Most of us know that a higher percentage of Hillsdale students volunteered to fight in the Civil War than at any other non-military school. We also know that the college was founded in 1844. (After all, that year appears in the Wi-Fi password.) However, the college has a much richer and a more fascinating history than many students may realize.
As students, we owe a lot to those who came before us and we should be inspired by the history of our school. First, we need to know something about it. Mossey Library provides access to several wonderful books, including several by Arlan K. Gilbert, a longtime Hillsdale professor turned historian. Before you graduate, you should read a book on Hillsdale’s history.
“The history of Hillsdale College is unique,” said Burt Folsom, a professor of history who taught at Hillsdale for more than 14 years before retiring last semester. “We were founded on equality of opportunity and we have preserved and promoted that ideal for 173 years and counting. Yes, developing our minds at Hillsdale College is important, but I teach students in my classes the history of our college to help develop their hearts as well.”
Moved by Folsom’s admiration of Hillsdale, I began to do a bit of research on our history on my own. Now, I co-host the segment “Wait, What Happened?” on WRFH Radio Free Hillsdale along with junior Sarah Schutte. In our show, we discuss unique stories and people in the history of our college.
“It’s good to know where you came from,” Schutte said. “There is so much beautiful history. There was so much strength, dedication, courage, and determination in the founding. It’s rare to survive through much of what we did. It gives you a new, concrete appreciation.”
In one episode, we talked about a 1955 incident with Hillsdale’s football team, at the time coached by Frank “Muddy” Waters, the namesake of our stadium. After going undefeated that season, the team was invited to compete in the prestigious Tangerine Bowl in Florida. Unfortunately, bowl officials insisted that Hillsdale’s four black players could not attend. Hillsdale took a principled stand and turned down the invitation.
“If character is destiny, Hillsdale was preparing well for the constitutional issues of the next sixty years,” Folsom said of the Tangerine Bowl story.
Hillsdale students should feel inspired and awed by stories such as this, as well as by the college’s valiant wartime efforts.
Senior Hailey Morgan recently put together an exhibit in Mossey Library showcasing Hillsdale’s involvement in the Civil War. She said that studying the history of the college gave her a new perspective and renewed admiration of Hillsdale.
“There are a lot of really neat and sentimental stories about Hillsdale and people who lived here,” Morgan said. “Each is unique and very heartfelt. Especially for people who are here for a short time, it’s good know the history of the community and the contributions of the people to give you a greater appreciation.”
The best place to start appreciating Hillsdale better is the library. If you want to start from the beginning, pick up “Historic Hillsdale College: Pioneer in Public Education, 1844 – 1900.” If you’re more interested in war history, Gilbert’s “Hillsdale Honor: the Civil War Experience” is an excellent resource. For something more recent, try “The Permanent Things: Hillsdale College, 1900 – 1994.”
In addition, Mossey Library’s website provides an excellent searchable database of college newspapers, magazine, yearbooks, and more. Look for the box labeled “Archives and Special Collections” on the library’s homepage. Also, Radio Free Hillsdale’s SoundCloud page contains every episode of “Wait, What Happened?”
When it comes to those who came before us, Folsom explained that Hillsdale students and faculty have much to be thankful for.
“Many professors and students at Hillsdale College in the last 173 years have sacrificed much to give students today the remarkable opportunities the campus offers,” Folsom said. “We all owe gratitude for what so many who have come before us have given our campus today.”
In 80 years, someone will start writing the book on Hillsdale in the 21st century. Some of our names are going to be in it. We’re participating in the story of a great institution. We should know the roots of our story.
Ms. Lasch is a junior studying English and journalism.