Note: Information on why the Scott Nearing referred to towards the end of this post may have been an alarming visitor for college officials, see his Wikipedia entry
STUDENT GOVERNMENT at Antioch is now so much a matter of course that it would probably be difficult for students of today to picture its birth struggles. In most colleges the idea of student government was then considered a failure, dangerous, and at best an outlet for student energy, while in reality only a sugar coating for faculty rule. Arthur was determined that at Antioch it should be real. He was told that since he himself was not a college man he could not know—but he persisted. I shall never forget a crucial test in which he at last won out. Some of the best jobs at that time were in a golf club factory. A number of valuable clubs were found missing, and the loss was traced to certain Antioch students. It was a very serious situation, and all the administration people except Arthur said, “This is no place where students can decide.” Arthur insisted that he would trust them. The student government officers spent most of the night working out a decision on the case, and Arthur spent all night thinking about them. In the morning they produced their decision and everyone — factory officials and faculty — agreed it could not be improved upon. That incident helped real student government to become accepted at Antioch.
Of course there were some students who came from other colleges and wanted Antioch to have the same “traditions” of hazing, football, etc., that they had seen elsewhere. Once with President and Dean both out of town, some students took a freshman who had made belittling remarks about the value of the football team and ducked him in the old horse trough on the Grinnell Road. It took quite a while to get the idea accepted that athletics were to be shared by everyone.
Another amusing contrast between Antioch standards and general small college mores was shown when a Harvard man visiting his brother here persuaded some students to put a cow in the assembly room (then on the first floor where general offices are now). The prank fell completely flat. The faculty took no part. Student government found out who did it and had those boys remove the cow and clean up—that was all.
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ANTIOCH had many interesting visitors in the early days. As our house was then the only one available for receiving guests, it was my pleasant lot to entertain such visitors. Ida Tarbell was one of the first. The night she was there at dinner in the regular dining room in North Hall the lights went out. Some boy started up, “Antioch will shine tonight.” All joined in and she was very amused.
At about the same time there arrived by auto Mr. and Mrs. Knutson from Denmark. They were supposedly camping out, but as it was during a pouring rain they were glad of our spare room. She did the driving, and he wrote on a typewriter about educational subjects as they went. He settled down at Antioch, and, with the college as headquarters, arranged an interchange of American and Danish students which continued for several years. That was a fine project, but it had some amusing sidestories. One American sixfooter arrived at a Danish home where they thought they were getting a little boy, and had only a crib for him to sleep in. Mary Antin, author of The Promised Land, came to Antioch several times, and was always welcome.
In 1923 I bought guest book to give Arthur as a Christmas present. On December 3 I was asked to drive to Dayton to hear Vachel Lindsay speak, and then bring him home, give him dinner, take him to “read” at the college, and then have a reception for him. Unfortunately the Dayton program did not go well, and he was clearly not in a good humor and declined the reception, saying he must retire early. Dinner seemed to revive him, and the college reading was a great success, so he wanted to sit by our fire afterwards. I had asked him privately to write in the guest book in his room, but as we sat by the fire he suggested I bring it to him there. We had the unusual experience of watching a poet write a poem! After each couplet he would read aloud all to that point. Here is the poem:
INSCRIPTION FOR THE ENTRANCE TO A GUEST BOOK
Here at Antioch the hearth-fire blazes,
Here at Antioch the kettle boils.
Happy here, the guest will watch the wood-flame
Leap and write and draw in its magic coils
Heiroglyphics curing all our toils.
Here the coffee comes to cheer the heart—
Here the conversation helps the cup,
Here the house can whisper like the forest—
Here the sun is up, the moon is up,
Sunbeams, moonbeams, coming from the hearth-fire—
Starbeams coming from the kindly eyes.
Here the guest will learn the way to wisdom,
Here the bread and butter make us wise—
Served with thoughts of just the proper size.
(NICHOLAS VACHEL LINDSAY)
About the same time I found at about 5:30 m that Seumas MacManus would dine with us. I rushed out and got a T-bone steak in his honor and had the end ground up as hamburger for the family. Arthur, as per schedule, cut Mr. McManus a piece of the tenderloin only to have it declined in a strong brogue, “May I be after having some ground meat—my teeth are very poor.” So the family got the best pieces.
In those years, it was the thing for the radicals in every college student body to “try out” their faculty by privately inviting Scott Nearing to speak. Arthur was away when it happened at Antioch. Phil Nash and I consulted and decided it would be best to invite him to stay at our house and to speak at the regular college assembly. We all enjoyed him personally. My then young daughter gave him a very high grade because he made his own bed. The students listened with enjoyment, but under normal conditions. One important student employer at once remonstrated over the phone. Phil Nash asked him pleasantly if he believed in vaccination for smallpox. The mas admitted he did, and all went well.