PORTAGE PATHWAYS: Forces of tradition prevailed over bid to honor Garfield

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Hiram College might have a different name -- but a familiar one -- if a suggestion that surfaced as it was planning to honor its most famous alumnus had gained more support.

Changing the name of the school to Garfield College was suggested in 1931 shortly before the institution hosted a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of James A. Garfield.

The martyred president, who spent much of his adult life in Hiram, attended the college and later headed it. His ties to Hiram, supporters of the name change contended, made him a logical choice for the honor 50 years after his death at the hands of an assassin.

Others, respectful of Garfield's memory but equally respectful of the college's sense of tradition, adamantly opposed making the switch.

Both sides joined in what the Evening Record described as "an enlivened discussion" as the centennial celebration approached on Nov. 19, 1931.

The Rev. Harold Humbert, minister of First Christian Church of Hiram (Disciples of Christ), outlined several arguments for making the change -- including a musical one -- in an article in the Hiram Broadcaster, a campus publication.

"Garfield College is an appealing name," Humbert wrote in the article entitled "Why Garfield College?," while noting that the institution had forsaken its original name, the Western Reserve Eclectic Institute, when it assumed college status.

"Through the years, (Hiram) has been forward looking, able to meet new situtations," he wrote, so making the name change "would be easier for Hiram ... than for a tradition-bound institution." The "publicity value" of Garfield College would be worth "more than $100,000 in a national advertising campaign," he predicted.

And, he added in a novel twist, the new name had musical appeal.

"Its speech sounds have a lilt that makes them sing-able," he wrote, sharing the same number of syllables as Hiram College, which would make it easy to adapt school songs to the new name.

Dr. John Kenyon, a Hiram alumnus and a member of the English faculty, also voiced support for the change.

"Hiram shaped (Garfield's) future and in turn he was a major factor in giving direction (to the college)," he said. "How can we better honor his memory than by making this (the centennial) the occasion to adopt his name?"

Kenyon and other supporters heard plenty of arguments from the other side during a forum held at the college on Oct. 29, 1931, where the name change was debated before an audience of about 150. Most opposed the change.

Dr. Harry C. Hurd, a Hiram alumnus who was the college's director of health, marshaled the opposition.

Changing the name of the college, he said, would be "tossing aside 75 years of tradition." The name Hiram wasn't "odious," he said, nor were there compelling reasons to make the change.

Kenyon noted that Hiram had been named in honor of the village in 1867. "We may as well face the facts," he said, "People do ridicule the name Hiram. We may as well have a significant name so that it will add to the institution."

Changing the name of the college, he added, "would not break with the past but would cement our history with the past, with Garfield."

Hiram welcomed 2,000 guests to the Garfield centennial observance. On hand were three generations of the president's family, including his sons, Harry and James, and his brother-in-law, 89-year-old Joe Rudolph, who was the brother of First Lady Lucretia Garfield.

No mention was made of changing the name of the college, and the idea was abandoned.

Two decades later, however, the memory of James A. Garfield was invoked by another educational institution in northern Portage County when the school district created by the consolidation of schools in Garrettsville, Freedom, Nelson and part of Hiram was named in his honor.

While Hiram College was destined to retain its name, its most famous alumnus has been immortalized on the diplomas of generations of graduates of James A. Garfield High School.

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