1900s Overview

Faculty and students at the 1909 graduation ceremony.

The Chancellor’s report of 1900 laments the overshadowing of the “Collegiate Department” by Engineering and by the other professional departments within the University. And he laments the city’s general abandonment of the arts and culture. “Unfortunately the whole drift and trend of thought in Pittsburgh, until within recent years, has been pervaded by a spirit of hopelessness, so far as the promotion of genuine culture is concerned.” He recommends more funding and attention be given to the study of literature and the arts. A generation of readers, he remarks, has been created by the Carnegie libraries, and the university must do its best to meet this generation’s needs.

Through the next several years, the Chancellor’s reports echo this call for more resources—repeatedly talking about the necessity of increasing faculty in the collegiate ranks and library holdings. The library, for instance, lacked complete collections of standard authors’ works. By 1908, however—the year, incidentally, that the institution became the University of Pittsburgh—the Chancellor saw fit to report that “English is rapidly coming to its rightful place as a subject of first importance.” In 1906, the course offerings had increased, allowing, among other things, engineers to take courses geared to their needs and schedules, but also offering a substantially expanded curriculum for majors and for all students in the collegiate curriculum. In 1907, students could elect a major area of study (although the word “major” was not used), including English.

In 1893, the university first announced the availability of post-graduate degrees, including a PhD in English Language and Literature. The first students in this program, Thomas Blaisdell and George Gerwig, received their degrees in 1904. Most of the graduate students in English were teachers in the area schools. To meet their schedules, beginning in 1906 courses were offered on evenings and Saturdays.

By 1908, there were two professors giving their full attention to the English department, Alexander Stuart Hunter, who had joined the faculty in 1895, and Alexander Wellington Crawford, who joined the faculty in 1907 as an Instructor and who was promoted to Professor in 1908. They were assisted by a single assistant or instructor. As class size increased, there was a call for a third professorship. Again, the Chancellor’s report suggests that English was “rapidly coming to its rightful place as a subject of first importance.” In 1909, the English department began to work in cooperation with the School of Education to develop courses on the teaching of literature and composition.