Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search results

Tufts College Board of Overseers



  • Existence: 1899 -- 1907 - 1907


The Board of Overseers was created in 1899 by an act of the Board of Trustees. All sixteen members were to be Tufts alumni for at least ten years prior to election, but not officers of instruction. The members of the Board were to be elected by the alumni for four-year terms and would be eligible for one re-election. Their functions were to ratify all faculty appointments involving the rank of instructor or above made by the Trustees and to pass on all changes or additions of personnel. The Overseers also appointed the Boards of Visitors. Boards of Visitors were provided for each of the components of the College existing in 1899 (college of letters, divinity school, medical school, and dental school), to consist of five members each, three of whom were to be members of the Board of Overseers. One of the principal duties of the Overseers was to receive the annual reports of the Boards of Visitors, make abstracts of them to be presented to the Trustees, and forward their own observations. The newly constituted Board of Overseers held its first meeting on October 9, 1899, with President Capen and ten members present. Very few changes were made in the personnel of the Board of Overseers during its existence of less than eight years. Although the president and secretary could have been changed annually according to the by-laws, Charles W. Parmenter served as secretary until the fall of 1904, and his successor, Arthur W. Peirce, wrote the word Finis in a firm hand at the end of the minutes of the last meeting on June 17, 1907. Walter P. Beckwith, principal of the State Normal School at Salem, served as president until his death in 1905 and was succeeded by Edward H. Clement. The Overseers almost immediately expressed doubts about the feasibility of continuing the visitation system. In 1901 they reported to the Trustees that there seems to be strong reason for believing that the present method of supervision by Boards of Visitors is not likely to be greatly useful, from the exceeding difficulty, if not actual impossibility, of securing suitable persons of sufficient leisure to undertake the task. In 1903 the requirement that Overseers be represented on the Boards of Visitors was completely abandoned. The Overseers also began to question the value of their own existence as an organized body. After four years of operation they looked back on their accomplishments and found them wanting. They had developed a keen sense of the apparent inadequacy and unfruitfulness of their efforts. It could hardly be otherwise when the Overseers were engaging in activities for which they actually had no ultimate responsibility. The last meeting of the Overseers was held, as was the custom, in Young's Hotel in Boston, on June 17, 1907. After receiving the reports of the Boards of Visitors to be transmitted to the Trustees, and after confirming a whole host of nominations to the faculty (mostly medical and dental), the Overseers in effect voted themselves out of existence. In view of the change which had taken place in the College charter on March 29, 1907, providing formal alumni representation on the Board of Trustees, the Overseers recommended the repeal of the by-law that had created them.