George Hay Kain, Class of 1897
Marking time in a laboratory in the old McCreary building on the Pennsylvania College campus, half watching beakers in a chemistry experiment "cooking merrily," a student named George Hay Kain penned a note to his girl friend, from Goucher College. But before he could finish the letter there was an interruption: Professor E.S. Breidenbaugh came into the laboratory. "Here comes Breidy," Kain noted; "Good-bye for a minute or two." When the august Breidenbaugh departed, Kain suggested that professors ought to "stay in their offices" and let students "write letters to their college girls." And in Kain's case, afford one student the opportunity to express his "deep hatred of labs of all kinds and descriptions."
George Kain's letter is undated, but given the context, it was almost certainly written in the winter of 1895-96, in the 64th year of Pennsylvania College's history. Gettysburg College has produced its fair share of talented and vivacious alumni. But thanks to a cache of letters that Gettysburg College recently received as a gift, we can safely conclude that few students could match the sustained combination of intellectual curiosity and fun-loving amply documented in the correspondence of this loyal member of the class of '97.
Now safely ensconsed in acid-free folders in the Special Collections room of Musselman library, the forty-six letters now open to researchers are a delight to read. They provide an unmatched window on student culture during the 1890s-a period when a growing student body at Pennsylvania College participated in a fast-growing number of intercollegiate sports and other extracurricular activities. None of this of course crowded out informal pursuits like dating, visits to the battlefield, or often ingenious pranks that had traditionally characterized student life in Gettysburg.
Born in 1877 in York, blind in one eye from birth, Kain was left an orphan by age six. He was raised jointly by a maternal aunt and his maternal grandmother. At Pennsylvania College, as Gettysburg was known until 1921, Kain was one of the most active members of his class, participating in the "Y", Camera Club, Biology Club, as an editor of the college yearbook and a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. During his four years at Gettysburg (1893-97), he won numerous prizes, including one in science, and delivered a commencement speech entitled "The Unification of Science." All this time he was courting Marjorie Zug, a student at the Maryland College for Women (now Goucher College) in Baltimore, periodically riding a train to visit Marjorie or inviting her to Gettysburg for social activities.
Kain's letters, zestful and informative, were saved by Marjorie Zug, despite the fact that the relationship did not mature into marriage. Kain went on to Harvard Law School and legal practice in York, Pennsylvania, marrying a local York girl, Cara Bahn Watt, on New Year's day 1901. For her part, Marjorie Zug never married. But she kept his letters under her bed, where they were discovered by a relative after her death in the 1990s. Happily, that relative chose to donate them to Kain's alma mater.
According to a memoir written by one of Kain's grandsons, George Kain practiced law in York for more than half a century, first by himself, then his three sons. He built a handsome mansion in the city and was as active in York civic affairs as he had been on campus at Gettysburg. Among other affiliations, Kain was a 33rd Degree Mason, a faithful member of the Zion Lutheran Church, and for some years president of the York County Historical Society. Gettysburg College emeritus professor Charles H. Glatfelter, '46, a regular researcher at the York Historical Society, remembers Kain as a hale and hearty individual with a formidable presence.
George Hay Kain was in key respects what Gettysburg College seeks in its students and alumni. He was hard-working, adventurous, versatile, civic-minded, and humorous. He did have one notable quirk. Though he lived well into the automobile age, passing away at age 80 in 1958, George Hay Kain never learned how to drive.