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On the occasion of the General Alumni Society's 100th anniversary, a look back at how the Society helped alumni speak with one voice and become partners in the University community -- not to mention persuade the University to ask them for money.
By Mark Frazier Lloyd
SEVENTY YEARS AGO this fall, The Pennsylvania Gazette announced a reform in University governance which remains one of the most significant in Penn's history. After decades of discussion and disagreement, in October 1927 the trustees voted to petition the courts of Pennsylvania to amend the University's 1791 charter to increase the number of trustees from 24 to 40. Of these, 10 would be "life" trustees and 20 would be "term" trustees, elected to finite terms of service. The remaining 10 would be "alumni" trustees, elected by the direct vote of the members of the General Alumni Society. "For the first time," said then-Provost Josiah Harmar Penniman, "[there will be] a group of trustees representing the Alumni and elected by them." The creation of alumni trustees was the culmination of a half-century of steadily increasing alumni involvement in and support for Penn. But it came only after difficult first steps and only when the alumni themselves recognized the role in which they could be of greatest benefit to the University.
   The rise of Penn's alumni to partnership in the leadership of the institution took three full generations to accomplish. After an initial failed attempt in 1836 to form an alumni association for the support of the University, the next try came in 1848 with the establishment of the Society of Alumni -- this time to more lasting effect. Alumni advocacy of an enlargement of the University's educational program, particularly in the fields of history, law, and applied science, resulted in the creation of faculty positions in all three disciplines, with alumni appointed to each, and led to the establishment of the modern Law School and a "School of Mines, Arts and Manufactures," predecessor to the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Each of these innovations soon matured and brought great, new prestige to the University.
At 85, Alumnae Association Assesses Its Future

   However, the trustees of 1848, in electing new members to their select group, virtually ignored the creative and energetic officers and managers of the Society of Alumni. In the words of Henry Budd, the first historian of the Society of Alumni, the Board of trustees of "1850, and for some time after, was a little too much of the traditional close corporation; it had upon it too few men bound by the recollections of undergraduate days to the college, men who would not feel themselves merely trustees, charged with the proper conduct of an educational institution, but bound up in its traditions, its interests of all kinds, its reputation, whether serious or sportive, part of themselves. Indeed, at one time it seemed as though to be a graduate of the college were a disqualification for election as trustee, or, at least, a handicap placed upon a candidate for that office." Continued...
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