Charles Calvert Ellis (July 21, 1874–June 27, 1950) President
Charles C. Ellis was born in Washington, D.C. in 1874 to Brethren parents, Henry James and Kathryn Calvert Ellis. He began his studies at Juniata College and graduated with BA in 1898.1 Over the course of his career, Ellis earned a Bachelor of Education (Brethren’s Normal College, 1890), an A.B. (Juniata College, 1898), an M.A. (Wesleyan, 1903), two Ph.Ds. (Wesleyan, 1903 and University of Pennsylvania, 1907), a Bachelor of Divinity (Temple University, 1920), a D.D. (Juniata College, 1925), and an L.L.D (Bridgewater College, 1941).2 As a strong advocate for the importance of excellent teaching, Charles Ellis served as Juniata College’s president from 1930-1943 and over that time did much to gain name-recognition for the college, strengthen the level of professionalism among Juniata’s faculty, create a balance between traditional Brethren values and non-Brethren faculty and trustees, and keep it running through the Great Depression and World War II.3
Also known as the “Boy Orator,” “C.C.” Ellis was inaugurated in October of 1930 to become the fifth president in Juniata College history. Ellis’s Presidential Induction, at the age of fifty-five, also ended the “Brumbaugh dynasty” which held the position for the previous thirty-seven years. Charles C. Ellis would keep the position of Juniata College President for the next thirteen years. Ellis knew the importance of high quality teachers and made efforts to improve the teaching qualifications and benefits for both Juniata College and the State of Pennsylvania. He served as the head of the College Presidents Association of Pennsylvania for the years 1936-1937.4
One of Ellis’s main goals was achieved in 1940 when Juniata College became recognized by the Association of American Universities. This was quite an achievement because Juniata was the first Brethren college to make the list. In addition, less than one-third of Pennsylvania schools had achieved such high status by 1940. To further Juniata’s recognition, the school was accepted into the American Chemical Society two years later. This too was an honor because even by 1949 only about one-fifth of Pennsylvania schools had been allowed into this organization. By the time Charles Ellis resigned as President, Juniata had also been recognized by the Pennsylvania State Council of Education, Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, and the American Medical Association, and the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.5
During his presidency Ellis sought a balance between Juniata’s traditional Brethren values and the growing number of non-Brethren people beginning to influence the college. Personally devout, Ellis banned all of the books that questioned whether Christ was indeed the Savior and also preached about the need for fundamental views at the school. In addition, he served as the head of the Brethren General Education Board throughout the 1930s, and did much in the way of encouraging collaboration among the seven Brethren colleges in the United States. Charles C. Ellis strove to lead and base his actions on the motto that he kept on his desk, “God grant that I labor with entire confidence in Him and none in myself without Him.” However, he did not interpret these ideals in such a way as to constrain the teaching of “Darwinian biology” in science classes.6
Not surprisingly, it was not only Ellis who began to move slightly away from the Brethren views, but the administration. From an early stage in his presidency, he hired a larger number of professors with advanced degrees despite their religious affiliation. While straying a bit from the original Brethren focus of the school, Ellis’s methods proved effective; having put seventeen professors with doctorates on the Juniata payroll by 1937. This list included the first four women Ph.D.s to grace Juniata College’s payroll — May Keirns, Emma Bach, Ida Kubitz, and Bertha Leaman.7
In 1939, the Board of Trustees decided to increase the number of trustees to thirty and also to allow one-fifth of the total number of trustees to be non-Brethren. The reforms demonstrated that while the College and its members wanted to adhere closely to its Brethren origins, the administration began to realize that flexibility helped the College grow.8
Charles Ellis’s presidency took place during some of the most trying times for the United States. During his thirteen years in office, Ellis experienced the brunt of the Great Depression and also the beginning of World War II. To help him make good decisions during this time, Ellis created the “Unholy Three,” an administrative council for the college. On this council were former Juniata College president, Isaac Harvey Brumbaugh and Oscar Myers. After the death of I. Harvey Brumbaugh in 1937, Dr. Calvert N. Ellis succeeded to the role of secretary.9
While the Great Depression was a difficult time for Juniata, it was not nearly as devastating as it could have been. This was largely due to Oscar Meyer who ran an extremely tight budget. During one of the worst economic periods in our nation’s history, Juniata managed to release paychecks not “so much as a day late” due to the fiscal skills of Meyer. Also, Juniata worked alongside the New Deal Programs that United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt instated which led to some additional benefits for teachers. Ellis’s leadership during this tough time allowed Juniata to come out in such shape that at no point during the Great Depression did the drop-out rate exceed sixteen percent.10
Initially, because of the economic depression, several building plans fell through during Ellis’s Presidency. However, there was one important building erected during his reign, Oller Hall was constructed for $130,000 and was officially dedicated on October 19, 1940. Fourteen months after the completion of Oller Hall, Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States was at war. While the war did not have a significant immediate effect on Juniata initially, by the fall semester of 1943, approximately 350 men and women were enrolled in “civilian [or] military camps.” Other changes were also instated at this time, such as, the Red Cross teaching First Aid classes on campus, and also mandatory physical routines for all male students each week.11
Nearing his seventies and sensing another series of rough years approaching, Charles Calvert Ellis decided to resign his position as President of Juniata College in 1943. Continuing the Ellis tradition, Charles’s son, Calvert N. Ellis, was chosen to succeed him. Charles Calvert Ellis served as President Emeritus until his death on the 28th of June, 1950. Charles Ellis did many important things in the six decades that he was involved with Juniata College. During his reign as president, the country experienced some difficult times that effected higher education and without the strong leadership of Charles Calvert Ellis, Juniata College would not have fared so well.12
Jonathan Altland ‘16
- The Brethren Encyclopedia, Vol. I. s.v. “Ellis, Charles Calvert.”
- “Dr. Charles Ellis, Long an Educator,” The New York Times, June 29, 1950, News, pg. 29.
- Earl C. Kaylor,Juniata College: Uncommon Vision, Uncommon Loyalty: The History of an Independent College in Pennsylvania Founded by the Brethren 1876-2001 (Huntingdon, PA: Published by Juniata College, 2001), 161.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 116, 161, 164.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 164.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 162-3.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 167.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 167, 173.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 166.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 166, 168, 176.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 166, 168, 172-3, 176, 186.
- Kaylor, Juniata College, 187; “Dr. Charles Ellis,” The New York Times, June 29, 1950.