Previous installments: Prologue/Scene 1 — Scene 2
1853 to c. 1921: Antioch College’s first 75 years are marked with great aspirations and numbing fiscal realities. Famed educator Horace Mann is appointed first president. He sets high standards for both academics and morals, but labors under terrible financial problems and dies in office. The college survives bankruptcy and three suspensions before Arthur Morgan is named president. By introducing work and study into the curriculum and fostering a climate of invention on campus, he ultimately revitalizes the sagging institution.
Horace enters with a replica of main building.
Horace: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to Cabaret House. My name is Horace Mann, and I’m going to be your host for the evening. Welcome to—History as satire. Significant events as theatrical folderol. Actors as teachers, or is it teachers as actors? I never get that right. Adversity as pratfalls. Due process as comedy act. Education as…education as…well, as experience, or is it experience as education? I never get that right either! And so, ladies and gentlemen, gentlemen and ladies…without further ado, we give you…Mr. Antiochiana and the Antiochians to perform for you: the First Hundred and Fifty Years of Antioch!!!
Mr. Antiochiana: Thank you, Horace. It’s great to be here. What year is it?
Mr. Antiochiana: I can’t hear you! What year is it?
Mr. Antiochiana: Getting there, but you could be louder!
Mr. Antiochiana: Now that’s more like it!
The Storytellers count down all the years in a rhythmic dance/movement patter while the historian scrambles to get in all the facts à la the ‘Selective, Perhaps Irreverent View of Antioch College’. The Historian tries to say as much of this history as he can fit in the time frame of the 150-year countdown. He adlibs and skips ahead as needed. By the end the Historian and the Storytellers are exhausted.
Mr. Antiochiana: It was in October 1853 that this man, my hero, the great orator and reformer Horace Mann, delivered a marathon inaugural address of 27,000 words…two hours he spoke, and 3,000 people showed up to hear him speak, twice the entire population of the village at the time! Why the big crowd? We’re talking 1853, here, what else was there to do? The speech was said to have enough inspiration to make a college flourish in the Sahara, but this college needed more than inspiration. Antioch needed cash. The founders (the Christian Church, let’s just call ‘em the Christians) had failed to raise an endowment, and what money they did contribute was eaten up by the construction costs of a campus twice the size they needed. So Antioch opened in debt, but there was plenty of the aforementioned inspiration. Horace set such high standards for admission that only 13 people passed the entrance exam! He held students to a strict code of conduct…no drinking, no smoking, no swearing, no card playing, no girls, no boys, no nothing…who’d want to go to that school? So there was aspiration to go with the inspiration but no money. Not even enough to pay the faculty. Horace went two years without his salary. He went on the lecture tour and put his fees in the till, but the debt got worse. Turned out some of the founders didn’t like this guy anyhow…seems they always wanted a seminary…and Mann proposed teaching Antioch students about all religions…what’s his problem?! So they tried to get him fired. Except that a financial crisis intervened, the college closed, and the plot fell apart. So Horace kept his job but the college? Well, it reopened, but not for long because within a year it closed again, and this time the whole megilla went to the auction block, but since there was only one bidder, Horace got his college back. So in 1859 he told the graduating class to be ashamed to die, and then he died.
1881 already? The college closed again in 1881. There were no graduates in the class of 1880…we had commencement anyhow…force of habit, I guess. But I failed to mention that we closed in 1863 (see, there was a Civil War on) and finally got an endowment in 1865 thanks to the Unitarians who took over for a while and about when our baseball team lost to the Cincinnati Reds 41-7…ouch! Where were we? Oh yes, we were closed. The Christians came back and reopened the college on a shoestring: their new president lasted three months, but Daniel Long came along to be president for 16 years…longer than anyone else. A historian once called those days “the lean period”…compared to what? OK, maybe he was right…no one’s asked the faculty to pay the printing bill from the catalog in exchange for free access to college woodpile recently. Yes, times were hard, but there was always inspiration. Simeon Fess came along, now he had inspiration—the Saturday Evening Post called him the man who put the fess in professor—his annual summer Chautauquas drew 25,000 people a time or two, but not many students. During WWI Antioch needed an Army training unit on campus just to stay open. Then it closed…again. In 1919 the YMCA offered to buy the whole shootin’ match, and the Board said ‘here, take it,’ without seeing a dime. It turned out the Y didn’t have any money either though, so we got our college back…again. Then Arthur Morgan was made president and he saved the school by introducing an alternating plan of work and…
An Alum comes from out of the audience.
Mr. Antiochiana: …yes? Who are you?
Alum: Excuse me?
Mr. Antiochiana: Yes.
Alum: Can I just say something? I’m an alum, from the class of ’67, here for the reunion, and I just want to remind us to accentuate the positive.
Mr. Antiochiana: Of course!
Alum: There’s a lot that has happened that’s positive, you know. Antioch has been an innovator from day one. We had the first woman professor. We admitted African-American students from the beginning. And how about Co-operative Education? The SOPP? Antioch Education Abroad. Activism. Idealism. Optimism. Hope. Hope for the future. Why, if I hadn’t gone to Antioch, I don’t think I would have been who I am today. It was life-changing. I can’t imagine going to any other school.
Mr. Antiochiana: That’s what most people who go here say. It is a very positive place.
Alum: So why didn’t you talk about it? Everything you said is so negative. Debt. Near bankruptcy. Lack of students…
Mr. Antiochiana: I’m an Antiochian. I never talk about the positive. Besides, history tends to repeat itself.
Alum: Well, I know, I mean, I’m not naïve. Antioch has always had a lot of financial…well, its finances haven’t been…Financially it’s a little…
Mr. Antiochiana: You can say that again!
Horace: There it is, folks, democracy at work right before your very eyes! We can agree to not agree. That’s the American way. Or is it not agree to agree. I always mix that up. But as a matter of fact, I think you’re going to love this next act. Talk about accentuating the positive!!! Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you, the Antioch Cheering Squad!
The Antioch Cheerleaders enter. They are a motley, but energetic crew from different eras.
We are the Antioch infidels
We save the world and raise some hell
We fight for justice and equality
And win our victory for humanity!
We are the Antioch infidels
We’re really smart, and we kind of smell
Listen to our insightful yell
While our name for you we do spell…
A is for Acceptance…
N is for…Never Enough
T is for Total Education
I is for…International? Integration? Inspiring?
O is for…Over the top
C is for…Community
H is for…Horace Horace
Horace Mann, he’s the man
He was our first presi-dant
Horace Mann, he’s the one
The guy who got it all begun…….Yeah, Horace!
The cheerleaders surround Horace, and he swoons.
Horace: Oh, my dreams for the college! My dreams for the college! Everybody! It’s time for a dance!