THE ANTIOCH SCHOOL had been in the Horace Mann House, but after we got possession of the Mills House, as the Means residence was then renamed, it was moved to that building. Every building we had was overcrowded. The Main Building contained offices, classrooms, laboratories, library, gymnasium and auditorium, also the bookstore. One of our early laughs was at the names of the two boys who ran the bookstore one year. They were Sheats and Kelly. Another early joke about names was a consequence of a suggestion that faculty try to make the new students feel at home. Horace English told how annoyed he was at first when he saw a lonesome-looking boy and said pleasantly, “Good morning, I am English,” and the sad freshman replied, “I am Irish.” It was Don Irish, who got over being sad, and the professor got over being cross, and told the story on himself. It was in those early days, too, that a new boy who came to college from North Dakota, almost at once, from something he did, was called “Kris Kringle,” and the name Chris stuck. No one but he remembered it was not his real name. He went through college as “Chris.” When his mother, who came to see him graduate, inquired where to find him, she was told there was no student at Antioch named Rolf. More and more alarmed, she hunted over college and village—no son of that name. Finally she found him, “Chris” Schutz, in later years a trustee of the college. Another incident of names occurred when Austin Patterson, giving an introduction, said “Helen French Greene — Are you related to the Paris Greens?” [Blog note: “Paris Green” is a highly toxic compound used to poison rats and insects.]
A number of people helped to make that first year unique. The winter before, Arthur had run across Hendrik Willem Van Loon, who completely fell for the Antioch idea, and enthusiastically accepted a position on the faculty. At that time he was supported by his wife, “Jimmy,” and her tea room in Greenwich Village. She had typed his Story of Mankind, but it was not yet in print. By spring, when he was offered a fantastic price for the manuscript, he was bewailing the sad fact that it had been used to pack their dishes. They came out and lived cheerfully in very cramped quarters until their house was completed at Christmas. He gave the college all sorts of evening performances. I remember one illustrated lecture on “snoring,” on other occasions he gave us music, and at other times talks on ships, with original drawings. Some days when the building program seems particularly discouraging, we would find on the outside door of the Main Building a new cartoon such as the one headed “Rome was not built in a day—why should Antioch be?”
Then the book came out. At first, all of those we bought he would autograph, along with a fine drawing of a ship, but his book was soon a national best seller, and then if one met him on the street he would stop and display his latest check and gloat over the amount. Finally his self-satisfaction become so intense that he rarely held his classes, being mostly on trip to New York; and then, one Friday in March, he told Arthur he was leaving.
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ONE OF ARTHUR’S ORIGINAL IDEAS is now so generally accepted that few people realize what an innovation it was in 1921. He felt that neither the old-time college entrance examination nor high-school certification would provide the student body he wanted. He therefore initiated what was then an entirely new method of appraising and selecting students. He gathered information concerning them from a wide variety of sources which included medical examination, high school and other references, letters from parents, a photograph, and a form of application which required the student to write almost an autobiography. We remember how one applicant ended his paper with the remark, “This leaves me feeling my soul is naked.”
The first student body was very mixed. One boy had run away from home to enroll. A good many Dayton parents trusted Arthur with their young folks. Eastern people interested in progressive education welcomed such a program, but from all over the United States we got young people who had read of it in the American Magazine and other periodicals. It was an adventure.
Every Saturday evening I posted a general invitation to some sort of party at our house, and was much interested to find that whatever sort of bait I offered, I got the same crowd as guests, and those students are still to be recognized as leaders. We would have refreshments, and they always washed the dishes for me. The next year Manmatha Chatterjee, who had just come, organized a group as the “League of Youth,” and Rita wondered, until I explained, how it happened that they all went to the kitchen to clean up before going home. They were a fine group. I think they still remember themselves as “The Pioneers.”
The jobs, too, were pioneering. The Tea Room had its very small beginning that first year. Two girls were given a dingy room on the northwest corner of the first floor of North Hall. They cleaned and repainted it themselves and served sandwiches, hamburgers, etc., under the supervision of Julia Turner. She told me that a skeptic about the Antioch plan was scoffing at there being any educational value in such work. Julia sent for one of the girls and let the visitor question her. It was Buffy Dennison, Henry Dennison’s daughter, and she rather dramatically said, “If all these walls were lined with shelves and every shelf were full of books and I had read them all, I would not have learned as much as I have on this job.”
The next year two boys had the Tea Room in the Horace Mann House, and when that burned they moved to the old house which in its enlarged form is still the Tea Room.
In 1929 Arthur was about to start for New York and, as usual, he knew he would have to face questions about the educational value of jobs in accrediting Antioch. In those days I knew most of the students quite well, and I went over to the dining room at breakfast time and asked about a dozen students to write in a few minutes what they had learned on their jobs. Their replies were so intelligent that the college reproduced them in a very effective leaflet, “Dick Whittington finds Antioch.” I remember another time when we referred a skeptic to the students. A man from the General Education Board could see no value in the Glen, so Arthur said, “Go ask the students.” He came back saying he felt from their response that he had almost risked his life when he raised the question with them. Julia Turner, who had charge of feeding students, did a great deal in popularizing the Glen. Sometimes on good days she would announce a picnic, telling everyone to take a lunch from the dining room and go. She began serving meals in North Hall when the kitchen floor was still only clay.