“In the early 1860s Rutgers College was in the doldrums,” writes biographer Jean Wilson Sidar. “An ailing and aging president, apathetic alumni, and a lack of support … made the college an unlikely place for a dynamic change of direction and growth.” Due to the Civil War, the entire institution was reduced in size from 164 students in 1861 to 64 in 1864. For George Cook, perhaps the college’s most prominent and industrious faculty member, “the situation was one of great concern,” Sidar writes with great understatement.
However, the scene was set for a remarkable reinvigoration of Rutgers, led by George Hammell Cook and colleague David Murray as they secured for Rutgers the designation of New Jersey’s land-grant institution. The story of how this came about and the indefatigable commitment of Cook was the subject of a 150th anniversary celebration at the Executive Dean’s Distinguished Lecture last month presented with scores of historic illustrations by Thomas Frusciano, University archivist. The video of the lecture is available for viewing below. See how Cook “brought new vitality and a new commitment to the college.”