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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York

by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher


The Honorable Andrew Dickson White, LL.D.
 

The Honorable Andrew D. WHITE, LL.D., the first president of the university was born in Homer, N. Y., November 7, 1832. After spending one year in Hobart, he entered Yale College, where he spent the last three years of his college course, graduating in the class of 1853. Mr. WHITE won distinction in a class noted for its brilliant members. He received prizes in English essays, and was one of the editors of the Yale Literary Magazine. Upon graduation, he obtained the De Forest Gold Medal, one of the most coveted honors of an undergraduate course, for an oration upon The Diplomatic History of Modern Times.

Among his classmates were many who afterwards became distinguished, among them, E. D. STEDMAN, the poet; Henry C. ROBINSON, governor of Connecticut; Bishop Theodore F. DAVIS, of Michigan; Senator GIBSON, of Louisiana; Wayne MACVEAGH, United States attorney-general, and minister to Italy, and George SHIRAS, judge of the United States Supreme Court. After graduation he went abroad where he spent three years in travel and study. He resided longest in Paris, where he heard lectures at the Sorbonne, pursuing with ardor the study of French history, in which subject his lectures have always possessed an especial interest. He was a member for a few months of the official family of the Honorable Thomas H. SEYMOUR, United States minister to St. Petersburg, during the exciting events associated with the Crimean war, where he obtained some glimpse of diplomatic affairs and of political and court life. He also traveled extensively through Europe. In intervals of other work , he inspected the archives of France and studied on the spot nearly every great event of the Revolution. He also made several journeys through various parts of France, including excursions on foot through Picardy, Normandy, Brittany, Touraine and the borders of La Vendee, during which he conversed with many who had an intimate knowledge of those great events. He says: "While thus satisfying my love for a study which has fascinated me, I have hoped to do something to counteract the influence of prejudiced English historians and the American dilutions of their works and to give that view of the struggle which, so far from disheartening young men, will strengthen their faith and hope."

Upon Mr. WHITE's return in 1856, he spent a year in advanced study at Yale. In the following year, he was elected professor of history and English literature in the University of Michigan, which position he held from 1857 to 1862. His large business interests recalled him to Syracuse where, after a second period of foreign travel, he resumed his residence. He was twice elected a State Senator from that district, serving from 1864 to 1868. His connection with the University of Michigan was, however, from this time merely nominal; after giving up the regular duties of his professorship he occasionally delivered a few lectures. His residence there was a most fruitful period in his educational experience. Michigan University was at that time under the intelligent direction of President TAPPAN, one of the wisest and most progressive administrators whom this country has produced. The independence of a State university, which had received enduring form under the moulding hand of the first superintendent of instruction, the Rev. John B. PIERCE, although hampered at times by political interference, attracted Mr. WHITE. President TAPPAN's views of the relation of the university to the school system of the State, as the crown of higher public education, were exemplified in the organization of the schools. President TAPPAN maintained that scientific learning had a right to compare, in modern education, with ancient learning. Views which Mr. WHITE later incorporated into the constitution of Cornell University were seen here in practice where their effects could be measured. President White himself said in an address in Ann Arbor that Cornell was the daughter of Michigan University. Mr. WHITE, as chairman of the committee on literature in the Senate of New York, was an efficient agent in aiding his colleague, Mr. Ezra CORNELL, to secure the Land Grant for this university. Indeed, we may say that Mr. WHITE made definite the plans of Mr. CORNELL, and that the original purpose of the latter to found an industrial institution was expanded under Mr. WHITE's advocacy, so as to include a university. Mr. WHITE's strong faith, that the one great opportunity for the establishment of a university in the State of New York worthy of the name had come with the National Grant, and that, by preserving this gift in its integrity, the cause of higher education would be promoted and its success achieved, determined Mr. CORNELL's views upon this important subject.

Mr. WHITE was elected a trustee of the university at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees held April 28, 1865. At the request of Mr. CORNELL he drew up a proposed plan of organization which was presented to the trustees on October 21, 1866, at the same meeting at which he was elected president of the new university. About this time, the directorship of the School of Fine Arts at Yale was offered to Mr. WHITE but declined. Mr. WHITE's influence during his term of senatorial service was of great value. He was independent, and brought a knowledge of the world, and a study of political institutions to bear, in the discharge of his duties, which was unusual in legislation. His influence in extending the system of normal schools throughout the State was felt, and one or two addresses which he delivered, in which he discussed national questions were vigorous defences of Republican principles. The address, in which he advocated withdrawing the National Grant form the People's College and bestowing it upon Cornell University, was an able defence of the proposed legislative action, and exerted a marked influence. After the close of his duties as State senator, in the summer of 1868, President WHITE went abroad for a few months in order to execute numerous orders from the trustees for the purchase of scientific apparatus, books and maps for the university, and also to visit various schools of applied science. During this visit Professor Goldwin SMITH decided to come to Ithaca to reside during his proposed visit to America, and Dr. James LAW was secured as Professor of Veterinary Science. Mr. WHITE retained his residence in Syracuse for the first four years after the opening of the university, until the completion of the president's mansion on the university grounds in the autumn of 1872. During this time, while residing in Ithaca, he occupied rooms in Cascadilla Place which was the center of official as well as of social life. His diversified interests often called him away from the university in those early years, and the immediate administration devolved in his absence upon the vice-president. In 1871 President WHITE was appointed by President GRANT one of the United States commissioners to San Domingo to report upon the expediency of the annexation of that island; in 1876 he received a leave of absence from the university for the purpose of visiting Europe and was absent until the autumn of 1878, during which year he was a commissioner to the Paris Exposition and, at its close, received the cross of Commander of the Legion of Honor. His return was welcomed by the entire student-world by processions and an address. President WHITE remained in Ithaca until the spring of the following year, when, in April, he was appointed as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Germany. He sailed from New York May 7, 1879. Mr. WHITE was well qualified to represent the United States at a foreign court. His acquaintance with European history and life, and his social gifts attracted to his house the most accomplished scholars and artists of the capital, and his broad and genial sympathy with literary men made his residence a center of charming social intercourse and hospitality. In the autumn of 1881 President WHITE again assumed the discharge of his duties as president of the university and resided continuously in Ithaca until the date of his resignation in June, 1885.

The early interest of President WHITE in historical study, which was exhibited during his college life, has continued until the present time. His favorite department is the history of European culture since the dawn of the Renaissance. He has devoted most attention to French and German history, especially to the period of the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution. He collected a rare and extensive library, possibly not surpassed in America upon these periods. The formative ideas which determined the early character of the university are largely due to President WHITE. He was fertile in theories, and active in investigating different courses of study and systems of education both in this country and abroad. To him belongs undoubtedly the credit of advocating, even if he did not originate, many of the views which prevail in modern university education. Among these we may mention the importance of history, especially of American history, and of modern languages, both as a means of culture and for scientific investigation; he had advocated instruction in sociology, and in lectures upon free trade and protection he has urged that both sides shall be represented by their ablest advocates; the equal value for intellectual training of parallel courses of study, and the dignity and importance of industrial education to the nation. He has insisted upon the superior value of Latin for the general student above Greek. He has also been an earnest advocate of the improvements of the secondary schools throughout the State. Freedom in the choice of studies has been a prominent characteristic of the university from the beginning. The solution of the conflict in regard to classics he found in the establishment of definite parallel courses, such as have been adopted in this university.

If a certain native disinclination to the details of executive duties, an undue reliance in important questions upon the formulated and aggressive views of those in whom he had confidence, an impetuosity and personal element in the solution of vital questions, combined with a peculiar indecision, and adherence to theoretical views after they had been disproved in practice, were manifest in administration, so many beautiful and generous traits were revealed, so much personal thoughtfulness as to preserve the enduring affection of his colleagues. He loved to gather his friends in his home which was the centre of delightful literary and social intercourse; his large library was open to the use of the poorest students without hesitation, and there was no case of distress in the university world that did not appeal to him.

The position of dean of the School of History and Political Science was offered to President WHITE upon its establishment in 1887, but he declined the honor. In 1892 he received again the honor of a foreign diplomatic position. President HARRISON appointed him minister to the court of St. Petersburg, where he has since resided. Mr. WHITE has presented to the university numerous works upon art, medallions, and manuscripts. Upon the completion of the Sage Library, Mr. WHITE transferred to it his own valuable historical library consisting of 19,300 volumes. In order to secure the development of the studies of history and political science in which he was especially interested, he made a condition of this gift the establishment and support by the university of a School of History and Political Science, and also that it should maintain fellowships in these subjects, defray the salary of a librarian in the White Library and the cost of the publication of a catalogue of the library.

Thank you Virginia Peterson for transcribing these records into digital format.

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