By Lorrie Kyle Ramey ’70
“Rollins is evidently an institution of both achievement and promise.”
—Hamilton Holt, October 23, 1925
Hamilton Holt was a graduate of Yale. He had taken postgraduate courses at Columbia and held numerous honorary degrees. He was, by profession, a journalist. He had edited and owned the Independent, a weekly magazine. He was, by nature, a man who believed in the possibility of peace. He was founder of the League to Enforce Peace, a member of the Executive Committee of the League of Nations Non-Partisan Association, and executive director of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. He had been decorated by six nations and had been called “one of the country’s great practical idealists.”
To Rollins students, he was “Prexy.”
Prexy introduced his vision of Rollins in a speech to alumni in October 1925. He wanted an ideal campus with an ideal faculty and ideal equipment—and a student body of no more than 700. In 1926, the board of trustees agreed with the new president and adopted a four-point plan: enrollment was not to exceed 400 men and 300 women, talented faculty were to be courted, the campus was to be developed in Mediterranean style, and Rollins was to affirm “the highest standards of life and work.”
The Two-Hour Conference Plan, for which Rollins was to become so well known, was inaugurated in the Fall Term of 1926 for a five-year test period. Rather than conventional one-hour lecture classes, students and professors participated in two-hour conference-and-study periods. Both compulsory attendance and permissible cuts were abolished. All class work was to be completed during the two-hour periods, and the remainder of the student’s day was devoted to the afternoon’s physical exercise period and extracurricular activities. Evenings offered abundant cultural events, and Prexy made sure there was a constant parade of notables for Rollins students to hear, and to bring publicity to Rollins.
The event which focused the most attention on Rollins was surely the Animated Magazine—“the only magazine in the world that comes to life.” Begun in 1926, the Animated Magazine drew as many as 8,000 to the campus to hear speakers such as Rex Beach, U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams, author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, Time and Life editor Henry R. Luce, Admiral Richard E. Byrd, Dale Carnegie, New York Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, Carl Sandburg, playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, Justice William O. Douglas, General Jonathan M. Wainwright, Mary McLeod Bethune, Edward R. Murrow, and Archduke Otto of Austria and Hungary. The only “ad” in the magazine was an invitation to contribute to Rollins’ library fund.
In January 1931, Rollins hosted a Curriculum Conference, with education heavyweight John Dewey as chairman. The resulting recommendations were implemented by Rollins in the fall of 1931. The “New Curriculum,” plus the existing Conference Plan, combined to form the concept of “Individualization in Education.”
Under the New Curriculum, class designations disappeared and students became members of either the Lower Division or the Upper Division. Admission to the Upper Division was granted by a special board, as was permission to be graduated from the Upper Division. The student passing from the Lower Division to the Upper Division passed from generalization to specialization. The student was evaluated on his achievement, not grades.
The key element in Holt’s educational program was the relationship between student and teacher. In his 1925 speech to the alumni, President Holt had declared, “It is the professors ... who make a college great.” And President Holt proceeded to bring exceptional professors—often called Rollins’ “Golden Personalities”—to the College. “Like a collector of gems searching for precious stones, he has gone out after teachers” (The Tomokan, 1927-1928).
The road to the ideal college was not always smooth, however. Students had voted in favor of the Conference Plan three to one, but they expressed concern about retention of the lecture format by some professors and the need for completing additional work outside the class. They also complained that tests had only seemed to disappear: “they occasionally rear their ugly heads ... not too well disguised as ‘quizzes’” (The Tomokan, 1938). The students weren’t the only ones with complaints. In 1933, one of the faculty fell short of the Rollins ideal. The resulting dismissal generated a bout of accusations and counter-accusations between the College and the A.A.U.P.
Yet another innovation was introduced by Rollins in 1933, when the “Unit-Cost Plan” was announced. Rather than paying an artificially determined amount for tuition, room, and board, students were asked to pay the actual cost of their expenses at Rollins: $1,350. The endowment was thus freed from supporting the day-to-day expenses of the College, and students who genuinely could not pay the full amount were given scholarships from the endowment income.
True to his word, Hamilton Holt did look throughout Florida for “the most beautiful buildings of the Mediterranean type,” and he hired Coral Gables architect Richard Kiehnel to design the Rollins campus. Kiehnel’s master plan divided the campus into four quadrangles. The center of attraction—and the campus—was a carillon tower. As funds became available, Rollins began adopting the plan piece by piece.
Lyman Gymnasium had already been converted into a classroom building and Recreation Hall was built to take its place. The first building of the “New Rollins” was Rollins Hall, begun in 1929. Shortly after that dormitory’s dedication in 1930, President Holt announced the gifts of Cornelius Pugsley and an anonymous donor for the construction of two women’s dormitories. Pugsley and Mayflower Halls were dedicated in 1931. Mayflower Hall received its name from the Pilgrim ship. The Society of Friends at Chalfont St. Giles, Buckinghamshire, gave Rollins a 16-inch section of beam from the ship, which, it had been discovered, had been salvaged to build a haybarn in England. The block of wood was placed above the fireplace in Mayflower Hall.
Following the construction of the two new dormitories came the news that Mrs. Frances Knowles Warren, daughter of one of Rollins’ original benefactors, Francis Knowles, had given funds for a chapel in memory of her father. Less than a month later, Mrs. Edward W. Bok presented $100,000 for the construction of a theater in honor of her friend the actress Annie Russell. The Knowles Memorial Chapel and the Annie Russell Theatre were dedicated together on March 29, 1932.
Hamilton Holt commented that just as Rollins had earned recognition for “what we have done to humanize education,” the presence of the Chapel was “a wonderful opportunity to vitalize religion.” The students accepted the challenge and became responsible for all aspects of the Chapel services.
The Annie Russell Theatre was home to two artistic series: the Rollins Student Company and the Professional Artists’ Series, which included the Annie Russell Company, an honor group directed by Miss Russell. The Laboratory Theatre continued to perform in Recreation Hall until 1939, when proceeds from a statewide tour of Fred Stone and a student company in Lightnin’ funded the creation of the Fred Stone Laboratory Theatre.
The campus underwent its next burst of building activity in 1936, when Public Works Administration loans permitted the construction of five new dormitories. Joint ceremonies in 1937 dedicated Fox Hall (named for Caroline A. Fox, a Rollins donor), Gale Hall (named for Sullivan French Gale, one of the first trustees), Cross Hall, Hooker Hall, and Lyman Hall.
Fall Term 1939 saw Rollins’ first experiment with Integrated Courses. Each student took courses designed to integrate the various disciplines: “that which would lead the student to a well balanced understanding of the nature of the physical world, ... and an integrated understanding of the social and cultural world” (Annual Catalogue, 1940). Just as students had had a choice between the Old Plan and the New Plan in 1931, students could select the Integrated Courses or the Achievement Plan (a.k.a. New Curriculum).
The plans to build a Student Union—some argued for a more suitable (romantic?) name—were finally realized in 1941. The students had worked for several years to raise money and, with the help of Mrs. Frances Knowles Warren, the “Student House” and its companion “Alumni House” were completed.
When the U.S. entered World War II, Rollins revamped its curriculum again. Two-hour classes were reduced to one hour; courses were justified on the basis of academic content and contemporary value. A Summer Term was added in 1943 to help reduce the amount of time needed for graduation. The Army STAR Unit arrived for refresher courses at Rollins in 1943 and stayed until the spring of 1944. They were billeted in the then-empty men’s dorms. After the STAR Unit moved, the Department of Intelligence School of Applied Tactics moved in.
As well as losing male students, Rollins lost male faculty members. To fill the gaps, the College called upon retired professors and asked the remaining faculty to teach extra courses. When the War was over and the men returned to Rollins, the College couldn’t handle the influx. Men were housed in the Park Avenue hotel, the Conservatory, the Fred Stone Theatre, the field house, and Prexy’s garage. Rollins launched a $575,000 “V-E” Victory-Expansion campaign. The results: Frances Knowles Warren Hall (the “Ad Building”); Corrin Hall, given by Mrs. Henry Alvah Strong in honor of her son, Corrin; and Orlando Hall, a tribute to the generosity of Orlando citizens. (Mrs. Strong had also presented Strong Hall, in honor of her husband, in 1939.)
When Hamilton Holt left Rollins, nearly 25 years after he became president, he left the College tangibly richer. His achievements included a larger student body, a prestigious faculty, plus 27 more buildings. But when Hamilton Holt left, he also left the College with perhaps its greatest gift: its personality. On Prexy’s departure, The Sandspur remarked on Rollins’ spirit, “a spirit of cooperation, of informality, that made student and professor ‘learners of life’ together.”