Mr. Week’s Chapel Attendance Book

As is stated in the King’s College charter, “daily service should be constantly performed in the said college forever.” According to the Laws and Orders from 1755, every student was required to attend morning prayers or they could be fined two pence for being absent or one penny for being late. There were even stated rules to ensure that students “behaved with utmost decency” during the service, in this case meaning no talking, laughing, jostling, winking, etc., which could lead to expulsion from the College. While the penalties were at some point abandoned, the College’s Janitor Stephen R. Weeks would call the roll every morning at chapel. We have his log from 1847 to 1854, or the waning days of the Park Place campus.

October 14-15, 1847 entries, Chapel Attendance, University Archives.

The entries in the chapel attendance ledger follow a set formula: date, professors present, and “absent from roll-call” followed by a list of student last names, organized by class: seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. (In the later dates, each class is listed separately.) The professors are listed very briefly. “Prof. McV, H. and D.” is a quick shorthand to identify Rev. John McVickar, Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, of Political Economy and of Rhetoric and the Belles-Lettres, “H” for Rev. Charles W. Hackley, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, and “D” for Henry Drisler, Professor of Greek and Latin Languages.

Below the routine attendance information, Weeks offers some insights into the life of the College and his many roles in those early days. For example, on November 12, 1847: “I attended with the freshmen in Prof. [Henry] Drisler’s room,” and the following week, on November 19, 1847: “I attended Prof. [Charles] Anthon’s lecture with the sophomore class.” The log also serves as a personal diary where Weeks records his readings: “Having read yesterday morning to the 21st v. of the 2nd chapter of the G. (gospel) acc. (according) to St. Luke, I began this morning to read the G. (gospel) acc. (according) to St. John” (December 20, 1848).

Stephen R. Weeks came to Columbia as Janitor in 1840 and served the College loyally for fifty years until his death in 1890. Among his many roles on campus, he used to blow the whistle at the end of the hour to signal the end of lectures (until the electric annuciators were installed in 1880). He was appointed Assistant Librarian in 1847 and Proctor in 1886. In the Chapel Attendance log entry for October 15, 1847, Weeks includes a list of volumes donated to the Library by Francis van Rensselaer, including J.F.C. Gericke’s Javanese grammar and P.P. Roorda van Eysinga’s Malay and Dutch dictionary. [1] Weeks was also tasked with student discipline, or the duty “to preserve and maintain order within the college precincts.” In addition to enforcing the no smoking in College buildings rule (“it’s a very nasty habit”), in the March 23, 1849 entry, Weeks wrote: “I detained the senior class and seriously remonstrated with them” for one of them “had been guilty of the disorder in Prof. McVickar’s room yesterday morning.” But he was also the one students often turned to: “I gave Camac permission to go home, on his representation that he was too unwell to perform his duty here” (December 20, 1848).

Steven R. Weeks, circa 1861. Scan 5015. Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.

After the College moved to 49th Street in 1857, Mr. Weeks was no longer tasked with calling the roll at chapel. The growing College now had individual professors who would take attendance for each class (130 students in 1849, 273 in 1859). Not only was the College growing in numbers but the student body was also evolving. Chapel was still required for residents of New York, “but not for Brooklynites and other foreigners.” And after Chaplain Rev. Cornelius R. Duffie retired, starting in January 1891 attendance at chapel services became optional. In his 1891 Annual Report, President Seth Low noted how the new service “was devout and hearty.” He also added how attendance was larger than “under the nominally compulsory system” since the service became open to all connected with Columbia, including the School of Mines, Barnard College and the School of Law.

 [1] See the HathiTrust scan of this volume with the donor’s name on the half-title page. Thanks to Jane Siegel for this find. And be sure to read her post on Mr. Weeks in her Women in the Stacks and other aspects of Columbia University Library history blog.

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