Photographer Melville Munro was on the spot and documented what the university looked like a century ago
One hundred years ago, Tuft freshmen respectfully touched their beanies when they passed upperclassmen on an unpaved Professors Row. This pleasant thoroughfare, once but a country lane, made chums of all who walked beneath its stately elms.
For Poet John Holmes, A1929, those friendships would forever tether his heart to Tufts; a place he recalled with nostalgic fervor in his famed poem, “Along the Row”—saying —“My college—mine!”
Fortunately for Tufts historians—both armchair and otherwise—the written record of these bygone days is richly supplemented with the remarkable photographs of Melville Munro, E1904. Munro joined the engineering faculty right after graduation; in 1914 he was named a professor of electrical engineering.
His vast body of work totaled nearly 30,000 images by the time of his death in 1945, and now comprise the Melville Munro Collection housed in the university’s Digital Collections and Archives (DCA) . The collection, one of over seven hundred held by DCA, can be viewed by students, faculty, staff, and the public in the DCA reading room. Many photographs have also been scanned and are available online.
Munro’s hobby, as the story goes, began in 1913 when he borrowed a camera to take picture of a Tufts tradition, the Parade of Horribles, where young men tried to outdo themselves with outlandish costumes.
The sale of thirty-six photos to students yielded a profit of $1 for each negative made, Munro later recalled. Professor Edwin Rollins, E1904, soon joined the venture, and the Munro-Rollins team joined forces to advertise and distribute photos of college activities.
Munro’s hobby evolved into an even more invaluable public relations effort when President Albert Cousens, A1898, H1930, recognized the power of photography to boost the struggling college’s reputation. Cousens covered Munro’s expenses in a partnership that would last until Cousen’s death in 1937.
Another co-worker, Joseph Morton, director of the publicity office, partnered with Munro to keep Tufts highly visible in the local press. Munro estimated that together they increased production from about 100 negatives a year to nearly 1,000.
Below are but a few examples of how Munro captured every corner of the college campus during the 1920s, though clearly his legacy exceeds the span of one decade. “It is an almost superhuman task to keep track of this changing Tufts,” as one Tufts Weekly reporter wrote in 1937, “but this energetic little gentleman is equal to the task.”
Jackson Dorm Room, 1920
In 1923, 51 percent of male undergraduate liberal arts students and 62 percent of male engineering students lived off campus, along with 29 percent of Jackson College women. President Albert Cousens, however, sought to abandon the “cottage” system of dormitories for Jackson College then prevalent and construct one large dormitory.
That came to pass in 1925 with a bequest from Martha Stratton Ensign, which was used to build Stratton Hall, constructed in 1927. For men, Tufts in 1926 built Fletcher Hall (now Blakeley Hall, and a residence for Fletcher students). Both additions to housing helped to strengthen Tufts as a residential college and make it “less of a ‘trolley-care university,’” wrote Russell Miller, longtime Tufts professor of history and author of Light on the Hill: A History of Tufts College from 1852 to 1952.
Jack Moody, “The Sandwich Man,” November 2, 1928
Over the decade, enrollment would grow modestly but steadily, reaching just over 1,000 undergraduates by 1929. Munro captured that friendly, everybody-knows-everybody quality with his portraits of everyday life and activities.
The Jumbonians, June 14, 1926
“Hairston’s Quartet” or the Shenley Four, February 10, 1929
Leo Lewis, circa 1920
In 1922, Tufts conferred on Lewis the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in recognition of his many contributions to the college, and his stature left no doubt an impression on young students, among them future poet John Holmes, Jr., A1929, who wrote in his poem “Leo Rich Lewis, 1865-1945,” “We heard his music rise, his morning shout. We heard his heart in light.” Lewis Hall, the first co-educational undergraduate dormitory at Tufts, is named in his honor.
Tufts Baseball Team, 1920
Three Jackson Tennis Players, 1922
Chapel Tower Through Alumni Gate, June 16, 1929
By 1929, subscriptions exceeded $20,000, and one of the first priorities was to support the construction of the War Memorial Steps.
President John A. Cousens, 1928
Generous philanthropy supported, among other capital projects, construction of Pearson Memorial Chemistry Laboratory in 1923 and Braker Hall, home to economics, in 1927. Cousens was only sixty-two when he died in office at home from a heart attack in 1937, but he left an indelible legacy.
Jackson Students E. Beattie and M.D. Rourke with Jumbo, 1922
The most honored of traditions centered around that massive mascot, the famed Jumbo the elephant, who held court in Barnum Hall. How he came to reside at Tufts is a story until itself, but in short, university trustee P.T. Barnum had the elephant’s hide stuffed after Jumbo’s tragic death and gave it to Tufts in 1889 to be displayed in the Barnum Museum of Natural History, constructed in 1884.
Jumbo was believed to bring good luck. Before big exams or games, students would tug on his tail or put pennies in his trunk to ensure a good outcome.
Jackson Freshmen Wearing Buttons, circa 1921
Beanies were required of freshmen; men were also expected to touch their caps upon encountering an upperclassman and to doff them when passing a professor or the president. Freshman beanies are perhaps Tufts’ longest-running tradition, beginning in 1854 and ending in 1969.
Parade of Horribles, Junior Day, 1926
Members of junior class, enjoying a day of suspended classes, parade around dressed in outrageous costumes, competing for prizes. These two may have won “most tormented,” as they exhibit the “aftereffects” of chem lab.
Dr. Leary Teaches Pathology in Amphitheater at City Hospital, circa 1920
Two Student Surveyors, 1928
Laura Ferguson can be reached at email@example.com.