University of Delaware

CONTENTS Introduction Laying the Foundation The Loyal Alumnus and the Focused Philanthropist
Gifts Timeline Program Enrichment Personal Interest Connections
Board Connections A Laboratory and a Legacy Ongoing Relations

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Encouraging signs, however, were on the horizon. In 1913 a coalition of women’s clubs and farm organizations convinced the State legislature to create the Delaware College for Women, to be located on former farm land roughly a mile from Delaware College and to be administered by the Delaware College Board of Trustees. The State’s willingness to fund the construction of two buildings for the Women’s College gave hope that conditions at Delaware College might be improved.

W. O. Sypherd, a Professor of English, and Everett C. Johnson, an energetic alumnus and member of the Board of Trustees, asked Rodney Sharp to help them devise a plan for the development of the Men’s College.Sharp discussed the matter privately with Pierre du Pont, who agreed to provide a substantial sum of money on three conditions: that his gift be anonymous; that the alumni first demonstrate their support; and that Rodney Sharp join the Delaware College Board of Trustees and supervise implementation of the college’s development.
In February 1913, when the Delaware College Alumni Association met for its annual dinner at the newly opened Hotel Du Pont, H. Rodney Sharp announced the commencement of a fund-raising campaign to boost their alma mater. The most immediate need, he noted, was to raise the salary of the President so that the college could have a full-time administrator capable of leading a renaissance. Sharp and his fellow committee members continued to keep the alumni engaged in the campaign. At the June commencement, they staged a parade of alumni followed by an alumni baseball game. Meanwhile, they mailed solicitation letters and began to receive replies. Most gifts were exceedingly modest. The largest donation was $1,000. But, many alumni participated, and by the end of 1913, $5,669 had been pledged. In 1914, the College took its first major step forward when Samuel Chiles Mitchell, an experienced college administrator from Virginia, was inaugurated as president of Delaware College and the Women’s College.

Satisfied that his conditions were being met and that the College could indeed become an important means to achieve educational reform in Delaware, Pierre S. du Pont was now willing to contribute to its support. Delaware College’s most pressing need was for more space. Hemmed in between Main Street and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks, there was little room for new buildings on the existing campus. The obvious path for growth lay on the south side of Main Street in the direction of the Women’s College to link the two campuses. Part of the tract was open farm land, but a good bit of it contained houses and other structures that included shops and a post office. In April 1915, Pierre du Pont anonymously offered the College $218,000 to purchase the entire forty-acre tract and to remove unnecessary buildings. In his grateful reply, the College treasurer wrote that du Pont’s gift "opens the way to the realization of the hope . . . that some day . . . young men and women might be offered the opportunity to get an education at a college that is first class in [its] teaching force and equipment."[6]

During the year that followed, Pierre du Pont’s gifts to the College were even more generous. Rodney Sharp dealt directly with President Mitchell and with the most renowned designers of college buildings in America, the Philadelphia-based firm of Frank Miles Day and Charles Z. Klauder. Pierre provided half a million dollars to the effort, of which $300,000 was targeted toward new construction and $200,000 toward raising the institution’s feeble endowment to provide the funds necessary to maintain the new buildings. Du Pont’s money paid for grading the land, planning the campus development, and constructing two buildings: Wolf Hall, a four-story, brick Georgian laboratory and classroom building for agriculture and the sciences, and Harter Hall, a dormitory. H. Rodney Sharp chose those names to honor two of his most respected professors.
By the middle of 1916, P. S.

du Pont had given or pledged more than one million dollars to Delaware College. In addition to providing for land and buildings, his gifts paid for new equipment and for refurbishing the original college building, which henceforth was called Old College. In his letter of thanks to Pierre du Pont, President Mitchell wrote, "I have no words in which to tell you adequately of my personal gratitude . . . for the strength you have given to Delaware College."[7] Du Pont’s mechanism for giving was simple but quick in light of his company’s remarkable wartime earnings. He placed five thousand, five hundred shares of his Du Pont stock in Rodney Sharp’s hands with instructions that the dividends were to go to the College until the amount of his pledge had been reached, "at which time the stock is to be released from trust and returned to me."[8]

Characteristically, Pierre du Pont took pains to insure that his enormous gift would be spent wisely. His faith in H. Rodney Sharp’s ability to oversee the development of the College was well-placed. Rodney Sharp was chairman of the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Grounds and Buildings, and his love for his alma mater was matched only by his astute aesthetic judgment and his gentle manner of persuasion. He stood at the cutting edge of the Colonial Revival, which was then just beginning to influence architectural taste. While the plan for the new campus drew heavily from such non-Delaware sources as the lawn at the University of Virginia and the Colonial buildings in the Harvard Yard, Sharp urged architect Charles Z. Klauder to examine Delaware’s architectural heritage for appropriate building models. Rodney Sharp’s goal was to produce an architecturally harmonious arrangement of simple, dignified, functional buildings. He aspired to create the most aesthetically attractive and compelling vista anywhere in the State, a campus design that would be equal to, or even superior to, the very finest anywhere in the United States.

Landscaping was considered as an integral part of the plan. H. Rodney Sharp chose Marian C. Coffin to landscape the campus. An M.I.T. graduate, she was the first woman in America to become a major landscape architect. In addition to her work at the Newark campus, Marian Coffin also provided landscape designs for Rodney Sharp’s private properties at Gibraltar in Wilmington and, later, at the Corbit-Sharp House in Odessa. Sharp met her through their mutual friend, Henry Francis du Pont, who had known Marian Coffin since childhood. She worked with Henry F. to design the gardens at Winterthur and later planned gardens for Lammot du Pont Copeland at Mt. Cuba. By the time Marian Coffin became involved with the campus plan, Rodney Sharp had already executed the most significant landscaping decision for the new campus, the planting of rows of elm trees along its walkways. Mr. Sharp joined with the student body to plant those trees, which have since been the glory of the University’s Mall. Elsewhere on the campus, the hand of Marian Coffin can be seen, especially in her adroit handling of the place where slightly differing axes of the men’s and women’s campuses met in what was then known as "no-man’s land." For that junction, she designed a large circle of magnolias that fools the eye into believing that the mall proceeds along a straight path.