A Gap in Grand Marshal History

Posted by John Dojka on March 27, 2009 in

There were no Grand Marshals elected from 1890-1893 -- an unexplained gap in a long history of Grand Marshals. There were no wars, no national crises and no apparent upheavals at the Institute.  Published histories do not provide an explanation and references to it merely mention that the office was suspended during this time period. There had to be a reason for this gap and it became my mission to fill it in.

The Polytechnic, typically a good source for student events of the time, was a bit obtuse on this issue.  It took some serious digging (a paragraph by paragraph search) to piece together some answers. The R.P.I. Union (student organization) was formed in 1890 and a president, vice president, and secretary/treasurer were elected on November 8, 1890.  The president of the Union was viewed as the new student leader.  The grand marshal, which had largely become a ceremonial figure, was  deemed unnecessary. There were vague references to "abuses" of the office (see quote below), lackluster candidates and corrupt elections, which I have not been able to fully explain.

The Union elections were held during the fall semester of 1891, 1892, and 1893. The new student organization had a fledgling start -- something was lacking. In the November 24, 1894 edition of The Polytechnic, the following appeared:

VERY great interest has been manifested by the student body in the proposed changes in the form and organization of the R.P.I. Union.  The uppermost desire in the minds of all is the inculcation of life and spirit into the social intercourse of this institution. The modes of accomplishment of this end must needs greatly differ. The conferring of the special dignity of grand marshal upon one of our number as the "boys of old" were want [sic] to do, may be effectual, as it undoubtedly was in the times previous to the abuses which grew into the custom.

Say what? Simply stated, this was a proposal to enhance the social life of students by resurrecting the office of Grand Marshal. An election was held in December, 1894 and Athol Morton Miller (funky name!), the former president of the Union, was elected Grand Marshal.  A "new" Union constitution laid out the qualifications for the office namely a Junior in good academic standing. The ideal candidate was expected to "learn the complex nature of the undergraduate Institute life of which he is to be the exponent."  [1897 Transit] The elections were moved to the spring semester again in 1896 and the traditions of Grand Marshal Night were renewed.

Mission accomplished.

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