Posts Tagged ‘Wilson College’

Indian School at Chambersburg?

February 27, 2020

Central Pennsylvania residents are well aware of Wilson College having to rebuild itself in recent decades. Not widely known is that the Carlisle Indian School could have been located on Wilson’s campus. The recent financial stress afflicting Wilson College was far from the first in its history.

When the Depression of 1882-85 struck, Wilson College lacked an endowment large enough to aid it in dealing with difficult economic circumstances. Enrollment plummeted, requiring the College to mortgage its buildings in order to pay staff and expenses. By 1883, the student population was half its former size to fewer than 30 students. The president tendered his resignation to the Trustees. They accepted it and informed the faculty that the school would close.

One of the last-ditch efforts to save Wilson College was to offer the campus to Richard Henry Pratt, Superintendent of Carlisle Indian School. Lucky for Wilson College (and probably the Indian School as well), Pratt turned down the offer.

It takes little insight to understand why he refused their offer. In 1879, the War Department lent idle army base Carlisle Barracks to Pratt as a campus for the Indian Industrial School he was establishing. One assumes he paid no rent. His student body was multiples of Wilson’s by 1883. A physical plant that served 50 students would have been inadequate to house and educate this number of students.

Carlisle Indian School was always underfunded by the government. Helping fund the school was a significant factor in fielding a highly profitable football program. So, Pratt would not have been looking for more expenses he couldn’t afford.

Superintendent Pratt on horseback.