File #3458: "soh-017_transcript.pdf"

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Oral History Interview of John Griffin (SOH-017)
Moakley Archive and Institute
www.suffolk.edu/moakley
archives@suffolk.edu

Oral History Interview of John Griffin
Interview Date: June 18, 1979
Interviewed by: David Robbins
Citation: Griffin, John. Interviewed by David Robbins. Suffolk University Oral History Project,
SOH-017. 18 June 1979. Transcript and audio available. Moakley Archive and Institute, Suffolk
University, Boston, MA.
Copyright Information: Copyright ©1979 by the Suffolk University.

Interview Summary
John Griffin, a former Suffolk University faculty member and trustee, discusses his role in the
establishment of the university’s undergraduate programs in the 1930s, including the creation of
the business school and the school of journalism. Griffin describes the school’s founder Gleason
Archer, the inner workings of the school, the development of new departments, and the key
personnel who helped build Suffolk University.

Subject Headings
Archer, Gleason Leonard, 1880-1966
McNamara, Dorothy M.
Suffolk University—History

Table of Contents
Introduction pg. 2
Development of Suffolk’s Undergraduate Programs pg. 2
Griffin’s Role in Establishing Undergraduate Programs pg. 7
Establishment of the Business School

pg. 8

Establishment of the Department of Journalism
Founder Gleason Archer

pg. 9

pg. 11

Suffolk During and After WWII

pg. 14

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Interview Transcript Begins

DAVID ROBBINS: This is an interview with Mr. John Griffin, conducted at Suffolk University
on June 18, 1979 by David Robbins. Mr. Griffin, you came to Suffolk University in 1934. What
brought you to Suffolk? How did you find out about the new school?

JOHN GRIFFIN: Well, a colleague of mine at the Brockton Memorial High School, Frank
Altiere, came to me one day at school and said, “They’re going to require candidates for a
bachelor of law degree to have two years of college.” Now at Suffolk, they haven’t got any
college, and they said, I’m going in to see Gleason Archer and tell him the idea of opening up his
own liberal arts school so that he can prepare his students for the law school and give them the
two years collegiate training required. Of course, that’s gone out from, as you know, from two
years now, it requires a Bachelor’s degree.

So, he made the appointment and I walked in to Myrtle Street and met Gleason Archer. He
explained our mission of organizing a college and giving him the opportunity to prepare men for
law school within Suffolk Law School. I think it was known then as Suffolk Law School. And
later on, I think, they changed the charter to Suffolk University.

ROBBINS: Right, in 1937.

GRIFFIN: Yeah. So we sat down, and we told him what would be the basic elements in the
college of liberal arts and sciences, and drew up an outline of courses. And then we went over
them with Gleason Archer. Then the next question was to prepare a synopsis of the courses that
were to be given. All the courses were basic courses: history and economics. There was no
accounting. It’s economics, government—mostly in the social sciences. And then the next step
was to go out and get the men to teach the courses, which we did. They had Professor Looney,
who later on became Dean of Boston Teachers College; Mark Crockett in government, one

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named Sheehan, who taught English at the Public Latin School. So those three—they were the
nuclei, you might say, of faculty.

ROBBINS: Were they teaching full-time at Suffolk, or just—

GRIFFIN: No, they were teaching part-time. And I was appointed a professor of economics—
why, I don’t know, but I was. I organized the course and brought in enough students to pay my
way. That’s where we worked out. Then, as the school began to grow and develop and began,
you might say, gel a little bit, why, changes were made. As more men were brought in, the
curriculum was expanded. And then we finally, to conform to the requirements for admission to
law school, we had to develop a four-year course for candidates who wanted to go to law school.

ROBBINS: Do you remember when that happened?

GRIFFIN: Well, I would say about three, four years later. And it was during that time that—
well, we were like a stepchild, you might say. The law school was the institution. I think at that
time, I think Gleason Archer had—I don’t think I’m wrong. It’d have to be checked—2,400 day
and evening students.

ROBBINS: He had a lot. It was a huge law school at the time.

GRIFFIN: It was 2,400. And I think the tuition was $125 a semester. Yeah, a semester. And
they were all lectures, of course—talking about the law school, they were all lectures. And
Gleason Archer had a ticket system. You would go to the Bursar’s Office, and you would buy
the tickets which represented—I forget what—I don’t know what the denomination was, but it
was a modest sum, anyway. And you’d buy a book of tickets. Then you’d write your name on
the tickets. And a student on his way through law school would monitor the class, so that when
you went into class, you had a ticket, which he collected. Now some of the students didn’t have
money enough to buy tickets in advance. So he used to borrow tickets from other students, then
write their name on the tickets. The tickets were numbered, you see, so it didn’t make any

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difference, where the source of the tickets, because Archer had the money for that particular
ticket in the till. And then tickets were taken to the office, and they were posted on a ledger card
that was set up for each student. And as the tickets came in, they were pasted on the card, so that
at the end of the year, you would have to have all those squares filled. Otherwise, you wouldn’t
get your marks. You wouldn’t get your degree.

And when Price Waterhouse came in to look at our accounting system. They not only thought it
was unique, but they thought it was the most efficient system they ever saw for collecting money
-tuition- and not holding the student up in advance for the full amount. In other words, it was pay
as you go. And then if the dean wanted to know—Gleason Archer, we always called him Dean—
if Dean Archer wanted to know whether students were attending their classes or not, he’d pull
their ledger cards out, and he had a ready-made record of attendance of students at the class.
Now that didn’t mean you were there, because you could have passed in a couple of tickets—one
for your friend, for example, with his name on it, one with your name on it. And it was very
simple. And the ledger card was broken down so that there were squares, you might say, blocked
off. So all you had to do was put them on as you received them. Then when the time came to
grant the degrees, all Gleason Archer had to do was find out if you owed any money, which was
very simple. He’d look at the ledger card. You either had it, or you didn’t. If you didn’t, he’d call
you in.

And sometimes his office would watch the students and help the students to get tickets so they
could stay in the law school. And I’m telling you, you have to give Dorothy McNamara and
Catherine Caraher full credit. They knew all the students, because the students came in, and
that’s where they paid their bills, and that’s where they got their tickets. So they knew everybody
who came in. And that was day as well as evening. And it was interesting to—I saw the cards.
She pointed it out to me, and Price Waterhouse, in those days, were top dogs there. And boy,
they were just astounded when they went over the system.

ROBBINS: Was the ticket system used in the college as well as the law school?

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GRIFFIN: No.

ROBBINS: No.

GRIFFIN: No. No, the college, you paid your tuition in advance. It wasn’t very much—I don’t
know what it was, a $125 each semester. And we had a lot of vocational teachers who were
looking for degrees in the Boston school system. And we had a class set up and a curriculum set
up for them, so that they could get their academic bachelor’s degree and fulfill the requirement
by taking history and government, English, composition, reading, so forth. It was quite
interesting.

ROBBINS: So you were actually instrumental in setting the school in motion. You weren’t just
hired to teach here.

GRIFFIN: Oh that’s right, yeah. I just came in. I used to come in—I’d leave the school at 3:00
and I’d be in here at—well, I’d be in here at quarter past three, on Myrtle Street. We had our
office over on Myrtle Street. And I’d come in and there was a desk there, and … (inaudible) sat
down at the desk and started writing out synopses of courses, checking on expanding the
curriculum, and that sort of thing. And Altiere was doing the same thing. He was interested in
science, so Altiere helped set up biology and chemistry, and we interviewed people. But Archer
always had the last word. And that’s the way it went.

ROBBINS: Did you teach in the day and the evening division, or just the evening?

GRIFFIN: I taught afternoons. I only taught one course, because then they dropped the
economics course, because this group of men that I knew personally graduated and there was no
need of economics at that time.

ROBBINS: So you just dropped the course?

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GRIFFIN: Right, so we dropped it, yeah. Very informal. We didn’t have any faculty meetings.
I don’t recall a faculty meeting. Maybe there was one, but I didn’t get to it. But Archer
interviewed different men, got different ideas, got a lot of help with people who cooperated in
helping him. And the Department of Education helped him out.

ROBBINS: How many students did you have, say the first year you were there?

GRIFFIN: Oh, in the college? Not too many. I suppose if we had 100, we were doing pretty
well.

ROBBINS: Was it kind of lonely in your classroom, or did you get a good turnout?

GRIFFIN: Well, no, but I enjoyed it. I liked it. We had examinations. We had—well, they were
sort of planned, you know, it wasn’t hit or miss. We knew when we were going to open up and
when to close. We knew each session would be an hour. We took attendance and gave final
examinations, turned our marks in. And I saw the young men—not young men, they had some
age on them—they weren’t graduates, but we offered them an opportunity to take courses of
collegiate caliber and substance. And of course, they were vocationally minded men, by the
weekend, the academic. But gave them some good men. Mark Crockett I know, is a crackerjack.
Mark is a good man, down-to-earth, (inaudible) a good history man, a no-nonsense fellow. This
is it; you either learn it, or you take the consequences.

ROBBINS: Do you have any idea how the school got located at 59 Hancock Street?

GRIFFIN: Yes, Archer owned the building.

ROBBINS: So he just set up there.

GRIFFIN: So we—it was an opportune time and place to set the college up in there. And you
go in the front door. There were desks there, and we had the office set up there. All the marks

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were kept there. It was just a question of the facilities being there. Gleason Archer owned the
building, for it to work.

ROBBINS: How did you become a Trustee? How did that come about?

GRIFFIN: Well, that came after we organized the business school. Archer asked me if I wanted
to serve, and I said, I’d be very happy to. And I had in the meantime arranged for dinners, you
know, for Gleason Archer and faculty and kids. Strange enough, though, they were very formal
dinners. He used to hold them at the Engineers’ Club, which was at that time Commonwealth
Avenue and Arlington Street, the old Lowell—owned by the Lowell Institute. And then I had
turns in the University Club, held dinners, the idea being to bring people together and get people
interested with the school. And Archer asked me if I would serve, and I said I would. No
emolument, never a bit. We used to meet every month then.

ROBBINS: Once a month.

GRIFFIN: Every month except July and August. And we’d meet all around the circuit. They
well, brought them in to the Harvard Club, and once the Parker House, once the University Club,
the Engineers’ Club, and wherever. And we used to meet here, too, in the Trustees’ Room. We
never had any dinners at all—all business.

ROBBINS: You mentioned the foundation of the business school. Did you play a direct role in
that?

GRIFFIN: Yeah. I, yes—it dawned on me—I had known a lot about—I was in commercial
subjects in high school, and I knew what BU [Boston University] had done. And I remembered
Dean Lord over there. I remember when they started. And it was a very, very profitable school,
because they brought men in to teach specific subjects. So they attracted people interested in a
specific subject. It might not be given the following year, because apparently, people might not
be interested in it. So I had the bright idea: we’ve got to have a business school here. We’ve got

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the space. We have the charter now in which to develop a school. And I broached it to Archer,
and “Well,” he said, “Why don’t you do something about it?” So for five dollars a night, I used
to work three nights a week there. The first thing I did was make up my mind that what we
wanted—and to me, I always felt very strongly about it—what we wanted was good, solid
accounting department. And we give it a lot of thought, and that was, you might say, the
cornerstone of our business school.

Then another thing I did, was I—I don’t know how many catalogs I got, for business schools
around the East here, the Northeast. And went over the schools very carefully and got what
you’d call a distribution of accounting. And now we’ve got the distribution of courses, and
certain courses always appeared in all the various catalogs, such as accounting, for example:
banking and finance, sales, sales management, advertising, courses like that.

So I worked up a distribution sheet, which was the original curriculum of the Suffolk University
Business School, and then wrote up a synopsis of each course, so that whoever came in to the
school had a synopsis of what you were to teach. It wasn’t too difficult, because if you read
enough of them, they generally followed a pattern. And there were certain basic courses. I was
talking to the retiring chairman of the accounting department of New York University, and he
gave us a lot of time. I’m trying to think of his name, and I can’t. But he spent a lot of time and
talked to Archer. But he never came on, I don’t know why. But we picked up good men, and
then we got into sales, sales management—courses like that.

And along about that time, I brought a friend of mine in, Paul Newsome. And you know, the
Newsome Associates? He’s one of the three (inaudible). He’s retired now, but I think the name
Newsome was still one of the top names in PR and journalism. Well, I had known Paul because I
had worked on the Weymouth Gazette and Transcript. And I sold him the idea that we ought to
have what they call a prepress. We called it a shopping guide. I’d go around and sell the space,
you know, and he used the Gazette for printers. And then I’d go around and pick them up and
distribute them door to door, myself, and do it every Saturday morning.

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So I got to know Paul Newsome pretty well. And Paul had moved into town, so I brought him in
to meet Gleason Archer. And he hit upon the idea, we ought to have a School of Journalism.
Newsome had a very fertile mind. He just exuded ideas, and so he sold Gleason Archer the idea
of the Department of Journalism, and do outreach to people and got a brochure ready, and it was
interesting. We had—I don’t know if you remember Marjorie Mills who just died. Well, she was
a sponsor of the school. And Bill Cunningham was a sponsor. Newsome knew his way around,
and he gave us the names of these people who were sponsors of our School of Journalism. And
what do you think happened? We didn’t get the permission of these people to use their name as
sponsors. Oh boy, I’m telling you. Archer was madder than blazes. He called me in, and I
thought he was going to throw me out. He said, “You know what this fellow Newsome did?” and
I said, “No.” He said, “He’s got their names as sponsors of the Department of Journalism, and
I’m getting calls saying they never supported it, never gave permission to have their name used.”
So Archer had to mop up the blood by getting in touch with each one and smoothing things over,
at which he was very adept.

But the school kept on. But we moved around in the building. We sandwiched the classes in
between the law school, you know. And we had Carrolla Bryant, Miss Bryant, who came out of a
radio office in New York, and she ran the office. She was very—I would say very efficient, very
businesslike, and she did a lot of good, although she was the boss. She knew what she wanted,
and she’d have things done.

We had—you know, adjustments had to be made. You’re trying to improve the scholarly aspects
of the schools, you know, trying to set standards, trying to attract students. But it grew, slowly
but surely, and I’m glad to see it flower a little bit. Now the Business School is quite a school,
and the School of Management and so forth.

ROBBINS: Was Esther Newsome, the librarian, related to Paul Newsome?

GRIFFIN: Yeah, she was his sister.

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ROBBINS: Oh really?

GRIFFIN: Yeah. Why, did you know Esther?

ROBBINS: I’ve heard her name very often.

GRIFFIN: Yeah? In connection with what?

[Interruption]

GRIFFIN: See the Dean lived in what we called the Old Law School building. He had an
apartment in the top of the building. And his family lived there. So he lived right on the job.

ROBBINS: Actually, the Derne Street building, this—

GRIFFIN: The old school, yeah.

ROBBINS: Oh, I didn’t realize that.

GRIFFIN: Oh sure, he had an apartment. And I remember distinctly, the City of Boston
brought suit to recover taxes on the area which was used by the Dean as living quarters. They
wanted to sue the Dean with taxes for his residence. And Bill Graham, a Trustee, killed that. He
represented Dean Archer, and the Dean escaped that drag on his pocketbook. Because he was the
Dean. The Dean came out from Sabattus [Maine] without anything. And Sabattus was a lumber
camp. Did you know that?

ROBBINS: I’ve read his books, and it’s an extraordinary story.

GRIFFIN: Yeah, yeah. And he came in to town, and he opened up this small place in Roxbury.
And then—well, he had an idea. But you see, Boston was filled with people like that—like

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Archer in the field of education, and Mariano who, like the Dean, founded a school, and his
school is the School of Pharmacy, which later was—and I was a Trustee of that at one time. And
that was taken over by Northeastern, when Mariano got out. And Archer started this. And the
Fischer School, Fischer Junior College, was started by the Fischer Brothers. And there are a
number of schools that were started at that time by people in the community. You see, Boston
was a very intellectual community.

ROBBINS: What sort of a man was Gleason Archer?

GRIFFIN: Well, he was a temperate man, and a hard worker, very industrious, very diligent,
and very dedicated. And he had likes and dislikes, and sometimes he said things that I think
could have been left unsaid. But he had one goal, and that was to expand and guide the Suffolk
University Law School. He was a scholar. There wasn’t any question about it. He had quite a
record of intellectual achievement. He wrote the history of radio. He wrote, I told you, the
history of the Bay Colony, which he broadcast over the radio.

He wrote all the law books that were used in the law school. I don’t know how many there were.
I’m not a lawyer. But they must have had some merit, because the graduates of Harvard Law
School and I presume other law schools, getting ready for the bar examination, would use
Gleason Archer’s books. And his theory was, rather than have these young men, who were
getting ready to practice law, spend time which they didn’t have, because they had to work,
going over cases and following the case method, he took it upon himself to give the student the
conclusion. Of course, some people questioned the—what do you call it, the intellectual
approach to the law, because you didn’t think out the law. You just were given the answer. And
you spent your time learning the answers. So when you took the bar examination, you had the
answers to the various questions.

Anyway, I had a friend here, believe it or not, who applied for admission to the Law School back
in the twenties. I won’t mention any names, but he’s a personal friend of mine. And he went to
Archer and said, “I’d like to be admitted to the Law School.” He said, “Do you have a high

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school diploma?” He said, “No, I haven’t.” Well Archer said, “Why don’t you go to Berkeley
Prep?” which was the YMCA Preparatory School in those days. And he went to Berkeley Prep,
and got the equivalent of a high school education in credits. So he came to Archer and he showed
Archer what he had done, that he had studied at Berkeley, and the credits he’d received, along
with what he had in an uncompleted high school education, for the equivalent of a high school
diploma. And Archer admitted him. And do you know, he passed the bar the first time? Was that
quite an achievement?

ROBBINS: Yes.

GRIFFIN: First time. And he came, he’d never finished the high school. And I knew him, and I
knew him very well. He never practiced law because he—he was a policeman. But it stood him
in good stead. But I’ve talked to men - eminent trial lawyers - that owed all they ever had to
Gleason Archer giving them the opportunity to study law. And a lot of men passed the bar and
never practiced. In fact, I had one man who worked for me who went nights to law school, and
he passed the bar. But he never practiced, because he had a family and he couldn’t afford to open
up his office and wait for clients. He had to earn bread and butter to keep the family going and
pay his rent. But he worked for me for years. And they (inaudible) but he never stuck to it. And
we had students here that, believe it or not, never came back for their degree. They graduated
from law school and never came back for their degree.

ROBBINS: That’s strange.

GRIFFIN: And the reason for that was, they came here to pass the bar, period. That’s all. Pass
the bar—and they did and never came back. And of course today, that’s all they ever do. But you
see, he gave the student—and a lot that was said, a lot of people who criticized this school, ought
to read the facts on the building, and read what Archer had to say, that this is a school that would
give opportunity to everybody, to those who worked and those who were poor. And—

ROBBINS: He did.

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GRIFFIN: Can you imagine getting a law degree and training for the law for $400? But he
didn’t earn a lot of money. And we had some—believe it or not, people like Dorothy McNamara
and Catherine Caraher and others who worked in the office, they did a lot of guidance work, you
know it? They’d go over the ledger cards. A boy would come in and say, “Well I’ve got drop
out. Well, why’ve you got to drop out? Well, I haven’t got a job, haven’t got any money.” Well,
they found some way of keeping those young men in school. And I think their guidance was a lot
more effective than the high powered guidance that they have today. They—and you know, if
you get right down to it, this was in addition to running the office. In other words, there was no
separate guidance department. These are girls in the office. And you came in, and you signed up.
So they knew you right off the bat.

I was with Archer when he put the first addition on this building. And he did all that work
himself. He paid the men, he got the contractor—he got a foreman, rather. And it used to be a
special event when every week they’d pay the people who worked on the building. And all that
money came out of Archer, in the sense that he raised the money, and he spent it. And he was a
very prudent spender. I remember he had his—I don’t know what his relationship was now,
brother-in-law or not, I don’t know. But he had him design the building. And then he asked for
part of his fee back as a contribution to the building fund of the school.

But I was with Archer when we used to go over the plans. I’d run errands for him ... (inaudible).
And quite an achievement, when you figure it out, that this school, in the early days, all of the
money came out of tuition. And of course, he wasn’t—I don’t think he was a high liver in the
sense he had these ... (inaudible). I don’t think he expanded his personal living standards. I think
he was a very modest man. But he was a hard worker. He worked till 3:00 in the morning writing
books, you know. And it’s an amazing thing when you figure it out, that he wrote all the books
that were used in the school.

ROBBINS: That is amazing. That’s an extraordinary achievement.

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GRIFFIN: Yeah. And I don’t know anything about the law, but they—I suppose the books are
down the shelf, there. And I suppose the royalties helped finance the school. He used to sell
bricks, you know. If he needed money to expand, why he’d sell bricks and I don’t know, I’d pay
a dollar a brick, and Judge Benton, I remember buying a brick for a dollar, and he’d go around
the class and ask for contributions.

ROBBINS: Well even so, the school was pretty heavily in debt at the end of the Second World
War, wasn’t it?

GRIFFIN: Oh yes, it was, because of the fact that they had no student body. You see, there was
no endowment then. He had no endowment. All his income, frankly, was based on tuition that he
received. And when the war came along, why Good Lord, there was practically nobody here. We
had the graduation in the auditorium there. But he put the auditorium in. And he had loyal
Trustees. They stayed with him. And a lot of his angels had died, like [George] Frost, who was
president of the Boston Garter. Men used to wear garters in those days, and one of the most
prosperous firms was the Boston Garter. They made garters for men and armbands, you know,
for men. And Frost became interested in him. That was before my day. And then Evans, the
president of the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank, Beaumont Evans, became interested in him
and sort of guided him through the difficult days. And then, what’s his name? Martin Lomasney,
who was one of the prominent political ward bosses.

ROBBINS: Certainly, a legend.

GRIFFIN: And—that’s right. And he used to refer—he was going to help the little fella on the
Hill, meaning Archer. But you know, Archer lived very frugally until he got his feet on the
ground. And I think he was befriended when he came into Boston by friends of the—I think it
was Jesse Tirrell and his wife. And they took him in and took care of him and made sure he had a
place to sleep, that sort of thing. But you know, he never forgot. To show the character of the
man, he never forgot the people who helped him. And for years, I never saw the list—too bad—
but for years, he used to make out checks. I don’t know whether they were monthly or weekly,

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Moakley Archive and Institute

it’s somewhere in the archives. And he used to mail those checks out to people who had
befriended him. And those checks when out, unsolicited by these people. And I don’t know how
many he had. He had quite a few pensioners on the list.

And in addition to that, why he was loyal to the people who worked for him. And you know, it’s
an interesting thing—he never had anybody who came out of this school, to my knowledge, who
ever got into trouble or was disbarred. There was one man, I won’t mention his name out of
charity, and Archer—he got into trouble. He had a drinking problem. And believe it or not, he
was on the faculty, and Archer solicited money to help this man because he didn’t have anything.
So that’s the kind of man he was. And he did a lot of things. It’s too bad, you know, that a lot of
that information is gone. So everybody knows how you know, Archer’s one of these fellows. It’s
all for me and not for anybody else. But he brought it back into the school. I remember the
second wing he put on, and he did that all himself. He figured he could save money by putting
that wing up himself. And he also was the administrator of the school. He ran the school as
well— [Interview ends abruptly]

END OF INTERVIEW

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