The Circle of Pines

In 1873 members of the graduating class planted a “circle of pines”—really Norway spruce—between present-day Ford Chapel and Newton Observatory. One tree was planted for each of the fifteen members. According to legend, as a class member died, so too died a tree. By October 1935 only two trees were left, and only two members of the class remained living. It was then that the class of 1915 planted fifteen red pines in a circle 50 feet in diameter as a memorial to both the classes of 1873 and 1915. An arc of three of these still stood in 2004.

In the first decades of the twentieth century tradition asserted that if a student held hands with his girl in the center of the circle on a clear night illuminated by a full moon, his wish to gain her heart would come true.

[Excerpt from “Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College” by Jonathan E. Helmreich, Emeritus Professor of History and College Historian]

The First Diploma

The first Allegheny College diploma reflected Timothy Alden’s fondness for pomp. It also signified his deep joy in the achievement of his students. How else can we explain why Alden, a philosophical man of serious bent, should place Comus, the youthful Greek and Roman god of festivity, on the document signifying completion of Allegheny’s rigorous course of study? He apparently changed his mind, however, for the finished product displays not Comus with scrolls but rather busts of Homer on the left and Herodotus on the right above lists of local and distant donors.

A lighter touch is nevertheless included in the central picture in the attractive form of a muse encouraging students to undertake the arduous journey up the hill to the temple of science. Perhaps it was this change that explains why the diplomas were not ready for the first graduating class of 1821. But one was ready in 1824 for the next graduate, David Farrelly, son of Patrick and brother of John W.; the previous graduates also received theirs. Just when use of the original diploma design ended is unclear.

The diplomas awarded today are smaller and simpler, though still dignified.

[Excerpt from “Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College”
by Jonathan E. Helmreich, Emeritus Professor of History and College Historian]


In January 1911, inspired by the bearded countenance of popular professor of Biology Robert S. Breed upon his return from Europe, senior men decided not to shave. The senior women were not impressed. They cut chapel and posed wearing white bows and carrying signs reading, “Our beaux are trimmed.” They refused invitations to class functions and would not allow their hirsute counterparts inside Hulings Hall. Their motto was “Lips that have whiskers can never touch mine.” The men replied, “Verily he that groweth a beard is greater than he who maketh many dates.”

The national press reported the beard problem at Allegheny. The men announced they would not shave until Washington’s Birthday dinner. Each Wednesday the men published Whiskers, a penny broadside that caught the eye of the Youth’s Companion. “Consider the whisker, my son, how it grows!” it quipped in mock Biblical style. “Yet Dr. Crawford in all his glory is not arrayed like one of these.”

The rage for facial hair spread to neighboring campuses and even to the battleships U.S.S. Georgia. The beards appeared in full force at the banquet as the seniors had vowed and the next day they were gone. One “farewell edition” of Whiskers was published and its $7.13 profit donated to the Athletic Association.

[Excerpt from “Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College”
by Jonathan E. Helmreich, Emeritus Professor of History and College Historian]

William McKinley at Allegheny

There is confusion regarding the exact period McKinley was at Allegheny. Some College sources suggest 1859-60; others mention 1860-61. Because of his seminary studies, McKinley was admitted as a junior. Officially, however, the College listed him as a member of the class of 1864.

McKinley fared well in his studies, thanks to his abilities and an amazing memory. He had a knack for quickly learning the faces, names, aspirations, and hometowns of nearly every student—a skill that would serve him well in his later political life. He was socially active and participated in “town-ball,” the team sport of the time.

A gifted debater, McKinley defended the abolitionist cause. He kept an even temper and usually the debates remained dignified. He gave the impression of being a gentleman and was known as a model student who was always on time for classes but seldom early; he kept a disciplined schedule and was known for attending all recitation and chapel sessions as expected.

The reasons why McKinley did not continue at Allegheny are unknown. College legend has it that he was dismissed for the prank of putting a cow in the belfry of Bentley Hall. Beyond records of cows regularly appearing in Allegheny recitation rooms, no data supports this myth. There is better evidence that McKinley and his roommate lodged a goat in the belfry, a much easier task to accomplish than the alleged bovine prank. No record of punishment comes down to us.

In the summer of 1860 he returned to Poland, Ohio to bolster his health and take a stopgap job in the post office there. While intending to return to Allegheny soon, the following winter he taught in the Kerr school district less than three miles from Poland. Following the outbreak of war, he enlisted in June 1861. Years later he would write to College President William Crawford that it was one of the greatest regrets of his life that he did not complete his studies for the College diploma. When he was governor of Ohio, McKinley did return to Allegheny as the 1895 commencement speaker and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

[Excerpt from “Through All the Years: A History of Allegheny College”
by Jonathan E. Helmreich, Emeritus Professor of History and College Historian]