset at what it saw as a pattern of
hiring minority faculty but failing to grant them tenure. A harsh report, entitled
"NAACP Investigation of Racial Tolerance and Retention of Minority Faculty
and Administrators at WCSU," claimed that five African Americans had been
denied tenure at the school during the past five years. Stanford Smith, the author
of the document, concluded "Essentially what they're doing is bringing them in
the front door and sending them out through the back." A national magazine,
Black Issues in Higher Education, put the number of Black faculty who had been

"forced out" at seven in rhe past two years. Associate Dean of Student Affairs
Richard Dozier, one of six African-American administrators at the school, saw
himself as the most prominent victim of discrimination. When his contract was
nor renewed in 1993, Dozier made his entire personnel file available for public
inspection at the Haas Library in an effort to prove chat "institutional racism is so
ingrained at Western ." He also filed a complaint with the state Commission on
Human Rights and Opportunities. An underground newspaper, Thejim Crow
Times, anonymously repeated charges of racial prejudice at "White Street U. "

President Roach responded to his first crisis in what came to be a characteristic pattern of small seeps and more study. He asked Dean of Professional Studies
Walter Bernstein to institute a faculty mentoring program, and attached a twopage letter to a faculty paycheck char pledged his commitment to affirmative
action. He found additional money to pay expenses of minority faculty candidates
to travel to Danbury for interviews. He brought consultant Kevin Slater to the

campus for cwo days in May 1993 to appraise the racial climate at Western.
Slater's fourteen-page report, distributed to faculty, students, and interested community members, contained the expected generic recommendations to expand
affirmative action and provide diversity training.
The president's most substantial action, an effort to solve several race-related
problems, boomeranged. Caleb Nichols, an African-American professor, failed to
win tenure in 1993 after six years of teaching in the justice and law administration department. Hesitant to cut loose yet another minority faculty member, and
persuaded that Nichols' law degree was an appropriate credential, Roach named
215

the Virginian to a new post as the temporary director of affirmative action. Loud
protests erupted. The NAACP charged that Nichols was both unqualified and
overburdened with responsibility for providing assistance to disabled students
and coordinating multiculcural affairs in addition to affirmative action matters.
Nichols irritated the Affirmative Action Employee Advisory Commitree by
ignoring their suggestions. The state's Commission on Human Rights and
Opportunities (CHRO), which held several hearings in Danbury during this period, further weakened Nichols' position in August 1994 by rejecting his massive,
four-hundred-page Affirmative Action Plan for the university. In the face of this
opposition, the president decided to hold a nation-wide search for a permanent
director of affirmative action. When the search commitree, after considering the
qualifications of sixty candidates, decided in January 1995 by a one-vote margin
to recommend the harried Nichols for the job, Roach balked and ordered a second
search. In a March 2001 interview, the president explained that he made this
decision primarily because nor a single faculty member on the committee supported Nichols. Six months later, the school hired Barbara Barnwell to fill this
sensitive position.
As a veteran state employee with fifteen years experience as the director
of affirmative action for the State Department of Mental Health, Barnwell
understood politics. Within weeks, the CHRO approved a revamped Affirmative
Action Plan. Barnwell placated the Affirmative Action Employee Advisory
Commitree and skillfully defused charges of discrimination that continued to
be raised periodically by minority employees in such places as the Financial
Aid Office and the Ruth Haas Library. Only the bias suit of lionel Bascom, an
African-American journalism reacher who claimed he was not considered for the
position of director of communications because of his race, attracted much publicity. More significantly, the school increased its effort to find and guide qualified
minority faculty. By the year 2000, twenty-six of the 186 full -rime faculty were
members of a racial minority.
Race was only the most visible problem that President Roach inherited.
Winning the allegiance of his top administrators, all holdovers from the Feldman
years, including several who had been rival candidates themselves for the
216

presidency, proved to be an equally difficult, though less dramatic, challenge.
Feldman's twelfth-hour elevation of Deans Fred Leurhauser and Frank Muska
to vice-presidential status complicated matters almost as much as did Roach's
unwillingness to bring in his own staff. When asked by the author why he came
into office from the outside without being accompanied by at least one trusted
assistant who could serve as his eyes and ears, Roach replied that he had never
considered that option. "It's nor my university," he said. "I serve the university."
It was not until 1997 and 1998 that the president replaced Leurhauser, Muska,
and Philip Steinkrauss (who had been academic vice president for fifteen years)
with people who shared his administrative style.
The university needed internal cohesion in order to deal effectively with the
educational challenges of the 1990s. Since the end of World War II, Western had
grown at a steady, and often substantial, rate. Only in the harsh economic climate
of the 1970s did the pace slow, but then a spurt in the number of part-time students more than offset the dip in full-rime attendance. When the economy of the
stare revived in the 1980s, enrollment shot up, topping six thousand for the first
time in 1985. The number of full-time undergraduates rose to more than three
thousand, also a record high. Bur in 1991, the school began a decline in enrollment that lasted throughout the decade. The number of full-rime students plummeted and, unlike the 1970s, the number of parr-rimers fell even faster. One
comparison illustrates the scale ofrhe change. In September 1988,721 freshmen
starred their college careers at WestConn; three years later, only 349 first-year
students began at the school. In order to change this pattern, the CSU System
Office and President Roach, in 1999, hired a Virginia consulting firm

to

develop

a marketing plan for the shrinking university.
With help from a cresting baby boom, the downward curve started to
reverse in 1999. The largest entering class in twenty years-822 freshmen- registered at the start of the fall 2000 semester. More transfer students, particularly
from community colleges in Westchester and Dutchess counties in New York,
accounted for part of this increase, although numbers were far lower than the
1980s' average of four hundred transfers per year. Maintaining a growth rate
above 5 percent per year, as the university has done from 1999 to this writing,
217

involved risk. The school admitted some applicants with combined Scholastic
Aptitude Test scores below 900 and weak high school records. More than half of
the entering students needed remedial work in mathematics. Retention rates were
low. One-third of the freshman class dropped out of school after one year. Those
who remained often failed to receive a degree. Currently less than 40 percent of
students graduate after six years of study. While these figures are close to the
national average for public colleges, they are deeply troubling.
The faculty also experienced a high degree of turnover. Enticed by the incentives offered by an economy-minded state government, a large number of
faculty hired in the 1960s retired in the 1990s. The total number offull-time
faculty positions, however, changed little. In 1993, there were 179 full-time faculty. Only nine more positions were added during the rest of the decade. Though
the standard teaching load remained at twelve hours per week, an increase in the
quantity of released time for research demanded by university status reduced the
number of teachers available for classroom duty. Western, like most universities,
relies heavily on part-time instructors. Fortunately, the AAUP contract stipulates
that no more than 20 percent of the courses can be taught by adjunct faculty.
President Roach's oft-repeated warning about the folly of trying to change
more than 5 percent of any institution guaranteed the traditional nature of the
school curriculum. The core courses required of all students had not changed
since 1986. The subjects offered in the School of Arts and Sciences, where more
than 60 percent of the students were registered, did not look much different than
they had in the 1960s when the liberal arts majors were inaugurated. Most of the
changes in the curriculum were at the graduate level. The Master of Fine Arts and
the Doctor of Education programs, both authorized in 2001, marked the school's
first effort to offer the highest academic degree in those fields.
President Roach did not have to be an educational innovator. The economic
recession that afflicted Connecticut in the late 1980s and early 1990s altered the
job description of a state university president. Additional private money had to be
raised, despite steep tuition increases that placed that figure, by the end of the
decade, at nearly $4,000 per year for in-state students and $9,500 for out-of-state
residents. Western's need was especially acute. In 1995, the Board of Trustees
218

decided to allocate funds for the state universities based solely on the number of
full-rime students registered. This formula penalized WestConn, a school with
two campuses and 40 percent parr-rime enrollment. At the same rime, the
trustees directed Roach to spend 40 percent of his rime cultivating private
donors. In the perceptive phrasing of the New England Association of Schools
and Colleges' 1993 Accreditation Report, Western had changed "from a 'stare
supported' into a 'stare assisted' institution."
Given these economic circumstances, it is amazing that the most intensive
building boom in the school's history took place in the 1990s. The 1987 master
plan had laid the foundation for this expansion by officially abandoning the 1970
goal of relocating the entire college to the Westside, and calling for $70 million
to be used primarily in upgrading the long-neglected Midtown campus. Both
political parries contributed to Western's good fortune. Danbury Democratic
Stare Senator James Maloney helped convince the General Assembly to approve
substantial bonding money for this purpose. In 1997, Governor John Rowland,
a Republican, stinging from criticism that his administration favored the University of Connecticut, pushed through the legislature a $640-million package to
be used for upgrading the state universities and the technical and community colleges. Western's share of this money amounted to more than $40 million.
President Roach used this bonanza to improve the physical aspects of the
two campuses as a way of boosting faculty and student morale-a formula he had
used so effectively in Maine. A six-story, apartment-style dormitory on the edge
of the Westside campus, offering panoramic views of the Connecticut and New
York state countryside, opened in 1999. Named after A. Searle Pinney, the Danbury attorney and politician who had been a member of the Board of Trustees for
eighteen years, the huge facility accommodated more than four hundred students.
Now more than one-third of the full-time undergraduates could live in university
housing, altering Western's identity as primarily a commuter school.
The strategy of curbing discontent by improving the environment worked
most effectively on the forlorn Midtown campus. Six buildings on the tiny White
Street property were either built, enlarged, or purchased from private owners and
renovated during the 1990s. Although the construction process was complicated
219

by unexpected delays, and in one case by legal action, rhe eventual appearance of
rhe buildings did ease frusrrarion and communicate ro rhe entire community rhar
Connecricur cared about public higher education. Roach's mosr inspired move
was ro arrend ro rhe spaces around rhe buildings. Starring in 1996, while Midtown was srill clurrered wirh consrrucrion debris, he began ro knir rhe campus
rogerher wirh grass, brick walkways, rrees, shrubs, benches, sculpture, lighting
fixtures, and colorful banners. He converted rhe crumbling central parking lor
and rhe area formerly occupied by Seventh Avenue below Roberts Avenue (closed
by rhe ciry ar rhe request of rhe college in 1993) into arrracrive quadrangles.
Cynics scoffed ar rhe "Campus Pride" slogan rhar accompanied rhis beautification
effort, bur by century's end mosr srudents and faculty agreed rhar a srroll across
rhe now-unified and arrracrive campus uplifted rhe spirit.
Consrrucrion of a parking garage made a coherent campus design possible.
Since rhe early 1980s, rhe Connecricur Department of Public Works had consistently deferred action on rhe plan ro build a mulri-level parking facility on rhe
sire of rhe maligned Whire Srreer parking lor sarcastically referred ro by generations of srudents as "The Pir." When work finally began on rhe urgently needed
srrucrure in 1993, foundation problems forced a redesign and more delay. The
rhree-srory srrucrure, wirh spaces for nine hundred automobiles and linked ro rhe
main campus by a covered walkway over busy Whire Srreer, did nor begin operacion until 1996. When rhe doors finally opened, rhe mosr persistent srudent complaint, repeated by thousands of frustrated commurers over a half century, had ar
lase been addressed.
Memorial Hall, rhe cramped 1950s vintage srudent center, ranked a close
second on rhe students' lise of campus deficiencies. In November 1994, construction began on a 22,000-square-foor expansion of rhe ourmoded facility, wirh rhe
expectation char students would be able ro use rhe new building ar rhe scare of
rhe 1996 spring semester. Yer, when char rime arrived, only 25 percent of rhe
srrucrure had been completed. The Department of Public Works, irritated ar rhe
delay and chen alarmed when rests of rhe concrete foundation slab revealed weakness, removed rhe contractor in April. Another company, Konover Consrrucrion,
resumed work a few months Iacer and completed rhe job in record rime. However,
220

when che building opened in 1998, ic was three years behind schedule. Students
and faculty had been deprived of full access to the facility for almost five years.
It was difficult to function on WestConn's downtown campus during the
mid-1990s. Key buildings were inaccessible. Piles of dirt and construction material blocked normal traffic routes. Forrunacely, the school ac chis time acquired
two long-coveted buildings located on the edge of che campus. In 1996, when che
construction of the student union stalled, che state purchased a commercial office
building chat had been erected in the 1980s by private investors. Located on the
south side of White Street near the parking garage, and renamed University Hall,
the up-to-date, three-story structure now houses the office of the president and
other members of the administration. Its first use was as a safety valve. At the
annual Leadership Banquet in May 1996, President Roach, conscious of student
frustration with campus conditions, announced the building would be used as a
temporary student center unci! Memorial Hall was ready for occupancy. The purchase of St. Nicholas Church at the corner of Roberts and Seventh Avenues in
1993, and its conversion into a meeting and reception area designated in 1997 as
Alumni Hall, also helped ease public space pressures. It became the home of the
Child Care Center, a desperately needed facility that had been under discussion
for almost two decades .
Few would argue that the library was the most inadequate building on campus. When the Ruth Haas Library opened in 1969, it served the needs of two
thousand full-time undergraduates and about one thousand part-time graduate
students working for advanced degrees in education. Twenty-three years later, in
1992, when James Roach got his first look at the building, it strained to meet the
needs of about one-third more full-time undergraduates and graduate students
(some full-time) in master's degree programs in administration, business, English,
health administration, history, mathematics, nursing, and oceanography, as well
as education. Dr. Roach summed up his initial reaction to the condition of the
building in one word: desperate. Plans for an enlarged library were ready by
1990, bur the combination of a weak Connecticut economy and then former
President Feldman's lack of enthusiasm for the project had blocked action. In
contrast, President Roach wished to make a large, technologically sophisticated

221

library the centerpiece of his campus revitalization. The discovery of reliable
Konover Construction (the firm that had rescued Memorial Hall) seemed to
guarantee the speedy completion of a 40,000-square-foot addition that would
double the size of this key university building.
One obstacle remained. Engineers insisted that the library had to be vacated
during construction. A base for an interim library--one that could serve for an
estimated two years-had to be found . Options were limited. The university considered and rejected the dingy former Armory on West Street, recently acquired
as surplus stare property. At the urging of concerned faculty, President Roach
decided to tolerate delay and first build a companion building, located between
White Hall and the Haas Library, to serve as temporary quarters for the library
and later fulfill other unspecified university needs . The decision not to use the
Armory proved fortuitous: the small quantity of books and other library materials
that were stored in the Armory's basement during library construction were
destroyed when heavy rains flooded that part of the old building .

Above: President James Roacb made an effort to be available to all elements of tbe campus commrmity.
Here be t1isits informally witb studmts. (I'(ICSU Archives)

222

A complex bur refreshingly efficient construction process began in the summer of 1998, when work started on both the library expansion and the neighboring structure. During the 1999 spring break (a single week), moving-company
personnel, augmented by dozens of students, transported the contents of the
library fifty yards into the completed building next door. The library would function smoothly here until irs new home was finished. Little more than a year later,
months ahead of schedule, the now 90,000-square-foot Ruth Haas Library was
ready, and the parade of books reversed its direction. Even though a few unhappy
students decided to use the Ocrober 2000 dedication of the building as an opportunity to jeer Governor Rowland for what they perceived as his lack of support for
higher education, most of the university community welcomed the replacement of
the old, inadequate, and poorly planned library with this roomy modern facility.
From the time the O'Neill Center at last began operation in 1994, to the
end of the decade, Western Connecticut State University completed nine major
building projects costing more than $70 million. As hoped, faculty and student
attitudes changed markedly with the transformation of the campus environment.
One small part of the construction story underscores the extent of this mood
shift. The attractive, three-story structure that had been the interim home of the
library carried the accurate, if uninspiring, designation of "Swing-Space Building"
on campus maps. At the urging of President Roach, the Board of Trustees in
2000 agreed

to

name the building "Truman A. Warner Hall " in honor of the

unique alumnus, administrator, and senior faculty member who had died in 1997.
Celebrating in this visible way a teacher respected for his dedication to students
and service to his colleagues and community would have been inconceivable ten
years earlier. Now, at the start of the new century, enthusiastic approval greeted
the choice of this name as a unifying symbol for the school. •

223

Note On Sources
Many people supplied information for this chapter. President James Roach graciously
submitted co a lengthy interview, as did the following faculty members: Ray Baubles, Ed
Hagan, Paul Hines, Vi jay Nair, James Pegolotti, Howard Russock, Harry Schramm , and
Jim Wohlever. Vice President for Academic Affairs Philip Steinkrauss supplemented his
interview with a collection of important documents. Among them are: "The Report of the
Evaluation Team Representing the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the
New England Association of Schools and Colleges" (1993); "The Western Connecticut
Scare University Strategic Plan'' (1993); and Dr. James Roach's 1997 report, "The State of
the University, 1992-1996."
As usual, newspapers were an essential guide. Complete files of the weekly student
newspaper, the Echo, are in the Ruth Haas Library Archives. Use of the News-Times is more
difficult, because the paper lacks any type of index. Fortunately, Truman Warner continued
co collect and file articles about the university from the local newspaper almost co the time
of his death in 1997 . They are available, well catalogued, in the Warner Collection in the
Haas Library Archives. The newspaper clipping file of Western's Public Relations
Department contains copies of all newspaper stories about Western Connecticut State
University printed in Connecticut newspapers from 1980 co the present, organized by year.
I want to thank Junis Nicholson for maintaining this file (now located in the Haas Library
Archives) until 1997, and for Koryoe Anim-Wright, director of public relations, for continuing the process and granting me access to this valuable resource. Jerry Wilcox, director
of institutional research and assessment, supplied me with a statistical profile of the university for the period 1980-2000, and provided guidance as to the meaning of the data.

224

Above: Extensive new comtmction 011 the Midtown campus in the 1990s, and especrally beautification of the landscape, led to improved morale. (Photo by Peggy Stewm·f)

225

Above: The new pedestrian mtrance to the Midtown campus is located on \'(/hire Street between the
school's oldest buildings: Old Main (background) and Fairfield Hall (out of view, to the left).
(Photo by Peggy Stewart)
OppoSite: Ot·iginally built to provide temporary library quarters during renovation of the Ruth Haas
Librmy, Tmman \Varner Hal/was named for a revered famlty membet: (Photo by Peggy Stewm·t)

226

EPILOGUE

A PEOPLE'S UNIVERSITY
Warner Hall is more than a symbol of unity; it is a link with the past.
Named after an alumnus whose life touched the school at every stage of irs evolution, the building is firmly rooted in history. However, the meaning of Warner
Hall goes beyond chronology. The name highlights two dominant themes that
resonate through the first century of WestConn's existence. First, the school has
served people in the region, young and old, who otherwise would not have been
able to benefit from a college education. Truman Warner came to WestConn
because he had no other option. The grandson of a hatter and son of a house
painter, the young man could nor afford to attend a private college. When
Danbury High School urged its stellar student ro set his sights on Yale
University, Warner responded that the low tuition and convenience of Danbury
State Teachers College, now offering a bachelor's degree and eager to have more
male students, better fit his financial situation. Years later, long after he had
become a professor of anthropology at his alma mater, he admitted to an interviewer that he had enrolled ar the teachers college "in some ways by default."
Similar WestConn success stories would fill a book much larger than this
one. A few examples will suffice ro make rhe point that the school has always
been accessible to those in the area who had ability but limited alternatives.
Katherine Augusta Sutton taught in a one-room school house in New

227

Canaan co support her two young sons after the sudden death of her husband. She
entered the Normal School in 1920 co earn state certification and never left. Dr.
Sutton, who received her doctorate from New York University, became the most
revered teacher at the Danbury institution until her retirement in 1946.
In the 1950s, Danbury State Teachers College gave Liz Timmons NkonokiWard rhe opportunity co become the first African-American graduate with a
music education degree. She went on to a distinguished teaching career in Hamden, Branford, New Britain, Newington, and Hartford. In a 1999 letter co the
WCSU alumni office, she confessed that she would have withdrawn from school
as a freshman if the head of the music department, Ruth deVillafranca, had not
"made me realize the responsibility I had to her, the college, my people, my
family, and me."
Following his graduation from Stratford High School, AI Montecalvo,
aspiring to be a professional drummer, enrolled in the Berkeley School of Music
in Boston. One year of study at rhe prestigious private school depleted his bank
account and forced him to transfer to the affordable music education program at
Danbury State. During his student-teaching assignment, he discovered that he
was a "natural teacher." "It was the turning point of my life," he conceded. After
graduation from this school in 1964, Montecalvo went on to a thirty-five-year
career as music teacher and director of music in the Carmel, New York, school
system.
His fascination with automobiles led Stephen Flanagan co select vocational
courses at Danbury High School. After graduation, he worked for several years
at blue-collar jobs "before I realized that I wanted more from life than I was prepared for." Fortunately, the newly established Basic Studies program at WestConn
welcomed late bloomers like this. Flanagan spent one year in remedial courses
before moving into the regular academic program and graduating with honors in
1978. Since then, he has earned two master's degrees and is completing his doctorate in history ar the University of Connecticut. New Milford High School
named him its teacher of the year in 1997 .
Sister Mary Francis, after years of badgering her superiors at the Community
of the Holy Spirit in Brewster, New York, for permission to attend the nearby
228

college, finally prevailed. In 1993, she graduated from Western Connecticut State
University as an honor student in English.
Forty-one-year-old Maud MacArthur, honored as the Alumnus of the Year
by the School of Arts and Sciences in 2001, came to Danbury from her native
Haiti at the age of sixteen with a minimal grasp of English. She worked to pay
her tuition at Western where Psychology Professor Philip Lorn encouraged her to
follow a career in that field. Today, she counsels women inmates at the Federal
Correctional Institution in Danbury.
Educating students is the primary mission of any school, but Warner Hall
also signifies that Western's influence has reached beyond its campus classrooms.
Truman Warner did not keep his scholarship locked in an ivory rower; he devoted
a lifetime to educating adult audiences in the Danbury area through lectures,
seminars, and museum exhibits. His public service, though quiet and unostentatious, illustrates the second dominant theme in Western's history: the college has
not just been located in Danbury, it has been an integral part of the cultural and
intellectual life of the community. In art galleries, concert halls, auditoriums, and
meeting rooms, Western faculty have enriched the lives of all the people of the
western parr of the state.
In 1939, the Danbury News-Times, filled with pride that its city now had a
full four-year college, acknowledged the vitality of the town-gown relationship in
a glowing editorial. The newspaper claimed that the college faculty "contribute to
the social life in our city in an even greater degree than our lawyers, doctors, or
bankers do." While this tribute was exaggerated, Danbury-area citizens have consistently acknowledged the importance of the college by their actions. Whenever
rival cities, penurious legislators, or hostile bureaucrats have threatened the welfare of the school, the region has united to repulse the menace. Each chapter of
this book contains examples of crucial community support for the college. Only
the citizens' role in blocking the most serious threat to the school's existence will
be recalled here by way of illustration. In the late 1960s, the newly established
Board of Trustees considered moving the entire college out of downtown Danbury
to a more spacious site in populous southern Fairfield County. As at so many
ocher points in WestConn's history, a coalition of civic and political leaders band-

229

ed together to find a solution-in this case a second campus- that would permit
the college to remain and flourish in Danbury.
Winston Churchill, a gifted crafter of symbols, understood that buildings
provide more than shelter. He emphasized that they are also carriers of cultural
meaning when he said, "We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings
shape us." The architects designed the newest building on campus to be attractive
and fulfill many of the practical needs of today's students and faculty. The decision

to

name the structure Warner Hall, coming near the end of the school's first

century, completes the shaping process by reminding the entire community of the
school's legacy as "A people's university." •

230

INDEX
A
Adler, Alan, 186
administrations. See also under individual
presidents and principals
1904-1923 (Perkins), 23-33
1923-1935 (Higgins), 37,75-77,
82, 105
1935-1946 (Jenkins), 77-83, 101
1946-1975 (Haas), 102-63
1975-1981 (Bersi), 164-91
1981-1992 (Feldman), 191-209
1992-presenr (Roach), 209, 210- 23
African American issues, 98, 126-28, 156,
178,209-10,214-16.
See also Hispanic issues; minority issues
Afro-American Society, 127-28
Alexander White Hall, 137, 180, 188
Alumni Association, 88
Alumni Hall, 221
American Association of Teachers Colleges,
82
American Association of University
Professors (AAUP), 185, 186, 191, 201,
202-3
American Federation of Teachers (AFT),
178, 185-86, 188
amphitheatre, outdoor, 74, 75, 81
Ancell, Nathan, 170-71, 172
Ancell School of Business, 184, 190,
195-96, 199-200
The Anchor, 45
Anderson, Chester, 125, 127
Anderson, Marion, 170
Andrews, George, 31
antiwar protests, 120, 128-29, 131
Arconti, Gino, 143, 145
Armstrong, Sarah, 24
Asselta, Rick, 121, 124
Association of Religious Communities,
156
athletics, 129-31, 180-81, 196-98

Barrett, Tony, 201
Baruch, Bernard, 193
Basch, David, 168
Bascom, Lionel, 2\6
Basic Studies, 187-88, 204, 228
Baubles, Ray, 123, 185
Beal, Dallas, 203
Beaver Brook School, 28, 56.
See also practice schools
Berkshire Hall, 111, 180
Bernstein, Leonard, 169, 170
Bernstein, Walter, 215
Bersi, Robert
background, 164-6 5
begins administration, 164-71
favors Feldman presidency, 191
photos, 172,174,175,191
restructures college, 167-68, 184, 185
Bingham, Harold, 141-42
Blaisdell, Robert, 178-79
Blumenthal, Richard, 210
Boehringer-Ingelheim, 155, 195
Booster Club, 32, 46-47, 48, 197
Boughton, Donald, 179
Bowen, Theodore, 32
Bowen, Thomas, 66, 71
Bowman, J. Thayer, 96
Brackman, Arnold, 188
Braibanti, Ralph). D., 70, 84
Braun, Gertrude, 113, 166, 199
Bridgeport, Connecticut, 10, 11-12,
21,44-45
Brill, Jesse, 73, 108
Brookfield, Connecticut, 154-55
Brown, Mary Whittlesey, 22
Brown, Richard, 127
Brunell, Gloria, 164, 166, 167
Burbank, Jane, 24
Burke, Harold, 123
Burns, Karen, 128
Butterfield, Ernest, 63, 64-65, 79
Buzaid, Norman, 117-18

B

c

Baisley, Frank, 36
Baker, Wayne, 195
Baldwin, Raymond, 59-60, 65, 101
Balmforth Avenue School, 29, 42, 49, 56,
77, 111. See also practice schools
Barden Corporation, 93, 97
Barnard, Henry, 10, 80-81
Barnwell, Barbara, 216

Cage, John, 183
Cain, Leo, 165
Camp, Mrs. Mortimer, 31
Campbell, Bob, 197, 207
Carrington, Ralph, 25, 32
Carroceti, Robert, 210
Chamberlin, Abraham, 15

231

Chance, Edwina, 204
Charles lves Center, 170, 173, 183
Child Care Center, 221
Citizens Committee for Flood
Control Action, 97
Clio, 188
Coladarci, Arrhur, 84
Collins, Francis, 144, 161
Collins, Steve, 139, 143, 144
Columbia University Teachers College,
107,113
Commerce Park, 95
Commircee of 1000, 96
Comsrock, Strong, 15
Connecticut Education Association (CEA),
185
Connecticut population rrends, 10-11, 61,
153-57, 177,214
Connecricur Srare Board of Education, 11,
23-27 ,31, 37-41, 56,61-63, 112,
117,1 23-126
Connecticut Stare Board of Higher
Education, 167-169
Connecticut Stare Bond Commission, 145,
168-169, 198
Connecticut Srare College Board of
Trustees, 126, 136, 140-149, 159-168,
174, 176, 181, 184-186, 191
Connecticut Stare Commission for Higher
Education, 126, 142, 147, 160-61,
166-67, 184-85
Connecticut Stare Department of
Education, 15-16,40,47, 102
Connecticut State Department of Higher
Education, 204, 214
Connecticut Srare Department of Public
Works, 141, 146, 147, 168, 179, 220
Connecticut Stare Employees Association
(CSEA), 185
Connecticut Srare University Board of
Trustees, 202-205,209-210, 213,
218-219, 223,229
Cook, F. Burron, 109, 116, 130
Copland, Aaron, 183
Corporate College Council, 170
Corrrighr, E. Evererc, 21
Counts, George, 113
Counts, Martha, 113, 116
Cowley, W. H., 164-65
Coxey, Jacob, 14
Crawford, Finla, I 04, I 06
Cross, Wilbur, 59, 65
Cuff, Michael T., 9, 23
Cunningham, Martin, 47, 71

Curley, Thomas, 112, 118
Curley Hall, 112
Cutting, Helen McGlynn, 45
D
Danbury, Connecticut
becomes regional hub, 153-57
Depression years, 53-56
early economic development, 3-6
hatting industry, 4-6, 54-55, 93-94
population trends, 4-6, 54, 93-96,

153-57
postwar redevelopment, 93-98
Danbury and Bethel Gas and
Electric Company, 5
Danbury and Bethel Street Railway, 6
Danbury Fair, 101
Danbury Hat Makers Association, 54
Danbury Hospital, 122, 155, 183
Danbury Industrial Corporation, 94
Danbury Moror Inn, 136
Danbury Music Centre, 71
Danbury News-Times, 155, 229
Danbury Normal School Commircee, 9,
22-23
Danbury Normal School. See also
Danbury Stare Teachers College;
Western Connecticut Stare College;
Western Connecticut Stare University
begins three-year plan, 62
business education at, 62-63, 76
co-education program, 25, 83-86
consolidation arcempr at New Britain,
63-66
consrruction, 24
curriculum, original, 40-41
founding, 6, 9-18, 24-25
lagging enrollment, 26
pharos, 8, 9
Danbury Public Library, 157
Danbury Srare Teachers College. See also
Danbury Normal School;
Western Connecticut State College;
Wesrern Connecticut State University
athletics, 129-31
creation of, 65
music program, 70-71,108,112
postwar growth, 107-18
rutrion begins, 176-77
World War II years, 86-88
Danbury Symphony Orchestra, 71
DaSilva, Ben, 115, 124
Davidson, Lawrence, 203
Davis, Samuel, 46

232

Dempsey, John, 141, 143, 145
DeNardis, Laurence, 168, 169
Deczer, David, 188
deVillafranca, Ruth
career highlights, 70-71, 88, 228
phocos, 59, 73
profile, 67-68
Devine, John, 187
Devlin, William, 189
Dillingham Corporation, 146
"Do-Day," 115-16, 117, 118
Dober, Richard, 142--43
Dober, Walquisc, Harris, Inc., 142
Donnelly, Alice, 114, 130
dormicories
construction, 30-33, 46--48, 136, 171
new Westside buildings, 195, 219
phocos, 36, 37
Douglas, John, 94
Downs, Mrs. John, 67
Dozier, Richard, 215
Driscoll, John, 186
Duffey, Joseph, 128
Duracell, 15 5
Durgy, Howard, 13 5
Dyer,James, 164, 176-77, 192

business school, reporc on, 184
faculty problems, 191, 201-5
hired ac Danbury, !67, 194
leadership style, 194-95
phocos, 172, 205, 207
resignation, 209
Ficarra, Anthony, 186
Filer, John, !67
Pillow, A. Homer, 46, 47
Finch, Grant, 73, 84, 108
First Congregational Church, 5, 79
Fitzsimmons, John, 203
Flanagan, Joyce Luongo, 180- 81
Flanagan, Stephen, 187, 188, 228
Flick, Alexander, 103--4
Ford, Gerald, 163
The Forum, 69-70
Foss, Lucas, 183
Francis, Sister Mary, 228-29
Frank H. Lee Company, 52, 54, 94
Freshman Inscruccional Team (FITS), 114
Friel, Sister Mary, 187, 188
Prose, James, 162, 165, 192
Furman, James, 182
G

Geddes, Alfred, 83, 89
Geddes, Claire Trish, 107, 113
Gilberc, William, 32
"Good Elementary Teachers' Do's," 114,
117
Gorman, Marcin, 9, 16
Gould, Samuel, 167
Grace, Alonzo, 65, 71-72, 102, 112
Grasso, Ella
and board of trustees, 141
at college events, 163, 172, 182
dormicory named for, 171
fiscal policy, 160, 161, 168-69, 176, 180
phocos, 172, 174, 175
Greater Danbury Association, 96
Green, John W., 5
Green, Marie, 137
Greenwald, H. Jonathan, 125
Gregory Farm, 145
Griffing, Marcin, 46
Geoff, Donald, 180, 189
Gcolier, 155

E
Eagle Pencil, 95

Echo, 123
Edwards, Lon, 116, 125
Eichrodc, John, 185
Elberc Gross Library, 188
Empress Theater, 6
Engleman, Finis, 72, 112
Erickson, F. E., 97
ERUTMA, 107-8
Esposico, William, 131
Echan Allen Company, 155, 170-71
F
Faculty Senate, 201--4
Fairfield Hall
construction, 48
crowding, 136
improvements, need for, Ill, 180
phocos, 36, 37, 49, 75, 118
Fairfield Processing Corpora cion, 171
Farrington, Harold, 144
Federated Women's Clubs, 67
Federation of Civic Clubs, 66, 67, 71
Feldman, Stephen
background, 192-94
business school, emphasis on, 198- 200

H
Haas, Frederick, 102- 3
Haas, Ruch A.
as academic dean, 82, 85
on achlecics, 130, 181

233

Haas, Ruth A.
background, 102-4
becomes president, 101-2
campus expansion efforts, 136-37,
140-48, 159-63
early years at Danbury, 104-6
hired at Danbury, 82
on issues during 1960s, 122-24,
127-29, 131-33
photos, 73, 100, 158, 191
political acumen, 139-40
on student unrest, 127-29
Hansen, Arnold, 145-46
Harrison, Phebe, 73, 86
Hartwell, Richardson, and Driver, 17-18
hatting industry, in Danbury, 4-6,
54-55,93-94
Higgins, Lothrop
hires Ruth Haas, 82, 105
joins faculty, 25
photos, 32, 35, 49
as principal, 37, 75-77, 82, 105
Higgins Hall, 110, 138, ISO
Hine, Charles
background, 37-38
state board activities, 11, 15, 17-18,
26,27,28-29,31
Hines, Paul, 164, 175-76, 203
Hispanic issues, 15 7. See also African
American issues; minority issues
Hoffman, Charles, 9, 13, 16
Hogan, Denise, 210
Holcomb, Marcus, 31
Hotel Green, 5, 32
Housatonic Valley Council of
Elected Officials (HVCEO), 154
Howarth, Mary, 29
Hubbard, Rev. Andrew, 13
Hughes, Robert, 147
Hull, T. Clark, 96, 126, 139, 144, 161
Humanistic Studies Department, 125
Husa, Karel, 183
"The Hut,'" 101, 112
Hutchins, Robert, 125

Intensive Program for
College Graduates, 108
Interdisciplinary Department, 125
Interim Program, 115, 117
International Business Machines (IBM),
155-56, 193-94, 195-96
Isham, Charlotte, 61, 75
Ivers, Cornelius, 131

Ives, Charles, 137, 169-70, 182
Ives Center, 170, 173, 183

J
Jacobus, Lee, 125
Jakabauski, John, 209
Jenkins, Ralph
photos, 58, 73
as president, 81-83, 101
as principal, 77-81
Jessup, Harvey, 129
Johansen, John A., 146-48, 170, 173
Johnson, Charles, 3 3
Johnson, Mort, 71, 85
Johnson Plan, 79
K
Kaplan, Philip, 167, 185
Keeler, Katherine Augusta. See Sutton,
Katherine Augusta
Keep Tuition Down committee, 176
Kennedy, Walter, 141
Kilduff, Edward, 12
King Street School, 28.
See also practice schools
Kinney, Del, 187
Kissinger, Henry, 200, 205
Kohl, Ruth, 178, 184, 199
Konover Construction, 220, 222
Kreizinger, Jean, 186
L
labor issues, 178, 185-86
LaCava, Mary, 106
LaFond, Les, 177-78,187
LaGrotta, Guido, 139
Lake, Everett, 16
Langford,John, 141
Lauricella, Elsie, 53
Larson, John, 210
Laws, Warren, 85, 88
Lee, Frank, 5, 47, 54
Lee, Wallace, 185
Leuthauser, Fred, 200, 217
Levy, Arthur, 128
library improvements, 134, 137-38, 188,
221-23
Litchfield Hall, 136
Locust Avenue School, 29, 42, 56, 77.
See also practice schools
Lorn, Philip, 229
Lowe, Frederick, 116
Lubus, Ray, 169

234

National League of Nursing, 184
"The Nature of Man," 125
Neuwirth, Steven, 201,210
New Britain Normal School, 10, 11, 15,
41,46,63-66
New England Association of Schools and
Colleges, 159, 178, 198,213- 14,219
New Haven Normal School, 11- 12, 15,
41,62,63-66
Newbury Hall, 136, 177
The Nell!s-Times, 155.
See also Da11b111) Neus-Times
Nichols, Caleb, 215 16
Nickerson, Leonard, 33
Niejadlik, Bernice, 142
Nkonoki-Ward, Liz Timmons, 228
"Non-Trads," 187
Nord, Kristin, 175
Northeast Utilities, 195
nursing education, 122, 181, 183 84

M
MacArthur, Maud, 229
Malina, Rabbi Jerome, 67
Mallory, William, 46
Mallory Company, 94
Maloney, James, 219
Maltbie, William, 59
Manfredonia, William, 131
Marley, Lord, 58, 69
Maxim,Jerry, 131
McCann, John, 97
McConaughy, James, 102
McGrory, Kathleen, 185
McKee, Bill, 164
Mclachlan, George, 55
Mclachlan, Harry, 5
McNamara, Elizabeth, 68
Meader, Lawrence, 39-40
Meader Report, 41
Mekies, Saul, 202
Memorial Hall, 112, 220-21
Meredith, Albert, 37-40, 47, 48, 61-62
Merritt, Charles, 15
Meskill, Thomas
fiscal policy, 132, 148, !60, 161, 176
photo, 158
on Ruth Haas, 159, 163
on Westside campus, 163
Mid-Town East Redevelopment Project,

0
O'Connell, Corrine, 43
O'Connor, Donald, 85
Old Main
construction, 17-18
expansion needs, 110, Ill
photos, 8, 9, 18, 32, 35, 118, 226
O'Neill, Fred, !67, 199
O'Neill, William, 191, 205, 207

140
minority issues, 98, 126-28, 156-57,
178, 187' 204, 209-10, 214-16.
See also racial tension
Miry Brook School, 21, 28, 42, 45.
See also practice schools
Montecalvo, AI, 228
Monuments of Culture, 116-17
Moore, Lawrence, 95
Morrill, Arthur, 41
Mower, Roberta, 102
Murphy, Gertrude, 25
Murphy, John, 115
music program, 70-71, 108, 112, 181-83
Muska, Frank
athletic affairs, 196, 197
campaign to succeed Feldman, 210
faculty problems, 202-3
Roach administration and, 217
on Stephen Feldman, 195
Myers, Alonzo, 61, 80

p
Palermo, Anthony, 88
Parks, Charles D., 144
Pasqualoni, Paul, 197
Peck, Charles, 46
Pegler, Owen, 127
Pegolorri, James, 188, 199, 200
performing arts center, 170, 173
Perkin-Elmer Corporation, 171, 195
Perkins, John R.
background, 21-23
on Danbury, 6
death, 33
photos, 20, 32
as principal, 23-33
promotes K. Sutton, 68
pushes Normal School idea, 12-13
Peters, Iva, 104
Perreresch, Carl, 113
Pierce, Franklin, 72
Pinney, A. Searle, 144, 205, 219
"The Pit," 179, 220
Pitney Bowes, 155

N
National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People (NAACP), 214-15

235

populacion crends, in Conneccicuc, 10-11,
61, 153-57, 177,214
Powers, Seymour, 95
praccice schools
Balmforch Avenue School, 29, 42, 49,
56, 77, 111
Beaver Brook School, 28, 56
condicion of, 75, 77, II 0, 111
escablishmenc of, 17
King Screec School, 28
Locusc Avenue School, 29, 42, 56, 77
Miry Brook School, 21, 28, 42,45
Robercs Avenue School, 111
reaching requiremencs, 86
Prebenna, Marie Tomaino, 85
Previdi, John, 145
Previdi, Margarec, 145
Profile of American Colleges, 196
Public Ace 330, 126
R
R. W. Granger and Sons, 198
Rabineau, Louis, 167
racial cension, 98, 127-28, 156-5 7, 178,
214-16. See also minoricy issues
Rafcer, Chris, I 16
Raglan, John, 184
Rajcula, Jody, 197, 207
Racchford, William, 139, 143, 144,

145, 161
Rebenscein, Diane, 115
Republic Foil, 94
Ribicoff, Abraham, 163
Roach, James
background, 210-13
becomes presidenc, 209, 210
campus improvemencs, 219-23
on minoricy issues, 214-16
phoco, 222
scaffing issues, 216-17, 218
Robercs, Henry J., 16
Robercs Avenue School, 111.
See also praccice schools
Robercson, Nan, 169
Robinson, Carl, 166, 180
Robuscelli, Andy, 130
Rogan, Par, 175
Rogers, Cephas, 56
Rogers, N. Burcon, 14, 31
Roman, Eric, 128
Roraback,]. Henry, 33
Rosenberg, Edwin, 115, 130
Rowland, Alice, 110, 111
Rowland, John, 219, 223

Royce, Lynne, 203
Russock, Howard, 201, 204
Ruch A. Haas Library, 134, 138, 208, 209,
221 23

s
Salmon, Doris, 39, 45
Sanders, Wilham, 11 7
Sarasin, Ronald, 163
Savings Bank of Danbury, 5
School Mascers Round Table, 15
Score, Howard, 15
Scorc-Fancon Museum and Hiscorical
Sociecy, 2, 52, 189
Scully, Jeremiah, 54
Second Bapcisc Church, 13
Shannon, Theodore, 84
Sherwood, May, 45, 49, 61, 83, 108
Shocwell, James, 69
Simpson, Alfred, 42
Slacer, Kevin, 215
Smich,]. Eugene, 142
Smich, Scanford, 215
Sophomore Inscrucrional Team (SITS), 114
Souch Screec School, 56
Souchern New England Telephone
Company, 5
Souchey, Ernesc, 9, 16, 23
Sperry Produces, 97
Spiro, Nachan, 64
Spring Weekend, 117, 131
Sr. Joseph's Church, 6
Sceinkrauss, Philip, 217
Scephen Feldman Arena, 205, 207
Scerson Company, 94
Scolberg, Irving, 168, 169
Scracemeyer, Florence, 113, 114
Scudenc Dean Program, 105
Scudenc Governmenc Associacion (SGA)
Arcs Fescival funding, 183
on campus expansion, 169, 173
on faculcy issues, 132, 202
as honor courc, 44
scudenc club charcers, 46
on Viecnam War, 128, 129
Srudenc Union, 111-12, 138, 180
Scurdevanc, Elijah, 32
Sunderland, Philip, 5, 111, 138
Sunderland, William Webb, 138
Succon, Kacherine Augusra
background, 67-68
career acrivicies, 68-70, 84, 227-28
pharos, 58, 72
on Warren Laws, 88

236

Sutton, Raymond, 68
Sweeney, Charles, 143, 146
Sweet, Walter, 136

WescConn One Hundred Society, 196,
197, 201
Western Connecticut State College.
See a!Jo Danbury Normal School;
Danbury Scace Teachers College;
Western Connecticut Scace University
achlerics, 180-81
Basic Studies, 187-88, 228
becomes Western Connecticut
State University, 195
campus expansion efforts, 136-3 7,
140--48
enrollment trends, 121-3 3
labor issues, 178, 185-86
minority issues, 126-28, 178, 187
music program, 181-83
nursing education, 122, 181, 183 84
Vietnam War protests, 120, 128-29,
131
Westside campus, 144--48, 160-71,
190, 191
Western Connecticut Scace University.
See a!Jo Danbury Normal School;
Danbury Scare Teachers College;
Western Connecticut Scace College
athletics, 196-98
Basic Studies, 204, 228
campus expansion efforts, 219-23
enrollment trends, 217-18
minority issues, 204, 214-16
split campus issues, 199-201
Westside campus, 195, 197-98
Whitcomb, Mervin, 137
White, Alexander Moss, 17
White, William, 17
White Hall, 137, 180, 188
Wilder, David, 97-98, 143
Wilds, Constance Terry, 187
William A. O'Neill Athletic and
Convocation Center, 198, 207
Williams, Paul, 113
Willimantic Normal School, 11, 31, 41,
48, 63-66
Wilson, Lynn, 66, 71

T
Taylor, Joseph, 162
Teachers Association of Fairfield County,
15
Templeton, George, 33
Thomas, AI, 130
Thomas, lowell, 101
Thomson, Virgil, 183
Timex, 194
Timmins, Jim, 116
Tracy, Cornelius, 12, 13, 14, 16
Trimperc, Raymond, 194
Truman A. Warner Hall, 223, 227,
229-30
Trumbull, John, 48
Tucker, Helen, 45
Tufts, John, 140, 180
Tuvelle, Howard, 169-70
Tweedy, Arthur E., 5
Tweedy, Donald, 71
20th Century Arcs Festival, 182- 83

u
Union Carbide Corporation, 153, 156,
170, 194
United Fur Workers of Danbury, 55
United Hatters of North America, 6
University Foundation, 201
University Hall, 221
University of Bridgeport, !66, 183
University of Connecticut, 125, 126, 181,
183, 184-85, 196
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 97

v
Valois, Charlotte Blight, 106
Vietnam War protests, 120, 128-29, 131

w
Wagner, Neil, 116, 129, 130, 166
Walsh, James E., 14
Wanzer, Richard, 70
Warner, Truman, 83, 84, 86, 227, 229
The \'(/aJteCann, 201
Webby, Rev. Nicholas, 55
Weicker, Lowell, 163, 205, 209
Welles, E. Stanley, 14
Werner, Walter, 142, 144
WescConn (nickname), 175

y
Young, Robert, 171

z
Zeoli, C. Z ., 48

237