1890s Overview

In the 1880s, English became a department.  And, for the first time, the faculty roster listed Professors of English. In the 1890s, however, when the university was expanding to include graduate and professional schools, the English department seems to have become something of an afterthought.  

In 1892, the Western Pennsylvania Medical College became affiliated with the university, and the medical faculty began to dominate the faculty roster. In 1895, the year of the Law School’s founding, the law faculty likewise added their share. The university first admitted women in 1895. (They were two sisters, Margaret and Stella Stein. Margaret won the Chancellor’s Literature Prize in 1896.) 

During this period of quite dramatic growth and change in the university, the English department suffered from a lack of consistent staffing. There was no Professor of English from 1890 to 1896, when A.S. Hunter was appointed as Professor of English and Ethics. J.P. Stephens, who had been the Instructor in Elocution, left the university in 1892 to teach in the local seminaries. George M. Sleeth returned for a year to teach elocution. Edmund J. Shaw served for three years as an Associate Professor of Latin and English Literature (1890-93). In 1893, E.P. Crane returned for a single year, this time as an Instructor in English Literature. There was no one, not even an Instructor of English, on the faculty roster from 1894 to 1896. 

The curriculum in English remained relatively unchanged, with the exception of the first year, when American literature became the topic for the required literature courses. Throughout the 1890s, the catalogues expressed the multiple commitments of a curriculum in English—to teach rhetoric and writing and an appreciation of literature. In literature, the aim was to “cultivate in the student a taste for the perusal of standard authors, and to teach him to read them intelligently.” In rhetoric courses, the aim was to study “principles of invention, style, and criticism,” as well as “laws of effective discourse.”

Students began their coursework by studying both rhetoric and 19th century American authors. As upperclassmen, work turned first to English authors and “English poetical literature,” then to the history of the English language; in their final year, students worked on the history of the English language and 17th and 18th century essayists.  Reading lists mention Longfellow, Hawthorne, Whittier, Bryant, Irving, Goldsmith, Scott, Tennyson, Macauley, Lounsbury’s History of the English Language, Bain’s English Composition and Rhetoric, Garnett’s English Prose from Elizabeth to Victoria, Minto’s Manual of English Prose Literature, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Gray, Burns, Wordsworth, Mathew Arnold, Browning, Keats, and Coleridge. The university continued to support the Chancellor’s prize in literature.   Prizes were awarded throughout this time period to the senior with the best declamation of an original essay.