Thursday, November 8, 2018

University of Idaho Language Professor and Dean Jay Eldridge [otd 11/8]

Dean Eldridge.
University of Idaho Archives.
University of Idaho Dean of the Faculty Jay Glover Eldridge was born November 8, 1875, in Janesville, Wisconsin (about 60 miles southwest of Milwaukee).

After much moving around the country, the family ended up in New York state where the young man received his early education. He then graduated with highest honors from Yale University in 1896. (He received a Ph.D. from the school ten years later.)

He then studied modern languages at Yale while also serving as a German instructor. After receiving his Master’s degree in 1899, he spent several months in Germany. That trip surely sparked his production of a textbook version of Die Braut von Messina (The Bride of Messina), a famous play – a tragedy – written by German philosopher Friedrich Schiller. Eldridge’s text remained in academic use for over thirty years.

In 1901, he accepted a position as Professor and Chairman of the Modern Languages Department at the University of Idaho. Two years later, he was appointed Dean of the Faculty, the first Dean created at the institution.

Starting in 1905 and continuing for around fifteen years, Eldridge performed the duties normally assigned to a college Registrar. Early on the morning of March 30, 1906, Jay and his family – they lived just off campus – awoke to a great stir. To his horror, he learned that flames were attacking the school’s Administration Building.

Administration Building on fire. University of Idaho Archives.
Eldridge raced to the building, where his office lay on the first floor, but high above a half-buried basement. Finding a ladder, he scrambled up and in. A cherished bookcase took second place to the student records stored in the desk’s file drawers: Those went out the window to safety. Some were reportedly “scorched,” but they remain in University storage to this day.

During World War I, Eldridge served in France with the Young Men’s Christian Association, providing support services for soldiers, sailors, and airman. At the time, military organizations had almost no programs or facilities for off-duty personnel: no R&R (rest and recreation) centers, no PX (post exchange) stores, no canteens, no traveling entertainment. Beginning formally during the Civil War and extending beyond WW-I, the YMCA provided these and other related services.

Their work was not without risk: “Y” volunteers suffered nearly 300 casualties, including 8 killed, and received an impressive collection of American, French, and British medals and awards.

Dr. Eldridge resumed his position at the University after the war. In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, he found time to play an active role in many social and religious activities. Himself selected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society as a junior at Yale, Dean Eldridge helped secure a Society Chapter at the University of Idaho, in 1923. He later served as Chapter President.

An accomplished and experienced singer, Dr. Eldridge acted as President of the Moscow Choral Society in 1930-1931. He also held leadership roles in the regional Presbyterian Church organization.  In 1937, his original hymn composition won a contest sponsored by the national Church.

In 1941, the University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree. He retired from his position as Faculty Dean five years later.

Eldridge was very active in the Masons, and rose to be Grand Master of the Idaho Lodge. He served various roles in the Masons until poor health curtained his activities in 1955. He passed away in August 1962.
References: [Defen], [Hawley]
Captain Ralph Blanchard, “The History of the YMCA in World War I,” Relevance, The Quarterly Journal of the Great War Society, Stanford, California (Spring 1997).
Rafe Gibbs, Beacon for Mountain and Plain: Story of the University of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (© The Regents of the University of Idaho, 1962).
“Idaho: 1955,” Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, Vol XXXVI. Part IV (1956).

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