Nathan M. Pusey: Culture Moves East

Lawrence College -- 'Hotbed of Morality' -- Doubled Its Endowment During His Term

Appleton, Wisc.--Despite its location in the midst of Wisconsin farmland Lawrence College is definitely not Godforsaken. Rather, it is His adversary who seems to have passed the college by, for with stringent rules against alcohol and automobiles, and a required course in religion, Lawrence is, in the words of one professor, "a hotbed of morality."

Dr. Nathan Pusey (pronounced PEWzee), the president of Lawrence, was proud of his college: scholastic standing was high, endowments had more than doubled during the nine years he had been president, and life at Lawrence was pleasant, leisurely, and worthwhile. Pusey had more plans for the future; he was carefully screening applicants for his faculty, was improving his favorite course, the all-inclusive, "Freshman Studies," and was planning a new course which he was to teach in '53-'54. Then, Monday morning, June 1, the Harvard Corporation announced its selection of a new president for Harvard University, and once more Nathan Marsh Pusey had to begin planning, not new courses, but a new life.

Torchlight March

The first days after the announcement exploded with long-distance calls, telegrams, visitors, reporters, and photographers. "For a while," the president's secretary said, "Dr. Pusey would have been willing to say, 'Let's just forget all about it.'" Monday evening 500 Lawrence students paraded with torches to the President's House to serenade Pusey and his family, as had been done in 1944 when he was picked as President of Lawrence. This time, when the news first came from Cambridge, three senior girls wrote new lyrics to familiar melodies, mimeographed the song sheets in the afternoon, so that in the evening the Lawrentians could sing, to the tune of "Surrey With the Finge on Top":

To the Charles from the Fox river valley

The Pusey family soon forth will sally

We'll send you with an all-college rally

To Cambridge, Mass.

We are singing congratulations

Our President is the pride of the Nation

He'll be a boon to the administration

Out in Cambridge, Mass.

As the tanned, T-shirted undergraduates sang Pusey's thoughts returned to his first year in Cambridge twenty-nine years ago, when he had come to Harvard from the public schools of Council Bluffs, Iowa, on a Charles Eliot Perkins scholarship. He had found the Boston museums, particularly Mrs. Jack Gardiner's, fascinating, and had been more interested in "running around Boston than in student activities. "Then, too," Pusey recalls, "I didn't take much part in College life because I was pretty hardbitten with Harvard indifference." He lived in Gore Hall, then a freshman dormitory, and gathered a group of five good friends, all of whom stuck together throughout college. He gave up his one venture into athletics, freshman basketball, to devote all his time to study. His singleness of purpose gained for Pusey membership in Phi Beta Kappa, and a magna degree in English literature.

Teaching and Studying

From his graduation in 1928 until his selection as President of Lawrence in 1944, Pusey taught at Lawrence, Scripps, and Wesleyan returning to Harvard in '32 and '37 for his M.A. and Ph.D. During his study and particularly in the two years he spent abroad--one in '28 "bumming around Europe" and one in '34 as a Coolidge Fellow in Greece--Pusey's interest shifted from English to classical history. Delving further and further into antiquity, Pusey found pre-history and the Bronze Age especially engrossing. But in his later teaching experience, Pusey seldom has had opportunity to draw on his extensive study of the classics. Early in his career, Pusey became involved with the humanities and the movement to make liberal education truly free of narrowing specialization.