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September 26, 2023

History of the School of Science and Mathematics – Part 1

S. M. Gollmer

This year the Department of Science and Mathematics at Cedarville University became the School of Science and Mathematics.  Our school offers majors ranging from biology, chemistry, physics, geology, to mathematics.  Where did this all begin?  What role did science and mathematics play in the early years of Cedarville?  How did it develop into the school we have today?  Over a series of posts, I intend to deliver a select history of Cedarville University with a focus on the disciplines housed in our school.

Cedarville College was conceived as a liberal arts college by the General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in May of 1879.  However, it was not until 1886 that this idea was set in motion.  William Gibson, an elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, left $25,000 to establish a college in Cedarville.  The following year, on January 26, 1887, Cedarville College was chartered by the state of Ohio.  The Synod elected Dr. David McKinney as the first president and the college opened on September 19, 1894 to 36 students.  Dr. McKinney was pastor of the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati and came to Cedarville two days per week.  He served as president for 21 years and resigned in 1915.

The First Annual Catalogue of Cedarville College provides a snapshot of a liberal arts education for the 1895-96 school year.  The original faculty were as follows:

  • David McKinney, D.D. – President of the College
  • James F. Morton, D.D. – Vice-President, and Professor of English Bible Study
  • Renwick McChesney, A.M. – Peter Gibson Professor of Ancient Languages
  • Carrie Blair, Normal Graduate – Francis Lamb Professor of Mathematics
  • Belle Beazell, Cincinnati College – Professor of Music
  • Frank A. Jurkat, A. B. – Professor of Modern Languages and History
  • Charles T. Schenck, A. B. – Instructor in English and Science

We are familiar with degree designations, such as BS and PhD, but what do the abbreviations used above mean?  We are familiar with D.D. for Doctor of Divinity.  A.M. and A.B. are equivalent to the more popular designations MA and BA, Masters of Arts and Bachelor of Arts respectively.  A normal school graduate is trained in pedagogy and curriculum for effective teaching.

Each school year consisted of three quarters with students taking four classes per quarter.  To graduate with an A.B., students were required to take a year of science.  Mathematics was also required in the curriculum.  Focusing only on science and math courses, the following list indicates when courses were taken to complete the Classical Collegiate Course.  (The Literary Collegiate Course required less science.)  If not otherwise designated as elective, courses in the following list were required.

Freshman Year

  • Plane Geometry
  • Plane and Solid Geometry
  • Conic Sections
  • Descriptive Astronomy

Sophomore Year

  • Plane and Spherical Trigonometry
  • Surveying and Navigation
  • Botany

Junior Year

  • Mechanics and Hydrostatics
  • Optics and Electricity
  • Geology (elective)
  • Analytical Geometry (elective)
  • Calculus (elective)

Senior Year

  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Mathematical Astronomy

The mix of science and math courses should not be that surprising given that Cedarville College followed a classical liberal arts curriculum.  Beginning with the Greeks, a well-prepared person, who can engage as a leader in society, should be trained in the seven classical liberal arts.  The first three, called the trivium, were grammar, rhetoric, and logic.  The remaining four, the quadrivium, consisted of arithmetic, astronomy, music, and geometry.  In the 1903 edition of Memorabilia, Dr. McKinney stated,

“Above all Cedarville College believes that the culture of the mind without the nurture and growth of spiritual life is a mistake.  Education without morality is a menace to the state.  Morality to be deep and abiding must have its springs in religion.  Accordingly the Bible is a textbook of the college.  No student can graduate who has not taken a thorough and systematic course in it.”

Today, Cedarville University continues to develop the culture of the mind in conjunction with a systematic study of the Bible.  Our country and world need leaders who are well prepared to engage society with a life and faith anchored in Christ.  Our prayer is that Cedarville University will have an increasing impact for Christ through our students.

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