William Rainey Harper

(1856 - 1906)

young Harper Biography

............portraits of the youthful Dr. Harper.............

older Harper
..............an official presidential portrait

William Rainey Harper, a native of New Concord and graduate of Muskingum College, is one of America's great pioneers in education, most notably by helping to establish and serving as the first president of the University of Chicago, where the archives house his diary.

harper cabin His parents were Ellen Rainey and Samuel Harper, a grocery store keeper, who lived and worked in New Concord, Ohio. William was born in the afternoon of July 24th 1856, in the 9X12 foot downstairs bedroom of a five room log cabin. Harper cabin remains intact in its original location and restored condition across from the entrance to Muskingum College in the middle of Main Street (photo below). Across the street and about a block east, the grocery building still stands, now housing an antique shop (Margaret Lane Antiques). As a boy, William supported his father's business by purchasing and selling wool and by helping dam a local stream to produce and sell ice.

college entrance

He entered the College's preparatory department when he was eight and at ten became a Muskingum freshman where he studied language and music in the "college on the hill". At 16 he went to Yale and within three years earned a doctorate and courted and married Ella Paul, daughter of Muskingum College's President, David Paul for whom Muskingum's oldest building is named (Pictured Below).
Paul HallHis first teaching job was at Dennison University. A year later he took a teaching position at the Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Oil baron, John D. Rockefeller, sought to create and endow a "Harvard" of the midwest. He called on 35 year old Harper to help organize and run this new private, nondenominational, coeducational university which by the fall of 1891 would be located on a swampy piece of prairie near the shore of Lake Michigan on what is now called the "gray city". On October 1, 1892 classes began at the University of Chicago. Its enrollment consisted of 594 students and 103 faculty. So great was its promise that the first faculty included eight former college and university presidents who resigned their posts in order to teach here. William Rainey Harper, the University's first president, envisioned a university that was "`bran splinter new,' and yet as solid as the ancient hills." His institution would be a modern research university, combining an English-style undergraduate college and a German-style graduate research institute. Harper was an aggressive upstart who used persuasion, money, and promises of institutional power to lure prominent, but often young, scholars to the "wild" West. Although the university was located on an urban frontier, it wanted to rival the intellectually preeminent East. Largely eschewing the areas of established excellence, Harper encouraged early administrators to seek new disciplines and ambitious faculty. The University put the undergraduate college solidly in the center of a major graduate research institution and the faculty in charge of its educational mission. The University of Chicago fulfilled Rockefeller and Harper's dream, quickly becoming a national leader in higher education and research. Williams College professor of history, Frederick Rudolph (The American College and University: A History, 1962) wrote, "No episode was more important in shaping the outlook and expectations of American higher education ... than the founding of the University of Chicago, one of those events in American history that brought into focus the spirit of an age." Harper was outspoken and scorned tradition. His belief that sectarianism was an enemy of education played a major role in the formation of Chicago's program. Seizing an opportunity generated by academic unrest at another institution, he visited Clark University and recruited two-thirds of the faculty and half of the graduate students, generating a solid core upon which build his University, but devestating that institution. Clark president and pioneering psychologist, G. Stanley Hall, was rightfully outraged and never forgave him, viewing "Harper's raid" as an unethical act. Harper shook the 1892 others in the academic world by giving women equal education and teaching opportunities, by initiating the four quarter system, by creating extension programs for adults, and by doubling the top salary scale. Many educators laughed at these radical innovations and newspapers referred to the University as "Harper's Folly", while John D. Rockefeller called the it "the best investment I ever made."

By the end of its first century, the University had an enrollment of more than 10,700, a faculty of 1,200, and more than 60 Nobel Prize-winners. The University included the undergraduate College, four graduate Divisions, six graduate professional schools, the Office of Continuing Education, the University of Chicago Press, and the "Chicago Research Schools" of Economics, of Sociology, and of Literary Criticism.

In the field of education, Chicago has stood out as an innovator since its start. Notably, John Dewey, America's most influential philosopher of education and one of the founders of the Functionalism School of Psychology, stimulated long-lasting curricular ferment during his tenure from 1894 to 1904. His "laboratory school" for elementary-age children promoted the idea that research was the way to improve educational programs and it became a model for similar schools around the world. By the time the University was ten years old it was the nation's leading center for the study of educational psychology and philosophy.

Among Harper's Acomplishments:

* The first Department of Sociology in the world was established at Chicago and founded by Albion Small. It set standards for the field of anthropology.
* The first University extension program in the United States.
* A core curriculum, the University's program of general undergraduate education that has been a model for colleges throughout the United States for more than 60 years.
* At its inception, the University accepted women and minorities accepted in all academic programs.
* The second-oldest Graduate School of Business in the nation, and the first to offer the Ph.D. and a mid-career program for business executives.
*Harper advised Mrs. Bradley on the establishment of Bradley Polytechnic Institute and served on its Board of Trustees, holding the honorary title of president of the faculty until his death in 1906.
*Obtained funding for the Yerkes Observatory which was dedicated in 1897. At the time it was the world's largest telescope, using glass disks cast by Mantois of Paris and polished into 40-inch lenses by Alvan Clark and Sons in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts.
* Harper esytablished The University of Chicago Press, currently the largest university press in the nation. He conceived it as an "organic part" of the University. Within ten years, the Press had introduced fourteen scholarly journals which remain in wide circulation.
*The Journal of Religion was inaugurated by Harper in 1882 from the former The American Journal of Theology. The Journal of Religion promotes critical and systematic inquiry into all areas of theology (biblical, historical, ethical, constructive) as well as other types of religious studies (literary, social, psychological, philosophical).
*Journal of Near Eastern Studies was established in 1884 by Harper, it remains the only periodical in the United States devoted exclusively to an examination of the ancient and medieval civilizations of the Near East.
*Harper played a leading role in developing the still active New York Chautauqua Institute.

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