Remembering Lincoln and Morrill at Cornell Univesity

Henry P. De Forest, the Secretary of Cornell’s Class of 1884, was passionate about “all phases of the history and development of the University.” He knew that Justin Morrill, Ezra Cornell, and Andrew D. White “were all friends, contemporaries and supporters of Abraham Lincoln” and that these four men were instrumental to the founding of the University.

In 1935, he designed a special bookplate—The Story of Cornell—that he hoped would be placed in “books by Cornellians, of Cornellians, Histories of Cornell, Cornellians, Class Books, Class Records and other similar material” in the Cornell University Library and at the Cornell Club in New York. He features Morrill prominently in this bookplate.

The year before, Mr. De Forest had created a special souvenir for his twenty-six classmates who had attended their Fifty-Year Reunion. He presented each with a “Morrill Memorial Medal,” a bronze medallion named in honor of Senator Morrill that featured the Charles Calverley portrait of Abraham Lincoln on one side and the class member’s name and a quote from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address on the reverse.

De Forest, Henry P. “The Story of Cornell” bookplate. 1935.

Mr. De Forest was lifelong friends with three of Justin Morrill’s nephews and he clearly held Senator Morrill and his work to establish Land-Grant colleges in high esteem. When he designed a bookplate that he hoped would be placed in books by and about Cornellians in the Cornell Club in New York, he place a portrait of Morrill with portraits of Cornell’s co-founders. The quotation used in the bookplate is from Daniel Webster's Plymouth Speech "The First Scene of our History" from December 22, 1820.

Photograph of a Morrill Memorial Medal. 1934.

Louis H. Dreyer took this photograph of Charles Calverley’s medallion of Lincoln for the Metallic Art Company while working with Mr. De Forest in creating this “personal memento” for his colleagues at the Class of 1884 Reunion.

“Medals Given to Living Cornell ’84 Men.” New York Times, January 27, 1935.

Curiously, both the New York Times and the Cornell Alumni News quote Mr. De Forest’s written description of the reverse side of the Morrill Memorial Medal that incorrectly identifies the quotation found there as being from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, when it is actually from his Second Inaugural Address. The newspaper also neglects to mention that four of the “Cornell ’84 Men” receiving medals were women.

De Forest, Henry P. Morrill Memorial Medal. Cornell Class of 1884 Christmas Newsletter. December 1934.

Mr. De Forrest took his position as Class Secretary very seriously. Not only did he send messages like this 1934 Christmas newsletter to his classmates, he help produce the book, Class Secretaries and Their Duties, which was printed for the Cornell Association of Class Secretaries by the Morrill Press, a company founded by three of Justin Morrill’s nephews.

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