A presidential pardon

You know the narrative, but you don’t know the name.

The story of the creation of Amherst College is lore here at Williams. In 1821, the president of the College decided to bail for Hampshire County, taking with him a smattering of students, a fistful of faculty, a bunch of books, a hoard of honeybuns and his roommate’s swipe card. Most of these obnoxiously alliterative details are false, but whatever. The story is the story, and you know it, more or less.

What you may not know is the name of the traitorous, deplorable, no-good-dirty-rotten-book-stealing-blah-blah that did the deed. His name was Zephaniah Swift Moore, and there’s a good reason you probably don’t know his name: He’s the only ex-president of the College who does not have a space named after him on campus. I propose we do something silly to fill this campus lacuna.

Ex-presidents dominate the landscape here in Williamstown. Mark Hopkins has the campus nerve center. Ebenezer Fitch boasts a nice dorm with some sweet doubles. Jack Sawyer gets a new library to replace his old one. And so on. They’re in places you might not have thought twice about or that you might not have known existed: Carl Vogt lends his name to the Alumni Relations office; Paul Ansel Chadbourne gets a random co-op. Heck, I spent my freshman year under Tyler Dennett’s watchful purview.

(I should note that this rule only applies to full-time presidents. Sorry, John Haskell Hewitt and current professor of history Bill Wagner.)

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 16 ex-full-time presidents, and 15 spaces on campus named after those presidents. The lone outlier in this cozy little cohort is none other than Zephaniah Swift Moore, who was college president for six whole years, from 1815 to 1821.

Why nothing for Moore? Maybe starting a competing college has something to do with it. Maybe the legends that I repeated earlier have had an impact on those whose opinions matter. Maybe he’s been crowded out by people who give large sums of money to the College, as opposed to allegedly stealing materials from it. I don’t actually know the answer because, in the true spirit of opinion writing, I didn’t ask anyone who might be able to tell me.

The point is: Moore should have something at the College named after him, but he doesn’t. I’m pretty sure the dude doesn’t even have a place at Amherst. They do have a “Moore Dormitory” but it’s named after someone else. Poor guy.

This is a pretty easy thing to “fix.” Moore doesn’t need a residence hall or an academic building. Remember, he was the second-ever president of a college that boasts a dominant athletic program fronted by a purple cow, a college that put challah bread out in the dining halls during Passover, a college that just published a course catalog arranged in alphabetical order. Williams is troll central.

So let’s get weird with this. After having considered a number of potential worthy spots for about seven seconds, I have come to the incontrovertible conclusion that the best solution to this problem is to designate one of the toilets on the main floor of Paresky as the Zephaniah Swift Moore Urinal, sponsored by the Class of Whoever Wants to Pay for the Plaque that Will Go on the Wall above Said Urinal. The dedication will be next Wednesday at 2:47 p.m. Refreshments will be provided, and when I say refreshments I mean overripe bananas that Mission is about to get rid of. It’s perfect!

Well, not perfect. Moore’s lack of recognition on this campus is definitely not the most pressing issue facing the College today. It’s not an issue at all. I made a mountain out of a molehill in composing this, and wrote the previous 600 or so words that you hopefully at least glanced because I wanted to try to make you laugh – not because I care passionately about this “project.” In that sense, this is a waste of an op-ed, especially if you don’t think I’m funny. (For those of you who don’t think I’m funny: I agree.)

Nevertheless, I do like to think there’s something semi-serious at work here. No matter how much we belittle the founding of the school to the east by retelling tales we know to be tall, Zephaniah Swift Moore is part of the College’s history. Moore’s departure is surely not the College’s proudest moment, just as it was nowhere near our worst moment. But it’s a moment nonetheless, and it’s one that we should own. Moore’s short tenure as president is an indelible element of the College’s history; our “rivalry” with the institution he helped to found represents a not-insignificant slice of the College’s identity.

No matter what we think of the College’s history, it is important that we own it, with the good irrevocably intertwined with the bad. To pretend that the College has, throughout its history, been perfect, blameless, flawless and an uninterrupted number one in the Forbes rankings for 222 years – to do all these things is to stunt the school’s ability to grow, not to mention to discount those it has wronged throughout its history. As a history major, I can confirm that remembering things is really important. It’s why we name buildings and great halls after ex-presidents in the first place – to help us remember.

That said, there’s no reason we can’t remember with a smile. I’ll see you at the bathroom next Wednesday afternoon.

Elliot Chester ’15 is a history and math double major from Brick, N.J. He lives in Wood.

Comments (3)

    1. Yeah, I’ve used it before! Totally forgot ’til a couple people mentioned it to me today.

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