Charles C. Carpenter

Charles C. Carpenter

“Carpenter, I like the way you open your jaws’ – a KUA teacher commented during his Rhetoric class more than eighty years ago.”  – Ethel Page Duncklee, class of 1905, The Kimball Union, June 1937

This unusual observation of Cyrus Baldwin’s was found in a letter to Charles Carpenter’s parents at home in Bernardston, MA. Carpenter was unable to graduate with his class in 1855 or enter college due to ill health. Instead, he took a “health excursion” to Labrador, where, for seven years, he was a missionary along its coast under the Canadian Foreign Missionary Society and later, ordained in Montreal in 1860. He served in the Civil War under the Christian Commission, a service developed by the YMCA to support soldiers in camp before battle. Carpenter served as Superintendent of the Lookout Mountain Education Institute in Tennessee (1862-72) and then as a pastor in Peabody, MA, and Mt. Vernon, NH. He received honorary degrees from Hamilton College (1869) and Dartmouth College (1887). In 1908, Carpenter retired from the editorial staff of The Boston Congregationalist and came to KUA for a visit that coincided with an endowment campaign. As his home was in Andover, MA,  he enjoyed attending debates and prize speaking at Phillips Academy Andover and was inspired, while here, to make a gift to the English Department. After much discussion, he donated $1000 to endow an annual declamation contest with four prizes: two for $6 and two for $4. This contest, known as the C.C. Carpenter Declamation Contest, continued through 1950.

Duncklee wrote, “This period just before the Civil War when Carpenter came to K.U.A. might be called ‘The Golden Age’ of the Academy. … ” She explained her purpose in writing was to make the man behind KUA’s annual contest real to students in 1937; in this effort, she shared his 1855 letter home.

My Dear Parents,

‘Tis a terrible windy night; of all the windy places I ever saw, Meriden Hill takes the precedence. Our mansion is near the apex, and receives the hyperborean blast unmercifully. I have got a roaring fire in my fire-box, and a lot of hard wood in my wood box, and guess I shall stand it through. The great fall of snow, which occurred a few days ago, nearly all disappeared under a most terribly windy thaw of last Monday. It rained – it poured – it blew – it roared. We now have semi ice, semi bare ground, and if there is any snow, not yet solidified, this wind will carry it to the “ends of the arth.”

I am getting along well with my studies – commenced Cicero today. Shall recite in that to Mr. Baldwin, who is a very critical scholar, and perhaps the best reader of Cicero in the United States. He is a man of great wit and keenness, and we expect some fun in the class. I am also in his division of Rhetoric. His Rhetorical criticisms are very singular and very deep. When I spoke the first time, he eyed me, after I got off the stage, a moment, and said, in his very peculiar manner, “Carpenter – I like the way you open your jaws!”

In Greek, I am progressing finely. I admire the beauty and accuracy of the Greek language, and ardently aspire to a sufficient knowledge of it to read the Testament in the original. Prof. Crosby calls the Greek ‘the language which has been the most celebrated of all for beauty and perfection of structure’ ….

This is none too high eulogy and I shall be richly repaid for all my toil and labor in securing the language. I shall be able to read the Sermon on the Mount or Paul’s speech on Mass. Hill. And I congratulate myself on being under such a distinguished Greek teacher as Mr. Richards [Principal]; he has taught for twenty-five years.

My health is good; better than I expected. I have good air, and, I assure you, abundance of it, live plain and abstemious. On the point of living, have not decided where to board next term. Stebbins and I think some of boarding ourselves, as we both wish, when we are studying, to live coarse and plain. We are not decided whether we shall do this, or with two others, have a small “club” where we now board. Mrs. Wells does not wish to take a large club. Shall probably have to pay about $1.50 this winter – don’t know yet. Have paid my tuition – $4.00.

Your comments on the discipline case are sensible and true. I guess every Senior is heartily glad now that he conceded. There is one plain fact always proved, sooner or later, that the President of the College or the Principal or the Academy is always on the right side, however different the excited student may think. The discipline is not an iota too strict here. The “drill” is half the benefit of collegiate education. – We are having another little breeze now. A certain Senior wishes to ride out with a lady-friend who came here. He asked permission of Mr. Richards and was refused. He rode. Next morning, he came up and coolly told Mr. R. where he had been. An hour afterwards, at prayers, he was suspended; he is quite obstinate and “stuffy” – I don’t know what will be done with him. He will probably be expelled. The government of the school, I call a limited monarchy. Mr. R. has almost autocratical power but he cannot expel a student, without the consent of the trustees or of a committee of them. He is a ‘terror to evil doers, but a praise to them that do well.’

Our class are to present on Monday eve, next, a silver basket, as a gift to Mr. Rowe, our late teacher in Latin. I am one of the committee on it.

Affectionately, your son,
Charlie C. Carpenter