OUR ALMA MATER.
DELIVERED AT CONCERT HALL
ON THE OCCASION OF THE
TWELFTH ANNUAL COMMENCEMENT
INSTITUTE FOR COLORED YOUTH,
May 10th, 1864.
BY OCTAVIUS V. CATTO.
PUBLISHED BY DIRECTION OF THE ALUMNI ASSOCIATION.
C. SHERMAN, SON & CO., PRINTERS.
submitted by Andy Waskie, Ph.D.
TWELFTH ANNUAL COMMENCEMENT
OF THE COLORED HIGH SCHOOL.
On Wednesday and Thursday last occurred
the Twelfth Annual Commencement exercises of the Institute for Colored Youth.
The former of these days was occupied with the public
examination of classes at the Institute Buildings, 716 and
718 Lombard Street. Among the audience we noticed Rt. Rev.
Alonzo Potter, Rev. Dr. William Mann, and other eminent
persons. The rooms were crowded throughout the entire day.
Classes were examined in Greek, Latin, Mathematics, and the
higher English studies, and they generally acquitted
themselves creditably. Rev. Dr. Mann created considerable
interest in the Greek classes by closely questioning them,
and by reciting an ode of Anacreon. These classes were led
over the Greek Testament, extracts from Homer, Lucian, and
Anacreon. The Latin classes showed familiarity with the
Latin of Virgil, Cicero, Sallust, and Horace. The Greek and
Latin scanning and parsing were well spoken of by competent
judges. The classes in mathematics generally did well. The
English analysis and mental arithmetic were excellent; so
was the spherical trigonometry. The "Bible Lesson" was
Much interest was manifested in
the distribution of prizes. A fund, yielding about one hundred dollars annually,
some years ago, given to the corporation from an unknown
source for this purpose. Mr. M.C. Cope, Secretary of the
Corporation, distributed the prizes as follows: To Thomas H.
Boling and Harriet C. Johnson, each $15, for excellence in
mathematics; to John Wesley Cromwell and Mary V. Brown, each
$15, for superiority in Greek and Latin; to James L.
Smallwood and Elizabeth Handy, each $10, the prize for
diligence and good conduct and to Theophilus J. Minton and
Margaret A. Masten, each $5, an honorary prize.
On Thursday morning the anniversary of the Alumni
Association was held in Sansom Street Hall, which was
comfortably filled. Mr. B.H. Brewster and other prominent
citizens were present. The first address, delivered by John
H. Smith, a graduate of the Institute, was on a "Model
Statesman." It was very intelligently discussed and well
An obituary notice of Mary E. Ayers,
written by M.F. Minton, was read next by Caroline R. Le Count, all alumni
Institute. The composition itself was very creditable, and
the reading of it excellent. Then came a political address
on the "Aspect of the Times," by John Q. Allen, also a
graduate of the Institute. The eloquent young gentleman
handled the subject well, and was frequently interrupted by
The Alumni Oration was delivered
by E.D. Bassett, the
principal of the Institute. His subject was the "Elements of
Permanent Governments and Societies," which was discussed at
some length, in an able manner. For nearly one hour and a
half the undivided attention of the audience was given to
this argumentative, humorous, and philosophic oration.
The orator said that neither form, territory, population,
commerce, wealth, physical well-being, military nor
intellectual greatness, either separately or collectively,
was sufficient to constitute permanent governments.
He brought prominently before the audience examples from
history, classic and modern, to establish his position: that
while all the aforesaid characteristics of well-ordered
society were essential, yet there must be added virtue,
liberty, and a high moral and religious development.
In the evening occurred the rhetorical and elocutionary
exercises of the undergraduates. At an early hour Concert
hall was crowded to its utmost capacity. About one-third of
the audience were respectable white fellow-citizens. On the
platform sat the managers, teachers, alumni, and a portion
of the pupils. The orations and essays were, as a whole,
highly commendable. One of the young ladies read an essay on
John Bright, which was greatly applauded. A little fellow,
of about fourteen summers, bearing the suggestive name of
Toussaint L'Ouverture Martin, kindled a flame of excitement
and applause by reciting a poem of his own composing. There
were other meritorious productions, but the interest of the
evening centred in an address by Mr. O.V. Catto, who
graduated at the Institute in 1858. The scope of the address
was to give a history of the Institution, which he did very
ably and satisfactorily, indeed. From this address, it
appeared that the Institution was incorporated by the
Legislature of Pennsylvania in 1842. The members of the
Corporation are exclusively members of the Society of
Friends. The object aimed at is to afford gratuitously to
colored youth, of both sexes, a good High School education,
that they may be qualified to act as teachers among their
own people, or in other useful capacities. Thirty-six have
pursued the full course of study. These are, generally, in
useful callings. The average daily attendance at the
Institution is about 100. The teachers, which has been
entirely given by members of the Society of friends, one of
whom gave $13,000, another $10,000, &c. The detail of facts
was very ingeniously woven together, and the address itself
possessed more than ordinary literary merit.
At the conclusion of the exercises the principal, Mr. E.D.
Bassett, presented the diploma to the successful
candidates,as follows: James M. Baxter, Jr., Thomas H.
Boling, John Wesley Cromwell, James L. Smallwood, Mary V.
Brown, Elizabeth Handy, Harriet C.
Philadelphia, May 20, 1864.
Mr. Octavius V. Catto.
Sir: The Association of Alumni of the Institute for Colored
Youth, regarding the address delivered by you on the
occasion of the Twelfth Annual Commencement of the Institute
as a document which, not less on account of its literary
merits than for the information it contains, is entitled to
wide-spread circulation have instructed the undersigned to
request a copy for publication.
Very respectfully, yours,
Jacob C. White,
Philadelphia, May 22, 1864.
Miss C.A. Jennings.
The address to which your polite note refers, was not
written with a view to publication; but with the hope, that
in a printed form, one, at least, of the interest of our
Alma Mater may be promoted, a copy is placed at your
Accept assurances of my deep interest in the Association you
so wisely cherish, and believe me,
Octavius V. Catto.
Ladies And Gentlemen:
The brief part which we may occupy of this evening's passage
will not permit, nor does the intelligence of the audience
here assembled require us to enter into any argument for the
establishment of the highly important utility of Education.
Fortunately, from the enlightenment of the age in which we
live, the past achievements of educated minds in the world's
history are so plainly evident and immensely valuable, that
he who in these halcyon days of intellectual progress
invites the attention of an assemblage to the subject of
Popular Education, has his cardinal principles as readily
accepted as are the axioms and postulates of mathematical
science. And even now,--in the midst of an internal
revolution,--while our country's energies are being severely
taxed to exhibit her resources in those arts sciences which
are not in the curriculum of it is wise to pause and
remember, that the principles of right, equity, and justice;
the very ideas of an improved civilization, more benign and
general in its diffusion; the very moral conception of
individual and mutual rights of property, contract and
government, upon which the people of the North justify their
attitude in the present have never been more successfully
and generally promulgated than through the teachings of the
School. And we venture the belief, that had there been,
through the Southern part of this country, a system of
education for the masses, irrespective of class or color,
exhibiting in its energy one half of the zeal which has,
within those States, been exerted to keep the conscience
unenlightened and the understanding uninstructed,--we to-
night would not be found at the crisis of a civil war.
It was a true estimate of the potent influence which
education would wield in the politics of the State and in
the councils of the Church, that created, as schools began
to be multiplied in Europe, a lively interest in those
respective bodies for the establishment and perpetuity of
Aristotle, in the spirit of a true
philosopher and wise
statesman, held, that "the most effective way of preserving
a State, is to bring up the citizens in the spirit of the
Government; to fashion, and, as it were, cast them in the
mould of the Constitution."
Martin Luther, pausing
in the midst of the clashing blades of the Reformation,--with the spirit
of a zealous churchman,-
-urged, that "it is a grave and serious thing, affecting the
interest of the Kingdom of Christ, and of all the world,
that we apply ourselves to the work of aiding and
instructing the young."
The wisdom and value of these opinions are evidenced in the
immense debt which those Churches and States that lead the
civilized world, owe to their educated men, and by the
honorable rivalry which has subsequently existed between the
political economist and the religious seer for the direction
of the educational systems of their countries.
In Prussia, the State gained the advantage; and
consequently, there is no country in Europe in which
educated men join so numerously in the intelligent
administration of the Government.
In England, the Church secured the management of the
educational system. And to-night, England in all her glory,
the enlightenment of her Christianity, the purity of her
morals, the researches of her science, the application of
her wisdom, and the spirit of her just laws, is not more
indebted to the influence of her Church than is the English
Church to the genius and talents of her Christian scholars.
In our country this rivalry has been compromised. The State
may, for any special purpose, establish such schools as it
deems proper. The Church, too, is granted the same
privilege. But by far the greater number of schools,--we
refer to those under the system called Public,--are
established and governed by neither Church nor State, being
left entirely to the control of the people. This system,
though liable to many abuses, is probably the best yet
devised. Besides these public institutions, supported by
direct taxation, there is a numerous class founded and
cherished by benevolent and philanthropic individuals. Such
is the institution which convenes us now, and of which we
purpose to give a synoptical history.
The original fund upon which the Institute was founded, came
like many other goodly gifts for the amelioration of the
colored man's unfortunate condition in this country, from a
member of the Society of Friends: a people whose proverbial
sympathy and charity for the oppressed, whose consistent
opposition to ignorance, intemperance, war, and slavery,
have rendered their name inseparable from our heartfelt
gratitude and respect. The honor of first conceiving the
feasibility and utility of such an institution belongs to
Richard Humphreys, of Philadelphia. It was he who left the
first fund of ten thousand dollars for its establishment.
When the legacy came under the guidance of the Society in
1837, it had amounted to thirteen thousand three hundred and
twelve dollars. Up to the time of the second meeting of the
Society in 1838, the fund had been increased by individual
donations to sixteen thousand two hundred and ninety
With this sum as a basis,
the "Institute for Colored Youth"
procured its charter from the Legislature of Pennsylvania in
the year 1842. Its primary objects are the education and
improvement of colored youths, male and female, "to act as
teachers and instructors in the different branches of school
learning, or in the mechanic arts and agriculture."
The corporation, according to a provision of the charter,
consists only of members of the Society of Friends.
The government of the affairs and the control of the funds
of the Institute are committed to a "Board of Managers," consisting of fifteen
members, these managers being members of, and receiving their appointment from
Shortly after the charter of the Institute had been secured,
an additional sum of eighteen thousand, five hundred
dollars, which had been devised for educational purposes by
another Friend, was granted to the corporation and increased
the school fund to thirty-four thousand seven hundred and
ninety dollars. This amount was, in turn, increased by
subscriptions at various times from members of the Society
of Friends until the aggregate school fund reached sixty-
four thousand dollars.
At this stage in the history of the fund, the Board of
Managers considered it wise to erect buildings for the
permanent establishment and location of the Institute: and
those on Lombard Street, in which the school is now taught,
were erected in 1851.
There are now in the school four departments. One High, and
one Preparatory School for each sex. There are six teachers,
all colored, employed within the Institute.
Three of the teachers are graduates of the Institution.
The course of study is similar to that pursued in high
schools, including an acquaintance with Latin, Greek,
Geometry, and the Trigonometries.
Connected with the Institute are a public reading room and
library containing over two thousand volumes, selected with
care from the various fields of the literature.
The average attendance of pupils is a little above one
Text-books and all privileges of the Institute are free of
charge to those regularly admitted.
There have been graduated from the school twenty-seven
scholars; which number is to be increased tonight by the
presentation of the Diploma to nine others who have
completed the required course of study.
Probably, there is no better way of judging the worth of the
Institute than by glancing at the positions its graduates
hold in the sphere of usefulness to their fellow-men, and
the amount of intelligently directed labor they may be
performing, to contradict the aspersions which have been
cast upon the people with whom they are identified.
The first graduate, J.E. Glasgow, Jr., of the class of 1856,
entered the University of Edinburgh and pursued his studies
with distinguished success. He won a prize in every
examination which his class entered, and shortly before his
death, which took place on the near approach of his
graduating, he bore away the second prize for excellence in
Mathematics. This was no light achievement in one of the
best Universities in Europe, and among the noblest youths of
Two graduates are now pursuing a course at the Penn Medical
University in this city, and sixteen others have been
engaged in teaching; three of whom are now in public schools
in our own city.
One in the seventh section, having raised without aid from
any source, a school, large and prosperous enough to be
entered among the public schools of her section of the city.
The other two are severally in the twelfth and twenty-fourth
And here we might consistently ask that the liberal spirit
and manly example of the Boards in the sections just
referred to, may be followed by others to whom the
appointment of teachers for colored schools is delegated.
It is at least unjust to allow a blind and ignorant
prejudice to so far disregard the choice of parents and the
will of the colored tax-payers, as to appoint over colored
children white teachers, whose intelligence and success,
measured by the fruits of their labors, could neither obtain
nor secure for them positions which we know would be more
congenial to their tastes.
Besides these graduates thus employed in teaching, three are
now performing the duties of office clerks in this city; and
one other, the pioneer from our ranks, is engaged in the
commendable task of instructing the Freed children at
Thus have we enumerated those who are contributing by their
positions to establish the good which was primarily hoped in
the beginning of the Institute.
About two years ago, the Managers, constantly regarding the
interest and welfare of the school, called the attention of
its friends to the advantages which would result from more
ample and convenient accommodations, in a location less
noisy and surrounded by influences of a more moral tendency.
Two members of the Society of Friends at once offered the
Board of Managers five thousand dollars apiece, if twenty
thousand additional could be raised by the Board.
The executors of the late Josiah Dawson, having previously
given five thousand dollars to the Institute, promised five
thousand more, on condition that the Managers would collect
the remaining ten thousand. Both of these generous proposals
were accepted, and very shortly after, by private
contributions from Friends, the total sum of thirty thousand
dollars was secured. This amount, with six thousand for a
similar purpose already in the hands of the treasurer, gave
the Board a new building fund of thirty-six thousand
dollars. Thus we have been brought to the present epoch in
our Institute's history.
Of the amount recently raised for the erection of the new
buildings, ten thousand dollars have been expended for the
purchase of a fine lot, seventy-seven by one hundred and
forty feet, on Shippen Street, above Ninth. The site is
peculiarly well adapted to the purpose for which the wise
choice of the Board selected it. It fronts opposite
Ronaldson's Cemetery on one side, and the three other sides
being so situated that no buildings may closely approach
them,--it possesses all that could be desired for the
conveniences of a healthy ventilation. The ample depth of
the grounds will allow the main building a situation so far
back from Shippen Street as to secure the recitations from
the ordinary noise of common thoroughfares, and at the same
time provide liberal yards for the erection of the modern
appliances for gymnastic exercises. The accommodations for
pupils, library and reading room are to be on a more
extensive basis than we now enjoy; and the erection of a
laboratory for the more successful instruction in practical
science, is a part of the plan of the building.
Indeed, we may readily perceive the intention of the Board
to make this a first class Institute, to rank its course of
instruction among the best of our Normal Schools. For this
noble determination on their part, not only the colored
people themselves should be grateful and their friends well
pleased; but for which every man who admires the spirit of
disinterested benevolence and unostentatious charity which
their labors exhibit, should rejoice and feel encouraged.
But there is a broader view of the Institute's history than
that which simply regards its effects upon the individual
You will pardon us, if we briefly, and as we think very
naturally and consistently turn to a few thoughts touching
the part which this and other similar institutions are
destined to play in determining the future condition of the
If we were asked to point to one of the most prominent
features by which the history of the colored man's struggles
in this country shall be defined, we would direct your
attention to that brave vessel returning from one of the
West India Islands, freighted with native born black
citizens of the United States. Let it be recorded to the
credit of Mr. Lincoln as the purest act which his
administration has thus far performed in justice to the
colored American. Let the statesman regard it as the
jewelled hand of the Present lifting the dark veil of the
golden Future. * Let the nation accept it as the voice of
God, declaring that He has made of one blood all nations to
dwell upon the face of this country.
*In April last, four hundred and twenty colored colonists
were embarked from Fortress Monroe, under a contract with
Messrs. Forbes and Tuckerman, of New York, for the Isle of
Their sufferings on the
voyage, and after they had reached the island, were beyond description. The
attention of the
President having been called to their condition, he
despatched Mr. D. C. Donnohue, of Indiana, to examine the
case. On receiving a report of their suffering, the
President directed that they be returned to the United
States, and the ship Marcia C. was sent to the island,
during February, and yesterday returned with three hundred
and sixty-eight of the original number. "It is to be hoped
that this experience will teach us the folly of attempting
to depopulate the country of its valuable labor."--
Philadelphia Press , March 22, 1864.
How much of the course of this terrible revolution remains
yet to be run, or how many political evolutions our
Government may yet be forced to make, no man can foresee.
But it must be the most superficial view, indeed which
concludes that any other condition than a total change in
the status which the colored man has hitherto had in this
country, must of necessity grow out of the conflicting
theories of the parties to whose hands this question is at
present committed. There must come a change, one now in
process of completion, which shall force upon this nation,
not so much for the good of the black man, as for its own
political and industrial welfare, that course which
Providence seems wisely to be directing for the mutual
benefit of both peoples.
Those millions of human beings now scattered through the
Southern country must eventually come forth into the
sunlight of Freedom; and what a field will there then be
opened for the benevolence of the wealthy, and the labors of
the educated colored man! Truly, the harvest will be great
and the laborers comparatively few.
Those people will need among them Christian missionaries,
intelligent teachers and laborers, to direct them to that
course of life and in those modes of industry which have
always in the world's history contributed so much for
peoples similarly situated. It is for the purpose of
promoting, as far as possible, the preparation of the
colored man for the assumption of these new relations with
intelligence and with the knowledge which promises success,
that the Institute feels called upon at this time to act
with more energy and on a broader scale than has heretofore
been required. It is just here that its claims are worthiest
of consideration. It is the duty of every man, to the extent
of his interest and means, to provide for the immediate
improvement of the four or five millions of ignorant and
previously dependent laborers who will be thrown upon
society in the reorganization of the Union.
It is for the good of the Nation that every element of its
population be wisely instructed in the advantages of a
Republican Government, that every element of its people,
mingled though they be, shall have a true and intelligent
conception of the allegiance due to the established powers.
Now this cannot be done in any other way than by properly
educating the masses in the South; then these States will,
indeed, be regenerated and the elements of their population
be made ministering agents for the profit of the whole
Nation and the lasting security of the Government.
Such we believe to be the philosophy of the relation which
the colored man will hold to this country. Then will he be
enjoying intelligently the franchises of the citizen,
understanding the system and spirit of the laws that govern
his country, entering knowingly into the development of her
physical resources and the cultivation of his own moral and
intellectual gifts. For though born in ignorance and liable
to fall in a competition with the intelligent foreigner and
migrating Northerner as they go southward,--yet he has
within him an aspiration and a capability to rise by faith,
labor, and perseverance to a respectable place among his
competitors. All that he asks is, that there shall be no
unmanly quibbles about intrusting to him any position of
honor or profit for which his attainments may fit him. And
that which is committed to him as a man , he will perform as
no other than a man could perform.
Then when the day of
his disabilities shall have passed, his memory will cling with pleasure,
and his heart throb deep
with gratitude to those men, who, like the managers and
donors of this our Alma Mater, will have contributed so
vastly to a "consummation so devoutly wished."
Transcribed from the Philadelphia Press of May 10, 1864 by Andy Waskie.
of Octavius V. Catto: “Forgotten Black Hero of Philadelphia” by
Frederick Douglass' comment regarding the three boxes: "From the
first I saw no chance of bettering the condition of the freedman until he should
cease to be merely a freedman and should become a citizen. I insisted that there
was no safety for him or for anybody else in America outside the American
government; that to guard, protect, and maintain his liberty the freedman should
have the ballot; that the liberties of the American people were dependent upon
the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box; that without these no class
of people could live and flourish in this country; and this was now the word for
the hour with me, and the word to which the people of the North willingly
listened when I spoke. Hence, regarding as I did the elective franchise as the
one great power by which all civil rights are obtained, enjoyed, and maintained
under our form of government, and the one without which freedom to any class is
delusive if not impossible, I set myself to work with whatever force and energy
I possessed to secure this power for the recently-emancipated
millions." from Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Part 2,
Chapter V. Microsoft Encarta Africana, Third Edition.