By Paul K. Carberry '81, Alumni Association Board of Directors.
The history of the Alumni Association of Franklin & Marshall College is just as distinguished as that of the college itself. F&M is almost 220 years old – it is the 13th oldest college in the country – while the institution’s alumni have been organized for more than 160 years. The Alumni Association traces its roots to September 26, 1840, when graduates of Marshall College first organized themselves. While the early history of formal alumni associations is generally sketchy, it appears that the F&M alumni association is one of the 10 oldest in the country.
The founders of this first Alumni Association elected A.S. Young president pro tem and G.V. Willard secretary pro tem. The next year, the fledgling association adopted a constitution and began to hold annual meetings. Neither this first constitution nor any mission statement survives from the original association. But like most alumni organizations of that era, it served mainly as an intellectual society for the graduates, who each year designated one of their members "Orator" and listened to his remarks on some current issue or philosophical problem at the annual meeting.
As the college evolved, so did the association. Following the merger of Franklin College and Marshall College that created the modern F&M in 1853, members of the original Marshall association enthusiastically pledged themselves to the new institution. Two hundred graduates of Marshall College attended the first F&M commencement, along with representatives of every class. New officers of a combined association were elected, and the following statement of loyalty adopted:
"Resolved, that the Alumni Association of Marshall College expresses in public their entire and hearty concurrence on the consolidation that has taken place between their College and Franklin College."
Over the next several decades the new alumni association maintained the activities of a typical group of that era, meeting annually and designating an orator. In 1866, the association asked the Board of Trustees to add one day to the ceremonies of commencement week to be devoted "exclusively to the interest and exercises of Alumni." Less than 10 years later, in 1874, the association had incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with an expanded mission: "to promote intercourse and friendship among the alumni and Marshall College and Franklin and Marshall College and to advance the interests of liberal education." Regional chapters were now formed, beginning in 1887 in Philadelphia, followed by the Southern Association (in Maryland) in 1890, the Lancaster chapter in 1894, and the Eastern Association (in Reading) in 1900.
In the first decades of the 20th century, the association grew in size and in its ambitions. By 1937, 17 chapters existed across the country, including in New York City, Baltimore, Washington DC, and as far west as Cleveland and Chicago. The association also claimed an enhanced mission: "to keep alive the sentiment of affection of the alumni for their alma mater, and to unite the graduates of the successive years in common ties of fellowship… sustaining and giving expression to the interest the alumni have in the welfare of the college."
Over the course of its 165 year history, 105 individuals have served as president of the Alumni Association. The first woman president was Elizabeth Mackey ’75, who assumed office in 1982, 13 years after the college became coed. In 1982, the Association received a $10,000 gift from Andrew Rouse ’49 that established a separate endowment and operating budget. Thanks to additional contributions combined with prudent management, the Association’s endowment now totals more than $1 million.
On the occasion of its 20th reunion in 1924, the Class of 1904 presented the college with a ceremonial torch, principally for use at commencement. The members of the class hoped to create a new tradition in which the torch would be ceremonially handed from the oldest alumnus present to the winner of the Williamson Medal, who represented the graduates. This literal and symbolic “passing of the torch” was intended to welcome the newest graduates into the ranks of alumni.
For more than 75 years this tradition was a centerpiece of commencement. Unfortunately, the torch disappeared during the 2000 ceremony and has never been found. The
Alumni Association, with the help of the Class of 2004 (in a fitting tribute to its predecessors of a century before), commissioned the creation of a new torch that is an exact replica of the original. This tradition has now been renewed.
Today the Franklin & Marshall Alumni Association boasts chapters around the country and hosts activities around the world. It serves the nearly 25,000 living alumni who reside around the world, hold leadership positions in virtually every profession, and who enjoy the ongoing programs of the College. Its chief mission is to “advance the welfare of the College and its alumni by engaging alumni in the life of their alma mater; fostering and strengthening the connections between and among alumni, students, and the rest of the college community; and inspiring in alumni and students a life-long sense of loyalty toward, pride in, and support of the College.” Affiliated groups include the African American Alumni Council, the Greek Alumni Council, the Diplomat Athletic Club and the Benjamin Rush Society.
The Alumni Association is not just concerned with the needs of alumni, but has long worked to enhance the experience of current students. The Board of Directors of the Alumni Association supports two scholarships, and hosts a dinner each commencement weekend for graduates – the college’s newest alumni. In recent years, the Board has made important financial contributions from the association’s resources to key strategic initiatives. These include a gift of $125,000 to support the renovation of Distler Hall, and in 2006 a $25,000 gift to the campaign for the Barshinger Life Sciences and Philosophy building.