The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume VIII, Number 2, Pages 2-20
Spring, 1982

Whitman: The College, the Town, and Teddy Roosevelt, 1903

by G. Thomas Edwards

G. Thomas Edwards has been a Professor of History at Whitman College since 1964.

Whitman College - Crowd gathering for Teddy Roosevelt's speech

Whitman College and Walla Walla have experienced many memorable days in the turbulent twentieth century; one of the happiest of these occurred about 75 years ago, when President Theodore Roosevelt visited Walla Walla for five hours. Few Eastern political leaders have ever aroused Westerners as much as "Teddy," and Whitman and Walla Walla also expressed their enthusiasm. In both communities, men and women extolled Roosevelt's robust life, his courage, his knowledge and appreciation of the West, his leadership, his confidence in American people and their institutions, his conception of the American mission, and his optimism.

From April 1 to June 5, 1903, Roosevelt campaigned across the West, seeking support in his bid for the 1904 Republican presidential nomination. He followed a strenuous schedule but received strength from enthusiastic audiences. He wrote that the differences between himself and rural Americans were superficial and that "down at bottom these men and I think a good deal alike, or at least have the same ideals, and I am always sure of reaching them in speeches."

During that spring, Westerners continued to talk in optimistic tones and to compare their present economic condition with the depression of the 1890's. Businessmen, politicians, farmers, educators and others talked of change and growth - two important words in Progressive America. And this same kind of talk was heard on the Whitman campus during the 1902-1903 school year. The school's president, Stephen Penrose, expressed unqualified confidence, cheerfully telling everybody that he had only good to report about his school and that "prospects were never brighter." Others agreed. According to the school's newspaper, the Pioneer, faculty members told new and returning students enrolled in all three parts of the institution - the college, the conservatory, and the academy - that the current school year marked "a very distinct advance."

They boasted that the institution was 'better supplied in respect to teaching force, buildings, and general equipment;" that the college attracted a more diversified student body; and that there was "a more general appreciation" of the school's "aims and methods." Faculty recalled the "Gray Nineties:' when Whitman - lacking presidential leadership, faculty, students, buildings, and money - nearly collapsed. They praised President Penrose, who took over the troubled institution in 1894 and brought significant changes. The most obvious improvement was the construction of the school's first masonry buildings: Memorial Building and Billings Hall, completed in 1899 and Reynolds Hall, finished in 1902. Penrose also recruited a talented faculty, tripled the size of the campus, doubled the size of the library, attracted dozens of students, and spread his enthusiasm for the college to audiences across the nation. Whitman College was simply Penrose's school; his career supported the generalization that "a College was the lengthened shadow of its president."

In a flattering resolution passed at its June, 1902 meeting, the Board of Trustees acknowledged Penrose's accomplishments. It commended him "for his exceedingly faithful, earnest and arduous labors upon the meager salary which we are able to give him, especially when we know that he has declined positions where his salary would be two to four times as great, and the honor in the eyes of the world also many times as much; still, as they are all we now have to give, we do hereby extend to him our most hearty and Christian thanks for what he has done for Whitman College, and do promise to increase his salary as soon as we are able, and sincerely pray that because of his labors and self denial for Whitman College, he will reap a rich reward in his heart through the blessing of God's spirit, see the institution grow and be blessed according to his prayers to receive a brighter crown hereafter in the sweet bye and bye."

Gratitude for Gifts

The trustees at this same meeting acknowledged several others for their gifts of money, equipment, and service. Levi Ankeny of Walla Walla gave $5,000 and also laid out an athletic field; Rev. and Mrs. E.L. Smith of Seattle gave $5,000; Mrs Frederick Billings of New York City, who had previously given money for campus beautification, donated $500 for the same purpose. The trustees' resolution to Mrs. Billings read: "we pray that as the years advance she may find the rough places of life made smooth and beautiful until she shall reach the beautiful home by the river of life." An estate in Spokane was thanked for a donation of $1,000 for scholarships for the children of ministers and missionaries. Several others received acknowledgement: an anonymous donor who paid for a clock to fit into the tower; the Walla Walla City Council for paying for the electrical connections; the Walla Walla Gas and Electric Company who paid to light the clock (Penrose noted that the college only had to pay for bulbs); and those who had hauled and installed the clock without charge.

President Penrose's annual report of 1903 listed a variety of improvements, especially the fact that the school's enrollment of 320 students was one-third larger than it had been in 1902. Not only were there more students, but, according to Penrose, they worked with more intensity. There were other good things to report: it had proved convenient to have the college librarian order and sell textbooks, and dormitory conditions had definitely improved. The first Dean of Women, Eliza P. Cobb, a graduate of Vassar and an experienced English teacher, had her salary paid by the Andersons and resided in a girl's dormitory where she "exercised a gentle and refining influence." Meanwhile, Archer W. Hendrick, the new principal of the academy, lived in the men's dormitory and had improved the "conduct and habits of study." (This began Hendrick's association with the college; it would soon lead to his controversial "Greater Whitman" program.) Penrose believed that the experiment of offering business courses in the academy had been successful. He mentioned that the faculty had been dubious about adding business courses, but he failed to report that the editor of the Pioneer had actually expressed the students's fears. Arguing that such courses in a high school or a business college were a "professed short cut to an education and has been proved by wide experience to be in most cases a sham and a trap for the ignorant," the editor expressed pleasure with the fact that those taking business courses still had to meet rigorous academy requirements in mathematics, modern languages, and science. In other words, the only change was that "stenography, typewriting, bookkeeping, commercial arithmetic and law will take the place of Cicero and Virgil." Penrose favored the continuation of these new courses because they brought students to the academy and convinced some that they could handle collegiate work, but the courses disappeared in 1905.

Faculty "Really Human"

On the steps of College Hall: top row (left to right); Louis F. Anderson, J.W. Cooper, W.D. Lyman, S.B.L. Penrose, B.H. Brown, Bert Thomas;
second row; W.A. Bratton, Helen A. Pepoon, Mrs. Crayne, Louise R. Loomis, O.A. Haverbach, 1898.

Whitman College Photograph Collection, Whitman College and Northwest Archives

During the 1902-1903 school year the Pioneer voiced its approval of curricular and extra curricular improvements. It reported that the faculty convinced skeptics that it was "really human" by regulating thesis writing, by limiting outside reading in any class to 600 pages, and by giving credit for intercollegiate debate and oratory and for literary work published in the school newspaper. There was another significant change: the regulation of regional athletics. While politicians in progressive America fought to regulate trusts, college faculties everywhere struggled to regulate athletics, especially football. The Pioneer, fearing that unrestrained athletics would mean that colleges would degenerate into "mere athletic clubs:' supported regulations designed to curb professionalism in college athletics; thus it argued that "any edict that makes intellectual paramount over athletic ends is consequently a matter of moment." Thus the newspaper expressed pleasure when Whitman and eight other institutions met in Spokane, forming an athletic league. Its bylaws covered the thorny issue of eligibility and made it the duty of team captains to prevent ineligible players from participating in contests. The Pioneer not only published the results of the Spokane meeting but crowed that "Whitman has always been in the lead in the race for pure athletics and now the other colleges are coming into line." Such athletic regulations passed by faculties, the Pioneer (erroneously) concluded, meant that "the professional has been banished and the 'football' student also is fast passing out of existence." One additional departure won the newspaper's praise: the first public co-educational debate at Whitman. The Pioneer thought that the only objection to allowing women on intercollegiate teams was the cost of a chaperone on trips.

Electives “Irresistible"

It is interesting to note that the Pioneer ignored another contemporary collegiate reform: the implementation of the elective system. In many institutions, a prescribed classical curriculum like Whitman's had come under persistent attack. Following Harvard's lead, educational reformers insisted that students should have freedom of choice. Unlike Whitman students of the late 1960's, those enrolled in the early progressive period could support or at least tolerate societal change, while leaving the existing curriculum intact. According to one authority, "The movement toward election was gradual but irresistible." And so it was at Whitman by 1910 the school would join in the national collegiate reform movement and offer more electives and a more relevant curriculum. Two interesting curricular departures were listed in the 1910 catalog: the Department of Engineering, which offered a four year program; and the addition of such relevant courses as ''The Labor Problem," "The Trust Problem,' and "Conservation" to the Department of Economics and Social Science. Whitman, like rural institutions everywhere, was offering courses to meet the needs of an industrial society.

Fundraising: No Help From The East

The Pioneer carried an interesting story about improving the college. Rev. Frank E. Whitham, who had successfully raised money for his Congregational church at Ritzville, received an appointment as Whitman's field agent. Early in 1903, he went East, seeking money for immediate needs: $7,000 to pay the Reynolds Hall debt, and $5,000 to cover current operating expenses. According to the newspaper, Whitham also sought funds for "larger needs:" a science hall, a new academy building, a gymnasium, an astronomical observatory (the Pioneer noted that a powerful telescope "would be a great aid to the college, and in the clear dry air of the Walla Walla Valley might be the means of contributing something to the scientific knowledge of the world"), and a new conservatory building "with deadened walls, large concert room, and pipe organ."

The Pioneer, however, did not have all the details. Penrose had proposed Whitham because he felt that a field agent would fill "a dire need:" the solicitation of funds from the school's New England friends, especially Congregationalists. Apparently the trustees supported the appointment of Whitham (he received $3,000 more in salary than Penrose) because they were "afraid that," Penrose wrote, "we shall end the year with a disastrous debt." the Pioneer was probably not told that Whitham failed even to meet his traveling expenses of $150. In New England and New York, Whitham met frequent refusals. He wrote Penrose that his repeated failures left him 'blue, discouraged, and homesick:' and that he could not eat or sleep. Potential donors, including Mrs. Billings, angrily told him that they were harassed by too many presidents and college agents soliciting money. One friend of the college, speaking for several others, argued that Whitman was "on its feet and ought to quit this house to house begging."

Whitham's negative letters failed to discourage Penrose, who carefully outlined to the agent the school's financial needs. Penrose wrote that "we economize to an extreme degree:' predicted that the college's indebtedness was unfortunate but would not be more than $500, and pointed out that faculty salaries were dangerously low (he received $1500, and other salaries ranged from $1200 to $400). It seemed to Penrose that friends of the college could be made to understand that a school of Whitman's size needed a $500,000 endowment. Whitham responded that he would succeed during a second Eastern trip if the college abandoned "a charity approach that was worn out and humiliating." He was not given a second chance, for the college decided it did not need a field agent.

While Whitham and Penrose exchanged views, the 1903 catalog appeared, describing the institution. Situated on a 23-acre site, the campus had lawns, trees, a stream of pure spring water, and a small lake. The catalog featured, of course, its three imposing buildings. Memorial contained recitation rooms, laboratories, offices, a library and reading room, and an 800-seat chapel. Billings had room for 70 men, a recreation room and a basement dressing room "for those who had engaged in outdoor exercise." Its occupants dined for three dollars a week in Reynolds, a woman's dormitory housing 60. This building included a reception room, parlors, dining room, kitchen, and laundry. The other four campus buildings, constructed of wood and heated by stoves, were a reminder of Whitman's difficult past. Rooms in Prentiss Hall, "a large cottage with rooms for 30 women," were less expensive than those in Reynolds $13.50 per semester, compared to $20. A two-story structure that had been the old science hall was now known as the YMCA building. Some male students working their way through college lived in its second story, where they prepared their meals. These students paid a $4.50 bill each semester, excluding heat and light. Another two-story building, the conservatory, not only provided space for musical instruction and practice but also housed two extracurricular activities: the college's literary societies, and the girls' gymnasium, described as "a large room, 60 by 30." The last building, a dilapidated gymnasium containing some gymnastic equipment would be sold for $75 in 1904.

The library consisted of about 10,600 books and 8,000 pamphlets. Most additions to the library came from private donors or the federal government, and not from purchase. There were two interesting library strictures: students could visit the stacks only with the librarian's permission, and library privileges were extended only to "respectable citizens" of Walla Walla County.

A Three-Part School

The college itself was the most important part of the three-part school; its mission was to provide a traditional classical curriculum in a Christian atmosphere. With only 64 students, it was quite the smallest division of the institution; those enrolled in it pursued a four-year program in classical, scientific, or literary study. Candidates for bachelor's degrees in any of those programs took a rigorous course that included classical and modern language, science, mathematics, and history. There were religious requirements: four semesters of Bible and a daily 8:45 a.m. religious chapel. Physical training received emphasis; a 1902 college announcement stated: "No one who is physically unfit is allowed to take violent exercise, and those needing exercise are not allowed to forget it."

In the section of the catalog entitled "Order and Discipline," the institution explained that it expected good conduct and hard work. It warned: 'Those who will not cooperate with the faculty in promoting the reasonable life of the college, or those whose work fails to reach the standard of scholarship required will be dismissed."

Extracurricular Culture

Extracurricular activities were an extremely important part of the college. Men participated in intercollegiate athletics, debates, and oratory. Several campus organizations offered diversions: there were glee clubs for men and women (the men's group enjoyed an annual trip); the Pioneer; and the YMCA and YWCA, each of which stressed Bible and mission study. Undoubtedly the most important extracurricular organizations were the four literary societies: the Athenaeum and Phrenakosmian for men, which emphasized debate and oratory; and the Libethrean and Philolithian for women, which stressed the "development of literary culture and social life." Although the catalog did not mention the fact, at Whitman, as at many other schools, the debating clubs were paired, so as to provide a rivalry that included hotly contested debates. Literary societies served still another purpose: they gave students an opportunity to study current topics, and the societies debated such burning issues as the value of trade unions and state regulatory commissions.

The catalog estimated that the annual total cost for a student was $200 to $300. For several years running, the catalog had emphasized that "No capable young man or woman in good health, who is determined to secure a College education, need fail in the attempt.' To attain this goal, the school offered work opportunities and scholarships; in certain courses, children of ministers and those studying for the ministry paid only half-tuition.

The 165 students enrolled in the conservatory of music, a second part of the institution, had a choice of programs. For those interested in teaching or public performance, there was a "Regular Course," described as "exceedingly thorough, and compares favorably with similar courses in the best conservatories of Europe and America;" or, students could select the Course for Amateurs," which "is less severe ... being of necessity more popular." Even this program, the catalog boasted, "will stimulate the use of a better class of music and a more artistic style of performance than is now prevalent." The conservatory offered certificates in piano, voice, violin, and pipe organ; a few students pursued the Bachelor of Music, which required a bachelor's degree.

Whitman Academy, the college's last part, provided a curriculum designed to prepare its 162 students for college. Although it temporarily offered a few controversial business courses, its emphasis was clearly upon a demanding classical curriculum. One of the most-discussed requirements was that all members of the fourth-year class had to participate in rhetoricals in front of the entire academy. Another interesting part of the curriculum was the penmanship course; it was free to all first-year students, but others assigned to it because of "notably defective" writing paid $2.

To serve the 320 students (the three component parts totaled 391 because some students were in more than one part), the college employed 19 faculty members. They were the most impressive aspect of the college: these unusually talented and dedicated men and women would provide the basis for the institution's academic reputation. Besides Penrose, who taught a full load in Mental and Moral Science, several other outstanding professors devoted their lives to the college, including William D. Lyman (Political Science and History), Louis F. Anderson (Greek), Benjamin H. Brown, (Physics and Chemistry), Walter A. Bratton (Mathematics and Astronomy), and Howard S. Brode (Natural Sciences). These and other competent faculty members appreciated Penrose's solid leadership - they shared his belief that the school was well on its way to becoming "the Williams of the West." To strengthen the institution, the faculty carried heavy teaching loads and accepted numerous other responsibilities that left little time for research, or, it would seem, personal matters. Professor Lyman, for example, in the 1902-1903 school year taught six courses in European and American history, a course in economics and another in civics at the collegiate level; he also taught two or three courses in the academy. Lyman had numerous other commitments: he was president of the important Greek Club, served on three standing faculty committees, coached the academy debate team, chaired debates, prepared articles, and lectured off-campus.

As always, the Pioneer described a college unlike the one presented in the catalog. In the spring semester of 1903, the newspaper, as in so many other times in its history, attempted to lift students out of their "apathy and indifference." Student attitudes about extracurricular activities received frequent criticism, but the newspaper also expressed its displeasure with declining scholarship. According to the editors, apathy explained "a slumbering social life" on campus; a lack of support for literary societies, the Pioneer, and intercollegiate teams; and the general dimming of the Whitman spirit.

The college newspaper expressed outrage about the lifeless condition of the literary societies and hoped for their revival in the fall. "It would be a disgrace to any second-rate high school to pay so little attention to the most valuable part of college life outside of our studies." For a time intercollegiate debate also suffered from indifference. Only five men entered the tryouts for the six positions on the debate team; the Pioneer scolded: "Indeed it was a genuine crisis, and college spirit is certainly at a low ebb when we have to 'draft men' to fight our forensic battles." The editor also complained about a reoccuring difficulty: some students did not subscribe to the newspaper, and most refused to write for it. Why, he asked fellow students would they "load the college paper, with all it duties and drudgery, practically onto the shoulders of one man, and then, without one word of encouragement or praise, leave him to 'get out a paper' from week to week which will be a worthy representative of our college and its life?"

In an attempt to overcome the stifling apathy, the editor reminded his readers that Whitman students had raised about $1,000 for bricks that went into the construction of Billings. Students had scrimped for a good cause: "spirited maidens recasted the trimmings on last year's hats and wore them with pleasure...hard-working boys ... struggled over threadbare trousers and shiny coats by 'midnight oil' to make them presentable for another session." This editorial concluded with a plea for support of the newspaper and all of the intercollegiate teams; for example, "If you can't make the track team, you can do your college a noble service by rubbing down the tired sprinter after each day's training."

“A Grasping Scheming"

The following week, another editorial blamed student selfishness for the decline of the Whitman spirit. Interestingly enough, the editor charged that "the cultivation of a grasping scheming" meant that students wanted too much money for their labor; thus townspeople refused to hire them. 'This spirit of niggardliness on the part of students:' he accused, "has reached their relations with the student body, and when an athletic, oratorical or other manager or committee needs assistance, it must be paid for." The editor urged students to change their attitude and express "a loyal, true and loving devotion to the college."

From time to time the Pioneer made reference to the fact that the Associated Students wrestled with an estimated $800 debt. Athletic teams, especially football, had not paid their way; the newspaper attempted to make this debt a major issue in campus politics.

Whitman's record in intercollegiate athletics fostered disappointment and indifference; then, as now, students took little interest in losing teams. Near the end of the school year, the Pioneer accused students of being so ashamed of members of "ill fated" teams that they would neither shake hands nor say a kind word. "This shows:' the editor grumbled, "a very embryonic stage in the development of the spirit of gratitude and support which students should show for their representatives who take the time from their study hours for the purpose of doing what they can for the honor of their college."

All of Whitman's athletic teams compiled losing records in 1902-1903. The football team won 2 and lost 4, including close defeats by the University of Oregon, Washington Agricultural College, and the University of Washington. There was no intercollegiate basketball season; students replaced it with a college circus. Student acrobats, boxers, musicians, readers, and actors practiced, but apparently the circus was cancelled. Because of debt, the baseball team played a restricted intercollegiate schedule, losing 2 of 3 games to W.A.C. The "Sons of Marcus" lost their only two track meets, one of which was run on the new Ankeny field.

Whitman's debaters and orators fared better than the athletes. The debate team defeated Oregon, and W.A.C. but lost to the University of Idaho. In a three-way contest, orators won second place.

The newspaper lamented the status of Whitman scholarship. In an editorial entitled "Flunks:' the editor insisted that there were more flunks than ever. The writer supported the faculty, not the students. "We believe the institution has taken the proper stand in demanding more strenuous work from the students. A true scholar prefers to belong to an institution which maintains a high standard of scholarship; he wants to win a degree, and not have it doled out to him the school cannot afford to graduate poorly trained men and women." According to the editor, there was a "submerged fraternity who sneer at study and effort and who regularly flunk," but he ignored this group. Instead, he evaluated the serious students _ most of whom were working their way through college - who had received flunks. Some failed, he wrote, because they participated in too many activities: "There are those who are still ambitious to adorn their foreheads with every college honor attainable and then to strut about like a peacock, empty-headed, for their friends to admire and applaud." Some failed a course because of heavy academic loads. Students were to blame for this situation, but the editor suggested that the faculty might become involved and prevent overloading. He explained: "We would not be here were we not fools in search of knowledge and experience, and [we] should be protected from our folly."

A second editorial in May had an interesting title: "Should a College Student be a Student?" The editor now argued that at Whitman "the enthusiasm for 'scholastic attainments' [was] not very high." Basically the students had the wrong priorities, and the writer argued that "the Intellect is the summum bonum of the college Course. The college student, then, first of all, should be a student. Secondly and thirdly, he may be a social leader and an athlete." Continuing his criticism, the editor reported that the librarian told him that only debaters read outside their classes. The editor challenged his readers: "What books, outside of those required, have you read since college opened in September? If the answers were all brought in and laid before the trustees, I daresay the office of librarian would be abolished." In sum, the low level of scholarship had wide repercussions - it worried students, faculty, and parents, and brought "reproach upon the institution we love."

"Laziness, Slovenliness…”

Late in the spring, the editor thought it was necessary to remind students of the college's unwritten social code. "Laziness, slovenliness, selfishness and conceit are not the marks of a Whitman gentleman." Girls must "refrain from boisterousness…from gaudy dress, from any disrespect to their professors…and in all things conduct themselves in a ladylike and womanly way."

Thus in the spring of 1903 Whitman College was a lively place: the faculty scurried about trying to meet various responsibilities; the Pioneer goaded students to higher aspirations and asked them to encourage their friends to enroll at Whitman: the students basked in the spring sun, enjoyed spring sports, participated in campus politics associated with the election of student officers. and dreaded final examinations. President Penrose, meanwhile, planned for commencement week in June and for programs that would make Whitman "one of the greatest institutions of the Northwest." And everybody expressed excitement about Roosevelt's visit. The Pioneer urged students to show Roosevelt "that Whitman does not consist of empty buildings, but that we have a crowd of lively, patriotic college students." The President, it believed, should learn from Whitman students that the school was going to become one of the largest in Washington, and when he arrived he should hear the yells of his alma mater, Harvard, and of Whitman.

"Two-Story Houses, Three-Story Trees"

Townspeople also enjoyed the beautiful weather of May, 1903. Already noted for their beautiful homes, flowers, shade trees, and lawns, Walla Wallans - then as now - emphasized the quality of life (including their high per capita income), not the quantity of population. Compared with booming Portland, Seattle, or Spokane, Walla Walla's population increase from 10,000 in 1900 to 19,300 in 1910 was puny. Penrose neatly characterized these years: Walla Walla changed from "one-story houses and two-story trees" and became "a place of two-story houses and three-story trees." The 1902 City Directory estimated the city's population at about 12,000, and explained its condition. "Shut out topographically from becoming a large railroad center, and too remote from coal supply to become a large manufacturing center, she has by reason of her mild climate, rich agricultural surroundings, and educational advantages attracted people of moderate and yet considerable wealth as her permanent citizens, and has thus established a reputation for conservatism and stability unequaled elsewhere in the State."

Stephen B. L. Penrose, circa 1924

Whitman College Photograph Collection, Whitman College and Northwest Archives

Because most Whitman students came from Walla Walla, there was a close relationship between the growth of city and school. The Whitman College Catalog of 1903, like the one published 74 years later, chose to stress the quality environment, not the town's size. "Walla Walla is famous for all those conditions of healthfulness, beauty and fertility which are to be desired for an educational center...The people are intelligent and progressive, appreciative of the advantages of college life and influences, and desirous of seeing a well-equipped institution."

Walla Walla in 1903 continued to be a significant agricultural center, gaining fame from its wheat, flour, fruits, and vegetables. From miles around, farmers traveled by wagon or rail to do business with the city's bankers, merchants, grocers, millers, lawyers, physicians, teachers, insurance agents, brewers, and saloonkeepers. This lively trade not only crowded city streets, making the city look larger than it was, but more importantly, it supported the community's varied and significant social and cultural life. Walla Walla had many churches, lodges, schools, and societies, and it attracted theater troupes.

Two other institutions contributed to the city's economic life: the state penitentiary and Fort Walla Walla. The prison population was making significant increases in the new century: the average daily population in 1903 was 620, up from 566 in 1902. The prison employed 42 persons, including a superintendent enjoying an $1,800 salary. There were about 500 officers and men in the fort in 1903, including 16 white officers and about 375 blacks in the Ninth Cavalry. The post's officers, black bandsmen, and both black and white athletes contributed to the social life of Walla Walla. The general commanding the region had recommended the fort's closure because there were no Indians to control and because the buildings were collapsing. Senator Ankeny and others (supported by Penrose) managed to play successful politics and continue the profitable institution.

To some observers, Walla Walla seemed static; others emphasized its changes. In May there were two obvious signs of change - a $33,300 contract for a new high school building, and the city's first automobile accident: on Boyer Avenue, across from Billings Hall, an electric machine knocked down and ran over the legs of its female driver, who jumped up and successfully chased her vehicle.

The Garden City

While many found the city friendly and livable (Walla Walla boosters called their town the Garden City), critics complained about its smugness; about its small population; about its dust that covered travelers, pedestrians, and parlors; about its numerous saloons that not only produced noise and drunks but also sold liquor to minors, and about a "moss-back" mentality that resisted educational and other civic improvements. Another problem frustrated some travelers - the difficulty of making mainline train connections from Pasco into Walla Walla (to miss the connecting train in dreary Pasco and to be forced to remain overnight was to be "pascoed").

The credulous nature of many Walla Wallans must have drawn guffaws from friends and critics in June, 1903. According to the Union "an aged squaw" said there would be a terrific cloudburst that would destroy Walla Walla in the same way that Heppner had been ravaged. The prediction swept the community, and the newspaper continued : "A band of gypsies encamped south of the city were among the first to hear, and all left at once. Malita, a gypsy fortune teller and soothsayer, verified the prediction before her departure. Up to lastnight no white people had left town." An unknown number of residents, however, "with anxious hearts:' stayed up until early morning watching 'black clouds…scurrying over the moon's face."

Walla Wailans talked about such progress and change in their city as the telegraph, telephone, electric lights, the sewer system, the water works, gas stoves, the fire department, and a professional baseball team. They also discussed the merits of recent visitors: Dr. Darfin, an eclectic physician, and a touring theater company performing a popular Swedish comedy, "Ole Olson:' in the Opera House. There was, however, a greater item of conversation - the forthcoming visit of "Teddy" Roosevelt.

The mayor had appointed committees to make the necessary preparations and Penrose, a member of the reception committee, urged that Roosevelt give his address from the steps of Memorial Hall. Such an event, Penrose insisted, would "be a good advertisement of the college to the people of the United States." There was objection to this proposal on the basis that there was not enough space in front of Memorial for the anticipated crowd. Penrose, fearful that Roosevelt would speak at the fort, asked Professor Bratton to submit measurements. The mathematician estimated that there were 85,845 square feet available, and he continued: "Allowing each person 4 square feet, which is enough so that he not touch his neighbor, unless both were exceptionally large, this would accommodate 21,461 people." Impressed with these figures, the committee capitulated to Penrose.

Each committee attracted attention, but the committee making an arch (every significant celebration of that day required one) seemed the most interesting. The arch was 46 feet high, 44 feet wide, and 12 feet deep. Designed to look like white marble, it included columns, spheres, and an American flag. One side of the arch bore the motto "Walla Walla is Yours," and the other side simply said "Welcome." Everybody said it was the grandest arch ever constructed in Southeastern Washington.

While the committees rushed to complete their tasks, Walla Walla's competing newspapers gave different emphasis to the anticipated visit. The Union edited by Arthur F. Statter, an ardent supporter of the Republican party, was ecstatic. It ran many stories about Roosevelt's tour, including his biography and several editorials, one of which stressed his scholarship. Stalter joined the presidential train in Portland, sending back glowing descriptions of Roosevelt's activities. The Union published a "Roosevelt Extra," including a huge picture of the President.

The Statesman, a thorough-going Democratic newspaper, supported a presidential visit, but its editorials and news stories were often unlike its competitor. Editor Walter Lingenfeldter peevishly emphasized the preparations that the Walla Walla police were making to meet "the horde of pickpockets, sneak thieves, and all-round crooks said to be following in the wake of the president's train and making rich hauls out of the crowds." He also explained how pickpockets worked and why they were hard to catch. To the accusation the Democrats might be disrespectful, the Statesman said that Roosevelt was the president of all the people and that Democrats, who were men "with loyal red blood in their veins and iron in their souls." would show no discourtesy.

With hundreds of visitors anticipated, Walla Walla merchants anticipated heavy sales and disagreed about the proper time to close on the special day. Clothiers urged everyone to look his best and helped accomplish this by price reductions on stylish fashions.

The anticipated day, May 25, was long remembered. In the morning bicycles, horsemen, and vehicles of every description - some carrying entire families - followed every road to the city. Meanwhile, the first ten excursion trains brought hundreds of visitors from Pendleton, Dayton, Waitsburg, and other places, leaving those towns nearly deserted. The crowd wore its best clothes; one observer said that the number of silk hats made Walla Walla look somewhat like an Eastern metropolis. Because the President would not arrive until late afternoon on this cloudless day, the estimated 10,000 visitors sought diversions. They milled into stores, drove out to the fort or the penitentiary, witnessed a professional baseball game between the Dayton "Barleygrowers" and the Pendleton "Woolpickers," or lined up to buy food and drink from Walla Walla ladies operating tables for various churches or social organizations. A morning fire alarm at the Opera House provided excitement. The Union joked that the "general rush ... after the chemical engine looked like the irregular rush of a Texas mob after a 'nigger.' "

While the festive crowd cooperated with Walla Walla police, the department made an arrest that later created considerable comment. Learning from Pendleton authorities that a potential assassin was in the city, police quickly arrested butcher John Bushey. According to this report, Bushey, an anarchist, had stated in Pendleton that he hoped to shoot both Roosevelt and Kaiser Wilhelm, and that on May 24 he took his rifle and walked to Walla Walla, where he found employment. Worrying that Roosevelt might be assassinated like McKinley, the police simply locked up their suspect for the day, while he angrily claimed to be one Joseph Becker. On May 26 the police chief questioned Bushey; he tearfully insisted that he was a socialist, not an anarchist, and that he had no intention of shooting Roosevelt. The police returned his Winchester and chased him out of town.

At about the same time that the police jailed Bushey, the crowd began taking vantage points around the railroad depot. At 4:30 p.m. the spectators broke into wild shouts as the president's special train pulled into the station.

Roosevelt anticipated the emotional response: he had enjoyed this experience all over the West. The tour, which was extensively covered by both local and traveling correspondents and photographers, had demonstrated his enormous popularity, and his whistle-stopping across Washington on May 25 was typical: he had attracted enthusiastic receptions at Cle Elum, Ellensburg, North Yakima, Prosser, Pasco, and Wallula.

While artillerymen fired a 21-gun salute, Roosevelt, Governor Henry McBride, Senator Ankeny, and other dignitaries stepped into a carriage decorated with snowballs (said Roosevelt: 'This is the first time on my trip that I have been snowballed"). The colorful procession swung up Main Street; it included black cavalrymen, cannons, carriages filled with luminaries, bands, and, creating considerable comment, a group of 200 Union and Confederate veterans marching shoulder-to-shoulder. Along both sides of the streets, spectators - described generously by one reporter as a "wall of humanity" - shouted and applauded. Flags, bunting, and pictures of Roosevelt added to the festive occasion; so did the bands, whose "dizzy marches set the blood tingling at a rapid rate."

 


The colorful procession swung up Main Street; it included black cavalrymen,
cannons, carriages filled with luminaries, bands, and, creating considerable comment,
a group of 200 Union and Confederate veterans marching shoulder-to-shoulder.



The procession turned up Boyer to the campus, where decorations on college buildings fluttered in the spring breeze. All was in readiness at Memorial; flags and bunting covered the tower, and shields were attached on either side of the entrance; a speaking platform extended from the steps; female students peered out from some selected windows, and all the rooms and the tower were "searched and locked," said the Union, "lest any lurking miscreant would have a chance to work mischief." A Walla Wallan who had been a college classmate of Roosevelt's stood on the platform, leading cheers. Meanwhile, the President entered through the back door of Memorial and proceeded through the hall, which was lined with a special honor guard of beaming Whitman seniors in their caps and gowns.

 

Roosevelt and family in 1908

Public Domain

After the mayor introduced Roosevelt, Whitman students, standing together near the platform, rendered Harvard and Whitman yells. The amused president asked that the yells be repeated, and then, as the crowd of 6,000 quieted, Roosevelt began his speech.

Roosevelt's Address to the People

"It is perfectly easy to see that we are in the home of the higher education.

"Mr. Mayor, and you, my fellow citizens, men and women of this beautiful garden city, I am delighted to be with you this afternoon. I have enjoyed thoroughly seeing your city and you, and want to say a word or two of special greeting; first of all, of course, to the men of the Grand Army. They always come first. They have the right of the line on all occasions; and then a word to my own comrades of the Spanish-American War. All day it has done me good to see, as I have come through place after place, the liveliness of your memory of what was done in 1898. It was only a skirmish compared with what you, the men of '61 to '65, did; but the effects were momentous upon this country and upon the world. For, as the result of that struggle, the United States found its work it had to do a position of dominance on the Pacific; and here in Washington, the gateway to Alaska, with her wonderful variety of sources of wealth; with Puget Sound, that absolutely unparalleled body of water.

"Every now and then a nation, like an individual, finds its work. It must play a great part. All that it can decide is whether it will play that part well or ill. So it is with the United States. So it is with our great American Republic. We hold a position in wealth, in numbers, in geographical location, which forces us to playa leading part in the world. We cannot help from playing it. All we can decide is whether we play it well or ill. And, my fellow countrymen, I know you too well to hesitate as to what your choice will be.
"Here I am particularly glad to have the chance of speaking in the presence of this institution of learning - an institution which commemorates the name and the great deeds of one of America's worthies [cheers]. Of Whitman, who stamped his mark deep on the history of the nation, who was one of the leaders in that movement; which settled that the region now making the great states of Washington and Oregon was to stand and flourish under the American flag. [College yells by Whitman students.]

"Football is cultivated here, too. [Laughter.]

"And I cannot sufficiently congratulate you, Mr. President [addressing President Penrose] of what has been done here with this college, and I wish to pay a special tribute here in Washington to the work done by the educators in Washington. Nothing has pleased me more, or impressed me more, than the sedulous Care given by your people to school study - to college study - in your city; nothing has pleased me more than to see the children, and the teachers and professors representing her schools, high schools, normal schools, and colleges, as I have met them going from city to city through this state.

"You have wonderful resources here within your borders. Now, I knew, or thought pretty fairly, that you had a wonderful state, but didn't quite appreciate what a wonderful state it was. Within the half-century now opening, Washington will take its place as among the leading states of the Union in wealth, power, population, and in all that goes to make up greatness.You have wonderful material resources. They are indispensable as a foundation; but if you built nothing upon them you have only a foundation, and not a perfect structure.

"I approach you not only on the expediency of material consideration, of material endeavor, of working for tangible things, but also on the expediency of consideration for all that is higher and nobler, the expediency of the intellectual and spiritual man, who is to make this nation not merely in material ways the greatest, but in all ways the greatest nation upon which the sun has ever shown. But, men and women of Washington, our hopes are not soil and climate, not physical resources upon which to pride ourselves. I hardly need remind you that, after all, the thing that counts most in the career of the nation is the quality of the average citizenship of that nation. No climate, no soil, no fertility in physical resources can avail if you have not the right type of man and woman - who desires not pleasure as merely an end, but is glad to lead a life of worth, of work well done. It is the quality of the average man, the average woman, that determines in the end whether a state is to go down or up.

"Now, one word in conclusion to the graduates and undergraduates of this college. To whom much has been given, from them much ought rightfully to be expected. You are here to receive a training which does not confer on you special privileges, because it is in itself a special privilege, but it does impose upon you special burdens or responsibilities. We have the right to expect that from the college-bred man we shall get a double service of good citizenship to the state, and, while I believe emphatically in play (I believe in playing hard while you do play), when you work, do not play at all. And that is good advice all around. And we have the right to demand from you in after years the only return to the college that can be given, that is, the return you give to the college by the record you make for her in your service for the commonwealth. [Cheers.)

"Now this college, this city, reminds us of the old days, the days of the pioneers, of men who enjoyed life, and yet who worked so well and so strongly. Let us, now that the pioneer days are over, endeavor to keep alive the pioneer virtues. We need just the same qualities, in order to make this nation rise level to its opportunities, that Whitman and his associates needed when they guided an ox train across the plains, across the mountains, and settled down here to enter and possess the land. You need the same energies, the same iron will, the same courage, the same forethought, and the same practice of acting, each on his own responsibility, and yet of acting, all in combination, one with the others. The old pioneer days have gone, the days when the pioneers rendered (and there went side by side with them those men whom all good Americans delight to honor, both officers and enlisted men of the regular army) inestimable services at infinite cost - those days have gone by, and new problems now loom before us from within and without.

"The immense and complex industrial development of our nation, and the increased and the commanding position which it assumes over our domain, demands on our part every ounce of courage, of capacity for work and of capacity for sane judgment, which we have. Many problems arise for solution before us, and those who attempt a solution differ infinitely from one another, but the spirit in which they are to be approached - that spirit remains the same, unchanged. We must approach them in the spirit of men who, under Washington, founded the republic; or men who, under Lincoln, saved the republic. We must show the qualities they showed, and those qualities are not especially genius, not especially brilliancy, but the old humdrum work-a-day qualities, which in the aggregate have made all really great and masterful races from the earliest days of which recorded history tells us. Unless we have first a complete self-mastery and self-restraint, and joined with that the power to do and to dare, to endure and to aspire, and finally the power to do it in sane and sober fashion, when we have that power we shall succeed, and unless we have it we shall not succeed; and we shall succeed, my fellow countrymen; we shall build up this republic to a greatness of which we even now, in our fondest dreams, do not think, and I firmly believe that the average American will transmit to his children, and to his children's children, exactly the type and characteristics which enabled us to make out of thirteen little colonies on the Atlantic seaboard the gem of a mighty continental nation, which now grasps an ocean in either hand. We shall succeed because we have in us the qualities that make for final triumph.

"As a nation we need and shall have strong bodies. We need strong minds, and then we need a thing that is greater than body - greater than mind - character; character, in which are many elements, and three above all. In the first place, as the groundwork, decency, honesty, clean living, high thinking, fair dealing as between man and man, and in addition thereto, to the qualities of which we speak, not only that he is a good man, but emphatically a man; the qualities of courage, of strength, of hardihood, that give a man resourcefulness and self reliance; and in addition thereto we, as a nation, in addition to honesty and courage, should well preserve a third quality, a quality needed to guide and moderate both the others - the saving grace of common sense." [Cheers].

Following the address, the procession reversed its line of march, stopping at the courthouse, where some 3,000 Walla Walla and Pendleton schoolchildren waited under the supervision of teachers. The site of such a large number of well-dressed children, and the huge national shield covering the whole west side of the building drew favorable comment; the Oregonian said that Walla Walla had "the most interesting decorative features seen on the coast." Roosevelt stopped only long enough to give greetings; then he hurried to Fort Walla Walla. Thousands of spectators had also rushed there to watch him review and inspect the garrison.

Upon conclusion of these duties, an escort led the distinguished visitor to Senator Ankeny's home, where a selected number of men dined. Penrose talked to the President about Marcus Whitman and the college. According to Penrose, Roosevelt supported his interpretation of Whitman's significance against the criticism of Professor Edward Bourne, adding that "Whitman will always deserve honor as one of America's worthiest." The President expressed delight that Dr. O.K. Pearsons had donated generously to the school, and he laughed when Penrose boasted that "during my presidency eighteen children had been born to the faculty of the college."

The President and members of his official party expressed their pleasure with the day's celebration and then traveled to the depot shortly after 9:00 p.m. Roosevelt's scheduled tour ended a few days later. Late in the year he made a controversial decision about Panama, but this made no difference to Western voters in 1904. Influenced in part by Roosevelt's visit, voters in all nine Western slates gave him thumping majorities - and he carried Walla Walla County by a three-to-one margin.

As the President left for other stops, May 26, by contrast, was a dull day for Walla Wallans. Farmers returned to their fields, merchants to their counters, housewives to their tubs and ovens, and Whitman students to their books. Everybody had plenty of time for reflection.

The Union found much to praise - the strenuous character of Roosevelt, the behavior of the people, the women who fed the hungry crowd, the way the authorities had handled the largest crowd in the city's history, and the fact that "Rooseveltitis" swept the town. To those who had hoped to shake Roosevelt's hand, editor Statter explained that the secret service opposed it. A couple of days after the visit, the Union boasted that Walla Walla got a lot of publicity out of the visit, because Roosevelt had officially stated while in the city that he would seek the presidency in 1904.

The Statesman published a mixed reaction. Editor Lingenfeldter, a friend of the college, judged that the visit was a great thing for Whitman. He admitted that Roosevelt had impressed students, who wanted to vote for him. The Democrat quoted students as saying: "He is all right;" "He means what he says;" and "I like him." The editor, of course, found fault. Unlike his competitor, Lingenfeldter stressed the fact that pickpockets had done well among the crowds at the depot and the college; that the visit of William Jennings Bryan in 1897 had drawn a larger and more attentive crowd; that the local chief of police deserved praise for showing that there was "none of the flunkey about him" when Roosevelt complained to him about the procession's delay; and that aged veterans should have been seated and permitted to shake hands with the chief executive.

The Statesman's major criticism, however, had to do with state politicians. It stressed the theme that Senator Ankeny and Governor McBride were political opponents and that Roosevelt's endorsement of the Governor angered the Senator, who had not wanted to invite McBride to his presidential dinner. In summary: "As for the love that the Ankeny machine bears for President Roosevelt, it is known to be all affected."

Thus throughout the summer, local Democrats and Republicans would argue over politics associated with the Roosevelt visit. But to the vast majority who had been in Walla _ Walla on May 25, including the proud Whitman students, it was a memorable day when the rural town and small college - basking in the sun of national attention - gave a great effort to demonstrate affection for an unusual and popular leader.

Sources

Walla Walla Union; May, 1903
Walla Walla Statesman; May, 1903
Whitman College Pioneer; October, 1902-May, 1903
Waitsburg Times; May, 1903
Spokane Spokesman-Review, May, 1903
Seattle Times; 1903
Portland Oregonian; May, 1903
New York Times; May, 1903
Penrose Letters, selected for 1902-1903 President Penrose's Reports for 1902, 1903, 1904.
Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 1902-1903 Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees, 1902~1903
Annual Report of the War Department, 1903, Vol. III
Whitman College Catalogue, 1902, 1903, 1910
William D. Lyman, History of Walla. Walla County
Stephen B.L. Penrose, Whitman: An Unfinished Story
Chester C. Maxey, The World I Lived In
Frederick Rudolph, The American College and University