Eagle Archive: McDaniel donation comes from graduate of 120 years ago

It only took about 120 years, but an 1891 graduate of then-Western Maryland College, now McDaniel, recently made a donation to the college.

It was announced at McDaniel College's recent trustee-faculty dinner that about $6.7 million from the estate of 1891 alumnus Philip Henry Dorsey, of St. Clements Bay, will be used to establish an endowment for scholarships, according to information provided by the college.

This is the largest bequest for scholarships in the college's history. In contrast to the college's finances in the 1890s, one can only imagine how Dorsey's classmates would marvel at the size of the donation, especially since the first 25 years of the college were fraught with concern over the school's debt.

Local historian Dr. Jim Lightner said in an interview that Dorsey was one of 18 students to earn a bachelor's degree from the college in 1891. The college's total enrollment at the time was 154, he said.

Beyond the college, the population of Westminster in 1887 was reported to have reached 3,000. The city's total indebtedness was $2,500. A total of 35,000 citizens lived in all of Carroll County.

According to "Fearless and Bold," a book on the history of McDaniel College written by Lightner, in April 1895 the entire budget of the college was established at $30,000.

"As the college opened for its 25th year, in 1891, 16 of the original 34 trustees were still active," he wrote. "In 1896, President Lewis reported that the college had eight faculty members."

The college president's house had only been completed in December 1889, but across the street, Alumni Hall was not completed until 1899. "By June 1898, President Lewis … was given the go-ahead to finish Alumni Hall at a total cost of $24,000," Lightner wrote.

For context, it's noteworthy that Dorsey graduated two years before Henry Ford made his first automobile. The telephone had been introduced to Westminster in 1884 — Alexander Graham Bell visited Westminster for the occasion.

Benjamin Harrison served as president of the United States from 1889 to 1893. It was Harrison who had electricity installed in the White House. By 1897, after the Westminster (Electric) Co. decided to increase the annual electric bill for the college, from $375 a year to $600 a year, the college had decided to build its own electric generating station to provide power for the 200 lights on the campus.

In June 1894, Lewis presented a report — the first to be typewritten — for board approval, seeking that the salary of the president of the college be set at $2,000 and the faculty members to be provided a salary that ranged from $425 to $900. To pay for all of this, "tuition, board, room, heat, light, and laundry," at the college would cost $200 a year.

When he is not saving his pennies for a donation to the college 120 years from now, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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