1910s Overview

Student Army Training Corps, May 1918, in front of State Hall

The second decade of the 20th century was a period of growth in the English department. The faculty grew in size, including a substantial addition of non-professorial faculty (Instructors). Alexander Stuart Hunter continued to serve as a “Special Lecturer” in English literature. He is clearly an important figure in the department and on campus, serving on key committees in the College. But the identity of the department was shaped by Lincoln Robinson Gibbs, who joined the faculty as English department chair in 1910. He led the department through a decade that included the hiring of three Assistant Professors, two in English and one in Public Speaking, and the first woman to join the English department faculty roster, Sarah Agnes Neeld, who taught as in Instructor from 1918-1920. In 1915, the programs of study in the College, including English, began to be called “majors.”

Toward the end of the decade, the faculty roster includes a list of colleagues who are on leave to serve the war effort.  In 1918, the University of Pittsburgh Campus became a home to the Student Army Training Corps, an early version of ROTC. Faculty members of draft age were asked to serve as teachers, and this conscripted faculty included John K. Miller, an Assistant Professor of English, and Edwin B. Burgum and Jonathan L. Zerbe, both Instructors of English. During the war years, fewer English courses were added to the curriculum and the number of electives was reduced. But the curriculum added courses designed to celebrate a distinctively American (rather than European) literary heritage. 

Over the full scope of the decade, however, the list of course offerings continued to grow, continuing a pattern begun in the 1900s. According to the Chancellor’s report for 1912, approximately 700 students took English courses for the year. In 1919, it was reported that 1300 students received instruction in English.  

Creative Writing entered the English curriculum for the first time in 1910, when George Gerwig (a Lecturer in the Extension Division and a recent Pitt PhD) taught an extension course in “The Art of the Short Story.” In 1912, this became “Materials and Methods of Fiction.” In 1914, Professor Gibbs, the department chair, taught a course in “Short Story Writing” and this became a standard offering. Journalism also entered the curriculum, although by way of the School of Economics. At the beginning of the decade, and apparently with the approval (if not the urging) of Chancellor McCormick, the School of Economics began to announce a course to provide training in business journalism.  

By 1912, an Instructor had been hired (Thomas Reynolds Williams) for the newly formed Department of Journalism in the School of Economics and a broad training in journalism was provided for a growing contingent of students. Most of the courses were taught by journalists in the city. In 1914, Charles Arnold was to direct the Journalism department through the remainder of the decade, to serve as faculty adviser for Student Publications (including the new student newspaper, The Pitt Weekly), and to become the Director of Publicity for the University. Arnold also taught sections of English Composition. This course, for all instructors, began to feature regular exercises focusing on “selections from current issues of the Atlantic Monthly.

The MA program in the English department was established during this decade, with about one MA student graduating each year. There were no PhD graduates. By 1913, the Graduate School at the College had become an independent administrative unit. Courses offered to graduate students in the English department included Old English; Elizabethan Drama; Victorian Literature; Revolutionary Period of English Literature (the Romantics); History of the English Novel; Pre-Shakespearean Drama; Ruskin; Carlyle; Emerson; Shakespeare; Chaucer; and Literary Criticism. 

Newly added undergraduate courses included National Ideals in American Literature; American Literature since 1870; Colonial Literature (American); The Eighteenth Century; Contemporary Dramatists; Recent English Poets; George Meredith and the Comic Spirit; Literary Criticism; The Art of Theatre; Drama as Pedagogical Dynamic and The Pedagogy of English—the last two courses reflecting the department’s commitment to working in cooperation with the School of Education.