by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
There was a lot riding on Benjamin Rush’s 1783 proposal to create a new educational system. America needed nimble, innovative thinkers who could meet the evolving needs of a fledgling society, and as Charles Coleman Sellers wrote in his history of the college, the European student-teacher model would not quite fill the bill.
“In crossing the wide Atlantic, the college campus acquired a third element—THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES . . . [which would] administer the educational process . . . [and act] with a sense of duty akin to religious faith,” explained Sellers, a retired librarian and curator of special collections. “Trustees sat enthroned. They wore the crown of altruism.”
On April 6, Dickinsonians and community members celebrated this distinctive aspect of the American educational system with a ceremony marking the 230th anniversary of the first Carlisle meeting of Dickinson's Board of Trustees. Held at the nearby First Presbyterian Church, the reenactment was staged at the very site where the 1784 meeting convened.
As the reenactors explained, Dickinson’s founders secured the college’s charter in 1783 and met three times in Philadelphia—at Rush’s Second Street home and at the State House—before the Carlisle gathering on April 6. That day included a procession, a sermon, opening remarks, discussions about funding options and book purchases and the presentation of the college seal; the trustees also identified Scottish minister and educator Charles Nisbet as the college's potential first leader. (Nisbet later accepted.)
The 2014 dramatization brought to life key moments from that meeting, as well as a swearing-in ceremony and a pivotal conversation in Philadelphia between Montgomery and Rush.
The event was led by Craig Jurgensen, a longtime Rush interpreter who revived the role for the occasion. Harry Booth, professor emeritus of religion, portrayed Rev. John Black, delivering an original sermon he fashioned according to the customs of the day, while Charlie Seller '55 acted as John Montgomery, trustee and delegate to the Continental Congress. Mark Scheneman, husband of transfer-admissions director Dottie Scheneman, played trustee John Campbell, and Mike Cross was Pennsylvania Governor John Dickinson, for whom the college was named.
Published April 9, 2014