1885-1888 Studying at Cornell

In the fall of 1885, Ernest began his education at Cornell University.[1] Cornell was founded in 1865 with the intention to teach and make contributions in all fields of knowledge—from the classics to the sciences, and from the theoretical to the applied. These ideals were unconventional for the time.[2] Perhaps this is what drew Ernest to Cornell.

Probably because of his earlier studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, Ernest skipped the freshman year at Cornell[3] and completed his degree in three years instead of the usual four. The focus areas of his studies were history and political science, philosophy, and literary subjects. The title of his final year thesis was “Convict Labor”.[4]

Drill and Military Science were a part of the studies and exercises in all courses of study and in the requirements of all students at Cornell. Instruction was provided in Tactics and Military Science in accordance with the act of Congress which created the land grant on which the Cornell University was founded, and the act of the Legislature of the State of New York assigning that land grant. Ernest was captain of Company D of Cornell’s Military Department regiment. He would make use of this training 29 years later during World War I.

Ernest was very active in many aspects of college life, often undertaking leadership roles:

  • Business Manager of The Cornell Daily Sun publication
  • Editor of Cornellian, the Cornell yearbook
  • Captain of the Undine Club (probably a social club associated with rowing)
  • Member of Bench and Board (which I suspect was some sort of social club)
  • Secretary of the Athletic Council
  • Manager of the baseball team in 1888 (see photo below)
  • On the committee that organized the Military Hop
  • Member of the History and Political Science Association
  • Member of Zeta Psi[5]

1888 Cornell Baseball Team
Ernest (middle of second row) was the manager of Cornell's 1888 baseball team
From The Cornellian yearbook for 1887/88

Ernest graduated from Cornell on June 21st, 1888, with a Bachelor of Letters and a Certificate for Proficiency in Military Science. His class of ’88 had 111 graduates.[6] He fondly recalled his time at Cornell, writing:

I had a bully career there in football and other extravagant fun and came off with an academic degree for something or other and the record of being the bulliest poker player on the Hill. A report was current that one week I snuck over to Elmira and just about cleaned up all the best pokerists in town with three spectacular hands and one mighty bluff. I left Cornell with $1500 in my jeans as convincing proof that college education is good business. With that jackpot I bought a country newspaper in Ohio.[7]

That country newspaper was the Coshocton Age.

A side business

Ernest does not seem to have struggled financially during his college years. In fact, in July 1886 after his first year at Cornell, he became a financial partner with William H. Leavengood, a young merchant running a dry goods store back in Ernest’s hometown of Avondale, Ohio (today known as Fresno). The store operated under the banner ‘Leavengood & Johnson’ for at least three years. I am uncertain when the partnership ended.

Newspaper clippings from The Semi-Weekly Age (Coshocton OH) under news for Avondale:

Jul 26, 1886
Image of newspaper article which reads: The dry goods firm of this place has changed its name several times in the past few weeks. It now holds the name of Leavengood & Johnson, Cutshall having sold his half.
Aug 16, 1887
Image of newspaper article which reads: E.E. Johnson of the firm of Leavengood & Johnson will leave his interest in the store in the care of A.H. Wallace, the first of the month, and will return to college at Ithica, N.Y.
Oct 30, 1888
Image of newspaper article which reads: Our merchants Leavengood and Johnson have bought over one thousand barrels of winter apples.
Aug 2, 1889
Image of newspaper article which reads: E.E. Johnson Esq. of Coshocton was in our town a few days this week looking after his interests in the store here.

Footnotes & Sources 

  1. [1] He does not appear in The Cornell Register 1884-85. The Cornell Register is an official Cornell University publication containing a record of the personnel and organization for an academic year. In The Cornellian yearbook for 1887/88 published by the Class of 1889, under the section ‘Seniors’, it says “Entered 1885” for Ernest Edgar Johnson. 
  2. [2] The Conversation Media Group Ltd, https://theconversation.com/institutions/cornell-university-1270?page=4 accessed 28 Aug 2020. 
  3. [3] The Cornell Register 1885-86, p149; eCommons, Cornell University Library (online) https://ecommons.cornell.edu
  4. [4] Cornell University Library online catalog, https://newcatalog.library.cornell.edu/catalog/7086878
  5. [5] The Cornell Register for the years 1885-86, 1886-87, 1887-88, 1888-89 accessed from eCommons, Cornell University Library (online) https://ecommons.cornell.edu. And The Cornellian yearbooks for 1885/86, 1886/87, and 1887/88. Note that these yearbooks were published by the Junior Class and their class year confusingly appears on the cover. So the 1887/88 yearbook has “ ’89” on its cover. 
  6. [6] The Cornell University Register 1888-89, Ithaca NY, Published by the University. From eCommons, Cornell University Library (online) https://ecommons.cornell.edu accessed Aug 2020.
  7. [7] Cornell Alumni News, Vol. 59, No. 14 (15 Apr 1957), p501. Accessed from eCommons, Cornell University Library, https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/27683 on 26 Jan 2021.

Published: 21 September 2023. Updated 19 April 2024.

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