The Great Crockery Riot

While researching Carlisle Indian School students who enrolled at Dickinson College, I stumbled across a small item that was put on the wire and printed across the country in late May of 1912:

CARLISLE, Pa. –Dickinson College students stoned the house of the dean because they thought the annual per capita tax of $1.95 for “breakage” was too high.

Being easily distracted, this curious item aroused my interest and I did a little research. It seems that in those days crockery breakage was significant. It is not known if students were merely clumsy or had hurled cups, saucers, plates or soup bowls at one another on purpose. Regardless, the total cost of replacing the smashed crockery was substantial. So, near the end of the school year, the total amount of this breakage was computed and divided by the number of male students enrolled at the college. Each young man’s share generally amounted to about $2. Why 1912’s assessment triggered such a response is not known. I don’t think this was an early blow for equal rights for women, so we need to look into other possibilities. Because the assessed amount was lower than it had been in some previous years, the cost of the assessment probably wasn’t the match that set off this tinderbox. A Dickinson professor asked if this happened during President Reed’s time. A quick reference to the records showed that Dr. Reed had retired and his successor, Dr. Eugene Allen Noble, was ensconced in the President’s house but had not been inaugurated. That event was scheduled just days after the stoning. Perhaps the students were misunderstood and were merely welcoming Dr. Noble to the campus. Or, they may have been hazing him as part of the inauguration festivities.

We will not likely ever know what was the cause. However, it is known that Dickinsonians were sensitive to the condition of their crockery. Some years earlier, a German professor at Dickinson College’s preparatory school became so agitated after being served his dinner on cracked crockery that it took three large boys to restrain him in his anger.

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