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Identifier: RG 04/A12

Office of the President (John Martin Thomas) Records


  • 1902-1932 (inclusive), 1925-1930 (bulk)

Scope and Content Note

The bulk of the records of the Office of the President during the tenure of John Martin Thomas (1925-1930) reside in the large series of Subject files, which are arranged in alphabetical order and range in date from 1911 to 1932. Though some issues unique to Thomas' presidency, especially as outlined in the "Administrative History" are well represented in the collection, a large amount of material reveals the day-to-day demands on a university president. The nature of President Thomas' more ordinary daily tasks is obvious in the files such as Admissions, Applications, and Appointments.

The Admissions series, for example, contain many letters of recommendation for acceptance to the university, as well as for financial scholarships. These include several from New Jersey Governor Morgan F. Larson. Of unique interest may be two letters that address issues of anti-Semitism related to Rutgers. One letter questions quota policies on acceptance of Jewish students at Rutgers, while the other discusses the apparent difficulties faced by Jewish graduates of Rutgers in getting accepted at medical schools.

The Applications files include hundreds of letters sent to Thomas from men and women in search of possible teaching positions at Rutgers College and the New Jersey College for Women. While there are very few resumes outlining qualifications, the sheer bulk of the letters indicates that, at a time when the academic world was much smaller, it may have been common for job-seekers to directly address the President when looking for employment.

Similarly, the Appointments correspondence provides a glimpse into the numerous demands placed upon a university president, not only by his academic community, but by other segments of society. These files contain a large number of requests for President Thomas to speak at meetings, conferences, commencements, religious services, and even a marriage ceremony. The invitations, most of which President Thomas declined, are from social and civic organizations, public and private schools, and religious organizations located primarily in New Jersey.

The Commencement folders contain correspondence relating mostly to the awarding of honorary degrees by the university, as well as biographical information about the recipients and the procedures for conferring these degrees during commencement exercises. Some ephemera associated with commencement, such as programs and ticket stubs, were removed from the collection and can be found in the Commencement collection.

Thomas occasionally called upon New Jersey politicians for help in getting bills passed, or defeated, as suited the university's concerns. For example, the files for U.S. Senators Stewart Appleby, Walter B. Edge, and Edward I. Edwards contain correspondence about copyright issues and professors' course packages, mandatory military training in land grant colleges, and a tariff bill regarding the importation of chemicals and scientific supplies used by the university. There are often copies of these House Resolutions contained in these folders.

The College of Agriculture folders hold a prominent place in this collection as well. Of particular interest are two documents entitled "A Program for the Advancement of Agriculture through the More Efficient and Complete Equipment and Maintenance of the State Agricultural College and Agricultural Experiment Station" and "A Memorandum Concerning the Organization and Activities of the College of Agriculture and Experiment Station". These documents can be found in an undated folder in the Schools and Colleges Series. Administrative issues of Extension Service programs continued to be relevant throughout Thomas' administration, as this is one area in which the college was extremely visible to many segments of the state's population who may not have had previous contact with the college.

As stated above, state appropriations issues for Rutgers was a primary issue during Thomas' tenure. The files labeled "Appropriations Statistics and Budgets" specifically contain statistics and financial allocations relevant to this issue. Specific schools and departments also were involved in this issue and more information can be found in the folders for Aeronautical Engineering and the College of Agriculture, especially in Dean Jacob Lipman's files. The correspondence contained in N.J. Senator William H. Bright's folder deals with state appropriations issues. Related to this issue is the folder labeled "Chamber of Commerce Dinner," in which there is correspondence on the need for cooperation between Rutgers and the N.J. Chamber of Commerce on legislation. Names and addresses of members of the Chamber with whom Thomas hoped would be sympathetic to Rutgers' cause are included.

The expansion of Rutgers campus was a major initiative during the Thomas presidency and several folders are rich with information about this topic. The folders on Harland Bartholomew contain materials and correspondence between Thomas and the city planning engineer from St. Louis, Missouri, that spans approximately four years. In addition, researchers may also want to consult the Campus Development folders, which contain additional correspondence with Bartholomew, a blueprint for the "Suggested Layout of Rutgers College" (1924), building needs of various academic departments, and faculty housing proposals. Both folders also contain Bartholomew's report on a campus plan for Rutgers, as well as the final chapter of the U.S. Bureau of Education's survey, "The Future of the University" (1927). Correspondence and documents in the file on Winthrop Alexander, the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, contains information on the conditions of many of the campus buildings, as they directly relate to expansion, as well as fire safety issues which gained exposure following a fire in Winants Hall.

The Faculty series contains correspondence and other documents and information concerning those who taught at Rutgers during Thomas' presidency. These files include requests by faculty members addressed directly to the president, as well as issues of faculty disagreements, brought to President Thomas' attention by various deans. The school fire prevention report, drawn up by the Nielson Parker Company, gives an even further and more detailed account of the condition of all the campus buildings, with an emphasis on safety. This includes a fire safety evaluation of the Ballantine Gymnasium, which would be destroyed by fire less than four years after the report was presented to the school.

Information on various monetary and real estate gifts presented to the University through the generosity of alumni, trustees, and others is included in a file entitled "Gifts," which also includes letters detailing items presented to the school by various businesses and corporations. The Universities' partnership with a major contributor is clearly documented in the Johnson & Johnson University Fellowship. Several folders in the collection outline this fellowship from its very beginning, right up to its implementation. Rutgers own recognition of people who have achieved outside of the school is evident in the Honorary Degrees awarded. Letters discussing various degree candidates' qualifications and backgrounds reveals the sort of person the University deemed fit to recognize.

The folders on Military Education cover extensively issues surrounding that department from 1920 following World War I to 1932, when the department was abolished. The small but important section on the New Jersey College for Women, contains documents that call to attention certain daily concerns that faced that institution of Rutgers, during it's formative years. Similarly, those folders on the College of Pharmacy document the merger of the New Jersey College of Pharmacy with Rutgers in 1927 and subsequent years of development. Many of the letters and documents outline difficulties and struggles in the colleges development.

Perhaps no issue was more pressing during John Martin Thomas' tenure as president than the relationship between Rutgers and the State of New Jersey. The efforts to align itself more closely with the state and the difficulties encountered are thoroughly documented in the folders on State Scholarships and State Relations, as well as the Duffield Commission series.

The Trustees and Trustee's Committee Records provide a view of the highest levels of the University. This series consists of correspondence between the president and the many individuals who served as Trustees of the university. Many of the documents center on particular issues or events of concern, such as: the relations of Rutgers University to the State of New Jersey, conferring of Honorary Degrees, and commencement planning. Several of these files of might be of particular interest due to the longevity of their tenure as Trustee. Among those to serve as Trustee during the presidencies of Demarest, Thomas, and Clothier are: Philip M. Brett, Joseph R. Duryee, Joseph S. Frelinghuysen, Edward Katzenbach, Leonor F. Loree, John W. Mettler, James Neilson, Duncan D. Sutphen, and Foster M. Voorhees.

The Duffield Commission series focuses on the relationship between Rutgers and the state of New Jersey. Officially known as the Commission on Relations Between the Rutgers and the State of New Jersey, it was more commonly referred to as the Duffield Commission, after commission chairman Edward Duffield, President of the Prudential Insurance Company and a Trustee of Princeton. The commission was formed by Assembly Joint Resolution No. 6 as introduced by Assemblyman Guy George Gabrielson of Essex County on January 23, 1928. The resolution provided for "a resolution to investigate and report with respect to the relations between the State of New Jersey and educational functions and activities of the State University of New Jersey and Rutgers College, popularly known as Rutgers College. The commission was comprised of three citizens named by the governor, three members of the senate to be named by the President of the Senate, and three members of the House of Assembly to be named by the Speaker of the House. The commission was "authorized and directed to examine the existing relations of the State with Rutgers University and to recommend to the present Legislature such reorganization and means of adequate support as may be deemed to the best interests of the state".

The commission submitted two reorganization plans, both calling for the establishment "of a State University and providing for the government of the same." Reorganization Plan No. 1 called for the creation of a Board of Regents of the University of New Jersey to consist of "the Governor, the Chancellor, Chief Justice, Attorney General, President of the Senate, Commissioner of Education, President of the State Board of Education, ex-officio; and fourteen citizens of the state to be nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate." Each of the appointed citizens would hold office for fourteen years. The plan called for a contract between the Regents of the University of New Jersey and the Trustees of Rutgers College in New Jersey that allowed twenty of the Trustees to serve with the Board of Regents in the government and management of the University of New Jersey. The plan further provided the Trustees of Rutgers College would gain interest in or control of appropriations made by the State of New Jersey, nor to acquisitions made by these appropriations. Additionally, none of the rights, privileges, obligations or trusts of the Trustees of Rutgers College in New Jersey established by the original charter of 1766 were to be altered, amended, or abridged by the plan.

The second plan called for the creation of a Commission on Higher Education of the State of New Jersey to consist of seven citizens appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. The plan called for a contract between the Commission on Higher Education and the Trustees of Rutgers College in New Jersey for the operation and management of the University of New Jersey. The plan further provided the Trustees of Rutgers College would gain interest in or control of appropriations made by the State of New Jersey, nor to acquisitions made by these appropriations. Additionally, none of the rights, privileges, obligations or trusts of the Trustees of Rutgers College in New Jersey established by the original charter of 1766 were to be altered, amended, or abridged by the plan.

Commissioner Dear submitted a minority report of the Commission that called for free college education for all qualified New Jersey residents, funded by a mil tax. The second provision was for the diversion of railroad tax funds to the Trustees of Rutgers College in New Jersey. Thirdly, it empowered the State Board of Education as the only State Board to receive and disburse all appropriation for higher public education. And finally, that the State University of New Jersey should be removed from the administration of the Trustees of Rutgers College in New Jersey and placed directly under the management of the State Board of Education. The dissent stemmed from the belief that the majority report evaded the issues that the legislature wanted solved. Commissioner Mercolino issued a statement that he could not support either report, preferring the creation of a State Board of Regents as provided in Reorganization Plan No. 1 of the majority report, with the addition of the free higher public education provided in the minority report.

In the end the commission concluded that the best solution was to "retain the present arrangement." Members of the Duffield Commission included Edward Duffield (chair), Leonard Robbins, J. Albert Dear, Jr., Hon. Frank D. Abell, Hon. Arthur N. Pierson, Hon. Blasé Cole, Hon. Dryden Kuser, Hon. Patrick V. Mercolino, and Hon. George R. Morrison.

As noted in the Applications and Appointments series, Dr. Thomas was highly sought after as a speaker. This is reflected the series entitled Remarks, Speeches and Statements which contains the 23 remarks, and 63 speeches given by Dr. Thomas, as well as 6 statements issued by Dr. Thomas. Similarly, the Articles series contains 9 articles written by Dr. Thomas. Among these series, education is the most common general theme, with the relation between the university and the State of New Jersey being one of the most common specific themes. Many of his speeches were given as sermons. In addition, there are series of newsclippings and personal papers, both of which include materials on Dr. Thomas's inauguration to and resignation of the presidency of Rutgers University. Many of the newsclipping files are related to speeches made by Dr. Thomas.


11.6 Cubic Feet (29 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



Administrative records generated by the Office of the President at Rutgers University during the administration of John Martin Thomas, 1925-1930. These records document a brief period in Rutgers history and captures major events such as the Duffield Commission's investigation into the relations between the State of New Jersey and Rutgers College as well as the day-to-day demands on a university president. Many of Thomas' speeches and writings are among the documents.

Administrative History and Biographical Sketch of John Martin Thomas

John Martin Thomas was born at Fort Covington, New York, a graduate of Middlebury College, and the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He served as pastor of the Arlington Avenue Presbyterian Church in East Orange, N.J. from 1893 to 1908. In 1908, at the age of thirty-nine, he became president of Middlebury College and served at the Vermont school until 1921, when he became president of the Pennsylvania State College. He left Penn State in 1925 to become president of Rutgers.

By 1925 Rutgers University had shifted its focus to become as leading public educational institution, and its Trustees secured the services of a man who would lead the school in that direction. "The college has accepted a great responsibility in becoming a land-grant college of the State and in permitting the designation of the State University of New Jersey," declared Dr. John Martin Thomas (1869-1952), the twelfth president of Rutgers University.

A former college president, Martin possessed the administrative experience required to assume the leadership of a State University and he embarked upon his duties with characteristic vigor and determination. Dr. Thomas's five-year reign at Rutgers was marked by a period of growth and expansion in student enrollment, academic programs, and physical facilities; it was also a time of increased frustration over relations with the state. In 1925 when he assumed the presidency, Rutgers had 1,343 undergraduates and a total registration of 2,396. By 1930 the undergraduate population had increased to 2,662, and combined enrollment in the University was nearly 17,000 students. In 1925 the University Extension Division was established providing educational service to over 40,000 residents of New Jersey. The following year Dr. Thomas invited the Bureau of Education to conduct an extensive survey of the University and submit a detailed report, which was used to develop long range plans for the institution. As a result of the study, faculty salaries were increased and four-year courses in economics and business administration were added to the curriculum. In January 1927, the New Jersey College of Pharmacy in Newark was incorporated into the University, and in the same year the Bureau of Biochemical and Bacteriology Research was established. By 1930, the University consisted of seven schools and colleges: Arts and Science, Engineering, Agriculture, Education, the New Jersey College for Women, Pharmacy, and Chemistry.

With the growth of new academic programs came new facilities. The Dramatic Arts Building was completed in 1925, and one year later, Hegeman Hall, an addition to the Voorhees Library, and Van Dyck Hall. Construction at the Women's College included Recitation Hall and the Voorhees Chapel in 1926, and the Willets Infirmary and the Music Building in 1928. In 1929 three dormitories --Wessells, Leupp and Pell Halls--were begun on the Bishop Campus.

Throughout his term, Dr. Thomas and the Trustees deliberated over the University's relationship with the State of New Jersey. State appropriations had not amounted to the levels needed to expand the school into a State University, and the problem remained over the dual private-public role of Rutgers. By 1930, numerous attempts to resolve the differences had failed and on September 19, 1930, Dr. Thomas announced his resignation as president of Rutgers University. He had championed the idea of Rutgers becoming a state university but he had become discouraged with the lack of results. Upon his resignation he assumed the vice-presidency of the National Life Insurance Company in Montpelier, Vermont. He later became acting president of Norwich University. The Trustees of Rutgers University named Philip M. Brett, devoted Trustee and a graduate of Rutgers College, Class of 1892, as acting president. On February 26, 1952, John Martin Thomas died, at the age of eighty-two, in Rutland, Vermont.

Arrangement Note

The records of the Rutgers' Office of the President during the administration of John Martin Thomas are organized into the following series:

  1. I: Subject Files, 1920-1931
  2. II: Faculty Files, 1916-1932
  3. III. Applications and Appointments, 1925-1932
  4. IV. Schools and Colleges, 1920-1932
  5. V. Trustees and Trustees' Committee Records, 1925-1931
  6. VI. Duffield Commission, 1928-1929
  7. VII: Articles, 1925-1930
  8. VIII: Remarks, Speeches and Statements, 1916-1930
  9. IX: Newsclippings, 1902-1931
  10. X: Personal Papers, 1911-1930
Inventory to the Records of the Office of the President (John Martin Thomas), 1902-1932 (1925-1930, bulk) RG 04/A12
Edited Full Draft
Kathy Stewart, Christopher O'Hare, and Matthew Brown
September 2004
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.

Part of the Rutgers University Archives Repository

Rutgers University Libraries
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
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