College of Arts and Sciences

Here we go again?


I don’t believe that history repeats itself. I'm not even convinced that it rhymes.

At times of uncertainty, though, I do find myself looking to the past. (Ok, I admit: historians like me look to the past a lot.)
What crises and uncertainties did our predecessors face? How did they adapt? What were the effects?
For answers to my questions, I turned this week to Roger Fortin, Professor Emeritus of History—or, more precisely, to Roger’s book about Xavier’s history.
In case you, like me, left your own copy on campus, our librarians have made it available digitally:
Here’s what I learned:

  • In 1861, Xavier ended its academic year early during the Civil War—and later, it seems, released both students and faculty to defend Cincinnati from an anticipated attack (57-58).
  • In the winter of 1917, a wartime coal shortage led Xavier to close its campus multiple times. That year Xavier also increased tuition for the first time in half a century — by 33% (!) — and also introduced military training, the predecessor to our ROTC program. (110-11). Women also enrolled during the war in the Department of Commerce and Sociology; after the war some continued as part-time students—and Xavier’s first part-time women faculty were hired (138).
  • Enrollment later plummeted during World War II, and Xavier volunteered to host military trainees in Hinkle Hall and other buildings—generating much-needed revenue, it turned out (174).
What about epidemics? I didn’t find anything in Roger’s book about how Xavier dealt with the 1918 flu—but Fr. Kenneally tells us that an outbreak in one student hall that year required a quarantine (start video at 33 minute mark).
And then there was the 1849 cholera epidemic, one of the last major outbreaks of that disease before the germ theory of disease gained scientific acceptance. No elbow-sneezing and hand-sanitizing for them!

Densely settled Cincinnati suffered dearly in that epidemic, leaving more than 5% of its population dead. The victims included at least one Xavier faculty member, a Jesuit, and one student (38-39).
Like in each of the previous periods of uncertainty, the Xavier community weathered the cholera and flu epidemics—by pulling together, adapting, and saying prayers.
It’s far too early to tell Xavier’s story of the COVID-19 pandemic. To judge from the comments at yesterday’s Q & A and Coffee, however, I’d say one element of our history seems to be repeating itself: we’re coming together once more to adapt to uncertain times.