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Hollis Godfrey and Drexel's Design

April 12, 2011

This essay is the second in a series about Drexel presidents

Hollis Godfrey and Drexel's Design By Martha Cornog

Although he authored a science fiction novel titled The Man Who Ended War, Hollis Godfrey did not inspire peace after taking over as the second president of the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry. While the expertise of predecessor James McAlister came through experience with administering secondary school systems, Godfrey's background was all very much higher education: two doctoral degrees in science and engineering, two in law, and a position on the faculty of MIT. MacAlister's legacy, a collective of self-run departments granting no degrees, struck Godfrey as likely to hold Drexel back from its full potential.

The Drexel name should become positioned as a respected source of technical education as the new century unfolded, and as an institution to be reckoned with.1 Accordingly, Godfrey set immediately to reorganize the departments and faculty, and to push for degree-granting status. Of the original eighteen departments, he trimmed them down to eight departments within three schools: the School of Engineering, the School of Domestic Science and Arts, and the Secretarial School. This last later became the School of Business Administration. However, the Library School and the Architectural Department ended up on the cutting room floor. Simultaneously, Godfrey began pushing the faculty towards getting additional training, funding their coursework at nearby universities and bringing in guest speakers. 'If a general faculty atmosphere existed in which the flame [of learning] burned low, the students - affected perhaps even against their wills - would tend to go to sleep,' Godfrey wrote. 'One of the most serious difficulties that confronts all teachers is exclusive contact with immature minds; it is so easy for the teacher to gain a feeling of superiority.... The Institute, therefore, strongly urges its faculty to keep up contacts with mature minds...[to become aware] of how many people there are who know more than they.'2Not surprisingly, many of the faculty and alumni had grown used to the status quo state of affairs, and set up quite a clamor. An 1899 graduate of the Architectural Department wrote Godfrey a six-page letter of complaint, beginning thusly:

Learning with some alarm that the abandonment of the Architectural Department is contemplated, ... I believe that Mr. Drexel's intent was an Institute first of Art, second of Science and third of Industry....The abandonment of [the Art] Department was a move toward the downfall of a noble Institution, and now if the Department of Architecture should be abandoned, and all your efforts devoted to the magnification of 'Science' without 'Art', it does not seem that the founder's intentions will be fulfilled.3

Godfrey held firm, however, and had the sense to increase faculty salaries. The raise was long overdue and probably sweetened the tempers of some of his critics. Godfrey's proposal to morph the institute into a degree-granting institution likewise set off protests among administrators and supporters who were comfortable with the earlier concept of Drexel being a sort of half-way house between high school and university. They saw Drexel as having created its own niche and was filling it effectively, thank you. But Godfrey saw Drexel's potential for the big leagues. Why couldn't a university fulfill Anthony J. Drexel's purpose of technical education at the highest levels as well as enabling workers to receive additional technical training? The night school could handle the lower educational levels on a no-degree basis quite effectively. Meanwhile, the day school petitioned to grant four-year BS degrees in three disciplines as well as two-year course programs leading to certification. Yet the notion of education between high school and university led Godfrey into a third innovation: coop education. A predecessor program for a post-World-War-I cooperative arrangement with industry began through recruiting corporations who wanted to sponsor promising employees and enroll them at Drexel for limited coursework.4 Benefits for Drexel: more students during a time when enrollments had declined due to the constricted economy following World War I. Benefits for the corporation: better trained and better qualified personnel. Benefits for the workers: additional training at low or no cost to them personally and a raise at completion of training.

These courses are intended in general to answer through industrial education based on organized training and experience these two of the most vital questions before all of us today in this difficult and changing Reconstruction Period: How to keep the best of what we have gain so far; [and] How to make the best of the months to come.... They are planned to give the Institute an opportunity to carry out its founder's purpose of education for the better earning of livelihood in its student body and the production of sane citizens.5

Sanity would have seemed a quality worth cultivating in the wake of wartime chaos: disrupted daily life at home as well as unpredictable battlefield trauma. The Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company, predecessor to SEPTA, was among the earlier businesses arranging co-op education for selected employees. A four-year plan of cooperative education for regular Drexel students began for the School of Engineering in 1919. It is said that Godfrey found Drexel a school of departments and left it a college of schools. It was not to become a university of colleges until many years later.6 As for The Man Who Ended War, Godfrey's 1908 novel appeared before he became Drexel president. This ingenious story featuring futuristic weaponry attracted enough notice that Godfrey was invited to help put together the U.S. Council of National Defense, an organization formed to coordinate resources and industry during World War I. Perhaps his military work, happening simultaneous with his early Drexel Institute career, led Godfrey to show little patience with departments and faculty bivouacking off in their own little camps, as he probably saw it, rather than uniting for the greater good of the Drexel Institute.  


1. Much of this essay is based upon information found in 'Hollis Godfrey,' Chapter 4 in Edward D. McDonald & Edward M. Hinton, Drexel Institute of Technology 1891-1941: A Memorial History, Philadelphia: Drexel Institute of Technology, 1942, pp. 54-69.

2. Hollis Godfrey, 'Student and Faculty Activities in a City Technical School,' 1916? pp. 4, 6. Hollis Godfrey Administration Records, Drexel University Archives.

3. Clarence Wilson Brazer, letter to Hollis Godfrey, 10/28/14. Hollis Godfrey Administration Records, Drexel University Archives.

4. Hollis Godfrey, Management Education, Drexel Institute, 1920. Hollis Godfrey Administration Records, Drexel University Archives.

5. Hollis Godfrey, 'The Drexel Institute 100 Hour Cooperative Industrial Reconstruction Courses,' n.d., p. 1. Hollis Godfrey Administration Records, Drexel University Archives.

6. McDonald & Hinton, p. 69. It was under William W. Hagerty, Drexel president from 1963 to 1984, that Drexel became a university of colleges.

Martha Cornog obtained her MLS from Drexel in 1971. She is currently the Graphic Novel Columnist for Library Journal. Together with her husband Timothy Perper, she co-edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Issues and Insights for Libraries (2009) as well as the forthcoming Mangatopia (2011).

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