Pick and Sledge

Curious Stories from the American West

100 Years Ago Today: Norlin Elected President of CU Boulder

Herald Democrat, February 25, 1919
In the mid-1920s, University of Colorado president George Norlin refused state funds in defiance of orders from the Ku Klux Klan.
Dr. George Norlin, President of CU Boulder
Carnegie Library for Local History

Dr. George Norlin’s legacy as President of University of Colorado is primarily two-fold:

1. He expanded the campus to allow for the student body to grow from 1,500 to 5,000 by bringing on board architect Charles Z. Klauder to design 15 buildings over the course of 20 years.

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Norlin Library, CU Boulder
Designed by Klauder in the Tuscan Vernacular Style

2. He resisted the Ku Klux Klan when Governor Morley and KKK Grand Dragon, John Galen Locke, told him to fire any Catholic or Jewish CU faculty member.

Photos: Ku Klux Klan in Colorado in the 1920s
Boulder Chapter of the KKK Exchanging Documents, 1925

Prior to taking on the acting president position in 1916, Dr. Norlin was a professor at CU teaching Greek language and literature. According to a brief biography from Rutgers University, his colleagues knew him as a renaissance man, for “he was an athlete (boxer, swimmer, hiker, angler, tennis player), cook, poker player, and writer of poetry, as well as a skilled translator of Greek literature and analyst of contemporary issues in education and politics.”

Speaking of contemporary issues, in 1917, sensing a tide of tyranny flowing from Germany, Norlin wrote an address to Phi Beta Kappa graduates at the University of Missouri titled An Odious Comparison that was a warning against patriotism that leads to hatred, fear, and war. He compared Athenian aggression in the Peloponnesian War to Germany’s aggression in World War I, and how Germany had changed from “a people so rich in what we term the gifts of civilization that their wealth has overflowed their boundaries and penetrated the world” into a people who worshiped iron and war. Later, in 1932, after a trip to Berlin, he would warn of the coming Nazi fascism.

Norlin was also an excellent scout for talent, as evidenced in his choice of Charles Z. Klauder as architect for CU’s expanding campus. Klauder and his partner, Frank Day, were chosen to create a Campus Development Plan and design buildings around that plan. Sadly, Frank Day died in 1918, leaving Klauder to design the buildings alone.

Image result for Charles Z. Klauder portrait
Frank Day (left) and Charles Klauder (right)

Klauder’s designs are a twist on the collegiate gothic style, which he called the Tuscan Vernacular Style, or colloquially the “University of Colorado Style.” Dr. Norlin characterized Klauder’s buildings as “a physical body complementing the academic soul and spirit of the university.” They stand today as “multi-hued sandstone walls and tile roofs, off-white limestone trim, and black metal accents. Exterior walls built of locally quarried sandstone vary in color from light buff to reddish purple.”

Sewell Hall, CU Boulder Campus
A Klauder Design in the Tuscan Vernacular Style

According to the Campus Design Principles, which were developed in 1919 and continue to guide CU Boulder building design today, ideal architectural forms for all new campus buildings should be:

  • Soft, playful, non-serious forms that are natural and simple
  • Forms that are picturesque and exhibit charm
  • Modest in massing with detail reserved for focal points
  • Interesting in silhouette with roofs of various heights and intersecting forms

George Norlin’s name lives on today, for the Norlin Library on CU Boulder’s campus is named after the late president, and a quote from Isocrates, who Norlin translated extensively, is written over the doorway to the library. It reads, “Who Knows Only his Own Generation Remains Always a Child.”

The Norlin Charge is a speech written by Norlin for the 1935 University of Colorado commencement, and it has been read at every commencement ceremony since. In the speech, Norlin argues that graduation is not a separation of student and university, but rather the beginning of a lifetime union between them. He says, “the university consists of all who come into and go forth from her halls, who are touched by her influence and who carry on her spirit. Wherever you go, the university goes with you. Wherever you are at work, there is the university at work.”

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