Crane Theological School

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Crane Theological School
Active 1869–1968
Type seminary
Religious affiliation Universalist
Location Medford, Massachusetts
Former names Tufts College Divinity School, Tufts College School of Religion
Tufts in 1910, with Goddard Chapel visible at left, and Miner Hall at right

The Crane Theological School was a Universalist seminary at Tufts University founded in 1869 as the Tufts College Divinity School and closed in 1968.[1] It was one of three Universalist seminaries founded in America during the nineteenth century. (The others were the Theological School of St. Lawrence University and the Ryder Divinity School at Lombard College.) During its history, it granted 281 Bachelor of Divinity degrees (some in Religious education), 152 bachelor of sacred theology degrees, and two masters of religious education for a total of 435 degrees.[2]

The name changed on multiple occasions. It was founded as "Tufts College Divinity School", then renamed to "Crane Theological School" in 1906 upon Albert Crane's gift of $100,000 in 1906 in honor of his father Thomas Crane.[3] In 1925 the school became officially the "Tufts College School of Religion - Crane Theological School," after extensive discussions, including a conference with the widow of Albert Crane.[4] By the 1960s, the name had shortened again to "Crane Theological School" by the 1960s. The Crane Building on the Tufts campus still carries the name.

It was one of the Associated Schools of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1903-1962 and 1965-1968. The school was never officially denominationally controlled, nor was it accredited by the American Association of Theological Schools.[5]


Founding – World War I[edit]

Crane Chapel while still in Miner hall, prior to the 1929 addition to the Crane Building

Universalist layman and major Tufts supporter Silvanus Packard founded the school with a bequest in 1869.

The divinity school was initially housed in Ballou Hall, in a room on the second floor. With the construction of West Hall in 1872, divinity students were offered accommodation there. 1891 saw the building of separate quarters for the school with the construction of Miner and Paige halls. Miner Hall was built to provide classroom and office space for the school while Paige Hall served as a dormitory and chapel.

Miner Hall was constructed in 1891 to serve as headquarters for the School of Theology. It was named for Alonzo A. Miner, second president of Tufts College and the major donor to the project ($40,000).

Paige Hall was built in 1892 to serve as a dormitory for Theological School Students. Named for Lucius R. Paige, Universalist minister and trustee 1859–1896.[6]

In 1902, a combined 5-year AB/STB began to be offered.[7]

Between 1910 and 1915, both Miner and Paige halls were taken over by the newly established Jackson College for Women, until women were integrated into the rest of Tufts in 1915 and the facilities were turned back over to the Crane School.[6]


Paige hall (at left) and Miner Hall prior to construction of the Crane Chapel and arcade between the two buildings

During World War I, the school's buildings were taken for use as barracks and training facilities and Dean McCollester held classes for the handful of students enrolled in his living room for the duration of hostilities.

In 1929 the Crane chapel was built as an addition to the Crane building (the two-level Fischer arcade connecting it to Miner was also built at this time). The architects were George, Lloyd and Ruffing. Designed as an adaptation of a chapel in Oxford, England, the oak paneling was brought from Warwick Forest in England.[8]


By 1945 and Skinner's retirement, the school had almost no endowment, only one full-time and one half-time faculty member and a number of part-time teachers who taught one course per year. In 1949, dean Ratcliff was able to add only one more full-time faculty member. After the 1951 destruction by fire of Fisher Hall, the main building of the Universalist St. Lawrence Theological School, Ratcliff favored merging the two schools. St. Lawrence voted instead to rebuild Fisher Hall. When Tufts in 1952 initiated a major fund raising drive to celebrate its second century, it completely ignored the needs of the School of Religion. The School, therefore, launched its own $250,000 fund drive. Universalist donors were unable to meet this goal.[9]

Ratcliff and Tufts president Leonard Carmichael disagreed over fundamental policy. Carmichael felt that the School of Religion should be a professional graduate school, admitting only students with an undergraduate degree. Ratcliff favored continuing to allow undergraduates to work for a combined A.B. and S.T.B. degree and admitting students who wished to pursue religious studies, regardless of their academic background or professional potential. In the end Carmichael's vision prevailed and Ratcliff started the process to convert the Tufts School of Religion into a fully academic graduate school. He did not live to oversee this transformation. After a brief illness he died at the age of sixty.

In 1962, Crane disassociated itself from the faculty of arts and sciences to report directly to the trustees. The intention was to become a fully independent graduate school. Resources were inadequate for even a quasi-independent existence,[10] and in 1965 the faculties were recombined. The plan was for an undergraduate degree to be a requirement for admission and for the combined AB/STB program to be phased out.[11]


In 1953, when Dean Ratcliff died unexpectedly, Eugene Ashton, a Congregational minister and assistant chaplain of Tufts, was appointed to replace him until a successor could be found. Shortly before his successor's appointment in 1954, Ashton released a report on the school arguing that it was "not in a particularly healthy state".[12] He observed that of 151 men enrolled between 1947 and 1952, 80 were non-graduates; of the 33 women who attended during the same period, 14 were non-graduates.

The AUA[expand acronym] Board of Trustees in 1959 appointed a commission to study theological education in anticipation of merger with the Universalists. In 1962 the report advocated the merger of St. Lawrence and Crane, and a 1964 GA[expand acronym] resolution was discussed advocating a merger with Star King or Meadville. Neither attempt was successful.[13] The lack of funds to continue operation was the main reason for closing Crane.[14] The school had run in deficit for a number of years—in 1964 half of the $90,000 Crane budget had to be paid out of Tufts general operating fund.[15]

The decision to close the school was reached by the trustees in June 1967, to take place the following year. A number of factors contributed to the decision. The committee that recommended closure gave financial reasons as the primary reason for closure—they estimated $250K per year would have been required to operate the school, and had no way to pay for it,[16] as the Tufts operating deficit in 1967 was more than $500K. However, the trustees' June 1967 recommendation for closure cited that the school had not "maintained its place of considerable distinction in theological education."[16]

Tufts President Hallowell was given authority by a Massachusetts state court to dispose of school funds, and he created the Crane Program fund amounting to US$213,000 in 1972 to support Tufts's religion department and chaplaincy, as well as scholarships for students pursuing liberal ministry and social welfare work.[17] The Crane Library Collection was transferred to Harvard Divinity School in 1975.[18]


All of Crane's deans were Universalist clergy.

  • 1869–1891, Thomas Jefferson Sawyer
  • 1891–1910, Charles Hall Leonard (second dean)
  • 1912–1933, Lee Sullivan McCollester
  • 1933–1945, Clarence Skinner
  • 1945–1953, John Moses Ratcliff
  • 1953, Eugene S. Ashton (acting Dean after Ratcliff's unexpected death)
  • 1953–1968, Benjamin Butler Hersey


The graduating class of 1897, notable for the presence of three women among the graduates that year.

Over the course of its ninety-nine year history, the Crane Theological School granted a total of 485 degrees.[19]

  • 1869: 4 students
  • 1871: 12 students[20]
  • 1892: 44 students
  • 1906: 9 students
  • 1910: 15 students[21]
  • 1912: 4 students[22]
  • 1923: 24 students[4]
  • 1928: 36 students
  • 1937: 60 students
  • 1955: 31 students[23]
  • 1957: 22 students [23]
  • 1959: 21 students
  • 1960: 20 students
  • 1968: 12 students[16]

In the period between 1947 and 1952, 151 men were enrolled, on 71 of whom completed a degree. Similarly, 33 women were enrolled on 19 of whom completed a degree.[5]


  1. ^ David Reich (Spring 2002). "Tufts and the Universalist Tradition". Tufts Magazine ( 
  2. ^ The Larger Hope, Russell E. Miller, p 274
  3. ^ The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, p. 393 (retrieved from Google Books)
  4. ^ a b Russell E. Miller, Light on the Hill, Volume I, p 536
  5. ^ a b The Larger Hope, Russell E. Miller, p. 275
  6. ^ a b Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, "Paige Hall, 1892"
  7. ^ "Tufts College" from "The Encyclopedia Americana", p 132. Retrieved via Google Books, 7/2/09
  8. ^ Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, "Crane Room"
  9. ^ John Moses Ratcliff. Retrieved on 2010-11-13.
  10. ^ The Larger Hope, p 329
  11. ^ The Light on the Hill vol 2.
  12. ^ A Light on the Hill, vol 2, Russell Miller, "The End of Theological Education at Tufts, section 1"
  13. ^ The Larger Faith, Charles Howe, p 129-10
  14. ^ The Premise and the Promise, p 127
  15. ^ The Larger Hope, p 334
  16. ^ a b c The Larger Hope, p 336
  17. ^ The Larger Hope, p 337
  18. ^ A Light on the Hill, vol 2, Russell Miller, "The End of Theological Education at Tufts, section 3"
  19. ^ Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History, Crane Theological School. This figure disagrees with that given by "The Larger Hope" see the footnote above.
  20. ^ The Larger Hope, p 303
  21. ^ The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, p394
  22. ^ Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography, Lee Sullivan McCollester
  23. ^ a b A light on the hill, vol 2, russell miller, "the end of theological education at tufts, section 1"

Coordinates: 42°24′25″N 71°07′11″W / 42.406949°N 71.11982°W / 42.406949; -71.11982