Presbyterians in the Bay Area in the mid 19th century, determined to establish Presbyterian institutions of learning in the West, found a leader in pastor, preacher, and scholar, William Anderson Scott. Largely under his direction, two schools were started in the churches he served in San Francisco. The first was a Presbyterian college opened in 1861 in Calvary Church. The second, and more long lived, was San Francisco Theological Seminary. When in 1871 the Synod of the Pacific charged a newly appointed Board of Directors with "organizing a theological seminary such as the present wants and future interests of this coast demand," four professors and four students began meeting for instruction at the Presbyterian City College located in what now is Union Square. Six years later, the Seminary moved to its own building next to the City College building on Haight Street.
By the late 1880s, the Seminary was considering moving to a more commodious site, either in San Francisco or in proximity to one of the newly founded universities in the Bay Area. Eventually the Board of Directors was persuaded, chiefly by Arthur Crosby of First Presbyterian Church, San Rafael, to consider sites in salubrious Marin County, where the Seminary might serve as the "theological sanitarium of the Church."
In 1890, with Synod approval, the Board voted to accept the offer of a 14 acre hilltop site in San Anselmo from Arthur W Foster, Seminary trustee and son in law of Dr. Scott. Money for buildings to house students, faculty, and the well stocked library was donated by the pioneer financier and philanthropist Alexander Montgomery, whose benefactions to the Seminary were to total nearly half a million dollars. On September 21, 1892, with 1200 people in attendance, Montgomery and Scott Halls were dedicated and the San Anselmo campus was officially opened. The faculty now numbered six, and the student body about twenty.
A new charter issued in 1900 gave the Seminary power to grant degrees, and jurisdiction over the Seminary was transferred from the Synod to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1913. Enrollment increased, though not steadily, until in 1922, SFTS with 106 students, ranked third in size among Presbyterian seminaries. From early on this Presbyterian seminary in the West drew students from around the Pacific rim as well as from California and Oregon (six of the 106 were from Asia) and sent its graduates to missions abroad. Women constituted one third of the enrollment in 1922, mostly as special or mission course students. Ties with the academic community in Berkeley, advocated by the planners of the 1880s, were fostered by the establishment of a short lived extension program across the bay in 1921.
In the post World War II era, the Seminary under President Jesse Hays Baird enjoyed unprecedented expansion, with enrollment increasing to over 300 and new buildings rising all over the San Anselmo campus. In 1962, SFTS joined with neighboring theological schools in founding the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium based in Berkeley that provides an institutional framework for ecumenism. Formed for joint administration of academic doctoral degrees, the GTU consortium developed joint M.A. degrees as well and, briefly in the 70s, a common M.Div. curriculum.
Did you know that in 1911 ecumenical activity in the Bay Area included an International Sunday School Convention? An eight-day public event, the San Francisco Convention climaxed with 10,000 men parading some five miles from Union Square to the Coliseum in Golden Gate Park. Each man carried a Bible supplied by the Gideon Society and from time to time waved the Bible above his head – a banner Protestant moment. The march was led by Grand Marshal Captain Robert S. Dollar, a member of First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael and a highly influential member and chair of the SFTS Board of Directors for many years.
Founder and operator of the Dollar Steamship Lines, Capt. Dollar was a successful capitalist who provided major financial support for SFTS over the years, including the endowment of the Chair of Christian Social Ethics and the Chair of New Testament. In 1922, Captain and Mrs. Dollar made a gift of the Seminary carillon. At their dedication in 1923, the familiar "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" rang across Ross Valley.
The Seminary Bulletin, a quarterly newsletter which began publishing news of the Seminary in 1916, was renamed Chimes in 1937, a euphonious allusion to the popular bells that rang from atop the tower of Montgomery Hall until they were transferred to the newly constructed Geneva Hall in 1953.
Captain Dollar died in 1932, leaving a legacy of his philanthropy both in Marin County and around the world. In addition to his dedication to SFTS, he served on the San Rafael Park and Recreation Commission, to which he donated land for Boyd Park. He built YMCAs in the Far East and founded a school for the blind in China. In his birthplace of Falkirk, Scotland, he built a public library. His San Rafael home of over 25 years is now the Falkirk Cultural Center which features an art gallery, seasonal public events, workshops, lectures, and can be leased for private parties and weddings.
Captain Robert S. Dollar, philanthropist and life-long Presbyterian, endowed two SFTS chairs: the Margaret S. Dollar Professor of Christian Social Ethics, currently occupied by Dr. Carol S. Robb, and the Robert S. Dollar Professor of New Testament, recently occupied by Dr. Antoinette Wire and Dr. Herman C. Waetjen.
Excerpts taken from San Francisco Theological Seminary: The Shaping of a Western School of the Church, 1871-1998 by Professors Coote & Hadsell and the Falkirk Cultural Center Web site at www.falkirkculturalcenter.org.