A Brief History Of Rose-Hulman

One central purpose has guided Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology since its founding more than a century ago. In the words of President Samuel F. Hulbert, "the Institute's fundamental objective is to develop students academically, culturally, physically, and socially so that they can make significant contributions to the nation's economy, the resolution of social problems, and the welfare of human race."

This objective reflects the purposes and philosophy of the founder, Chauncey Rose, a Connecticut native of Scottish descent who came to western Indiana in 1817. A businessman, entrepreneur, builder of railroads, leading citizen and philanthropist, Rose and nine of his friends on September 10, 1874, established a corporation and articles of association aimed at creating and maintaining "The Terre Haute School of Industrial Science," an institution chartered under the laws of the State of Indiana "for the intellectual and practical education of young men." A Board of Managers consisting of Mr. Rose and his associates administered the school.

Under a Board of Managers consisting of Mr. Rose and nine of his trusted friends, the articles of incorporation were adopted on September 10, 1874.  The cornerstone of the original building was laid at Thirteenth and Locust Streets in Terre Haute on January 11, 1875.  Simultaneously, despite Mr. Rose's protests, the Board of Managers changed the name of the school to Rose Polytechnic Institute.  Because of money issues and difficulties in creating a physical plant and staff, candidates for admission were not examined and selected until March 6, 1883.  Opening day for instruction took place on March 7, 1883 for a class of twenty-five.  By 1903 Rose Polytechnic had over 200 male students enrolled in five major engineering curricula: Mechanical, Civil, Electrical, Architectural, and Chemistry [sic]. No dormitories existed. Students lived in rooming houses in town and took their meals where they lived, at restaurants, or in "eating clubs."

From the beginning, academic standards were rigorous. The Board of Managers was fortunate to have persuaded Dr. Charles O. Thompson of the Free Institute of Technology at Worcester, Massachusetts, to become president of the new Institute. The plan of instruction at the "first private engineering college west of the Alleghenies" thus followed the excellent pattern of that eastern institution. As Dr. Thompson stated in his inaugural address: "the engineer is distinct from the artisan or craftsman by exactly the amount of his knowledge of the scientific principles which underlie the practice of his profession." He thus insisted on a balance of theoretical and practical work. Along with firm grounding in mathematics and physical science, the faculty required students to take courses in foreign languages (German, Spanish, and French). The seniors had to prepare a thesis based on independent work and defend it before a committee of faculty and outside examiners. Within a few years, requirements for admission included four years of high school work.

Perhaps the most dedicated and respected member of the faculty in the early years was Dr. Carl Leo Mees (pronounced MACE). After graduating from Ohio State University at 18 years of age, he four years later received the degree of doctor of medicine. He then studied physical science in London and Berlin, followed by five years as professor of physics and chemistry at Ohio State University. He came Rose in 1886 as adjunct professor of physics. He soon advanced to the rank of professor, served twice as acting president, and in 1895 became president, remaining in that post twenty-four years, until 1919 -- longer than any other man in Institute history to that time.

But those years were not easy ones. Rose Polytechnic Institute sometimes found itself short of cash and during these times it was only the force of Mees' character and personality that persuaded the best faculty not to accept offers to go elsewhere. Professor John B. Peddle recalled that Mees' "most outstanding trait was his vast sympathy with others, and he used this with striking effect in the management of students. He could look upon both sides of any question and then by the use of common sense methods would make the student see and accept his point of view. . . . His unselfish devotion to the school was proverbial." Alumni from that era later recounted that "the Doctor" even cared for the health of individual students -- an extra task for which his medical education and experience qualified him.

In 1917, the campus at Thirteenth and Locust having become too small for an enrollment that was nearing 300, the Hulman family of Terre Haute donated its 123-acre farm, east on U.S. 40 just outside the city limits to the Institute. Just five years later construction of a new campus began on the former Hulman property. The cornerstone of the 80,600-square-foot main classroom building was laid on September 13, 1922. The Board then authorized construction of Deming Hall, the first student residence, so that first-year students who were not Terre Haute residents could live on campus. Despite increased enrollment and the large new facilities, the Institute retained its intimate flavor. The staff, in 1924, consisted only of the president, 17 faculty members (a student faculty ratio of 17:1), an athletic coach, bursar, registrar, librarian, and the secretary to the president.

Student life always was lively. A variety of student clubs, musical organizations, and publications existed. Social fraternities included Alpha Tau Omega, chartered in 1893; Sigma Nu in 1895; PIES (later Theta Kappa Nu, then Lambda Chi Alpha) in 1900, and Theta Xi in 1907. In 1901, the students wanted to have a football team. Athletics were so popular that the faculty felt it needed to establish limits. They allowed football but only after the students agreed to have no more than two practices a week and one game per weekend. By 1906, the faculty became more lenient, permitted students who were members of athletic teams to be excused from classes at 4 p.m. and ruled that all classes should end at 5 p.m.

The Institute prided itself on the moral character of its students. Nevertheless, as one might expect, "high jinks" were not unknown. Townspeople would gather to witness the annual "pipe rush," a challenge baseball game to which freshmen were invited by the sophomores, but told (according to one poster from the time), "Leave your pipes with your nurses." At some point in the game, the freshmen would all suddenly produce their forbidden pipes, resulting in an instant free for-all-that continued until all the offending articles were wrested from them. These struggles occasionally got out of hand and broken noses and arms were common. After the 1931 St. Patrick's Day dance, the entire student body was forbidden social events for the remainder of the year. NEXT PAGE

Rose-Hulman History Project.   William Pickett and John Robson, Copyright © August 1998.   
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