William Jennings Bryan - Vol. 1

By Paolo E. Coletta | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2

College Days

I

THE DEPRESSION beginning in 1873 sadly depleted the income from the Bryan farm, but Judge Bryan was determined to keep a promise he had made to himself to obtain the best education available for his six children. His dream of sending William to an Eastern college and then to Oxford having dissolved because of financial stringency, he accepted the offer of a cousin, Dr. Hiram Jones, to look after William as long as he attended Whipple Academy and Illinois College. Thereupon William went to Jacksonville, Illinois, and enrolled at the academy as a "middler," that is, one who had finished only two years of high school. His instructors at first saw nothing to differentiate him from other students, mostly farm boys from the surrounding area. Bryan's geology teacher, Dr. Henry E. Storrs, is best remembered for saying later in his life that it was not he who taught Bryan that man descended from a monkey. 1

The change from home to academy and college life was made easy for Bryan by Dr. and Mrs. Jones. Jones practiced medicine but also offered courses in the college in medicine and philosophy. Among his friends were Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and William T. Harris, and in his home Bryan heard much about Plato, Hegel, and evolution, the last then a hotly debated issue. There is no evidence that Dr. Jones's philosophical beliefs influenced Bryan in any way; in fact they were wholly incompatible with fundamentalism. 2 He acted as a foster father to Bryan while Mrs. Jones, whom Bryan called Cousin Lizzie, furnished him with comforts and helped him with his school work.

____________________
1
George R. Poage, "College Career of William Jennings Bryan," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 15 (September 1928), 168, 173. See also, for descriptions of Illinois College in Bryan's day, Charles H. Rammelkamp, Illinois College: A Centennial History, 1829-1929, and Julian M. Sturtevant, Jr. (ed.), Julian Monson Sturtevant: An Autobiography (New York, 1896).
2
Paul Russell Anderson, "Hiram K. Jones and Philosophy at Jacksonville," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 33 (March-December 1940), 478-520.

-9-

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