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The Life and Work of FRANCIS WILLEY KELSEY
Archaeology, Antiquity, and the Arts
By John Griffiths Pedley
The University of Michigan Press
Copyright © 2012
University of Michigan
All right reserved.
Chapter One Setting the Stage
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THE FREEZING WINTER OF 1858 in New York State had given way to early summer by the time Olive Trowbridge Kelsey, wife of Henry Kelsey, gave birth to her fourth child. He joined three other children, two boys and a girl. So the newcomer, who was to become a professor at the University of Michigan, head of the Department of Latin, president of the American Philological Association, and president of the Archaeological Institute of America, was the baby of the family, born when his mother was already thirty-eight years of age. He was given the names Francis Willey (after his maternal grandmother).
The family traced its roots back to seventeenth-century England (Essex) and to an ancestor, William Kelsey, who crossed the Atlantic with Thomas Hooker and settled in Cambridge in 1632. Some two centuries later, William's descendants in New York were well aware that it was Francis's grandfather, Benjamin Kelsey, who had come west to New York in 1815 (or thereabouts) in search of land to farm. He staked a claim in Ogden, a settlement some fifty miles west of Rochester, and returned to Vermont for his wife, Hepsibah, and two young children, Henry and Salome. Their new home was a small log cabin with a single fireplace and windows that were little more than gaps in the walls to let in the light—windows that were covered only by the greased brown paper they had brought from Vermont. Over time, five more children joined Henry and Salome: Elmira, Absalom, Seneca, Elihu, and Benjamin. Francis's grandparents had been brought up in a world of austerity, industry, and godliness, and they applied the same rules of conduct to their own children. When Henry, a boy still in school, brought home a violin, bought with money he had earned himself, his parents did not approve. His mother lamented what she called the devil's work, and his father smashed the instrument to bits.
Henry, Francis's father, attended school in a single-room log cabin, warmed in winter by a fireplace at either end of the building. The curriculum focused on reading and writing. A preliminary spelling book with the alphabet, short sentences, and easy paragraphs was followed by an English reader from which children learned prose passages in high-flown, Victorian style and verse excerpts from poets like Milton and Dryden. This was ambitious fare for young minds, intended not only to broaden vocabularies and knowledge of grammar and syntax but also to reinforce the current moral attitudes.
At first, Henry set his sights on a career in medicine rather than farming. To pay for his medical training, he taught school for ten years and supplemented his income by riding far and wide across the county to give singing lessons in the evenings. By age twenty-eight, he had saved enough to join a doctor's office in Rochester as a student, but he quickly discovered that his lack of Greek and Latin, still in widespread use in medical books, would make his training longer than he had thought. Discouraged, he gave up and used his medical savings to buy a small farm at Stony Point, not far from his parents' place.
In 1842 he married Olive Cornelia Trowbridge, daughter of Windsor Trowbridge and Rebecca Willey. Olive's brother was John Townsend Trowbridge, the famous author of adventure and antislavery stories and friend of Mark Twain, whose talents and interests no doubt influenced his young and academically minded nephew. Years later, John Townsend Trowbridge and his second wife, Ada, lived in Arlington, Massachusetts; Francis, often in Boston to talk with his publishers or on the business of the Archaeological Institute of America, visited them there whenever possible.
Henry and Olive's first child was born in 1845, a boy named after his father. Little is known about the younger Henry except that he became a farmer in Missouri, married, and had three children—two girls and a boy. A daughter, Harriet Rebecca, with whom Francis was to enjoy a warm friendship all his life, was born three years later, in 1848. In 1850 another boy was born, Frederick Wallace, later a successful businessman in New York City and first vice president of the Essex County Parks Commission in New Jersey. It was not, however, until a couple of years before Abraham Lincoln's election to the presidency, in the troubled years leading to the Civil War, that Francis Willey Kelsey made his appearance—on May 23, 1858.
OGDEN AND BEYOND: EDUCATING FRANCIS
Francis's infancy was spent on the hardscrabble farm at Stony Point. It was unpromising land, mostly clay and, as its name implies, rock. A stream meandered through the property, which might have been useful for milling if only it had flowed more strongly. Instead, its slow current only added weight to the earth and soaked the fields, which begrudgingly yielded mainly vegetables and fruit. The family's few cows provided milk and cream. The 1858 plat book of the town of Ogden shows a farm of fifty-six acres, and tax records valued it at $953. The family grew up here until Francis turned two, when Henry and Olive moved to the larger family farm at Churchville, only a few miles away from their smallholding at Stony Point.
The nearby school was maintained by additional taxes paid by parents, who also supplied firewood in winter. Two of Francis's schoolbooks have survived. He inscribed his school reader with his name and the year: "Francis W. Kelsey, 1866." His grammar was even more freely inscribed: one page has the names of all the Kelsey children, though the similar handwriting suggests that Francis wrote them all. He wrote his own name, "F. W. Kelsey," boldly and added "twelve years old" in different ink and his sister's name, "H. R. Kellsey [sic]," followed by "Ogden, Monroe County, NY." Harriet appears on another page as "Hattie R. Kelsey" (not to be confused with a cousin Hattie, whose middle name was Olive). Another page (fig. 1) reveals a boyish experiment with another name and address: "Frank W. Kelsey, Ogden, Monroe Co, NY. Town Pump School Dist. Formerly of Stony Point, March 1871"; "H. Kelsey, tutor" appears in parentheses—his sister was helping him in his work. Randomly, nearby, the name and initials are repeated, the initials as a ligature, Francis displaying every boy's interest in the task-avoiding doodle.
His grammar book included style and usage information under such titles as "Of the Exclamation Point" and "Of the Parenthesis." Students were asked to correct and expand simple sentences. The twelve-year-old brain was expected to grapple with such sentences as "The interrogation and exclamation points are indeterminate as to their quantity and time, and may be equivalent, in that respect, to a semicolon, a colon, or a period, as the case may require. They mark an elevation of the voice." The pupils were expected to read and use English with precision and to think clearly. To these skills were added literary compositions, arithmetic, weights and measures, and geography.
The neighborhood of Ogden and Churchville did not support a secondary school, for which the Kelseys had to look to Lockport, some sixty miles west of Monroe County. By act of the New York State Legislature, the Lockport Union School had been opened in 1848 as a public high school to serve the consolidated school districts of Lockport. Funded, after long and noisy debate, by a progressive property tax, this school was an American pioneer in offering schooling beyond the elementary level for free—well, almost free: a small tuition fee was levied of $2 (juniors) or $3 (seniors) a semester for residents, $3 or $4 for nonresidents. Some subjects, however, did require additional payments: for example, $1.30 for Latin and Greek; $1.50 for German, French, Spanish, or Italian; 50¢ for bookkeeping. But the basic $2 tuition fee covered the subjects of English (reading, spelling, writing, and grammar), mathematics, commercial business, natural science (including intellectual and moral philosophy), and teacher training.
In establishing the Lockport school, the Union School Act of 1847 was following an education trend promulgated widely in New England in the 1830s, where district school reform and the establishment of a public school system had found a tireless advocate in Horace Mann, the secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education. The extension of public education from the elementary to the secondary level was a key component in his program. Mann's ideas spread rapidly westward, finding fertile ground in communities committed to the Protestant ethic of hard work, growth, reliability, and a fair deal.
The Lockport Union School was fully supplied with the most up-to-date equipment, causing the Niagara Democrat of June 29, 1848, to exclaim proudly,
For the use of students and to aid them in their pursuit of scientific knowledge, the Board has procured very extensive and valuable apparatus, Pneumatic, Mechanical, Electrical, Hydrostatic, Acoustic, Optical, Magnetic, Electro-Magnetic, and Chemical. They have procured a Transit Instrument for the purpose of Surveying, Leveling, Calculating heights and distances, which is one of the best pieces of Mathematical apparatus ever manufactured in this country. The apparatus has been selected from the best shops in New York, Boston, Albany and Troy. The library attached to the Institution is large and will be increased yearly. It already numbers 2000 volumes. They have also a Cabinet of Minerals for the use of students.
The structure and curriculum of the school addressed the needs of elementary, preparatory, and college education.
The Union School is divided into two Departments, Junior and Senior, and connected with the Union School are two other Departments, Primary and Secondary. Suitable buildings for the latter are erected in the several districts. A regular course of study is prescribed for each Department, commencing with the simple elementary branches in the Primary and advancing higher in other Departments. In the Senior Department not only is the most thorough instruction given in all the branches for the first and second years in College, but particular attention is paid to those branches of natural Science, commerce and Agriculture, Chemistry, Natural Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Surveying, Trigonometry, and all the Mathematics and higher English branches, so useful and necessary to every citizen whatever be his occupation.
To pursue this "useful and necessary" instruction, Francis Kelsey entered the school at the age of fifteen. Far from home, he probably became a "boarder," living at Lockport on the third floor of the main school building with other nonresident students. Most students came from the neighborhood, but in the school's early years, several came from other states, some from Canada, and one even from Japan. Francis would have been exposed to a varied and rigorous curriculum, including English literature, rhetoric, antiquities, and penmanship, as well as Latin and Greek and other languages, fine arts, music, and history. Science classes, which included chemistry, botany, geography, government, and philosophy, were well equipped with apparatuses, specimens, and maps; math classes included trigonometry and surveying. Athletics or other social activities found no place at Lockport. Muscular Christianity, the credo of many boarding schools in England at the time (Mens sana in corpore sano), had not crossed the Atlantic to Horace Mann's program. Observe, think, study, and work were the prevailing admonitions.
Having exhausted the resources of Lockport, Kelsey was ready in the fall of 1876, at the age of eighteen, to enter the University of Rochester. He took rooms at 60 Tappan Street. His expenses were now much larger: the fee for tuition was $25 per term, while the charge for boardinghouse rooms varied between $3.50 and $5.00 per week, costs that we can only assume were met by his father.
The university's annual catalogs reveal that he followed the Classical Course, surprisingly a much broader range of studies than its name might suggest. For his first two years, Francis concentrated on languages, both ancient and modern: Latin, Greek, English, German, and French. In his junior and senior years, the curriculum broadened into a rich program. The junior year included the following courses:
Term 1: Logic, Chemistry, Physics, Greek Tragedy
Term 2: Rhetoric, Physics, Chemistry, Comparative Philology
Term 3: Cicero, Astronomy, Philosophy, Longinus, Greek Literature, French & German Literature
In the senior year, the range is even more remarkable:
Term 1: Philosophy, Justinian, Roman Law, Zoology, Art History
Term 2: Constitutional Law, Plato & Aristotle, Greek Philosophy, European Civilization, Art History
Term 3: Geology, Advanced German or Recent English Literature,Moral Philosophy, Physical Geography
He would enjoy small classes, in which every student recited to the heads of departments: these included such distinguished scholars as J. H. Gilmore (English) and William C. Morey (Latin). Francis would also have studied with two of the most influential faculty members—Asahel Kendrick (Greek) and Martin B. Anderson (the president of the university). He was an exceptional student, almost from the start. He won a sophomore prize in Latin and a junior prize in Greek. He did special work in Sanskrit and comparative philology with Professor Henry F. Burton. He won the Sherman Scholarship for history and political science in competitive examination. Holding the highest average of marks in his class for the classroom work of the entire course, he was elected valedictorian.
The doodling lad from Ogden did not work all the time: he enjoyed a prank. Since classes were held only in the mornings, there was plenty of time for the library and work at home. So Francis built a chemistry lab for home experiments in a small room at the head of the stairs in his boardinghouse. Having taken exception to the noisy visits paid by suitors to the landlady's daughter, he concocted stink bombs; these produced such appalling smells in the parlors where the assignations took place that the visits came to an end. Francis thought this a huge joke.
He was diligent, thoughtful, and alert. He kept his eyes open, and he loved his work. It seems that the faculty at Rochester had earmarked him as a future scholar and that word about him was going around. After graduation in the summer of 1880, he was appointed immediately to the faculty at Lake Forest University. His later professional success did not escape the notice of his alma mater, which awarded him his A.M. in 1883, his Ph.D. in 1888, and an Honorary LL.D. degree in 1910.
From this improbable but sturdy background—a childhood on a hardscrabble farm supported by a firm parental belief in education, perhaps spurred by his father's thwarted aspirations to a medical career—emerged the mix of character and conduct that was to propel Francis to the top of his profession. Yet aspects of the background unveil clues to behavioral traits that stamped his life. His father's musical aspirations foreshadowed his own delight in music and commitment to its promulgation in Ann Arbor. His Uncle John Trowbridge's life and work showed the way to a sense of literature and pleasure in writing—not to mention an awareness of social inequities. His pleasure in physical exertion was rooted in his life on the farm. His appetite for mental work appeared first at Lockport, where work, work, and more work were the guiding principles for students; it is not hard to see where his lifelong relish for books and the routines of daily work took shape. At the University of Rochester, his intellectual prowess and capacity for leadership were widely recognized and blossomed. The ancient Greek and Latin authors faced him with the great moral and philosophical dilemmas; the New Testament in Greek steered him more firmly to Christianity—though what in particular drew him to the Presbyterian Church in Rochester remains unclear. Unlikely as it might appear, by the summer of 1880, this accomplished graduate from Rochester was ready for the challenges of a professor's life, unimaginable from the barren childhood fields of Ogden.
Excerpted from The Life and Work of FRANCIS WILLEY KELSEY by John Griffiths Pedley Copyright © 2012
by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission of The University of Michigan Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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